United eliminates special meals on domestic flights as of October 1, 2011

I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but according to the Association of Flight Attendants, United will be eliminating special meals on flights within the US, Canada, Caribbean, and Latin America (though I suspect that refers to Mexico as opposed to Argentina, Brazil, etc., but who knows). It seems that Premium Service flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco as well as flights to Hawaii are excluded from this change.

While many people ordered special meals as a way to get a bit of variety in United’s dining options without an actual dietary restriction, there are still plenty of people with dietary needs that aren’t met by United’s meal offerings. It’s not uncommon for both of United’s first class meal options to be meat dishes, or not meet any of a number of other dietary restrictions.

If this proved to be a major cost I can understand they would eliminate this for people that received complimentary upgrades at their upgrade window. However, it just doesn’t seem right to eliminate this for paid first class passengers.

More than anything else it’s just another move that takes the “worst of both worlds,” as seems to be the trend with this merger.


  1. “While many people ordered special meals as a way to get a bit of variety in United’s dining options without an actual dietary restriction….”

    Oh, so THAT’S why these were so popular. 🙂

  2. That’s disappointing. As a ovo-lacto vegetarian for the last 12 years, it basically says to me, United doesn’t want my business. Further, are they going to try and pass this off on people who abstain from one things or another because of religious reasons? Sounds foolish to me.

  3. United probably thinks they carry too many passengers and are actively trying to shoo away people from their planes

  4. @ The Nomad – you can still get special meals on DELTA, just don’t change them 72hrs before flight then you miss both your meal and your flight! Ugg…

  5. Well i hope they are going to do a better job of making sure there is always a vegetarian option then…

  6. As someone who keeps Kosher (not Glatt), I hope they will at least always have a vegetarian option…

  7. i never order these special meals, and rarely take the food offered prefer to bring my own. However given UA new attitude and who knows what is next I have decided to focus on other carriers and more foreign airlines for my travel.

  8. Every time I have been in first on UA, BOTH meal choices were meat dishes. How brilliant is that? Is it too difficult to offer one meat choice and something without meat?

  9. For diabetics on a long flight, the lack of a proper meal could be a genuine problem. I hope the TSA is going to be understanding about how much food people are now going to need to bring on board.

  10. If UA accompanies this with a real commitment to always have a veg option available whenever they serve a meal on the flight, this would be fine with me. Most special meals are probably veg anyway, so this might cover almost anyone who requests a special meal.

    But somehow I doubt UA is going to make that commitment.

    Nice one, UA. First you fire a lot of customers with your Mileage Plus “changes you’ll like,” then you fire first class passengers who doesn’t eat meat. Way to go. Who’s next?

  11. I loved the Hindu meals they offerred. I thought they were not bad at all. Just had a great dinner in C on my flight last week to LAX. I always found these special meals to be a major perk of getting upgraded. I will miss them.

  12. “While many people ordered special meals as a way to get a bit of variety in United’s dining options without an actual dietary restriction…”

    What special meal options are better alternatives than the regular meals? I’ll be taking an overnight HNL-SFO and a PS SFO-JFK nexk week in F/C – any suggestions?

  13. @ dinosims — I don’t find any better per se, but it’s just variety. When you have the same thing 100 times a year, *anything* that’s something else is better. So if you’re not a super-frequent flyer with United I don’t suggest ordering a special meal, especially on PS, where the service is decent.

  14. Humph! This probably makes very good business sense. While a VERY FEW special meal types are (Hmm) necessary, the countless types that have proliferated over recent years is a bit excessive. Countless folks have abused the privlidge in some attempt to achieve a ‘better than standard’ meal and in effect, ruined the offering for the few that need a few adjustments. At serving time, 99.5% of pax who now get meals CAN MANAGE just fine with some selective eating. Let’s get past the idea that the majors carriers, at least in domestic or close foreign service are star-qualified eateries; they are not! While the long-haul, international services are a very different product, the domestic and close foreign services – generally under 5 or 6 hours simply do not have to provide a lot of real food. Those with significant dietary limits should investigate ahead of time and provide their own to the degree necessary. Let’s be frank here! In most cases, the food choices are a preferance item, not a serious medical or religious necessity. Those with medical or religouso needs are well experienced about eating in public and they know how to deal with airline meals. This is not rocket science.
    Again, I must mention that the availability of Special Meals is is privlidge that has been seriously abused! One internal and unpublished survey suggested that less than 10% of special meal orders were based upon ‘serious’ medical issues or a ‘firmly held’ religious belief. It is only five or six hours, people! Get a grip! The airplane is not designed to be a five-star dinning experience. It is point-to-point transportation, with support services as necessary for the duration of the trip. No More! Show me a diet sensitive person that cannot make it through 5 or 6 hours in their home environment and without having to purchase any ‘special’ food. Nuts! For about the third time, pax using minimum fare tickets should expect safe transportation and little more. Without a seriously expensive F fare, you are self-mobile freight and nothing more. Get over it – or take a bus. (Please note that long distance busses DO make meal stops. The PAX bring or buy their own food. Always.

  15. The airplane is not meant to be a 5 star dining experience, point well taken. However, even most fast food chains now offer vegetarian options.

  16. @ cedarglen — And those paid first class passengers with dietary restrictions have a choice of which airline to fly. You think they’ll give their business to United?

  17. I’ve heard of passengers who don’t really need a special meal but order it anyway. Then, when it’s not offered, they immediately call up customer service asking for miles or a voucher.

  18. I have celiac disease and will get very unpleasantly sick for 1-3ish days if I eat food containing even tiny amounts of wheat, barley, rye, or oats. If I eat food supplied by an airpline, it needs to be a gluten-free meal or plain fruit or pre-fab food with clearly labeled ingredients. While I rarely travel domestically in the US on long-haul flights (and would never buy domestic travel in upper cabins), this change in policy is extremely offputting to me and makes me take a much dimmer view of United/Continental. As a result of this change, I think I decided today not to bother prioritizing travel with UA/CO in order to preserve my low-level elite status. I urge all those who need special meals for medical or religious purposes to write/twitter/social media-ize the airline to express their discontent and to vocalize their intent to change their purchasing decisions. If the airline implements this change for long-haul international travel, then I am done with the airline. While I can pack safe food with me for domestic flights, much of that would not be able to be carried across borders without violating local laws unless I just ate candy or protein bars. I really wish United had merged with USAirways instead so that the former Continental would have needed to try to compete rather than attempting to steamroll competition by striving to be the lowest common denominator.

  19. I applaud this move.

    People with special dietary needs should bring their own food, otherwise the costs just get passed onto other passengers. Other passengers have no duty to pay for your special meal.

  20. @ Voice of reason — So if a paid first class passenger wanted a special meal, the cost of that would somehow be passed on to other passengers?

  21. Seems to me that United is basically saying that no one is going to want to buy F on their product, and all those upgraders can take what they get.

    Which leads me to think — United probably doesn’t even want to offer a domestic F anymore. As soon as they can convince DL and AA to also drop domestic F, we’ll be left with intra-European style First. That’s our future.

  22. hobo13 – European airlines’ domestic first class (actually they usually call it Business) does have terrible seats – but at least you get a pretty nice meal even on very short haul flights!

  23. According to the release, religious meals, such as Kosher and Halal, will still be available. Which really begs the question, why are they making any change?

  24. The airplane use to be a 5 star dining experience.

    I remember the days of Royal & Medallion Service on Delta.

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