What Happens When An Airline Runs Out of a First Class Meal Choice?

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Here’s a question I thought I post for discussion today. What Happens When An Airline Runs Out of a First Class Meal Choice? 

On a recent Delta flight from New York (JFK) to Las Vegas, I managed to snag an upgrade at the gate, thanks to my Platinum Medallion status. As I seated in the First Class cabin, I overheard the flight attendant ask the passenger in 4D if he’d be having lunch. She apologized that as he was in the last row, they’ve run out of cold entrée which was a Chicken quinoa salad, and all they had left was the hot entrée choice, which was a Hamburger. She explained this flight was catered 50/50 between the two entrees, however the salad was more popular today.

On Delta, they take meal orders using their FEBO policy (on even number flights, they start from the front, and on odd number flights, they start from back). As this was an even flight number, that meant 4D would be the last to be asked what he’d like for lunch

This was unacceptable to the passenger, as I heard him say that this isn’t his problem, it’s hers. However, I disagree with this, meal selection is never a guarantee. It turns out this passenger was also a Diamond Medallion member, meaning he flies 125,000 miles a year, so I’m shocked he doesn’t know about their manifesting policies.

4D then asks if he can have a wrap from what they’re serving in coach. The flight attendant reluctantly agreed to get him one, then she brings it to him and says that will be $10.49. After several attempts to charge him, her machine doesn’t work, so she goes to the back to use one of theirs, as she mentions she doesn’t use it often.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this interaction, with this flight being catered at 50/50 ratio. Perhaps, if the chicken salad is more popular, then their catering levels could be changed. Do you think First Class passengers should be able to order from the coach meal choices, and if so should they be charged or offered complimentary if their meal choice isn’t available. 

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  1. Shady airline service. The coach meal on the for pay menu should be comped. I”ve had similar on Delta. in First, they’ll comp you the coach tapas $10 snack box.

  2. They should have comped the coach meal choice if the remaining meal wasn’t suitable. Curious if the 50/50 is typical on US carriers or if this is a new thing.

  3. If they comped the coach meals all the time, then the number of first class passengers who don’t like their meal option will then go to asking for a coach meal. This would drive up wasted food in first, and not enough meals available in coach.
    The free meal is what’s promised; not at an a la carte option from any food on the plane.
    Doesn’t it feel right to pay for a coach meal…not really, but the reality is that it would drive all the wrong behaviors if they comp’ed it.

    It’s like going to the club lounge at the hotel; what they offer is what they offer; you can’t ask them to go to the restaurant downstairs and provide the omelette that they charge everyone for, just because you don’t like what is served in the lounge.

  4. Seriously?!?!? I’m in customer service and when reading through this I felt for the FA. I agree meal choices are not guaranteed (which is why I am a fan of airlines that let you pre-order your meal) and Airlines running out of one thing or another on the menu is not exactly a new concept. But Asking for an economy meal is absolutely a fair compromise. If I was the F PAX I would be completely understanding up until this point, But I would be SHOCKED if a FA tried to charge me for an economy wrap. There must be a way of writing this off, especially with his status level. Delta – This is a policy you should be looking into.

  5. I too am shocked that the FA wanted to charge him for the wrap, especially knowing (or being able to know) his status. That’s worse than cheap. I’ve flown before with my partner who is the pickiest of the picky; once on DL he didn’t like either meal choice so I asked the FA nicely for something from the back; she hesitated for a split second and then said, “sure”. I had my credit card ready when she came back but she waved it away and said “no problem”. In my case, I would have been perfectly happy to pay or be told to pay because both options were available but he just didn’t like either. In this case, there’s only one option so it would be totally understandable to bend the rules and comp him the wrap which costs her nothing and the airline maybe $0.75?

  6. The flight attendant shouldn’t have even offered a choice at that point. He or she should have just said “would you like to have lunch today”? And that’s that. Why even bring up the fact that there *had been* a choice earlier, but now you can’t have it. In a similar situation, maybe I would have asked what the meal would be, but I wouldn’t have made a big deal out of it. In case you haven’t noticed, US Airlines are in a race to the bottom. They should have a meal on every first class segment (I’m not getting a meal from DFW to PHX this month). This isn’t 1965, it’s 2017. If the person made a really big deal, the purser should have just given them a coach meal for free. I imagine they have to account for inventory, and giving away a free meal means filling out paperwork. Acting entitled doesn’t win you any friends.

  7. I assume that there are financial controls to prevent cabin crew shenanigans. I am sure that the cabin attendant wanted him to be comped but could not. Someone should have been empowered to do so.

  8. I’ve been on a packed DL international flight-the very last one to get a meal-and the person next to me got to have a choice but I didn’t. I think I might have gotten the last meal.

    I don’t think DL overstocks their meals, either in first or coach. Most airlines don’t have the space to pack every kind on entree for every first class passenger

    I don’t feel sorry for Mr. DYKWIA.

  9. I have two thoughts on this debacle that happens a lot in first class. This may not have helped a last minute upgrade but I find that not getting my choice in first class as unacceptable.
    First – As we approach 2018, airlines should have advance first class meal ordering. My airline, Alaska is currently beta testing advance first class meal ordering out of SEA. There is no reason that a competent airline IT department can’t get advance meal ordering working on their website.
    Second – I should have a choice of being stuck with the worst first class meal option and the best coach meal option at no charge.
    The airlines are great at getting what they want and sticking it to the customer, even the first class customer.

  10. I had the opposite happen once on a NW SEA-MSP flight. They ran out of oach meals (this was 20 years ago) and wanted to give me a first class meal, but the china wouldn’t fit on the coach tray, and by the time they figured something out it was time to prepare to land. They ended up giving me 2 twenty dollar vouchers.

  11. In this particular scenario, the UA’s system would’ve worked better: First and second choices are taken from front to back, GS and 1K are guaranteed their first choice. If none of the choices sound appealing, then an item from coach can be comped, which is what I did recently when they had a catering issue.

  12. Personally I feel that Delta needs to give more attention to their Diamond and paid first class customers. If you paid coach and were not going to get a meal, then get an upgrade, then if anything is offered that’s just a bonus. If you paid for a first class fare or are a diamond you should have priority when it comes to boarding AND also meal selections. If you paid the price you should get a selection of your meal. If you get a comp upgrade you should be happy with any option. They should have a first class and diamond boarding, then a first class upgrade boarding for those who got a comp upgrade that are silver gold or platinum.

  13. I also feel it’s unacceptable for the customer. For many people who have dietary and religious restrictions, they can’t eat the second option that’s left. It’s not that their picky. That happened to me on a United flight, where only a pork item was left. I can’t eat pork for religious reasons. The guy beside me heard and he could have been cordial and switched, but he didn’t, and he’s not expected to (could have just been a nice gesture). Anyways, the FA just said “sorry” and moved on, never to be heard from again. Whole flight on this 3 hour United flight in first-class I got one cup of water. They got more in coach.

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