United Airlines continues to make improvement in its effort to attract passengers. In the last post, we highlighted some of the behind the scenes changes (News – October 28, 2015). Today, we will focus on the catering, cabin upgrades and other operational changes that are being rolled out.
In 2014, United Airlines spent $US6.08 on average per passenger (domestic and international combined) on food (source). This is just behind American Airlines at $US6.43 and in front of Delta Air Lines at $US5.36. It is also 68% higher than the industry’s average of $US3.61 (factoring discount airlines that do not serve food in general). While the airline is spending more than its competitors, the general perception is that improvements can still be made. As such, the airline is rolling out new menu changes for the Fall (source).
Unlike other changes aiming for premium class passengers, this set will be across the spectrum:
- Improve dining experience for premium passengers on its Premium Service (PS) flights (EWR<> SFO/LAX) starting in October 25, 2015.
- North American, Caribbean and Latin American flights will have new dishes beginning on November 1, 2015. Lunch and late-night flights will feature better salads and full dinners.
- Economy passengers will have new bistro options available on November 1, 2015 on most flights within North America, to Central America and northern South America and between Honolulu and Guam, departing before 8 p.m. and scheduled longer than three-and-a-half hours.
Menu selections will include a Southwestern bistro scramble for breakfast and, for lunch and dinner, a rustic Italian sandwich and a French country-style bowl with slow-cooked beef, roasted carrots, onions, parsnips and steamed white rice.
- United Clubs will continue its catering update program. Given the sheer number of clubs the airline operates, the program will not be completed until 2016. In the meantime, the passenger experience may not be consistently delivered which could lead to lower satisfaction.
All Airbus A319s and A320s will receive cabin upgrades with better WiFi and streaming options throughout the flight. The entire cabin will get a refresh with better material choices and a uniform color scheme (video). This upgrade will be rolled out to other narrowbody aircrafts in 2016 and beyond. Keen eyes will note that United Airlines made the decision to take out all inflight entertainment screens (overhead and seatback) as it caters to passengers’ need for streaming contents on board. This will save space and additional installation and maintenance costs.
All A319s and A320s have connectivity on board via WiFi. Starting November 1, 2015, a common login interface would be used to ensure that passengers have a consistent experience in purchasing and using this product even though providers are splitted between Panasonic, Thales and Gogo (source). Taking the login process in house can help United Airlines manage payment and tracking. Though the airline has not announced any new payment options, it can introduce new features to purchase WiFi at the time of booking or at the airport checkin/lounge for a discount. Premium passengers and selective MileagePlus® members can also potentially receive new benefits on reduced cost or free WiFi based on a set criteria.
New boarding process is being tested at Chicago O’hare Airport (ORD) near Gate B8. The airline will be reducing the number of boarding lanes and increasing the number of small boarding groups to avoid passengers standing up to queue at the same time.
Many passengers queue earlier to avoid losing overhead bin space for their carryons. United Airlines can combat this by considering a fee reduction to check in baggages. This will entice passengers to let the airline take care of their belongings instead of use carryons to avoid higher fees. With the airline spending time to create a new ground service group (News – August 10, 2015), service could also improved. While auxiliary revenue has been the key factor to airlines improved finances (Insight – October 10, 2015), some items such as baggage fees have drawn some ire from passengers.
Now that the merger is nearly completed, United Airlines can shift its focus back to the passenger experience. In an industry where competition is always changing, it is good to see the airline moving forward. It will be interesting to review customer feedbacks in the next two quarters on the changes made.