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Road Warrior

United Air flirts with fast casual, makes changes to lounges

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
United Airlines Club lounge menu.
Source: Harriet Baskas, CNBC

United Airlines is jumping on the fast-casual bandwagon.

As part of a multipronged program, United recently rolled out a new menu of healthier complimentary food for United Clubs at Chicago O'Hare International Airport. The upgrade is part of a broader expansion that will take place later this year at other travel hubs to improve the experience for members, who either pay annual fees starting at $500 or purchase a $50 day pass.

At a time when airlines have been faulted for pulling back on their menu offerings for passengers, United appears to be upping the ante. Pre-packaged, often heavily-salted foods, have been replaced with fresher options that will be change on a seasonal basis.

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The menu, which would be at home among the growing crop of fast-casual dining establishments like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Noodles & Co., include staples such as Greek yogurt and hot oatmeal stations with mix-ins, and cage-free, hard-boiled eggs. For the less health-conscious, scones and bagel sticks will be offered in the morning. Rounding out the afternoon menu are items such as hummus, soup, trail mix, salami and cheese.

The new menu is part of what Jimmy Samartzis, United's vice president of customer experience, described as offering "a healthy snack or a full meal, with lots of options."

It's also something customers have been requesting, he added. The new menu will be rolled out in United Club lounges in Houston, Denver, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington Dulles by the end of the summer. By 2015, all 49 United Clubs will offer the healthier menu.