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Last week I flew United economy for eight hours from Honolulu to Guam. I shared how I got my own row in economy for a long and comfortable nap.

I also got free food on the flight.

There are a few sure-fire ways to get free food on United flights:

  • Fly first class or business class; Economy Plus doesn’t count.
  • Fly an international route that offers free food in economy.

I didn’t do any of that. I was just given free food from the buy onboard snacks by accident. But the process might be repeatable, so I’ll share it.

  • What did I get for free?
  • Is it repeatable?

I expected United economy to have a free meal during the eight hour flight from Honolulu to Guam since many international flights have free food in economy. (Yes, I know Guam is not foreign.) Instead, we were offered the same buy onboard options that are offered on domestic flights.

United tried to batch the food service by making announcements that they’d be coming around with paid food options early in the flight and near the end.

I slept through the first time the cart rolled through.

When I woke up, I was hungry and decided to order one of the meals. I didn’t hit the call button; I just waited for a flight attendant to pass, and I ordered.

She brought me the chicken, risotto, and asparagus, and I pulled out my credit card to pay.

“It’s on me,” she said. I gave her a fist bump.

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The food itself was not as good as I usually get from the buy onboard options. The risotto seemed a lot like rice. The asparagus was limp. The chicken a little rubbery and bland.

Later in the flight, I was on the fence between ordering something else and waiting to eat in the Guam airport. I decided not to order again because I didn’t want the flight attendant to think I expected another free meal.

Is my free meal repeatable? Certainly not with consistent success, but I think there are a few things that increase the chances of free food.

I think I got the free food because the flight attendant didn’t want to get the credit card machine, swipe my card, and follow whatever other procedures United has. Since I frequently see flight attendants eating the buy onboard food near the end of the flight, I assume that flight attendants don’t need to account for the unsold food at the end of the flight, which means they might be comfortable giving it away. To increase your chances of success:

  1. Don’t order when the cart comes around.
  2. Don’t hit the call button. Try to order from a flight attendant walking quickly past with a purpose, so they might want your order to be the shortest distraction possible.
  3. Be pleasant.

Will it work for you? Probably not, but you can try and report back.

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