United Brings Back Some Domestic First Class Meal Service, Expect American Airlines To Match

United Airlines is bringing back meals to domestic first class flights over 1500 miles as well as flights between the airline’s hubs that are 800 miles or more.

There will be a choice of entree, side dish, and a dessert served wrapped on a tray and this will replace the airline’s hot sandwiches and snack boxes. For instance, Zach Griff shares:

Breakfast: Egg scramble with plant-based chorizo OR Belgium waffle with bourbon berry compote, served with a side of a peach-flavored Greek yogurt parfait.

Lunch/dinner: grilled chicken breast with orzo and lemon basil pesto OR vegetarian enchilada with chile verde, served with a side of Spanish rice.

For dessert, United’s partnering with Chicago-based Eli’s Cheesecake on a chocolate pie flavor called “Pie in the Sky.”

When I was a United flyer in the late-90s my body was 5% Eli’s cheesecake.

It’s odd to see United leading here bringing back service. Three years ago they tried eliminating meals on flights under four hours, which struck me as a more typical move for then-airline President Scott Kirby. Yet Kirby, who was responsible for eliminating many meals when he was President of American Airlines, is now CEO of United and investing more in product.

I expect American Airlines to match this. Today American offers meals on premium cross country flights like New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and long haul Hawaii flights. It’s been less than a month since American even started offering its ‘Fresh Bites’ protein boxes instead of the old coach buy on board wrapped sandwiches for non-premium transcon flights longer than 2200 miles.

To be sure last summer then-inflight service head Jill Surdek, who made the decision to eliminate inflight meals in the first place, explained that the airline wouldn’t ever bring back the old first class meals and instead would offer something that still “has a premium feel but is different and more modern.”

However Delta already plans to bring back some meals to first class in June, and American has consistently talked internally about monitoring what competitors are doing, which I contrast with focusing on delivering what customers are asking for. Now that United is bringing back meals on routes like Chicago O’Hare – Los Angeles, which American also services, it seems logical to expect the Dallas-based carrier to do so as well.

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. Maybe Scott Kirby left his slash-to-the-bone reputation with Doug Parker and the rest of the team at AA when he left? While AA still does some things well (at least pre-pandemic), I have to say it feels like American has replaced United as the “most mediocre” US carrier over the last few years.

  2. If UA can do this in domestic, then their Polaris meals should at least go back to normal.

  3. Thank goodness! I have a couple of UA first class flights coming up. Looking forward to something more than a Stroopwafel.

  4. Gary. Your line about your body being 5% Eli’s Cheesecake made me laugh.

    I did a lot of flying in United in the late 90’s and that was indeed a favorite desert, as were the special meals that United served to go along with the Taste of Chicago.

    A number of your posters claim that airline meals aren’t important, but when you are flying into a city, meeting all day, then rushing to the airport to fly home…food on an airplane IS important. Well, at least to some of us.

    I seem to recall they partnered with Sheila Lukens. for some really good meals. Ah, thje good old days….

  5. @Gary C – I actually have the United Airlines Sheila Lukins cookbook for their economy meals. This included Heartland Sunday Braised Beef; Zesty Herb Lasagna; Minty Tortellini Alfredo With Ham; and Orange Grove Chicken.

  6. About time good move UNITED whlie Delta languishes with ‘boxed meals’ in July. Now make the real move and match JetBlue catering on transcons and be the first to end this ‘one tray covered / sealed’ nonsense.

    On intl BA, LH, and AF are basically serving the usual mutlicourse affairs in premium – time for UA, AA, DL to do the same. None of this limited touch point nonsense.

  7. Gary Leff: — Authority on United Meals from the 90’s….

    Who was the Chef they used for Thanksgiving Dinners in FC? He came up with his version of turkey dinner, but it was a pounded piece of turkey…nothing like turkey dinner usually was. Help fill in the hole in my memory.

    Awesome to see Sheila’s cookbook!

  8. Do we actually think AA will match? Words coming out of there had been lite bites q3/4. And no meals til 2022. And while I could see them responding to competitive pressure (it’s all they know how to do) I could also see them being so useless that they don’t change. Also – this is only flights over 1500 miles + h2h so it’s not THAT exciting but it’s something.

  9. @Gary C – back when Sheila Lukins was the chef in Y, they had Jacques Pépin for premium cabins, I don’t recall a different chef at that time for Thanksgiving. Unless you’re thinking about later, when they had Charlie Trotter (flyers said his meals ‘gave them the trots’).

  10. Gary – yes, it was Jacques Pepin. Thanks so much.

    We actually went to Chicago once for the Taste of Chicago…it was pretty nice!!

  11. Well, unless a few volunteer passengers on each flight are handing out the meals onboard AA, it’s not happening. We all know damn well the flight attendants won’t do it because they’re scared….or because of racism….or because of ________ (insert whichever excuse works best)

  12. It’s long overdue, I hope AA follows because I have a flight coming up in the near future. They should offer hot meals to everyone (including coach) that would like to purchase not just first class. Use an app & pre-order before boarding once you have your assigned seat.

  13. OMG
    Look at all of the maskers now wanting to remove their masks to eat LOL
    It is really sad that the same people think the masks on a plane should be forever are now the ones that want to rip them off to gobble down airplane food with out a mask

  14. We’re flying J class from DFW to LHR in mid September. I certainly hope AA is back to preflight champers and full meal service by then on the 777-300ER.

  15. @Carolyn Smith
    I doubt you ever fly because everything you post on this blog is stupid.
    What you post, reminds me of all the “chump fools” who still back the
    crying has been loser that used to be in the White House who turned
    it into an Out House.

  16. @Rog
    Rog, I totally agree. I was going to respond to @carolyn smith about her stupid post but decided not to feed the troll. I’m glad you did it for me – took the words right out of my mouth! She’s one of those cretins who whines and cries about having to wear a mask, refuses to wear one and spreads the virus, then cries and whines more when we have to go BACK to lockdowns because idiots like her caused another spike. Ugh, stupid is as stupid does…

  17. I think it would behoove everyone to remember the original reason airlines started serving free food. Before the jet age, they needed to lure a reluctant public onto a conveyance that had a much higher chance of crashing than it does now. You don’t get free food on trains, buses, or your own car, and your chances of crashing are substantially higher. Go figure.

  18. Rog, Better to have Trump in the White House, than the incompetent BUFFOON that is there now!!! Just wondering how many adult diapers the White House needs to have on hand for his ass?

  19. hey Sheila,you are so wrong,Trump is a psycopath and a totally derranged man,he should nver hold public office again,and dont foret he hates womens and degrades them at ever opportunity he has

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