The Volokh Conspiracy

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A Return To Normalcy at 36,000 Feet

United brings back pre-departure drinks, glassware, and ceramic plates.


After nearly twenty months, United Airlines has finally brought back the traditional service in business class. Pre-departure drinks are available (champagne, juice, and water). In-flight drinks are served in real glassware. And meals are served on actual ceramic plates. I am thrilled. The Points Guy writes about the change here.

These amenities were initially eliminated as COVID safety precautions. Remember fomites, touch points, and deep cleans? We long ago learned that glasses and plates were not vectors for transferring the coronavirus. Yet, the airlines kept these items out of service as cost-saving measures. Indeed, to this day, hotels keep concierge lounges closed under the pretext of social distancing–even as restaurants remain open for business. Now, thankfully, United has brought back these perks. The flight attendants aboard my DCA-IAH flight were thrilled to have the regular service items restored.

Though, not all flight attendants are pleased. Recently, the United flight attendant union opposed the pre-departure drink on somewhat unexpected grounds. Why? People in coach who board the plane will see people in business class drinking beverages, without masks. And that visual will make it tougher to enforce the mask mandate.

Customers, who are required by law to wear a face mask, are boarding aircraft and being immediately confronted by rows of maskless premium passengers sipping their welcome beverages.

"This "visual" created stands in stark contradiction to the messages to which passengers have been exposed prior to boarding about the need to keep your nose and mouth covered with a mask due to federal regulations," the union wrote in a message to its members on Friday.

"We have expressed concern that this will only present additional challenges for Flight Attendants seeking to gain compliance with the Federal Mask Mandate," the memo continued.

This objection is not unreasonable. Again, I've found that enforcement of the mask mandate varies wildly. Some flight attendants make an announcement at the start of the flight, and never again mention it. Other flight attendants go up and down the rows, and insist people put their masks on between bites and sips, including toddlers. It is a power trip for them.

On my flight, the drinks were served after all of the passengers had finally boarded, but before we taxied from the gate. Perhaps this approach was something of a compromise.

On Sunday, I am flying the 787 Dreamliner on United. I was able to order my meal in advance–chimichurri chicken. I am looking forward to it. This trip is a same-day domestic mileage (point) run I need to achieve the next level of status. This year, airlines made keeping status really, really easy.