United Airlines Cuts Cocktail Picks, Saves $80K/Year

Filed Under: United

Here’s a change that I don’t consider to be unreasonable for the time being, though I’m not sure I get why this is something to brag about…

United saves $80K by eliminating cocktail picks

United Airlines has sent out a memo to flight attendants about some onboard service changes. There’s one update that’s particularly interesting — not the change as such, but rather how United justifies it.

United Airlines will be removing cocktail picks from flights, in a move that’s expected to result in savings of $80,000 annually. For those of you not familiar, these picks are used to “stab” a lemon or lime wedge, and are then placed in your glass. It’s basically like a fancy toothpick.

Now, it’s my understanding that United has eliminated lemon and lime from onboard service due to coronavirus, since the airline is trying to limit interaction and touch points. That’s fair enough. Therefore I also don’t think it’s unreasonable if the airline eliminates the things used to serve these, since there’s not much use for these right now.

United Airlines 787-10

Why I can’t make sense of this change…

Like I said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to eliminate the cocktail picks used for lemon and lime if there’s no lemon or lime onboard. The bizarre part of this change is how it’s being described to flight attendants.

Why frame this as something that’s supposed to be a cost saving measure with annual savings? Does this mean that lemon and lime won’t return in the post-coronavirus era?

Also, sure, $80,000 sounds like a lot to me and you, and with the current financial situation United is in, I suppose it’s something. But as a long-term cost saving measure, that’s nothing for a company that had over $43 billion in revenue last year. That’s 0.0000018% of last year’s revenue.

This will remind many of the story of how in the 1980s American Airlines saved $40,000 per year by eliminating an olive from every salad served onboard. And sure, there are plenty of places to cut costs when it comes to the passenger experience, and individually none will likely lead to passengers choosing a different airline. However, if you make enough changes it does start to impact the experience.

United Airlines’ 767 Polaris business class

Bottom line

United Airlines is removing cocktail picks from inflight service, in a move that’s expected to save the airline $80,000 annually. I don’t find the elimination of this to be unreasonable, given that the airline isn’t offering lemon or lime at the moment.

What I do find strange, however, is that this is being marketed internally as a measure that will save $80,000 per year. I’m not sure that sends a great message to employees about the direction United plans to go, and it also makes you wonder if United just doesn’t plan on bringing back lemon & lime post-coronavirus, or what. With Kirby at the helm, I guess that wouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

What do make of United cutting cocktail picks?

  1. The wooden ones that look like an airplane? I really like those, I even have a few in my briefcase that I had saved after using them.

  2. reminds me of Bob Crandall at AA and the removal of the olive from the salad… It went downhill from there.

  3. The story on the olives was that Bob Crandall was flying and noticed practically no one was eating the olives. Basically, AA was paying to put something on salads that probably 90% of their customers didn’t want. Not a tremendous amount of money but I appreciate Bob’s attention to detail and decision making to save money on things that frankly weren’t needed. I flew AA frequently then and was almost always upgraded so when the salad was delivered I knew there was typically 3 olives in it (I hate olives) and made sure I fished out all 3 before starting to eat the salad so I didn’t accidently bite into one.

  4. My guess is that the internal marketing is supposed to show to employees that United is looking to cost cuts everywhere, no matter how small, and not just with employees. This may address concerns that employees have that people are losing jobs or being furloughed, yet United still spends money on unnecessary non-employee costs.

  5. @Mike C : So the flight attendant doesn’t have to touch the lemon with his/her bare hand. S/he can just stab it with the stick.

  6. Unized did that so they say, ” Look, we are the first airline to cut cost by eliminating the cocktail stick. ” What the really should eliminate, are those silly napkins. Oh no, wait, those are marketing platforms..

  7. Here comes the United Hate Chorus. So we aren’t sure they should “sell” the change as a cost cutting measure (truth) vs “sell” it in some other manner (lie). Seems United is going to be wrong either way by you haters. I can hardly wait for the usual “that’s the last straw, I will never fly United again”.

  8. Will the cost of the drink reflect that it no longer has a lime or anything to stir it with, cause it looks like I’m getting less.

  9. @ Bill n DC
    Limes in a G&T? You’re a barbarian!

    Everyone knows it has to be lemons. Everyone.

    Incidentally, is it just me that thinks the world’s best G&Ts are now served in Madrid (and yes, I know they more often use lime than lemon)? Who’d have thought the archetypal English cocktail would now be the most fashionable drink in Spain? And I love the way they serve an absolutely massive drink, not the standard (tint) British measure. Though, in fairness to BA, every single flight attendant I’ve encountered has been happy to give double bottles and to keep the refills coming…

    I miss travel…

  10. If I remember correctly, the Japanese word is “kaizen”. It’s basically about eliminating waste. I used to work in the shipping industry, and there is a lot of required documents that have to be provided with each shipment. For instance, a bill of lading has to be produced in three copies. Our default setting was to print 8, ie 5 wasted copies. Our small office changed the setting to the legally required 3, and as an immediate result saved approximately 5000 pieces of paper a year. The main upside, however, was that the number of printers breaking down per year decreased massively- and this turned out to be the big money saver from this tiny change in procedure.

  11. First, this is a great move for the environment which you have not bothered to mention in your post. Second, what’s wrong with justifying it as a cost saving measure to FAs? So many have lost their jobs and several others are grounded. If it makes them feel that the management is saving some funds that could go towards their paychecks, I think it’s fine.

  12. “First, this is a great move for the environment which you have not bothered to mention in your post. ”

    Really? Just how “great” is it? I’m dying to know what impact it will have (hint…zero). But people will feel better, and feelings are more important than actual outcomes.

  13. Airlines have been nickel and dimeing passengers forever!
    No free luggage, no smiling faces, smaller seats, more crowded planes with TINY bathrooms. Need I go on.
    Come on America…don’t waste your time complaining to poor customer service employees. Not even the CEO or CFO.
    Write letters to ALL of the Board of Directors.
    Not sure if they’ll understand, but they should see the ” real” world ” of employees. After all…they fly free and with upgrades.
    Time for passengers to unite and tell
    the higher powers what we WANT, as YOUR customers..

  14. They probably spent twice as much as they saved in the proposal meetings, writing and distributing the announcements, press releases and “retraining” staff about the new policy. 80k a year is trivial to UA and is less than the company cost for one flight attendant for a year.

    While I get trying to save costs everywhere there comes a point where it isn’t efficient.

  15. I think it has a lot to do with perception to mainline employees – any flight attendant or ground support employee can look at this example and equate it to a job saved. It isn’t a lot in the long run, but if you don’t manage the pennies then how can you manage the dollars?

    There’s an old Walmart story about how sales eventually got so high that they started rounding the cents off the P&L because it wouldn’t print right otherwise. Sam Walton made them re-format the spreadsheet to fit the cents back on the paper. If you show your employees that you don’t care about the small things, then they’ll start “rounding off” the small aspects of their jobs too. The rounding error starts to accumulate at that point.

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