United finally expands its domestic first-class meal service

May 27, 2022

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Good news for travelers booked in United Airlines‘ domestic first-class: The airline is significantly expanding the number of flights that feature hot meals.

Starting June 1, the Chicago-based carrier will cater hot meals on all mainline flights more than 800 miles, a spokesperson confirmed to TPG. For United Express flights, which are on regional jets that lack ovens, a cold meal will be served on a tray.

The move comes nearly a year after United became the first major U.S. airline to return hot meals to domestic first class. Since then, United has lagged behind its competitors in both the range of routes that feature hot meals and the variety of the meals.

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Currently, United offers hot meals only on hub-to-hub mainline routes more than 800 miles long, a threshold in place since last June; routes of that length that aren’t between hubs feature a choice of a sandwich or snack box. The airline caters hot meals on other routes more than 1,500 miles long.

Earlier this year, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines both brought back hot meals on flights more than 900 miles long, so United’s move to an 800-mile threshold for all flights means it will offer meals on a greater range of routes than either of its full-service competitors.

On shorter routes, United has been catering warm sandwiches, which will now be eliminated, the United spokesperson said. Many travelers, myself included, agree that the sandwiches are tasty but have poor nutritional value.

United’s first-class sandwich is being retired. (Photo by Ethan Klapper/The Points Guy)

Then there’s the issue of variety. When hot meals initially returned to United last June, the airline catered two sets of breakfast meals, and two sets of lunch and dinner meals on mainline flights. Breakfast flights featured a Belgian waffle or an egg scramble, while lunch and dinner meals featured chicken with orzo or a vegetarian enchilada. The only significant change in the past year occurred when Italian ragu over polenta replaced the vegetarian enchilada. The lack of variety has become something of a running joke among some crews and frequent travelers. On one recent flight, the purser, acknowledging my Premier 1K status, joked that she knew I was already aware of the two lunch options. She was right.

More: Hot, plated meals are officially making a comeback on Delta flights

United’s domestic first-class chicken entrée was introduced on June 15, 2021, and has been part of the menu ever since. Glassware returned to United a month after this photo was taken. (Photo by Ethan Klapper/The Points Guy)

Now, the airline will address that issue, too.

“We’re working to build more entrée variety in the Domestic First menu and can share more about our upcoming menu offerings in the weeks ahead,” the United spokesperson said.

More: Hot food is back on American — here’s what it was like on day 1

Finally, United is taking another step toward returning its international Polaris business class to its pre-pandemic normalcy. Since 2020, the airline has been serving everything on a single tray. Starting June 1, this will become a three-step sequence, according to United:

Step 1: Pre-meal beverage/cocktail snack/lay table linen

Step 2: Main meal tray with plated entrée

Step 3: Dessert

meal on United
United has been testing its upgraded Polaris service on select routes, including Washington Dulles (IAD) to Amman, Jordan (AMM). (Photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy)

While still not as elaborate as pre-pandemic service, which featured a chilled appetizer (oftentimes tuna or smoked duck), this move is definitely a step in the right direction as travelers return to the skies and demand something closer to normal service.

Bottom line

United fell behind its competition in recent months when it came to domestic first-class catering, offering less variety on far fewer routes than Delta and American. Starting next week, United will offer hot meals on shorter flights than both airlines and promises more variety soon. United’s frequent flyers will surely welcome this news.

Featured photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

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