Why Can’t United Get Predeparture Beverages Right?

by Anthony Losanno
United Drinks

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As I’ve written about many times, I’ve shifted the majority of my flying to Delta Air Lines this year. A big part of my decision was around service and the little extras that Delta offers to make its experience more premium. Now, this is the ultimate First World problem, but United can’t even get predeparture beverages right.

I’m fortunate to always fly in the pointy end of the plane. When I fly Delta, I know that 99.9% of the time that the flight attendant will greet me with a smile and offer me whatever beverage I want before we takeoff. On United, I’m lucky if this happens 10% of the time. When it does, it is a limited choice. United thinks it’s perpetually breakfast time and offers champagne, orange juice, and water all day long (again on only about 10% of the flights I’m on).

United Airlines Plane

On my flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to LaGuardia Airport (LGA), no beverage was offered. We were on time, there was time to serve drinks, and the flight attendant brought the pilots a coffee and club soda, but First Class passengers got nothing. This was the same on my last flight to Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL), to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), and the list goes on.

Delta Planes

Why Can Other Airlines Manage This but Not United?

I think it comes down to actually caring about doing a good job. This is not to say that all United flight attendants don’t care, but many of them are complacent and figure that they shouldn’t do the basics when their colleagues are not.

United has even steered away from trying to be great. Its latest ad campaign touts that “good leads the way.” After many years as a Global Services member, I’m glad that I sparingly fly United. I’ll likely still make Premier 1K® this year based on spend (because flights are expensive at the moment), but I’m not looking to fly the airline any more than I absolutely have to and Delta has picked up tickets purchased in Delta One® to Italy and Peru among many other domestic flights. I’ll hit Diamond Medallion and think I’ll be happier with that status than I was when I was a member of United’s secret society (Global Services).

KLM Houses

It’s the little things that set an airline apart. I’ll always fondly look back at the Delft houses collected from KLM flights or the rubber ducks I got in the Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. With United, I look back and wonder why I spent so many years and so much money on such a sub-par product.

Anthony’s Take: It shouldn’t be this difficult to get a predeparture beverage. Once the current travel insanity dies down, we’ll see if United tries to up its game or will always be content to be just good because it’s certainly not leading the way.

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Advertiser & Editorial Disclosure: The Bulkhead Seat earns an affiliate commission for anyone approved through the links above This compensation may impact how and where links appear on this site. We work to provide the best publicly available offers to our readers. We frequently update them, but this site does not include all available offers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed, or approved by any of these entities.


Jim F. June 15, 2023 - 10:11 pm

If it makes you feel any better, AA is no better at consistently providing PDBs in FC…the focus on P0 seems to be paramount in management’s eyes.

HGA June 16, 2023 - 1:45 am

Flew today on DL in F, MIA-LAX-HNL, no pre dep beverage on either flight. FA on LAX-HNL leg hid behind the kitchen curtain most of the flight. I stopped flying DL mostly bc of the Int’l upgrade issues everyone knows. Just burning through the miles…

Rich June 16, 2023 - 7:49 am

Delta hub flyer here. I fly a decent amount in F and it is really hit or miss with PDB. I’ve been on ATL to DEN 3 times in last 4 weeks, each time no PDB in either direction.

Jaded Reader June 16, 2023 - 8:08 am

So you choose an airline based on whether or not you get a drink before departure — and not based on where they fly or their schedules or even their price?

Wow, you’ve got some interesting priorities.

Frankfurt Airport Lufthansa
Anthony Losanno June 16, 2023 - 9:25 am

That’s not the only consideration. But, when I’m paying a premium for first class tickets, I expect service to be premium. The route and cost are important, but I want to get what I pay for as well.

lucy June 16, 2023 - 12:08 pm

then the flight attendants need to get paid during that time you paid for that premium seat.

Joshua June 20, 2023 - 3:27 pm

We are not paid for our boarding, we are in negotiations, but for example if we are delayed any bit I will not do them because it can delay the boarding process. Plus it’s aircraft dependent. It’s not the easiest thing to get 32 drink orders on a quick turn 787 with 2 people working that section. Personally I don’t believe the flights are staffed enough. Also, I was taught we could not serve liquor on the ground during boarding.

ALL53 June 21, 2023 - 7:26 pm

You did get what you paid for. It’s an airline that flies you to a destination. THAT’S what you pay for. Your drinks and food is complimentary. United is not a bar nor restaurant.

Sal December 26, 2023 - 6:11 pm

Such a ridiculous response. Nobody is forcing the airlines to offer a first class product. Obviously, if you are paying 2, 3, 4x the economy price for first class, you’re paying for much more than the point-to-point transportation. You are paying for the elevated service, including the food and drink.

If you don’t like the concept of first class, that’s fine. But it’s absurd to say first class passengers are just paying for transportation.

lucy June 16, 2023 - 12:06 pm

Delta pays their flight attendants boarding pay. other airlines do not. so they feel why should they work if they are not getting paid.

Journeying John June 16, 2023 - 4:26 pm

You’re lucky it wasn’t BA whi despite advertising predeparture drinks, as with the menu ir answering the phone, regularly simply dont bother at all!

lucy June 16, 2023 - 5:40 pm

to be honest airlines crews have had enough. airlines making record profits, and refusing to pay a living pay. during the pandemic many took pay cuts that have not been reinstated, and work rule’s taken away. Then ceo’s and board are making record profits. three ceo’s just made record pay. yes everyone wants their company to make money and yes ceo’s should make money. however when the very people working the front lines have to pick between gas to get to work or eating dinner that night, or even paying a bill people have had enough! so instead of coming on here complaining about your drink! how about you start asking ceo’s at the airlines why their employees are so upset they refuse to work more then what they are getting paid.
this is basically everyone saying screw it. what’s the public going to do about. nothing they are going to continue to fly and use platforms like this to complain. Airlines don’t care. the pandemic proved that with out the airlines the world will come to a complete stop. commerce will halt. so the airlines really don’t care because they don’t have to.

Dom June 20, 2023 - 5:17 am

It’s wild how entitled people get when they board an airplane. 90% of status flyers are cool as heck and don’t even want to be bothered throughout the flight. Then you get people like this guy who expect Emirates service on an airbus from MCO to IAD. Trust me your vodka soda will make it to you once we get in the air. They don’t realize we’re trying to get that boarding door closed and pushback on time so we won’t be late for their connection.

Flyboy June 17, 2023 - 5:42 pm

Honestly, PDBs have no business on narrow body domestic. Should be limited to dual aisle planes only. For the crew to have to, push their way back up the aisle against the flow of traffic is absolutely asinine. I understand that more often than not, we want to compare this to other global carriers, but lets get real, they are more than likely flying dual aisle. Also, Champagne, Water, and OJ are INDUSTRY STANDARD.

Taylor June 19, 2023 - 5:33 pm

US Airlines have become mainly transportation companies. You’re paying for an expensive airplane seat not a seat a table at The French Laundry. The crews are usually understaffed and tired because these airlines want them to be on duty for 12-16 hours.

Avpro June 20, 2023 - 11:53 am

Wow. Just wow! For someone who supposedly flies so frequently, you don’t appear to have the slightest clue what’s happening in the cabin while expecting your free booze. Be honest. What’s more important? Reinforcing your sense of entitlement or getting to your destination on time? Further, you realize that most cabin crews aren’t paid until the door closes, right? They’re busy making sure catering was loaded (if there is any catering), lavs are cleaned, safety equipment is in place, and getting auntie and uncle into their seats with their bags safely stowed. Maybe show a little more introspection and a little less insufferable entitlement.

another employee laughing June 22, 2023 - 10:18 am

I say all the time that a little self awareness goes a long way when flying. Double goes for blogging about flying. If PDB’s are a hill you want to die on, you’re welcome to gripe at the airport bar before you board. At least the bartender is being paid to pretend to care.


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