United is bringing back inflight food and beverage sales — with a twist

Oct 28, 2020

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Early in the pandemic, airlines quickly suspended most inflight service offerings. On some of the shortest flights, you wouldn’t receive anything — not even water.

With the holidays approaching and more people taking to the skies, carriers are slowly resuming pre-pandemic service, with an increased focus on crew and passenger safety. On Oct. 1, United boosted its complimentary offerings.

Beginning the week of Nov. 17, the Chicago-based carrier will resume onboard snack, beer and wine sales on a few select flights.

For now, these extras will only be available for purchase on departures from Denver to one of the following nine cities — Boston (BOS), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Washington-Dulles (IAD) and Washington-National (DCA). You can head to united.com or check the menu in the United mobile app to see what’s available on your flight.

United plans to expand these offerings to more flights “in the coming months.” When buy-on-board resumes, top-tier Premier 1K and invite-only Global Services members seated in coach will once again receive a complimentary snack box and alcoholic drink, subject to availability.

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If you aren’t a top-tier elite, the options include $10 snack boxes, an assortment of $4 to $5 individually wrapped snacks (think Haribo gummy bears or Pringles), $8 beers and $9 half-bottles of wines.

A United snack box (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Though buy-on-board is (slowly) resuming, the purchase process is going to look a lot different than before the pandemic. That’s because United is piloting a new touchless, digital payment system.

When the flight attendant passes by your row, you’ll be asked if you want to purchase a snack or drink. If you do, the crew will pull up your profile on a mobile tablet and charge your stored payment method. Receipts will be emailed, keeping the purchase process completely touchless — in line with guidance from the Cleveland Clinic.

MileagePlus frequent flyers can store a debit or credit card in their traveler profile, and it will automatically be available for all future trips where contactless payment is available.

If you’re not a MileagePlus member or choose not to save a payment method to your profile, you’ll be prompted to temporarily store a card during online and in-app check-in.

If you decline to add a payment method during check-in, you can still try adding one while inflight, assuming that the inflight Wi-Fi is working. United won’t accept physical cards or touchless mobile payments like Apple Pay or Google Pay while onboard.

The resumption of buy-on-board food and drinks is in addition to the carrier’s complimentary offerings, some of which restarted on Oct. 1.

In coach, flyers can enjoy coffee and tea, as well as sealed beverages, on any flight with beverage service. Cups of water will be available as well, in addition to the small bottles provided in the airline’s all-in-one snack bags.

A United all-in-one snack bag (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Food and drink service for premium-cabin passengers varies by route. On long-haul international flights, all flyers are served a full meal in all cabins. On domestic routes, service depends on your origin and destination, with more details available here.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy. Screenshots courtesy of United.

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