There’s been a fair amount of chatter about Continental’s decision this week to stop offering free meals in the economy cabin on their US and Canadian flights. Even just this morning I saw a tweet from software industry analyst and über-traveler Ray Wang that said:
rwang0: Talking to many passengers and FA’s on #continental @continental. once they hear that they are charging for meals, everyone’s bummed #fail
And Tnooz’s Dennis Schaal notes that Continental did not provide any data to support their reasoning that passengers prefer to pay for onboard meals. He also makes an excellent point that while Continental is cutting back, Southwest is continuing to stay on the attack against bag fees which seems to be helping them endear themselves to increasingly cost conscious travelers as well as their market share.
Now it’s not quite fair to jump on Continental for joining just about every other airline but Southwest for cutting services to reduce costs and perhaps boost ancillary revenues. But it does indicate that Continental missed a huge marketing opportunity to build traveler preference. Now Schaal was looking for data to support the fact that travelers on Continental didn’t want airplane food (a pejorative term that makes most people shudder at the mere thought). But what would be more interesting to see is a survey of travelers in general on whether they EVER knew that Continental was still serving free in-flight meals. I for one did not, and my most recent trip on Continental was an international flight so it kind of doesn’t count on this question.
But what if Continental had been as aggressive in marketing free meals as Southwest has been on free bags? Would this have helped build preference and passenger load? I guess at this point that we’ll never know. And the shame of it is that Continental created this kerfuffle and negative publicity for a mere annual benefit of $35 million for a company that had revenues of $3.2 Billion in the 4th quarter of 2009.
What do you think would have happened?