United expands contactless food and beverage sales with new PayPal integration

Oct 6, 2021

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There’s a new way to pay for food and drinks on United.

The Chicago-based carrier unveiled a new integration with PayPal on Wednesday, Oct. 6, allowing travelers to use the company’s mobile app as a form of payment in flight.

If you have the PayPal mobile app downloaded on your phone, you can open it to display a QR code that’s tied to your account. When a flight attendant gets to your row, you’ll be able to display the QR code and purchase any of the buy-on-board offerings, which will be charged to your selected payment method within the PayPal app.

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This new technology is rolling out on select flights departing from the airline’s Chicago O’Hare (ORD) hub in November, followed later this year by all flights across the network where contactless payment is available.

(Photo courtesy of United)

Due to the pandemic, United exclusively accepts contactless payment for onboard purchases. When a flight attendant passes by your row, you’re asked if you want to purchase a snack or drink. If you do, the crew pulls up your profile on a mobile tablet and charges your stored payment method. Receipts are emailed, keeping the purchase process completely touchless — in line with guidance from the Cleveland Clinic.

(Photo courtesy of United)

Until now, you needed to pre-select and update your preferred method of payment in the United mobile app before travel if you wanted to purchase an item in flight.

With the new PayPal integration, however, you don’t need to be connected to Wi-Fi or pre-authorize a saved credit card to make inflight purchases. While this is definitely an improvement, I’m personally surprised that the airline hasn’t invested in accepting contactless mobile payments, like Apple Pay, which can also be processed without an internet connection.

Related: Here’s what food and drinks you can expect on your next flight

Either way, this is the latest enhancement to United’s inflight food and drink experience. In late July, the airline debuted a new pre-order option, giving all flyers the ability to reserve their preferred snack and drinks from the buy-on-board menu.

If you order an item in advance, it’ll be “reserved” for you specifically — you won’t have to worry about the crew running out before reaching your row.

Featured photo courtesy of United.

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