United: No snacks for you!

Another airline has joined the no-snacks bandwagon. United Airlines announced that effective September 2, it will no longer hand out complimentary pretzels and cookies to economy class fliers across North America.

It also plans to drop complimentary meals in domestic business class, effective October 1, except for premium transcontinental flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to New York.

"In the wake of high fuel prices and a challenging economic environment, we must continue to examine every aspect of our business and find new ways to improve our day-to-day operations through efficiencies that still meet our customers' expectations," reads the memo, titled "Catering Changes Provide Value and Options."

Also on the chopping block: Doing away with meals and going to buy-on-board in international economy class on flights from Washington-Dulles to Europe.

Also in the memo: There will be fewer flight attendants in the domestic business class cabin because of doing away with the complimentary lunch, and the pre-arrival snack given out on the premium transcontinental flight will be history, also Oct. 1.


* * * * * * * * *

While losing snacks and beverage service in Coach on 1-3 hour flights may not be a huge bother, it is a problem for longer flights (i.e. traveling from east coast to west coast and vice-versa. How can you survive without drink or food for five to six hours on a New York-Los Angeles flight?

Plus eliminating food on flights to Europe (and possibly Asia) is an absolute no-no.

But David Stempler tells us to accept reality.

"International flights have historically been sacrosanct from these kinds of charges," David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association passenger advocacy group, said in an interview. "This is the new era of a fee for every service. We should get used to it."

But that would be American airlines flying international flights. We do have the choice to fly other international airlines that provide a much better quality service. For flying between Newark and London Heathrow, I would fly Virgin Atlantic. Their food service is good, and their IFE (inflight entertainment) is outstanding. You get about 300 hours of video on-demand on a 10-inch screen at your seat. If I had to fly an American airline, it would be Continental. At least they still offer food and beverage service. Their IFE still needs improvement, but it looks like they will upgrade their IFE to video on-demand soon. Their entire fleet of 777 aircraft will get the video on-demand system by the end of 2008.

Update 8/23:

United, in substitution, will offer a snack package worth up to $9. Any customer willing to fork over nine dollars will get a box which will include "fresh sandwiches, salads, snack boxes, or snacks, depending on the length of flight." $6 for "shelf stable items," $9 for fresh items. The price increase will go into effect in October.

So $9 bucks: I can substitute for an extra value meal at McDonald's, Burger King, or maybe one of those deluxe meals at a Friday-like establishment. Maybe I have enough change left over for dessert.


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