The way United Airlines chooses your in-flight meal is far more intricate than you’d think

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Chef Gerry McLoughlin displays dishes from United’s fall menu.
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Sarah Jacobs

Just in time for those grueling holiday flights, United Airlines is unveiling a new onboard menu that you might actually want to eat.

According to the company, the fall menu is all about customer satisfaction.

Not only did the airline have four chefs collaborate on the new menu (rolling out November 1),frequent fliers were invited to its Newark Liberty International Airport facilities to taste the food and give their input.

With plenty of regional specialties and seasonal ingredients, the new premium-cabin and United Economy meal and snack options will feature chef-inspired dishes on flights throughout North and Latin America.

Keep scrolling for a look at what’s to come.


United Airlines invited a handful of frequent fliers to its Chelsea Food Services center at Newark Liberty International Airport to test the new menu.

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Sarah Jacobs

Four renowned chefs contributed to the menu.

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Clockwise from left to right: Chef Gerry Gulli, Chef Gerry McLoughlin, Chef Robin Carr, and Chef Christian Ramos, who is a chef and partner at Virginia’s in New York’s East Village.
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Sarah Jacobs

Meals are only tested at sea level for now. But since altitude can affect the way we taste food, United plans to take a plane out of service and turn it into a flying test kitchen of sorts.

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Sarah Jacobs

Thanks to the altitude and lack of humidity on planes, our taste buds are dulled by almost 30%. To counteract this, Chef McLoughlin ups herbs and spices by 10 to 15%.

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McLoughlin adds seasoning to a dish.
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Sarah Jacobs

Soon, you’ll be able to order a Moscow Mule on your United flight. The Chicago-based carrier partnered with with local bottled cocktail company Crafthouse Cocktails.

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Sarah Jacobs

This is the South Pacific salad and sweet chili shrimp. Dishes will now be served with the protein on the side to make them more adaptable for vegetarians.

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Sarah Jacobs

One of the suggestions United heard time and time again was the demand for lighter, healthier dishes. This butternut salad is one of many new salads on the menu.

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Sarah Jacobs

There’s also an arugula and parmesan salad that comes with a side of Milanese chicken breast.

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Sarah Jacobs

And a Napa Valley salad with a side of salmon.

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Sarah Jacobs

An Asian slaw salad is full of veggies and tossed with a sesame-ginger vinaigrette.

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Sarah Jacobs

The menu is based on seasonality and food trends. The popularity of beets inspired this beet and grapefruit salad. Once the beet trend dwindles, they’ll be replaced with something new.

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Sarah Jacobs

This is the new flat iron steak with chimichurri. The trick to cooking airplane food is to leave it partially raw. Steak is usually only cooked around 30%, and veggies left undercooked. The final cook is done in convection ovens on the aircraft.

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Sarah Jacobs

According to McLoughlin, the biggest challenge of an in-flight menu is getting flight attendants the tools they need to cook things the way they were intended to be cooked. Getting the timing right on risotto is hard enough at sea level, but doing it at 30,000 feet with nothing but a convection oven is an even bigger battle.

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Sarah Jacobs

Another thing United is introducing is more sustainable seafood. When you buy this Amazon cod, for example, a part of the proceeds benefits efforts in the Amazon.

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Sarah Jacobs

The fall menu also features a lot of high-end dishes, like this smoked duck appetizer.

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Sarah Jacobs

Though sometimes you just want something simple and hearty, like this turkey pastrami sandwich.

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Sarah Jacobs

Or this morning harvest sandwich, which is made with a slightly sweet bread that’s great for breakfast.

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Sarah Jacobs

There’s also this rustic Italian sandwich.

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Sarah Jacobs

Chefs involved were able to fly around the world to get inspired for the new menu. We can guess which country inspired this udon noodle and ginger beef entrée.

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Sarah Jacobs

Another regionally inspired main course is this French country bowl.

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Sarah Jacobs

As well as this fiesta chicken bowl.

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Sarah Jacobs

And this seafood cioppino.

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Sarah Jacobs

This duck confit ravioli dish looks pretty delicious.

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Sarah Jacobs

For those looking for spice, a lentil chili has enough of a kick to wake up your dulled taste buds.

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Sarah Jacobs

And finally, there’s this burger. According to McLoughlin, there has to be a burger on the menu; the airline gets a ton of complaints if not. This season they’ll be serving a bleu cheese burger.

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Sarah Jacobs