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United Flight Attendants Complain Serving Snacks Onboard is Causing a “Toxic Environment”

United Flight Attendants Complain Serving Snacks Onboard is Causing a “Toxic Environment”

Flight attendants at United Airlines say the carrier’s decision to resume buy-on-board snack and alcohol service on certain domestic flights is causing a “toxic environment” and they are “struggling” with mask enforcement. The situation has been made worse by “glitchy” sales software and inebriated passengers according to the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA).

United dramatically scaled back inflight service as part of its initial response to the pandemic but brought back its buy-on-board service on certain flights over 800 miles last November in an attempt to address customer complaints over the lack of food and drink offered on many of its longer domestic services.

The inflight bistro was initially limited to flights from Denver to Boston (BOS), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Honolulu (HNL), Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Washington Dulles (IAD), and Washington National (DCA).

The Association of Flight Attendants says, however, that the rollout of buy-on-board snacks has been beset with problems and that management need to start taking their complaints seriously.

“The new addition of snacks and the rollout of alcoholic beverages in particular, creates an even more difficult situation for working crew,” an AFA memo to flight attendants explains. “In addition to already prolonged contact with passengers, reports are that United’s sales software is glitchy creating frustration for both crew and passengers alike.”

“We’ve said this before, but introducing alcohol to this mix creates even more problems,” the memo continues. “In addition to having the mask off longer to consume alcoholic beverages, it’s a fact that alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs judgement and creates a toxic environment for Flight Attendants already struggling with mask compliance.”

Mandeep Grewal, United’s Vice President of Customer Strategy and Innovation told flight attendants at the time that their concerns were “definitely warranted” but that “by providing additional food and beverage choices, we can better control how long customers are without their face covers and have better control of what comes on board, allowing for safer handling of trash.”

Grewal said contactless payment would only be accepted with passengers having to first register their credit card in the United app – a solution that is now proving to be “glitchy” and forcing flight attendants to spend more time in the cabin than intended.

“While we are on the road towards recovery with vaccinations and federal mask mandates, we are not yet at a place where the sale of food and particularly alcohol, amidst a continuing pandemic is the right decision,” the flight attendant union said of the experiment.

“United wants to ‘meet the needs of our passengers,’ they should also more importantly ‘meet the safety needs of their Flight Attendants’,” the memo continues.

On Tuesday, it was revealed that Delta Air Lines plans to bring back buy-on-board snack options on domestic flights starting April 14. The Atlanta-based airline intends to serve a variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, as well as sweet and savoury snacks and coffee and tea.

Last month, Delta said it would introduce contactless card payment devices onboard its flights and that flight attendants would be able to email receipts to passengers.


Photo Credit: First Class Photography / Shutterstock.com

View Comments (49)
  • So basically UA FAs are complaining about having to do actual work instead of sitting in the galley reading People. If they would actually provide service like DL, maybe the flying public would hate them less but they’ll never get that, they’d rather complain under the guise of safety.

    • DL isn’t even providing what United is right now as per the article.

      Crew can’t even socially distance themselves right now even if they wanted to. Maybe if passengers stopped acting like kids and following the rules for the safety of everyone on board, this wouldn’t be an issue.

      Trust me, it’s not fun sitting in the back hours on end with nothing to do and or fighting with passengers to wear their mask.

        • How can it not? You’re inches from dozens to hundreds of people each day when you’re serving them at their seats and at meal time they often don’t have any masks on.

          • Seems to me they served a drink on a tray like deal so there was no hand to glove contact.
            Its a cushy job and too bad it’s boring. Lots of jobs are…

        • It prolongs the flight attendants’ exposure to up to several hundred of passengers a day. There is no plexi glass between them and the passengers, no windows to roll down, so yes it puts them at higher risk to being exposed to a passenger who may be infected with COVID19. United is already offering MUCH more ‘service’ than other US airlines currently do and as more food is offered, masks are off longer. Alcohol consumption and associated bad behavior has long been an issue in flight. With more alcohol service starting to be offered, there is more potential for passengers to ‘forget’ to wear a mask and for belligerent passengers to refuse to wear their mask. In the meantime, you can’t even get a cup of coffee or tea on Delta.

      • I’ve never had such rude flight crews in my 54 years of being a paying passenger on any airline flights I travel with work for meetings twice monthly now… They for the most part treat you as if your going to have the audacity to ask for a water… There are quite a number of those that still take their jobs like the professional they are trained to be, I always write a letter to their airline flights manager for their services… Your job is what you make of it, get up and walk the aisle if your board of sitting in the back of the aircraft, nothing gets done unless you do it…

    • Exactly. A few select groups are now trying to use the safety excuse to further delay doing their jobs. Mind-blowing. Which other industry was given money to pay their employees for the past year? None. Be thankful you all still have a job.

    • This ^. All of this……
      They provide no value in flight that can’t be automated without them doing this. If they are still this scared, they need to stay home.

    • Bob, you have no clue what you are talking about. I have been a flight attendant for 25 years and working during this pandemic is a nightmare come true. And, I don’t work for United. Unless you have walked a mile in our shoes shut your mouth!!!

  • We’ve been told “the customer is always right” for so long we actually believe it. Our entitlement culture is biting us in the butt. I go most days without a drop of alcohol and usually 2-3 dinner plate sized meals. Traveling all day is hard but food is still being offered at airports and while a bag of peanuts or pretzels won’t hold me over for six hours, anything under that is manageable with food on the ground. United customers should consider the reason they travel and adapt their flight expectations accordingly. A bottle of water is always appreciated since dehydration is real.

  • Never waste a good pandemic. Flight attendants duties will never return to the marginal at best pre pandemic expectations. My past 2 first class flights not only had no pre flight drink service they had no service at all. As we boarded the plane there was no greeting as the flight attendants were nose down in their cell phones just counting down the minutes until the pre flight speech. That probably wouldn’t have even happened if it wasn’t a DOT law. I’m pretty sure there are good flight attendants although I have yet to come across one.

  • And this is why United gets exactly ZERO of my premium cabin (or coach for that matter) spending. Delta first, AA second, everyone but United third.

      • I just flew from MCO to SEA, twice in as many months. Delta has a choice between three snack boxes that comprise sort of a small lunch. I flew first and non-stop. I’m diabetic so I was concerned and brought a couple of Burger King breakfast sandwiches with me on the plane the first flight across the country. But I found that eating something just before boarding the plane, the snack box worked well for me eating mid-way through the flight. Now, we can talk about coffee and the lack of it.

  • United Flight attendants whether pre or post pandemic are the worst. They barely did any “work” before the pandemic. This is like a dream job for them right now. All they have to do is toss tiny packets of wipes at customers. I don’t even trust that any one of those nasty, bad attitude, overweight, fossils could save passengers in an emergency situation. 🙄

    • Alittle harsh but there’s a definite age issue with United FA. The majority should be eligible for vaccines.
      Southwest has done a great job of hiring friendly people for the cabin. Too bad they don’t fly to London

  • I’m a retired global business traveler. Why would anyone buy food on an airplane. Eat healthy and bring your own.

  • I was a flight attendant for 44 years. I flew for Pan American and Delta. I loved my job in every aspect of it…but those phones are the problem, and I hate to say it, but the quality of people that the airlines are hiring..was an issue with me. Now I don’t say they are all bad, and especially with Delta. It is a fabulous company to work for. However.. the younger generation is hard to deal with. I would give a briefing before we got on the aircraft and expect them to go by the guideline and they would do what they wanted to do . I have been retired 9 years and have watched on many different airlines. There needs to be a federal regulation banning the use of phones on the aircraft while in the air with passengers or even on the ground.. Then. Perhaps they will do the job they were hired for.

  • Stop complaining and do the job your paid to do. Covid has spoiled everyone in the services industry but they want to get paid the same.

  • So let me get this straight, They created the mask policy in the first place by buckling under public pressure. As it’s not a federal business, there is no federal mandate, making it a private business decision, right? Welcome to the club a UA FAs! Masks are a theatrical nuisance at this point and suck, don’t they? And If we’re supposed to believe science is the end all be all l, then why does the science of the air filters not matter? Oh yeah, agendas….

    Ok maskers, I teed it up for you, now give me your best shot…

    • There is an Executive Order from the President requiring the wear of masks by everyone on public conveyances, specifically naming airlines. Further, OSHA standards for a safe workplace were not being met without the mask requirement.

      Your pure ignorance gets in the way of you pretending that you’re intelligent.

      • did you read the executive order because I’m going to guess you didn’t. It is for federal lands and open space. There is an encouragement for everybody else but not a requirement. In addition OSHA does not require mask for safe workspace. They generally recommend the employers encourage workers to wear cloth face coverings at work to help reduce the spread of covid-19. So before you spout off how intelligent you are and how ignorant everyone else is do some research

    • Actually, the science doesn’t support mask usage, and it never did. It was for theater from the beginning. The CDC even admitted that the data only shows a 1.3% reduction in cases (maybe none) for states with restrictive policies…… But let’s make sure the Karen’s fell better about their virtue signaling.

  • Cry me a freaking river! Excuse me, but it’s time to get off your butt and do the job your paid to do. I know there are FAs that do an excellent job, but unfortunately it’s the lazy, gum smacking, bitching in the galley about other coworkers, or passengers, that we all remember. Count your blessings that you have a job, that you weren’t one of the FAs that got furloughed. I’m sure most of them would switch with you in a heart beat.
    Now that the airlines are trying to return to some sort of normalcy so you can have a job, why don’t you at least get onboard with a positive attitude, be thankful you have a job, if you don’t feel safe then maybe you should be the one leaving.

  • United continues in it’s long march to disgust all customers unlucky enough to have to fly their airline. They are an embarrassment to capitalism and could not be trusted to run a two-car funeral in a one light town.

  • Have the American Carriers been to look at the foreign Airlines? Start with Qatar and work their way to Emirates to BA to Bangladesh Airlines. They ALL have full meal seeivce, EXCELLENT customer service, polite FAs, you name it. You know why? The attendants would be out in a tick if they came up with lame excuses so they do not have to work . And btw, Covid is FAR less in those Foreign countries than the US. So much for no service, mate. Get off your lazy ass and do what you are being paid for, American FAs.
    .

    • You’re an idiot. Precisely because Covid is much less prevalent in those countries, and because they had canceled most of their routes and flew empty planes for cargo, and because they’re all long-haul, and because they’re boutique airlines run by oil nations is why they did it their way and the US is doing it differently.

      • Not true… almost all Asia based airlines never stopped serving food and beverages during the pandemic – regardless of whether they were budget or boutique. Most long suffering covid patients are 65+, flight attendants don’t fall in that category. They need to base their actions on facts, not irrational fears. I’ve traveled more in the past year than the last ten. Mostly long international flights. Tested 6 times, always negative. It is not as easy to get covid as many think…

  • My daughter was laid off from her 5 year dream job as a cabin crew member with Cathay Pacific, she will gladly take over for any UA FA that doesn’t want to continue serving paying customers…..please send me your name and employee number and I’ll arrange for your immediate termination for cause.

  • Most of the people commenting on this article sound like entitled alcoholics. You can wear a mask and go without alcohol for a few hours to protect your own health and the health of others. Stop being so weak.

    • Weak? Many of us are fully vaccinated and the cabin environment has been proven quite safe.
      So exactly whose health is being jeopardized?
      If I pay to fly in a premium cabin, I want premium service which includes things other than alcohol.

      • The US is just at the 13% mark of immunization and most who were immunized unfortunately are the elderly and generally sick, and are not travelers.

    • Right? Entitled alcoholics/fat people who can’t go without alcohol or a meal. It’s pathetic they go out of there way to co plain about this. Literally just imagining “problems” because we have it so good these days.

      And you’re an idiot for flying first class if you were doing it for food and booze. It obviously was going to be limited. These fat drunks need to stop complaining.

  • The United unions are some of the worst, but United keeps shooting itself in the foot, too. Forget trying to enforce, pulling up your mask between each sip or bite – that’s way over the top anyway . There is absolutely minimal risk serving food and beverages on airplanes for the passengers, and the stewardi are going to wearing masks. 99.8% of the US population has not died from Covid. This is all a non-scientific hype job by the unions to try to gain more power.

  • So serving snacks is an issue but utilizing the middle seats is not? We’re forced in like sardines now all because United wants to capitalize on sales. If one person has it, chances are we will all get it. Especially your business and first class. How does it make sense (if you’re really worried about covid) to allow business and first to board first and then have everyone board the plane and pass by them? Be 6ft apart in the airport but only inches away on the plane? Common sense is lacking badly in this country. I shouldn’t be paying $2400 for economy airfare and not even getting a meal for a 9 hour flight. It’s all ridiculous.

  • What are they gonna do when the majority of the population is vaccinated and they have to actually perform the tasks they get paid for?

  • Snacks on board long haul flights should okay but I am all for cutting alcoholic beverages from the service list.
    Too many get on a flight and just start downing alcohol as hard as they can or after two drinks they start acting like they are the only ones on the plane who matter.
    Disrespectful, belligerent, aggressive, and sometimes violent towards staff and other passengers.
    That’s what I’ve seen from people who drink alcohol even on short flights.
    And some of these people were drinking before they boarded the flight.
    If one can’t handle themselves under the influence of alcohol then perhaps they need to be the ones to stay home and think about looking into AA meetings if they feel they have to have alcohol everywhere they go.

    As far as snacks, as someone else suggested, if you are diabetic or even if you have food allergies of any kind, it’s always a good idea to bring foods you know are safe.
    If you’re waiting in the airport, grab some snacks before you board the plane, especially if you don’t really feel the need to pay extra for in-flight service.
    I’d rather just grab the snacks before I board so I’m not getting squeezed like a lemon for the price of a little bag of nuts or a soda.
    It wouldn’t kill us to be more self sufficient in that sense.
    But I also agree with the sentiment that airlines have been nickle and diming us to death for everything outside of just the jacked up fare prices, which honestly should be more than enough to cover the cost of operation considering how many people fly for both business and pleasure.

  • Screw the masks already. People are such pansies. Most of the world is back to normal, even many states withing the USA have dropped mask requirements. Anyone still afraid of the covid monster is an idiot.

  • I have been flying thru the last year I think the whole experience of flying became terrible, everyone became an enforcer there is no politeness, announcement every minute about masks. I believe if you really are nervous then don’t fly , germs spread more from touching then breathing. Everyone should do what they want to , and stop this nonsense of saying “ your doing it for me “. No one ever cared about other people and they still don’t !!!

  • Flight Attendants are trained to SAVE YOUR LIFE. They are NOT maids, butlers, or waiters/waitresses. They don’t even get paid until the Plane leaves the terminal., but yes they are paid to smile at you. Lighten up please- it’s a potentially hazardous job to start with and covid hasn’t been exactly easy to deal with for sure.

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