Illycaffè Becomes The Official Coffee Supplier For United Airlines

United Airlines partners with illycaffe


Italian coffee powerhouse illycaffè  has been chosen as the company to serve United Airlines worldwide.

United Airlines and illycaffè

Beginning in December 2015, United Airlines will offer illy’s signature scuro dark roast and the coffee company’s espresso in United Club locations at the airline’s mainland U.S. hubs (Chicago, Denver, Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington Dulles). Other lounge locations will offer illy beginning in 2016.

The scuro dark roast will be served complimentary on board flights worldwide in Summer 2016.

United Airlines Partners with illycaffe
United Airlines partners with illycaffe
Source: United Airlines

Not Just a Cup of Coffee

Chosen after extensive testing with United customers and employees – including in-flight taste tests – illy reflects the airline’s global network as well as United’s commitment to creating an elevated, distinctive premium experience for its customers.

Based in Trieste, Italy, with more than 80 years of history in the coffee industry, illy’s distinct flavor comes from a unique blend of the top one percent of Arabica beans, purchased directly from the best growers in Brazil, Central America, India and Africa.


“Our collaboration with illy is helping to make the world feel a bit smaller and making flying that much more special, simply by way of a perfect cup of coffee,” said Jimmy Samartzis, United’s vice president of food services and United Clubs. “By serving the world’s most well-known premium coffee in our clubs and on board, we are communicating an experience to our customers and our employees with the quality and care that comes with every cup.”

“It’s truly an honor for illy to be selected as the worldwide coffee partner for United Airlines. The process and final decision to choose illy demonstrates United’s deep commitment to providing its customers the highest quality products and experiences,” said Andrea Illy, Chairman and CEO of illycaffe s.p.a. “Our new relationship with United Airlines is also a testament to our passion for the best and recognition that the illy brand is the world’s reference for coffee culture and excellence.”


Zagat recently revealed that Americans in 2015 drink approximately 2.1 cups of coffee daily in its National Coffee Survey. There is a need for airlines to cater to passenger with a caffeine fix. Prior to the Illy announcement, United Airlines used FreshBrew® (2010) chosen as part of the merger with Continental Airlines and StarBucks® before that.

With five years of customer feedbacks behind them, the Chicago based airline decided it was time refresh its coffee supplier and invited 17 candidates (including FreshBrew) to compete. Starbucks was out of the equation as Delta Air Lines took over that partnership in 2015 (News – March 1, 2015).

Of the 17 that went through various stages of testing, three made it to the final round. illy took the crown after various taste tests on the ground and in the air. The latter is important as taste buds and smell change in high altitude.

Other airlines that use the illy brand on board/or at airport lounges include:

  • Singapore Airlines (SQ) (2013) – first in the world to use single-origin Monoarabica beans in its premium cabins
  • Dragonair (KA)(2015) – Special blend created specifically for premium cabin passengers
    Illy Special Blend
    Illy Special Blend
    Source: Dragonair
  • Cathay Pacific Airways (CX)(2015) – illy’s medium- and dark-roasted brewed coffee for all passengers and espresso, café lattes, and cappuccinos served in its premium cabins
    Cathay Pacific and illy
    Cathay Pacific and illy partnership
    Source: DestinAsian

Partnership Opportunities

With the partnership in place to meet coffee drinker needs, United Airlines and illy can explore other cross promotional activities including:

  • Social media interaction between the airline and the coffee house
  • The airline can feature other illy products (including coffee and accessories) for purchase online at, its online retail store or through on board’s duty free. MileagePlus® members can participate in promotions to earn extra miles when buying specialty illy products
  • illy operates 160 cafes in the main cities of 34 countries under the espressamente illy banner around the world. United Airlines can secure rights to be featured in some or all of them
  • illy and United Airlines can create special blends of coffee to integrate with the airline’s catering upgrades. Instead of a wine pairing with entreès, coffee can be paired with different desserts to maximize taste profiles
  • With millions of passengers served, illy can work with United Airlines to test new products with passengers

Final Call

United Airlines will the biggest airline in the world serving illy coffee starting in 2016. This will help both companies cater to coffee drinkers very specific needs for a cup of joe.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.