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What is United Airlines First and Business Class Food and Menu Like?

A Pictorial Guide

I had always wondered how 'the other half' ate.  Then I got the chance to sample some of their fare on a recent United Business Class flight to Germany.  I'll share my findings below.

Mmmm. This cheese plate is offered as a dessert, but I enjoyed it as a vegetarian starter.

Mmmm. This cheese plate is offered as a dessert, but I enjoyed it as a vegetarian starter.

Snacks & Drinks

They're great!  Obviously we had our pick of drinks- beer, wine, champagne, juices, coffee, etc... I'm just a water drinker myself, but I even enjoyed that experience more, as I was given a real glass from which to drink.  Imagine that, kids!

The snacks were also wonderful.  We were served mixed nuts in ceramic Japanese sake cups, which were heated.  The heat is, of course, a total afterthought, but warm nuts seemed utterly posh in this environment.  Yum!

The Menu

Yeah- a menu! That's kind of nice- a whole lot nicer than being asked if you prefer chicken or beef and being told, in the end, that you had better like chicken because there's no more beef left.  Instead of the upfront choice question, we were given this lovely menu (printed on luxuriously heavy cardstock) and asked what we would like for a starter and what our first two choices would be for the main course.

The menu was in both English and German (we were on a flight to Frankfurt), and I noticed that there was one vegetarian alternative in each course, which made my order for special vegetarian meals completely superfluous. 


The Main Meal

The main meal was quite the affair.  Before the food was served, our special tables were folded out and adorned with crisp, white table cloths.  We were given warm moist towels to cleanse our towels (and faces, and necks... whatever) as well as additional napkins to deal with any/all spills and crumbs.

The Starter

For a starter, we were given Genoa salami prosciutto, and vegetable crudite with sun-dried tomato dressing with fresh seasonal greens (and our choice of dressing- Classic Caesar or Asian Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette).

Because I ordered special vegetarian food, I was given mixed greens with dressing on the side, a roll, and a cheese plate with fruit (which, I discovered, also serves as a dessert option).

The Main Course

For the main course, we were given the choice of:
1. Grilled chicken breast with eggplant strewn quinoa with arugula pesto
2. Braised beef with peppercorn sauce paired with potatoes au gratin and sauteed spinach
3. Spinach lasagna rolls with rosetta sauce and Parmesan cheese

My travel companion ordered the braised beef and said it was OK, but brilliant by airplane standards.  I was given a special vegetarian meal (probably the same thing that the other vegetarians on the plane were served- yes, the economy class vegetarians), but had the benefit of a real plate and silverware, and to be honest, this vegetarian meal (which was some sort of couscous with chickpea curry-ish stuff and some sort of eggplant dish) was pretty good, though the servers could have done a slightly better job at making it look as though they had not dumped the food straight onto my plate from tin containers.

The braised beef

The braised beef

The "special vegetarian meal"

The "special vegetarian meal"


Dessert was lovely- we had a choice of either the "International Cheese Selection" (which I, as a non-meat-eater, had been served as a starter) consisting of 4 year aged cheddar, St. Rocco Triple Creme or the "Specialty Dessert," which on this flight happened to be Tiramisu.

I enjoyed the Tiramisu thoroughly.

The Tiramisu was quite nice.

The Tiramisu was quite nice.

The 'Light Snack' Prior to Arrival

Before landing, we were given the choice of a continental breakfast "Featuring a fruit appetizer, yogurt, breakfast bread and fruit preserves" or, "For the heartier appetite," a cheese frittata with creamy spinach.

My travel companion ordered the continental breakfast, which was lovely, and I was served some sort of horrid vegetarian concoction- like over-sweet grits/oatmeal with fruit in it- which I promptly ignored, but appreciated marginally more as, again, it was served on a real plate.

GROSSSS!!!  I should have not asked for special vegetarian meals in business class. BAD IDEA.  Business class offers good vegetarian options by default- and I missed out on them!

GROSSSS!!! I should have not asked for special vegetarian meals in business class. BAD IDEA. Business class offers good vegetarian options by default- and I missed out on them!

In Sum

Food in Business Class isn't great, but it's a huge step up from what you get in Economy. The biggest upgrade is not in food quality, but rather in presentation. Being served in a civilized manner with real plates, glasses, and utensils can make a huge difference when one is struggling not to feel like chattel.

A special note to vegetarians: If you ARE flying first class, there's no need to request a special meal.  The first class menu has a vegetarian option for each course, and that'll be better than the special meal you request, which would be the same for all classes on the flight.

Happy Flying and Munching!


Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on December 09, 2011:

Oh, we ALL do it, writeronline!

I do believe that's why everything tastes so much better. Though to be honest, the best food I've eaten on planes was brought along by Yours, Truly ;)

writeronline on December 05, 2011:

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Hi Simone, I recently posted a not altogether respectful article about air travel in the TSA ("let me touch you anywhere I want to")era, and came across this one of yours when checking how mine was doing in the charts. (Go on, bet you do it too.) Perhaps it was that tone which added a special 'piquancy' to your comment about the joys of warm nuts...? Sorry..:-)

Over my working life, I flew Business Class often, and enjoyed it, but my few First class flights were absolutely delightful, partly for the ambience and special food and extra attention; mostly because they were all upgrades. Gratis. Free. Maybe that's why everything did taste that much more special..

Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on April 02, 2011:

Wow, lamb on Malev Airlines! Yeah... the food only seems to be getting worse, though I recently read of a study that found that the noise and vibrations of airplanes reduce our ability to taste... so food will taste worse no matter what!

Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on April 01, 2011:

When I traveled to Budapest years ago (1999 or 2000), it was in coach class with Malev Airlines(in one of those HUUUUGE billion row planes.) It was during lent so the choice was fish or lamb (I'm not sure why lamb was a choice.) Not being a fan of fish I ordered the lamb and it was absolutely superb. Since then, it seems, that the quality of food on planes has really gone down. :(

Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on March 11, 2011:

Thank you, Loren's Gem! Yeah, this was the first time that I had thought to document airplane food, but now I can't believe I hadn't done it before. Taking photos is a great way to add really useful feedback with online review - plus I discovered there are tons of airplane food blog posts out there - they're so much fun to look at!

Loren's Gem from Istanbul, Turkey on March 11, 2011:

Interesting! I'm a foodie myself and reading this hub brings back lots of memories flying with Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Pegasus, Emirates and Qatar Airways. Like you, I was always wondering what the food would be like and how they will present it. Thanks for this wonderful share, Simone! I should have been writing all those experiences way back then. :-)

Simone Haruko Smith (author) from San Francisco on January 12, 2011:

Thanks oceansnsunsets! I had always wondered what the food would be like, so I was so excited to have a peek XD

Paula from The Midwest, USA on January 11, 2011:

Interesting to get a glimpse of the other side, thanks for sharing Simone, it sounds great!

carolan nathan on June 27, 2010:

Hello Simone and welcome, I too am new but enjoying the site. I travelled business class on British Airways and the food was very good. Also on premium economy on Air New Zealand most impressive the food. Recently I did an Upper Class on Virgin and really had to complain about the food, the wine (not the service!) ugh it was awful. I told the steward and he said there were a lot of complaints as management had cut back and the food suffered accordingly. I don't know why, they have more charges than any other airline. I would not fly American as that is abysmal but am pleasantly surprised at your remarks about United.

Being a food and wine writer and also very fussy about what I put in my tum, I often prefer to bring my own food!

Eddy2106 from Chicago Suburb, IL on June 27, 2010:

Metal is better, and the only thing that looks good is the dessert and the fruit other than that it looks bad, but great, and useful hub.

Misha from DC Area on June 26, 2010:

I did not fly United business lately, but when I was actively flying their partner's (Lufthansa) meals were better then theirs. And you are so right - metal tableware makes a whole lot of a difference :)

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