Tomato Juice Back On UA After Customer Revolt

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

United Airlines know a thing or two about management-speak. Last year when a passenger was forcibly removed by police from an overbooked flight, a UA spokesman initially called it an “involuntary de-boarding situation.” CEO Oscar Munoz doubled down, referring to the removal as “re-accommodating the customers.”

Last week the airline announced it was “streamlining” their onboard menu items on flights under four hours – their way of saying customers would be getting less food and fewer options. Muffins would replace hot breakfasts, wraps would replace full lunches, and tomato juice as a beverage option would be phased out.

Who knew that tomato juice would be the biggest irritant in that decision? And why is the beverage – which is not particularly popular under normal circumstances in North America – drunk so much on planes?

Some say that flying dulls sweet flavours but intensifies the umami taste present in tomato juice, making it taste more satisfying. A study on behalf of LH found people enjoyed tomato juice more on planes because our taste and smell receptors are less sensitive at altitude, which means people enjoy the freshness of the juice without the earthy, mulchy taste.

But as the Guardian writes, it’s more likely there is a psychological basis for the popularity of the red stuff, even without vodka added. Choosing a drink on a flight is an unusual situation: you have to decide when the trolley comes to you whether you’re thirsty or not. The beverage is normally free – meaning you want to extract as much value as possible. 

There might be another reason too, which goes back to United “streamlining” the food options. With less free food available on flights, many people are hungry when the drink cart comes around but don’t want to pay for a meal. Tomato juice has lots of fibre and high water content, and makes you feel full even when you’re not. It’s the juice that goes down like a soup – some might even call it a free meal.

Now the good news: after a kerfuffle among customers, UA is reinstating tomato juice. “With all of our food offerings, we monitor customer feedback and what they would prefer and adjust accordingly.”

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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