The Great Airline Soda Can Debate: How United’s Full Can Generosity Backfires

United Airlines gives coach passengers smaller cups during drink service than Delta Air Lines does. That irks some passengers who see it as cheap cost-cutting in the most petty way possible. I think this gets things wrong.

Not only are United Airlines coach plastic cups downright pretty in blue, United Airlines will generally give you the whole can of soda and Delta usually pours out a cup for you. You’re getting more from United, cup size aside, at least as a default the majority of the time.

We’ve been duped
byu/hellolaurent inunitedairlines

And I’m not sure I even like how United does this, even if it’s investing more in economy passengers. That’s because in coach you just don’t have a lot of room to work with. And it takes up too much space on the tray.

I’ll be using my laptop. I can fit a cup on there but don’t really want to stick both a cup and a can of soda on the tray beside my computer. Besides, I don’t want to drink a full can!

  • I’ll usually ask crew not to leave it, which annoys them because they aren’t collecting trash and they’re trying to get through service.

  • And the only soda where I’d consider finishing a whole can – and honestly even there I’d question myself for doing so – is Dr. Brown’s. Delta cares about New York, they should really stock that…

I’d much prefer being asked “do you want the can, sir?” And I can say no until some airline starts carry Dr. Brown’s.

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. For what it’s worth, 3 of my last 4 United flights they’ve asked if I want the full can or just a cup, so your lucky day may be coming soon

  2. Don’t ruin it for everyone else just because you want to take up your tray table with other crap. The full cans are good. United is doing a good thing.

  3. Just inform the FA that you don’t want the full can. Can’t get much simpler. You do know how to actually talk to real people still???

  4. You should consider going to one of the expensive seats if you are going to take out a computer for much time. Full cans for me and I rarely have so much stuff on my tray that the can cannot fit. Not many people in coach spend their time using a laptop. Some tablets and more smartphones. Some also like to sleep or use the IFE. Or, being space challenged, you could buy an extra seat for comfort.

  5. You need to write more useful news than about a dam soda can. Get real..
    And for the record, 90% of the folks I ask if they prefer to have the can or just a glass, they all reply that they prefer the can..

  6. Here is what I do – (1) I bring an empty 12 oz. plastic bottle, with lid, (2) I ask for the can of soda (3) I pour the liquor from the small liquor bottle I purchase into my plastic bottle, then (4) I pour the soda into my plastic bottle. I now have my mixed drink in a bottle that I can seal with the cap in between pours of my drink into the cup of ice I am given. I have a Bev-Ledge ( from Amazon) and put my drink and my plastic bottle in the Bev- Ledge – this leaves my tray table free for whatever I wish to use it for.

  7. Yes, we should all be forced to ask for the whole can just because snowflake night not drink all of theirs. Invest in the words “no, thanks.” They’re simple and work almost all of the time!

  8. Here in TX, everyone loves Dr. Pepper. Southwest Airlines knows that. I’m not sure about Delta or United.

  9. You left out AA. They always give a full can AND a bigger cup if you only want a glass. I have been on many foreign carriers and all you get is a small paper cup of very limited selections. And this is on long haul flights. I get a full can on AA on a 1 hour flight.

  10. It’s hard for me to tell if United is giving out full cans or not because on my last six United flights, no full beverage service was offered in the back of the bus, even on 90+ minute flights, just a cup filled from a water bottle.

    (These were all flights that had “real” beverage service pre-pandemic.)

  11. Wow, slow news day. I’m always asked if I want the can. If I want a full can and didn’t want to deal with a cup too, I just ask for the can only. It is possible to drink from a can. It’s already cold, I didn’t need it to be ice cold

  12. I am not much interested in this. But, here’s my bigger question: why do US airlines wait forever to turn off the seat belt sign after turbulence and others do it quickly?

  13. There is good news for frugal frequent flyers due to bottle bill deposit laws. In Michigan and Oregon, you can redeem your empty soda can at a grocery store and receive a 10-cent recycled beverage container fee when you take your empty can before you depart your flight.

  14. Gary, stop being a Gary and let me have my full can.

    My god, one of the worst takes I’ve ever heard.

    Next you’ll be telling us wearing socks in the plane lav is actually a good thing.

  15. Well, I’ve been flying for 35 years on a multitude of airlines. I always specifically ask for “a can of” whatever soda I’m drinking and a cup of ice. The flight attendant will ask what you want to drink so just tell them what you want and they’ll be happy to provide it if they can. I don’t understand the controversy here.

  16. Honestly, this post doesn’t represent the majority of United flyers that are happy to receive the full can. Are you seriously trying to tarnish the United brand because their generosity inconveniences you? If you hate it, just bring a bottle of water and decline United’s complimentary beverage offering.

  17. To the question about the seatbelt sign. The seatbelt sign is on because the captain believes it should be for safety and has nothing to do with the country the airline is based. However, unless your used to flying on some of those carriers that are banned from flying in the EU or US, if that’s the case, then you have your answer.

  18. Jeeze. What a non issue. How about consuming less alcohol on the flight. Those miniatures take up space you know?

  19. How has one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel not figured out beverage service?

    If space is short and you want the full can, ask for the can and decline the cup.

  20. This is the reason the opening scene in Up In The Air is so funny.

    @NSchip you must fly on different AA routes than I do but they do not automatically give you the whole can, at least not on domestic routes.

    I’ll offend some people that just have to have some ice and a cup for that 45 minute commuter route flight but it seems like airlines would save a ton of money if they just gave you a can of soda with no cups or ice. It would greatly increase beverage service, save them money and logistics on ice and cups. They could also virtue signal about how they are saving the planet by conserving plastic and water (aluminum really is recyclable) and avoiding BPA’s, etc.

    I also think most airlines should skip beverage service for any flight less than an hour. I think we can survive that 50-minute flight without some diet Coke.

  21. You really shouldn’t be drinking soda which has up to 10 teaspoons of sugar. Diet is just as bad for your health which can cause obesity, in the regular drinking of soda of any kind.

  22. I just want a cup as I don’t drink a lot of soda. I just use it as a chaser for the mini bottles I brought in my backpack. I know it’s against the law but honestly, I don’t care. Ps I do not overindulge I just hate overpaying since I already spent so much to fly

  23. You can get smaller cans to serve on planes, but who knows if FAA will get involved….
    There is no reason to serve 12 oz cans – there are 8 oz cans that can be given out as well

  24. Gary, obviously I read this daily, so take it with that.

    Do you really have NOBODY to bounce op-ed ideas off before you post them. This can vs cup vs trayspace thing… the commenters above pretty much said it all. All I have left is meta-comments like “did anyone ever stop to think maybe this isn’t worth the op-ed piece?”

    Would you like article ideas? Ones where people don’t say “Slow news day?” or “OMG”? Here are ones off the top of my head.
    1. Get rounds of ammunition on board in the rails of luggage handles. Raise the handle. Hole appears. Put in or take out ammunition. Now how safe are you?
    2. Cruise ship card. One quicksnip and a pickpocket has your card. It has NO multiple factor authentication (MFA) or two factor authentication (2FA) or even your picture. Just a stock footage picture of your boat. Your credit and your account and your room are now at risk. Because that’s how they do it.
    3. Passports. There’s a five screenfull story ready to be written there. Start with the US ones and the DoS insisting they be read remotely so there’s now an entire industry about how to store your passport so it can’t be read directly… even those the entry points (CPB) can’t read them remotely anyway so they have to be removed from said protection. It makes USicans targets worldwide.

    Best wishes.

  25. This guy hates United and its Flight Attendants. That’s all. No matter what you do. Prolly comes out of frustration (:

  26. No law says you have to have your laptop on tray at same time with cup and can. Silly excuse not to have can. You could decline cup and drink from can, also.

  27. I will usually drink wine and ask the crew to give me the bottle cap. I keep it closed and I drink straight out of the bottle. The last thing I want is hitting an air pocket or someone bumping into my tray and spilling a drink on my laptop. The only way I will drink out of a cup is if I’m not using my laptop.

  28. @Jerry Mandel the problem with that approach is he doesn’t want to drink the whole can, which I can appreciate because then that means a bathroom trip. So if you keep the can then you end up with a half can of soda. As opposed to finishing a small cup and just tossing it aside or not risking a laptop spill.

  29. I was on Alaska Air flts last month, and the ‘can’ of Coke was the mini-can size — like 7.5oz or possibly even smaller. But they gave everyone the can (though I always ask for the whole can).

  30. Of all the things we have to talk about with respect to how our flight experience could be improved, *this* is what you went with? Ok.

Comments are closed.