I was wondering what took United so long. The carrier has finally matched the cutbacks to onboard product introduced by American and Delta during a time of heightened tension over COVID-19.
United Airlines “Streamlines” Beverage + Meal Service Onboard
In summary, United will cut ice, cut coffee and tea, and offer actual meals only to business class passengers on premium transcontinental flights (between Los Angeles/San Francisco and Newark, San Francisco and Boston). Economy class passengers will need to bring their own food. Most changes take effect on March 29th. Here’s a copy of a memo sent to flight attendants and obtained by Live and Let’s Fly:
Effective immediately, unless otherwise noted, we’re eliminating or streamlining most services, including suspending our buy on board program, and moving to primarily pre-packaged foods and sealed beverages.
The following outlines the temporary onboard service offerings.
Beverage service – all flights, all cabins
- Bottled water and sealed beverages (not poured) – no ice, no coffee/tea service, cups upon request
- We will continue to provide coffee and tea for you and the pilots
- Catering is working to provision and board bottled water. You will begin seeing it onboard March 29 and increase as additional supply arrives.
- We will offer beer and individual wines in domestic first and United Polaris
- For flights under 1.5 hours (300 miles)
- Sealed beverages upon request, no snack service
- For flights over 1.5 hours (300 miles) (effective March 29)
- Economy will be offered a snack choice (pretzel, stroopwafel, Oreo Thins, etc.)
- Premium cabin will be offered a snack basket (flights between 1:30-2:20) or buy on board snack box (flights over 2:20)
- For premium transcontinental (effective March 29)
- Economy will be offered a snack choice (pretzel, stroopwafel, etc.). We removed the Economy Plus meal.
- Premium cabin will include a pre-packaged dessert (no ice cream) and bread served on tray. Everything served packaged or covered for customer to unwrap. We will have a snack basket for pre-arrival.
International flights (effective March 29)
- In United Economy, snack and packaged dessert will be served on the tray in one service delivery. Everything served packaged or covered for customers to unwrap. Pre-packed items for mid-flight and pre-arrival where necessary.
- In United Polaris, entrée, pre-packaged dessert and bread served on tray in one service delivery. Everything served packaged or covered for customers to unwrap. Pre-packaged snack for midflight and fresh packaged meal for pre-arrival (e.g., similar to our fresh Buy on Board items today).
A few more things to know
- Special meal ordering will be suspended, with the exception of flights between EWR and TLV, where Kosher Special Meals will be available, and customers can request them as they do today.
- Customer preorder will be suspended
- The Meals module for taking customer meals on the airplane will not be updated to reflect the current menu, please use the previous paper process for meal ordering.
- Crew meals will not be affected by these changes
- Catering is working to implement these changes in the galley packing on the aircraft; however, it may be a few days for the changes to consistently processed.If you still see some items onboard that are not needed for this new temporary service, you do not need to use them.
United has also updated its meal service page on united.com to reflect these changes.
The changes make sense now, with key emphasis on now. Clearly, this is a Kirby Kutback, because United exceeded the cutbacks on American Airlines, which will still offer meals on flight over 2,200 miles in premium cabins, not only premium transcontinental flights. If first class passengers receive covered meals that they must unwrap, why only offer them between three city pairs instead of on a wider basis? (Hint: it’s about cutting costs too). On the other hand, the Delta cutbacks are more draconian.
Whatever the case, I think most (if not all) customers who have to travel these days are doing so because they have to, not for the heck of it. And from what I’ve heard, most are refusing meals anyway as a precaution against the spread of virus.
My concern is not for meal and beverage service now, but meal service later. Will these cuts ever be restored? Or will United be “hit so hard” that some of these items never return. I hope we have the luxury of having that discussion in the months ahead. For now, I’m not complaining. But I’ll be watching…
I’m frankly surprised it took so long for United to make these changes, but they are coming, most effective on March 29, 2020. Bottom line, expect a seated beverage and light snack onboard and if you need anything else, consider bringing it yourself.