Should American and United Copy Delta And Start Serving Meals In Coach?

I saw a handful of posts over the past day or so talking about Delta’s decision to start offering meals in coach on certain transcontinental flights.  I first saw it on One Mile at a TimeHe picked it up from Points, Miles and Martinis, who has a source at Delta that sent him the info.  The basic info is as follows:

Starting March 1, 2017 Delta will be adding complimentary meals in their Main Cabin on Transcontinental flights between New York (JFK) to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Delta will be adding meals for Main Cabin Passengers and as well as Comfort+ passengers.
Passengers will be able to choose from one of  three meal choices, including a vegetarian option
Similar to their other flights with meals, passengers will be able to request special meals
With these no options, Flight Fuel will be discontinued onboard Transcon flights

Live and Let’s Fly added his first two cents, arguing that he doesn’t see a strong financial case for Delta to roll these out.  I had an opinion as soon as I heard the semi-official announcement, but I’ll hold that for a minute.  View From The Wing weighed in on why he thinks this decision can be long-term “penny profitable” to Delta.  IMO, the title to the post should have been “How Free Meals in Coach May Contribute to Airline Profit”.

Matthew replied to Gary, essentially rebutting Gary’s main argument that meals will build brand loyalty.

Got it?  All caught up?  Okay, let’s get started.

Meals In Coach

My Two Cents

I don’t think airlines should start offering free meals in coach.  Given the deficiencies American and United have compared to Delta from an operational efficiency standpoint, I think any extra money should be focused elsewhere.  Here’s why:

  1. Airlines aren’t consistently excellent at catering.  The airlines have demonstrated the ability to put good food on planes from time to time.  But, I can’t think of any domestic first class meal I’ve had in the past couple of years (since American “US Airway-ed” their catering) that I’d call excellent.  There’s good food, but not great food.  I don’t think offering a mediocre meal does much for customer loyalty.  Maybe if they stick with the pictured sandwiches, they can stay in a safe zone.
  2. The Scott Kirby 87% Rule.  Just over a year ago, before Scott Kirby left his position as President of American Airlines, he noted in an AA earnings call that 87% of travelers on American fly the airline only once a year.  Those numbers might be lower for transcontinental routes, but I suspect that Delta and United have a similarly high number of once-a-year fliers.  If the desire is to differentiate any individual routes, it makes more sense to differentiate at an elite level.  For example, top-tier elites at American and United get a free snack and drink when they sit in coach (Delta elites might as well, just don’t remember).
  3. Buy On Board Works When Done Right.  With plenty of data from years of offering buy-on-board, airlines should be able to cater correctly to have enough food boarded for longer flights.
  4. Terminal Food Is Vastly Improved, Especially At Big Hubs.  I don’t need a sandwich on board when I’m flying JFK-LAX.  I need it when I’m flying from Lubbock, TX or Fort Wayne, IN.  When an airport has little to no food choice, I rely much more heavily on buy-on-board options.  JFK and SFO both have plenty of good food options to choose from before you board.  LAX does as well in most terminals.

What I Would Do

There are two courses of action I would consider here:

  1. Enhance Buy On Board.  If food is believed to be a determining factor, I would augment existing buy-on-board options.  That could be done by reducing the price for a sandwich or just offering elite members a discount/free sandwich.  Airlines have learned how to do buy-on-board well.  I strongly believe they’re better focusing on areas they already excel in, rather than trying to spin up coach catering on a small number of flights with employees who aren’t used to meal service in coach.
  2. Bring Back The Big Apple.  Many moons ago I remember flying NY Air as a kid.  Red airplanes with an apple on the tail.  When you boarded the plane, they’d have a cart of meals on the jet bridge.  You got a bagel and an apple in the morning, a bagel sandwich and apple in the afternoon.  I haven’t seen one of those carts in quite some time but I’d bet someone still does that.

The Final Two Pennies

I just don’t expect the airlines to execute on this for over 100 passengers on a flight.  As it is, there are plenty of flights where I sit in domestic first class and the staff struggles to serve dinner to 12 people.  I’ve also had plenty of flights in domestic coach where the crew doesn’t even do 2 full drink services on a 3-hour flight.  Europe is a different matter.  Airlines like Lufthansa can manage to pull off breakfast service for a full plane in under an hour.  There’s little evidence to indicate the airlines can do this well.  They should stick to strengths, like buy-on-board, instead of trying create another coach service level just for specific flights.

The post Should American and United Copy Delta And Start Serving Meals In Coach? was published first on Pizza In Motion

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