United to Allow Customers to Pre-Order Snacks and Drinks Before They Fly

Amazingly, this wasn't a thing before.

We've lost track of how many times we've referenced "getting back to normal," whether it was in an aspirational way when we were locked down last summer, or with cautious anticipation as we leave our apartments to see friends and family, dine in at restaurants, or even board a flight for what may be the first time in over a year.

Although air travel still looks slightly different than it did before — and it could still be a while before we see the bottom half of the flight attendants' faces — but airlines have started to resume some of their regular meal and beverage services after making some temporary changes last year. They're also making some tech-driven improvements that further eliminate high-touch surfaces, like the credit card reader that might've previously been handed to multiple passengers during mealtimes.

United Airlines pre-order screeen
Courtesy of United Airlines

In June, for example, United introduced an updated menu of premium cabin meals and snacks (and in-flight White Claws) that could be purchased through its Buy-On-Board contactless payment system. And earlier this week, United announced that it will be building on that Buy-On-Board thing, and will start offering passengers the option to pre-order their meals, snacks, and drinks through the United mobile app. Five days before they're scheduled to depart, United flyers can log in to the app, click the Reservation Details section, and then pre-order whatever they'd like to nosh in-flight. (Yes, United says it will also send a reminder email when the pre-order option is available.)

United Airlines customer using pre-order
Courtesy of United Airlines

"Our new pre-order option reflects the customer experience transformation taking place at United — customers in our economy cabins will have an easy, convenient way to choose their snack or drink, and our flight attendants can move through the cabin faster, delivering more personalized service," Toby Enqvist, United's chief customer officer, said in a statement. "This new feature also builds on our existing contactless payment technology, which has enabled us to safely resume our inflight food and beverage program on select flights."

Economy passengers can pre-order snacks and beverages from the Buy-On-Board menu, and their credit cards won't be charged until the flight attendant actually hands them the Snack Box or individual item they've ordered. Premium cabin passengers will be given the option to select their meal options on the app or on the United website, and a receipt will be mailed to them after they make their choice.

The pre-order option is currently available for flights that depart on or after Monday, August 2 from Chicago O'Hare International Airport to Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Orange County's John Wayne Airport, Sacramento International Airport, and San Diego International Airport. By early fall, the airline anticipates that it will be an option on all flights over 1,500 miles.

Now if there were a way to pre-order a seatmate who didn't take his shoes off during the flight, we'd be set.

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