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Penny-wise, but Pound Foolish? Cutbacks on United Long-Haul Services Risky Gamble

In what some United staff agree is a commercial gamble, United Airlines took a decision earlier this year to scrap complimentary beer, wine and spirits in its non-premium cabins on trans-Pacific flights.
While the move streamlines a pay-for-drinks policy across the airline's global network - passengers on trans-Atlantic flights began paying for drinks in steerage some two years ago - it puts United at a clear disadvantage with Asian carriers, all of which offer free drinks in all cabins.
On a recent long-haul, trans-Atlantic service between San Francisco and Frankfurt, we also noticed what can best be described as modest quality on the catering side. The main dinner course (see photo) was regrettable (we are being charitable here) and the breakfast service tray came with an empty pod for a hot entry - indicating UA hasn't had a chance to change its catering supplies to reflect certain cutbacks.
We consider these moves penny wise but pound foolish. With Asian carriers stealing customers away with cheaper fares and superior fares on trans-Pacific services - and with Middle Eastern carriers doing likewise over the Atlantic (i.e. Emirates has a very reasonably priced non-stop service out of Seattle to Dubai) it could be tough going for United to attract new business or to retain loyal customers. Indeed the flight we experienced was about a third empty in Economy Class.
United also has competition to the North. It's no secret that Air Canada, a Star Alliance partner to United, is encouraging new business by funnelling American travellers through its Canadian hubs to long-haul destinations, also with premium Economy Class perks and competitive fares.