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United executive acknowledges carrier’s catering shortfalls, promises better meals

Nov. 17, 2022
5 min read
United Planes Boeing 737
United executive acknowledges carrier’s catering shortfalls, promises better meals
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Ask any United Airlines frequent flyer what could be improved about the airline, and chances are that the food will be among the top complaints.

Since United resumed plated meal service in domestic first class in June 2021, the catering program has been marked by a lack of selection and, in some cases, poor taste.

In fact, for lunch and dinner service, United has only had three major menu rotations since then — most recently, a choice between za'atar chicken and a vegetarian selection, Impossible meatballs.

Now, a top United executive is acknowledging the catering issues and promising improvements.

"I know you probably love the za'atar chicken and the Impossible meatballs," chief customer officer Linda Jojo said sarcastically. "Sorry to say, they're probably not gonna be around much longer."

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United's Impossible meatballs entree. KYLE OLSEN/THE POINTS GUY

Jojo, speaking at the Skift Aviation Forum in Dallas on Wednesday, said that the lack of variety comes down to a slew of pandemic-related challenges.

"What I would say is that we definitely got slowed down first by the pandemic itself and now by the supply chain challenges that have been there," she said. Adding to the complexity is the fact that United contracts with 130 different catering kitchens across its global network.

The Chicago-based carrier now offers customers the option to pre-order their meals on certain flights — with five choices — and uses data to drive its catering decisions, said Jojo, who was previously United's chief digital officer.

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"We will be feeding that data through our analytics engines and we now know what customers want and will have a better chance of putting that on the plane," she said.

Jojo also teased some new enhancements to United's domestic meal service, and, following Jojo's comments, a United spokesperson shared more.

Starting this week, domestic first class will have six new scheduled entrees, including two for breakfast and four for lunch and dinner. To create more variety, the lunch and dinner entrees will be catered directionally: two for eastbound flights and two for westbound flights.

Also, starting Dec. 1, the airline promises "six new signature entrees" in its pre-order system. Additionally that day, the airline will bring back its signature ice cream sundae cart in Polaris business class on four routes from San Francisco International Airport (SFO): Frankfurt Airport (FRA), Brisbane Airport (BNE), Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) and Sydney Airport (SYD). That news was first reported by Live and Let's Fly and confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.

Details about the entrees aren't yet available.

Don't expect free Wi-Fi on United

This year, United began offering flat $8 Wi-Fi pricing on board all of its domestic flights for MileagePlus members.

But don't expect it to become free, Jojo said.

The airline is focused on the reliability of its network — and wants to ensure that the wireless access points aboard its aircraft are not overused, not to mention the satellite bandwidth.

"A small price creates a little bit of friction that we think is a way to help people that really need it — are gonna be able to have it and use it," she said.

In fact, there wasn't a huge increase in Wi-Fi use when United introduced the cheaper pricing, Jojo said, "which I thought was interesting."

United continues to dynamically price Wi-Fi on its long-haul international flights. United credit cardholders receive a 25% statement credit when purchasing Wi-Fi aboard a United flight.

More: Delta debuts free Wi-Fi for all SkyMiles members in latest internet trial

Jojo's comments come as Delta Air Lines inches closer to free Wi-Fi on its flights. The carrier is testing free Wi-Fi for all SkyMiles members on select aircraft. Meanwhile, JetBlue has long provided free Wi-Fi on all of its flights.

Farewell to United's alcohol wipes?

One of the last vestiges of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic can be found when boarding a United or United Express flight.

At the boarding door, a flight attendant still hands out individually wrapped alcohol wipes — a throwback to when every airline was heavily pushing the cleanliness of its aircraft.

United sanitizing wipe. ETHAN KLAPPER/THE POINTS GUY

Sanitizing wipes will remain available on board aircraft for those who want them, Jojo said. However, the airline might transition to handing out something else.

"Our flight attendants greet every single customer now and sometimes it's the hand wipes, sometimes it's just to say hello and we may not have a wipe forever," she said. "There may be something a little more fun coming at some point, but I don't think we'll ever take away that touchpoint at the end of the jet bridge."

Regardless of what new form that touchpoint takes, it would be yet another sign of United moving past the pandemic.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees