United Airlines

United International Premium Plus Beverage and Meal Services

The food and beverage in United Airlines' Premium Plus class features a dinner tray with a chicken entree accompanied by a green salad, dessert, and a glass of white wine.

United Airlines introduced its international premium economy product which is marketed as Premium Plus in 2019. I couldn’t wait to experience one of the first flights from Los Angeles LAX to London LHR in this brand-new class of service and I have been a fan of it ever since.

United’s Premium Plus offers a spacious seat with extra wide armrests, plenty of legroom and a footrest on most seats, comfortable high-quality pillow and blanket, as well as many other amenities. But for me, the major highlight of this upgraded cabin with its signature purple seats is its food and beverage service, which could elevate your flying experience to a higher level, when compared to those seated behind you in regular economy.

Table of Contents

Beverage Service

Premium Plus is technically still economy class and United does not assign a dedicated flight attendant to this cabin. You get the same beverage cart as the back of the plane, but you do get served first.

The beverage cart usually comes around when the aircraft has reached the appropriate altitude for service to begin. Most of the time there is a pause between the beverage and meal carts, but that depends on the length of the trip and the time of the day. For late night departures, beverages and dinner are often served at the same time so passengers can rest early.

Again, depending on the length of the journey, the cart may come around again during the mid-flight and pre-arrival meals.

Soft drinks include coffee and tea, Coke, Sprite, ginger ale, sparkling water, and a selection of juices such as apple, cranberry, orange, and tomato.

A can of opened Stella Artois beer sits on a napkin atop a tray table.

On most international routes (outside of North America) beers and wines are complimentary even for regular economy class, so you’ll get the same service in PP. For beers, the Belgian import Stella Artois is the standard offering, while sometimes you may occasionally see Coors or Michelob being served. The current IPA on the menu is Bell’s Two-Hearted, and White Claw hard seltzer is also available.

A mini bottle of red wine is placed on a tray table with a seatback in the background.

What you get for wines are not as consistent and may even depend on the crew. Sometimes you get the mini bottles which tend to be a little better in taste and quality. Some other times you just get a pour from a big bottle. I’ve had experienced both types of wines on numerous flights and there is no pattern on what you’ll get. It is not even route specific.

A drink in a blue plastic cup is accompanied by a mini bottle of liquor and a can of tonic water.

The only difference between drinks service in United’s Premium Plus and the back of the plane is that liquors and cocktails are complimentary. The basic staples include Tito’s vodka, Bombay Sapphire gin, Jack Daniel’s whiskey, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Bacardi rum, Corazón Blanco tequila, and Bailey’s Irish cream. Mixers such as tonic or soda water and bloody Mary mix are also available.

Lunch and Dinner

A dinner tray comes complete with a main dish, salad, dessert, and a glass of red wine.

It doesn’t matter whether it is noon or midnight, and there is also no difference between lunch and dinner. You’ll typically receive your full meal service shortly after takeoff, once the aircraft has reached the appropriate altitude and there is no considerable turbulence. (Note: On some very short transatlantic flights departing early in the morning, such as Newark EWR – London LHR, breakfast is served instead.)

United’s international premium economy class serves some of the same meals as their Polaris business class, but the choices are limited. In the purple seat cabin, there are only two choices – a meat entrée which is usually chicken and a vegetarian dish which is pasta most of the time. As of this writing, pre-ordering is not available, and the meal cart starts from the first row of Premium Plus. Hence, the closer you sit to the front, the better is your chance of getting your top choice.

The dinner tray comes complete with a silverware rollup and a wine glass. Your entrée is accompanied by bread with butter, salad with dressing, and dessert. The main dish and green salad are served on white porcelain dinnerware.

A grilled piece of meat is served with carrots, potatoes, and a side of a brown sauce in a tin cup.

There are quite a few variations of the chicken dish. One of my favorites, which is often available in United’s transatlantic routes, is the grilled chicken breast with Bordelaise – a French red wine reduction sauce. On the sides are sliced carrots and baby redskin potatoes.

Sliced potatoes and a blend of vegetables accompany a chicken breast on a white porcelain dinner dish.

I savored another one of my favorites on a journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco. The grilled chicken breast was served with a cream sauce that had a hint of white wine and a side of very tasty sautéed sliced potatoes. A few carrot sticks accompanied by cherry tomatoes and spinach completed the presentation.

A chicken breast is served skin side up along with quinoa and a tin cup of garnishes.

On a trip from Athens to Washington DC I enjoyed a roasted chicken breast with Mediterranean spices that was aromatic, just slightly spicy, and quite tasty. However, I was not a fan of the quinoa.

A piece of meat covered in a creamy yellow sauce is served with white rice and bok choy on a dish.

Don’t always expect a breast filet as chicken thighs are often served on Asian routes, as in the Thai chicken with steamed rice and Chinese veggies from Taipei shown above. Thigh meats aren’t really bad – in fact, most Asians prefer dark meat because it is tastier than white meat. It is also more moist, softer, and smoother in texture.

A dinner tray contains a plate of chicken with rice, a green salad, a roll wrapped in plastic, and a glass of red wine.

Shown above is a delicious teriyaki chicken thigh filet served with rice pilaf which I ordered on a flight from Tokyo to LAX. The sauce was slightly tangy, moderately sweet, and had a hint of rice wine flavor. The rich teriyaki sauce also went well with a glass of red wine. I really enjoyed this dish.

Chunks of white meat are drenched in a pool of cream sauce together with potatoes and string beans.

Sometimes the entrée could be made with cut up chicken meat, like the one shown above where chunks of white meat are served in a cream sauce that is somewhat similar to chicken a-la-king. I particularly like the roasted baby potatoes which had a nice smooth texture and tasted fresh.

A plate of meat and white rice is covered with a thick green gravy and served with vegetables.

United presently rotates two types of curry in its Premium Plus menu on their transatlantic routes – one is butter chicken, and the other is a green curry variation which I tasted on my recent trip from LAX to London (shown above). Both are moderately spicy, so they are not for everyone’s palate. If you like curry, you will probably find this one of the best meals you can get in United’s purple seats. But, of course, if you don’t like spicy food, get the pasta.

A thick slab of salmon is covered in a thick orange sauce and is accompanied by a ball of risotto.

Occasionally, a beef entrée such as brisket has made an appearance on the PP menu, but this is quite rare. Also rare is a fish entrée but it also occasionally appears, such as the grilled salmon in tikka masala sauce with risotto shown above.

A baked pasta dish is covered in a thick cream sauce and garnished with pieces of tomatoes.

Last but not the least, the vegetarian option is usually pasta and presently the two rotations that I’ve seen are penne pomodoro and mac ‘n cheese. A more exciting dish that I’ve had a while back on a trip to Europe was baked cheese ravioli in a cream sauce with sundried tomatoes and spinach (shown above).

Green Salad

A green salad made with lettuce and a blend of vegetables is served in a white porcelain bowl.

The side salad is the same as what is served in Polaris, so it is a step above the really mediocre-at-best ones in economy.

Thank goodness, the very unpopular wheat berry salad and quinoa salad are finally gone and in the last two years or so, we have been consistently getting a refreshing green salad in United’s Premium Plus meal service. It’s typically a blend of lettuce topped with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and some other veggies. What you’ll get on your salad varies a lot depending on your departure point and the caterer.

A salad with lettuce and topped with colorful veggies is served in a white porcelain bowl on top of a dinner tray.

On a recent flight from San Francisco to Taipei, the salad was outstanding. A bed of lettuce and spinach was topped with a blend of red peppers, shredded carrots, and edamame beans.


The dessert that you get in the purple seats is the same as those in the back of the plane, so there is nothing exciting here. To make things worse, sometime in 2023, United has gotten rid of ice cream and gelato in its international economy meal service. They have been replaced by a variety of cookies or other sweets.

A cookie in bright magenta wrapping paper with an image of confetti is placed on a tray table next to a napkin.

On departures originating from the US, I have mostly been served a cold “milk bar”, which is actually a trendy dessert in today’s contemporary cookies scene. They are also known as cookie crumb cakes, have a soft but slightly chewy texture, moderately sweet but not overly so, and mimic the taste of ice cream when served cold. There are several varieties – the one above is the “Happy Birthday” theme rendition with confetti toppings. Another flavor that I have recently enjoyed was a lemon pound cake in bright yellow wrappings.

A white package with French wordings and graphics is said to contain chocolate truffles.

On my recent few flights from Europe back to the US, dessert was a treat! These French cacao truffles are so good that I will choose them over gelato on any given day – and I am a gelato lover! They are rich in flavor but not overly sweet, creamy and really smooth, and melt in your mouth gently to create a delightful chocolate sensation.

But I’ve only had these on journeys originating from Europe. Some people might disagree with me, but I always find the catering and the quality of the food much better on departures originating from Europe or Asia versus from the US.

A chocolate donut sits on a small plate on top of an airliner seat's tray table.

You might think it’s breakfast, but no, it’s not. Occasionally I’ve been served a chocolate donut for dessert. It’s really not bad, especially if you want something more substantial and filling than ice cream or a cookie. The quality of the donut that I’ve recently had on a hop from Asia back to the west coast was quite good and was lighter and airier than I expected.

Mid-Flight Snack

A seatback TV screen shows the sequence of services on a flight with white graphics on blue background.

On flights 12 hours or longer, United serves a snack in its Premium Plus cabin about halfway through the journey. The 12-hour threshold is not precise. For example, a west coast journey to London or Tokyo is approximately 11-ish hours long and I have always been served a light snack on both of those trips. You can find out whether your trip includes a snack service by referring to your seatback entertainment screen in the beginning of the flight.

The snack is nothing exciting to write home about and is the same as those served in regular economy. It is typically a chicken or turkey sandwich and some packaged snacks. The sandwich could be hot or cold. Personally, I dislike the hot sub from my many past experiences, which is usually just a mess of melted cheese.

Spread out on a tray table are a wrapped sandwich, packets of chips, and a can of Stella beer.

On a recent trip from the west coast to London, a nicely wrapped cold balsamic chicken and mozzarella sub was served with packets of pretzels and chips. The beverage cart came along when the FAs passed out the snacks and I took the opportunity to grab another beer.

A closeup of a chicken submarine sandwich shows a piece of white meat folded in a roll.

Above is a closer look at the sandwich.

A sandwich made with a bun is accompanied by a kit kat and packets of snacks on a tray table.

On departures from Japan, they often include some local snacks which I like, especially the Japanese kit kat and nuts coated with matcha. Those of you who like kit kat and are familiar with this sensational snack in Japan would probably know that most of the unique flavor that you can find in Japan are not available in the US. So, it is great that I get to sample some of these Japanese snacks at 35,000 feet up in the air.

Pre-Arrival Meal

The pre-arrival meal is served approximately 90 minutes before touchdown and there are usually two options – one savory and one sweet. The selections are sometimes similar to some, but not all, of the options in Polaris Business Class. For example, the congee and Japanese fish plate available in business class on some Asian flights as well as the cheeseburger on some European routes may not be available to the passengers in the purple seats.

Two baked eggs are served on a dish and garnished with cherry tomatoes.

One of the best breakfasts in the air that I’ve had are the cocotte (French baked) eggs shown above topped with sliced bacon and mushroom and accompanied by cherry tomatoes.

A breakfast tray contains a main dish of sausage and eggs, a croissant wrapped in plastic, and a bowl of cut fruits.

The main dish is usually accompanied by a bowl of fresh fruits and a croissant or some other pastries. Shown above is one of my favorite breakfasts consisting of scrambled eggs, sausages, sautéed mushrooms, and a medley of baby potatoes.

A breakfast tray contains a colorful egg dish garnished with asparagus spears, a bowl of fruits which include strawberries, and a pastry wrapped in plastic.

On a recent flight to Europe, I enjoyed a plate of vegetable frittata with white wine sauce, sausage, asparagus, tomato, and a potato wedge. As an added bonus, I also received a yogurt, which didn’t always appear on the breakfast tray. The beverage cart tagged along the meal service, and I ordered a tomato juice which was my favorite breakfast drink.

A white porcelain dish contains a baked pastry with green toppings, a red sauce, and a pair of sausages.

Another popular savory breakfast dish for both Asian and European routes is a kale and tomato baked egg pastry with a side of red pepper sauce and accompanied by delicious chicken apple sausages. As you can probably tell from the picture, the portion is rather generous, and it is a filling meal.

A small triangular slice of quiche is garnished with a cherry tomato and a broccoli floret.

The quiche is also a popular breakfast rotation and this particular one shown above has ham and cheese filling.

Two toasted waffles with apple sauce in a dish is accompanied by a bowl of watermelon and strawberries.

One of the most popular and often served sweet pre-arrival dish is the Belgian waffles. They are crunchy on the outside while soft and moist inside, moderately sweet, and not too sugary. They are one of my favorites. This particular version that I had on a flight from Hong Kong has a strong hint of cinnamon and is complemented by a side of apple sauce. A similar dish is also served on United’s transatlantic routes.

Two slices of round shaped and browned bread puddings are garnished with colorful raisins.

Another popular rotation for those with a sweet tooth is a banana bread pudding with raisins and vanilla cream sauce. I remember getting this on a recent journey to Asia from the west coast and I really enjoyed it. The texture of the bread pudding was like a moist donut with sauce, if you know what I mean. It tasted better than I could describe it. The bread had a strong banana flavor, but the raisins and vanilla sauce added a refreshing balance to the palate.


United Airlines’ international premium economy class, aka Premium Plus, is a great middle ground for someone who wants a more comfortable and enjoyable in-flight experience than the crammed seats at the back of the plane but are not ready to splurge thousands more dollars to sit up front with a lie flat. The elevated food and beverage service is a major feature of the upgrade, and kudos to UA for serving some decent meals which are similar or comparable to those in the Polaris cabin.

But if I must insist on a change, it would be this: Please bring back the menu! The menu was a standard feature when the airline first introduced this class of service in 2019. However, it has quickly disappeared. So, it is just like regular economy all over again when the flight attendant asks “chicken or pasta?” And when I ask “what kind of chicken dish is it?” the reply that I usually get is “It’s chicken.”

Most FAs are not knowledgeable about the composition of the meals and their ingredients. Even if they are, I don’t expect them to spend a lot of time with each passenger describing the entrées in great detail. Therefore, United, please just bring back the Premium Plus menu!

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