United offers a “cheese plate” on some flights where a full meal was previously available. But it’s rather obvious that this is essentially the same as the snack box sold in economy for less than $10. Why is United pretending that this First Class meal is not just a dis-assembled snack box?
This Snack Spans Longer Flights Than It Should
I can appreciate that shorter flights don’t warrant full meals even on aircraft equipped to handle hot food service like the Embraer 170/175s (though United chose not to install ovens), my favorite aircraft in the domestic fleet (excluding trans-continental routes). But this isn’t just for short flights, like Houston to Dallas, Chicago to St. Louis.
I can wait four hours, but that’s not really the point. It can be a long time between meals depending on when the flight departs. Early morning departures from some outstations may not have food available in the terminal in the morning prior to departure. The commute to the airport, parking, and security take 90 minutes plus boarding and flight time all push it just over 5:10 from the garage door to your arrival terminal and that assumes no time to get ready in the morning.
It can be 6-7 hours depending on a variety of factors between meal times and for first class passengers.
Route Blocked Times Should Matter
United officially offers meals on flights of three hours or more. That’s flying time, however, not blocked time. At some airports that means four hours in the metal can but a flight time of less than three hours.
My particular route is slated for 2 hours and 56 minutes of flight time and is blocked for 3 hours and 20 minutes. If I board absolutely last at the time the door closes, I am on board for 3 hours and 30 minutes, but if I board when they open boarding it could be nearly four hours until I am out in a terminal again.
The established route time should reflect blocked time, meaning that if the rule is really 3:30 minutes blocked, then at least passengers know up front – but for passengers, a departure and arrival time that exceed three hours deserve a hot meal.
Cheese And Crackers Are Fine, But They Aren’t A Meal
United would agree with me that this isn’t a meal in the sense that they call it a “snack” on the service listing. Nearly the same offering is available in the back of the plane for $10.
First class holds value beyond just the seat – United would state that it does – so why are they giving a coach elite in the back of the plane flying a cheaper ticket the same meal as a paid first class passenger? How does that distinguish the product? Why would a 1K pay to upgrade (and remove any doubt of clearing) if they get a similar snack box in the back of the plane?
The seats are wider, true. But beyond that, a 1K passenger in 7D on a United E170 and a passenger in 2D have roughly the same legroom, board at the same time, they may even share an overhead bin, and they get the same meal. Why would an elite who doesn’t clear pay more for a paid upgrade to first, especially when their fare stays the same in regard to the accrual of status and points.
Who Is Lazier?
While I am tempted to lean toward United management punting to this weak catering option, they can’t be held entirely to blame. I have been served this deconstructed snack box more than a dozen times on early morning flights and sometimes it is removed of the packaging and sometimes not – that falls on the flight attendant.
On a flight this week, the FA skipped the hot towel (first world problem I know – but this is a site dedicated to first world situations) and then couldn’t be bothered to remove the contents from their packaging. In this week’s instance, the FA literally placed the plastic over the top of the plate, keeping in mind that just four meals were served as the other eight passengers slept or declined the snack.
This is the definition of mailing it in both from United management and the FA who “served” it.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
While the image I included is perhaps the best presentation I have had of the “Cheese and Crackers” meal in first on United, most often, the salami is still molded into the plastic form, ejected from the plastic package.
It’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes and I don’t think any of our readership, or any of the elites are so stupid to believe that the “Cheese and Crackers” first class snack is anything more than a re-presented snack box from Coach. Worst of all, it’s insulting. I recently spent $1449 on a domestic first class seat and this was what I was treated to. I had neither an opportunity to eat in the morning before I left the house, nor prior to my meeting.
Can United at least feign interest in offering something along the same lines but not the exact same packet? Is a small Summer Sausage so much more expensive than the brined slices molded together by vacuum-sealed plastic? Could they offer a honey pot instead of the little packets? Maybe use those ovens to simply toast the bread instead of opening a bag of crackers?
It feels like they think passengers are too stupid to notice, and that’s upsetting. It’s a customer-adverse move and unacceptable if only due to the brash nature of it all.
What do you think? Are you okay getting a re-assembled snack box in first class on a three-hour flight? Do you find it to be insulting? Are you just happy to be up front and first customers are paying for the seat and not the snack?