United Airlines Introduces Meals Midday and on Redeyes Plus New Meal Choices

United announced meal service upgrades today with the biggest changes for domestic premium cabins.

  • There will be new choices on premium cross country flights between Newark and Los Angeles/San Francisco and in international business class like roasted duck and flat-iron steak. These come to premium transcon flights October 25, no date was mentioned for international.
  • Starting November 1 domestic first class flights over three hours that depart between 1:30 and 3:59pm will get lunch (it’s shocking that they didn’t already get a meal, actually).
  • Hawaii and cross country redeye departures will get a meal service. That’s a long time in coming.

The new lunch service will include entree salads, something American brought back in May.

American Airlines Pecan-crusted Chicken Salad

They’ll offer “Napa salad with grilled salmon, goat cheese and fig and an arugula salad with Milanese-style chicken.”

The new redeye long haul dinner service from Hawaii will include hoisin short ribs with wasabi grits and stir-fried vegetables, and the Hawaii-West Coast and West Coast – East coast redeyes will get “hearty sandwiches after takeoff, such as a pretzel burger with bleu cheese dressing, arugula and pickled onions, followed by warmed pastries before arrival.”

Premium cabin United Express service will get new unspecified lunch, dinner and snacks and expanded lunch meal windows on flights over 3 hours.

They’ll also refresh economy buy on board options November 1:

Menu selections will include a Southwestern bistro scramble for breakfast and, for lunch and dinner, a rustic Italian sandwich and a French country-style bowl with slow-cooked beef, roasted carrots, onions, parsnips and steamed white rice.

Finally Latin America and Caribbean ‘business markets’ will get new dishes in December.

There’s nothing revolutionary here, although offering something a bit more substantive on redeye flights is long overdue (even if a ‘pretzel burger’ doesn’t exactly jump off the page as exciting). Delta continues to improve its meal service, and American made real strides after the huge cuts to meal service the airline implemented in September 2014. So United is having to invest a bit more, which is good for flyers.

Taken together with United’s announcement of a new domestic first class seat this is especially good to see.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Bravo to United. I am still a believer in bringing my own food on board. First class is a bigger seat to me, that’s about it. As an adult, I don’t expect an airline to know what I want to eat on that particular day. I started picking my own food when I left for college.

    But, whatever, I know most flyers prefer to have an airline feed them airline food. Nothing negative here.

    I am somewhat surprised you didn’t end the title with an exclamation point.

  2. The most recent meal service guidelines left a bit of a donut hole at midday on flights of about 3-4h (midcon). Longer hauls and transcon naturally got a full meal, but flights like PHL-DEN at 3:30pm were curiously snacks-only.

    Also, the Hawaii longhaul red eyes, some of which departed around 9pm, previously only received a single-tray service consisting of a soup/sandwich or some other paltry offering. Now there will be a full dinner service, as there should be on flights that exceed East Coast-Europe in duration.

    Good on United for addressing some clear service deficiencies and the source of customer complaints.

  3. This is great news. I have a CUN-ORD that departs at 2:50pm in mid-November that now gets a lunch. I thought it was pretty nuts that a flight that is 3:55 in length didn’t get a meal.

  4. Airplane food is a nearly universal experience among flyers, even more than luggage, and most of the people eating that food will pay cash and will always pay cash. Cash customers will be more positively motivated to become repeat flyers by well-prepared meals than any other single move an airline could make, and at a very low unit cost. Scrimping on the grub nails down pennies in profit today, but tomorrow costs you dollars. If they are required to serve decent food in a federal prison, how can passengers on a US-licensed airplane reasonably be asked to routinely pay cash and settle for less?

  5. Always good to see more food than less food. The other week I was on a UA transcon with my wife. As 1Ks flying mid-week, I thought our odds were good for an upgrade. They weren’t — we were still 5th and 6th on the waitlist. But we had Economy+ and a middle seat free. With no food up front, it didn’t seem like we were materially worse off missing that upgrade. It seemed pretty odd that a 2500 mile upgrade would be worth so little. Which makes you wonder why anyone would pay for it. I guess providing food makes that product more plausible.

  6. Pffft to this crap. Here’s what UAL isn’t doing…

    – restoring meal service to the 8 hour international HNL-GUM flight. I have to fly that in three weeks. Oh, yay! I could care less if they are refreshing their paid selection. They still won’t offer meal service for a flight three hours longer than their HNL-MAJ flight which does offer meal service.

  7. More changes I’m gonna like! No doubt these have been in the works since Jeffy was in charge, but I do not think it coincidental that they are being rolled out so soon after his departure.

    Personally I think the domestic redeye meals (West-East) are stupid – people departing late want to maximize sleep time, not stuff their faces at midnight. What would be smarter would be to promise dinner on all East to West flights (including midcons from ORD and IAH). Many of us rush to the airport after a day of meetings and don’t have time to eat before an 8-10pm departure (and maybe connecting from an earlier flight).

    So UA is on the right track, but the execs really need to think about how their premium customers travel to get it right.

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