French Fries On A Plane? United Airlines Attempts Something Nearly Impossible To Get Right

United Airlines sells a burger in coach that’s hugely controversial. Some passengers swear by it, and think it’s the best $10 they could ever spend in coach. They’ll even order it up in premium cabins. While other passengers deride it as a “grey burger.”

Here’s how United describes it:

A brioche BBQ burger will feature a beef patty with Grand Cru cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, and BBQ sauce and be offered on domestic flights longer than 3.5 hours that depart after 9:45am.

A great burger starts with quality beef. It should have processed cheese that melts well. And it should ideally be inside of a potato bun that’s big enough to contain it but not so large that it overwhelms the contents. Everything you put on the burger needs to fit inside so it doesn’t fall apart when you eat it. You want to balance the flavors inside, getting a combination of everything with each bite.

But sometimes the burger itself isn’t enough. You need something on the side, and what enhances the burger experience more than great fries? United Airlines will actually make the huge step of trying to deliver fries with their burger – heated in the oven on board and available on hub-to-hub flights starting May 10, as revealed by aviation watchdog JonNYC.

Delivering fries on a plane is challenging. They’re not deep frying them on demand – these are fries that have been precooked and are being re-heated. This can work but it’ll be interesting to see how well United is able to deliver.

I’ve had perfectly nice fries in Etihad first class, but the execution has had a high variance.

And honestly I’ve had better fries than burger in Cathay Pacific first class.

United’s Polaris lounge burger is overrated but the standards in the air are much lower. The airline once served McDonald’s on board using specially-designed galley carts meant to keep the meat hot and separated from the cold items. Delta, for its part, has served Shake Shack but that’s different than serving a good side of fries.

One of the best burgers you’ll find in an airport you can get free with Priority Pass inside the American Airlines terminal 8 at New York JFK. But if you don’t grab a great burger on the ground, United offers a substitute many people like – and starting next week on a handful of key routes, fries too.

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. Cathay’s been doing fries with their burger in First for a while. At least they did pre-Pandemic. Very good too.

  2. It would be nice to have fries onboard but I have concerns about them actually serving fries that are hot.

  3. @jason I was thinking the same thing – Air Fryer. I do this at home with frozen fries and they are as good or better than most restaurants.

  4. Like the unheated bread in First class this will likely fail by either sloppy execution or lazy and or rushed flight attendants.I’ve never understood why Airlines don’t just get high quality roast beef turkey ,chicken or ham etc get/add fresh baguettes from a high quality bakery.
    Add healthy tasty sides like grilled vegetables, cucumber and dill ,potato salad,made with olive oil, or fresh salads,pastas,fresh cut up fruit which all excel due to their high moisture when reheated or have the proper select items served cold as appropriate.Easy and excellent.
    We are a nation of artery clogs, heart attacks & deaths slowly killing ourselves over time.
    Catering to the popularity of Wendy’s etc crowd doesn’t work in the air when things can not excel that cannot be cooked to order.Its all gimmick with poor quality in the end.I love eating that poison too but you might as well get it on the ground where you can best enjoy it.
    Perhaps off topic folks be prepared for heart troubles some time in your 50s 70s.
    Very frightening reality for many down the road I’m afraid.
    Its the leading killer in our country from what I understand.
    I’m not preaching here and I’ve had my share of junk food along life’s highway.Almost everyone I know is dealing with heart issues stents etc 65 plus and thats if they are still here 🙁

    Qantas did a great job inner Australia on business class flights in as little as a one hour flight
    Not super healthy but certainly delicious for airline food
    US airlines did exceptionally well in 23 years ago in onboard catering compared to today.It boggles my mind why most of the time they still absolutely suck with some rare exceptions.

  5. So, building off the posts above…all an air fryer is is a convection oven. Which is what airplane galleys have. Therefore this doesn’t seem like a stretch at all to me.

  6. Are there different UA burgers in different hubs? I certainly didn’t get caramelized onions on mine out of SFO last month. The burger was, objectively, bad, mostly because the center was cold. Still, I’m flying AA tonight and they don’t even seem to be attempting to sell a hot meal in domestic coach these days.

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