United, Continental, and common coffee

Via BusinessWeek: Making the World's Largest Airline Fly | BusinessWeek

This is a really interesting article on how much work has been done to merge together the two very large corporate cultures of United Airlines and Continental. The amount of care and costs that went into determining a "unified" coffee supply chain, and the fact that the results were an initial failure, due to legacy coffee-making hacks, is fascinating.

On July 1 the new United introduced its new coffee. Fliers on the “legacy United” fleet, accustomed to Starbucks, let out a collective yowl of protest. Pineau-Boddison had expected some resistance—Starbucks, after all, is a popular brand—but this was something else. Flight attendants reported a barrage of complaints. Pineau-Boddison received angry e-mails from customers, as did Smisek. The coffee, fliers complained, was watery.

It turns out that despite all of the taste-testing and committee work, United and Continental used slightly different systems (coffee makers) for making the coffee. Because United had served stronger Starbucks coffee in the past, its coffee makers had been modified to brew "weaker" coffee. While the coffee turn out fine on the legacy Continental machines, it ended up being watery on the legacy United machines.

Fascinating stuff if you are interested in the complexities of merging and managing huge corporations.