Dan’s note: I typed up this post in February, but didn’t get the chance to publish it before COVID-19 hit. It is interesting that United is the only airline in the world that has maintained daily flights to Tel Aviv throughout the pandemic. They became a lifeline for the country of Israel and they are dedicated to being the carrier of choice to Tel Aviv. I mentioned this post in my speculation on where I picked up COVID-19 and commenters wanted to read it, so here ya’ go. Note that some of it is out of date and other parts, like kosher food in Polaris lounge, is pushed off indefinitely as those lounges as closed due to COVID-19:
In February I attended the KWFE kosher wine and food event in NYC. Perhaps I’ll write a comparison of that event to the KWFE LA event another time, but one aspect that I found intriguing was that United Airlines was out in full force at the event, co-sponsoring it and having a table there.
In attendance were United employees running the gamut from the head of the premier program to catering, to head of marketing, and strategic initiatives.
Charles Herzog tells me that Jill Kaplan, United’s president of NY and NJ, has been instrumental in working to improve United’s kosher food and wine offerings in NYC and on Tel Aviv routes.
It’s great that United is finally putting an emphasis on the kosher experience. Kosher airline meals from the US have long been overlooked, while excellent kosher meals from London’s Hermolis can be found on airlines flying from South America, Europe, and Asia.
I spent some time chatting with Alexis Barney Sinclair, United market specialist in NY and NJ, at KWFE NYC about the airline’s new kosher initiatives.
Here are some things I learned:
- As mentioned here, giving feedback is absolutely critical for United’s decision makers. Armed with data from flight attendant feedback, online form feedback, and feedback from the special email addresses given to 1K and GS members, informed decisions can be made. If you get a bad kosher meal or if you are considering flying another airline due to a meal offering, you should let United know.
- United has received great feedback regarding the Herzog wine program and is looking into expanding the program for the economy and premium plus cabins!
- United double caters the kosher wine from the US for the return flight. They heard feedback from passengers that there was no wine offered on flights from Tel Aviv and are investigating to see if the return flights wine allocation is being consumed on the outbound flight or if flight attendants aren’t noticing the return flight wine allocation. Alexis told me she would greet an incoming flight from Tel Aviv to see the situation for herself.
- United isn’t comfortable providing mini bottles of wine together with meals as some other airlines do as meals can go to children or alcoholics who may not want to handle wine. I asked about flight attendants having mini bottles of wine as some kosher customers may not be comfortable drinking open wine even if it is mevushal and was told that people should share their feedback with United about that.
- United is open to providing kosher wine systemwide in business class. Getting feedback from customers would be key in getting that implemented.
- United currently offers Fresko meals on the Newark to Tel Aviv route only. Based on feedback the next potential route for Fresko meals would be from Washington DC to Tel Aviv.
- United is open to providing Fresko meals on all routes from Newark, once again, getting feedback from customers is critical.
- Another route that United has received high demand for kosher meals is Newark to Brussels, so that is also a candidate for Fresko meals and kosher wine.
- United currently only offers kosher meals in first class on domestic routes that are greater than 2,000 miles in length and they’re comfortable with that. They know that Delta offers kosher meals in first class on all routes with meal service, but they haven’t heard much feedback about getting kosher meals on shorter flights. Of course the catch-22 here is that people don’t provide that feedback because US airline meals are of such poor quality that it’s not even worth asking for them…
- United is closely watching how many people request a kosher kids meal to Tel Aviv and for people’s feedback on the offering.
- The mid-flight snack bowl is something that Alexis had to juggle between the needs of kosher passengers and other passengers. Alexis went hunting from their supplier and found parve goodies like Madi K’s Sea Salt Almonds, Drizzilicious Cinnamon Swirl Bites, and Deep River Sea Salt Chips. Their supplier didn’t have kosher branded snacks, so that was the extent of what was available, but once again, she expressed hope for feedback. The M&Ms and Cheez-It Crackers aren’t going anywhere, despite not being suitable after a meat dinner, but it’s possible that United can add other parve equivalents to those snacks based on passenger feedback.
- United has heard very positive feedback to the new Fresko meals, including the meat dinner, the parve mid-flight wrap, and the dairy breakfast.
I also spoke with Erik Gross of Fresko foods and learned some interesting tidbits. Fresko sells prewrapped snacks and meals throughout JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark, but this is the first foray into in-flight catering.
- Fresko is working to supply United’s Polaris Lounge in Newark with kosher meals in the coming weeks. Currently the thought process is to offer parve, such as salmon, and dairy, such as ravioli, options for passenger’s pre-flight meals or for connecting passenger’s post-flight meals. United Polaris business and Star Alliance long-haul business and first class passengers can access the Polaris Lounge. Kosher wine is currently available in the lounge, though unlike the in-flight wines, the lounge wines are not mevushal. There won’t be any need to pre-order these meals!
- Sourcing quality kosher snacks that fit into 2 inch tall trays with high-level hechshers is no easy feat. Often times there is just one vendor for some products. For example I asked why they don’t serve greek yogurt (Norman’s Creamy Blend Lemon and Island Mango are my jam), and the answer was that the Mehadrin yogurt was the only Cholov Yisroel yogurt that would fit into the 2 inch tray.
United’s Newark-Tel Aviv breakfast tray, minus the hot entree:
I tried the Chicken Marsala and the Kale Spinich Burger, they were delicious! I’m sure they don’t taste that good on the flight, but boy what an improvement they are over inedible Borenstein meals!
The harvest roasted vegetable wrap, which is the mid-flight snack from Newark to Tel Aviv, was also great:
Have you tried the new United kosher options on economy or business class? What other questions do you have for United about improving kosher meals?