While details have yet to emerge, United Airlines plans to shortly reintroduce the ability for first class passengers to order meals in advance on select flights. It will also use technology to better provision catering on flights.
United Airlines Will Bring Back Meal Pre-Orders In First Class
Prior to the pandemic, United had introduced meal service pre-orders on a limited number of domestic routes. In fact, United’s Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist had told Live and Let’s Fly that the meal service pre-order program would roll out to all domestic flights with meal service in 2021. But plans to expand this systemwide, as American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have done for years, were interrupted by the pandemic.
Now United is again using technology to be smarter about catering provisioning and ensuring that passenger meal preferences are tracked and properly prioritized. Currently, United has no insight on what customers order or how often they do not receive their first choice. Through the use of the flight attendant app, United will have additional insight into consumer preference.
On the customer side, United will introduce the ability to pre-reserve meals. Prior to the pandemic, this was available via an email link sent in the days leading up to the flight. A new solution which is integrated into united.com or the mobile app is envisioned for the future.
Flight Attendants Will Use App, Not Paper, To Take Meals Orders
Perhaps the better phraseology would be flight attendants should use the app to take meal orders. This technology is not new, but it is being refreshed to more dynamically track meal orders and provide analytics to United so that it can better provision catering on future flights.
Too often, flight attendants simply go from front to back using a printed manifest and pen, not prioritizing meal service based upon status. While I prefer to sit in the rear of the first class cabin, I rarely do precisely because I hate missing out on my first meal choice.
But if flight attendants use this app, it will prioritize meals based upon status, eliminating concern about missing out on your first choice if you have MileagePlus status and are seated in the rear of the cabin.
As United seeks to raise its NPS, this would be an important step toward consistency, which is a mark of professionalism and ultimately excellence. United also plans to eventually allow customers in economy class to pre-reserve snacks or meals for purchase.
Using technology like the flight attendant app to track meal order preference will lead to smarter catering provisioning. Not only will that make passengers happier, but it will also minimize waste. This is a long overdue, but welcome move on United.
Any time frame for when this will roll out? Will this also include Polaris and PP?
You mention an interesting point, that United flight attendants often provide first class meal choices based on status. The fascinating thing about this is that “status” most often means that the passenger got into first class by upgrade, and I wonder why a free upgrade for any status of passenger should warrant first meal choice instead of a passenger who paid for his first class ticket. The airlines, especially Delta, have made a serious effort over the recent past to get more paid passengers into first class, but when a paid passenger is a second class first class passenger when it comes to meals, this seems like a strange way to apportion the limited number of meal choices. I am a regular paid first class passenger, and I have experienced this first hand. It’s no biggie to me, because the meals often don’t mean that much to me, but I have often marveled that my paid ticket isn’t valued as much as the guy who got a free upgrade. I know that people who get upgrades always think they deserve a whole basket of extras, but what about the guy who spends his own cash? From the airline’s perspective, he is special, too.
“The fascinating thing about this is that “status” most often means that the passenger got into first class by upgrade”
I don’t think the premise is accurate. Sure those upgraded have status but how many are we talking about? Surely people with status purchse F. I do.
When you look at the upgrade list at any United gate, these are people who did not pay for first class, and there are often many of these who get upgraded. Thus these are the people I am talking about. If you pay for first class as I do, do you think it is proper that someone with higher status than you have, and who is upgraded without paying extra for that seat, should get first choice of a meal over you? I know it’s a matter of opinion, and maybe you, or others, would disagree with me, but I think that a paid first class ticket should put a person at the top of the first class list. After all, “status,” as it relates to an upgrade, still says that you are getting a seat in the first class cabin that you did not specifically pay for. Why should this provide you with a benefit that can’t be achieved by someone who actually did pay for it, for that seat, on that day? High status people think they deserve the world, and, at least in this issue, United obviously agrees that they are more important to the company than a paid first class passenger. I just think that actually paying for that ticket should give you privileges that others can’t get for free. A paid first class passenger pays twice to three times the cost of economy. That should speak for a lot.
@Daniel – United has likely done math on this front. There’s a dollar amount of value with the Premier program now.
According to their data and view – a $15,000+ a year revenue flier upgraded is worth the perk more than the paid first flyer who might only contribute $2,000 or $4,000 a year. Same for the early boarding.
There are other airlines that have different data and customer profiles who handle this policy differently. It’s nice to have choice.
Being able to pre order meals for a flt at the time of ticket purchase from a select menu, would eliminate current problems experienced by premium cabin pax. Last minute upgraded pax could be offered a select menu choice of lessor value. Onboard service would improve, premium cabin pax guaranteed their meal choice, airlines make money. What the problem?
To agree with Greg there may be 1Ks who buy first class, but all airlines know that treating an upgraded 1K better than a non-status revenue flyer is more beneficial in the long run.
I agree this is a better system, I just hope FA’s remember to give eye contact when putting the orders in on their phones. Those screens can be rather…. encapsulating.