Crude Oil ( ) Brent Crude ( ) Natural Gas ( ) S&P 500 ( ) PHLX Oil ( )

Story by the Chicago Tribune

United Airlines apparently has decided the way to customers hearts — and wallets — is through their taste buds, as the Chicago-based carrier on Wednesday will announce more food upgrades, including free wine and beer for economy passengers on long-haul international flights and three-course meals in coach.

The food changes starting June 1 are “designed to offer travelers flavorful, complimentary meals with more substantial portions,” United said.

Three-course meal service in economy class starts with a beverage and cheese and crackers, baked whole-grain bruschetta chips or Kiri cheese spread and crackers. Main courses, served with salads and artisan bread, include turkey meatloaf with sweet potato mash and mixed vegetables, ravioli with roasted red pepper sauce, and udon noodles with stir-fried vegetables and ginger soya sauce.

In March, the airline launched a new food menu, including a Greek yogurt bar and a hot oatmeal station, at its United Club airport lounges in Chicago and Houston. That’s in contrast to the salty snacks and packaged food commonly found in the clubs. O’Hare International Airport hadn’t gotten a significant menu upgrade since United merged with Continental airlines in 2010. The food is slated to be rolled out to clubs worldwide.

United also introduced new premium-cabin meals and snacks on flights within North America and replaced snack boxes with freshly prepared entrees served on chinaware in premium cabins on United Express regional-jet service of at least 800 miles.

It launched Goose Island Beer Co.’s award-winning Goose IPA craft beer this month on flights worldwide, with the beer being served free on Wednesday on seven domestic flights departing O’Hare and on one flight from Houston to London.

Most of the previous food upgrades were aimed at premium customers — those who spend the most money with the airline — but Wednesday’s announcement is aimed at passengers in the back of the bus, although long-haul international tickets are pricey too.

“United is committed to improving every aspect of our customers’ experience on the ground, in the air and with every interaction,” said Sandra Pineau-Boddison, United’s senior vice president of customers.

United is also upgrading its gate areas, starting with prototypes at O’Hare that include redesigned seating areas, more power outlets and even a proprietary scent piped into the jet bridge walkways. That adds to recent additions of new and remodeled aircraft as well as onboard Wi-Fi and video entertainment streamed to passengers’ personal devices.

The changes are coming as United is making record profits. The airline last year earned about $2 billion, up 89 percent over the previous year on the strength of full planes and plummeting jet-fuel prices.

The new food changes announced Wednesday apply to long-haul international flights, which United defines as trans-Atlantic flights, most trans-Pacific flights and service from the U.S. to Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

Besides free beer and wine, passengers will receive a free bottle of water and can buy half-bottle premium wines and spirits.

United will also offer what it calls pre-arrival food service in economy, including a croissant with jam, a warmed sandwich or a hot meal served with fruit and a roll. On flights where a hot meal is available, new options, such as cinnamon-swirl French toast and a Tuscan skillet with scrambled eggs, will be available, the carrier said.