Back to front or front to back? Full-fare first? How about those with status? United Airlines is taking out the mystery in how FAs honor onboard meal service preference.
If you’re seated in United First on domestic flights or Polaris Business on international flights, you might wonder how meal preferences are sorted. What if everyone wants the same thing? When there is not enough of one meal to go around, who gets stuck with their second choice?
Up until now, it was a case of wait and see. While protocols exist, flight attendants on United are consistently inconsistent in how meal orders are taken. Some go front to back without regard for frequent flyer status. Others hop around the cabin taking orders by highest status to lowest status. Once in awhile, especially on widebody planes, the purser will start in 1A and proceed in a big counterclockwise circle around the cabin. Bottom line: you never know what to expect.
United’s latest module in its iPhone Inflight Service app will automatically sort meals preferences, saving flight attendants the tally marks and manual counting that currently characterize taking meal orders. Orders will be input into the app, which will then sort orders on the following basis:
- Global Services & 1Ks
- All remaining customers from front to back
- Positive Space travelers
- Pass riders
The app will indicate who gets who first choice and who must take their second choice.
Furthermore, the app will offer pictures and a more detailed description of each meal choice, providing customers more insight to make their choice. The app will also take drink orders, indicate special meal orders, and allow for customization requests to be processed.
Advanced Technology Coming
Over time, the app will build a meal preference profile for each MileagePlus traveler. Eventually, that info will be used to cater flights. If 10/12 MileagePlus members in an A320 cabin consistently order salads, the flight will be provisioned with more salads instead of a 6/6 split between salads and the alternate choice.
Concurrently, United is testing out meal service pre-ordering and plans to expand that to many more flights later in the year. Allowing customers to pre-order meals is another way to take out the mystery of sorting meals. But that will never be a perfect solution since many buy tickets or score upgrades at the last minute.
The new app is currently in test phase (a small group of flight attendants has been testing it since March). At an unspecified point later this year, it will roll out to domestic narrowbody flights. From there, it could expand systemwide. Then the only question will be if flight attendants will actually use the app or just stick to pen and paper…some habits are hard to break.