I Was So Impressed By A United Club, Have I Lost My Mind?

There’s no question that Delta Air Lines has done a nicer job in its base-level airport clubs than United and American. The newer clubs are more stylishly-designed and they offer more and better food options. Delta, of course, doesn’t have dedicated business class lounges the way United does (and there’s finally a re-opening plan for those) let alone first class dining the way American offers (and those are re-opening as well).

There are a number of things flyers complain about with United Clubs. These no longer have showers. They’re too crowded. Poor Newark flyers have waited ages for a functional club experience after having theirs taken away to make that dedicated business class lounge.

But I stopped into one briefly in Houston and was shocked to find… food. It was packaged food, but there were sandwiches and snacks in addition to a ramen bar (admittedly with packaged heat-and-serve ramen to add the fixings to).

I suppose my expectations are just so low since I normally experience American Airlines clubs. United is doing more for premium cabin food in the air and for premium cabin food in lounges on the ground. American’s recent innovation is a ‘make your own mezza’ station which is a real step down from prior offerings in my opinion, especially when I see it not being maintained and getting messy.

American Airlines often talks about ‘monitoring the competition’ and I’ve criticized them for this – they should be focusing on delivering value to customers, not doing what everyone else does. However here they aren’t even doing what everyone else does.

A packaged sandwich offering like United still has isn’t just more robust, it’s also more convenient. Very little time between flights and long lines at airport vendors? Sure you can use the Grab app at some airports to order food from an airport restaurant before you deplane and pick it up on your way to your next gate. Or you can go into the club, grab the sandwich, and eat it when you board.

On this trip it turned out to be a real saver. I thought I had plenty of time in Houston for my connection. I had to change terminals and took the inter-terminal train, which broke down while I was on it and the time I’d planed to use to grab a quick bite quickly evaporated.

I was still able to eat something. It wasn’t gourmet, but it was appreciated. Thanks, United!

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. @Gary: On Thursday of last week the AA clubs at DFW and MIA had exactly the same food! Ask any restaratueur how dumb that is! Especially, when towns like Miami and Dallas-Fort Worth both have distinct culinary traditions (Cuban and Mexican/BBQ). AA serves wallpaper paste re-branded as mezza.

  2. Ditto on the United Club at LAX. Stopped by two weeks ago and was very pleasantly surprised (outside seating area overlooking the tarmac was nice too).

  3. @L3

    Try CAVA at Reagan National. …Mediterranean style cuisine. ..one of the most patronized food outlets at the airport. …as Yogi Berra might have put it: “Nobody goes there anymore;it’s too crowded “.

  4. I had the same thought on the SFO one on Wednesday night. Was trying to figure out if it was permanent or if it was because it was also doubling as the Polaris lounge.

  5. But I stopped into [a United Club] briefly in Houston and was shocked to find… food..

    The only news here is that a narrow-minded travel blogger gets up close and personal and is shocked to find out that his assumptions about a venue that he’s disparaged without knowing much about were all wrong…again.

  6. Visited the United Club in LAX last month before a red-eye flight. The food was of the same pre-packaged type which was nice (and more safe/sanitary).

    IIRC, there was a sign that requested food only be consumed there in the Club and not taken out. Ha. Like Gary’s comment above, the foods seem perfect for grab-n-go.

  7. They had hot dogs at ORD yesterday. Such a pleasant change from the usual carby birdseed.

  8. To answer your question, no. You have not lost your mind.

    What I take away from this is you should try some new experiences occasionally, specifically not from your viewpoint, just to mix things up.

  9. Two weeks ago we flew to Dublin on AA leaving from DFW through ORD. Both had exactly the same “food” in their Admirals’ Club, if you can call the mezza a “main” dish. Along side of that were various crackers, hot chicken chile, and a collection of limp chopped vegetables. If you wanted an appetizer, there were two canisters of Asian cocktail crackers plus ice tea.

    For some odd reason, the ORD location was putting their food away just after 7pm just after our plane landed. Maybe this was a good move since we would get dinner on the plane. But, no food for those arriving after 7 pm at a busy Admiral’s Club??? Finally, on the return trip through, Philadelphia to DFW, once again, the mezza, veggies menu. UGH. How un-creative on AA’s part.

  10. You were impressed by stale pre wrapped sandwiches and Cup O noodles (and actually referred to it as a Ramen bar). WOW. just wow

  11. And the United Breakfast offerings are excellent too, including hot and even overnight oats with blueberries! Also, try the Delta sky lounge at LAX…it is amazing.

  12. When we retired to Malta, choosing a location to live was made up of hundreds of reasons, or not, for every country. The one thing we never thought about was airplane and club food. Didn’t come to mind.
    Instead of being just a twice a year flyer on Lufthansa, from Seattle to Helsinki, via Frankfurt, we now fly Malta to Helsinki (through either Frankfurt or Munich). From our Seattle experience, we knew that on the ground in Germany, the Senator Lounge was head and shoulders above what we experienced from other clubs in the States. My Infinite Elite with Continental morphed into lifetime 1K. So, we had Gold on Star Alliance. The choices for food and drink are unlimited in the Senator lounge. True, no waitstaff service, but they make buffet enjoyable. And they are constantly cleaning up tables and re-stocking food and drink.

    As for in the air, the service in business class within Europe, it is unsurpassed. Even during the pandemic, we still had food and beverage service on all their European flights. While some may quibble about their lack of “real” business class seats, it is still comfortable. In fact, effective this month, they have upgraded their even very good business class meals. Two hours or more, full time of day appropriate meal service.

    So, while you guys(and gals) go back and forth on who has the best/worst service in the air or on the ground, I just sit back and smile. Guess when I left the States for good three years ago, I missed (but not miss) the crap you put up with. I like it even more since being retired, I no longer have to fight for extra miles/points to get upgrades, etc.

  13. I love the United Club in Houston so much that we leave for the airport early just so we can spend a relaxing hour there snacking and drinking coffee. The pre-packaged foods are a post -COVID thing but I hope they keep it. My son and I were able to grab some to-go sandwiches four our meal-less flight.

  14. Since American Express is going to charge more for its card, is there a way to get to use priority club lounges by just buying a membership in Priority Club

  15. My understanding is that many lounges (including some United Clubs) have rules prohibiting pre-packaged foods from being consumed outside of the lounge.

    Gary, is it okay for us to break that rule? I have wondered about the ethics of this, but from your post, it does not seem as though you find it to be a concern.

  16. Kudos to UAL. I was at PHL Admirals Club for a long 3 hour wait and was disappointed at food
    offerings. Two broth soups, tasteless spinach dip and an assortment of cheese and hummus.
    I would of loved a sandwich to digest during my 5.5 hour flight to SAN.

  17. I am glad to learn that United Airlines is now serving a selection of food that looks good and is individually packaged.

  18. Gary, I had a Chase United Visa and earned Club passes. Earlier in 2021, I closed the Visa. When I recently went to use a Club pass (valid into November) at I’Hare, I was told the Pass was no longer valid. All I can figure is that passes are fried not to mileage plans but to credit accounts. Right? The person at the desk didn’t even offer a day pass for $$. Bye, bye, United, if can avoid them.

  19. I was at the United Club at Ohare (terminal 2) last Friday and too was surprised and impressed with the offerings. Really tasty sandwiches. I think some salads. And Oreo pudding desserts. MUCH better than anything you’ll see at an admirals club.

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