United’s Trimming Staffing, Changing Meal Service in Business Class

Nov 6, 2018

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“Well clearly this United business-class cabin is way overstaffed” – said no one ever. Yet the airline seems to think so — beginning Feb. 1, 2019, United’s removing one flight attendant from the Polaris cabins on its 777-200s, 787-8 and -9 Dreamliners and 767-400ERs. The airline is also trimming the economy count by one crew member on international 757-200 flights.

As Gary Leff reports, United will begin pre-plating meals to compensate for the staffing reduction — it’s unclear how this will affect taste and presentation, in addition to the service flow, but the airline indicates that customers shouldn’t notice any change, explaining that “most of the meals are already plated and then cooked on board.”

United Executive Chef Gerry McLoughlin demonstrates how flight attendants plate meals on the 777-300ER. Photo by Zach Honig.
United Executive Chef Gerry McLoughlin demonstrates how flight attendants plate meals on the 777-300ER. Photo by Zach Honig.

United’s inflight services chief emailed flight attendants outlining the changes. SVP John Slater starts off by acknowledging recent adjustments to the Polaris service, including reducing three-tiered carts and scrapping the Bloody Mary cart. “Those were important steps, but there is more work to do,” Slater states. His full message is below:

While Slater suggests that the reductions may be at least partially intended to improve the airline’s bottom line, a United representative explained that the airline is “not removing or reducing the product on our United Polaris dining experience,” adding that “customers have told us that they value sleep when on board and this adjustment will help our crews more efficiently deliver meal service so customers can relax and sleep.”

Either way, flight attendants are not thrilled. And if history is any indication, crew members sometimes take their frustrations out on passengers — both on and off the plane. That’s assuming that the reduced staffing levels won’t directly impact the crew’s ability to deliver quality service — either way, you better believe we’ll be on the lookout beginning Feb. 1.

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