I’ve written in the past about how to pre-order meals in American first class and how to pre-order meals in Delta first class. In this post I wanted to write a guide about how to pre-order meals in United first class, based on a recent flight experience.
While it’s nice that United offers a meal pre-ordering system, I would note that this isn’t entirely seamless. That’s because on some flights there are limited quantities of each meal available for pre-order, so it’s possible for items to be “out of stock,” even when choosing days in advance. Anyway, let’s get into how it works…
Reserve your meals before you fly United
While United is otherwise great with technology, the airline has only fairly recently introduced meal pre-ordering in premium cabins. Admittedly this can cause confusion, though, so let’s discuss everything you need to know about the process.
For which flights can you pre-select your meal?
United lets you pre-select your main course when traveling in first class or business class. This includes domestic first class flights, short haul international business class flights, and United Polaris flights (which is what long haul business class is marketed as).
Note that you can only pre-select meals on flights that have full meal services, so this wouldn’t be available on a flight where just a light snack is served. Generally meals are served on flights of 800+ miles that are during a meal window.
When can you pre-select your meal?
United has the shortest window of the “big three” airlines where you can select your meal. Specifically, you can select your meal between 24 hours and five days of departure. So if you’re booking further out than that, don’t expect you’ll be able to select your meal until five days before departure.
How do you pre-select your meal?
So, how can you go about selecting your meal when flying in a United premium cabin? There are a few ways to go about this. The most consistent option is that you can visit United’s dedicated webpage for selecting meals, at this link.
Alternatively, five days before departure, eligible passengers should receive an email from United inviting them to choose their inflight meal.
When you click that link, you’ll see an option for each passenger on the itinerary to select their meal.
While the quality of food may be questionable (I’ll dedicate a separate post to the burger and fries), United does typically offer passengers five choices on domestic flights, which is pretty impressive, as that may be more options than what you’d have access to onboard.
As a third option for accessing these choices, you can just log into your itinerary on united.com or through the United mobile app. When you’re in your itinerary, just scroll down until you see “View preorder meal & snacks.”
Why do some meal options show as out of stock?
Here’s a really underwhelming aspect to United’s meal pre-order system. To start, let me mention how with American, meal pre-orders don’t run out. That’s to say that if a lot more people order a certain dish than would normally be loaded, the airline will simply adjust catering. That’s not the case with United on long haul business class (Polaris) flights, unfortunately.
Let me explain United’s pre-order system on Polaris flights with an example, as the airline doesn’t even make all of a particular meal available in advance. Say a Polaris class cabin has 40 seats, there are five meal options, and United typically loads eight of each main course:
- The airline may only make 20 of the 40 meals available for pre-order, to still give high tier elite members an option onboard
- That means the airline may only have four of each dish available for pre-order
As a result, you’ll often find that options show as out of stock, even when reserving them in advance. I’ve heard plenty of reports of people not even having access to all options five days out, so that is quite frustrating.
How does United prioritize meal orders onboard?
How does United prioritize meal orders once onboard, since not all meals are available for pre-order? United will generally prioritize meal orders for Global Services members, then Premier 1K members, and then all other passengers. Meal orders are typically taken front to back.
While it’s nice that United has a pre-order program for meals at all, unfortunately the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired. If you’re traveling in first or business class on a flight with a meal, you can select your meal between 24 hours and five days of departure.
The catch is that for Polaris flights, there are a limited number of options you can pre-order — only a percentage of total meals catered are available for pre-order, and United won’t adjust the ratio of meals if there’s more demand for one than the other. So even five days out, you might not be able to select your preferred meal in advance.
The program is worth being aware of, but I do think United could work a bit on the execution…
If you’ve used United’s meal pre-order program, what was your experience like?