United Airlines lets passengers order food and snacks online for flights

United Airlines has announced a new option that allows passengers to order food, snacks and drinks online up to five days before their scheduled flight. Orders can be made on United’s website or through the airline’s mobile app. United claims it is the “first and only” airline to allow economy customers this option.

Previously, only premium customers on select eligible flights could pre-order their food and drinks. Now United is extending the option to all cardholders. For starters, only passengers on flights from Chicago to Honolulu; Orange County, California; Sacramento, CA; and San Diego are eligible to pre-order food and beverages. But by early fall, United says it will expand the option to passengers on all flights over 1,500 miles.

United has added amenities and eliminated nuisance fees as a strategy to lure customers back on its planes. Last year, the airline finally abolished its change fee policy, quickly followed by its main rivals, Delta and American. United also recently added a Bluetooth option for in-flight entertainment. With customer demand still below pre-pandemic levels, the airline industry as a whole is trying to make flying look safe, stress-free and most importantly, cheap.

United is billing the food and beverage pre-order option as a way to improve service, allowing flight attendants to move through cabins faster and provide passengers with more personalized service. Preorders are handled through United’s contactless payment system, which the airline says is also safer for passengers and flight attendants (although evidence suggests that COVID is rarely transmitted through surface contact).

Customers who choose not to pre-order their food and drinks can still do so during the flight. But United is urging customers to load their credit card into the app’s digital wallet to enable contactless on-board payment.

Earlier this year, United announced new food and drink menus for flights over two hours, including alcoholic seltzer brand White Claw.