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United Airlines

Flight Attendants Balk at Icky New United Airlines Food Handling Instructions

Flight Attendants Balk at Icky New United Airlines Food Handling Instructions
Jeff Edwards

United Airlines flight attendants were reportedly taken aback by a new apparently less-than-sanitary inflight meal prep that requires cabin crew members to assemble sandwiches to order with their bare hands. UA officials say the airline is trying to get to the bottom of why catering instructions called for FAs to place cheese on the a la carte cheeseburgers before warming and serving.

A United Airlines flight attendant is blowing the whistle on a new seemingly unhygienic galley practice aboard flights with a la carte meal service. The anonymous crew member went straight to the press with evidence of the new icky catering instructions.

Inc’s Chris Matyszczyk writes that the unsavory practice was brought to his attention by a crew member with a beef about the way she was instructed to prepare cheeseburgers for passengers. The unnamed flight attendant wrote a message questioning the wisdom of having crew members touch every single sandwich prepared on the plane.

“So catering in PHX just told me that I have to open up all the new cheeseburgers and place the cheese on them, before I cook them. (1 slice of cheese per ziplock bag),” the crew member wrote. “Is that even sanitary?”

The concerned airline employee even provided photographic evidence of the shrink-wrapped hamburger components, packaged Lunchables-style with a note alerting flight attendants to place the cheese (packaged separately) on the burger before reheating and serving.

Although the process of turning a hamburger into a cheeseburger occurs in countless restaurant kitchens everyday, it’s easy to see why the simple food prep procedure is less than ideal food-safety-wise when performed in the rear galley of a Boeing 737 by a harried flight attendant with a much more limited access to a hand washing sink than the typical short order cook.

It seems that the grossed out flight attendant wasn’t the only one at United disturbed by the perplexing new catering instructions. According to Matyszczyk, once upper management became aware of the new hamburger-related procedures “an investigation has been launched.”

View Comments (26)


  1. itsallgood

    October 10, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    This sounds like an issue with Phoenix’s catering service. I very much doubt that it’s a systemwide change.

  2. RAAng

    October 11, 2018 at 4:35 am

    Hello? Gloves?

  3. frostbite

    October 11, 2018 at 4:39 am

    I can’t count the times I’ve seen flight attendants run their fingers through their hair and then handle/serve food.

  4. MrMattyMatt

    October 11, 2018 at 4:44 am

    I’ve seen many Flight Attendants wearing plastic gloves in the galley. Is this not an option?

  5. johnny5a

    October 11, 2018 at 4:54 am

    The only reason I can think of why this process exists, it’s for passengers who can’t have diary products.

  6. SarcasticMisanthrope

    October 11, 2018 at 5:16 am

    The song “United Breaks Guitars” should be changed to “United Gives Me Dysentery”.

  7. LynneStyles

    October 11, 2018 at 5:36 am

    I have been a loyal 1K flyer for 12-15 years. I have decided to switch to AA (I fly out of ORD) which has as much service as UA. I am Executive on AA for life, but they have already accepted me as Exec Platinum for 2019. I have been flying other airlines over the past several months, and UA food/service/planes are the grossest. I always fly first class – they announced no meals for flights under 4 hour (basically all my flights to the west coast). This sandwich-gate is just another example of their downfall. I’m done. They could care less about their loyal, high fare paying customers.

  8. weero


    October 11, 2018 at 5:53 am

    A cheesburger? Real food with red meat on United?

    When did this happen? Must be before 2012 ……

  9. bagwell

    October 11, 2018 at 6:46 am

    Jesus, what a stupid article.

  10. luvtotravel1

    October 11, 2018 at 6:49 am

    Why launch a costly investigation? Can’t they just give the flight attendants gloves?

  11. MimiB22

    October 11, 2018 at 6:51 am

    So… during meal prep, wear gloves. Or use tongs. Or peel the wrap from the cheese while keeping hands on the wrap and plop on the burger. It sounds gross anyway, but instructions can make the assembly more sanitary.

  12. weezl

    October 11, 2018 at 6:51 am

    Does this mean we can order hamburgers then? Without cheese? Big news.

  13. jmiller45

    October 11, 2018 at 6:54 am

    I would think this is a health code violation. Food handlers are supposed to be wearing gloves when handling food.Do not understand United’s thought process on this. United needs to fix this immediately, not launch an investigation. Good for the flight attendant reporting this. In the meantime everyone stay away from the cheeseburgers on United flights

  14. controller1

    October 11, 2018 at 7:57 am

    @LynneStyles there is no such thing as AA Executive for Life.

  15. SaltyGB

    October 11, 2018 at 8:07 am

    As a 1K-United, Exec. Plat-AA, and Gold-BA, I have had a few meals in all classes of service.

    All of the cleanliness nonsense aside, the shear time it will take to do this task will greatly delay the service and make for an even angrier set of passengers.

    As the spouse of a Flight Attendant, when asked if there are any other options to the meal service, she always says in her mind “you can chose to not eat and maybe give back that seat belt extender some time in the future!!!” but reluctantly stays polite and restates for the 150th time, chicken or pasta, or whatever it is. Don’t ask her what is in the meal or how it is prepared, this is not Rao’s in NYC for goodness sake…you bought the ticket to go from A to B, not for the exclusive dining experience in Economy.

  16. southbeachbum

    October 11, 2018 at 9:39 am

    I suspect flight attendants can be just as sanitary as food servers. The real news here is that I can have the burger without cheese, without having to scrape the melted cheese off!!! I don’t like cheese on my hamburgers!!!

  17. msconk

    October 11, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Do not offer cheeseburgers- dO not like microwave cheese – yuk

  18. sholnay

    October 11, 2018 at 11:30 am

    @LynneStyles is lying about more than just executive for life on AA. A full meal of 2 entrees is served on all flights departing 5a-8p on flights 3+ hours.

    Here’s your north american premium cabin dining: if you’d like to consult for yourself.

    The big change here was flights 2:19-2:59 in length, which were downgraded from a meal to basically a snack. Unfortunately, @LynneStyles is just a troll who regurgitates bad reporting and has probably never flown on an aircraft before.

  19. anabolism


    October 11, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    Many of the comments suggest wearing gloves as a solution. Food service workers should wash hands before putting on gloves. Studies have shown that if one’s hands are not properly washed first, wearing gloves doesn’t help because the gloves get contaminated while putting them on.

  20. IkarosBOS

    October 11, 2018 at 9:36 pm

    All said above re: gloves, etc defines the profile of a disgruntled and lazy flight attendant who just ‘takes it to the press’, maybe in an attempt to retaliate about a nasty roster, a pay cut, etc.

    In all, the perfect US carrier cabin crew, although not his/her fault to get that attitude over years of abuse from the employer and demanding FTers

  21. jjonathan

    October 11, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Just one more of the 1000’s of reasons NEVER to fly this airline. This is truly one of the worlds WORST airlines.

  22. mvoight

    October 12, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Maybe they could wear gloves or wash their hands before preparing the food? Just an idea, of course
    I think there biggest complaint is the extra work is going to take time away from their book and magazine reading

  23. formeraa

    October 14, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Doogie Parker’s stoogie Scotty has now America west-ized United!!!

  24. cynicAAl

    October 15, 2018 at 10:38 am

    why is the hamburger being prepared in the rear galley of the 737 ? This is not an economy class meal. Does UA not have ovens in the forward galley ?

  25. skidooman

    October 16, 2018 at 9:31 am

    In the past, Continental proud themselves on their ability to provide a warm meal to passengers. Remember? Flight attendants were (not always so gladly) serving this to all customers. And yeah, sometimes, it was cheeseburgers.

    So, it was possible then. Why not now? Perhaps because flight attendants just don’t want to work anymore than necessary?

    My experience aboard United planes has been spotty. Some stellar crews and flight attendants. Many more so-so crews and flight attendants. Some downright rude. So, suffice to say, they aren’t about to make me cry about this.

  26. UAPremierGuy

    October 20, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    I really don’t see what the big deal is. Wear a pair of gloves!

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