United Cuts Domestic First Class Meal Service. Why They’re Wrong And Why You Shouldn’t Care

We’re currently in a period where the airlines are very flush with cash.  Planes are more full than they’ve been in a long time.  Fuel costs are low.  Some airlines are choosing to reinvest some of that cash, whether that’s new planes or better amenities.

United Airlines appears to be going in a different direction, at least in the area of foodservice. Live And Let’s Fly reported this morning that United is trimming their domestic first class meal service in a number of areas:

Flights 2:30-2:59 hrs
Breakfast: Remove breakfast breads only
Lunch: Two cold meal options and a chocolate truffle (vs one hot and one cold option, mixed nuts/bread/side)
Dinner: One hot meal/one cold meal option (vs two hot options); offers mixed nuts/bread/salad/dessert

Flights 3:00-3:59
Breakfast/Lunch: No change
Dinner: One hot meal/one cold meal option (vs two hot options); offers mixed nuts/bread/salad/dessert

Flights 4:00-5:24 (exc. transcons)
Breakfast, lunch and dinner have cold and hot meal options (vs two hot-meals)
Pre-plated dessert replaces ice cream/sorbet on lunch/dinner flights

Let’s start with…..

Why They’re Wrong

United Airlines, like American and Delta, are selling a higher percentage of their domestic first class seats than at any other time in history.  While they’re not selling them for as much money per seat, they’re all doing a great job pricing the fares at a price point customers will pay.  Far less complimentary seats are up for grabs.

The percentage of paid customers in those domestic first class cabins have been rising for a while.  As the airlines are trying to force more people into avoiding Basic Economy, they’re also making it more attractive to “buy-up” to first class.  So, why try to save money on meals at this point?

I was literally having this conversation with someone about 12 hours before I read this announcement. We were discussing Scott Kirby, the President of United Airlines.  This sort of move is right out of Scott’s playbook from his days at American Airlines, US Airways and America West.  After all, Scott and Doug Parker were at the helm when US Airways started charging for water.  As you might imagine, that didn’t last very long.

Scott Kirby has made a habit of looking for ways to save a nickel on every passenger that gets on their planes.  The methodology seems to be that it’s better to earn an extra nickel off of everyone than tens or hundreds of extra dollars off the customers who spend the most (and probably don’t care about an extra ten-spot).

At a point where more customers are paying for those seats, the airlines should be reinforcing that behavior with service increases.  At a bare minimum, I wouldn’t be trying to shave copper off of a penny when it comes to meal service.

Instead, the airlines seem to be in a race to figure out how much they can cut before customers revolt and head elsewhere.

Why You Shouldn’t Care

The airlines haven’t served truly good food for years.  There was a time I can recall decent quality food.  I can actually recall a steak I had on an American Airlines flight 5 or so years ago that was really good.  For quite a few years, American had a leg up on their competition when it came to in-flight catering.  Those days are gone.

Even with American coming back to the pack, United still isn’t a leader when it comes to domestic first class catering.  Two recent examples from flights where I’ve been sitting in first class:

United Cuts Domestic First Class Meal Service

There’s a Beach On Top Of My “Buffalo Mac n Cheese”

United Cuts Domestic First Class Meal Service

Pretty Sure That’s Breakfast Sausage On Top Of My Paella

The best plan of action before boarding any domestic flight is to figure out what you want to eat before you board.  You might get lucky and find a good meal in first class.  If you’re sitting in economy class, there might be a good buy-onboard option.  And, they might actually not run out of it before they get to your row.  But, why take that chance?  Many airports have high quality dining choices.  Even the ones that don’t are still likely to have something as good or better than what the airlines are providing.

The Final Two Pennies

I think United is being silly by focusing their efforts here (as opposed to, you know, improving customer service).  I don’t think they can save enough money to outweigh the customer dissatisfaction as they strip things away that used to be considered benefits.  Believe it or not, ice cream sundaes are really popular onboard airplanes.

Be smart, though.  Don’t wait to see if the airline is going to give you edible choices.  Pick up that sandwich in the terminal.

What do you think of these cuts?  Do you look forward to meals on airplanes?

The post United Cuts Domestic First Class Meal Service. Why They’re Wrong And Why You Shouldn’t Care was published first on Pizza in Motion


  1. Yes absolutely eat before or bring (nonsmelly) food with you.
    I flew United first round trip to Frankfurt this summer and the food was JUST TERRIBLE. The only things worth eating were the things with no preparation, the nuts, the cheese course and the ice cream sundae. It was like that both ways!

    1. I have found the food in international biz to have improved substantially in last year. Shame the domestic service is such a basket case.

      1. Levy, I agree that intl business class has improved. I’ve had a couple of hit or miss flights in international business where some of the new menu items were not boarded. But, the remaining choices were decent.

  2. These statements that ‘United isn’t a leader’ without some research…

    Take a look at what Delta has been serving lately on run of the mill domestic flights.

    No one stands out as materially better, outside of the Delta premium transcon service.

    Basically, Delta caved and started cutting in the last year, and UA is seeing a window to tweak.

    Breakfast is clearly a downgrade here vs before. But is having a cold healthy salad option a true downgrade?

    1. Greg, I’ve flown plenty on other airlines. American was a clear leader for a while. They’ve regressed. United is taking a small step back here, but not considerably worse than their competitors. Still, I see no way to interpret that as United “leading”.

  3. Of course I care. If we settle for carp, they will end up giving us even worse carp. First class meals should never be based on cheap food like humus, oatmeal and mac and cheese. I’m old enough (just barely) to remember Alaska airlines gold coast service where they sliced a roast at your seat. I don’t expect those days again but I don’t expect cheap food either.

    1. Steve, I know the airlines can still manage good food. American did it up until a couple of years ago. That being said, I think those days are behind us. Oh, and I’m not old enough to remember the roast carved on the plane. But, it sure sounds awesome!

  4. After 2 million miles on United I had enough. I switched to Delta. The food is better there but still under par. I shouldn’t eat pasta but I always order it if there is the choice. It is the food item that the airlines least screw up. Now I am switching to Virgin. More expensive but worth it for more comfort and better food.

  5. United & food hasn’t been a good mix in a long time. Do I care, well yes, because if I’m in first, be it domestic or International, I do expect edible food options, especially at the prices being charged. That said, I ALWAYS have a couple of Luna bars in my cabin bag just so I can have something on flights longer than 3.5 hrs. What I can’t understand is how come a good meal is so damn hard, especially breakfast: geez, at this point, paxs might be happy to see McD bags that they didn’t have to bring on board! Knowing UAL, don’t be surprised to see McD coupons attached to 1st class tickets & in your 1K kits before long:)

  6. My daughter and I just flew United yesterday, Our flight was over 3 hours and there was no food service available at all! We got a cup of our choice of drink and a caramel waffel cookie!! This was our first trip booking with United and will definitely be the last. We were truly disappointed after spending $1500.00 on our tickets.

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