United’s New Three-Course Meal in Long Haul Coach Is a Great Idea… Or a Really Bad One

Meals, United

Let’s give United some real credit here. The airline has actually been doing a fair bit to try to upgrade its onboard product experience, and last week it made another good change. What’s really shocking is that while most service upgrades talk about the front cabin, this one is all about the back of the bus. The latest move is a return of free beer and wine (but not liquor) on long haul flights as well as a new three-course meal. In coach. If this goes well, it will be a really nice upgraded experience, but it also has the potential to go very wrong.

Here’s exactly what’s happening. On all long haul flights (Transpacific, Transatlantic, and deep Latin America), the following will be the service standard starting June 1 in coach:

  • Beer and wine will now be free. This is how it used to be before purse-strings were tightened over the last decade. Liquor will still cost money. Each passenger will also get a bottle of water.
  • Meals will now be served in three courses with drinks and something like cheese and crackers coming first. Next is the salad and main course. Last is a dessert.
  • Paid snacks and snack boxes which are currently only offered on shorter haul flights will now be offered on long haul for people to purchase if they get hungry in between meals.

This is, without question, an improvement across the board. It’s interesting that free beer and wine is making a return. After all, it was only about a year ago that United started charging for beer and wine on Asia routes. But apparently it’s time for an about-face. Is this world-beating? Of course not. Some carriers, like Delta, give you the hard stuff for free too. But this is definitely an improvement from what United was doing before.

What I found most interesting, however, is the introduction of a three course meal. This is going to be three actual courses served at different times. This is where this gets risky. United is now putting more work on to its flight attendants, and it relies on them executing it well. It’s going to be the service delivery that makes or break this plan.

As far as I know today, the flight attendants come through with a drink and meal fairly close together. Then they come back and pick it up. The new flow is going to require more up and back for the flight attendants.

The drinks will still come out first, but now they’ll come with a little appetizer/snack thing. What does it look like? Behold…

United New Snack

Were you expecting a plated shrimp cocktail or something? It’s a nice little snack which will help bide the time until the full meal arrives. Nothing fancy, but hey, this is coach. After you’re done, the flight attendants will come through and pick up the trash and then bring the full meal out separately.

And what about that new main course? Well, a photo of this was tougher to track down. See, they didn’t really coordinate this announcement very well. They have pictures of the main course, but the PR team felt that the pictures weren’t good enough to release, so that photo above was the only one I could get from them. But then something funny happened. Apparently the sales team at United didn’t think the photos were bad, because they included one in an email that went out to all their agency clients. Here it is.

United Main Course

Looks like a coach meal to me. They used a bunch of fancy words to describe the meals in the release, but those always just seem fluffy. This looks like a regular coach meal, though clearly I have no idea how it tastes. Once this course is done, the flight attendants will come through again and collect the trays.

As for the last course, it’s dessert, and for that I have no photo. But it’ll be something like a cup of ice cream or gelato. Once that’s done, the flight attendants come back through one more time and collect it.

In short, his looks like a nicely upgraded service… if it’s done right. You can imagine a scenario where the flight attendants might not be fast enough to clear things because they have to do so many passes. Or it could be the opposite where they come through too quickly, though that seems less likely. It’s easier to coordinate good service when you have a much lower crew to passenger ratio in a smaller premium cabin. This is more of a challenge to do right and most importantly, to do consistently.

So how are the crews going to be trained on this? From a spokesperson…

To make a smooth transition for customers, we will work closely with our flight attendants to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to offer the new United Economy food and beverage service on long-haul international flights. We will provide flight attendants a video with comprehensive instructions on how to deliver the enhanced service and will also offer updated guides that show the new procedures, which include flight attendants making three separate passes through the aisles to deliver each course of the main meal.

A video and guides? Well, I guess we’ll see how this goes in practice. I like the idea, if it can be executed properly.

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

96 comments on “United’s New Three-Course Meal in Long Haul Coach Is a Great Idea… Or a Really Bad One

  1. Good move. Theyre getting killed on the Pacific as every other airline has free drinks and half decent food.

    1. Not supported by any data. Singapore Airlines is actually getting killed in the Pacific. UA is doing just fine, if not going from strength to strength.

      1. I was referring Southern Pacific however I find it hard to believe that UA would trump SQ in any market.
        Try bitre.gov.au for load factors (dont use peak months) and then look at fare levels. I fly all of the big five across and I (and every thinking adult) put UA as carrier of last resort.

        1. SQ’s LF to the Americas has cratered–probably because their service isn’t good enough /sarcasm. UA’s LFs look similar or higher than QF/VA, and VA has recently dropped LAXMEL while QF is out of SFOSYD, so they don’t appear to be getting killed by anyone, plus they no longer fly those ghetto 744s…

  2. This is a great start. The food in coach on UA has always been hit and miss – this year I’ve had 3 great and 3 shite meals in the back. The free booze is also the least they could do. And as for sequencing, anything that stretches out the delivery a little more, is fine by me; I take your point about potentially adding to the cabin crew workload, but perhaps if the UA management learned how to treat them appropriately in the first place, no doubt they (the CC) would be far more amenable to implementing this successfully.

  3. I like this. I don’t think the food will be any better, but having separate “courses” means a slightly less crowded tray table.

  4. Hi, I don’t live in the US (and never have done), so I may be completely off my trolly here, but you mention how it will put more work on cabin crew, but didn’t they used to manage to serve food in the 90’s etc? I mean, they haven’t reduced the number of people and the workload presumably is comparable. Just thinking it must be fairly possible..

      1. 1 FA per 50 PAX has been standard for many years now. If anything, there are more FA’s because there are more seats.

        1. 1 FA to 50 PAX is for safety only not service. The old CO used to have staffing well above the minimum to allow for good service. This will definitely tax the FA’s.

    1. It’s possible, but those same crews are also 25 years older today and have been dragged through bankruptcy and a merger. Their motivation to deliver quality service (especially in coach where most of them almost seem resentful of passengers) is pretty low. I can envision a lot of them just throwing the cheese and crackers on the tray with the meal to save themselves time. I mean, that Sudoku back on the jumpseat isn’t going to solve itself…

      1. LOL. The young staff today won’t have known the 25 years-ago experience so i guess they know what they’re in for.

    2. It’s more work on the cabin crew because staffing continues to be cut so there are the same amount of passengers but a smaller crew to do all the work so will probably move slowly.

      1. I guess we will be stuck in our seats a lot longer due to the meal cart in the aisle and the flight attendants working with these extra steps.plus the tray is going to be filled with food longer and I will not be able to get to my work as soon as I was previously.and for what? I’m sure the food quality willbe the same standard as it is now.

    3. William D – There are fewer flight attendants onboard as others have mentioned, but this is just a beefing up of existing food service. They do already serve food on these flights, but they’ll now just have to spread it out across more services.

    1. It’s not difficult if they return staffing levels to normal levels! Flights are going out with minimum staff!

  5. Will meal services adjust for time of day? Cheese & crackers and brown meat might be fine for lunch and dinner. But breakfast might actually be harder since breakfast foods have a narrower window in which they pass from warm and acceptable to over-cooked and rubbery.

    Also, will meal service be one size fits all, or will they offer special meal requests such as low-calorie, vegetarian, kosher, low salt, etc.? What about Fridays during Lent? And will there be kids meals?

    Announcing meal service is one thing, but being prepared for customer expectations and requests is another.

    1. Good points, exactly……and don’t anyone feel sorry for the “extra” workload FA’s might have to do. Albeit, they don’t work a 40 hour week but they make upwards of $50-$55 an hour so I can hardly cry a river. It might be “rough” for them in the beginning, they’ll now have to do more (like actually providing service) than just shouting out “we’re here for your safety” mantra. Unfortunately the service will come with a frown instead of a smile.

      1. Yeah, but they also start working before they get paid. They don’t get paid before that door closes on the plane.

        That being said, on a long haul, serving food is a safety matter. If your passengers haven’t eaten there are all sorts of other things that can follow from that.

          1. They get paid per diem for time away from base, which is not considered pay but to cover expenses while away from home.

            There are SOOOO many hours we are required to be at work and we are not being paid. Only the most senior people are making top wages, there are still some of us that are near the bottom of the scale and could qualify for public assistance.

      2. Fly the friendly skies! Will they every bring back the CO hamburger which was the most popular food item in the skies? As I recall Jeff Smisek did not want to put ovens in the UA fleet that could cook (warm up) the then $10 hamburger. Just goes to show how important passengers preferences are and how much sales means to UA.

      3. A lot of flight attendants make well under $55, I myself make more than $30 less so let’s not make grand statements that don’t represent the whole like that. Also when flights go out with less and less flight attendants maybe you can understand how it is a different workload. If flights were fully staffed, maybe I’d agree with you but it’s a different world where the company decides that we don’t need as many flight attendants to get the job done. And you sound like just the type of passenger to sit on his you know what ringing the call bell because your tray table wasn’t picked up fast enough. Get a clue,

          1. I think you’re confusing Flight Attendant for First Officer. First Officers at most regionals top out in the $30s/hr, Flight Attendants top out in the $20s. To make over $50/hr as a flight attendant at most airlines requires maxing out the pay scale at a major and having all the overrides: international, purser, language. Without that you’re in the $30s/hr.

        1. “It’s not difficult to return staffing to normal levels” There are hours upon hours of downtime for a crew on any long haul international flight. At most the meal service after takeoff takes 2.5-3 hours, then about an hour or 1.5 hours before landing. Leaves at least 10 hours in the middle, during which half the crew are taking a break. It is not the number of staff on a flight that creates a great service, it is the manner in which the service is provided.

          Asha, if you are making $30 less than the top rate, then I expect you are relatively new to the job. Pay increases are based on the number of years you have been working, right? Your position is focused on increasing the number of crew on a flight, so you can get some nice long trips. Don’t you see that padding schedules with more crew leads to greater expenses for your company, which makes you less competitive? As a less competitive airline, it becomes harder to buy new aircraft, and generally harder to grow your company.

          You probably think you do a good job, but I would ask you to look at your last post, in which you have chastised a customer for using a call button to ask for service. Your customers pay you. Do the best you can for your company, work to build a better airline, stop complaining about customers who want some service, and stop complaining about the number of crew on your flight.

    2. Sean – It’s not like they’re going from no meal service to all of a sudden having meals. Of course it’ll vary by time of day as it does now. This is just an improved meal service.

  6. A lot of this will happen on single aisle planes, yes? The 757s across the US and to some Europe cities? That’s a lot more time that you won’t be able to move around the cabin if you’re not seated your famiy, go to the bathroom, etc. Will be interesting to see how it works in practice.

  7. That’s a lot of additional supplies to carry and trash to manage. It’ll take up a lot more room in the galley, so much so I’d imagine they’ll have to install additional carts somewhere.

  8. Sorry, but this whole 3-course thing sounds pointless to me. It’s the same food, just served in 3 passes instead of one. I can only see a benefit if the dessert is the kind that needs to be consumed hot (warm cookie) or cold (ice cream), so you don’t want it to linger on your plate. Sure, it’s nice to be served the dishes at the proper time, but in a coach cabin we cannot realistically expect the flight attendants to serve the dessert to each customer when the customer is ready for it. Given these constraints, I’d rather have the dessert on my plate waiting for me than have to wait for my dessert.

    I’m bothered by the paid snacks option. Isn’t it standard custom on long-haul flights to just have sandwiches or other snacks in the galley for people to take as they please? I haven’t flown United long-haul since 2010 (LAX–NRT and back), and I don’t remember specifically if they had this arrangement, but my typical long-haul experience on a variety of carriers includes free sandwiches and snacks between meals. So buy-on-board looks like a downgrade to me.

    1. On United, I have only seen “snacks” that the flight attendants have ingeniously scoured from unused food trays, that is, butter, dinner rolls, brownies. That’s it. On Cathay, yes and of course Singapore Air.

      1. Um.. I don’t see how that can be legal… Once food is served it can’t be re-served. (With the potential exception if it is still in a sealed wrapper.)

    2. Ron – The desserts will be things like ice cream and gelato so it’s pretty important to have them served cold.

      As for snacks, that’s more common to have options available in premium cabins and in some top tier coach cabins. But United didn’t have that so this is an improvement.

  9. Currently, on IAD – BAH flights, (redeye) dinner is served about 1.5 hours after takeoff…… then the cabin darkens about 2 hours later. Water and juices are walked about, and if you visit the rear galley, there’s usually cheese sandwiches, chips and a cookie in small bags available. Breakfast comes about 1.5 hours before landing…. at 8 pm local time. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out – I’ll be on UA flights during the implementation…… curious.

  10. Sounds like a great idea, if they can execute it right. It’s not like others don’t do 3 pass service: 1) warm towels, snack and drink, 2) food and drink and 3) coffee seems pretty usual on long haul. With 2 FA per aisle this works pretty good and even with only 1 it can work.
    Let’s see how motivated will the crew be. I just came back from a trip with Emirates where IFE was the best I’ve ever seen (especially the large screens and USB/power on 77W), seats were as good as you can expect from slim ones in coach, but inconsistent service was a major letdown: too many FAs were wasting too much time coordinating with each other which created long pauses before rounds. I hope United’s execution of their new scheme is much better than my recent experience…

  11. Aren’t they already doing 3 passes?

    1st pass – drinks and pretzels
    2nd pass – main course
    3rd pass – coffee

    Now it’s…

    1st pass – drinks and crackers
    2nd pass – main course
    3rd pass – gelato tub and coffee

    Shouldn’t be any more time than the current service.

    1. Greg – Sure, but they’ll be doing double duty on each pass. The first pass is about the same, but then they’ll come through and pick up the trash from the first pass when they hand out the main. Then they’ll pick up the main when they hand out dessert. Then they come back again to pick that trash up. It may not be a huge changed in process (I couldn’t get details from United when I asked), but it will take more time.

      1. I don’t think so, Cranky. As other have mentioned, can’t pass-out snack/meal/dessert while also picking-up trash.

        Also, after closer look, seems food tray is actually “half” tray. Notice how entree – placed vertical, is length of try? That’s a “half” tray.

        Seems up-coming changes are an illusion of providing more – while
        providing a smaller tray set-up; its a marketing ploy.

        1. Yaya – They can have two carts following each other, one picking up trash and another handing out the next course. I have been told by United that trash will be picked up each time.

  12. Aww hell no. I just flew UA SFO-LHR. We got dinner, ice cream (2 courses) , and breakfast. As a rider in the deep back of the back of the bus, I can tell you A) this is 99% marketing, and B) is going to cause issues. Why? In the last rows of coach, meal service is spotty and slow, too many people, too few FAs. They run out of Chicken. They need to cook more beef. You get you drink an hour before your food, or 45 minutes later. Or you get your food and 5 minutes later they are trying to pick up trash. I’ve even seen a tray delivered with no entree, and the entree comes 20 min later.

    Simplify, diversify, but don’t add complexity to a system that does not need it.

  13. I don’t see the “appetizer” as really increasing workload that much. They can drop it off with the regular drink service, no different from handing out a pack of peanuts. And the trash from it can be picked up when handing out the meals… they can just put that very small amount of trash in a small bin on top of the food cart.

    1. Sounds like it might be a good idea except for the fact that picking up trash and handing out meals at the same time is unsanitary.

  14. Kind of strikes me as being funny they have to train F/A’s how to serve food in coach. Must mean they have a lot of F/A’s who never had to do it before that didn’t involve just tossing a purchased box of food at someone.

    And if a waiter/waitress can stand up for 8+ hours a day serving food to people almost nonstop, I think F/A’s will be walk up and down an aisle sixe times.

  15. Staffing at United is roughly 1 flight attendant to 75-85 passengers after the most recent staffing cuts on both narrow- and widebody aircraft, domestic and international. Passenger load factors are up due to a decrease in available seats (i.e., airlines have moved to smaller aircraft with more frequent service over larger aircraft with less frequency which, btw, also results in shorter rest times at hotels for flight attendants). Hourly rates for crews are in the $40-$65/hour range depending on a number of factors BUT flight attendants and pilots are only paid for flight time, that is, after the aircraft door is closed until it is opened again. That fact results in a diluted hourly pay when one considers their total time away from home on company business. Now, while crews always welcome and improved product to offer their customers it should be noted that United will not be adding staffing to support this new economy class offering and it does, indeed, mean “doing more with and for less”. That has the potential to further erode an already basemen- level morale. Kudos to Jeremy who got it right: “Simplify……..but don’t add complexity…..”

      1. They staff more up front, so in the back in works out to about 1 to 85…The rule about 1 to 50 is all about evacuations.

      1. For safety, total on board, 1 Flight Attendant to every 50 passengers. Now using the 757 as an example. 24 First class seats/ 158 coach. UA staffing requires 2 Flight Attendants to work the First Class cabin and they are only staffing coach with 2 Flight Attendants. So Ranchette is absoultely correct. John G needs to apologize.

        Back in the day, this same airplane woulld have been staffed with 6 Flight Attendants, 4 in coach splitting the cabin in half so the people sitting in the very back did not have to wait 2 hours for service.

        If UAL really wants to be the best and their Flight Attendants to “be the brand”, they need to return the coach staffing levels to what they once were.

        1. All US based airlines staff 757-200’s with 4 crew. Are you saying that United crew are less efficient than their counterparts at DL or AA?

          “Back in the day” the airline industry was regulated. The airfare was set by the government. Today legacy carriers are competing with newer airlines without pensions, with our expensive work rules, without a very senior workforce who are far more expensive. Airlines need to be competitive and if everyone is using 4 crew on a 757-200 then everyone else must follow suit.

  16. I think United already hands out an ice cream cup along with a sandwich on Transpacific flights in coach as a mid flight snack, or at least that was the case on my SFO-TPE trip. Would the new buy on board options replace this midflight snack?

  17. None of this matters as long as United has trans-Pacific wifi. Single-handedly got me back on an American airline for the time in a decade. (Of course, everything else about the flight still stinks, but I’m a simple man…)

  18. Staffing is a problem. United fas have long been calling for better food and drink options in coach, but those letters, phone calls, and emails have been ignored. They finally decided to improve meals, but probably only because enough high-yield pax got stuck in coach and complained about the paltry offerings, comparing (unfavorably) United to their competition. United continually removes flight attendants from their planes to save on labor costs. On domestic flights, they generally staff with the FAA minimums, and they seem to be going that way internationally too. In coach (narrowbody), 2 FAs to serve 150 passengers. They’ve increased the number of seats, reduced the amount of leg-room and carry-on space, and reduced the number of flight attendants. There are now fewer FAs onboard to deal with all of the angry pax. The angry ones always cause the service to take longer. In all my years of flying (both domestic and international, usually more than one trip per week) I have NEVER seen a flight attendant make only 6 passes through the cabin, unless you count flights under an hour.

  19. Seems to me service should be simplified; flying should be quiet and calming experience. These modifications contributes to neither.

    United needs to place dessert (cake/pie, etc), along with sealed cup of water (like Continental used to) on dinner tray.

    Further, my initial thought was, “where are they going to place all this extra stuff,” especially on 757s? (e.g. separate ice cream, separate bottle of water, etc.)

  20. It’s about time UAL did something for the economy passenger, especially those buying full fare tickets. They are still behind airlines like Lufthansa, Turkish and many others that offer a full bar in economy. Many foreign carriers also offer snacks like pretzels etc. between meals and they don’t charge. I will stick with the foreign carriers on my trips as an Int’l Air Courier.

    1. “Many foreign carriers also offer snacks like pretzels etc. between meals and they don’t charge.”

      Even Delta does this, and their one of the US carriers everyone loves to hate…

  21. How is United able to staff lower than the limits per Title 14 of the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations)?
    I thought it was 1 FA for every 50 pax. Here is what the code states:
    § 121.391 Flight attendants.
    (a) Except as specified in § 121.393 and § 121.394, each certificate holder must provide at least the following flight attendants on board each passenger-carrying airplane when passengers are on board:

    (1) For airplanes having a maximum payload capacity of more than 7,500 pounds and having a seating capacity of more than 9 but less than 51 passengers—one flight attendant.

    (2) For airplanes having a maximum payload capacity of 7,500 pounds or less and having a seating capacity of more than 19 but less than 51 passengers—one flight attendant.

    (3) For airplanes having a seating capacity of more than 50 but less than 101 passengers—two flight attendants.

    (4) For airplanes having a seating capacity of more than 100 passengers—two flight attendants plus one additional flight attendant for each unit (or part of a unit) of 50 passenger seats above a seating capacity of 100 passengers.

    I’m no expert, so if anyone can offer clarity, please do!

    1. It is entirely possible to have a high ratio of passengers to flight attendants. Remember, the FAA doesn’t care how you split classes up. It’s just the total number of seats onboard to the total number of flight attendants must be 50 to 1. Airlines go well below that in the premium cabins but it means in coach they can go well above it.

  22. Well it was news to me that beer/wine wasn’t free so that shows you how often I fly united. Last time I did take United across the pond (1990’s) I seem to recall the FA’s doing this many passes, if not more. How times have changed.

    It’s funny to me that we are discussing how they have to execute this properly when it was just standard procedure 25 years ago. Have we fallen that far?

  23. “For the final course, customers may enjoy a premium dessert, such as gelato, sorbet, ice cream or mousse.”

    Only on an American airline would ice cream be considered a “gourmet” dessert.

  24. UA isn’t staffing tge entire plane below the required 1 per 50 seats, but at least half the flight crew is working in business and first. The staffing in coach is very low.

    To the person who thinks it a good idea to pick up the trash at the same time and on the same cart as delivering the meals…. REALLY? I prefer my food delivered by a hand that didn’t just have to handle your soiled napkin. Thanks.

  25. What goes in comes out. With all this ‘service’ going on, plus the extra beer, the aisles are going to be blocked for more of the time, limiting lavatory access even more. Now THAT doesn’t make for an improved ‘flight product’!


  26. I fly United in coach transpacific a few times a year out of SFO. Apparently no one from United has every been on any of these flights in economy.

    United is already horribly slow service with awful food that you want to take sample to a lab to have tested for “animal of origin”, half the Flight Attendants started their aviation careers with the Wright Brothers, within 2 hours the restrooms make a Waffle House in Alabama at 2 am seem like the Ritz-Carlton, and the Flight Attendants always seem to create their own traffic jams with carts at every possible moment.

    This new plan sounds great, lets take even longer to do everything. You thought two and half hours with your empty tray was annoying, well now see us take six hours, or better yet now that you have this starter course maybe you won’t see again this flight.

    You fly United on long haul flights in economy because price and miles, and then you where those experiences like badges of honor like you just survived a short prison term overseas.

    How to improve United economy for long haul flights?

    Hand everyone a snack lunch meal and a bottle of water when they board, and then collect garbage at the end. This would be A MASSIVE IMPROVEMENT.

  27. Arguable as to how much of an enhancement this is really, internationally. It’s good PR, but we’ll see in terms of quality. And in terms of the FA’.s…..look. If it aint in the contract, it doesn’t happen. The sub-CO crews seem to be more flexible in that regard, but no way for the sub-UA crews. It will not be allowed to intrude on contract-provided crew rest. It will not be allowed to intrude on inflight turbulence service interrruptions, etc., etc. They’ll force the new multi-layered service through under those conditions. As always, unfortunately, with UA, neither the crews, other staff, or pax believes anything until it is seen. So, we’ll see.

  28. ” On all long haul flights (Transpacific, Transatlantic, and deep Latin America), the following will be the service standard starting June 1 in coach”

    But that’s not accurate Brett. From United’s own Press Release:

    “The airline will introduce this significantly upgraded food and beverage experience June 1 on trans-Atlantic flights; service between the United States and Argentina, Brazil and Chile; and most trans-Pacific flights”

    Operative words there: “MOST trans-pacific flights”

    UAL killed meal service on the 7-8 hour HNL-GUM route a year ago, while leaving meal service intact for its considerably shorter HNL-MAJ route. 8 hours is a long time to go without a real meal. Snack boxes don’t cut it.

    So I’m wondering if UAL had the nerve to keep meal service killed on that route? I can’t imagine too many other routes that “most trans-pacific flights” wouldn’t apply to.

    Any longhaul route over five hours should have meal service. Doesn’t have to be three course…but should be SOMETHING. United should be ashamed…particularly since that was originally a CO flight and CO management took over UAL.

  29. United is going to have to do a lot more than just improved meals to get me to fly them for trans-pacific flights to Hong Kong from SFO. Singapore or Cathay will always get my business whenever I fly to HKG. It’s more than just improved, nice meals. With SQ or CX, you are provided with good meals in economy and friendly and attentive service. There is simply no comparison.

  30. The comments indicate that on the flights to which this change will apply (all “Transpacific, Transatlantic, and deep Latin America flights”), United already provides at least one free meal to economy passengers. Am I correct, then, that the only thing that will change is that beer and wine will be free and the meals will be served in separate “courses” rather than on one tray? I am quite certain that the effects of the first change will not be positive. After nearly a decade of long-haul international flying as a flight attendant and a purser, I can say with (a rare) certainty that any measure that will increase the consumption of alcoholic beverages on long-haul flights is a very bad idea for everyone concerned. As for the second change, serving meals in three courses will most likely be a distinction without a difference for passengers, as United cabin crew already are supposed to do three serving passes through the cabin as part of a meal service (beverage with snack, meal, and coffee/tea). If United wants to become competitive with non-American carriers flying its long-haul international routes (particularly to/from Asia), these changes will not accomplish that…not by a long shot. United needs to provide economy seating with pitch and width (and, I’m told, IFE) comparable to that offered by those carriers. The two changes described in this post will do nothing to induce me to fly United on an international route. (Unless they would render the cabin crew desperate enough to allow me to get some exercise during the flight by helping them!)

    1. Leslie in Oregon – You are correct, but the food itself is being improved as well. As for alcohol, people want their free booze. Can this cause problems? Yes. And flight attendants shouldn’t overserve passengers. But considering how many people fly each day and how few incidents there are, it’s not that big of a problem.

      I’m not sure what you’re talking about regarding set pitch and width. United may be a bit less in pitch than some airlines, but it’s pretty firmly in the middle of the pack there.

  31. Any improvement is a good thing. United began at the back of the pack and easily needed the most improvement among the U.S. long-hauls (EASY!). It is a substantial extra load for the FAs and bet that they will find some short cuts. An Brett notes, pix and menus are difficult to find; I have no idea what the pictured meal is – it may be good – it may not be.
    As for the enhanced beverage service, I am grateful that I can now get Safe Water without cost on a long haul but as a non-drinker, the beer/wine offer is fluff. (Presumed limited to one per adult seat.) We’ll just have to wait and see…
    As for the other Coach Issue, thoroughly covered here and elsewhere, I REFUSE to play the “I got here first” seat games! When my document prove that I’ve PAID an additional fee for seat “X,” find some Little old Lady or extended family in MY seat, they WILL move. Noting that they had the same opportunity to BUY the seat as I did, but did not, my empathy factor is zero: Out, please! If the crew can offer a cabin upgrade, I MAY consider a move. Otherwise, I will NOT relinquish my extra-free seat for someone trying to save a buck. The two letter word is simple and easy to understand: N O !

  32. As a UA fa we are going very short as a rule nowadays. Just did Germany with only 4 of us. Yes, 4 of us working across the Atlantic. 2 in Business for 16px and 2 in coach for 150+px. We worked hard and had cut some corners but we still delivered a nice service, many px didnt even notice we were short because not their fault. It did take bit longer than usual for regular service. So yes would be nice to add staff and make it a nice service

  33. The FAA requires one FA per 50 seats, not 50 pax, on a 200 seat plane, this is only 4 flight attendants. These flights were staffed with much more, however, this has been cut. Also, on an 8 hr flight internationally, flight attendants are required to have a break of at least 1 hour. I hope UA, ups the staffing, and it just the workload.

  34. I don’t see a point in separating the main meal and the dessert. Typcally the latter would be some cake that can well sit on the same tray with the main course. The FAs will still have to make the third meal round – to serve hot drinks.

    But I see their main course trays might be narrower (or shorter, i.e. smaller dimension from your belly to the front seat) and not have enough space for the dessert. Aeroflot (and I am sure a bunch of others) fit the main course (including hot dish and salad), dessert, bread, cutlery and water on the same tray.

    So, isn’t United getting ready for narrower pitch between seats and smaller tray tables when bigger trays do not fit well?

  35. It’s definitely a move in the right direction!
    Snack served with the first beverage, main meal with a beverage and then dessert served with the coffee! What’s the problem?
    I assume the wine will be better than the box wine served on Delta. As for hard liquor, there should be a charge! When hard liquor was free, there were too many drunken messes onboard!

    1. Problem is carts will be in aisle continuously so don’t plan on using the lavatory ad well as much longer time trash from your meals will remain in front of you so font plan on sleeping.

  36. Instead of so called upgrade premium food would be better to have already served food to be edible. Second..long hauls with carts in aisle now customers will never have opportunity to get up to go to the lavatory. Carts already a drink cart and meal cart followed by puck up cart. With this new service a cart will be in aisle for too long.

  37. The menu described isn’t a significant change for the flight attendants. BTW just how inept do we seem? :->

  38. This is a good step in the right direction. Breaking it down to three separate courses over a period of time could be a good idea even though the food quality will probably be the same. The idea of free beer and wine is a welcome change to come back to what we used to have. I hope it lasts or is the beginning of a trend in a new direction. I am getting tired of airlines constantly shrinking every service on their flights except the cost. Flying used to be more enjoyable. I hope it returns.

  39. What about United’s “long-haul domestic” flight from EWR to HNL?

    At around 9-10 hours this flight is longer then quite a few of the international flights added here.

    Any chance that type of flight gets this treatment?

      1. Yeah, it would certainly make sense. I tried to email United via their website and that message bounced back, so not much luck hearing from them if there are any plans to extend this type of thing to such a long flight.

  40. Got my email to send to them cleanly. I dont imagine I will learn anything interesting, but will share the results.

  41. Having flown with United several times, last year was a shock to have to pay to get a lousy glass of wine. I have a debit card not a credit card, so no drink for me! No cash taken by them either. Probably worried they’d get mugged on the pass through picking up the empty cups. Food is actually, dare I say it, GOOD, on United. MUCH better than a flung sandwich and hope you catch it on Qantas. Flying out again this month so will look forward to having a drink so I can get some sleep. Only way I CAN sleep is to get soused…..

    1. A debit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo should work just fine.

      Most airlines stopped taking cash since its easier to account for things just using the credit card machine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier