A Complete Guide To Food and Wine on United Airlines
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United Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the US and the company has been improving their food offering, especially in their premium lounges and flights, over the past few years.
Historically the company did not put much emphasis on their food offering but with other partners like Delta taking food more seriously United has noticed.
Unfortunately the airline doesn’t make a lot of information available on their website but we’re here to breakdown the food experience and let you know what to expect next time you fly.
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United has a in house chef team that focuses on creating specialized menus for both lounges and flight routes around the world. The company has greatly expanded their food offering, especially in their redesigned Polaris Business Class, to give premium passengers a truly stand out experience.
United doesn’t traditionally partner with outside food companies, unlike Delta does by selecting famous restaurants to collaborate with. However, they do have a team of in house chefs that are more than capable of coming up with delicious meals on any route.
United’s executive chefs are Gerry McLoughlin and Gerry Gulli and they orchestrators of distinctive inflight dining at 35,000 feet. The team works closely with corporate chefs to continually evaluate evolving food trends in an effort to bring the best inflight dining experiences to customers.
Chefs will also occasionally hop on a United flight just to get the customer and crew feedback to see if what they are doing is working.
Along side chefs United also employs Doug Frost, their very own in house Master Sommelier. Frost is an expert wine aficionado and works with the beverage committee to craft a balanced selection of wine on every flight.
Pre Departure Selection
United offers a pre departure selection to certain passengers and you will be notified if you are eligible 5 days in advance of your flight and you must make your selection at least 24 hours in advance.
If you are eligible here is how you can pre select your onboard meal.
- Step 1: Follow the link in your email notification or visit united.com/preordermeals and log in with your reservation information.
- Step 2: Browse the menu and make your selection. Note if you are traveling with additional people on your reservation you will be able to select everyones meals.
- Step 3: Save your choice and you’re done! When you board the aircraft a flight attendant will confirm your choice and then it’s time to enjoy your meal.
A few reminders to note that once you make a selection you won’t be able to change your meal choice once you hit save. So make sure you make your choice carefully.
An added plus is if you are not feeling up to what you selected once you get onboard the flight attendants will accommodate serving you something from the set menu. Although note nothing is guaranteed and they are subject to run out of certain selections.
Note the process for “special meals” is a bit different but this can be requested at the time of booking or by adding a request to an existing reservation. To do so manage your reservation on either United’s website or app to make your selection.
United operates two major lounge networks known as their Club Lounge and the Polaris Business Lounge. These two are vastly different, especially when it comes to the food offering. We will let you know what you can expect before you enter.
United Club Lounge
United Club Lounge is open to United Club members, Star Alliance Gold members, and other eligible customers. To see if you are elegible for access see the United access policy.
We visited the United Club Lounge in 2021 and the offering was still a bit scaled back. There was no real hot food being served the selection ranged from cold wraps, instant noodles, and various snacks.
We are hoping the food selection was just due to the scaled back nature of reopening since we would rate this a definite skip.
A small plus was we were traveling in business class and got access to the premium beverage selections at no added cost. Give the wines they serve can retail for over $60 a bottle we would say this was a great perk.
United Polaris Business Lounge
The United Polaris business lounges are extremely popular with travelers and when we visited the lounge Newark Airport in 2020 we can see why.
The lounge was like no other airline in the United States we have seen before. First off the decor was modern, inviting, and there was plenty of space available in the lounge.
The food offering was downright incredible though with United having two major serving styles including a full sit down restaurants and a self service buffet.
The sit down restaurant doesn’t feel real at first. When you browse through the menu you will be shocked to realize that everything is complimentary. The servings sizes are moderate so the staff will encourage you to try a few and we would agree with that recommendation.
For those with less time in the lounge or just want a more quiet experience United has a huge buffet selection. This ranges from various hot past dishes, cold sandwiches, salads, and a large dessert bar.
There is no shortage of good things we have to say about United Polaris Lounge and in our opinion it is the most generious lounge offering we’ve seen in the states.
If you don’t offer indulge in the lounge offerings you can look forward to United’s on board experience. In our opinion unless you are flying International Polaris Business class you may get an inconsistent experience making you wish you brought something onboard in advance.
United Domestic Economy dining varies greatly depending on your route. You can mostly expects snacks being served on board for the time being as meal services have been cut back since 2020.
Here are the latest guidelines to keep in mind.
- Flights under 2 hours and 20 minutes: No snacks or meals available.
- Flights over 2 hours and 20 minutes: An “all-in-one” snack bag with a wrapped sanitizer wipe, 8.5-ounce bottled water and two snacks is served.
- Premium transcontinental or Hawaii: An “all-in-one” snack bag with a wrapped sanitizer wipe, 8.5-ounce bottled water and two snacks.
We know this reduced offering is due to COVID regulations and we expect United to improve their offering over the coming months.
For drinks you can expect non-alcoholic beverages to be complimentary and available on all flights. United is not currently selling alcohol on board but that is subject to change. Coffee and tea are available all day on all flights.
Domestic First Class
Typically you can expect a meal on domestic first class but since 2020 United has also been cutting back in this area.
Here are the latest guidelines.
- Flights under 1 hour: No snacks or meals available.
- Flights between 1 hour and 2 hours and 20 minutes: An “all-in-one” snack bag with a wrapped sanitizer wipe, 8.5-ounce bottled water and two snacks.
- Flights over 2 hours and 20 minutes: A choice between a selection of sandwiches and one of our snack boxes.
While the offering in 2020 is reduced we do expect to see United prioritize bringing back more food on domestic first class as travel begins to rebound.
With all the change in rules on airline food offering, a positive is if you’re flying in United Economy on an international flight, you’ll receive an entrée, a salad and salad dressing, a snack and a sealed, single-serve cup of ice cream.
Wine and beer are complimentary in United Economy® on long-haul international flights.
International Polaris Business Class
United Polaris Business class is the companies flagship product and is also where you get by far the best food. We’ve noticed the experience can vary where on our Polaris Flight to Frankfurt the food was amazing but on a Polaris Flight to Rome it was so so.
Upon boarding a Polaris flight you will be greeted with a welcome beverage, nuts, and the menu for your current route. A plus is that United offers all dinners an express option if you would like everything to be served at once so you can maximize time to rest.
On this flight we had a number of different meals to select that included two starters, a choice of 4 entrees, and 3 different dessert options. United also makes a number of snacks available in the galley on long haul flights so passengers can just walk on over to get something to eat.
We would rate the entrees highly on United as you can tell they took a lot of time and effort to serve you a satisfying meal.
An added plus is the cutlery and dinnerware United uses that definitely elevates the experience.
When it comes to breakfast we’re not usually huge fans of airlines offering but United does a pretty good job with the omelettes. The one being served as actually quite tasty and if you have a chance to fly this cabin we would recommend getting breakfast.
Given Polaris Business is United’s best offering you know you will be in for a treat if you get to fly. We recommend coming hungry and not overindulging in the Polaris Lounge prior, although that will be difficult.
United touts a Master Sommelier on their staff and seems to offer some fairly premium wines on board and in lounges. Unfortunately they don’t make a drink menu available on their website.
However we know from the menu’s we have seen the wines are pretty impressive.
We recommend using an app like Vivino when going through the United offering. Like us you’ll be pleasantly surprised their wines are often high quality, expensive, and paired well with the meals being served.
United has been cutting back in 2021 on the availability of special meals. Make sure you check your flight to see which options are available but the table below contains all the offerings United typically makes available.
Note: Due to Covid 19, United has decided to discontinue special meals except for Kosher meals on flights between the U.S. and Tel Aviv, New York/Newark and London Heathrow (starting July 1), and San Francisco and Sydney (starting August 1). We will update the note when they return.
|Types of meals||Description|
|Asian Vegetarian||This is a non-strict vegetarian meal that is spicy. This meal is free of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, and may include dairy products.|
|Hindu (Indian) vegetarian||Hindu (Indian) meals follow vegetarian guidelines by excluding all meat and seafood, and are spicy in content.Special note: Hindu (Indian) vegetarian meals are offered as a standard choice on flights to and from India; therefore, it is not necessary to place a special vegetarian meal request for these flights. Meals may include milk and dairy products and by-products.|
|Vegan (strict) vegetarian||Vegan meals are available for those customers who exclude from their diets all foods derived from animals, including meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, honey, eggs and dairy products and their byproducts. The meal is based on Western/Mediterranean cuisine.|
|Vegetarian lacto-ovo||Vegetarian meals that include dairy, honey and eggs. This meal does not include meat, poultry, fish and shellfish.|
|Child||This meal is available for children ages 2-12 and includes food offerings that appeal to children. It consists of simple, basic foods that are kid-friendly.|
|Gluten-intolerant||This meal is available for customers who are gluten-intolerant, and does not contain wheat, barley, rye or oats.|
|Jain||Jain meals are available only on flights to and from India.Jain meals are prepared in Indian style and according to Jain customs that prohibit the consumption of animal products and root vegetables.|
|Japanese||Traditional multi-course Japanese meals, served with steamed rice and Japanese tea, are available for pre-order by customers confirmed in United Polaris business class on flights between the continental U.S. or Hawaii and Japan.|
|Muslim||These meals exclude all products derived from pigs, such as pork, ham and bacon, and alcohol is not used for preparation. All meat products are prepared in accordance with the Halal method. United Airlines serves vegetarian, non-meat Muslim meals only.|
Conclusion & Take Aways
United being a major airline is knowing investing in their food to keep up their share in the market. It may seem though they are heavily prioritizing premium and business passengers while keeping their economy offering fairly basic. This is great news if you are a premium passenger but not so much for everyone else.
Still United seems to have a decent food offering that won’t make you go hungry on your next trip. We hope that with added competition from airlines like Jetblue and increased offerings from Delta, United will continue to improve their onboard food and service.
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I’m confused. United eliminated special meals a while ago, citing concerns over COVID-19. I don’t like their decision, but this has been true for months before you published your article. Source: https://www.united.com/ual/en/us/fly/travel/inflight/dining/special.html
Hi we tried calling that out but understand it wasn’t as clear as could be. I updated the post to make it known that United has suspended special meals. Thanks
“We know this reduced offering is due to COVID regulations…” Rubbish. There are not now, nor have there ever been “regulations” that prevented airlines from serving meals. They simply used COVID as an excuse to reduce service and cut costs.