I’m called the United Airlines fanboy by some readers, but I’m not an apologist and want to focus on United’s ongoing catering issues in Denver today. In its latest dispensation, premium cabin passengers are now being served shelf-stable, quasi-astronaut food and I’ve got to say…I’ve never seen a more pathetic looking “first class” meal.

United Airlines Denver Catering Issues Lead To Dismal First Class Meals

If you’re flying United Airlines from Denver this week, there’s a decent chance you will not receive a meal at all…perhaps not anything more than a bottle of water, even in first class. And maybe that’s a good thing. A traveler on FlyerTalk shared his recent first class meal served from Denver to Orlando and I’ve got to say the shelf-stable penne pasta looks far worse than anything I have ever seen served in first class before:


And it wasn’t just a one-off. Another traveler received an identical meal traveling from Denver to Los Angeles:

If United is going to serve that, it might as well just scream “COVID-19” and cut meal service altogether…

It seems to me there is a great chasm between United’s budget and the cost of doing business, particularly in Denver, where the cost of living has risen so much over the last few years. Live and Let’s Fly covered United’s decision to close outsource its catering options, which alone isn’t the issue. Indeed, Denver has faced catering hurdles for years. Instead, it seems the problem is unrealistic expectations over labor and cost of goods.

You could say the direct issue is the same reason we have empty shelves in many grocery stores: supply line shortages and delays have snarled commerce. But there’s a reason that goes beyond congested ports and winter weather. Indeed, with a 3.9% unemployment rate, the USA has greatly exceeded full employment (generally classified when the unemployment rate drops to 5%). In this tight labor market, employers are going to have to pay up, because there is a demand for both skilled and unskilled labor. Inflation is also at a 40-year high, meaning the same goods cost more money.

It does’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that United, via it Gate Gourmet contractor at Denver, cannot attract enough labor. That’s a good sign that it’s not offering high enough wages or benefits to workers. While that technically may be Gate Gourmet’s issue, most customers are not going to be blaming Gate Gourmet when this slop is served on United Airlines’ dishes in United’s first class by flight attendants wearing United uniforms.

Furthermore, I wonder how United’s budgets have dealt with rising food prices?

It would be one thing if this was the first such instance of problems in Denver, but they have literally been going on, in different forms, for many years. It’s a mess and embarrassment to United. It’s time for United Airlines to take a serious look a this problem and solve it once and for all. That’s going to take more than outsourcing: it will take strategic vision and more money.


Don’t expect much, if anything at all, in terms of catering if you are flying first class on United Airlines from Denver in the coming days. The carrier is struggling to adequately cater flights as its outsourced caterer, Gate Gourmet, faces a labor shortage plus supply line issues.

But shelf-stable food I’d only hope to eat in a nuclear holocaust or war zone or on the moon? That’s an all new low for United first class catering. Stick to the snackbox, at least.

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published