United makes some progress toward improving catering, but still has a ways to go, exec says

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Bland French toast. Dry turkey sandwiches. A dish that might be chicken tikka masala?

To the chagrin of many frequent flyers, these dishes have come to define the dining experience at United Airlines during the pandemic.

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Andrew Nocella, United’s chief commercial officer, said it could still take a while before passengers see noticeable improvements to the Chicago-based carrier’s menu offerings due to scaling and supply chain issues

“This is one of those things that we didn’t bounce back as well with,” Nocella said while speaking at the Skift Aviation Forum in Fort Worth.

The United executive — who has taken a hands-on approach to improving United’s menu — also revealed that the carrier spends approximately $2 billion a year on food alone and serves about 165,000 meals in premium cabins a day.

He also pointed out that it takes eight months for United to fully change a menu — part of the reason why United’s dining options have seen a sluggish recovery.

At the start of the pandemic, carriers had to scale back dining options since there was virtually no demand for travel. While some carriers, like Delta Air Lines, were able to revive their pre-pandemic quality of dining, United has struggled.

As a result, United has drawn the ire of its frequent flyers, who have taken to industry blogs and social media platforms like Reddit and X, formerly known as Twitter, to post pictures of soggy scrambled eggs or unseasoned pasta.

United’s food has received such poor reception that Nocella said the carrier did not feature anything from its inflight menu during a Polaris event in New York.

However, Nocella noted that United has made some progress in improving its menu. As the carrier is making changes to Polaris by region, Nocella said United has also been overhauling its menus.

United launched a new Polaris menu Sept. 1 for routes to London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR), and Nocella said the new menu received a much warmer reception from passengers.

“The scores are off the charts,” Nocella said. “And we will talk about it more in the future as we have a lot more to say. But we’ve changed the wines, and we’re about to change the bread, all the new entrees.”

It’s unclear when United will be able to implement these menu changes across the board, but Nocella said passengers should be able to taste some improvement on board.

“I do think if you fly United today, the food experience is dramatically better than where it was a year ago,” he said.

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