In late March, United Airlines, along with most other carriers, scaled back considerably on its onboard food and beverage service amid the onset of the coronavirus crisis to reduce the amount of contact and interaction between flight attendants and passengers. And the service has remained minimal since.
Currently, United says it “won’t have snacks available in United Economy for flights under 2 hours and 20 minutes or in United First for flights under 1 hour. . . . For flights between 1 hour and 2 hours and 20 minutes in United First, you’ll receive an ‘all-in-one’ snack bag with a wrapped sanitizer wipe, 8.5-ounce bottled water and two snacks.”
Throughout this time of minimized service, passengers have been allowed to bring their own food and drinks on the plane.
But starting in November, United is going to bring back the option to purchase some additional snacks, beer, and wine onboard with the help of a new touchless digital payment method.
A new mobile wallet will allow customers to store their credit card information online prior to their flight either through the United app or on their account on United.com. MileagePlus members can save it as a form of payment in their MileagePlus profile. The idea is that passengers won’t need to have a flight attendant swipe their card in-flight—making for one less point of contact. The flight attendant will be able to ask passengers to confirm the name associated with the card on file and charge the card for the items purchased virtually.
An initial test of this program will be available for two months on flights from Denver to destinations including Boston (BOS), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Washington-Dulles (IAD), and Washington-National (DCA). If successful, it will expand onto additional routes in early 2021.
What will be on the menu? Classic snack boxes, tapas boxes, Pringles chips, Think Jerky (a brand of beef jerky that uses grass-fed beef), and PowerUp Antioxidant Mix (a trail mix made of pecans, dried cranberries, walnuts, raisins, and dark chocolate).
United requires passengers to wear a face covering for the entire flight and only allows the face covering to be removed briefly while passengers are eating or drinking.
Are other U.S. airlines serving food or drinks onboard right now?
Each carrier has adjusted its food and beverage service during the pandemic. Here’s what is currently on offer:
Alaska: On flights under 350 miles, there is no food or beverage service (bottled water is available on flights between 220 and 350 miles). For flights longer than 350 miles, economy passengers can pick a drink and can preorder a fruit and cheese platter for flights longer than 1,100 miles. First-class passengers on flights longer than 350 miles get a selection of snacks and alcoholic beverages and access to limited meal offerings on flights longer than 670 miles.
American: For flights under 900 miles, there are no snacks and passengers can only get drinks upon request (alcohol is available in first class by request). For flights between 900 and 2,199 miles (or up to 4.5 hours), economy passengers get pretzels or Biscoff cookies, and bottled water and drinks are available upon request (some additional snacks are served in first, as well as alcohol on request). For flights over 2,200 miles or more than 4.5 hours, it’s pretzels or Biscoff cookies and a drink—no snacks or food for purchase (a one-tray meal and some additional snacks and alcohol served in first). Alcohol or meals are only available in economy on long-haul international flights.
Delta: For flights more than 350 miles, some snacks and only one bottled water each are available to economy passengers. (Beer and wine are on offer in Comfort+ and first class; on flights longer than 900 miles, those in Comfort+ and first will get a meal box.) For flights that are longer than 1,500 miles, economy passengers can request additional bottles of water. Meals and a full selection of drinks are still served on international flights.
Hawaiian: The carrier is serving bottled water or canned beverages (no hot drinks or alcohol) and no snacks, with a one-tray meal service available to those in first class.
JetBlue: JetBlue has temporarily suspended its “Grab & Go” snacks from the pantry—an option that allowed passengers to simply help themselves to a selection of snacks in the galley. There is also no alcohol, hot drinks, or fresh food available. Passengers can purchase a limited selection of snacks and drinks, including snack boxes.
Southwest: Water and snacks are being served on flights longer than 250 miles. That’s it.
All the major U.S. airlines require every passenger to wear a face mask in-flight and are vowing to rigorously enforce their mandatory mask policies. Passengers are only allowed to briefly remove their masks while eating or drinking.