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United to Take McDonald’s to New Heights : Transportation: In a bid to build traffic among families, the airline will serve ‘kids meals’ on flights to and from Orlando.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an unusual deal that brings fast food to the friendly skies, United Airlines on Tuesday said that it will start serving up McDonald’s kids meals next month on flights into and out of Orlando, Fla.

The McDonald’s Friendly Skies Meals--which will feature cheeseburgers, cookies and toys--are designed to appeal to the large number of families traveling to Orlando’s many amusement parks and promote United’s expanded service to the Florida tourist spot. The meals become available Oct. 31 and must be ordered in advance.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who flies to Orlando--kids do and parents do,” said Adam Aron, United’s senior vice president of marketing. Children make up to 30% of passengers on United’s current Orlando flights.

“With all the children flying to Orlando, that’s a heck of an idea,” said Ed Scerbo, manager of information services with Avitas, a Washington-based airline industry consulting firm.

Faced with a depressed market even in the wake of widespread discounting, Scerbo said the airlines will rely more on unusual promotions or new twists on service to attract attention and passengers.

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“The carriers have to find new and inventive ways to attract market share,” Scerbo said.

Alaska Airlines, for example, will hand out a gold Canadian maple leaf--worth about $41--to passengers flying on its new Los Angeles to Toronto route that begins next month. The giveaway ends Nov. 6.

“We needed to raise the level of awareness and we knew we had to do something that the other competitor on the route could not easily match,” said Gregg Witter, a spokesman for Alaska Airlines. “With an introductory fare, any competitor could easily match that.”

McDonald’s and United have worked for the past two months on cooking up in-flight versions of the fast-food giants’ meals. A major hurdle was overcome when United installed a new cart that will keep a hamburger patty hot and the rest of the meal cool.

Airlines have recently begun to pay more attention to children and families, said Paul Turk, an official with Avmark, an industry consulting firm. After eliminating most child-fare discounts more than a decade ago, some airlines have once again been courting parents with lower tickets for their offspring, he said.

However, Turk said the need for airlines to revive a stagnant market underlies most of the efforts to attract the family market.

Airlines are appealing to children and families, said Turk, “because they are trying to build up traffic. They are trying to get people back in the habit of taking airplanes.”


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