If you are trying to preorder a meal on an upcoming United Airlines flight, you may find that your selection is “out of stock.” Here’s why.
United Airlines Meal Preorders In Premium Cabins – How It Works
This month, United Airlines expanded its preorder service to widebody international flights. You can now pre-reserve your choice of meal in Polaris Business Class between five days and 24 hours prior to your flight. This can be done on united.com or on the United Airlines app.
However, many have reported failure when attempting to reserve a preferred meal, with certain dishes showing “out of stock.” For example, here are a pair of screenshots from the preorder page:
The reason for this is the manner in which United has initially chosen to do preorders on Polaris flights.
Preorders can be done in two ways. The ideal way is that passengers have a choice prior to the flight among a list of menu items, then the flight is catered accordingly based on those choices. That, to me, is the very premise of a preorder program. The other way, however, is simply to use preorders to better allocate meals that have already been pre-proportioned and will not change based on the specific demand of the flight. In the early days of its preorder program, this is the path United has chosen.
I will demonstrate this through an example. Say you are flying from Chicago to Frankfurt on United in Polaris business class. There will be four choices on the menu for dinner. Historically, allocations are distributed roughly 40% beef, 25% chicken, 20% fish, and 15% pasta.
Currently, for Polaris preorders, United is capping pre-orders at 60% of a planned stock for a particular menu item. A United memo shared with Live And Let’s Fly explains:
Only 60% of the planned inventory for each item to be boarded on the aircraft will be available for customers. The remaining 40% of the inventory accommodates our GS/1Ks that may not have preordered, allowing them to still receive their first choice.
The good news is that top-tier elites who book last minute are still likely to get their preferred meal choice. The bad news is that those who book early and attempt to preorder may still find themselves eating their second or third choice for dinner.
United hopes to use the analytics gained from preorders to better proportion catering in the future, but as of now, proportions have already been set and will not vary. Thus, it is in your interest to order meals as soon as possible at the five-day mark.
Finally, it should be noted that domestic preorders work according to the other method: a list of options (beyond the standard three menu items) are available and a flight is catered based upon pre-orders. That is why you will not see “sold out” on a domestic flight in the forward cabin.
United has finally rolled out preorders on widebody jets years after American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have. While the new program is a positive start, the current system does not influence the actual catering of a specific flight. With menu item proportions already set in advance on international widebody flights, it benefits you to order as early as possible starting five days prior to travel in order to guarantee your preferred choice.