When Airlines Run Out of Your Meal Choice in the Premium Cabin

Our site may contain affiliate links from our partners, such as American Express. Read Advertiser Disclosure policy here. Some offers may have expired or are unavailable at this time such as Delta Reserve, Platinum Delta Skymiles and Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express. Terms Apply to Offers.

On a recent flight from San Francisco to New York on Delta in Business Class, the dinner menu had three meal choices for customers to choose from, however that is if you were seated in the first row, as they kept running out of meal choices as they got further back into the cabin. I was on a 757-200ER with 16 seats in business class.

Dinner Choices Included:

  • Beef Tenderloin (dijon roasted garlic crusted beef, sweet potato, fontina gratin, sautéed spinach, pine nuts)
  • Cedar-Planked Salmon (honey balsamic glaze, shiitake mushroom and arugula salad)
  • Penne Pasta (basil pesto, sautéed broccoli rabe*, marinated grape tomatoes, offered with parmesan)


On this flight, meal orders were taken from front to back, and it appeared that everyone in the first row got their first choice. As they got to the 2nd row in business class, they had already run out of the Salmon entrée. As I was seated in the third row my choices were the beef tenderloin or the pasta, which I chose the beef. However, moving back to the 4th row, all that was left was the pasta entrée, which I could tell those passengers didn’t want and some skipped dinner all together.

My question is, is it common for airlines to cater the exact number of entrees of business class passengers, and not have any extra? I know the crew also had a meal on this flight, which appeared to be the same meal being served upfront. Could it be that they wanted the salmon and took theirs before asking the passengers?

I was able to redeem a regional upgrade for my business class seat, but on these transcontinental routes, Business Class can be over $4,000. If you’re paying that much for a ticket, you’d expect to have your meal choice available.

Have you been denied your first or even second choice meal choice before on a flight? If so, how do you feel about this. 

American Express® Gold Card
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. For details on current offers visit the card issuer’s site.

About Points, Miles & Martinis

Here at Points, Miles and Martinis, we love all things travel. We focus on topics relating to travel including destinations, airline, hotel, car rental and credit card reward programs. Our goal is to help people travel better. - See more at our About Us page.

Sign up for Email || Twitter || Facebook |Tips & Tricks
Hotel Offers || Airline Offers || Bank Offers || Cash Back Offers


  1. August 2015, I flew in First on AA’s transcontinental product from JFK-SFO. I had a similar experience. I was in 1A and by the time they got up (back to front) to taking my order, 2/3 entrees were gone. Like you said… it’s one thing being on an award ticket as opposed to paying thousands of dollars. But still, I paid significantly more for that award ticket than an economy seat. Meals are a part of that product in which you pay more for. There should be at minimum the expectation/assurance that 2/3 would be available if you were the last person to order. Since then, I have always gotten at least one of my first two choices.

  2. They ran out of meals completely on a recent international flight and my wife was given 10k skypesos by the gate agent as compensation. She wasn’t hungry so we were happy with the arrangement. I am not a complainer but I do hold the airline responsible to uphold their end of the bargain. I’ve found a complaint online with the airline always results in some compensation.

  3. On American, you can request your meal online up to 24 hours ahead of time. So people paying for their seats or redeeming miles ahead of time have this option. It is only last minute upgrades that are unable to do this(which often happens these days). But when I have gotten an upgrade a couple days in advance, I always pre-order my meal.

  4. On a 752 I wouldn’t think they’d have sufficient warmer space to have enough extra meals to ensure everyone gets first pick, but trying to guess what proportion of 20 or so meals that 16 random people will want is at best an arcane art. Even those paying $4K aren’t promised a particular meal (unless they special order).

    I would be VERY surprised if the cabin crew “reserved” a particular meal – that would be easily found out if there were even a few complaints.

    That said, on longer flights I often pick my seat based on FEBO (orders taken Front-to-back for Even flight numbers, Back-to-front for Odd flight numbers).

  5. United asks you for your first and second meal choice normally. As a 1K I’ve not gotten my first choice sometimes.

  6. If only there were an airline that offered a way to pre-order your meal in premium cabins. Oh wait there is. It’s sad when i see people flying AA and complaining about not getting their meal choice…amateurs. AA has had meal pre-booking for years. You have only yourself to blame, so called frequent flier.

  7. Was the only revenue passenger in EK First (all other seats showed as available) then joined by 15 gate upgrades at boarding. I was absolutely flabbergasted when told that they had run the two meal choices I wanted. Really surprised that revenue passenger isn’t the first to be asked for meal choice….

  8. Regarding crew meals – it is my understanding that pilots cannot have the same meal (in event of food poisoning), so they do have to hold at least one entree type back to ensure that they have two variants left for the pilots.

  9. On October 5 I was on a Delta flight in Business class from Atlanta to LAX. Same thing happened to me. I had to eat the beef. I was in Row 5 and I paid for the seat.

  10. Delta’s one area of IT / catering failure – not sure why they dont allow you to select in advance, or do any analytics. On my usual RSW-LGA flight, breakfast is 50% hot 50% cold, yet overwhelmingly people want to the hot food.

  11. I haven’t determined yet, but I get the sense on United that there is a pecking order to how you are served. I’ve noticed on flights when I purchase my first class ticket, I am asked earlier than others, but not first regardless of seat. There have been other times where I haven’t been asked last despite being on a free upgrade.

    My guess is that perhaps Global Services and maybe 1K are first on the list, followed by revenue passengers and then order of upgrade from waitlist. I had a debate about this recently with someone at a hotel and she feels as a Diamond on Delta, she should get first everything because of the yearly spend on the airline. I feel that per seat revenue should play a role as well.

  12. Interesting post. As a UA1K and AAExecPlat – I occasionally get asked ahead of others but usually I’m left w/ whatever remains unclaimed. Sometimes UAL changes it up & takes orders from back to front. Bottom line, pasta works when you’re hungry and so do any other inflight meals.

  13. I’ll have to say, knock on wood, I have always gotten my first choice on meals. Back when when I was flying non-rev it was imperative you indicated to the FA that you’d take your choice “if there was enough”. The reply would be “your choice” if they had a sufficient quantity. They used to board 1.25% the amount of entrees IIRC. Nowadays of course things are different but I’ve still lucked out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *