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Coast-to-Coast on United in First Class with No Food

A quick note about my United flight yesterday from Ft. Lauderdale to Palm Springs (via Houston):

I am not one to complain about first class service – as has been discussed here pretty extensively, I’m just happy for the additional legroom. And that’s still true, but I wanted to point out one odd thing about my trip yesterday — I was upgraded on both legs, and there was no food at all available from Ft. Lauderdale to Houston, and there was only a selection of snacks (ie, chips) from Houston to Palm Springs.

That’s correct, I flew in first class across the country and I was offered some potato chips.

There was some outrage in the cabin on the first leg, because there was literally no food at all – no pretzels, no nuts, nothing. It was a 215pm departure, so I can completely understand the lack of a meal. But I did find it odd (as did others) that there was not a morsel of anything to be found.

The second leg – a 3 hour flight on a regional jet – departed at 615pm, which is certainly a mealtime for most people.

This wasn’t an issue for me – I always pack my own food when I fly, which ensures I’m never disappointed by the selection.

But I was thinking about this: United charges $1,897 round trip for this flight. or nearly a $1400 premium over coach. I’m pretty sure that almost nobody believes the extra legroom is worth $1400 (and that’s all you’re getting, as both coach and first class received the same soda selection). Which can only mean this: United has decided that domestic first class is simply a freebie they throw at customers with Elite status. It’s not meant to be purchased (NYC/BOS/WAS to SFO/LAX excepted).

I give Spirit Airlines credit in this department — they sell essentially the same product and call it “Big Front Seat,” since all you get is a big front seat. United was offering the same, but calling it first class. Calling it “first class” has become an outdated misnomer. Funny enough, their “BusinessFirst” product, which by its name suggests a lower-level of quality, is actually the better product, with lie-flat seats and full meal service.

Perhaps the issue here is just the name — or the promise of what to expect when sitting in the front cabin. My flights were perfectly comfortable, and had they simply said that I was being upgraded to the Elite Cabin (or whatever), I would’ve been perfectly thrilled (and I was perfectly thrilled, since I brought food with me). But I don’t think it’s unreasonable for someone paying $1900 to fly across the country to be, at the very least, told that there would be no food at all during the 5 1/2 hours of flying.

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  1. The part that would frustrate me is a lack of consistency between flights even on the same airline. Knowing what to expect means you can prepare yourself with a meal (if necessary).

  2. I can’t believe that. There should at least be a snack for the lengths of those flights!

  3. Jared – you say:

    Perhaps the issue here is just the name — or the promise of what to expect when sitting in the front cabin.

    Isn’t this the premise of the article that you were so upset with, just weeks ago, in the NY Times? That “First Class” simply isn’t? I feel you are both arguing the same point.

    • I felt the article from a couple of weeks ago was suggesting that first class is horrible.

      Maybe I’m just splitting hairs, I don’t know. I don’t think first class is horrible; but I also think it’s slightly disingenuous for the airlines to sell this product as “first class” especially when their business class product is so much better. Maybe it’s just the name. Or maybe the person in front of me who was complaining the whole time really got into my head.

  4. I recall that UA/CO has been putting in FC on more of its regional jets. I am unfamiliar with the food offerings on these flights. Do they not serve food on the longer RJ runs? I assume that’s the case, because it’s otherwise hard to understand how a 3 hour 6:15 departure would not have food. If that’s the case, it’s hard to understand the logic of putting in a FC cabin. Other than perhaps a free drink, what’s the real difference between RJ FC and RJ Economy Plus (other than a free drink, which elites can use coupons for in the back).

  5. “I give Spirit Airlines credit in this department — they sell essentially the same product and call it “Big Front Seat,” since all you get is a big front seat. United was offering the same, but calling it first class.”… but Spirit = $80ish extra, not $1500. That seems outrageous.

  6. Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying all along. Spirit Air offers the cheapest domestic first class in the country sans food and booze (but you need to upgrade, not buy it). It’s the most underapreciated bargain in the sky.

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