Opinion: We Brought Tomato Juice-gate Upon Ourselves

An overview of the economy cabin on United's 777-300ER (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Alex Navitsky)

For those who aren’t in tune with this week in airline outrage, the bean counters at United came up with a brilliant idea to cut costs. United Airlines announced that it will no longer cater tomato juice on any of its flights. This announcement comes at the heels of their planned streamlining of first class meal service by reducing not just the amount of food served but also cutting meals entirely on certain flights.

The announcement that tomato juice will no longer be offered on flights did not sit well with the public. The huddled flying masses banded together to express their outrage against the newest change from the airline.

United quickly did an about-face and announced that they will not be removing the liquid form of a common sandwich item, tomato juice from their flights, pleasing all seven people who can’t imagine experiencing the miracle of aviation without a cup of V8 in hand.

This personally caught me by surprise, of all the negative customer-facing changes that have happened in the airline industry that customers expressed outrage this is one of the few things that airlines have agreed to not do. It likely happened because the cost savings of removing tomato juice weren’t really that much. Let’s be honest, we all know the tomato juice to passenger ratio is probably two cans consumed per airplane anyway.

I was waiting for the faux outrage to die down and United to move forward business as usual. The expectation was that the outrage and any subsequent threats of boycotts would pass in a news cycle. Remember the boycotts after Dr. Dao that resulted in United reporting an increase in quarterly revenue?

At the end of the day, airlines know that customers will take the punishment for a cheap fare. Airlines will continue to add incremental fees and make the economy flying experience unpleasant.

It’s Us, Not Them

The airline industry has become complacent and they have lost their sense of competition. The race to the bottom has commoditized the experience and very little differentiation exists in the industry. However, it makes sense. The leisure travel industry is extremely price sensitive.

Travel decisions often come down to minute dollar amounts and an airline runs the risk of losing out on a fare if they are slightly higher than a competitor.

In an industry where price matters most offering pleasant passenger experiences don’t make sense. They don’t add any incremental value and at the end of the day just drive costs.

While legacy airlines are out to squeeze as much money as possible from passengers now, we must remember that it wasn’t always that way. When low-cost carriers became popular full-service carriers touted their full service options as the main differentiator and justified the higher fares.

We came to see that it was irrelevant. Low-cost carriers grew immensely and the industry learned that amenities and a pleasant experience doesn’t matter for most economy passengers. They will endure punishment for a cheap fare

Hemal Gosai

Hemal Gosai

Hemal took his first flight at four years old and has been an avgeek since then. When he isn't working as an analyst he's frequently found outside watching planes fly overhead or flying in them. His favorite plane is the 747-8i which Lufthansa thankfully flies to EWR allowing for some great spotting. He firmly believes that the best way to fly between JFK and BOS is via DFW and is always willing to go for that extra elite qualifying mile.
Hemal Gosai