A Sneak Peek At United Airlines’ New “Experiential” Food In Clubs

For as long as I’ve been an elite member of an airline loyalty program, the domestic airline clubs have been underwhelming when it comes to food.  The past 15 years have been a steady rotation of mixed nuts, stale cookies and snack mix.  Recently, the airlines have tried to change that.  The most recent foray into better lounge food is being conducted by United Airlines.

I saw this post by Matthew Klint a few days ago.  The pictures look lively enough, but is this something the airlines can really execute on?  The current United Club lounge staff aren’t terribly efficient.  I consistently find food trays that need to be restocked when I visit a United Club.  There’s usually a handful of tables that need to be cleaned as well.  It could just be my timing.  I’m generally in hub airports at peak times.

At any rate, I had a trip to Las Vegas recently and wanted to see how the test rolled out there.  When I landed in the afternoon, I took a quick detour to the club to see what they were serving.

Matthew’s write-up mentioned Caprese bites and salmon pinwheels.  Sure enough, shortly after I entered the lounge a staff member approached me with a tray of both options.  The Caprese option looked just like the picture and was a nice snack.  The salmon pinwheel may have missed the mark a bit (or at least my expectations).  Still, the staff scored points for presentation.

United Airlines New Experiential Food Clubs

From there, I made my way to the bar area.  Off to the side was the cheese and charcuterie station.  I really appreciated the presentation.  The variety of meats and cheeses was impressive for a domestic lounge.

United Airlines New Experiential Food Clubs

On my way back home I took a brief detour to the club before my morning flight. I entered the lounge around 7am.  There were no staff members passing food items at that time of the morning.  I also didn’t see a Bloody Mary bar setup anywhere.  The area that featured cheese and charcuterie during my previous visit was now a hash brown bar.  It looked fine, but isn’t quite my speed.

United Airlines New Experiential Food Clubs

The Final Two Pennies

All in all, this is definitely an improvement.  How much of an improvement will really depend on what you want from a club lounge.  I was impressed with the evening service.  Both the passed items and cheese/charcuterie station were an impressive presentation for a domestic lounge.  The morning service seemed pretty underwhelming.  Maybe it gets geared up more later in the morning.  However, the announced “passed items” weren’t present.  And, the hash brown bar just didn’t impress me the way the evening food did.

I don’t want to completely discount United’s efforts here.  After all, this is an improvement.  And, I really just rely on the lounges for a quiet work space.  However, it shouldn’t be this hard to consistently serve decent food.  International airlines consistently do so all over the world.  And yet, domestic US lounges struggle to maintain a few items in consistent, presentable fashion.  International airlines also manage to find a way to serve a hot meal and two drink services on a 1-hour flight.  The domestic US equivalent might only get a bottled water service.

In the end, I think this boils down to mentality.  If the Big 3 US airlines want to offer a truly welcoming experience in their lounges, they can.  The current mindset still seems to be how to make it look like they’re being rewarding while the bean counters keep track of the number of crackers being served.

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  1. At UA’s IAD Clubs, the people actually putting out the food and cleaning tables are contractors, many of whom appear to be recent immigrants. They try to do their jobs well but seem to be poorly supervised. In contrast, the Help and Greeting desks are staffed by actual UA employees who seem to spend a lot of time laughing and chatting among themselves. Sorry if this sounds a little harsh but that’s my observation after many visits to the IAD Clubs.

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