United Airlines Looks To Outsource Its Catering Operation

Starting in October, United Airlines will be transitioning its catering services to three external suppliers. NewRest, Gate Gourmet, and Sky Café will be taking over the preparation of the airline’s in-flight meals and menus. The decision affects over 2,000 United employees – most of whom will be offered jobs with the new partners.

United Boeing 767
United Airlines will outsource its catering from October, the airline confirmed on Thursday. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

While COVID has brought tremendous challenges, the lull in regular traffic has also allowed airlines to take a step back and reassess parts of their operations. United Airlines confirmed on Thursday that, following a six-month review, it was moving ahead with plans to outsource its catering.

Jobs will mostly be preserved

The decision will affect more than 2,000 of United’s employees, who were informed of the decision in an internal memo seen by Reuters. Three suppliers have already been selected to work the carrier’s five kitchen facilities and be responsible for menu design. Employees ‘in good standing’ will be offered positions with the suppliers. However, only 70% will still have union representation.

“We wanted to proceed in a way that allowed us to protect the vast majority of jobs for our United catering team members, and invest in solutions that significantly improve our customers’ onboard experience,” the media outlet quoted Mandeep Grewal, United’s Vice President of Customer Innovation and Strategy and Catering.

United catering Polaris
United is the last US carrier to run its own kitchens. Photo: United Airlines

According to the Houston Chronicle, United said that precisely 2,036 kitchen workers would be offered jobs with the new contractors. However, managers and management administrative employees would need to interview for new positions.

The suppliers chosen are French company NewRest for operations out of Houston, Swiss GateGourmet for Denver, Honolulu, and Newark, and Canadian Sky Café for Cleveland. The locations of NewRest and Sky Café do not have union representation. D. Taylor, President of Unite Here!, disappointedly told the Chronicle that,

“United Airlines catering workers in Houston fought hard to win a union. Now, United’s decision to subcontract these jobs risks the workers’ continued union representation.”

Two giants, one up-and-coming

But just who are the suppliers? NewRest is present in 57 countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. Its airline catering activities in the US and several other countries were dormant due to the pandemic up until late June this year. Meanwhile, the caterer has already worked with United supplying meals out of San Jose and Liberia International Airport in Costa Rica.

Gategourmet at airport
Leading aviation caterer Gate Gourmet is one of the contract winners. Photo: Getty Images

Established in 1997, Gate Gourmet is present at over 200 airports, providing both in-flight meals and catering to airport lounges. Most recently, the group expanded to Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, Nepal, which in 2019 handled over seven million passengers.

Canadian Sky Café, founded in 2014, has thus far operated on a somewhat smaller scale. However, beginning February 9th, 2021, the company began providing catering services at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, marking its first operation in the United States.

Simple Flying has reached out to United for a comment on the decision but was yet to receive a response at the time of publication. Given the airline’s public commitments to sustainability, it would be interesting to know how that perspective is reflected in the choice of caterers.


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