Say What? United Airlines Has the Best Onboard Breakfast

We often talk about the what airlines are serving but more important than the what is the taste.

I know that sounds like an oxymoron, the idea of airline food that’s good. Passengers complain that they aren’t served food anymore in coach most of the time. When i first started traveling for business (and certainly growing up), passengers complained that they were served food. Because airline food was a joke.

There were efforts to improve on that, of course. Back when United’s premium cabin meals were branded with celebrity chef Jacques Pepin (so long before Charlie Trotter’s first appearance with the airline, the celebrity chef whose meals were largely derided as giving passengers ‘the trots’), they actually had economy meals which were chef-branded. United’s chef in economy was Sheila Lukins.

Thirty years ago of course United had an economy meals partnership with McDonalds — with happy meal toys (I have both Ronald McDonald and Grimace). United replaced the galley carts with ones specially-designed to keep the burger warm while the lettuce and bun stayed cool.

US airlines are never going to be a match for their foreign counterparts. Last month on an Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to New York JFK I ordered my eggs scrambled with smoked salmon. That wasn’t an option on the menu, but they had smoked salmon bagels, so I asked if they might use the smoke salmon in my eggs.

But I do think that for flavor United is doing the best job right now, at least at breakfast and among US airlines. For all of the choices Delta talks about, you mostly see eggs and cereal. As it is with American. United’s rendition tastes pretty good.

In economy United has the best snacks, the Stroopwafel to go along with coffee, I’m looking forward to their switch to illy though I wonder how illy will taste onboard made with the plane’s water.

In domestic first class they offer a bit of variety beyond just eggs, cereal, and yogurt though they have that too.

I wish US airlines would think more broadly about breakfast, maybe just abolishing the word and going with ‘brunch’ in its place.

What really makes breakfast at United though is the most delicious and sinful cinnamon buns. Sure they’re a lot of calories, but they’re also delicious. Most airline food is a lot of calories. This is more worth it than most.

I don’t fly United that much, though I’ve flown them more since American announced their frequent flyer program changes. Now that miles and revenue-based points have been combined for earning elite status I can qualify for top tier with AAdvantage more easily — I probably look to American like I’m being more loyal, when in fact they’re getting less wallet share and I focus more on schedule and price.

Which means a cinnamon roll, and drinkable coffee, may matter more than it used to.

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, 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. @Johnny33 your contributions are lovely as always.

    For those curious about my routine I meet a trainer twice a week for an hour each. I have a treadmill next to my desk that I use regularly. And I skip more airline meals than I eat.

  2. You are so right…it is all about those cinnamon buns. If only flights from EWR and JFK could manage to supply a good bagel…

  3. Out of curiosity, do you credit your United flights to United itself, or one of the partners?

  4. @Christian depends on the price of the ticket, high price short flight = MileagePlus, long/cheap would go to Singapore Krisflyer, but I’ve actually booked a couple of United metal awards this year too.

  5. @johnny33,

    Did it somehow make you feel better to make that comment? You realize it just makes you look like a jerk, don’t you?

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