An Insider Preview of American’s Brand New Meal Service Rolling Out This Summer

This afternoon I popped over to Dallas to learn about upcoming catering changes at American. I was able to try some of the new entrees, that appear to be improvements, and most importantly signal that the airline is investing in product which has been an ongoing open question for the US Airways-American merger.

When US Airways and American merged, you took an airline where customers were hungry (no meals on US Airways flights less than 3 hours 15 minutes) and an airline where they were reasonably well fed and sort of met in the middle for meal times while adopting a legacy US Airways catering approach. That led to a backlash from customers, and American’s management has been making changes ever since. Bringing back entrée salads last month was an important step (and those will continue).

There are new meals coming for domestic first class and premium transcon first class, plus they’re changing up wines and adding some improvement to the lounges.

There aren’t press releases going out onthese, but they’re significant developments for passenger experience. And they had a small customer event that I wrangled an invite to (and that a small group of bloggers and journalists did as well — I ticked off a bucket list item by finally meeting Benet Wilson).

The event was held at LSG Sky Chefs corporate headquarters about six miles from the airport terminals. Fun fact, that not everyone at American knows: the reason LSG Sky Chefs’ North American headquarters is near the Dallas Fort Worth Airport is because Sky Chefs was an American Airlines operation started in 1942. Back then there weren’t outsourced airline catering operations, airlines started their own. Lufthansa bought pieces of it in the 1990s acquired the rest in 2001.

Key takeaways:

  • New meals in transcon (New York JFK – Los Angeles/San Francisco plus Miami – Los Angeles) first class starting July 1.
  • New wines July 1.
  • New appetizers in Flagship lounges mid-July
  • New meals in domestic first class August 1
  • Expanded meal windows and renovations coming to Admirals Clubs

American’s Vice President of Marketing Fern Fernandez opened the event acknowledging that American ‘had some missteps’ with its inflight catering last fall.

Other executives including Hector Adler, who is Vice President of Inflight, as well as folks from lounges, catering, and AAdvantage were on hand and consulting chef Sam Choy.

Domestic First Class Menu

Starter
Warm Mixed Nuts

Appetizers
Antipasto Skewers
Tomato Tart

Salad
Wedge Salad
Romaine and Kale Salad

Entrees
Beef Filet with lobster mac and cheese

Shrimp & Grits

Lasagna

Lentil Chili with Polenta Cakes

Asian Slaw Salad with Teriyaki Chicken

Dessert
Salted Chocolate Caramel Premade Sundae

Transcontinental First Class Menu

Appetizers
Spicy crab with Sushi Rice, Avocado and Wasabi Aioli

Burrata Cheese with Oregano and Capers

Edamame Hummus with toasted garlic baguettes

Entrees
Beef Oscar with Crab Asparagus, béarnaise sauce and smashed potatoes

Steamed Sea Bass with soy glaze and ginger cilantro, pasta rice

Lobster Risotto with shaved brussel sprouts, lemon oil and parmesan crisp

Wagyu Meatloaf with sriracha ketchup, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and candied onions

Pan Roasted Coconut Lime Chicken with olives and garlic mashed potatoes

Turmeric Paneer with red tikka curry, jeera rice and roasted two-color cauliflower

Summer Seasonal Vegetables
Baby Sunburst Squash and Zucchini (Eastbound)

Blanched Baby Carrots and Sugar Snap Peas (Westbound)

New Snacks for Flagship Lounges (which complement existing meal service)

“North America” Macaroni and Cheese

“Asia” Sesame Soba Noodles with Chicken Satay

“Europe” Ricotta whipped with lemon and extra virgin olive oil, ciabatta crostini

“South America” Peruvian Causa Yellow Potato West Coast Dungeness Crab Aji Amirillo Basil Cilantro Oil

It turns out that the mac and cheese will come in multiple varieties — truffled mac and cheese, for instance and sweet pea and ham mac and cheese. They will be presented on small plates (they were friend in our presentation but won’t be in the lounges) and they hope to bring some on-demand customization to the mac and cheese.

There will be additional meal changes coming, such as new non-egg breakfast dishes in domestic first coming sometime in August (for instance, different pastries).

American breaks the country up into 4 domestic regions and assigns meals to each region for a month. So the meals from Dallas to Miami are different than Dallas to Los Angeles. Each month the meals cycle so that for instance Miami might get one month what Los Angeles had the previous month. The full menu only gets replaced once a year.

Wine Changes

American presented some of the new wines:

US Airways and American flights in the same regions will have same wine selections effective July 1. There were several other wines present as well, such as an Etude Pinot Noir which I much like for a $30 Pinot. I’d find this an excellent business class wine, though merely a role player at best for international first class where they’re deploying it.

Bubbles in domestic first class will be a Bottega Prosecco, replacing the current sparkling.

Verdict on the Food

Everything tasted good in the LSG Sky Chefs building. I’m going to reserve judgment on the specific meals until I’ve tasted them in the air. I’m happy, though, to see American investing in the meal service. They’re clearly trying to get better here, recognizing that the roll backs from last September went too far, and intending to put out a quality product especially as meal service is an area that both Delta and United are focusing on as well.

The Flagship Lounge snacks presented were probably closest in taste to what will actually be delivered in-lounge. As an addition, they’re an improvement. But mostly they signal a continued investment in American’s first class lounge product, so coupled with plans for a new Flagship lounge at DFW airport it indicates a commitment to first class despite only having that cabin on one aircraft type internationally (Boeing 777-300ER) going forward plus on their 3-cabin domestic transcon flights of course.

The most popular dish amongst those tasting today, it seemed, was the beef oscar (filet and crab meat) although that wasn’t one of my own favorites. Among the beef dishes I actually liked the meat loaf, although calling it ‘wagyu’ is I suspect a bit of a stretch (perhaps there is some small portion of American wagyu mixed in to legitimately use the term) and the ‘sriracha ketchup’ wasn’t at all spicy. Still, not bad.

Everyone present acknowledged the end of the ‘mystery meat’ which it turns out was a short rib.

Additional changes to service and lounges

A handful of other conversations were of note.

  • Fern Fernandez mentioned that American is running a purser training program in Dallas, emphasizing customer service and managing the inflight service crew. Their goal next year is that flight attendant recurring training will include broader customer service training as well so get greater consistency.

  • Expanded meal windows in the Admirals Clubs, although I don’t have the timeframe for this to begin. I like their new soups, for instance, they just aren’t out long enough and so stopping by the ‘A’ club in Dallas today at 11:45am all they offered was fruit, vegetables, and cookies.

  • I also had a long conversation about the coming revamp of the D15 Admirals Club lounge in Miami which will hopefully start in a few months, be done in stages, and complete next summer. They are taking over some space next door to the lounge that had been offices in order to expand the lounge. They eventually plan to get rid of the ‘terrace overflow’ space and move reception forward closer to the escalators. They have a more efficient seating plan in mind to accommodate more customers in this admittedly over-capacity lounge.

Takeaway from the day is that they’re investing in product, they aren’t doing everything I’d like to see, but they are doing more than I thought. We’ll see how these execute, but I think we can also expect that if some of the things they’re trying don’t work well in practice they’ll continue to iterate and improve.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Gary… Next time you pop over to AA to check out the new meals how about asking them where the saver awards have gone?

  2. I see that the FA well get new training, hope this includes plating these meals correctly and really care how they are cooked…

  3. Great post, Gary, but you don’t address the key question: Does the new training actually include a pre- departure drink or not?

    And is the lentil chili a regular meal or vegetarian only?

  4. Glad to hear of the meal upgrades, things have gotten pretty bad. The “cheese lasagna” served last Wednesday to Miami should’ve been confiscated as a weapon rather than a meal. The chicken on the way back last night…it looked like salmon.
    On the upside, FAs have been great, and so refreshing to see younger workforce on the planes, especially in first, where service levels count the most.
    I hate the idea of having to buy a meal in the terminal before flying, but if the food doesn’t improve that seems to be the only option.

  5. “American’s Vice President of Marketing Fern Fernandez opened the event acknowledging that American ‘had some missteps’ with its inflight catering last fall.”

    You don’t say! Gary just curious if you pressed him on this. How did they expect AA flyers to react? Did they really think they could get away with serving dog food? If you believe the forums, many HVFs have already left AA and this may not be enough to bring them back.

  6. Way too much seafood. About half the dishes have some seafood. Unlike chicken and to a lesser extent beef, those of us who are allergic to seafood, including me, and almost all people who just don’t like seafood will not eat it at all. And they ad a seafood side dish to one of the few entrees that are not seafood?

    I have been on two recent flights where other people said they were allergic. Both times someone went hungry because there were no non-seafood items left. There is also the smell. Just the smell of some fish makes my head throb. I have avoided flying in FC in the past on flights that I knew they served salmon on. This does not even bring into account the sustainability issues with some seafood. I think they need to rethink this and add some non-seafood options. I am pretty sure if they don’t do it now, they will after they start this up.

  7. Why would you combine the seafood and beef? A lot of folks don’t eat meat while a lot of others only eat certain types of animals. I would think combining things to make it less appealing to many customers and harder to eat

  8. I agree Jose and I just said that myself. I wish AA only the best, but I think this will cause major problems.

  9. I only eat KSMLs but it’s a great sign to see AA finally differentiating the meal service between J and F on transcon flights. I may be wrong but I feel like it shows dedication to keeping the product.

  10. Continuous bashing!

    One minute AA doesn’t offer enough meats, fish, and poultry, then AA is too meat, fish, and poultry heavy. Honestly, if the short domestic dishes look half as good as they do above (especially the lobster mashed potatoes) I will be more than pleased.

    I fly AA both as a non-rev and paying passenger a lot and was very disappointed as the son of an employee and passenger to see what they began serving. I can’t wait to see the changes in catering.

    I do however agree that AA needs to also cater to special diets and offer more vegetarian and vegan options much like Delta.

    (moderator, please use this version!)

  11. I totally agree. I came on here to say the same thing. It seems they have taken a fancy chef’s advice to throw lots of things together without remembering the obvious.

    I don’t eat lobster or shrimp etc … So half those dishes are out the window. WHY ruin a good beef dish with seafood with it? I will be forced to resort to the chicken or *aghast* vegetarian option.

    They really need to rethink the whole *sprinkle seafood over everything* salt shaker they seem to have.

  12. Thank you for this Gary. Hope you enjoyed the event and a looks like a genuine effort by AA to improve the meal service.

    I hope I get to try the shrimp & grits and the wagyu meatloaf.

    Agree with others its too much seafood on transcon first class.

  13. Agree with a lot of the comments on here. Let me preface my comments with the only fish I eat is Starkist Tuna with Miracle Whip & Relish, fish sticks with ketchup, and maybe fried catfish with ranch – so yeah don’t really like fish. Now to my 2 cents.
    First you can make food better without making it fancy. Just cause I upgrade to first class doesn’t mean I like sushi. Also agree with the smell. Was a a conference they served lobster bisque for the appetizer. I couldn’t even stay in the room the smell is so strong it made me nauseous. Not a great combo on a confined airplane space.
    Personally, all the food I’ve had on planes has been pretty decent. Had a ravioli once it was really good.
    All in all, sounds like I’m going to regret upgrading my tickets for my flights in August.

  14. I’m not sure I buy into the premise that AA is committed to its first class product due to 1.) Flagship Lounge food improvements, and 2.) Building a new Flagship Lounge in DFW. When your first class product is only offered on your one of your smallest fleet type on intl flights (plus transcon)… I wouldn’t called that committed.

    And I agree about the seafood… why ruin mac and cheese with lobster? I would think most people would eat mac and cheese, but adding lobster to it would cut out those who stay away from seafood! Just give me good ol’ mac and cheese, please! #Merica

  15. I agree with all the comments about too much seafood. A lot of us “old timers” still abide by the rule of “no fish on an airplane.” I applaud AA for its initiative and creativity but I think some of the FAs will find a rubik’s cube easier to solve than plating some of those complex transcon meals.

  16. I agree with previous comments dissing seafood.

    I’ll have to pay closer attention to flight numbers when choosing seats

  17. Max P it is not bashing. Some people will get sick just from the smell. Now it will be a lot bigger problem. Although I doubt you will believe me or any of the other several people who commented after me, but more people are allergic to seafood than any other food, even peanuts. I don’t think it is asking too much to put some thought into this. At the very least, leave the non-seafood entrees non-seafood.

    Jetaway I still remember the original Airplane movie lol. I know it is just a movie. Disco Papa I agree. I was all into the steak until I saw what they did to the mac and cheese.

  18. Bottom line: these options look like a phenomenal improvement over what they are offering today.

  19. The domestic F options look better but man that’s a tiny piece of beef!

    Sad that premium transcon first gets the same wine as international business. A $14 chardonnay is not premium.

    Delta is serving $30 bottles of wine like Au Bon Climat in BUSINESS on transcon.

  20. And any of those transcon first mains making it to transcon business? Or will we actually see a difference in main courses between transcon business and first?

  21. American remains clueless year after year
    The dainty new very small portions of crappy dried out food is pathetic
    Its all show with no substance
    Look at the dried out chicken with rubbery skin and inconsistent browning being saved by the greasy sauce.
    You can do down the street to Costco for 5 bucks and by better cooked rotisserie moist juicy well browned crispy chicken
    The quality of their steak is something I wouldn’t feed my dog.Nasty
    Sizzlers budget cheap tastes better
    The broken pieces of nuts to save money is simply sad
    What premium passengers want nut dust?
    I’d argue that they were doing way better in the late 90s to 2001
    There were whole pieces of mixed nuts,Hagen Daz ice cream on board nice chicken breasts cooked properly on occasion as dinner choices
    Salad carts with beautiful salmon,chicken and shrimp and adequate portion sizes
    If American had a billion dollars for catering they would still screw it up
    American doesn’t get premium they cant even get a quality sparkling water
    Canned club soda!!! idiots
    International carriers will continue to poach traffic until one day they wake up and smell the coffee
    American fly your partner Qantas they do better in coach from Sydney to Melbourne for 1 hour in the air with Neil Perry cuisine in business class then you do in your First Class International across the pond and elsewhere
    Stop being so clueless and become a quality carrier now’s probably your last chance!

  22. Kudos to American for the effort going into this. You can see that they are really trying here and that is to be applauded.

    I’m a +1 on the no seafood. Perhaps there is a way to plate the meals so that those of us who become ill from it can ask the attendant to not put it on our plates. For example, yes to the steak, but please no lobster macaroni…maybe extra salad. Will we be able to individualize our own meal?

    Also, when you have so many different kinds of people on a plane, it would seem keeping the options on the simpler side would please more people and it would be easier to attain a better tasting meal. Overly complicated rarely tastes good in a mass food setting.

    And congrats again to AA for improving their food!

  23. AA’s in-flight meals are absolutely the worst nowadays, far worse than UA and DL, often times so disgusting that I stopped eating on AA’s planes.
    Meal service improvement is vital…while this is certainly good news, this is only the first step, so AA should continue looking at improving its food quality.

  24. @u600213 – why do you have to pay attention to flight #s? as long as you’re confirmed in first more than 24 hours prior to flight just preorder your choice

  25. Gary as with peanut allergies, the smell of fish is enough to make many people ill myself included. That might be what is meant. I agree with alistairdeacon. I much prefer a well prepared simple meal to a small expensive fancy one. As you can see from the comments, a significant number of people here will not eat the fish at all. Perhaps you can pass that information on to AA.

  26. To ALL posters above me,

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH ALL OF YOU ENTITLED WHINY BASTARDS? You are complaining about what most people consider very good food, served at 40,000 feet, inside an aluminum tube traveling at 500 miles per hour and if the life support inside where your ass is parked is not working PERFECTLY you would pass out in 4 seconds and DIE IN A MINUTE OR TWO.

    All you people with food allergies, issues and any other complaints, FIGURE IT OUT. You are traveling across the continent in less than a half a day in comfort and SAFETY.

    Enjoy the icing on the cake and remember, people are working VERY hard to keep you SAFE and comfortable. Don’t like the food in premium? DRIVE and eat where you want. See you in a week.

  27. Great inside information Gary. I’m glad you now live closer to the Dallas area so that you can “pop” over for events such as this. Enjoyed reading your insight on this topic!

  28. Maybe I missed it but I didn’t see much mention of International First Class. Our flight last March from NRT to LAX in F had virtually inedible food, and very mediocre wines.

    Scheduled for DFW-CDG FC in early July, and planning to fill up as much as possible in the Centurion Lounge rather than risk the food on the plane. But really hope the wines above are available by then, instead of the $8 at Safeway wines I’ve had in TATL F in the past.

  29. While I sympathize with the folks above who have food allergy issues, above, and I wouldn’t go as far as Jeff (though that was good for a laugh), I’ve gotta say that I’m pretty happy to be hearing corporate at a U.S. based airline talking about food and SERVICE, rather than, let’s see…bankruptcy, load factors, foreign competition, oil prices, gate constraints, etc. etc. etc…this is a step in the right direction!

    Also, just got an email from AA re: “Extreme Lounge Makeover”. While the changes don’t seem that “extreme”, it is nice to see that they are trying, and trying to make it known.

  30. I’m delighted to finally see a vegan option (the lentil chili). Up until now, the only thing I ever had in first class was the oatmeal for breakfast and the hot nuts.

  31. @ Jen
    Spot on keep it simple!!!
    with fresh beautiful breads baked daily not those plastic wrapped sponges FAs rush to heat up and fail at more then half the time.
    If you have good freshly baked bread you don’t have to even heat it
    Pastas which don’t dry out if they are prepared properly
    The old Uno pizzas for those that hate the new fare or the old .If you cant afford to buy a quality low cost steak don’t put that dry tasteless colorless shoe out there
    Serve chicken or rich fatty short ribs which has less chance of drying out
    And be mindful of raw sushi in the sky (scary) serve cold shrimp, cold salmon odor free fresh product.Stinking fish on an airline in close captivity is a no no
    I stopped flying one carrier after it.Disgusting
    Serve a beautiful ham and swiss or turkey pesto sandwich. Great soups to keep hydrated
    Tomato chicken minestrone .Upscale snacks like Jet Blue and Virgin America
    Right now you have too much presentation small portions poor quality and busy food trying to be gourmet. Its crap if one really knows food. Put out whole nuts and a fresh well prepared sandwich with salad or potato salad if you can no longer cook and source right
    The turkey pesto wraps were better we used to buy in coach then the dried out stingy plates of food frequently be served now!

  32. Can’t help but laugh at those that are complaining about seafood.

    If your head hurts when you smell seafood, perhaps you should not be flying on a commercial jet, much less be in any public space that serves food.

    As a suggestion, so your preferences don’t impose on the majority, you could 1) bring your own food, 2) fly your own private jet, or 3) stay at home in a nice seafood free bubble.

  33. I absolutely agree with JL! If you don’t want the seafood option on your beef…KINDLY!, ask the flight attendant to not put it on your plate… I am thrilled with all the seafood options and am impressed with all the food presentation! Great job American for elegant food options that had been lacking! For all you negative nellies, bring your own food, or pre-order the meal you want!

  34. @KB you can’t really ask the flight attendant not to put seafood on a dish in domestic first at least, where the plating is simply removing plastic from a pre-plated dish.

  35. People are missing the point and simply being arrogant with their flippant responses. There is a large number of people who have shellfish allergies and/or choose not to eat shellfish items. To contaminate the other meat choices with shellfish suddenly renders those not an option for large numbers of people.

    It shows incredibly poor judgement on their part. I love beef and chicken and don’t eat shellfish. It seems incredibly thoughtless to force myself and countless others to choose the vegetarian dish because you ruined it with shellfish.

  36. @Carl C – there’s always two choices at least. About 1% of the population, based on some quick googling, is allergic to shellfish. There are plenty of people that don’t eat meat. For them too the vegetarian dish becomes their only option. Point is that once your needs take one option off the table, there’s still an option, but in a world of two choices total you no longer have a choice.

    The nice thing is that the vegetarian direction here isn’t just pasta.

  37. @listen transcon business meals aren’t receiving an update at this time

    @tony – the domestic first meals don’t require much plating, they just remove plastic from the tops of the dishes, though they do have to remove plastic carefully so as not to spill each dish’s contents. More elaborate presentations in transcon and international do require plating.

    @tom predeparture beverages are a service element but one that flight attendants have discretion in providing based on the goal of getting the aircraft out. I believe they could be provided far more often than they are, but it’s tough to do on a full single aisle aircraft. Good flight attendants manage it.

    @shawn admonitions from airplane notwithstanding i’d take seafood over most of what’s passed for meat in the air. i always used to prefer the salmon salad from american at lunch for instance.

  38. “About 1% of the population, based on some quick googling, is allergic to shellfish.”

    I think that basically sums up how silly this whole discussion is. It’s not like there is no choice available; you can choose the vegetarian meal, bring your own food, or skip the meal.

    I like the new food choices and would hate to see the preferences of the majority trumped by those of the 1%.

  39. I suppose the key to “Good flight attendants” is to fly on European and Asian carriers. Why is it that they routinely serve a snack, a drink and coffee, etc. in 45 to 60 minute flights? On US carriers the FA’s are just getting around to moving their fat behinds out of their seats in that period of time.

  40. @Gary – since you’re reading these comments, any word on what your contacts at AA say when you ask them about topics such as a lack of saver awards?

    I find it odd that you respond to other comments, but never the ones that about AA’s response to you.

  41. @JL the topic of saver award availability did come up, but this wasn’t an AAdvantage event and the two folks from AAdvantage who were there weren’t best-positioned to really know much about that issue. [one of them runs concierge key] the other topic i mentioned at the same time was third region routing restrictions. there wasn’t anyone there from revenue management either, by the way.

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