After my seatmate hissy fit incident last week, I thought it would be helpful to review how meal orders are supposed to be taken and prioritized on United Airlines in premium cabins.
Understanding Premium Cabin Meal Order Preferences On United Airlines
United offers snack or meal service in premium cabins on most flights over two hours. Typically, two choices are available (three to Hawaii and on longhaul international flights) and are divided roughly equally. What happens if everyone wants the same dish?
Per official policy, meal preferences are to be prioritized in the following order:
- Global Services members
- 1K members
- All other revenue passengers from front to back
Two key points to note. First, United now explicitly has informed flight attendants that preorders always take precedence over even the first choice of Global Services members. A memo to flight attendants reviewed by Live and Let’s Fly notes:
Customers with preorders take precedence in receiving their first choice over GS/1K customers. If the customer with the preorder changes their mind, then they will no longer take precedence over our GS/1K customers.
Second, United does not give higher preference to those who paid more a ticket versus those who upgraded. Nor does it give any preference even for MileagePlus Premier Platinum or Gold members over a general member who may be seated a row or two in front.
What Happens In Practice
If you fly United Airlines enough, you’ll note some flight attendants hop around the cabin, taking orders from highest status to lowest status. While this may make you feel special if you are asked early what your meal preference is, this is not proper protocol.
Rather, protocol is taking all orders from front to back, asking passengers for both their first and second choice. After all meal orders are taken, preferences are to be sorted in the galley. Passengers who do not wind up with their first choice are then informed and given a choice of a snack box or other alternative if they do not care for the second choice.
United has recently asked flight attendants to take meal orders using their company-issued iPhones, which have the added benefits of sorting meal orders automatically and providing analytics to United which will help it to load meals more effectively to reduce waste and maximize passenger preference.
I’m a very frequent United flyer and I’ve noticed a couple things. First, flight attendants seem resistant to taking orders by app and most still use pen and paper. Second, flight attendants rarely follow protocol and ask each passenger for first and second choice.
Instead, they tally meal choices as they work their way from front to back and when one option runs out, the remaining meal choice is offered, sometimes with a second choice of a snack box or fresh food item from the economy class buy-on-board menu.
What To Do If You Feel You Have Been Incorrectly Skipped Over
I ran into an incident once this year where a flight attendant did not take meal orders correctly and by the time she reached me in row five said there were only waffles left for breakfast (sound familiar…?)
Rather than throw a hissy fit, I gently asked if every passenger in front of me was also a 1K or Global Services member. She got the message and suddenly eggs were available.
Let’s remember it’s just airline food (though I think United’s domestic food is pretty tasty these days). I’m not going to get worked up over any airline meal and you should not either. If you have dietary restrictions, plan ahead for the worst.
Like with many things in life, honey works better than vinegar. Be polite, be courteous, and you stand a much better chance of scoring the meal you want, all else equal.
United’s method of sorting meal preference may seem opaque at times, but flight attendants have been provided a clear protocol. Unless you hold top-tier status, try to sit as close to the front as possible if you care deeply about your meal choice.
As United rolls out the ability to pre-order meals from more stations, this problem should get better. But until that happens, now you have a better idea of what to expect when ordering food in a United Airlines premium cabin, especially if you are an infrequent United flyer.
image: iyd39 via Shutterstock