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Inflight Food Service Makes a Comeback

Both United and Alaska Airlines let customers pre-order meals, snacks and beverages through mobile apps or website

August 15, 2021

For months during the pandemic, inflight food services have been missing in action as carriers clamped down on superfluous person-to-person contact between cabin crews and customers. Now two domestic airlines are relaunching F&B offerings – with a technology twist.

At United Airlines, all customers, regardless of what cabin they’re flying in, can use the airline’s mobile app and website to pre-order meals, snacks and beverages up to five days before they’re scheduled to travel. United’s pre-order technology is an extension of the airline’s contactless payment platform that allows customers to store payment information in a digital wallet.

Over at Alaska Airlines, premium class and main cabin customers can pre-order freshly prepared wraps or fruit and cheese platters on all flights over 1,100 miles and packaged snacks on shorter flights. Passengers can select meals from the airline’s mobile app anytime from two weeks before a flight up to one hour prior to departure.

United’s pre-order option is now available on select flights departing from Chicago to Honolulu, Orange County, Sacramento and San Diego, and will expand to all flights over 1,500 miles by early fall.

Five days prior to departure, the pre-order option for that specific flight is displayed in the Reservation Details section of the United app or on Customers will also receive an email notifying them when pre-order is available.

In economy cabins, customers can pre-order from United’s buy-on-board menu. They will be asked to enter their credit card information but will not be charged until the items are served onboard. Premium cabin customers select their meal option directly from the United app or website, and get a receipt e-mailed to them.

Enhancements to Alaska Airlines’ food and beverage service include expanded hot meal options in First Class during breakfast, lunch, and dinner service on mainline flights longer than 1,100 miles, a full selection of alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages available in all cabins, and on shorter flights (between 670-1,099 miles) more snack choices have been added.

“We’ve put a lot of thought and planning into safely adding additional food and beverage service on our flights, while getting back to fresh and local menu items that our guests love,” said Todd Traynor-Corey, managing director of guest products at Alaska Airlines.

Toby Enqvist, chief customer officer for United, noted, “Our new pre-order option reflects the customer experience transformation taking place at United. This new feature also builds on our existing contactless payment technology, which has enabled us to safely resume our inflight food and beverage program on select flights.”

United recently unveiled its refreshed buy-on-board menu, which includes a wide variety of food and beverage offerings as well as new meal offerings to customers seated in domestic premium cabins on flights over 1,500 miles and hub-to-hub flights over 800 miles.

Both American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have also reintroduced full beverage service, including alcohol sales, canned soft drinks, juice and water, in all cabins. In addition, meal options are available for premium cabin passengers and onboard purchase in the economy cabins.,