Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

There used to be norms of freedom when flying.

Can you remember when bags on airlines all flew free? 

Can you remember when everyone, even in Economy Class, got a free meal?

In those charmed days, no one would have thought of charging you to board early.

Yet here we are in an era where nothing is free.

Which, naturally, leads me to United Airlines.

Its president, Scott Kirby, said not so long ago that every seat on the plane should have an additional price, because booking a seat on a plane is like booking a seat for a concert.

Indeed, it is, with the small exception that there is no live band that you've been desperate to see. And no actual concert.

Kirby did have some second thoughts about that analogy, but no second thoughts about charging for every seat imaginable.

How odd, then, that I hear United is having second thoughts about free Economy Class food on more domestic flights -- something it and other airlines have dabbled with several times.

The Points Guy's Zach Honig reported that on one flight from Houston to Honolulu, United is testing a free mini-sandwich.

Foodies might like to know it's a Balsamic Chicken Sandwich with Arugula Spread and Mozzarella.

Regular humans might like to know why United has suddenly lurched into such generosity.

An airline spokesman told me: 

We are testing this on our service from IAH to HNL as one of the ways we can continue to improve the overall customer experience when they choose to travel with United.

Goodness.

Good customer service so often relies on small gestures that make customers feel just a little better.

I can imagine that Economy Class passengers, used to being squeezed and trodden down  by the lack of space -- and, sometimes, grace -- while flying, will be mildly astonished to discover a free sandwich placed before them.

Some, though, might also wonder whether there's a little bit of a Southwest Airlines effect going on here.

Southwest has recently begun flying to Hawaii.

Even though Southwest doesn't have a non-stop service yet from Houston to Hawaii, is United trying to see if a small, surprising gesture binds passengers to its Hawaii-bound side?

That's the thing about competition. It can encourage airlines to try a little harder to woo.

It's not something they're always used to.

After all, more than 80 percent of U.S. seats are in the hands of just four airline groups.

Published on: Apr 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.