Ice cream sundaes are coming back, but United’s catering still disappoints

There’s a cherry on top of United’s pandemic-era catering woes.

Beginning in February, the Chicago-based carrier is bringing back its fan-favorite ice cream sundae cart to all long-haul international flights in the Polaris business-class cabin.

This news was first teased on the airline’s social media channels, and United didn’t respond to TPG’s request for comment.

United brought back its ice cream sundae cart on a handful of long-haul flights from its San Francisco hub on Dec. 1, 2022, as part of a phased approach to restoring aspects of its onboard catering that it cut during the pandemic. (This included routes to Brisbane, Frankfurt, Singapore and Sydney.)

Ice cream sundaes have long been a staple in premium cabins, giving flyers a sweet treat to end what’s usually a multi-course meal service.

United sundae cart from March 2020. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

The ice cream is usually stored on dry ice in the galley, and then defrosted during the flight by flight attendants. The sundae carts are then set up for service with a topping bar, usually consisting of mixed nuts, chocolate and caramel sauces, whipped cream and some candies and fruits to complement your creation.

At the outset of the pandemic, the ice cream sundae service was halted as part of a larger revamp to onboard dining protocols. United (and its major competitors) have since brought back many elements of the pre-pandemic service, though the ice cream sundae cart has been noticeably absent on United.

Before the cart returned to United, the airline offered business-class travelers a scoop of ice cream topped with chocolate brownie bites on most long-haul flights departing from the US Now, however, with the return of the sundae cart, you’ll be able to pick your desired toppings.

Meanwhile, American’s sundae service returned last year, but the airline is creating these Haagen Dazs ice cream treats in the galley after a flight attendant takes your order.

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American’s ice cream sundae in October 2022. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Delta, on the other hand, brought back three-course meals to business class last March. This included the return of a create-your-own ice cream sundae bar, with the final creation pictured below.

Delta’s ice cream sundae from May 2022. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

While sundaes are making a comeback, United still has a long way to go to restore its pre-pandemic catering standards in its premium cabins.

In recent months, the carrier’s food offerings have drawn criticism from frequent flyers and industry analysts. Comments on United’s announcement about the return of the ice cream sundae cart included flyers asking the airline to “fix the rest of your Polaris service.”

Others took a stronger tone, saying that “about the rest of the catering, which is probably worse than prison food…. Your [top-tier Premier] 1K and GS [invite-only Global Services] members are losing patience.”

Personally, I’ve taken a handful of Polaris flights recently and have been especially unimpressed with United’s catering offerings. I recently posted about the airline’s catering woes on Twitterand travelers generally agreed with my sentiments about the need for United to improve its catering.

United’s pandemic-era catering problems seem to be limited in scope to the airline itself.

Both American and Delta have stepped up their premium-cabin offerings, and I recently had delicious meals on routes from the US to Israel on United’s two main competitors.

Even TPG’s founder, Brian Kelly, had a recent encounter with United’s subpar catering, exclaiming on Instagram that “today is the day United officially gave up on catering!”

Kelly shared photos of what was described as chicken tikka masala, and his post drew a strong reaction, with over 1,000 followers commenting on the unappetizing meal.

The problems have gotten so bad that even United’s top executives have publicly acknowledged that the airline needs to improve its catering.

“What I would say is that we definitely got slowed down first by the pandemic itself and now by the supply chain challenges that have been there,” chief customer officer Linda Jojo said in response to a question about United’s catering at the Skift Aviation Forum in Dallas back in November.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that United contracts with 130 different catering kitchens across the world, Jojo added.

Hopefully, United can actually address its catering woes once and for all before the excitement around the return of the sundae cart melts.

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