Details on United’s Meal Cutbacks, First Class Goes Hungry

Over the weekend I wrote that United had confirmed cutbacks to meals in domestic first class on flights under four hours outside of departures between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

This is the lunch I’m used to flying Austin – Washington Dulles:

Reports are that since the flight is less than four hours, United is serving this:

This is on top of meal service cuts in September. An airline spokesperson explained, “we really wanted to simplify the customer dining experience by being more cognizant of meal portion size and timing.”

Unfortunately it’s not whether or not a flight gets a full meal, other service elements in domestic first class are being pared back as well.

Gone is Sprite Zero, which sources said is not a great loss, as it was not very popular.

But tomato juice, also a goner onboard, is another matter, according to flight attendant sources. The removal of tomato juice — replaced with an extra can of Mr. And Mrs. T Bloody Mary mix — has caused a ruckus among flight attendants.

…On the liquor and spirits front, Jim Beam won’t be offered. Nor will Courvoisier or Amaretto.

One flight attendant noted at least one positive development — the addition of Ghirardelli-branded ice cream toppings on transcon United flights. But even that has a downside, as the quality toppings serve primarily to mask the poor flavor profile of the lower-quality ice cream that was first used by Continental Airlines on flights prior to the merger with United.

When United CEO Oscar Munoz talks about the “new Spirit of United” what he didn’t say was that he’s referring to the ultra low cost carrier headquartered in Miramar, Florida.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I don’t think the other airlines will follow suit and United will inevitably roll this back. I just don’t get what they are thinking here. As long as these cuts remain in place, my willingness to buy up to F will be greatly diminished.

  2. What’s next? Pop tarts for dinner ?
    Maybe it’s united trying to enhance their meal service by simplifying their vast array of luxury choices

  3. ‘new Spirit of United’. LOL

    Get it > Spirit (as in airline). 😉

  4. Didn’t AA try something similar a few years back, and customer outrage forced them to roll it back?

  5. ROFLMAO This has Scott Kirby written all over it. At least they called the meal service changes a “simplification” instead of an “enhancement.”

  6. What? No Beam? The Devil’s Cut was the only thing drinkable on their menu because they never seemed to have Buffalo Trace. Scott Kirby is a freaking joke. Fire him already so he can go work for Spirit or Frontier.

  7. Yet another cycle of whining about missing out on an extra burrito or salad? Feel free to change airline allegiances or crow loud enough to have them reverse course…but the cuts are going to come from someplace. I think some of us could stand to skip that extra burrito.

  8. Cheap cheap cheap. Make sure to let them know how you feel about it in their surveys.

  9. Yup, Kirby’s fingerprints all over this. What a good ol boys club with these airline CEO’s – they just keep shuffling from one airline to another, destroying everything in their path.
    I knew something was up a few months ago – they came around with a basket of chips for our “lunch” – I asked a supervisor sitting in 1st what happened to the meal. She said it was a trainee FA and he “forgot” to check the galley to see it was properly stocked. Yeah, right. They were testing their new meal policy.
    And yes I do give them feedback on the meals every time they send me the little “tell us about your flight” email. Their response? They STOP sending me the emails asking me how was my flight.
    Nice way to treat a 1K.

  10. I wonder if Kirby was a plant, put in place at United to make AA look good by comparison.

  11. There is really no need to fly United domestic first class and pay hundreds of dollars more unless of course you are a person who really needs the leg room. If it is a free upgrade then that is another thing. I save the money I use to spend on domestic first class and spend that money when I fly on business or first on international flights. Usually never fly United on those but use international carriers where the comfort and service and food are way superior to anything United has. I really have no loyalty anymore. United needs to become another Southwest Airline type domestic .product where you know exactly what you are getting. And by they way if United ever did this Southwest Airlines would be the winning product.

  12. For those of us who must travel for a living the steady erosion of legacy carriers is abysmal. I just left AA ExPlat to UA 1K. May prove to be a regrettable move. Wish DL served my travel plans better. All are mediocre compared to other global carriers.

  13. Oli-GOP-oly…

    Oh, and yes, the “New ‘Spirit’ of United”, too.

    Why do people even bother flying these crappy airlines anymore?

    How about we just agree most of them now suck, and instead demand vigrous enforcement of Anti-Trust laws to bust up this hideous cartel by slot and facilties divestment so that new, and better, airlines can be started to force change for the better by good, old fashioned American (the country, NOT the crappy airline) **competition**.

    It’s the desperate lack of competition that accounts for these “similarly” abusive price/product degradations that flyers know as the “Race to the Bottom”.

    There are ways to remedy this:

    1.) New airlines using divested slots, gates, facilities, etc. that makes industry competitive again

    – or –

    2.) Reregulation

    It’s not a question of “if”, but rather only “when” one or the other happens.

    The escalating abject greed and arrogance of the current, abusive cartel, will eventually catch up with itself to force change – it’s only a matter of time, and which route is taken, divestitures to facilitate new entrants, or the heavy hand of regulation.

  14. “de nada” Oscar is a clueless clown that belongs in the last row of the plane.

  15. Probably not the right direction if you are trying to monetize F (I thought UA simply copies DL on everything?)

    Of course if it is all upgraders as in past years then no reason to spend more than the bare minimum…

  16. I stopped flying United several years ago, and they are giving me no reason to go back to them.

  17. @Aaron: “Didn’t AA try something similar a few years back, and customer outrage forced them to roll it back?”

    They sure did. Shortly after USdbaAA announced its first class meal cuts, United expanded its meal offerings, forcing USdbaAA to back track. With Scott Kirby now implementing meal cutbacks at United, I bet Doug Parker will do the same for USdbaAA.

  18. I love the: “we really wanted to simplify the customer dining experience by being more cognizant of meal portion size and timing.” Yes, they are doing YOU a favor by cutting your lunch. Why can’t you just say “Thank You, United”

    I hate that sort of b.s.

  19. American Airlines first class meal service continues to improve while United’s continues slipping to new lows. On a recent Denver-Cabo flight, first class lunch service consisted of a hamburger served in an actual brown bag—brown bag meal service for first class passengers on an international flight says it all.

Comments are closed.