United, Seeking an Edge in First Class, Will Offer Free Meals on More Flights

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- United ( UAL) may recently have fallen behind rivals Delta ( DAL) and American ( AAL) in net income, but it is moving ahead in an area far more important to its premium passengers -- the availability of free meals in first class on domestic flights.

Currently, all three U.S. global airlines offer free first-class meals on flights of 900 miles or more, with free meals offered on shorter flights in a few select markets, generally business markets.

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However, United said Thursday that it will introduce premium cabin meals to shorter flights beginning in 2015, when it will launch redesigned menu concepts and expanded premium cabin meals on flights that are more than 800 miles, or two hours and 20 minutes.

"These changes mark the beginning of an extensive overhaul of our North America and international food service, offering travelers a level of service above that offered by our peers," said Lynda Coffman, United's vice president of food services, in a prepared statement.

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Possibly, United's move could trigger enhanced airline competition on premium food service, although most major airlines already engage in constant rejiggering of their food offerings.

United's announcement comes about two weeks after American tightened its first-class free-meal policy, effective Sept. 1. American said on Aug. 4 that it will discontinue first-class meals on most flights of less than two hours and 45 minutes. The change also applies to US Airways.

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