American Airlines Catered My Flight From a Restaurant Inside the Terminal

My American Airlines flight from Austin to Chicago was delayed 5 hours on Tuesday. The plane was there, skies were clear, and though American had just sued their mechanics the day before there were no maintenance issues. Instead we didn’t have a crew.

American coded the delay as weather because the crew they planned to use for our flight was coming in from Dallas, and that flight was delayed due to weather.

Since American no longer keeps crews with planes, when a single flight delays that delay can cascade. Not only is a plane late, which means that onward flights with that aircraft are late, but so are the flights that were going to be operated by that crew. For an airline so focused on its summer operation and improving its reliability, this is very much an own-goal.

At the 2019 Wolfe Research Global Transportation Conference airline President Robert Isom was asked about the operational investments they’d need to make until they got the ship righted, and keeping crews with planes to the extent possible seems like it would fall into that category.

I was up front for the flight and I wondered how the planned 8:15 a.m. flight would be catered. Usually when my morning flights have been delayed past noon we’ve still been served breakfast.

Instead we wound up going completely off-menu: pre-packaged sandwiches from inside the terminal. Customers were initially given a choice of three sandwiches though choices were gone by the time the flight attendant hit row four.

I wound up with a ham, salami, turkey and havarti sandwich on rye that they called a Cuban.

It’s not exactly the first time I’ve had an American Airlines flight catered from inside the terminal. In January 2012 I was part of a frequent flyer charter trip that had gone from Dallas to Seattle and then on to Los Angeles.

  • American had highlighted their new international business class catering on the first leg. They provided it to the entire Boeing 757, and that took hours to complete.

  • Since everyone really just wanted to stand in the aisle and have a good time, we offloaded the catering for the Seattle – Los Angeles segment (and provided snacks in the gate area, and boarded extra alcohol).

  • Unfortunately we took a mechanical delay in Seattle. We spent a few hours on the ground in Seattle getting that sorted out. Meanwhile everyone was drinking on board. The booze was gone. (What little was left was auctioned off to passengers for Susan G. Komen.)

  • The station manager first raided nearby aircraft for more alcohol, and then sent someone to the liquor store at the edge of the airport to refresh. However we were going to have a problem, very drunk passengers with no food.

Tommy Danielsen and I went into the terminal separately in search of food. He catered first class with individual pizzas. I had to figure out how to feed the back of a 757 — as everything was closing shop for the night.

At first I thought my only option was going to be Chinese. The thought of the smell of Chinese shut down that idea quickly.

Finally though a solution appeared: a bagel sandwich shop that was closing up for the night. They were making the next day’s sandwiches. $100 convinced them to sell those sandwiches to us (they’d have to stay late to make more). It all went something like this:

In fact this is what it actually looked like, carrying food through the terminal, down the jetway, and onto the aircraft.

I got complaints about lack of choices, of course, but the important thing was that we had food and everyone wasn’t simply drinking for hours on end on an empty stomach.

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. You were great that weekend and as I was one of the hungry ones on board, I couldn’t have appreciated your efforts more.

  2. Couldn’t be worse than the normal maggot infested slime
    American normally serves
    Probably an improvement

  3. The moral of this story is, if you’re going to be drinking on an empty stomach bring a spare hundo & be charming AF.

  4. Compared to most domestic catering, the airport food is usually an improvement. Though I will say having been on that charter and included in one of the pictures here, I definitely feel old.

  5. When did American stop keeping their crews with the planes? What was the reason for this change? Does it make crews less likely to time out because of the lack of rest?

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