For the first time in my life, after millions of miles flown to nearly one-third of the countries in the world, I was nearly kicked off a flight for asking about a snack box.
Meal Policies on United Airlines
Snack boxes for short-haul flights are catered to aircraft for first-class passengers. Instead of full meals, the snack boxes are all that are offered in short, “due to COVID.”
It’s not an issue of passengers being able to eat onboard the plane and the risk of a mask being lowered for this purpose, otherwise, they wouldn’t offer food in the front of the plane either. United passes out a small snack bag with a half bottle of water, pretzels, and a Stroop Waffel to all coach passengers. There’s also no restriction against food a passenger chooses to bring on board underlining that it isn’t an issue of passengers eating.
They do not sell the snack boxes to any passenger. In the past, United Premier 1K passengers (top published elite level) were treated to a cocktail and a snack from the menu (if hot items were available this included those selections too) if their complimentary upgrade to first-class didn’t clear.
“Due to COVID” this is no longer the case. While the snack boxes and booze (I don’t drink but it’s the same problem for those who do) are onboard the aircraft physically, peons in “common class” aren’t allowed them even if they’re entitled to them by the rules to United’s own program that they set and promote.
I Asked a Question, Politely
The above was all background and while I am sure you can sense my irritation, I wasn’t nearly as bothered during my flight that I didn’t have access to a box with crackers and cheese inside.
As my snack bag was being distributed, I politely asked if I could have a snack box.
“We don’t have them onboard, unfortunately.”
As the flight attendant said this, snack boxes are literally being held above another flight attendant’s head as she handed out preferred choices to the first-class cabin behind the FA telling me they aren’t on the plane. Maintaining my low tone and calm demeanor I motion that behind her, at that very moment, they are being handed out in the front of the plane.
Sorry, we can’t do this “due to COVID. They only load enough for first-class so there is exactly that number of snack boxes catered.”
I clarified, “I’m not asking you to bring me one of theirs or to change the policy. I just don’t quite understand why they didn’t cater more.”
She moved on, and so did I – who doesn’t love a Stroopwaffel? I later learned the person behind me had the same question, but I didn’t know it at the time, nor did he when he asked it of the same flight attendant.
Pouring Gas on the Situation
Another flight attendant, this one, a vigilante of sorts from first-class but not the purser, came up to me and addressed the situation. She answered that there had been a policy change and the flight attendant indicated I was rude and made her uncomfortable. She condescended from the start,
“Maybe you haven’t flown with us since the start of the pandemic,” she said.
“No, I have.” I should have told her that I hadn’t missed an upgrade in a while, but I let her tone stand on its own.
“Then you know that this is the policy and our flight attendants shouldn’t be harassed for enforcing it.”
“Wait a second. I didn’t raise my voice, I didn’t call her a name. I simply asked if I could have a snack box, she indicated they weren’t on the plane, you were passing them out-” she then cut me off.
“Those are for first-class only. Due to COVID.”
“Ok, but asking for clarification isn’t the same as harassment. Can I not ask a question?” I asked, becoming a little more annoyed but still maintaining my composure. We see these things spiral out of control here at LiveAndLetsFly.com all the time.
She then suggested that I’d be able to have all of my questions answered on the ground where the cops would be waiting.
Following this, as we spoke both of our masks dipped below the tips of our noses several times. We each adjusted them accordingly – which isn’t good because that meant we were constantly touching them. She separately threatened that she would have me removed as well if I couldn’t get my mask to stay over my nose and mouth while speaking (despite sharing the same issue herself.) Ultimately she left to bring me a more suitable mask (which was smaller.) I went to the bathroom to swap it just to make sure I wasn’t bare-faced in the cabin at any point.
Spirit is Capable, Why Not United?
Last week I tried out Spirit’s new Gold elite status. Like United Premier 1K elite status, Spirit also gives me a free checked bag, free carry-on, exit row seating (with the same seat pitch), with a snack, and cocktail (or drink) when riding in coach. I had recently eaten, so I gave my snack box to my daughter, and the kid’s selection was really pretty cute. I took a photo of it because I thought they did some clever stuff, like making the lid into a postcard.
So to review, both carriers offer the same benefit in coach. Spirit was able to execute and actually distribute the snack box, but United Airlines wasn’t. As the flight attendant “Yolanda” (I doubt this was her name based on the amount of time she took to think of it when I asked) made clear, this is a policy change and not something ground catering, nor the crew can control.
Is there any reason at all that United can’t possibly offer the benefit to qualified flyers – especially when they know precisely how many will be on board, and where they are seated? Is Spirit just passing United on customer service?
I have flown nearly two million butt-in-seat miles during my life to over 60 countries on every continent other than Antarctica. I am simultaneously United Premier 1K, American Airlines Executive Platinum, and Spirit Gold Elite. I write for this and other sites about the travel industry, its rules, policies, and regulations. For a flight attendant such as Yolanda on United 422 this week to use her position as a power trip because she didn’t like a question being answered – is disgusting.
As four United Premier 1Ks (one of which was me) walked out of the exit rows – none of whom knew each other prior to the flight – we learned that three of us were threatened with police waiting for us in Newark. It’s utterly shocking that asking a question could even be considered as grounds for removal. At least one of the four of us vowed to change their carrier following the flight and another elite sitting next to me (Silver) quit United on the spot following the event.
What I find really shocking on top of all of this, is that Spirit is able to do a better job for elites than United. Who would have seen that coming?
What do you think? Is this appropriate behavior for flight attendants? Is it inappropriate to ask what policy changes may have occurred? Are these grounds for removal?