Lipstick On A Pig: United Possibly Shows New Polaris Dinnerware For Inflight “Meals”

by Anthony Losanno
a person holding a chip in a bowl

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United might have tipped its hand as to what is coming next for its Polaris (International Business Class) dinnerware with the lead image for an event its holding in Chicago. While the plates, bowls, and gold cutlery look nice, I have serious doubts that anything served in them will be above the quality of a TV dinner.

United Airlines is holding an event tomorrow through its MileagePlus Exclusives program where members can bid miles for experiences. United generally holds several dinners a year as well as holds auctions for sporting events, concerts, and trips. They’re a good value and I find them worth redeeming miles for (especially since the award chart keeps getting devalued). I went to a dinner a few months ago at Formento’s in Chicago and it was miles well spent (full review here). The airline is holding a special event in Chicago where MileagePlus members could pay 5,000 miles to get behind-the-scenes access to how in-flight catering operates.

The event is being held at Studio Ellen in Chicago. From the MileagePlus Exclusives site, attendees can expect:

  • A Studio Ellen tour
  • Q&A with Studio Ellen Executive Chef, Olivier De Busschere
  • A behind-the-scenes look at the menu design process
  • Appetizers and cocktails developed exclusively for Polaris in-flight menus
  • Access to digital photos, post-event
  • A premium gift bag
  • Complimentary parking

UA Polaris Meal

Based on what I have experienced countless times on United flights. The food is terrible and the experience is subpar. Sure, it’s gotten better since the pandemic, but there was no possible way for it to get any worse. I even went as far as to compare it to prison food at one point (more here). This is all a matter of cost savings. Even as airlines have seen huge demand for premium cabins and ticket prices that often exceed $5K-$10K for transatlantic flights, passengers are handed food that is a weird assemblage of ingredients that no one would ever want to eat. A salad made of cauliflower, grapes, and raisins? Sure, United served that. A cold, fennel flan as an entree? Yup, that was onboard forever. Does the meal above scream luxury to you?

UA Breakfast 1

The breakfast pictured above from a flight this summer was awful. The fruit had a horrible taste. The bagel was rock hard and cold. And, the salmon tasted off.

Until United looks to invest in the food quality, it won’t matter what the carrier to chooses to serve it in. The pandemic was a convenient excuse to drag its heels on serving anything decent. Yes, service elements are being reintroduced like ice cream sundaes and some trial routes with multi-course service, but it is still a far cry from many international carriers and even United’s competitors are serving.

Anthony’s Take: I’ve never heard of Studio Ellen, but this contract must be incredibly lucrative for them to allow their name to be associated with what United calls in-flight catering. Maybe United will prove me wrong, but I’m still thinking reheated Lean Cuisine in a fancy dish is what’s in store for future Polaris passengers.

(Featured Image Credit: United MileagePlus Exclusives.)

(H/T: Live and Let’s Fly.)

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Bob September 6, 2023 - 1:10 pm

Studio Ellen is the name of United’s inflight test kitchen in Chicago. Maybe do a simple google search before playing keyboard warrior next time? I love how bloggers harp about the price of a J ticket and then scream that they want Michelin quality food. I’m not going to defend UA’s food here, its bad, but i’ve had awful meals up front on DL and AA lately as well. Heck, even Emirates isn’t anything to write home about. I also have to wonder why you selected either of the meals pictured above in the first place? Its as if you were trying to find the worst option possible just to make a blog about it. I’m GS with UA and CK with AA…I’ll take UA’s Polaris seat any day of the week over AA and even DL for that matter. For me its all about the seat. I don’t care about the food.

Frankfurt Airport Lufthansa
Anthony Losanno September 6, 2023 - 1:14 pm

Thanks for letting me know about Studio Ellen. I was GS for many years and made the conscious decision to move away for most of my flying. The Polaris seats are fine, but the food is awful. I’m not saying AA or DL are amazing, but I have found them to be better recently. Those are not the worst I have been served. I have more. It’s sad because when Polaris launched it was pretty impressive.

Christian September 6, 2023 - 1:28 pm

Kirby ripped the guts out of any premium experience on United. The guy is singularly well suited to run a small ULCC but stunningly inept at running a major international airline.

Greg September 6, 2023 - 1:53 pm

From what I gather Studio Ellen is where they are testing new meal menu items. My hope is what’s pictured is food that will make it on board, and they really do up their game. As you point out what’s served now is not even close to acceptable and it has cost them business.


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