United and missing special meals

Most airlines have a good selection of special meals one can order when traveling internationally. United has many such good options. Unfortunately, they appear to consistently lose my special meal requests. On 4 out of the last 10 international flights I have taken, no special meal. More importantly, in all cases the FAs and Purser insisted that there was not even on oder on their records. Hence, I never requested it. Chicago, we have a problem.

The first time this happened to me, I wrote it off. Mistakes do happen. The 2nd time, I called United and they said that the request was on my reservation and there must have been a mistake. The third time, I was upset. I insisted that I had requested a special meal and the Purser actually accused me of lying – ‘everyone says that’, he said. The last time was on a flight last week. Again, no special meal. The Purser acted like she was looking at a printout and said again – ‘no, you must have forgotten requested it’. I called United the next day and they said that the request was on my reservation. I asked them to file a complaint and they did and gave me a complaint number too. So far, I have not heard from United.

I have had other occasions when my meal was not there, but in those cases, I was upgraded at the gate. All I had to do was let the FA know that my meal was probably still in Economy. Sure enough, it was and they got it and served it to me on a plate.

United obviously has something broken. Is it that the Pursers have been trained to say that there was no request made when the meal doe snot make it on board? I hope not. I think the requests get lost somewhere in the upgrade process. One thing in common in all cases was that I was upgraded – well in advance of the flight. The request is on the reservation but does not always make it to the upgraded seat list. It obviously does sometime, as I have received my special meal in BusinessFirst on most flights.

Mystery? Am I on the only one? Has anyone else had an issue with Special Meals on United? Were you in Economy or Upper Class? Do leave a comment so we can compare notes.


  1. Nah, same here, but on delta. I never get my special meal. But when the FA realizes she doesn’t have it they usually try to accommodate with extra/other snacks or even some snack boxes from coach. Although it doesn’t really fix it

  2. I am a vegetarian and always request a vegetarian meal. The same thing happens though where the purser says no you did not request one. I usually email customer service and get 5,000 bonus miles on award reservations and have received $300 credit before on paid reservations.

  3. Happens all the time on Delta. Usually when I’m in first class. I complained once and instead of replying to me with am apology they just deposited 9k miles in my account. While nice, I would have liked an apology and acknowledgement. But truthfully, the special meal I order is ALWAYS the same meal – boiled dry chicken on white rice with carrots. I flew to Singapore from DTW recently and on every leg of the trip I got the exact same meal. How boring.

  4. Incredibly common for me. Out of 10 international long haul segments last year, 6 were missing my meal. I have gotten a mixture of “we have extra vegetarian we can give you” to “sorry, nothing I can do.”

    This happened once in the Business cabin and they pulled a meal from First for me. In coach they just shrug and act like it’s no big deal.

  5. I’ve always received my gluten free meal on UA, whether in Economy or in Business, and appropriate to the class. Ex the UK these are very good, and in Economy, better than the regular meals. Ex the USA, however, they are truly awful.

  6. This used to be a regular experience for me, and given my diet the alternative is just to starve. Now I do not fly United transatlantic any more, it’s rarely a problem; I also take some basic food as back-up. Unfortunately, this has been going on for years. bmi used to be similar, but at least they were generally apologetic and didn’t blame the customer.

  7. As a 1K, AAExPl, & DLDia (and someone w a gluten allergy) I can commiserate. UA is the most frequent offender of “missing” meal requests. I’ve made it a practice of packing enough food for the flight regardless as the option is possibly miserable.

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