Look for better coffee soon on United Airlines flights

Better coffee is coming to United Airlines. Photo: United. 

Better coffee is coming to United Airlines. Photo: United. 

If nothing else, look for United Airlines to improve its onboard coffee soon. 

For the past two years, United has been relentless about cutting costs, a strategy shift that made investors happy. It was not a bad idea - United had bloated costs when it merged with Continental - and some fat probably needed to be trimmed. In late 2013, United told Wall Street it planned to cut $2 billion in costs per year through 2017.

But to cut costs right, you must spend less without affecting the onboard experience. I fly United a lot, and as a traveler, I think the airline has done OK with the onboard product. United has WiFi, and the food has improved dramatically, especially in first and business class. Entertainment is better on many planes. 

But by now, most of us know United made one giant mistake that probably did not even save much money. A couple of years ago, United, long a Starbucks customer, switched to an unknown coffee brand. It said it improved the coffee last year, but customers didn't like that one either.

Now United has new leadership, and the CFO who pushed the old cost cutting is gone. The airline is searching for new coffee. 

"We're down to three choices of premium coffee," Chief Revenue Officer Jim Compton said Thursday on the airline's third quarter earnings call. "That was something we heard loud and clear."

This is part of a new culture that was put in place last month when new CEO Oscar Munoz took over. Munoz had a heart attack last week and no one knows when, or if, he will return. But other executives suggested this week United has changed its tune, at least slightly. It is going to pay attention to what customers want. It might pay a little more for stuff, too.

"We've been doing a deep review of our product and quite frankly listening to our customers and our employees," Compton said. 

You may have seen my recent post on how United is now offering free drinks to its most loyal customers. This is similar to what Delta and American have been doing for a long time, but United is only now joining. I assume it is expensive, but apparently United has decided it is now worth it. 

On the earnings call, United executives said they have heard from thousands of customers in the past month with suggestions about how the airline can improve. "We will be announcing some changes that are a direct result of your feedback," acting CEO Brett Hart said. 

What are your suggestions for United? Besides improving the coffee, how else should it improve its product?


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