AA and United Scrap Some Sundaes Due to Dry Ice Shortage

Jul 2, 2018

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Update 7/3/18: Just a day after this report, United has confirmed that ice cream sundaes have returned to its flights from the UK.

Yup, in-flight sundaes are back in the news. Last year, broken glass prompted United to temporarily scrap its made-to-order dessert service for about 10 weeks — while some flights got pre-packaged frozen treats, on other routes the suspension meant no ice cream at all, with flight attendants serving mousse, instead.

Well, now United’s mousse is back, but for a different reason altogether. The UK’s current “CO₂ crisis” is to blame — it’s resulted in draft beer shortages, which we knew about, but now in-flight desserts are taking a hit as well, since airlines depend on dry ice (frozen CO₂) to keep them cold.

United Polaris sundae. Photo by Zach Honig.

TPG reader Jesse K. reached out to share his experience on a recent United flight from London (LHR) to Los Angeles (LAX). UA sent him a text warning of the shortage just a few hours before departure:

“Unfortunately, because of a break in the system that produces dry ice throughout Europe, we will not have it available to keep the ice cream cold on your flight. As a result, we will be serving another dessert option for you to enjoy. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this might cause and we look forward to seeing you onboard.”

That other dessert option ended up being chocolate mousse. Jesse said that “it was actually pretty good, and came in a ceramic container.”

United confirmed the issue:

“The limited availability of dry ice in the UK has impacted our ability to serve ice cream in United’s Polaris and Economy cabins on flights departing London Heathrow Airport (LHR). To minimize service disruption, our team will serve a different dessert in place of the ice cream. The safety and comfort of our customers is our top priority and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

And UA isn’t the only US-based carrier affected — American Airlines has also replaced ice cream on flights out of the UK, explaining:

“In the Premium Cabins we’ve increased the provisioning of current dessert offerings which includes fruit and cheese, a rotational cake and in first, a hot brownie. In Premium Economy and Main Cabin we’ve replaced the mid-flight ice cream service with a Kit Kat bar.”

An AA spokesperson suggested that ice cream could return within a couple weeks, but that “the overall situation is fluid.” (I’m hoping that fun melted ice cream pun wasn’t just a coincidence.)

Delta is still serving ice cream on UK flights, however, though a spokesperson noted that the catering team is “keeping an eye on the situation.” Ice cream sundaes remain available on long-haul AA and United flights departing the US, and on most other international routes as well.

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