Leave it to United to Hide Cuts in a Sensible Change to Meal Service

Last week I wrote about United testing a ‘streamlined’ business class meal service on late night departures from Washington Dulles.

Flights leaving after 10 p.m. now see Appetizers and salad will be served alongside the entrée, rather than being coursed, with dessert to follow separately. In addition to reduce noise during the dessert service desserts will be plated in the galley and delivered to customers rather than using the dessert cart.

This makes sense to me, as it allows customers to go to sleep sooner. It means turning off lights earlier and less noise in the cabin, which is ideal for flights less than 8 hours that leave so late.

I was assured by United that there would be no change to the food being offered, either in terms of choices or quantity. It turns out, though, that isn’t true. As Matthew points out they’re cutting petit fours, eliminating the cheese plate option, and will no longer serve a hot breakfast prior to arrival.

United tried to cut back substantially on meal service in domestic first class last year only to meet push back. So it shouldn’t be surprising that this move is also accompanied by further cuts.

A cheese course may well be unnecessary, and perhaps petit fours won’t be missed. Already United has made their new business class service far less indulgent, no longer proactively offering wine flights or a bloody mary cart (both ‘permission’ elements of the service which encouraged consumption and higher cost). Now there are fewer crew members serving customers.

Little by little it does seem like the service is becoming a shell of what it was supposed to be, and now they’re testing even eliminating hot breakfast.

Make no mistake, faster dinner service on short late night flights makes sense and United still has some of the best bedding in business class in the world — customers should be able to benefit from it with sleep.

It will make even more sense once a Polaris lounge opens at Washington Dulles for passengers to have dinner in prior to flights. It’s just that United seems to take every opportunity to find ways to shave from their product, which isn’t what they said they were doing and disappoints me.

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. Faster dinner service I can understand. Cutting the cheese plate seems in poor taste (excuse the pun). But eliminating hot breakfast is completely unreasonable.

    What will be served as a cold breakfast? Not everyone can eat yogurt (dairy issues) or a high-carb pastry. What decent cold options are left?

  2. @ Gary — Pretty much what I expected. Typical airline “enhancement”. Remind me, why do I rarely fly United?

  3. You could probably get away with cutting out hot breakfast in Premium Economy cabins but not business class. Besides the fact that it just falls below the standard for that cabin, I don’t see how you can serve an acceptably substantial meal. This is made worse by the fact that people on the late flights are *less * likely to eat dinner on the plane, meaning this is the first time they’re eating in 8 hours and are expecting something substantial.

    This change is even more baffling if they aren’t cutting hot breakfast on the 6pm/early evening bank of departures, when arguably breakfast consumption is lower (because I just ate dinner on the plane a few hours earlier and my body still think its 2am in NYC/DC).

  4. Do you remember how good the Continental cashews were before Smisek exchanged them for a cheaper version and then bragged about it in the company meeting. It has been downhill from there.

  5. This suits me just fine — I like to get the dinner over with as fast as possible, and hate airlines that have slow service (Singapore being one of the worst in that regard – I once went to sleep 2 hours after takeoff on JFK-FRA and still hadn’t been served even the appetizer).
    I usually don’t eat breakfast prior to arrival since the second meal on a flight tends to be quite bad, having been sitting around for many hours, rather than freshly loaded in from the airport and warmed up like the first meal.

    Hopefully making it a cold breakfast will speed up service, so it can start later and give everyone more sleep. Serving breakfast 90 minutes before landing is a big disruption to sleep in business class. It should be possible to serve it 60 minutes before arrival and still get everybody ready for landing.

  6. Scott Kirby and his bean counters continue doing their death by a thousand cuts. Soon, the next service enhancement will be giving a Business Class customer the waffle for breakfast in lieu of even the cold option.

  7. I can’t remember the last time I ate breakfast when in J on an East coast departing TATL…

    Sleep is far more important and there’s always better food waiting on the ground than anything the airline is going to serve me.


  8. Are they reducing the price? Of course not.

    I have no problem with scaling back or even eliminating the dinner for late-night departures, say anything after 8 p.m., if and only if either vouchers are given for an airport restaurant or the lounge has a proper meal and not picked over carrots and salads on the buffet. But, but … the breakfast or brunch should be hot and amazing. This is an opportunity for United to shine. Have the most amazing in-flight breakfast in the morning, no yucky eggs and mystery meat sausage.

  9. What else one would expect from Scott Kirby?
    Look at what happened with AA after America West management took over: 1) it started with cutting meals, 2) then passenger comfort and service, and 3) cuts in staffing and poor employee morale = AA poor operational performance.

  10. Wow. I was givin’ my marching orders to never allow Dug to beat me to the bottom (even if it’s below Spirit) and that’s what will occur.
    It’s your turn Duggie to make the next move.
    Still thinking about removing all the armrests and squeezing another seat in the row?

  11. Gary, i completely agree. While the concept makes comelete sense, always an alterior motive it seems. 2.5 yrs ago they announced the soft product and dubbed this new service as this amazing depature from what existed. Now, all we hear abt our cuts in service and amenities approx every 6 mos and still not all lounges are complete and not all planes have the polaris seating. A complete sell of BS and they continue to charge more….what gives!

  12. I’m one of the United Flight Attendants, so please don’t use my name! It’s very frustrating when we used to take pride in our service. I work only International flights, and prefer First Class aisle. Yes, the carts can be noisy. Those three tiered carts look beautiful, but clatter around. However, our service was BEAUTIFUL. Wine tastings, our special dessert cart, plated entrees. But when they pulled one out of two galley positions, those in the back have to wait FOREVER. So their way of handling it is to cut the service. Some lazy flight attendants like that. I am NOT one of them. I’m old Continental, so service means everything to me. I apologize to our customers on behalf of our company and their decisions. If you are flying in our BusinessFirst cabins, WRITE THE COMPANY. TELL THEM WHAT YOU WANT. And know the service will never be as good until they give us our galley person back!

  13. Hi Skygoddess, I will send my comments to United but I don’t think it will make any difference. They seem to have blinders on when it comes to most issues. Our answer to this is to fly Delta even though we have to go to JFK instead of EWR which is only 20 minutes from our home. They know how to treat their customers especially those that pay for business first. There are just so many times the customer is willing to bang their heads against a stone wall or make comments that fall on deaf ears!

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