United Introducing New ‘Pick Up Pan’ Drink Service for Short Flights

The inimitable Brian Sumers shares a change in policy coming to short United effective January 1. Instead of trying to offer a full drink service to economy passengers, flights attendants will pre-pour a selection of beverages and place those onto a “pick up pan” for customers.

It’s a quicker drink service that is easier to complete and also means less choice for customers. Flight attendants will choose what to pour, though they’re encouraged to offer coffee on morning flights.

I do think it’s hilarious that United suggests the time savings will be used to interact with customers. There’s more time spent interacting with customers asking their choice and delivering on it. What sort of interaction does United envision here, other than with a People magazine in the galley?

On the whole flight attendants are being asked to do less. This won’t lead to fewer flight attendants being staffed — it applies to domestic flights where generally the legal minimum staffing already prevails. It may help mollify some employees miffed about United staffing international business class with reduced flgiht attendant staffing or still angry over the airline’s plan from earlier this year to replace bonuses with a lottery.

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. Well this doesn’t make much sense .. so now passengers have to get up – and get a drink???
    Hmmmm – lines for bathrooms isn’t enough distraction – now lines to get a drink??
    And some crazy person ???? can spike a drink ??? anyone thinking ????
    I am never surprised when service continues to be reduced ..

    Airlines are competing with the Greyhound buses now ///// there isn’t service anymore – may as well say – nothing will be served and have passengers pick up a can of soda/bottle of water …
    What will the do for the beer/wine/alcohol drinkers?????
    I don’t think this was thought through sufficiently

  2. @Louise Quigley – There will be a tray of drinks that you will choose from as the FAs walk down the aisle. They will still bring the drink to you (although with less selection).

  3. Oh, u mean the coffee made with the bateria laden water tanks most health and industry experts say one should AVOID drinking?!?!

    Nice job, United!

    So glad to see that when we’re all being honest, just how clear the Gordon Gekko “Greed is Good” Mission Statement to maximize profits and fattening your own bank accounts – even at the expense of the health and well being of your fare paying (and btw, **SALARY PAYING**) passengers – is the ONLY real mission at this airline.

    Wow! What a refreshing change it is to see such spectacularly blatant greed on full display!

    Well done, United!

  4. Hmmm…wonder what UA will do with any leftover poured drinks…pour it back into the can like one of the ME3 did (but that was champagne back into its bottle)?

    Is UA’s action in sync with public health regs re open, uncovered drinks?

    How does UA define “interacting with the passengers”?

    Does this mean no sale of beer, cocktails, or wine on these flights? What happened to the theme of driving revenues?

  5. Was amazed sitting in Y on a LHR-AMS flight last month that the crew did full BoB on such a short flight. The big difference seems to be they are up and out of their seats almost as soon as the plane is in the air. Seems like US crews practically wait until the seatbelt sign is off before they start prepping the galley.

    What they should focus on is making the carts ready to go and minizing the set up and tear down time to enable crews to be out delivering service (and generating revenue).

  6. I wonder how this impacts SFO-LAX. Blocked out at 90 minutes but takeoff to landing is 54 minutes. Drinks or no drinks?

  7. I hope we will have more and more 5th freedom routes in the US… EK, EY, QR… PLEASE come and save us!

    And if SV comes, we would not notice any difference to what we already have.

  8. CX can do a full meal service on a HKG-CAN flight, but it is too much for UA FAs to even pour some cran-apple. On the plus side this should actually open a short window to use the lavs instead of them blocking the isle the entire flight.

  9. Big woof! How many United flights have a scheduled flight time of 58 minutes or less? Schedules are padded so much that flights of 150 miles have flight times longer than that. And on the flights that are less than that, even a “pick-up pan” won’t help because climb and descent will leave almost no time for service.

  10. Unfortunately, this article left out the other part of this service enhancement:

    Passengers who purchase the new United Beverage Choice Subscription for $99/year, will still get personalized beverage service delivered directly at their seat.

    So, scoff at that United haters!!! Wait, what?

  11. On a flight from LHR to CDG the Air France crew had time to serve everyone a beverage and a snack and even return with wine refills. That’s about a 50 minute flight?

  12. This is a cost cutting move – there will be fewer drink choices which means saving on catering costs.

    “I hope we will have more and more 5th freedom routes in the US… EK, EY, QR… PLEASE come and save us!”
    Are you ready for Ryanair to start flying in the US?

  13. Southwest used to do that on short flights. It would be oj, coffee and water under the morning and was very quick.
    It’s better than nothing – and since AA has already taken #goingforgreat, UA can claim #betterthannothing…

  14. This really won’t be any faster. How many drinks can they carry at a time? Before they have to “pick up” more drinks in the galley to fill the “pan”? All the time running back and forth to the galley will be longer than just rolling the cart out.

  15. @Austin787: To be honest, the European ULCCs like Ryanair and easyjet are fine. The key is that they are quite reliable, something that our own ULCCs like Spirit/Frontier/Allegiant were not until fairly recently. Their service isn’t really any different from what Spirit/Frontier/Allegiant offer as it is.

  16. Last week they did this on a full flight – SNA to SFO. this week they do a drink service and serve the whole plane. This flight is always full on Thursdays – and they should treat the passengers well.

  17. A regional hop on KA from HKG to KHH the cabin crew does a full meal service plus coffee/tea afterwards and completed with duty free sales in economy all with a smile. The flight whilst blocked at 90mins is usually less than an hour in flight time. Talk about the difference.

  18. I regularly fly a 1 hour flight on United. 90% of the time, they don’t even offer water. This would be a dramatic improvement.

  19. Don’t have a problem with it. From boarding time to deplaning is longer than time in air and a beverage of some sort is welcomed even on short flights.

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