Illy’s Master Baristas (and Chemists) Discover the Right Inflight Brew - United Hub
customer experience

Illy’s master baristas (and chemists) discover the right inflight brew

By Matt Adams , June 29, 2016

Find out what type of coffee you are in our quiz below.

The name illy, United's new coffee partner, evokes certain images when you hear it. Perhaps you think of a storefront coffee shop on a cobblestone street in a picturesque Italian village. Sidewalk tables with illy's iconic cups — pristine white with a thick, circular handle — sitting atop saucers. Maybe you imagine the dark brown hues of perfectly roasted and brewed coffee, or the caramelized color of steamed milk in a delicious cappuccino.

What you probably don't think of, however, are lab coats and chemists. You see, there's much more to a great cup of coffee than just beans and water — there's science behind taste.

A compound flavor palate

Ernesto Illy, son of illy's founder Francesco Illy, studied as a chemist at the University of Bologna in the 1940s before joining his father's company. When he took the helm in 1956, Ernesto relied on his background in chemistry in his efforts to create the world's best espresso. Ernesto's understanding of the science of taste even led him to help establish the Association Scientifique Internationale pour le Café, an international organization which uses applied scientific practices to develop better tasting coffee.

"Our pedigree is very much based in science, going all the way back to our founder and continuing with our present-day Chairman and President, Andrea Illy, who is Ernesto's son," said illy's Director of Corporate Communications for North America Adam Paige. "The factory employs chemical engineers; pictures of molecules hang on the walls in our New York office. Our scientific heritage carries over into our research and development, our technical teams and our innovation."

There are many flavor notes that contribute to your perception of coffee's taste — bitterness, acidity, sweetness, chocolate, caramel, toast, floral, fruit and a multitude of others are all present. We are born with four primary tastes: sweetness, saltiness, sourness and bitterness. In every cup of coffee and every bite of food, those four work together with our sense of smell to detect flavors. Composed of nine distinct Arabica beans of the highest order from four continents, the illy blend is expertly calibrated to consistently showcase a flavor profile that is balanced and smooth, never bitter.

Taste in the air

But at 35,000 feet, the environment is obviously quite different than on land. "Onboard the aircraft, you're experiencing 8,000 feet of air pressure. This reduces your perception of sweetness and saltiness," illy's Master Barista Giorgio Milos said. "The humidity is also lower (between 5 and 15 percent), so your olfactory system is not working as it normally would. Smell plays a big part in your perception of flavor. These are things that we have to consider when brewing in-flight coffee."

Consider that we lose up to 30 percent of our perception of these flavors at cruising altitude, and you start to understand the challenge of making coffee that customers will enjoy.

To offset those pressure and humidity changes, the Research and Development team at illy spent months studying and testing control factors such as grind size and amount of ground coffee to ensure that we serve a quality cup on United flights.

"When we partnered with United, I thought to myself, 'Finally, I can drink good coffee on a plane!'" Giorgio said. And he's a man who knows good coffee: Giorgio has been a barista with illy for 21 years, and his connection goes back even further. "I'm actually second-generation. My mother worked at illy in Italy for 35 years. Coincidentally, my father was in the milk business. I guess I was destined to do what I do."

One of Illy's workers tracking brewing mechanics

Above and beyond testing

Not only did illy test United's coffee on the ground to optimize flavor, they went above and beyond – literally. Illy conducted inflight tests to observe the way that altitude and the brewing process onboard the aircraft affected the coffee. Led by Mark Romano, illy's Vice President of Education, Quality and Sustainability, teams spent time in our galleys tracking brewing mechanics, water temperature and hardness, brew times and optimal holding and serving temperatures – anything that could potentially influence the taste of the coffee midflight.

After they finished the inflight testing, illy had BA Aerospace, the manufacturer that makes aircraft coffee brewers, send a machine to their factory in Italy so that they could continue to search for brewing processes that achieve optimal quality.

"We knew that the brewing machines in the aircraft have a three- to four-minute brew time, so we worked to make sure that our coffee delivered quality within those consistent parameters," Adam said.

Discoveries, decisions

Illy's Research and Development team discovered that grinding the beans to a stone shape, with ridges as opposed to a flat surface, allowed for maximum water saturation and surface area coverage, leading to a more flavorful brew from our onboard machines.

During in-flight tests with customers, illy and United received great feedback on its darker "Scuro" roast bean. Medium roast beans have a very balanced taste and subtle flavor profile, but darker roasts have a bolder flavor and more noticeable chocolate notes. Since our taste senses are dulled in the air, dark roast beans make up for that lack of flavor perception so that customers aren't left feeling like they've been served a weak cup of coffee.

"Our teams conducted tests in the air with different planes, pillow packs, quantities of coffee and grinds, and the dark roast consistently achieved the best flavor balance," said Mark. "Even with the variables, time and time again our team and United's customers selected that roast as the best during taste tests."

United's Senior Manager of Product Strategy and Implementation Jeff Pelch said, "The quality of illy coffee and the work they've done to maximize the flavor of their product in the air is symbolic of where we're going as a company."

Indeed, our decision to partner with illy is a small but significant step towards putting our customers first in every way. Much like with fine wine and craft beer, customers are savvier than ever about their food and beverage choices. We're pleased to offer them a superb option, and one that will lead to a more enjoyable flying experience. Illy coffee will be onboard United flights starting July 1, 2016.

Think you know what kind of coffee you are? Take the quiz below to find out.


An update from our CEO, Oscar Munoz

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , March 27, 2020

To our customers,

I hope this note finds you and your loved ones healthy and well.

It is safe to say these past weeks have been among some of the most tumultuous and emotional that any of us can remember in our lifetimes. The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been felt by individuals and families, companies and communities, across the United States and around the world.

The response to this crisis has been extraordinary; as much for what it has required from our society as for what it has revealed of us as a people.

Far from causing division and discord, this crisis and the social distancing it has required, has allowed us to witness something profound and moving about ourselves: our fond and deeply felt wish to be connected with one another.

The role of connector is one we're privileged to play in the moments that matter most in your life – weddings and graduations, birthdays and business trips, events large and small – and it's that responsibility that motivates us most to get back to our regular service, as soon as possible.

That is why it is so important our government acted on a comprehensive relief act to ensure our airline – and our industry – are ready and able to serve you again when this crisis abates.

I want to relay to you, in as deeply personal a way I can, the heartfelt appreciation of my 100,000 United team members and their families for this vital public assistance to keep America and United flying for you.

This support will save jobs in our business and many others. And it allows us time to make decisions about the future of our airline to ensure that we can offer you the service you deserve and have come to expect as our customers.

While consumer demand has fallen, we have seen the need for our service and capabilities shifted. And, we've adapted to help meet those needs.

Right now, aircraft flying the United livery and insignia, flown by our aviation professionals, have been repurposed to deliver vital medical supplies and goods to some of the places that need it most. We're also using several of our idle widebody aircraft to use as dedicated charter cargo flights, at least 40 times per week, to transfer freight to and from U.S. locations as well as to key international business locations. At the same time, we are working in concert with the U.S. State Department to bring stranded Americans who are trying to return home back to their loved ones.

While much remains uncertain right now, one thing is for sure: this crisis will pass. Our nation and communities will recover and United will return to service you, our customers. When that happens, we want you to fly United with even greater pride because of the actions we took on behalf of our customers, our employees and everyone we serve.

Stay safe and be well,

Oscar Munoz
CEO

Working to bring people home – repatriation flights underway

By The Hub team , March 26, 2020

When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.

This week, we are operating 21 flights from Panama City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, to bring nearly 2,500 Americans home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.

Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.

Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:

  • Quito, Ecuador
  • Managua, Nicaragua
  • Roatan, Honduras
  • San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  • Amsterdam
  • Brussels
  • Munich
  • Singapore
  • Tokyo-Haneda
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Melbourne, Australia

Map showing reinstated international flights to help bring customers home during COVID-19 crisis.

We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.

Domestic and international schedule reductions

By The Hub team , March 25, 2020

While travel demand and government restrictions continue to impact our schedule, we know some people around the globe are displaced and still need to get home. While our international schedule will be reduced by about 90% in April, we will continue flying six daily operations to and from the following destinations — covering Asia, Australia, Latin America, the Middle East and Europe — in an effort to get customers where they need to be. This remains a fluid situation, but United continues to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world, especially in these challenging times. Learn more about what we're doing to keep customers and employees safe.

Flights continuing from now through May schedule:

  • New York/Newark – Frankfurt (Flights 960/961)
  • New York/Newark – London (Flights 16/17)
  • New York/Newark – Tel Aviv (Flights 90/91)
  • Houston – Sao Paulo (Flights 62/63)
  • San Francisco – Tokyo-Narita (Flights 837/838)
  • San Francisco – Sydney (Flights 863/870)

In addition to the above, we will continue to operate the following flights to help displaced customers who still need to get home. In destinations where government actions have barred us from flying, we are actively looking for ways to bring customers who have been impacted by travel restrictions back to the United States. This includes working with the U.S. State Department and the local governments to gain permission to operate service.

Atlantic

The following flights will continue through March 28 westbound:

  • New York/Newark – Amsterdam (Flights 70/71)
  • New York/Newark – Munich (Flights 30/31)
  • New York/Newark – Brussels (Flights 999/998)
  • New York/Newark – Cape Town (Flights 1122/1123)
  • Washington-Dulles – London (Flights 918/919)
  • San Francisco – Frankfurt (Flights 58/59)

The final westbound departures on all other Atlantic routes will take place on March 25.

Pacific

  • We will continue to fly San Francisco-Seoul (Flights 893/892) through March 29 and San Francisco-Tahiti (Flights 115/114) through March 28.
  • Our final eastbound departures on all other Pacific routes will take place on March 25.
  • We will maintain some Guam flights as well as a portion of our Island Hopper service.
  • Hawaii's governor issued a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine order for all travelers arriving or returning to Hawaii. Travelers must complete a Hawaii Department of Agriculture form that will be distributed on board their flight which will also include the requirements for the 14-day quarantine, as well as the penalties. You must show a government issued ID upon arrival along with your form. You can find more information on the governor's website.

Latin America/South America

  • We will continue to fly Newark/New York – Sao Paulo (Flights 149/148) through March 27 outbound.
  • The last southbound departures on most other routes will take place March 24.

Mexico

  • We will reduce our Mexico operation over the next five days. After March 24, we will maintain a small number of daytime flights to certain destinations in Mexico — more to come in the next few days.

Canada

  • We will suspend all flying to Canada effective April 1.

In destinations where government actions have barred us from flying, we are actively looking for ways to bring customers who have been impacted by travel restrictions back to the United States. This includes working with the U.S. State Department and the local governments to gain permission to operate service.

The revised international schedule will be viewable on united.com on Sunday, March 22. We will continue to update our customers with information as it's available.

If you're scheduled to travel through May 31, 2020, and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so, regardless of when you purchased your ticket or where you're traveling. Please visit united.com for more information, or reference our step-by-step guide on how to change your flight, cancel and rebook later.

For any customer, including residents from other countries, whose international travel is disrupted by more than six hours because of schedule changes resulting from government restrictions, they will retain a travel credit equal to the value of their ticket. That credit can be used towards any flight, to any destination, for 12 months from the time of purchase. If the customer chooses not to use the credit, they will receive a cash refund at the end of that 12-month period.We continue to aggressively manage the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on our employees, our customers and our business. Due to government mandates or restrictions in place prohibiting travel, we are reducing our international schedule by 95% for April. The revised international schedule will be viewable on united.com on Sunday, March 22.

Domestic schedule

We're also making changes to our domestic schedule. While we don't plan to suspend service to any single U.S. city now — with the exception of Mammoth Lakes and Stockton, CA — we are closely monitoring demand as well as changes in state and local curfews and government restrictions across the U.S. and will adjust our schedule accordingly throughout the month.

Additionally, today we announced a further reduction in our domestic schedule — the changes will result in a 52% overall domestic reduction from a previous 42%, and our overall capacity will now be down 68% overall.

Hub city Route suspensions Remaining service
Denver Arcata/Eureka
Amarillo
Kona
Kauai Island
SFO
IAH
SFO
SFO
New York/Newark Akron/Canton
Grand Rapids
Hilton Head
Honolulu
Milwaukee
Madison
Omaha
Portland, Oregon
Providence
Seattle
Salt Lake City
Sacramento
Knoxville
Fayetteville
ORD
ORD, DEN
IAD
ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO, LAX
ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO
IAD, ORD
IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO, LAX
ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO, LAX
ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO, LAX
IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO, LAX
ORD, IAH, DEN
Washington-Dulles Grand Rapids
Portland, Oregon
Sacramento
ORD, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO, LAX
ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO, LAX
Houston Hartford
Boise
Grand Rapids
Lexington
Ontario, California
Palm Springs
San Jose, California
Akron/Canton
Reno
IAD, ORD, DEN
ORD, DEN, SFO, LAX
ORD
ORD, DEN
IAD, ORD
DEN, SFO
DEN, SFO, LAX
DEN, SFO
DEN
Los Angeles Arcata/Eureka
Austin
Boston
Baltimore
Bozeman
Cleveland
Kona
Kauai Island
Orlando
Madison
Kahului
Redding
Reno
San Antonio
St George
SFO
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO
ORD, IAH, DEN
DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO
SFO
SFO
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN, SFO
ORD, DEN
DEN, SFO
SFO
DEN, SFO
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
DEN
Chicago Asheville
Bismarck/Mandan
Bozeman
Kearney
Panama City
Eugene
Fresno
Spokane
Hilton Head
Wilmington
Jackson
Kahului
Palm Springs
Reno
San Jose
Valparaiso
IAD
DEN
DEN
DEN
IAH
DEN, SFO, LAX
DEN, SFO, LAX
DEN, SFO
IAD
IAD
IAH
DEN, SFO
DEN, SFO, LAX
DEN, SFO
DEN
IAH
San Francisco Atlanta
Nashville
Baltimore
Bozeman
Columbus
Detroit
Fort Lauderdale
Indianapolis
Kansas City
Madison
New Orleans
Omaha
Philadelphia
Pittsburgh
Raleigh/Durham
San Antonio
St Louis
Tampa
Fayetteville
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN
DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
EWR, IAD, ORD, IAH, DEN
ORD, IAH, DEN
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