United Airlines

United Changes Short Flight Beverage Service

United Changes Short Flight Beverage Service
Jennifer Billock

Even among widespread protests about staffing and service cuts from cabin crew and staff throughout United Airlines’ entire network, more changes are coming to the flights; this next change to the way beverage service is handled will affect all domestic United flights that are less than an hour long.

Starting January 1, there will be yet another change to the way United Airlines runs its flights that may or may not have flight attendants taking to the streets to protest once more. Now, on flights less than an hour, the economy cabin will not be able to choose their own drinks. Instead, flight attendants will pre-pick what they pour and bring filled drinks around on a pick-up tray, allowing passengers to grab their own drinks. Unfortunately for passengers, this means less choice in what they get to drink—although morning travelers will likely still be offered coffee.

The announcement was reported on Twitter by Brian Sumers, an editor at Skift, and according to the airline’s text, it seems the change was requested by flight attendants:

“Beginning January 1, on flights with a scheduled flight time of under :59 minutes, we will begin offering select pre-poured beverages from a pick-up pan instead of a cart in the aisle. We are listening and heard your feedback that the service can be hard to complete on these really short flights. In addition, this change will allow for more time to engage with our customers. The pick-up pan should include an assortment of beverages based on customer demand and time of day. For example on early morning flights many customers like to enjoy our Illy coffee so please include coffee in your beverage choices on early morning departures.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (21)


  1. FlyingNone

    December 14, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    …for “more time to engage with our customers” ???? You’re too lazy to hand people coffee (with milk, sugar) or juice off a cart and you’re going to then want to engage customers ???. Engage them how?….hold a conversation about the mysteries of life while you have them grab their coffee reaching over other people, spilling stuff, etc. …..and what the he11 is a pick-up pan ???

  2. fotographer

    December 15, 2018 at 1:25 am

    interesting, most airlines in India, can complete not only a beverage service but also a hot snack on flights that are less than 45 minutes
    maybe United should look on how they seem to be able to do this

  3. Live4Upgrade

    December 15, 2018 at 11:27 am

    Wonderful….more time for the FA to read their magazines, “hide” in the galley, and otherwise be inattentive to the passengers.

  4. dvs7310

    December 17, 2018 at 6:15 am

    @fotographer – Actually airlines in most of the world manage to do full service on these short flight. This is just an issue of the FA’s not wanting to do any more work than necessary and as unionized employees, their whining and moaning works, where your average FA in the majority of the world would just be replaced in short order if they didn’t want to do their job. Doesn’t help either that UA pilots keep the seat belt sign on the longest after takeoff and engage it soooooooo frequently during flights, putting FA’s in jumpseats half the flight these days for very minor bumps. I fly a lot of airlines, mostly Star Alliance, and I don’t see anyone else abusing the seat belt sign so much.

  5. horseymike

    December 17, 2018 at 11:03 am

    once great united is tanking to all time lows.

  6. COEWR2587

    December 17, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Meanwhile in Thailand, Bangkok Airways serves drinks and a hot meal services on flights less than hour….

  7. BigVicAFL

    December 17, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    You can buy a hot meal on board Air Asia and rival LCC ‘s inSEA

  8. pedrofs

    December 18, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Wow, times have changed…when I was a CSA at LAX I worked UA 114 LAX-DEN daily, which offered a full dinner service in F & Y. Aircraft: 747. Flight time: 1 hour 48 minutes.


    December 19, 2018 at 4:36 am

    Some airlines don’t or didn’t offer drinks on these shorter flights. As much as I don’t want to praise United, I think they have it right on this one. I have seen flight attendants run out of time to serve drinks on these shorter flights.

  10. Mike Rivers

    December 19, 2018 at 4:39 am

    Why even bother? How about if we can just pick up a bottle of water at the door when we board? Sometimes no service is better than minimalist service.

  11. Baracuda618

    December 19, 2018 at 5:17 am

    Honestly, I really don’t understand why I would need “cart service” on a flight less than an hour. I, personally, thought it was always a bad idea. If a passenger needs to use the bathroom facilities the cart takes up the row for nearly the whole time of the flight. And, think about it, the attendants don’t really have the whole hour to serve — more like 40 minutes if you include nothing during take off and landing. If you really need something to drink then I believe water, coffee and juice are fine in the morning and serving it on a tray is also fine. This is a decision by United that hurts no one in any way and actually makes the flight more efficient.

  12. ussvalor

    December 19, 2018 at 5:31 am

    If I am offered a drink on flights less than one hour, I usually decline the option but if I am thirsty I will ask for a water. I know things used to be different in the past when it comes to onboard service but that’s not realistic today. On such a short flight, is having a multitude of drink options really necessary? I am satisfied with the fact that they’re still serving something on these short flights.

  13. drphun

    December 19, 2018 at 5:34 am

    Airlines have already been doing this for years on small regional jets. Have a tray of the most popular drinks and then if someone asks for something different, they bring it when they refill the tray. I actually thought the instructions were belittling to the FAs, reminding that they could offer coffee on early morning flights – Wow, if the FA’s can’t figure that one out on their own, perhaps they will figure it out after they have been asked 100 times?

  14. TechMarauder

    December 19, 2018 at 6:53 am

    I agree with the comment on ‘engaging with customers’. That is complete nonsense. Give me a f’ing break.
    UA FAs are LAZY

  15. jrpallante

    December 19, 2018 at 8:24 am

    It has become exceedingly fashionable on this site to bash ANYTHING United does, but I think this is a positive step for efficiency and customer service. Personally, I have no problem going an hour without a beverage, but I have been on many short flights where the bev cart never even makes it to the back of the plane before it is time to land. The FAs can be needlessly delayed by the first time flyer who wants to enquire about every single beverage offered, or the drunk who needs a cocktail on a 6 AM flight. I have been on several Southwest flights where they come through very quickly with a tray of Coke, Sprite, OJ, and coffee. If you cannot get by with one of those, then you can just wait until everybody else is served, or until the plane lands.

  16. bussms

    December 19, 2018 at 11:03 am

    I just flew HNL-EWR in FC. No one was offered a pre-flight drink. Then the beverage cart came out (don’t usually see those in the front of the plane). I did not see sparking wine being offered but I was planning on sleeping all the was so I didn’t ask for a glass. Service just keeps getting worse. I took my first FC flight 30 years ago (super easy to upgrade back then) and people today just would not believe the fantastic service back then, the food, and the dress and behavior of the passengers. It was another world.

  17. 1K wannabe

    December 19, 2018 at 7:20 pm


  18. Abyssin

    December 19, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    The United goal is to become a LCC

  19. Abyssin

    December 19, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    In Europe few Airlines served light meal in biz and beverages+sandwiches on less than 50m flight with minimum of cabin crew….question are the US FA lazy?
    On same airlines FAs help pax to fill the overhead bins too !

  20. milyoner

    December 19, 2018 at 11:28 pm

    Turkish Airlines serves beverage from a cart and a meal (prepackaged) on flights as short as 45 minutes. The name of being inapt has been defined by United as being more engaged with the customer. I hate the three big US airlines with a passion.

  21. eng3

    December 21, 2018 at 10:55 am

    This NEW change seems like it might be more work for some FAs. On most 59 or less min flights, on UA, usually they don’t serve any drinks at all. Sometimes, they’ll come down with water. Very rarely, you get a choice of drink. Most of these flights only have 40 seats so it isn’t THAT hard. Outside the US, you pretty much get a full meal on a 59min flight.

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