United Airlines passengers will no longer have to reach for their wallets if they ask for wine or beer on long-haul international flights. Not even in economy.Many long-haul passengers, myself included, like to have a couple of adult beverages in-flight because it relaxes and makes the flight a bit more bearable. So why is United abandoning what is obviously a lucrative source of revenue?
United says it will upgrade the food in its economy cabin, too, offering "a hearty three-course service" that will remain complimentary. Beyond that, the carrier will start selling the same light snacks that it already offers on its domestic flights.
The changes begin June 1, covering United's long-haul flights between the United States and Europe and Asia. They'll also include United flights between the U.S. and Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
The return of free drinks and the upgraded meal service on the long international routes will likely be welcomed by United's economy customers. But the effort also comes as United faces stronger competitors, both in the U.S. and abroad.
American and Delta already offer complimentary wine and beer in the economy cabins of their comparable long-haul routes. So do many foreign carriers that fly to the USA, including Germany's Lufthansa, Japan's All Nippon Airways and Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco, calls United's latest changes a needed first step in bringing United into line with other global carriers.This new policy, which begins June 1st, applies to beer and wine but apparently not hard liquor. And again, it only applies to transcontinental international flights, so if you're flying to Mexico, the Caribbean, Ecuador or even Hawaii, you'll still have to pay up.
"Their alliance partners – as well as competitors – offer an open bar," Harteveldt says. "It's a small thing, but United doesn't want to lose a sale just because they're charging people for drinks in economy and other airlines are not."
Still, it's a step in the right direction for United. Cheers!