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.
So what if you are someone who travel a lot at the last minute and consistently has to get a seat in the back of the cabin where you will rarely have a choice of meal option (or maybe you just like sitting in the back). Does this mean United will calculate your preference based on having no other option? On the surface it seems like a good idea, but wouldn’t it be just as easier to offer meal pre-selection through the app at check-in (or any time before)? Then you could accurately build a profile of someone’s preferences.
Couple things. If used correctly, the last-minute traveler’s first and second meal choice will be registered. Thus, the system will track first choice, even if not delivered. Second, United is planning to expand mea service pre-orders, but like Delta and American will likely be limited to orders made at least 24 hours before travel.
OK, that makes sense…I was initially under the impression the app knew how many of each choice were available, so if you were at the back it wouldn’t even show an option that was no longer available.
I also agree with Steve…I mainly fly United and I have been on paid D & C as Platinum, but still lost out to upgraded 1K/GS. I think all paid fares should get preference over all upgrades.
Glad to see there is a system at least. Not that United cares, but there should really be a clear divide between paid fares and upgrades. I’ve been given my second choice meal on flights I paid (P fare, but still…) and the cabin had 12/20 upgraded 1Ks who were all given their first choice. Pretty insulting. Maybe this will eventually be mitigated by the “machine learning” aspect that gets to know my meal choices.
Sounds pretty cool. About time technology was used to improve the passenger experience once on board.
Definitely leave the employees and freebees for last. Give them all the “cold cereal” trays on breakfast flights. 😉
More reason not to have status on United below 1K. I dropped from 1K to Platinum this year. Once the MileagePlus devaluation was announced I moved all business away I could. Next year Ill be Gold.
Can anybody please explain what the last 2 mean? Sorry if this is obvious.
Positive Space travelers
Positive space is confirmed employee travel
Pass riders generally means leisure employee/family travel awaiting seats on a standby basis.
For two years I have pre-ordered my food on American.
Been available longer.
Since the United App was released I have biannually requested that feature.
Yeah, it’s about time United caught up, right Michael? As a UA regular I have to say it was pretty sweet flying American knowing my choice was waiting and ready when I boarded (and verbally confirmed by the FA). It felt very professional. Delta offers it too.
They mastered the IT for the meal ordering. The nearly a dozen Business International meals I’ve experiencced with them have been sub-par though. I’m still giving them a pass because I experienced the same at UA during their transition after merging. What I really do not like is the lack of a true pre-departure drink on their international flight.
Cool they’re working the learning into it
Steve… I’m A 1K and I get upgraded frequently. But guess what?
I get upgraded using a global upgrade because I bought my own ticket with money it’s not a free ride in the front so don’t get upset with that man, just fly more and become A 1K yourself
I recently flew United First as a non United Star Gold and had my meal order taken before the 1K sitting next to me, with the flight attendant loudly exclaiming how important *Golds are. The 1K was pretty pissed, since I got the last hot breakfast lol.
As a flight attendant this process was never hard. The softwares reasoning is the same that I use anyway. Plus being a beta tester for the app it doesn’t work well anyway and isn’t any faster than doing it on my own. Lastly this app doesn’t solve any problems. People are going to grip moan and groan about not getting their choice still.
I appreciate that you take orders in the correct manner. Many of your colleagues, particularly on the ex-Continental side, do not.
Im on the ex-Co like you mentioned and I do take orders per company policy.By the way we are all UNITED
I appreciate you are all United and did not mean any disrespect, just noting my experience as a 1K MillionMiler.
Funny, the ex-Continentals you speak of that don’t follow the rule are the ones that created that rule. Mr. Bethune felt everyone should be treated equally once in the plane. Front to back, window to aisle, women first always. The ex-United flight attendants couldn’t keep up with GS, Premier 1k, 1K, Economy Plus, blah blah blah while the exContinentals were winning JD Powers awards.
That is a flawed system when those in the back are left without choice simply on the basis of their seat assignment.