United Airlines Just Made a Big Announcement, and Passengers Will Be Very Happy - Inc.

2 months ago 29

This is a story about United Airlines and children. Parents will love it, but I think there's a kernel of good news in it for just about anyone.

This week, United Airlines announced that after suspending children's meal service during the pandemic, kids' meals are coming back to most of the airline's long-haul domestic and international service.

That's a small but welcome change for moms and dads (or anyone) traveling with kids. But if you're running a business in almost any industry, I think it offers a good guide to finding things you can do for customers that are inexpensive, popular, and useful, while also finding new opportunities to expand and serve.

Quick background: Like many of its competitors, United Airlines cut way back on its cabin service at the start of the pandemic. As airlines have recovered, however, two things began to happen at the same time:

First, passengers returned in a hurry, their pent-up wanderlust running right into reduced cabin capacity, because airlines had mothballed some of their fleet, and because they now had shortages of pilots, flight attendants, and other crew. Second, the demographics of passengers changed: Business travelers, historically the most lucrative market segment for many airlines, were slower to return. Meanwhile, a new category of passengers emerged on United Airlines and (we assume) others: leisure travelers who work remotely, and can thus turn every weekend into a long weekend.

I've been struck by this second development, which United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby made a point to emphasize during United's most recent earnings call. And while I don't think it actually caused United Airlines to bring back meal service -- competitors like American Airlines actually beat it to the punch -- I do think we can look at this as a small, symbolic bit of progress.

Let's look at the details of United Airlines children's meal service:.

First, kids' meals will be available on any United Airlines flights greater than 2,000 miles in cabins where complimentary meal service is already offered. It's worth noting that this doesn't include every long-haul flight, so if kids' meals are important to you, check to see if they're included on your route. Second, the menu will include the kinds of things that probably every parent with children under say, age 8, has had to ask for with their kids in a restaurant in the past: things like French toast with sausage, fruit and a croissant for breakfast, or else chicken tenders or grilled-cheese sandwiches with fruit. Finally, these are considered "Children's Special Meals," which means you'll want to indicate when booking a ticket, or via the United Airlines mobile app, that you (or your traveling child) wants one of these meals.

Given nostalgia culture and the success of McDonald's Adult Happy Meals, I would love to learn at some point just how many adult passengers wind up ordering "Children's Special Meals" despite not traveling with kids.

"We're committed to providing a great onboard experience for all of our customers, and we're thrilled to be able to offer our youngest flyers new, kid-friendly food options on select routes," said Aaron McMillan, United's managing director of hospitality and planning. "We know there's a lot to balance when traveling as a family -- especially during the busy holiday season -- and hope this helps to put parents' minds at ease as they prepare for travel with us."

Longtime readers will know that I practically yell from the rooftops that business leaders in other industries should keep an eye out for changes the airlines bring to market.

They're players in a pure commodity industry, so they're constantly searching for any small way to differentiate themselves from one another.

Plus, as I write in my free ebook, Flying Business Class: 12 Rules for Leaders From the U.S. Airlines, even the smallest changes are chronicled and questioned by a virtual army of investors, analysts, and writers. It's like a nonstop parade of business school cases offering answers to questions almost any business could face.

Today's questions and possible answers: Who are your customers, how have they changed, and what are the small, simple, inexpensive things you can do to make them even more comfortable doing business with you? 

Read Entire Article