The famous story of former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall eliminating one olive from salads in 1987 in order to save $40,000 per year continues to fascinate business school students even 30 years later. Now United Airlines is also eliminating something small…with big savings expected.
United Airlines Cuts Cocktail Picks To Save $80K
A flight attendant forwarded me a memo that lists a number of small changes coming to United’s onboard service in the days ahead. For example, individual-sized bottled water is returning. Also, the international premium cabin pre-arrival service is improving, though specific changes were not specified.
But something else caught my eye: United will remove the cocktail picks used for lemons and limes onboard, which it notes will result in $80,000 annual savings.
Flight attendants use these to “pick” a lemon or lime wedge from a container and add it to your beverage. The addition of lemon or lime wedges was always available upon request, though some flight attendants would proactively offer them if you ordered a drink like sparkling water. These have all disappeared during the pandemic.
You might ask what is $80,000 to a company that loses millions of dollars per day during the pandemic. It’s not an unreasonable question. But it’s also a sign that little things add up.
I should note that United used to offer United-branded cocktail picks but cut those a few years ago, presumably due to the cost-saving benefit of generic ones:
They also look like this sometimes:
Are these nice to have? Sure. But I’d rather these be cut than lemons or limes (which are hopefully only missing on a temporary basis). I fear, however, that without cocktail picks there will be no further way for lemons and limes to be safely handled and those will go away permanently too.
United Airlines projects it will save $80,000 per year by cutting cocktail picks. It is a reminder that little things add up in big ways when it comes to running a global airline.
Smart. I was actually wondering if they switched from the blue plastic ones as an eco friendly thing…perhaps cost savings, but that extra plastic wasn’t necessary.
The change from the branded plastic to the bamboo ones was for eco friendly reasons…or so they said at the time. I use the pointy sticks to break into the plastic wrap on my snack box. I’ll miss them. Someday, if covid ever ends, I think the pointy sticks and the lemons/limes will be back.
This is stupid. $80k is meaningless to United. Further, this means that the FAs will have to use their hands to grab the lemons (possible exposure to COVID or other immunodeficiency viruses).
or use dishwasher-able bar tongs to plunk them in the drink. I agree your “eww” reaction.
If they are going to do this, I’d avoid ordering lemons and limes from now on. Speaking of a post-COVID world, I’d have questions of how the wedges would be handled without the picks, but that’s just me.
United will also save on the “pick in the eye” expenses.
But seriously COVID limes should be the least of our concerns.
Another big savings would be for them to stop handing out a napkin with every drink and snack. I end up with 2 or 3 in economy, more in business, depending on the flight length. If I have 1 from my Coke or snack box, I don’t need another for the bottle of water.
Agreed. Napkins on demand.
Totally agree -the waste of napkins almost certainly dwarfs the $80K/yr for picks. (And I love that picks are going away – the world needs absolutely no more throwaway plastic.)
I remember the $200,000 saved by cutting one olive from the salad. Was it AA? This is what senseless number crunching MBAs do. why stop at one?
It also represents a top since the business is restoring to gimmicks to meet numbers.
The last photo shows two napkins. Think of how much they’d save by requiring only one napkin be given. Maybe $10,000 per year?
Imagine how much UA/AA would save if they had the guts to stand up to the unions, get rid of over paid senior flight attendants, and bring back the lesser expensive junior flights attendants who are eager and enjoy their jobs. That would be a lot of cocktail picks!
Like BA has done so crew have to sleep in their cars?
Perhaps because of the inequities between senior and junior. I assure you, senior flight attendants for BA are not sleeping their cars.
Yeah, kneecapping their workers and telling new ones that they have no long-term value to the company is surely the best way for UA to save money! Those overpaid FAs who have to live in crashpads and only get paid once the cabin door is closed have had it too good for too long!
When flight attendants stop thinking of it as a career and rather like Starbucks employees do, a fun and dignified bridge to something else, none of that will matter. Ever notice how good the service is normally at Starbucks? Plenty of baristas out there willing to step in as others move on to something new, it would be the same with flight attendants.
Oh, and guess what, Starbucks doesn’t have to cease using stoppers in their coffee to save money. Hmmm.
I’m likely wasting my breath but it’s quite apparent that you have zero idea of how labor law works or the differences between a Starbucks and an international airline.
First. UA pull try and stand up to the unions all they want. The problem is that they would have to do this via contract negotiations. The flight attendants are not about to dump the seniority system or agree to other radical changes just because US demands it. That’s okay you say UA doesn’t have to cave to those greedy unions. Ehhh no. The previous contract remains in affect until replaced under the RLA (Railway Labor Act) which means UA can’t just man up and act unilaterally. Eventually of course an impasse in negotiations might be declared under the RLA which could lead to the unions going on strike. Whether or not UA could at this point impose contract terms unilaterally is very much open for debate. It’s an area of law that’s never been tested. Remember too that getting to the impasse point is a minimum 3-5 year journey. So let’s assume United gets to an impasse and imposes a new contract with terms to your liking. So the union goes on strike. You know what happens next? You be almost guaranteed that a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) will be convened to end the strike before it starts as the government isn’t going to allow United to just cease flying over labor issues. Which could result in the PEB imposing a contract on both parties. A contract that I can say with certainty isn’t going to dump the seniority system that is a cornerstone of industry agreements.
With respect to Starbucks do I really need to point out that an Airlines infrastructure costs are vastly different than Starbucks? Do I need to point out that pre COVID most airlines were increasing capacity and that this condition is likely to return in a few years or possibly sooner? That the training required for a FA is vastly different and vastly more expensive than that for a Barista?
Lastly I sense a familiar refrain in your posts. As I see it elsewhere as well. That the reason service sucks on airlines is because unions protect miserable employees from being fired. Ehhh no. Airlines have all the power they need to fire employees who aren’t performing. The problem with service levels at many airlines isn’t that the employees can’t be held to account. It’s that airlines have very little interest in actually doing so. If UA or any other airline really wanted to insist on high service levels I can tell you as a former Union grievance chairman (which means I’ve been involved in attempts by an airline to fire unionized employees protected by a contract on the defense side) that they have all the power they need to fire anyone they want to. Especially in the digital age it’s not lol that hard for an airline to find reasons that can be used to make a termination stick.
I appreciate your detailed response. And yes, I am familiar, not as an expert, as a layman, on the limitations that these contracts present at this time. I am fully aware that there is little that can be done right now. However, if UA/AA had any courage they would eventually stand up to these absurd contracts, tell the unions to blow wind, let them strike, and replace them. Covid is going to change the industry forever, and after the free taxpayer money many are now getting to sit at home a second time, few are going to have any sympathy if airlines take a harder stance with their flight attendants in the future. Will it happen? I have no idea. But probably it will as LCC’s and soon to be Breeze, which follow my philosophy that the job is not that hard and not deserving of absurd senior F/A’s wages, catch up to UA/AA and force massive culture changes.
With that, I will absolute differ on your assessment that there is THAT much difference between a Starbucks barista and a flight attendant. Yes, training is a few weeks for a flight attendant – but nothing like what you, yourself, has trained for over the years. F/A is a job that can easily become more a transient step, primarily by people in their 20’s and 30’s, done for a few years, and are paid fair competitive wages that are balanced and not with vast discrepancies between one flight attendant and another (like we see with the big three and others overseas…i.e. British Airways). You know as well as I that there are always thousands of people waiting to take their place in line for a job that allows travel (be it a grind), does not require significant training, or needs little personal investment (as you had).
You can argue safety and first responder all you want. In your case, yes, I want you well trained, well paid, and taken care of – union or not. Even though, to quote Herb Kelleher, “You would probably do your job for free if you had to, y’all love it so much.” Mechanics and techs? Yes, pay them well…I want the aircraft well maintained.
But a flight attendant? Regardless of your biased view that they are primarily there for my safety, I call B.S. In the one in a trillion chance that there is ever a severe enough emergency on that plane I assure you there will be no difference with evacuations led by a 24 y/o who would otherwise be a barista and making $35K a year vs a 60 y/o senior flight attendant making $135K.
The flight attendant unions created this culture at UA/AA. Airline executives caved to them. Decades and decades of this and, I agree, it’s hard to change. In the end it’s consumers and shareholders that pay…services cut over and over, poor and entitled attitudes by many senior flight attendants that could care less about anything but playing candy crush in the galley, dirty planes, devalued loyalty programs…all of it because, of any part of your operation, the flight attendant structure is completely out of whack and the airlines forced to pay absurd wages.
I am interested in David Neeleman’s structure that he is developing for Breeze. He is a prodigy a’la Herb Kelleher, and from what I see thus far is approaching the position of F/A exactly as I have proposed. Treat it as a transient position like a barista, provide a positive work atmosphere, encourage continuing education (as he is doing) and you will get lower costs and a better level of service. The Starbucks model is perfectly adaptable to the airline industry when it comes to flight attendants.
Our rich society waste so much that we don’t even think about. The people complaining live in 4,000 sqft homes with a fleet of cars in the drive. They have no concept of reality.
“The future has arrived — It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
An impressively shortsighted move. The cocktails are presumably either being paid for individually or are dispensed to premium customers who paid extra for a quality experience. In either case it simply comes off as looking cheap. I do hope that the FA’s aren’t expected to grab the fruit by hand but tongs cost money too so who knows.
As long as they still have the actual lemon and lime its fine. Otherwise its a shanda
The switch from plastic to bamboo was environmentally motivated, for the record.
80k is pennies for united…..have upper management do away with their donuts and bagels and they could save 100 times that amount….
FYI….the issue isn’t just cost. We only used a few of those per flight, and because of the packaging, the entire pack of 25 had to be thrown out (in addition to the many packs of bamboo stir sticks). Also, people were often getting splinters from the bamboo picks whenever you reached for them in a hurry. It would be nice to see a combined version of stir stick and picks that come in a more practical package where we don’t have to throw them away after each flight.
Agreed. Would be a good solution.
Very interesting point, Ken. Thanks for sharing.
I think some commenters haven’t flown in a while. There are no lemons/limes during covid hence no need for pointy sticks with which to spear them.
It will be ROLLED BACK, you’ll see…
“I fear, however, that without cocktail picks there will be no further way for lemons and limes to be safely handled and those will go away permanently too.”
How about tongs? The disposable gloves that are routinely worn by millions of food service workers to safely handle the food they serve you? Are those things too expensive? How about any fork or spoon that is already stocked in the galley….
I guess UNITED has very few flyers now to gouge them for raising the prices. So now they are thinking smarter by using their heads to find ways of saving costs on consumables. I worked for the inflight catering kitchen and the costs could of been taken from eliminating the more expensive food items. There are more economical cost savings on the meals that could have been done before passing it on to the passengers.
Pathetic tokenism. These ratbags like to show they’re running a tight ship ; but in reality these chicken feed savings pale into total insignificance relative to the ‘all snouts to the trough’ mentality of senior management in respect of their own perks/packages/bonuses.
$80,000 in a year? YGBSM! They lose more than that in spilled paint, while repainting the entire fleet because some genius wanted a different color scheme.
Not sure if I’m reading this right….. so eliminating the cocktail picks is really eliminating lemon and lime wedges? If that’s the case, why don’t they be “transparent”…. a word the airlines and other businesses love to use and SAY THEY ARE ELIMINATING LEMON AND LIME ???? I personally like a wedge in my water or tomato juice or whatever – pretty soon we will all be flying Spirit and Allegiance but looking at the United logo.
Classic Scott Kirby move – he’s your classic bean counter CEO, and I am a bean counter (CPA) Years before covid he was using his bean counter logic to skimp on everything. I’m sure after he destroys UAL he will move on to another airline to ruin, just like Dick Ferris did. I was 1K for two consecutive years – not even worth it anymore.