If you fly the friendly skies, you’ll be pleased to know that United Airlines has made significant investments in its on-the-ground and onboard dining experience. In a way, United has been playing catch up with its competitors, but caught up, it has. Investments have boosted the flavors and quantity of food and beverages the airline offers its customers. Let’s take a look at what to expect when you fly on one of the founding members of Star Alliance.
United Club upgrades
Step inside one of United’s upgraded club locations, and you are in for a pleasant surprise. United Clubs are getting a remodel worldwide with a more contemporary décor and revamped menu. Let’s head to the buffet where fresh salads, artisan breads and crackers paired with cheese, and fresh fruit await. The recent uptick in membership rates has coincided with the catering improvement. Tasty soups come with all the accoutrements, and cold dishes like tabbouleh or bean salads are another option. Salad dressings, sriracha sauce, and toppings for morning oatmeal are nice additions.
Visitors will also find something for their sweet and savory interests like Skittles, fruit and nut mix, or spicy snack mix. A new partnership with Illy Coffee was introduced with great fanfare and brings the Italian roaster’s dark roast and espresso blends to the United lounge network and aircraft. Through lengthy taste tests and a variety of coffee brands, United settled on the high-end Illy brand.
Domestic and international economy class gets better
Travelers on the domestic and Caribbean network are now treated to free snacks in economy again after years of going hungry. On morning flights, passengers can snack on Dutch stroopwafels (delicious when dunked in Illy coffee) while the rest of the day, everyone gets sweet or savory snack mix to go with their complimentary drinks.
Upgrades also came to the buy-on-board menu, which features things like chicken, sausage and egg skillets and roast beef baguettes. There’s even an Illy iced cappuccino for sale in economy class, but don’t fret, piping hot Illy coffee is always free of charge. Other premium cocktails include the Crafthouse Cocktails Moscow Mule, which is a unique inflight brand partnership (minus the signature tin cup).
Unlike Delta, there are no extra snacks or meals for Economy Plus passengers, even on transcontinental flights, but United did return free meals to economy passengers on flights to northern South America including flights to Quito and Bogota. On similar length or longer international flights, United catches up to competitors by offering free beer and wine in economy class (spirits are available for purchase).
Recently, United introduced a three-course meal service for long-haul flights in economy class beginning with an aperitif service that comes with snacks like cheese and crackers or snack mix. That is followed by a hot meal with three choices, a significant upgrade from years past, and then a premium dessert service. Entrée choices include things like home-style turkey meatloaf and baked rigatoni with parmesan cheese and apple wheatberry grain salad.
United took great caution when overhauling its economy class service to make sure that it was efficient for flight crew and time-sensitive to those that want to sleep quickly on overnight flights. Especially long flights have mid-flight snacks like sandwiches or ice cream, and prior to landing either breakfast or a light snack is served.
Domestic first class gets even better
Media attention toward United’s upgrades to first class meals was strong, and it was a significant point of focus in the airline’s intense effort to boost its business traveler base. A rotating craft beer selection and cocktails, like the aforementioned Moscow Mule, are nice additions to the beverage menu. Sparkling wine is also on offer.
The Trotter Project, a nonprofit that is focused on mentoring new chefs, is responsible for the airline’s inflight premium cabin menus and include influence from late Chef Charlie Trotter. Participating chefs include Bill Kim of urbanbelly, Top Chef Richie Farina of Michelin-starred Moto, and Della Gossett of Spago’s Beverly Hills.
Their prowess will be exhibited in meals like Hoisin beef with Asian barbecue sauce and basmati rice or osso bucco-style chicken with roasted garlic polenta. P.S. transcontinental service on flights from Newark to Los Angeles and San Francisco include appetizers like goat cheese with fig, roasted beet and fennel salad. Entrees will be similar to long-haul international flights including dishes like flat-iron steak with chimichurri sauce and the famous ice cream sundae cart.
United looks to the north star
The airline is in the midst of introducing an overhauled international business and first class product under the name Polaris (named for the north star). In addition to its reinvented flat-bed seating and bedding products, the meal service is getting a makeover.
It all begins with an aperitif card with made-to-order Bloody Marys and Mimosas in addition to a full selection of soft drinks, cocktails, craft beer, and impressive wine list curated by Master Sommelier and Master of Wine Doug Frost.
Multi-course meals come on new flatware and delivered in an efficient manner so that passengers have time to savor new flavors while getting plenty of inflight rest. On a side note, if passengers want to sleep the entire flight, they can dine pre-flight in the new United Polaris Lounges coming soon to United hub airports.
Meal options include the same chef-inspired entrees like domestic flights, but are delivered with greater fanfare. United Executive Chef Gerry McLoughlin is crafting menus that include dishes like lemongrass chicken in coconut ginger soup, braised short ribs with bordelaise sauce and creamy polenta, and poached salmon with lentil chili and broccolini. McLoughlin took into account the flavor palate at high altitudes and also how food presentation and temperature can be affected.
No matter where you’re flying, United has made great headwinds in the food and beverage department. Cheers!