United Airlines Could Be About To Outsource Its Catering

According to reports, United Airlines is exploring options for outsourcing its inflight catering to a third party. The airline sent a request for proposals today for both kitchen operations and its menu selections. We’ve looked at outsourcing in more detail.

United Airlines plane landing catering
United has asked vendors for proposals to outsource its catering. Photo: Getty Images

Will United outsource?

Like many airlines, the last year has been difficult for United. It might seem counterintuitive to think that outsourcing saves money; after all, why pay someone else to do something you’re already doing? But in the long run, outsourcing catering can have huge financial benefits. And United needs to save money where it can.

In a statement sent to Simple Flying, United said,

Given the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 on our business, United continues to explore ways to do things differently and become more efficient wherever we can — this RFP is part of that effort. We regularly explore third-party partnerships that have the potential to make us more efficient and improve the experience for our customers. At this time, we have not made any decisions to move forward with a third-party,”

United Airlines onboard inflight catering
United is one of the only airlines that still has its own kitchen. Photo: Getty Images

According to the airline’s statement, the proposals from vendors will allow the airline to see if a partnership could save money in the long run and provide a better service for customers. Although no decision has been made yet, United remains the only US carrier with its own kitchen, so chances are, outsourcing is likely.

United employs 2,000 staff in its kitchen, but the airline has confirmed to Simple Flying that if it does outsource, staff won’t have anything to worry about until autumn at the earliest. It also confirmed that existing staff will be prioritized if possible.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Why outsource catering?

Inflight catering is a massive industry, and United will have several vendors to choose from should it decide to outsource its inflight meals. The reason outsourcing is so popular lies in the number of meals produced. Catering companies prepare meals for thousands of flights a day, meaning they source and order a huge amount of ingredients.

Bulk orders usually mean a lower price. Besides saving money on buying ingredients, catering companies have refined the process and supply chain to ensure the best margins without scrimping on quality. Outsourcing can also provide a better-quality meal and more options, meaning passengers have a better experience. Airplane food has come a long way in recent years, thanks to catering companies.

United Airlines onboard catering
Airlines have slashed inflight catering to minimize COVID-19 transmission, so catering companies are struggling. Photo: United Airlines

Why now?

United has operated its own kitchens for a decade despite the growing trend of outsourcing. The kitchens were actually a part of Continental Airlines, which merged with United in 2010. But the global downturn has forced airlines worldwide to make cuts and think about new ways to save money.

Besides saving United money and perhaps offering customers more choices, United’s decision to outsource has come at a good time for many catering companies. As airlines look to restart flights, many of them are doing so without onboard catering to reduce the risk of transmission. This means catering companies have been hit even harder than airlines. Undoubtedly, United will have plenty of options to choose from if it does decide to outsource. What catering companies need right now is a new client like United.

Do you think United will outsource, or will it continue to use its own kitchens? Leave us a comment sharing your thoughts.