United Improving International Economy Meals, But What’s Left For Oscar Munoz to Announce Next Week?

United is bringing complimentary midflight snacks in economy back to international and improving economy pre-arrival breakfast on Eastbound transatlantics.

It’s one more step United is making, albeit this is one that only brings them up to par with the offerings of their major competitors.

Bringing back mid-flight snacks
In June 2015, we began offering a more robust, three-course meal and stopped offering a complimentary mid-flight snack to Economy customers on international flights, adding our Choice Menu Snack Shop items in these markets. A year later, on June 1, 2016, we’ll bring back those mid-flight snacks in response to customer feedback. We will offer a small sandwich and candy on flights over 12 hours as well as flights from Europe to and from the U.S. West Coast.

Better snack before arrival
Our Economy customers have told us that they’d like a more robust breakfast offering on overnight flights from the United States to Europe. In response, beginning June 1, 2016, customers on these flights will receive an enhanced snack just prior to landing in Europe that will include a heated croissant with jam and yogurt, rather than simply a pre-packaged croissant.

United will be introducing illy coffee onboard in a few weeks. They’ve brought back snacks — stroopwafels — in coach. And they’ve improved meals the quality of premium cabin meals.

Their competitors have snacks in coach and have upped their meal quality too although of course complaints remain. (Stroopwafels, though, are delicious.)

Ever since replacing Jeff Smisek, United CEO Oscar Munoz has sought to create a narrative that he — and thus United management — ‘gets it’.

Under previous leadership they went so far as to give their effort to cut $2 billion in costs the Orwellian name, “Project Quality.” Munoz says he wants to serve customers and employees and build a strong culture.

At the same time, United is about to introduce Basic Economy fares that take away benefits from elites. They’re also likely to roll out a new and improved business class seat that’s behind the competition.

And they’ve yet to complete the merger between United and Continental, getting a single contract for flight attendants, which still influences the operation (which planes can go where) and the culture.

There are lots of little things going right at United. I’m flying them much more this year and expect to again next month. But there’s still so much work to do.

It seems interesting that United releases details on meal improvements now, though, rather than saving them for Oscar’s Big Day next week.

United brought back ‘the Friendly Skies’ without friendly people, describing their features and benefits as ‘flyer friendly’.

The actual friendly part doesn’t really cost more, but it’s much harder to create a culture — and the incentives — which foster it.

There’s a long way to go, and the most little things that dribble out separately, the greater the pressure on Munoz to have a big thing when he presents next week in New York.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. You mean he didn’t give you a heads up about:

    – bringing back 100% mileage bonus?
    – restoring 2 regional upgrades for Million Milers
    – 2nd meal just prior to arrival on P.S. flights between NY and CA
    – Upgrades without massive buyups
    – UA returns to JFK

    Did I leave anything out? 😉

  2. In the past few months , I took Etihad from Hong Kong to US FOR OW $525 and got a beautiful hot dinner and snacks and sandwiches anytime I wanted some, Took Norwegian to FLL OW $435 with the extra bags, seat and 1 delicious hot meal and 1 cold meal. Why would I fly United? The cheapskates – 1 small yogurt , 1 criossant, and jam= $1 cost.

  3. @Nick-I agree. In response to, and similar to, AA’s true PE. Also a new BF seat, although this will be something of an anti-climax since that which is “new” to UA is already available on several other carriers.

  4. Some extended family members will be flying internationally for the first time, from various U.S. airports to Europe this fall, for a reunion. Many of them are elderly. This article terrifies me about the lack of service and comfort they’ll have to endure on multiple legs of the flight, with each person’s itinerary including at least one 8-hr leg. I was surprised to read that United’s flight needs to be longer than 12 hours just to get “a small sandwich”. So, what will 11-hour flights serve? Water?

    I need to make sure the older relatives are prepared. Is there a single website that will tell exactly what will be served on each flight? How can diabetics deal with issues like this? The oldest travelers in our bunch will be traveling for 30 hours total. (And dealing with a 9-hr time shift.) They’re going to feel like doo-doo anyway after that intense of a trip, but it would be nice if they didn’t also have to pack 30 hours of meals for themselves in their carry-ons.

    Please share if you know how to find out the food availability on United flights, or all airline flights. Thankyou!

  5. @Lindy:

    You’re misunderstanding the info. The “small sandwiches” are in addition to meals served on the flight. Your family members will receive one main meal after departure, and a smaller pre-arrival meal. They may also receive a small mid-flight snack – like a sandwich. None of it will be particularly good, but they will be fed.

  6. About 6 months ago, I took a Star Alliance trip in coach from NYC to Tokyo on ANA, returning from Shanghai on United. The food service could not have been more different. Food was plentiful and frequent on ANA, with more snacks in the galley if you wanted them. But on the nearly 15 hour UA flight back, it was Starvation City. The two hot meals were both small, and there was no food to be had in the 11 hours between these two services. If there was any effort to sell snacks, I didn’t see it — nor would anyone likely expect this to be the practice on that route. When I went to the galley about 10 hours in flight — wondering what happened to my ramen noodle snack — there were no snacks available (the flight attendants said nothing about an opportunity to buy food). As this was a completely bizarre int’l flight experience, I’m not a bit surprised UA is restoring service to something more realistic.

    In contrast, I’ve always been surprised by the “coach breakfast snack” served on USA East Coast-Europe flights. This service has existed “forever” — I can remember it being the same in the ’80s. These are typically 7 hour flights and a reasonable dinner would seem like more than enough food. I don’t need a snack at what my body is saying is 2 am, and I’d rather the cabin remain dark and quiet so I can try to grab an additional hour of sleep on these short redeyes. The snack is very welcome on the longer daytime westbound flights FROM Europe, but the airlines would do better spending a little more money on the dinner eastbound and skip the breakfast snack.

  7. I’don’t bet on the announcement being a new BF seat, real premium economy seat (a la LH) and lots of negative implications (like having to use GPUs to get into PE and being unable to up from coach to biz).

    The vultures are at the door at UA….

  8. I avoided flying international unless I had to. I always try to fly Asia carriers because they offered more dairy free meals. I was starved in a 16 hours flight to Hong Kong from New Jersey with United, they served Pasta (cheese) or roast chicken (procini cream) for dinner, croissant (butter) and yogurt (dairy) or cheese omelet for breakfast. Even the Thai sandwich as a purcahsed snack came with cheese ( who the hell expected cheese in Thai food?). Most airlines didn’t give a ? about me or any one with lactose intolerance.

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