United Airlines has dramatically scaled back premium cabin meal service on some but not all of its premium transcontinental flights. While reports are mixed, many passengers are receiving a double whammy: no meal service on flights that do not have lie-flat beds.
United Airlines Premium Transcontinental Service Cuts
United offers “premium transcontinental” service on three routes:
- Boston ⇄ San Francisco
- Newark ⇄ San Francisco
- Newark ⇄ Los Angeles
These flights traditionally operated with lie-flat beds in business class and a meal service that resembled an international flights. But under the guise of safety due to COVID-19, United has scaled back meal service dramatically. Still, these three routes are still supposed to receive meals (the only domestic routes that still receive meals).
According to the united.com COVID-19 meal page:
“Customers in the premium cabin will receive their meal with their entrée choice covered and will be offered a packaged snack for pre-arrival.”
The meals are supposed to look like this:
With demand depressed, United is operating a mix of narrowbody and wide body aircraft on its premium transcontinental routes between Los Angeles/San Francisco and Newark. Some of these flights still feature lie-flat seats while others do not. We’ve seen a mix of Boeing 787s, 757s, and even some Airbus A319s and 737s on these routes. The Boston – San Francisco routes have moved exclusively to narrowbody aircraft without lie-flat seating.
As if that is not bad enough, many Live and Let’s Fly readers have reported that they have been receiving snack boxes instead of the already-simplified meals above on these “premium transcontinental” routes.
I reached out to United with several data points and after researching, a spokesperson told me:
“For the safety of our customers and crew, we have made a number of changes to our inflight food and beverage service. We are currently offering hot meals to customers in first class on select premium transcontinental flights, and will resume offering hot meals to first class customers on all premium transcontinental flights in July.”
I found that statement rather cryptic, so I asked for more clarification. United.com says all flights receive hot meal service but now you are saying “select” flights receive hot meals. Which flights? How should a customer know or plan when all flights still indicate a full meal.
The spokesperson clarified:
“It’s based on aircraft type. We’ve currently subbed in some aircraft on those routes that are not lie flat which have not received hot meals.”
That may be the official line, but at least one reader claimed he was on a widebody aircraft with lie-flat seats and also received a snack box. Meanwhile, another passenger flying from San Francisco to Boston not only received a snack box, but watched a flight attendant eat a hot meal in front of him:
“Only one snack box offered for a six hour flight.
“This was even harder to swallow after watching the flight attendant heat up an entree in the oven, and eat it in full view of the passengers. Her pasta looked mighty tasty.
“If they aren’t going to provide a hot meal, they shouldn’t promote it in the pre flight information. I would have eaten before boarding.”
That is not the way to win premium customers…
Another Kirby Kutback? In Any Case, More Hygiene Theatre
The catering change has Scott Kirby’s name written all over it, though that is merely speculation on my part. Kirby, known as a bean counter, is probably the best man possible to keep United Airlines alive during the pandemic. But I continue to believe Kirby acts in a “penny wise, pound foolish” way by alienating high-revenue customers over trivialities like meals.
I say trivialities in terms of cost, not in terms of experience.
And spare me the safety arguments, please. By now, I am convinced that almost all meal service cutbacks are simply cost cutbacks masquerading under the mask of safety. COVID-19 does not spread through hot meals any more than spreads through snack boxes. You can see above how carefully wrapped the meals are. If United is concerned about safety, it should just focus on CleanPlus and bring back all pre-COVID-19 meal service.
But this isn’t about meal service at all…it is about cost-cutting.
Boston to San Francisco is nearly 6.5 hours. To present only snack boxes and standard seating while still charging a “premium transcontinental” price strikes me ridiculous. United’s decision to eliminate meal service on flights without lie-flat beds is a double whammy to customers.