United Airlines First Class Impressions

Filed Under: United

As I explained in the introduction post to the trip report, I decided to book us on United Airlines from Tampa to San Francisco. In this post I wanted to share some general thoughts on our experience flying with United, both in terms of the hard and soft product.

Why we booked United Airlines

This trip was only planned on very short notice, so I was booking flights just a day in advance. With no nonstop options available, United seemed like the best option when paying for first class (there were no decent award options available). Why?

  • We could fly from Tampa to Chicago to San Francisco, with the Tampa to Chicago flight on a Boeing 737-900, and more importantly the Chicago to San Francisco flight on a Boeing 787-8 with United’s new Polaris seats
  • The last two available Polaris seats on the Chicago to San Francisco flight were the “honeymoon” seats right next to one another, so it seemed like it was meant to be (if there is such a thing)
  • The connection time was the perfect length (just under an hour), and the flight timing worked well for us

United is generally my least preferred of the “big three” US airlines when flying domestically. I find Delta generally offers the best customer experience, while being based in Miami I’ve been loyal to American, and I at least appreciate that American has high speed Wi-Fi, which is something I value greatly.

United Airlines first class catering

Virtually all airlines have adjusted service as a result of coronavirus, so what’s United’s first class catering like at the moment? The catering options were more or less the same on both flights.

First of all, like American (and unlike Delta), United is mostly serving its full drink selection in first class. Everything is served in unopened cans or bottles, with plastic cups.

United Airlines first class drink service

Then for flights over 2hr20min, United offers the choice of a snack box or a warm sandwich (for flights out of some airports there’s no sandwich option).

The “Select Snackbox” was perfectly fine, and exactly what you’d expect. It had a couple of types of crackers, a couple of types of packages cheese spread, beef salami slices, almonds, dried apricots, and a mini-Toblerone.

United Airlines first class snackbox

However, there’s another food option for passengers, and that’s a sandwich. On one flight that’s all they had available by the time they got to me, so that’s what I had.

I don’t proclaim this lightly, but this was quite literally the most disgusting thing I have ever been served on a plane, and that’s saying a lot. It was described as a “carved chicken on Italian focaccia,” and it apparently had “artisan” focaccia, chicken, provolone, parmesan garlic butter, and kale cream cheese.

United Airlines first class sandwich

First of all, let’s talk about the nutrition contents. This small sandwich had 650 calories (fine, whatever), and 33g of fat (42% of the recommended daily allowance), and 19g of saturated fat (94% of the recommended daily allowance). And let’s not even talk about the sodium or cholesterol.

“Well this will surely be a real delicious indulgence,” I thought. I can’t even put into words how this thing tasted. I had one bite and decided to call it a day, because it was simply terrible — the bread was dry, the taste of the chicken couldn’t help but make me feel bad for the sad life that the poor animal must have lived to taste like that, and the melted cheese looked like microwaved… well, nevermind.

I couldn’t help but wonder, who is the “artist” behind the focaccia? And who “carved” the chicken? And was the parmesan garlic butter and kale cream cheese really necessary?

United Airlines first class sandwich

Mmmm, butter and cream cheese!

Let me be clear — I’m all for airlines reducing service due to coronavirus, and I’m not even opposed to airlines offering no service to minimize the amount of time people have their masks off. But I just don’t know how any company can serve this in good conscience.

It made the American Airlines “lobster roll” taste like fine dining by comparison. And for that matter it made me appreciate the cold but edible turkey sandwich that American currently serves in first class.

United Airlines first class seating

What did I make of United’s seats? I enjoyed our flight on United’s 737-900. I found first class seat padding to be excellent. On top of that the legroom and usable space was very good. There was also live TV, though that’s not something I care much about.

United Airlines 737-900 first class cabin

On balance this configuration was so much more comfortable than American’s “Oasis” first class configuration.

United Airlines 737-900 first class seats

United Airlines 737-900 first class seats

The real treat was flying a Boeing 787-8 with new Polaris seats from Chicago to San Francisco. I’ve reviewed United’s 787 Polaris business class on a long haul flight before, and it’s an excellent product. Getting international business class seats on a domestic flight is always such a treat, and this was no exception.

United Airlines 787-8 Polaris seats

United Airlines 787-8 Polaris seats

I knew this itinerary was the right decision when I saw my mom spending the entire flight either watching a movie or sleeping, all while reclining her seat.

Mom happy about our United Polaris seats!

United Airlines coronavirus precautions

All airlines are of course promoting things like mask wearing, enhanced cleaning, etc., but I was surprised by the lack of sanitizing wipes.

On the first flight we weren’t offered any sanitizing wipes — not during boarding, and not with the snack. Fortunately I brought my own (and hand sanitizer), though I’m curious if this was a fluke or just how United operates.

Meanwhile on the second flight we were handed a sanitizing wipe at the door, but that was it. There wasn’t one with the snack box.

United Airlines sanitizing wipes

It’s a bit ironic to me that airlines have cut inflight service to minimize contact (which is logical), and now serve you something that you basically eat entirely with your hands (which is… less logical).

United Airlines Wi-Fi

Again, not specific to flying during coronavirus, but what exactly is United’s deal with Wi-Fi? The airline still doesn’t offer high speed Wi-Fi on narrow body aircraft, unlike American and Delta. Are there plans for United to introduce faster Wi-Fi, or does the airline think Wi-Fi is just a fad that’s gong away soon?

United Airlines has the worst Wi-Fi of the “big three” US carriers

I’m not used to flying long distances anymore!

This has nothing to do with the flight as such, but I couldn’t help but reflect on how I’m clearly not used to flying a lot anymore. Or maybe I’m just getting old. Or more than likely both.

In my youth I’d fly for 48 hours straight and feel energized, and even going back a couple of years I’d do some extreme round-the-world flying, without feeling particularly exhausted.

It was over nine hours from when we boarded our first flight in Tampa until we deplaned in San Francisco, and my gosh I was so exhausted. I don’t know how I used to fly so much back in the day. Next thing you know I’m going to start getting jetlagged when flying between Eastern and Central timezones. 😉

Bottom line

Ultimately we were happy with out decision to fly United from Tampa to San Francisco, given the circumstances.

As is the case with most airlines, United has adjusted its inflight service due to coronavirus. While I’m totally in favor of that, I’m not sure coronavirus can be blamed for the “sandwich” that United is currently serving.

If you’ve flown United first class since the start of the pandemic, what was your experience like?

  1. How was the service?
    United is literally the absolute last resort option for me, if nothing else is available, so I’m glad to see I’m making the right decision hah! Too many horrible flights in the past with them, particularly regarding service. I don’t understand why people are loyal to that airline (unless they are market captive).

  2. @ Clem — I’m trying to be forgiving of bad service nowadays since I recognize employees are in a tough spot, but my impressions of United service matches yours. Of the “big three,” personally I think Delta has the best service, followed by American, followed by United. Generally on a bad day American employees are simply indifferent, while on a bad day United employees are borderline hostile. At least that’s my experience.

    Pre-coronavirus United made incredible strides with its unrivaled international route network, exceptional Polaris lounges, and solid Polaris onboard product, but the rest of the airline is a different story, in my opinion.

  3. I just flew Delta One from ATL to LAS and back this past week on their 767-400. Their hard product was excellent and I didn’t even mind the snack (Crave) boxes. This was well communicated during booking, via email prior to the flight, and prior to boarding, so there’s ample opportunity to prepare.

    Contrary to my American Airlines flight in February, Delta is abundant with their wipes. They were available upon boarding, with the Crave boxes, and with the standard snack bag. Of course I’d love Delta One service on a domestic flight, but the service and hard product is the best among domestic carriers. I’ll fly Delta any day over American or United.

  4. I was ready to get destroyed by jetlag making the 12 hr difference between SF and Dubai last month, but I adapted instantly in both directions.

  5. This year I celebrate 20 years since I last stepped on a United plane. That is worth a big celebration.

  6. I’ve flown UA first a number of times in the past few months. That’s weird about the wipes – on all my flights I was handed them when I boarded the plane and then several times throughout. I had the snack boxes and they were fine. All service has been fine – from nice to efficient/ unmemorable. Nothing openly hostile. The sandwich looks gross. In sum, my experiences on United were all fine – i appreciated the extra space and there was nothing particularly bad that stuck out on any of them. non events, which for domestic travel is as good as you get. I’ve flown AA a few times in F and had similar service from the flight attendants – ranging from friendly to efficient/ unmemorable. Nothing hostile. I do think the turkey sandwich and cheese plates on AA are good/ boring and would appreciate some variety but not complaining.
    Delta doesnt go anywhere I need to go or doesnt serve where I was going (I went skiing in Telluride/Montrose and Aspen and Delta doesnt fly to either of those places so they werent an option). I’ll probably avoid Delta going forward as they dont really work in DC for me and my destinations and because of their ridiculous comments regarding the Georgia voting law.
    All in all, my experiences on United were non-events, and I’m glad I had the extra space.

  7. Are you sure United doesn’t offer any high speed wifi?

    My understanding was that they use 4 different services (GoGo, Thales, Panasonic and Viasat). The issue I believe is that Thales is on a wide set of their domestic aircraft and is generally horrible and Panasonic is their main international service which from my own experience tends to be very hit-or-miss (sometimes I have great connectivity, other times less so) vs. Viasat.

    So while most of their wifi may not be high speed the do offer it on select flights correct? Unless you’re making a different point.

    I’m fortunate to have never encountered that sandwich on my many United flights… Hopefully they bring back full service sooner than later as I’m hoping to resume normal travel this summer now that I’m vaccinated.

  8. One silver lining around United’s Internet is its charged by United and not a WiFi provider (on most flights). This triggers the AMEX Incidental credit.

  9. United’s only function for me now is to show me international availability that I can only hope to actually fly someday…

  10. Also, adding to Jason’s comment, on my few United flights the handwipes have always been automatically handed out so that’s a surprising miss, especially in first class.

    I did notice when I boarded first, flight attendants were sometimes not ready / preparing other things and had to catch up to me to hand me the wipes so perhaps you were similarly boarding at the beginning and they were not as conscientious.

  11. My last longhaul flight last year from FRA to SFO was with UAs 773ER. The food ex FRA was not impressive in C class, but the new Polaris seats were fine as long one was seated directly at the window. NYC based crew was awful.
    But from SFO I was really impressed with the food quality and presentation.
    Also of the Polaris lounge, impressive restaurant and seating area. And SFO based crew was a hell of of a difference.

  12. Given the sandwich is garnering a lot of comments, for food offering perspective not in the article:
    Delta domestic First Class and Delta One passengers get an individually packaged Flight Fuel box in addition to snacks. United is same but also offers the hot sandwich option as an additional choice.
    American First-class passengers are offered the choice of a yogurt parfait or turkey croissant sandwich in the mornings and boxed fruit and cheese plate or turkey sandwich the rest of the day (no heated sandwich or premium snack box offering.)

  13. My good friend is a flight attendant for UA and told me she is actually embarrassed to serve the food in First.

  14. I have so many wipes it isn’t even funny from being on UA flights for months. You not getting them was a fluke of the biggest proportion. Also, all planes except CRJ200 have Wi-Fi – I don’t know if you didn’t find the network, which if that was the case a simple request to the crew would have had the Captain reset the system. I have a monthly Wi-Fi pass and have had no issues with it on all aircraft from ERJ170 to 77W.

  15. Did you consider flying into Monterey?

    These days, Ive come to really appreciate regional jets. Extremely fast boarding. On a ERJ145, you get individual seats. The padding is always better than the bus benches they call seats that they put on 737s.

    You might have been able to do Tampa-Dallas-Monterey and saved some time.

  16. @Jason how was skin in Telluride? I ski there every 2 years and love it. It is by far my favourite resort. Sadly not to be this year (am Australian).

    That bread roll looks gross. I have flown business class domestically with QF – the service was really good and surprisingly my GF meal was actually good. I am on an A330 tomorrow flying MEL to PER. Will be interested to see how it goes.
    On my flight from MEL to MCY (which was full) they moved people around in business once we had boarded (seriously not one person had booked seats next to each other). Anyway the seat I moved to had a USED tissue down the side. I am not sure if it was left by the previous guest. I pointed it out to the flight attendant who instructed me not to touch it and came back with 2 sets of gloves, pus a plastic bag to pick it up directly and then of course cleaned it. She was horrified.
    Cleaning packs including wipes are handed out before our flights. Masks are mandatory unless eating/drinking and most people wore them.

  17. I got to admit: I’ve never seen a sandwich literally “foaming at the mouth”.

    It looks disgusting.

    Ben, did you observe anyone in F gobbling down this disaster of a sandwich?

  18. I just flew UA last Sunday BHM-IAH- IAD and was upgraded using points on the last leg. I too had the chicken sandwich. Maybe because I hadn’t eaten all day and I was starving, but it wasn’t THAT bad. I mean it was no fine dining but at least I got something.

    The service was hit and miss. They did serve me two wine bottles, but then when I wanted a water refill, there were no F/A’s in the cabin for the last hour. They disappeared entirely.

  19. The United Airline bullies can use that sandwich to beat up passengers with if they refuse to get bumped.

  20. “This small sandwich had 650 calories (fine, whatever), and 33g of fat (42% of the recommended daily allowance), and 19g of saturated fat (94% of the recommended daily allowance). And let’s not even talk about the sodium or cholesterol.”

    There’s gotta be a “fat Americans” joke somewhere around here.

  21. I’m kinda surprised at the “shock” expressed against this sandwich.
    United was by far the earliest of the big three to restart any hot food in first class.

    Even taking into Lucky’s known anti-United bias I would’ve though there would’ve been enough FFs out there who would’ve tried this before.

    I’ve had this sandwich plenty of times. Yes it’s oily and not nutritious. I don’t know what lunch meat sandwich with melted cheese will look great in a picture. The lobster roll didn’t even have any lobster!
    And would I rather have this than the Delta award winning service while they serve…next to nothing? Yes.

    Again when I read this review, I just have to repeat to myself…it’s Lucky writing about United.

  22. ” (there were no decent award options available). Why?” Most people flying right now are willing to pay cash as they need/want to travel now. No need to give away award seats as it will not attract extra business.

  23. Prior to 2020, I always carried my own disinfectant wipes to clean the seat/suite and for my hands. This continues…

    I do not rely on airlines or hotels to provide them! But when given, I stash them in my bag for emergencies. :-))

    I feel that if one wants a decent meal onboard this year, bring your own food. What’s $15 vs the GMO packed frankenchicken.

  24. @ Pete — That’s simply not accurate. American never stopped serving hot food on all transcon flights, while United did, aside from premium transcon flights. So yes, technically United was “by far the earliest” of the big three to restart “any” hot food service in first class, but that’s just because American never stopped.

    Beyond that, hot isn’t necessarily better than cold if this is what’s being served. American’s cold first class turkey sandwich is infinitely better than this United hot first class chicken sandwich.

    And if you’re going to compare products, let’s look at the big picture. Sure, if you prefer United over Delta that’s fine, but I’d take Delta with a blocked seat over American or United any day.

  25. @ Gregg — The people around me all had snack boxes, so I couldn’t tell how other people reacted. However, the flight attendant didn’t seem surprised when I sent it back almost entirely uneaten.

  26. @ James S — I had considered it, but ultimately decided SFO was the better option. There were a couple of reasons. First of all, that way we could fly nonstop on the return, and second of all, there wasn’t a flight Monday evening to Monterey that was a reasonable price and/or had first class availability. So on balance the extra 90 minutes of driving was worth it. It also allowed us to check out the GH SFO, which I’m so happy about in retrospect.

  27. I had the same sandwich just recently from IAH to MIA! I had one bite too. FA came over, gave me a look like “you’re finished, aren’t you,” took it, and brought me two more vodkas. I love the AA turkey sandwich right now, and the cookie is delicious. I hate the UA snack boxes as well.

  28. That sandwich has a sibling, a tomato and mozzarella thing. It’s just as bad as the chicken one. I don’t know what mental breakdown I had the day that I ordered it instead of the snack box.

  29. I save the United snack boxes and sandwiches and give them to folx experiencing homelessness. Is that kind or cruel of me?

  30. Ben – I’ve had the sandwich, its gross. There is also a some sort of tomato basil grilled cheese sandwich, with similar wrapper, bread, and cheese. I can’t recommend that one, either.

    Other than that, my United First Class experiences have been okay. I’ve had friendly staff, and most aren’t stingy with the minis. 😉

    Also, I’ve had WiFi on almost all my United flights. It might not be the fastest, and they block all streaming services, but it works for email and web browsing. United is my selected airline on my Hilton Aspire card, so I get reimbursed for all my United WiFi. Maybe I’m more tolerant since its free.

  31. I just flew United First Class from Newark, NJ to Tampa, FL last week. That flight was operated by a 737-900 this was an older 737 as it did not have any in-flight entertainment, however you could access a ton of movies, series, and music available via Wi-Fi for free, you must have the United App on your device or it won’t work, the speed was just fine with no freezes or interruptions for the entire flight. On the way up to Newark that 737-900 did have in-flight direct TV and many other options available on the screen, it was a fairly empty flight so I didn’t have a seat mate however on the flight to Florida that plane was full, every seat taken, so many people practically in hazmat suits and I can’t blame them, no social distance, and worse than that chicken sandwich were the actual passengers after the crew gave specific instructions to remain seated and when your row is called you may de-plane (to avoid hundreds of people on top of each other in the aisle just like the days. This was a monkey see monkey do, one person defies the rule, ignores the crew, and others follow I really don’t understand why people are so damn rude, completely ignore what the crew said MULTIPLE times until the crew finally gave up, knowing these idiots just didn’t give a shit! Overall I was very impressed with the flight, how clean the aircraft was, the customer service was exceptional both at the airport and in-flight, comfortable seats, and nonstop flights. I do prefer United over Delta and American any day as the other 2 only fly to JFK or LGA while all flights to Newark require connections. My suggestion with the food is can the sandwich, offer couple options on the snack boxes and call it a day

  32. “This year I celebrate 20 years since I last stepped on a United plane. That is worth a big celebration.”

    Congratulations!! Monumental achievement worthy of emulation

  33. I love United. They are my airline of choice on International flights. Though for domestic, I usually do Jet Blue – just due to the extra seat room and generous wifi. I find United Wifi policy ridiculous.
    That sandwich though.. I thought the worst was the cheese sandwich Lufthansa/ Austrian Airlines hands out. But no.. This beat that hands down.

  34. I’ve been served a lot worse food in F cabins than the sandwich in question here although I’m only going on the description offered since I’ve never actually sampled it. I once had cold spaghetti with what I’d swear was catsup on top on a Continental flight back in the ‘90s.

    I never have high expectations of airline food and I am therefore never disappointed. I’ve flown AA transcons in F during the pandemic and have had omelets on morning flights going east and have ordered cheese plates in the evening going westbound. Not great but okay. I find breakfast in domestic F to usually be a meal hard for the airlines to screw up but YMMV.

  35. Dittos on what others are saying about getting the wipes on UA flights.

    That sandwich looks absolutely disgusting.

    Traveling doesn’t get any easier with age. I speak from experience.

  36. That foam looks disgusting. Maybe the sanitizing wipe was meant to be used on the sandwich? The sandwich looks like something you would get from a vending machine. Seriously, how much does it cost to provide a decent sandwich to someone paying a first class fare?

  37. Still completely scarred from the aggressive and hostile service toward my family on United flights. ALWAYS my last choice. The last straw: after a series of experiences having been based in CO (and therefore United’s prisoner for years)… traveling with my young children to grandpa’s funeral. It was me and three young boys. My hands were very full. The smallest boy had a tiny little kid’s wheelie backpack, a toy, and a blanket. Booked at the last minute, we rushed to the airport and we were the last to board. As we were heading down from the gate to the plane, the agent was walking along with us to close the door to the plane. My young son asked her to please help wheel his backpack down to the plane. She said, “That’s NOT my job!” And she didn’t. Whoa. NEVER UNITED. Not a bit surprised by the sandwich. Exact same order of preference as you; Delta, American, and if there is absolutely NO OTHER WAY to get there… United. But holding our nose. Just marginally above Greyhound.

  38. I tried the other sandwich they offer Mozzarella Focaccia and it wasn’t too bad. A quick search of google for your sandwich and I thought it’s funny live and let fly thought it was tasty. I don’t get why they don’t just do all snack boxes. Everyone would be happier.

  39. Very unusual about the wipes. I’ve flown United a lot in the last year and have always gotten one at boarding. Those sandwiches are indeed disgusting. But I am so tired of the damn snack boxes. Please bring back real food or at least better quality options.

  40. I had to fly international recently and flew Polaris. I was pleasantly surprised and quite frankly relived at how strictly they were enforcing the COVID rules. Some in the flight kept taking the mask off and the flight attendants kept monitoring them the entire flight. The food on Polaris has usually been a disappointment.

  41. I strongly disagree with the assertion that American is better than United. Delta has always been a pleasure to fly. The last time I was on American was about two years ago. The food (fish) out of Cancun to Charlotte was a reincarnation of what was served in the movie Airplane. In addition, American’s computer algorithm incorrectly canceled our connection in Charlotte. American left us stranded, and they just didn’t care. In exchange, they offered us 1000 frequent flyer miles. NEVER AGAIN. United provides a pretty solid product.

  42. @MDA- telluride was great. I go once a year and the snow was incredible. Little weird due covid but still a great time

  43. With the lack of service I have been flying economy domestically unless I get a complimentary upgrade. I usually just bring my sandwich or snack with me so I can eat something I enjoy.

  44. Flew in a Polaris-equipped 777 OGG-SFO twice last month.
    Same experience each time.
    Barely edible food, dumbed down and cheapened on-board experience.
    I was part of the 1A vax cohort but their efforts at cleanliness were appreciated.
    I just wish I could take my mask off at this point.

  45. @Lucky

    “Let me be clear — I’m all for airlines reducing service due to coronavirus, and I’m not even opposed to airlines offering no service to minimize the amount of time people have with their masks on. ” Do you mean “maximize time with masks on” or “minimize time with masks off”.

    I don’t think they are minimizing time with masks on….. 😉

  46. There’s very little appeal to that 737-900 First Class cabin. The seats look roomy, but not particularly crisp and clean. That sandwich looks and sounds disgusting and probably smelly too. I don’t fly UA unless it is a last resort. Their soft products have markedly improved at least visually, but my last flight on UA in Polaris from FCO to EWR (before the pandemic) was nothing to write home about. The flight attendants were surly. I actually think AA’s First Class seat and cabin look much better on the Oasis’d 737-800s and the MAX.

    TPA-ORD-SFO? Much better options out of TPA that don’t require one to transit through ORD which is always less than pleasant. I get the desire to fly on the 787-8 with the new Polaris cabin but it seems like a circuitous way as opposed to going via IAH, DFW, etc…

  47. I have flown United first class at least ten times in the past 3 months. I used to fly first and business class back in the 80s and 90s. Things sure have changed. The planes are old and nasty. The women flight attendents uniforms are not as they were before either. You have to clean your own seat before you can sit down and I sure appreciated the little plastic snack bag with the little bottle of water. The wifi didn’t work on any of the flights. I wish there was an airline that actually cared about customer service.

  48. I recently flew from Frankfurt back to Bangkok and usually these kind of flights aren’t stressing me out. I definitely made the same experience as you, I was totally exhausted. Guess, we adopted quickly to “staying home” as the new normal.

  49. Flew last week Fra to SFO (Polaris 787-9) to LAX and had wipes given at boarding both flights as well as at service. Food was ok. Service was personable and responsive. Maybe I am lucky but I don’t have the issues others have with United.

    Flying LAX to IAD to FRA next week on United. Hopefully repeat service.

  50. I live in Palm Beach and NYC. (Poor me.) Delta is the only airline with first class PBI-LGA. I know that Ben loves DL but prior to the pandemic, they never allowed enough turnaround time at PBI to clean the aircraft at all. As a result, all DL aircraft were filthy all of the time. I use Star Alliance for my RTW trips (hope to again some day), so then I have first leg usually PBI-EWR on UA. United planes were MUCH cleaner than DL, all of the time. While I am no big fan of UA, the difference was amazing. Have not flown UA since pandemic started.

  51. Lucky, do you have any idea when the big 3 will return to normal service in first? I flew American DFW-LAX this week on a paid first ticket. I found it ironic that they sent an email beforehand saying “your flight may be more crowded than you expect” (and every AA plane this year I’ve been on has been completely full), yet they continue to provide inconsistent service even in regards to passing out sanitizing wipes! How long will they use Covid as an excuse to keep services minimal?

  52. I find that the other sandwich option – tomato and mozzarella – is much better. It’s fairly substantial and certainly can substitute for a light lunch. It’s much nicer than what other airlines are serving on 3-4 hour mid-cons, even if it isn’t health food

  53. This looks disgusting. I’ve seen a few photos of this most recently, and each time makes me think how bad it looks.

  54. Last time I checked, COVID was a respiratory virus – the presence of wipes is irrelevant as the mask is the bigger factor – the wipe is there to make you feel good. And if you’re that worried about a wipe 1) bring your own or 2) stay home. I get that people LOVE to hate United but I’d rather have a flight with a UA crew any day over a CLT-based AA crew.

    @3x mom – I just don’t understand why you think it was the FA’s responsibility to help your kid with the bag. If you can’t handle 3 kids, don’t fly with 3 kids.

  55. I completely disagree with everything you said. You obviously went into this article with a preconceived judgement against United. United has its own catering kitchens and goes above and beyond the competition to provide the hot sandwich as an additional option in first class. Other carriers do not have a hot option on domestic (other than transcons) and Delta doesn’t bother serving anything but a coach snack box. You took the one airline that serves anything hot on the majority of domestic flights short of 4 hours and raked them over the coals. Maybe United isn’t perfect but let’s not punish the only airline that kept ovens in the main cabin galleys all these years. Airplanes don’t have microwaves so yes it’s possible that the butter is bubbling from the heat of the oven. The cheese is melting like it’s supposed to and I don’t see anything wrong with the chicken. If you don’t want the cholesterol choose the other option. It’s usually available. I find this whole article disingenuous and a turn off to your blog. In normal circumstances outside of the pandemic, United had a full multipage menu of hot and cold meals that you could purchase in coach, including hamburgers, chicken tacos, salads, wraps and sandwiches, fruit and cheese plates, breakfast quiches and omelettes in the morning, etc. All in COACH. This blows away any catering of a domestic airline in the United States. Let’s give credit where credit is due. Your pickiness is the exact reason that American can claim that “customer feedback” supported their carb heavy , protein non-existent pre-pandemic first class menu.

  56. I haven’t had the chicken version, but the mozzarella version is perfectly fine and filling enough that I don’t have to try and grab food in the airport. AFAIK, United is also the only airline currently carrying splits of fizzy wine. I had a lovely FA keep me in mimosas on a recent MIA-EWR flight 🙂

    I do think AS has the best food offerings at the moment, not hot, but they’ve always had a great cheese and fruit plate, and I really enjoy their turkey sandwich. The ham and cheese breakfast wrap isn’t bad, although it’s also not visually appealing inside so this crowd might not like it

  57. Is the FC food option just the BoB food ?
    Isn’t AA doing the same – just providing a free BoB item in FC.

    The difference in the BoB between UA and AA (both have a snack box) is that the sandwich option on UA is heated, the AA sandwich option is cold. I think the cold on AA is better.

    I have received some pretty bad heated sandwich options in AA as their second meal in international J.

    Of course the 737-900 seat is the old Continental domestic F seat. Shows the TV and armrest controller. Does UA still have the Live TV – or is it converted to just movies?

  58. Doesn’t CA still have a 10 day quarantine for people coming from out of state if you are not involved in emergency response there?

  59. We flew Denver to Portland 1st Class a couple weeks ago. My wife and I both got food poisoning from that sandwich, took me several days to recover.

  60. What’s wrong high fat foods? If you knew anything about nutrition you’d realize that carbs are the enemy. Not fat. But you probably obsess over eating salad dressing and such since it’s “high in fat”. Good grief.

  61. I recently flew PS service between SFO and EWR. The roll was packaged in a wrapper with an expiration of 2022…..need one say more? I just wonder how bread keeps fresh for such a long time…

  62. OMG! Thank you for the laugh! I loved your description of the meal service sandwich! How terrible it must have been indeed. You really do wonder if they take their clients for fools or what? They may as well serve nothing than insult us with these offerings that are good for one thing…the bin!

  63. I guess I fail to see why service needs to be rolled back for those who are able to enjoy first class (I’m not, but I don’t begrudge others who can). Since the CDC has said fomite surface transmission is essentially non-existent, serving a drink in a glass shouldn’t be any more dangerous than throwing a can of soda and a plastic cup in front of the person. Also, how was your time with a mask off any less for eating your snack box and then for eating your lousy chicken-artisan-sandwich-whatever? Does that take longer than a fresh side salad, appetizer and entree?

    You must be the best friend the cost-cutting bean counters at the airlines have ever had. At the rate airlines are going, pretty soon they will have their customers waiting on their flight attendants. And being d**m grateful for the privilege of doing it !

  64. US carriers are leteraly the worst. To pay that much for cheap catering, poor service, dirty and boring lounges it’s stealing.

  65. @PN
    Huge amounts of salt are what keep commercial baked goods from going stale. Read the nutritional label on any packaged bread at the store and compare the sodium content to a standard bread recipe.

  66. Reading some of these comments, I don’t understand why people obsess over hot food items, as if it’s what determines what first class or quality food should be. So just because it’s hot, it makes any pile of garbage “premium”, praise worthy and makes United better than other airlines? Makes no sense. I’d much rather have a quality, cold snack box like the ones JetBlue has, over that stuff.

  67. @ Brian…True that healthy fats are good. Oils/fats from nuts, avocado, olive oil. Refined carbs, potatoes, etc. are not good. Spike blood sugar and probably a good reason for the obesity in this country. A healthy diet is going to have a majority of healthy fats in it.

  68. That sandwich was a joke. UA must know that they can fill those first class seats with those that just have money to burn or are just trying to maintain airline status because that was clearly a “thanks for your money and/or points” in your face joke. I will put up with that if I had to on an international business or first class flight as I just cannot fly over 5 hours in economy. Just physically very uncomfortable. Even under the pre virus traveling the meals or snacks to me in first or business were pretty basic. I can get a great grab and go snack at the airport or at the restaurant and gut it out in premium economy. That said I’m not trying to live like Robin Leach or maintain airline status where you would just deal with it because obviously overpaying for what one is getting and I know first class is more than just a meal. It’s the hard product also. I just think domestic first and business is a joke regardless for what one pays in dollars or points.

  69. I feel sorry for the airlines. Why? All anyone has to do is read the comments here. Some people want a hot option. Some would prefer a cold one. Some want an actual meal. Some are fine with just a snack box. They beyotch when no meals are served. They beyotch when the meal isn’t up to their lofty standards.

    As for me, COVID has killed my air traveling for over a year, and I’ll be thankful enough just to be flying on a safe aircraft when I board my first plane next month. Want a steaming, hot bowl of locally sourced, organic, vegan, kale hipster chow? Bring it with you! Same goes for wipes. As the one poster pointed out, I ALWAYS brought not only hand wipes, but wipes for the seat & tray table with me long before anyone heard of COVID. Sheesh!

  70. ‘That’s all they had available by the time they got to me’ is so typical United. That’s why I always sit in row 1 or 2. Further back they usually run out of choices. I will never understand, why an airline cannot afford choices for everybody up front, and give what’s left over to a food bank upon arrival. That photo reminded me of the usual choice that’s left on flights out of Maui. Soggy cheeseburger. I made the mistake only once to bite into one.

  71. Thanks for the insight. I’m obviously not in the position to fly United (as EU resident still subject to the presidential ban to enter the US). However, your report doesn’t make me envious …

  72. Hmmm, I’ve never seen that particular substance microwaved before, but I reckon Lucky truly is a worldly fellow.

  73. Retired flight attendant here. For several years I worked with our dining staff who closely coordinated with the Cornell University hotel management staff on food choices. When queried (which was often) front cabin passengers said they wanted light meals, small sandwiches, fresh fruit, and cheese. When we gave them that, you should have heard the screaming. Where’s the beef, where’s my ice cream with hot fudge? When it comes to giving people what they say they want, been there, done that, and bought the tee-shirt.
    Regarding the service, every flight is a roll of the dice. I’ve had the very best on UA, and also the very Worst. Would use them again in a heartbeat.

  74. Flew a week ago from Nashville -Denver- great falls. Was handed wipes upon boarding and given a snack bag that had wipes, Every united flight was packed except Denver back to Nashville, rows 7 thru 21 were basically empty and 22 to 31 were packed ,so much for social distancing, chief flight attendant was horrible, belittled a young lady behind me because her mask slid down under nose then proceeded to pa to threaten everyone that she will suspend anyone’s flight privileges for a year if we don’t obey her and began daring someone to just “try her “. Then she proceeded to tell us how to eat and drink and cover faces. 2 bites or 1 drink and cover face, She created a extremely hostile environment. We all felt like we were on a prison bus from the 50’s. Definitely will do anything not to fly on united again

  75. I’m with Lucky on this: I’d rather eat hot death than fly UAL.

    Ironically, it looks like UAL is trying to feed just that to its customers.

  76. Wow. How utterly underwhelming! I’m old enough to remember flying coach on American Airlines and getting served a double decker sandwich. It was 1982 and we were served sandwiches with toasted bread, mayo, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and turkey lunchmeat (I can’t remember if it also had ham, thus making it a full club sandwich, but I think it did), cut into quarters, with potato chips on the side. It was a short flight, but we were still served this lunch because it was lunchtime.

  77. i cant wait to fly Delta, ive flown all other major US airlines (AA, UA, JetBlue, Alaska, and even Southwest) but never Delta. everyone raaaves about how good it is i cant wait to try it!!!

  78. Lorenzo39, ditto. Worst and best on UA. Worst was the grandma FA, who, upon me ordering a first drink in J, remarked, that this will be my only one, because she observed me entering the plane. Pardon me? I was exhausted from an extremely hard last day at work, and finally sat down to go for a 1 month vacation. Best were the two very young lady FA’s in J, who worked in complete harmony, read every wish from my eyes, and even went out of their way to get me anything from economy to satisfy my desire for a vegetarian meal, after all they had left up front was non veg.

  79. How were the loads on your flight? Just flew to Miami from Orange County via Houston and both flights were overbooked. I’m a 1K and have found ground crew in Newark to be some of the nicest but flight attendants are usually meh

  80. I’ve flown United First Class several times…my preferred choice due to the destination. By and large I’ve found the experience pleasant…and, BTW, actually enjoy the sandwich victimized by your snarky comments…no cold skimpy snack box for me. (And I’m a slender woman who eats a healthy diet).

  81. That chicken roll is positively disgusting in first class. There is really no excuse for an airline to serve such food and hide behind Covid. Restaurants are capable of serving fresh food , airlines can do it if they want to but they are all saving money .
    Frankly , I will not pay first class for that , I will fly economy and take my own food .
    Anyway, I do not live in USA , so I will not be flying on United . Lots of decent airlines in Europe

  82. I recently flew United RT west coast to East. Packed flight as always so as a 1K was in economy. Was given wipes while boarding and with the pretzel/cookie/water pack (which I’m sick of). Was disappointed there was no food options for 5+ hour flights in economy. But maybe I should be thankful I didn’t get that sandwich!

  83. Yup. I tend to fly the most direct flight, and will often buy first for the seat. But UA does have the worst F&B, and usually the worst service.

  84. I seriously cannot stop laughing at most of these comments about a sandwich in particular. I fly ALL the major airlines and have been for 30+ years. We have no”preference” as we find them all about equal. Ok, so the sandwich is no good. Big deal! Lol. For all who are not aware, you can bring your own food on board. Stop being cry babies, especially over food. I feel like I just read through a thread with a bunch of middle schoolers. I cant even count how mamy flights we have flown and we have never had terrible service. Not once. Im beginning to strongly believe ( and I know i am correct), that it’s so every obvious that some people just love today find ANYTHING to complain about. Pathetic!! LOL

  85. I fly a few times a year so am in no way a seasoned air traveler. When my sister and I booked our flight from FL to Boston last month, we decided to treat ourselves to United first class seats. We were enthused looking forward to the “experience”!

    Well, there was none. The man charged with our service was snippy at best and at other times outright rude. While all he did was act bored with us, we did overhear him sniping at other first class travelers. There was a woman working with him who was lovely but we saw much more of him. The drinks and food offered were as you described. The box of food I thought to ve gross.

    The seats were ok but I easily prefer JetBlue’s extra room seats. In fact, I saw no difference in JetBlue’s extra space and the United first class. I’d rather have declined the $6 charge for virtually the same box on JetBlue than be saddled with adding United’s offering to the trash. I never could get the WiFi to work, so was glad to have a book with me.

    My verdict – United first class was a colossal waste of money. I’ll stick to extra room, more speed, pleasant staff, and all the pretzels I can eat.

    Thanks for the article. It pretty much confirmed how I felt about our experience. What shocked me was that in the end, all was fine with you. Too bad. Why weed out grumpy staff, bad WiFi and substandard food if people continue to accept if all as it is? On with the status quo.

  86. My 80 year old father and I recently flew United 1st Class from Boston to LAX, with a layover in Denver. Spent a night in LA and headed to Honolulu, again 1st Class, the next day. On the 1st leg of our 2 day travels, we flew on an Airbus 319. Due to a previous change I had made to our flight, we were originally seated in 2 different rows. When I approached the rep at the gate to inform her of the needed wheelchair assitance, not only did she call someone to assist him, she offered to try and get us in the same row. Thanks to a very nice young lady who was willing to switch seats and the kindness of the United rep, I had my dad by my side for the flight. The 319 had more legroom than I expected. As we were in the 3rd and last row of 1st Class, and I assumed that meant limited recline but there was a decent sized space between the back of our seats and the wall seperating the cabins. Both Dad and I got the “artisan” chicken sandwich and thought it was a decent choice. Healthy no, but a warm lunch anyway. The tray tables were stored in the middle of the armrests and were a bit difficult to get out, especially when we already had drinks in the smaller area. We were handed sanitizing wipes walking onto the plane, but the was the only time that they were distributed with intent. For our 2nd leg, from Denver to LAX, we were on a 737-900, which had 20 seats in 1st. We were in the 5th row and yes, this time the limited recline was an issue. However, the tray tables were located in the outer armrests, which made them much easier to access. These trays tables were significant smaller than the ones on the 319, and did not have a slot to hold your device upright. The offering was the same as on the first flight so we gave the snack box a try. Surprisingly, there was alot in that box. And not only were we handed a sanitizing wipe when we got on the plane, we were also given one with the snack.
    After a nights rest in LA, and getting up at 3am and 4am (we were feeling the timechange) we opted for breakfast at the Hotel and then off to the airport to board our 1:15 flight to Honolulu. LAX was packed, yes I know its LAX and typically busy, but wow. If I was flying economy, this may have been my breaking point. The line to check bags for Economy stretched to about 20 feet from Premiere check-in. And at Premiere check-in the line was not only long, but somewhat chaotic. Your can self check your bags, but then you have to wait for a rep to get the tags for you, whereas in Boston, we could self check, self print, self tag, and go. As Hawaii has strict requirements for traveling, it was great to see that United had a customer service area to get pre-cleared for entry to Hawaii, although that line was also ridiculous. Luckily we were able to skip that waiting as my dad was in a wheelchair and we were escorted to the front of the line. Wristbands obtained, check. When we entered the 757 we were handed the sanitizing wipes and went to the 2nd row. Similar set-up to the 319, tray tables in the middle, but this flight had 24 first class seats. And also, a real meal offering. Dad had the butternut squash ravioli and I opted for the Thai Chicken ginger coconut something. Salad, individually wrapped roll, small conatiner of mixed nuts, and a cookie for dessert. The chicken dish was excellent, the right amount of spice, not dry, and the sauce on the noodles was creamy. And yes, a sanitizing wipe with the meal. After some time, we were given a snack bag which contained another type of cookie or biscuit wafer thing, a small bag of pretzels and a bottled water, along with another sanitizing wipe. Drinks were given with a cup of ice, the can of your choice, and for mixed drinks, 2 bottles of liquor were given. The exception was the 1st leg (Bos- Den flight). 1 nip of alcohol to full size can of mixer. So with all of that to say, and a very good flight experience, here are the things that could be improved. Tray tables. That middle designed is difficult to maneuver, especially with drink already served. And not to mention, my dad is 6’2″ and 240 with a bit of a belly. When we pulled out the tray, he had to suck the gut in a bit to get it to extend. If the tray could have extended out a few more inches he would have been much more comfortable. And there was plenty of room to actually do so, even with the person in front of him fully reclined. And the wi-fi/entertainment system. On all flights, we were required to use personal devices to be able to access United’s entertainment center. This also required downloading the United app. Yes, there were no tv’s or music offerings in the seat backs. No plug your headphones in here and listen to the same 20 songs over and over until you land offering and not even the you are here, flight map witht he speed and distance. And yes, I know that almost everyone has some type of personal device that would make this fairly easy. Except for my 80 year old father, who still uses a flip phone. He is a fairly easy guy to please….give him a drink, some snacks, and a movie and he is good. Except that there was no movie. I offered him the use of my cell phone to watch something but he just wasnt having it. Too small to see the picture and too small to hold for a few hours. The old tablet I brought last minute and feverishly downloaded offline games for him to play didn’t do justice either. The app was not compatible with the device and again, he would have had to hold it. So I thought, I am sure my dad isn’t the only one that doesn’t have a device and continues to fly. And what if they don’t have someone with them to attempt to get them something to occupy the time. In flight something would have helped, even if it was old school drop down screens shared by the entire plane, watching the same movie, or listening to the same music. Thats enough out of me. Btw, we still have to get back home. Thankfully we will be in the jet stream and the flights will be a little shorter.

  87. People are seriously in a deep discussion about what kind of food is served in First Class…

  88. @Eric

    Yes, Eric, people who pay a huge price to upgrade to extra legroom, a better seat and a meal are feeling shortchanged and are commenting.

    What are you suggesting? I sense a sneering ‘entitled’ sneer somewhere? Do you pay extra for First Class?

    Next time you are in a 5 STAR MICHELIN restaurant and receive a MacDonalds Big Mac as the entre I would suggest you might feel unhappy as well. (Although it sounds likely that a Big Mac would be so much better than the slop served on United).

  89. cargocult Oh, so that soggy cheese burger in ‘J’ was from McDonald’s. No wonder I spit it out after taking the first bite. P.s.: I hope I got all my spelling right.

  90. One word to describe that pic of the sandwich: DEATH WITH DIGNITY – EUTHANIZE IT! (Ewww…)

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