United Testing Pre-Order Meals in Premium Cabins

Some airlines around the world let business and first class customers select a meal in advance from a variety of options, and then they’ll make sure to have it on board for you. Other airlines – including U.S. airlines – have been letting you choose mostly from what would otherwise be on board but choosing in advance ensures you receive your first choice.

American Airlines introduced pre-order meals up front nearly 7 years ago. Since then they’ve expanded to also offer “pre-order only” options such as a fruit and cheese plate and a charcuterie plate, as well as special diet meals such as Kosher and Asian Vegetarian.

American Airlines Charcuterie Plate

Delta finally announced pre-order meals this year. So not surprisingly United shares that they are currently testing a per-order meal option with a subset of customers.

During this first phase, a select group of customers seated in United First class with travel scheduled for July 31 from Los Angeles to Washington Dulles received an email inviting the customer to visit a meal reservation page on united.com to select their meal preference from a menu of available options.

Customers can select their meal five days before departure and up to 24 hours before their flight. If they choose not to choose a meal they can request from the flight attendant once on board. Our teams will follow up with our customers, review test feedback and adjust as needed.

Interestingly Washington Dulles was also the test market for expedited meal service on overnight transatlantic flights. (Update: Contra the statement from United the tests will be for departures from LAX and from Dulles, not from LAX to Dulles.)

The testing is presumably less about whether United will adopt this and more about whether they need to refine their execution processes in order to cater flights correctly.

The only frustration I’ve found is that when flights cancel or I have to switch flights my meal choice doesn’t follow me, since I’m making the change generally day of departure rather than a day in advance of travel. The option though is one that’s much appreciated by customers.

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. Just out of curiosity, when airlines don’t have advance meal selection, do they have exactly the right number of meals in business class, and just hope passengers selections even out? Or they brink a few extra of each type to reduce disappointment? If the latter, this could even be a cost saving measure.

  2. By the way, a funny and true story: a friend of mine’s brother and wife were flying first class on ** many years ago. Lobster was on the menu, so they chose it only to be told that they were out of lobster. Except that the two of them were in the first row and the first ones offered a choice.

    Later they saw the FAs eating lobster in the galley. Yes the FAs had pre-selected all the lobster dinners!

    The passenger was a ** concierge plus plus, and called his rep and reamed them out and was eventually given a ridiculous amount of compensation.

  3. @SeanNY – generally on US airlines they cater domestic flights to the load of the cabin, and passengers get what’s left when their first choice run out

  4. I’ve been flying a lot of United in J lately (because f*** AA) and I’ve had some really impressive meals (as far as domestic J goes). The mac & cheese + chicken in the picture was surprisingly tasty.

  5. Why is this so complicated? virtually eliminates a huge problem when customers pay $XXXX for first class tickets and get stuck with a crappo meal. Well, they still get a crappo meal but at least get their first choice.

  6. Qantas has been doing this for about 7 years for Business, Premium Economy and even Economy!!! You just take the pre order out out of the initial tally reducing choices for the remaining bunnies who have not pre ordered their meal. It’s whats called ‘smoke and mirrors’!! Nothing new to see here!!

  7. BA sometimes offers this, close to the departure date, on TATLs in Club World. I’ve never figured out why some flights they have the menu in advance and other times don’t, but I appreciate it when they do.

    For UA, I just wish their international business class food were not so awful.

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