Beating the breakfast boondoggle in United’s Polaris


Did I mention I hate the breakfast options on arrival. I negotiated with the crew to save a grilled cheese to be my arrival meal instead.
Did I mention I hate the breakfast options on arrival. I negotiated with the crew to save a grilled cheese to be my arrival meal instead.

Breakfast on a plane mostly sucks. Even in business class. There are a handful of exceptions but, for the most part, rubbery eggs or soggy pancakes/french toast/waffles and a small side of fruit salad mostly sucks as a meal. The craptacularness of that meal is compounded on flights between the US and Asia thanks to time zones and airline catering decisions.

Polaris menu for SFO-CTU; I HATE that it is always breakfast on arrival between the US and Asia
Polaris menu for SFO-CTU; I HATE that it is always breakfast on arrival between the US and Asia

With a 9-12 hour flight duration and similar time zone offset it is common to land on the other side of the world between mid-day and early evening, around the same time on the clock as departure. Somehow airlines seem to believe that’s a good time to serve breakfast.

Mid-flight snack: I'm a big fan of the grilled cheese and tomato option
Mid-flight snack: I’m a big fan of the grilled cheese and tomato option

For a body still processing in the origin time zone the decision makes some sense. It is probably closer to breakfast time than dinner at the point of departure. But for those who slept on the plane and are trying to adjust as quickly as possible to the destination time zone an omelet at 3:30pm just before landing generally doesn’t work so well.



There are a few airlines that at least make options available. Typically that’s in the form of a noodle dish of some sort that works pretty well as a lunch/dinner entrée. United Airlines does not offer that choice, however. Fortunately, thanks to the (relatively) new Polaris meal service, there’s a way to beat the system. Assuming you can get a flight attendant to cooperate.

Shrimp & rice mid-flight snack
Shrimp & rice mid-flight snack

On the longer flights United offers hot snacks mid-flight. My recent trips included sautéed shrimp over rice or grilled cheese and tomato soup as the choices. Either of these is, for me, a far better option for the pre-arrival meal than eggs or congee. Alas, they’re not typically offered as such. But that doesn’t make it impossible to get one.



This typically involves a friendly negotiation with the crew at some point after the main meal service is completed. I’ve had pretty good success in asking for one of the “snacks” to be put aside for the end of the flight and served instead of eggs. It is absolutely extra work for the crew – the snacks are heated separately from the rest of the breakfast meals and getting it on to the tray is also extra work for the crew.

Did I mention I hate the breakfast options on arrival. I negotiated with the crew to save a grilled cheese to be my arrival meal instead.
Did I mention I hate the breakfast options on arrival. I negotiated with the crew to save a grilled cheese to be my arrival meal instead.

But asking nicely and generally being a friendly person throughout the flight has worked out well for me so far.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

30 Comments

  1. I’m kind of with Seth, especially going to Asia. With a mid/late afternoon arrival, I’d rather not have breakfast. Coming back to the US, with a morning arrival, breakfast is a little better. I did enjoy the Asian option to/from ICN for the arrival meal recently – noodles going and a tasty teriyaki chicken coming back.

    1. My recent return flights from Asia landed at 2p and 5p local time respectively. That’s not breakfast time. It really makes adjusting to the local time harder for me.

    2. Yeah…Delta and a few others typically have an option that is non-breakfast. I like that. But when stuck without that option I’ve learned to make do.

  2. AA offers both, egg dish or noodles/rice/dim sum dish, as the pre-arrival meal both to/from Asia.

    I suppose UA prefers to serve the congee as the second choice – that main dish probably cost UA less than $1-2.

    1. I know it is typically cheaper to serve breakfast than a lunch/dinner main course. Still doesn’t help me adjust to the new time zone. :/

      1. Wholeheartedly agree. My recent trip to PEK the arrival meal was some egg or Szechuan shrimp with noodles/rice. Naturally, I went with the latter. IMHO, AA has the best overall product to Asia among the US3.

        Congee is so cheap and easy to offer… Also I believe they don’t provision much of the congee (I recall a GS in the UA forum said they only cater 2) so why don’t UA one up the competition to Asia/Oceania and offer a third option that is akin to their snack offering.

        Cheap, and clever, way to differentiate from the competition that customers certainly will notice.

  3. I think that’s a carry over from CO. The second got meal was always a breakfast, which is typically cheaper to cater.

    I don’t remember pmUA serving breakfast for meal number 2 on Westbound TPACs. AA and DL offer a non breakfast option and I can’t seem to remember having a reluctant breakfast as meal 2 on pmNW MSP-NRT or DTW-NRT.

    Even SQ1 has something non-breakfasty as an option for meal 2, and the overnight OZ ORD-ICN seemed to be non-breakfast from what I recall.

    1. Maybe I’m just willing to eat too much. I’d take a “late lunch” and late supper over breakfast and supper.

      I really just wish there was an option for an arrival airport time zone appropriate meal. I don’t think eggs or congee at 5p Chengdu time is that.

      (And, yes, I ate again after I got to the hotel.)

  4. i’m at the point where i eat right before the flight, even if it’s fast food, and then when i land. right now in polaris the only thing i’ll really eat is the mid-flight snack as you mentioned.

    1. For eastbound from NYC/IAD/ORD to Europe or South America I 100% agree. Fall asleep immediately and don’t worry about the meals. Asia is more challenging given flight schedules. And I mostly enjoy the first meal mains, though the CTU flight wasn’t great.

    2. yeah, asia is hard. i actually pack sandwiches for some of the longer flights. i’m about fly today AKL-SFO, and we’ll have a few sandwiches each with us. i used to be able to eat a few things, the ravioli was great actually, but quality seems to have gone downhill as the “fancy factor” tries to go up.

    3. I almost always have snacks in my bag anyways, just because it is travel and you never know what you’ll run in to.

      And I definitely agree that the more simply stuff usually tastes better. It packs/travels more easily than the fancy bits.

  5. On some airlines (off the top of my head Etihad, Alitalia, but I am sure others too), meals are served all day long, meaning you could swap them around, or have as much of the in-flight snack menu as you want served instead or along with parts of the breakfast.

  6. On some airlines (off the top of my head Etihad, Alitalia, but I am sure others too), meals are served all day long, meaning you could swap them around, or have as much of the in-flight snack menu as you want served instead or along with parts of the breakfast.

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