American Airlines: Big Improvements To Premium Food Service Just Around The Corner

At an American Airlines employee question and answer session last week, a flight attendant asked airline President Robert Isom about customers booking away from the airline because of its inferior international premium cabin inflight product compared to its partners. The cabin crew member shared that this is what he hears from the airline’s Concierge Key and Executive Platinum members.

Isom offered that Flagship Lounges and Flagship First Dining are returning, and “that same approach to bringing back and getting more amenities onto the aircraft it’s happening right now.”

Brady Byrnes, American’s VP of Inflight, said they’re hearing “the same thing from customers” but noted the challenges they’ve had with supply chain and with “caterer partners [being] adequately staffed with what we’ve scheduled” and that they’ve worked “with the APFA [flight attendants union] on what was the right time to bring back service.” So there’s “been incremental adds” so far, and “some great stuff..just around the corner in the not too distant future.” He noted that domestic first class is now “back on china” for the snack box items.

A Current American Airlines Meal

Byrnes argues that international airlines aren’t flying as much as American is so have an easier time delivering a quality product, but says:

We’re keeping a very close eye on what our competitors are doing, so I feel confident that we are competitive versus our U.S. competitors, maybe a little less so than our international competitors.

Jodi Spicer, the Managing Director in charge of food and beverage acknowledged flight attendant and customer frustrations, “you’re the one out there speaking to our customers, and they’re asking questions and sometimes the answer isn’t always easy as you’re offering a cold product and certainly getting mixed nuts back was a big win for us on the international routes.”

However, as I’ve been reporting, she says this is all going to change,

You will see changes coming over the next few months…really soon I promise you’ll see some great improvement there I promise and we’ll keep on going there all the way through to domestic.

Isom promises to “keep track and pace with both Qatar and with BA” but then argues that BA can offer a better service because it is flying so few flights. While British Airways seems to be improving when you’re offering excuses for failing to meet their standard of service that should be raising a lot of questions.

I’d note as well that – contra Brady Byrnes – the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union isn’t supposed to run the airline. They advocate for less work, more pay, and hotel rooms on overnight trips. Outsourcing marketing and product decisions to the flight attendants union is… bizarre. Simply put: galley ovens have never been a known source of spread for Covid-19, so serving hot versus cold food was never a question of safety. And, as Jeff Bezos famously points out, the biggest mistake companies make is focusing on what competitors are doing, rather than what customers want.

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, 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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  1. Ha! if this were the Olympics, the only time AA would keep pace with QR, would when each time QR laps them

  2. AA seems to want to hide behind COVID for all sorts of things. What business traveler wants to come back to what AA is offering? What high end international flyer wants what AA is offering? Sure, volume and demand is down now, but memories are long. Decisions to leave AA are not even discretionary at this point. As AA cancels more international routes, they are forcing their customer base to try other airlines. AA’s decision to cut FCO this winter has put me to LH–and there are plenty like me that still need to get places that AA has cut. We’ll see how it compares. But it’s an odd strategy to not serve the customer need/desire AND not keep up with competitors, some of whom you are forcing your customers to try. My guess is MUC is a much easier transit point than LHR–and LH probably hasn’t cut service to the bone–and thanks to AA, I’ll now get to test both those theories out. AA seems to be willing to make the wager that I’ll come back no matter what. I’m not so sure.

  3. “and certainly getting mixed nuts back was a big win for us on the international routes.”


  4. My mouth is drooling when I think about chewing on a tender chunk of American Airline’s filet mignon.

  5. “You will see changes coming over the next few months…really soon I promise you’ll see some great improvement there I promise and we’ll keep on going there all the way through to domestic.”

    Reminds me of Jeff Smisek’s infamous quote: “You will see changes ahead and I think you will like them”

  6. What I miss is having my meal in Flagship dining before getting on the plane. Flew the transcon last month and the food was ok, but nothing compared with the food and exerience in FD. Hope our next flight(s) in a couple of weeks will show an improvement since I don’t believe FD will yet be opened in either LAX or JFK

  7. You must remember, these decisions are being made by the same managers that thought stripping their airplanes of all onboard electronic entertainment screens and tell their customers to ‘bring your own’, and then have the intellect to also strip that same aircraft of all power outlets to power those customers entertainment systems they now brought. Let’s not forget, that this ingenious idea, opened a barn door for the competition to drive a freight train through to keep their equipment in place and let American ‘lead the way’. Absolute genius.

  8. The union has a say in this decision, because as a fa you are getting exposed to customers removing their mask while drinking / eating and interacting with the flight attendants. Having an inferior product is not something they enjoy, but the idea of one shot service is reasonable. The union has absolutly nothing to see with the airline deciding to do cold meals. That’s completly on the airline ,and their contractors. I feel like you like to assume the worst of the employees ,and most likely a fa did something bad / mean to you.

  9. From the ridiculous mask requirement (that the airlines and FA unions seem all too enthusiastic to continue despite having no basis in “science”) to the bleak food and miserable attitudes, domestic service on American remains at a level more appropriate for the US Marshals Service than for an allegedly major airline. The bad news is that the competition isn’t much better.

    At least Spicer’s and Byrnes’ empty promises are good for a laugh. When mixed nuts is a “big win,” what else can you do?

  10. What’s sad is American was doing a nice enough job in 2000 even on transcontinental domestic flights
    Yet today their skunk super rat cuisine is going to improve over what ?
    the crap of the day?Nuts are back triumphantly?
    You mean the seconds they serve of grade b stale mixed nut fragments warmed to try & make up for the poor quality?

  11. The AA union fights over how much interaction with passengers.
    So handing a tray with everything vs a 4 course meal is different.
    Ur ridiculous
    Educate yourself a little

  12. These statements from Isom are a joke. Flew Flagship First PHX-DFW-LHR at the weekend and the only word I can find is “disgraceful”. Basically a coach meal in First, flimsy plastic cups and no upmarket clubs at DFW. Six weeks ago AA wanted $15K for my seat. And we’re supposed to be happy about the nuts?
    And that’s not true about BA flying less, they have lots of US destinations compared to AA.I never thought I’d say this but I will hence be preferring BA to AA for transatlantic travel.

  13. So when will First Class domestic food service be improved? When will flight attendants re-trained to offer pre-flight drinks and service to begin shortly after take off rather than 45 minutes into the flight, service on short flights rather than the excuse of “its a short flight so there will be no in flight service”? Time for excuses to end and service to return.

  14. BA used to have food worse than the US carriers. They improved it when they switched to Do & Co., and now it is great. Proof that any airline, even AA or UA, can serve good food on board – if they want to. I doubt they pay much more for it than before.

  15. I’m frankly sick and tired of COVID as a justification for single tray meal service and plastic cups in premium cabins, especially International F. AA is kow-towing to the FA union at the expense of its passengers. On QR last week we had real glassware, hot/cold towels and pre-departure drinks with no problems whatsoever. A masked and vaccinated FA serving a masked passenger is not at risk. If the FA is not vaccinated, they should be fired.

  16. Gary,

    Your statement about the APFA, the Union that represents AA flight attendants and their motivations and say in the continued decline of service standards, shows why you are nothing but a day late, fact short wana-be on all things aviation in the blogosphere.

    Folks- stick with notable and relevant bloggers for accurate and complete information on the industry- not this guy.

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