Reeling from a $2.7 billion loss during the second quarter, United Airlines plans to eliminate complimentary food on flights beginning 2 September.

Fellow major carrier US Airways has already eliminated all free snacks in coach and now charges for water and drinks.

In a memo to employees United management explains that aircraft configured for three-classes on North American routes will now offer two-class service. Its first class product will remain the same.

But once the change is made a buy-on-board service will be offered in both business and economy classes, with business class customers receiving both complimentary drinks and the buy-on-board options available on a given flight.

Other changes include the expansion of snacks for purchase on flights roughly two-to-three hours in length.

As buy-on-board expands and free snacks are cut, United is also raising prices with shelf-stable items increasing from $5 to $6, with prices on fresh offerings rising from $7 to $9.

"These changes are difficult, but necessary, and we do not make them lightly," United management tells employees. "However, they enable us to reduce costs and generate additional revenue while preserving a differentiated product for our premium cabin customers both internationally and domestically."

In May United estimated its fuel costs could rise more than $3.5 billion this year. Around 100 aircraft are scheduled to exit its fleet by the end of 2009, with 80 tagged for departure this year. The breakdown includes 94 older Boeing 737s and six 747s.

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Source: Air Transport Intelligence news