American Airlines Explained Their Plan For Inflight Meals, And You’re Not Going To Like It

American Airlines has a plan for first class meals. They are going to be smaller, with fewer items heated. And expect the bread to be served room temperature, though I’m not sure how they expect you to spread butter on rolls that haven’t been warmed. That’s according to explanations that were given to employees at question and answer sessions held last week by airline President Robert Isom, recordings of which were reviewed by View From The Wing.

Jodi Spicer, American’s Managing Director of Onboard Dining and Service explained that “for the longer term…let’s not just bring back everything that we had prior. This is a unique opportunity for us to look at what do our customers value, and what’s easiest for [flight attendants]?”

Here are some more of the explanations she offered around what to expect for first class meals going forward,

  • “The team is looking at ways where we can introduce a cold service on shorter flights with maybe only one hot component and other options that bread that maybe doesn’t need to be warmed.”

  • “We were thinking about during the pandemic, how can we come up with something that our customers value but that [flight attendants who want to limit contact with customers] feel comfortable serving? This is our fresh bites if you haven’t flown a 2200 mile flight, that’s where these are flying now, and later this summer we’ll be expanding to other mileage bands…we have 16 versions of these boxes.”

  • “The idea here is: easy to serve, value, quality maybe not as much quantity. Making it look a little bit different in our delivery methods.”

  • “Our customers’ expectations have just changed entirely…you’re gonna see in the might be a little lighter fare and only at those longer distances will you see those traditional stay setup meals. Doesn’t mean that we’re going to go on the cheap side, but just change the look make it more valuable and quality versus quantity…hopefully later this year.”

american airlines protein box
Credit: JoeyE

Vice President of Flight Service Brady Byrnes explained their focus has been to “greatly reduce our customer touch points inflight, some of our major competitors continued beverage services even in main cabin, we didn’t think that was right for our colleagues or our customers.” He also offered that “when we re-introduce elements of our service moving forward, will it be different? Yes. Should it be different? Absolutely.”

Talking to pilots about crew meals – and crew meals generally track first class passenger meals – they noted that “later this summer…some other things on the docket that will come forward for some shorter flights in the 900 mile range.”

The head of inflight service head at the time, who made the decision to eliminate inflight meals in the first place, stated that the airline wouldn’t ever bring back the old first class meals and instead would offer something that still “has a premium feel but is different and more modern.” We’re now getting of an inkling of how that works out in practice.

They seem to think that customers want less interaction with crew and that translates as reduced meal service. However,

  • Cold food doesn’t mean less contact with passengers than hot food. Ovens haven’t been shown to be a vector of spread for Covid-19.

  • Less food means more contact, not less, for customers. That’s because passengers still need to eat, they just have to forage in the crowded airport instead of having it brought to them on board.

Ultimately for passengers and crew who are vaccinated there’s limited concern about the pandemic. And quality hot meals don’t involve more contact than delivering better meals on a single tray. When the person delivering the message about the plan for future meals has to proactively offer that this isn’t about being “on the cheap side” you know that this is about being on the cheap side.

United Airlines just announced that they’re bringing some meals back to domestic flight class, focusing on flights over 1500 miles and flights between the airline’s hubs that are 800 miles or more. These comments from American Airlines about inflight meals were made right as United was making their announcement on Wednesday. I have to think American will respond competitively, albeit with a little less, at a minimum they need to match meals on routes where both United and American offer non-stop service.

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. Given the ridiculous upcharge for first class, they really must be smoking dope to think that anyone is going to pay big bucks for a better seat!

  2. @Richard – and it’s not even a better seat anymore. As aircraft get OASIS’ed pitch is reducing and the seat is less comfortable.

  3. Further evidence of AA’s continued spiral to the bottom and cheapness! Its management continues to reflect no shame for lousy service and absence of comfort! If I book first class travel, I desire first class service along with other airline amenities including delicious and sufficient food! Fortunately, I evade flying AA!

  4. I just flew Flag Ship First from Miami to LAX last night – it was awful!!!
    Champaign served in plastic cups – food just thrown at you on a single tray. Flight Attendants that disappeared for the entire flight.
    For what is Americans most premium experience – the airline should just give up and just join the low cost airline ranks or fire “Jodi Spicer, American’s Managing Director of Onboard Dining and Service”

  5. No wonder. I just flew business class from MIA-LAX and for breakfast they served me a delicious omelet, fruits, cheese and a small bagel. The bagel was cold (not even room temperature), so hard to separate and chewy of course. Who in the world eats “cold bagels”? Nonsense.

  6. “ Our customers’ expectations have just changed entirely” is true for me but not in a way that AA is likely to enjoy. Service across industries has plummeted so why bother upgrading? I hadn’t flown main cabin in years before the pandemic but have found myself doing basic economy during the scourge. Why pay more if it’s going to be a horrible time either way?

  7. The discontinuation of hot meals on domestic flights, a pared down food and beverage experience, and missing flight attendants is NOT a premium first or business class experience.
    If the meals resemble anything like the picture above, count me out. I’ll simply buy a premium-economy flight seat and bring my own food…and save a bundle.
    There is a reason flyers pay a premium for first class or business is the amenities, service and food. This isn’t it…fly another airline.

  8. I am so saddened by what AA has become. As a flight attendant for many years and during the BEST years of the career, we used to care about our passengers and try our best to make being on one of our flights the best in customer service!! This included good meals and drinks served with ambiance!!! Is it too late to save the airline I was loyal to and loved??

  9. What is the best way to provide feedback to AA that will actually get logged and for which there is a slight chance the correct person might actually look at?

  10. Domestic airlines have perfected the art of providing us less and less and continue to get away with it. First Class service and meals are now a complete joke and I seriously doubt we’ll see a return to what was offered pre Covid ever again…

  11. Get over expecting gourmet meals on a four hour flight ✈️.
    Good gravy, Marie. Every major airport has dozens of different restaurants. This isn’t about being hungry. This is absolutely about wanting someone to wait on you and cater to your little whims.
    Get over it. Yes I WOULD pay more for a more comfortable seat and I have. I can go 4 hours on a granola bar. My idea of luxury now is getting a real Coke!
    It’s not about the food. It’s about me, me, meeeeeee.
    I’m in first class. I’m special.
    I’d be special too, in that comfy seat and plenty of overhead storage. Shut up and much on those Pringles.

  12. AA is correct……The pandemic has changed my thinking entirely. No longer will I be loyal to an airline that takes every opportunity to lessen the experience and cheapen my spend. My first trip in 17 months will be in July. I am taking a non stop with Spirit and a non stop back with Frontier. Upgraded to the big seat in the front, saved significant money and avoided over 10 additional hours of time traveling. I will take my own food and call it a day. In the past 20 years, 99% of my flights were on AA. I am a million miler (close to 2M) and EP. What does that tell you? I am done with the race to the bottom, I will just fly a known bottom tier airliner and pocket the difference.

  13. Given the fact that covid is airborne, “reducing touch points” is just another excuse for encouraging bad service.

  14. I’ve served these cold box meals. My input was this was a snack, not a meal. The paxs were still hungry. Due to ‘chillers’ on the Airbus- the olive oil balsamic dressing was solidified. There is a choice of meat option vs. vegetarian. Basically the same box but one has a few slices of salami. A lot of little containers containing not much in substance to fill you up. I gave this a thumbs down in the survey. It is nice to serve something new but this isn’t it.

  15. If I’m paying for first class, I will expect first class food and service; especially as I’m travelling from England to Arizona! AA – get your act together, and soon!

  16. I used to fly AA to several destinations south of Miami weekly and always enjoyed the experience including the meals (the nuts were awesome!!). What a huge difference a few years make. Really sad to see how far AA has sunk. They want to collect a premium for the product, but the reality is that they offer little above a bottom-of-the-line product of Spirit or Frontier. Really not much reason to pay for the higher price of first class when nothing more is offered thank cattle. At this point I’ll fly them for schedule alone as the product is not worth paying for. This picture shows a very non-premium offering.

  17. Pretty soon AA (and eventually all the airlines) will expect you to supply the airplane itself!

  18. Poor little spoiled brats, most flying on company’s dollar. I Really have a difficult time sleeping while worrying about your punishment. Try some MRE’s or fly government military charters to the killing grounds.

  19. Basically, AA is serving coach meals in First Class and then justifying it by implying it is for our and the crew’s safety. For those of us who want First Class, we will be booking elsewhere. The good news is, as we deplete our AA miles, there should be plenty of seats available in Frist Class. Perhaps Jodi can get a job with Southwest.

  20. May as well pass out the “box lunches” in the gate area and instruct the passengers to remove their own damn trash after each flight and deposit in a trash can in the jetway. MOST AA F/A’s would sooner avoid all contact with the great unwashed lepers.

  21. I am not surprised. AA has been on a purposeful, continuous downgrading of service, downgrading of seats, downgrading of food offerings (what food offerings …), downgrading of reliability (when was the last time you were on an AA flight that departed and arrived on time), etc.

    When international travel resumes, and I again travel every 6-8 weeks internationally on either Business or First Class, AA will not need to worry about “downgrading” me. I will have already voluntarily taken myself out of their picture.

    As a long, longtime AA frequent flyer (6+ million miles, EP for more than 20 years), I have already resumed flying in the U.S. And almost none of flights are on AA. I want a better product when I purchase a first class seat.


  22. All this does is set a precedent for the other airlines to follow. Could they dumb it down and cheapen it even more ? Pretty soon we’ll all be flying Spirit without even knowing it.

  23. I don’t fly for the food. Plenty of good choices at the airport, which would be more than sufficient to hold you over, especially when traveling domestically. On long haul international flights, would be nice to have a nice meal. This is more about paying for service you think you are entitled to. Airlines are finding more and more reasons not to provide service you are paying for. The only reason to pay for first class nowadays is for a more comfortable seat, and to keep yourself separated from all the regular minions. Champagne in a plastic glass, what’s the world coming too. The only time I would consider first or business class would be on a long haul flight.

  24. Two years ago my husband and I traveled DC TO O’Hare laying out over one million AA Air miles between us for 2 First class seats to NARITA-BEIJING-SHANGHAI-LA-JFK. We were held in O’Hare for over 11/2,days . AA lied and said they were not working on the “Dreamliners” engine but with both of us pilots we could see where they were working on so late in the following day we boarded had lost our First Class seats and were not offered any compensation nothing! Food to Japan not edible!
    That was last timer we flew AA AND I was a Million Miler+ Plus.

  25. As this is they way AA goes, they’d be better by totally removing their “first class” cabin, that stopped being first class many, many years ago. Seat are not much better that other classes, food service was already bad, and with this change it’ll be even worst. What’s left??? Just an overpriced ticket.

  26. The USAir-ification of American continues. This is bad enough but the availability in the Admirals Club is pathetic. At LAX last week: No Flagship lounge (American seems to have discontinued them) and coffee/tea/minimal breakfast items dispensed to a long line of passengers by a single employee. The meal in Business to/from JFK wasnt bad but it wasnt good.
    On the other hand, as has been the pattern in recent years, United is making an effort. In their lounge in San Francisco last week there were limited hot items and a fair amount of choice + you could still get Prosecco at the bar.

  27. I have always avoided AA on long haul flights ✈️, tried it once 12 years ago and the business class menu was no better than the average high Street cafe menu. I always fly Qatar Airways they take care of all its passengers, be it in business or economy. You never arrive at your destination hungry.

  28. AA is correct. I now unfortunately have different expectations as a frequent flyer.
    Pre pandemic I flew 235K miles a year on my own dime. 95% of the time I got complimentary upgrades to First Class. The food and service were great.
    Two weeks ago I flew for the first time in 14 months. Trans con flights. As always the Flight Attendants provided great service but the food wasn’t worth the box in which it came. It would have been more enjoyable had I eaten the box and thrown away the food.
    Now that I know better I’ll stay home until the food is as hot and delicious as it always was.

  29. Continental used to be my favorite airline, then United gobbled them up. Service went down, prices went up, FAs and GAs became a little less friendly.
    I switched to US Air and had good flights, friendly people, but it required some imagination when planning a trip to Houston. The system wanted me to route through either Miami or DFW to get to IAH. I was smarter, I routed through CLT. Then American bought USAir. Service went down, prices went up, FAs and GAs became a little less friendly.
    Say what you want, but JetBlue has been reliably good with upgraded (purchased) seats, friendly FAs and GAs when I travel to PRs SJU. Nice flights.
    My hands down favorite airline was the flight from MCO (Orlando) to MAN (Manchester, UK) on Virgin Atlantic 747 in April 2019 for vacation in the UK and Scotland. In coach we were treated better than 1st Class in AA, UA, Delta. Choice of one of three entrees for dinner, appetizer, dessert. Most friendly FAs since Northwest and Continental days. Would gladly fly VA anywhere.

    Those were the days. Comfortable seats, friendly GAs and FAs – not over worked and over stressed – and good food. Heck, I remember when meals were delivered hot from the galley, no carts in the aisles, being able to get out of my window seat without anyone else having to rise, just put up the tray table, and actually looking forward to a flight.
    As the Statler Brothers said – Ah, do you remember these?

  30. With tight connections, rushing to the airport from meetings and no chance to get food in airports I ABSOLUTELY count on a meal on a longer flight. I also was liking the healthier choices in lounges and in air of salads – not just sugary/fatty choices. Lower carb options as well.
    These junk food boxes are awful! It’s like they are TRYING to kill off their customers

  31. I am continually disappointed with American. It feels like they are purposely destroying this airlines. I also feel if you are in first class, you should be able to expect more. You are paying for it so why not provide it to your passengers. I am transitioning away from American even though I have a lot of frequent flyer miles. I am exploring other airlines to become my go to airlines. If American doesn’t start providing better customer service and less grumpy staff, they will be heading toward destruction if not already!

  32. Yes, this once-great airline is dying by a thousand cuts.

    First class domestic has become a joke, I flew them across the country earlier this month (I’m a lifetime Platinum, former EP for many years) and the service in First wasn’t much. To be honest, I was happy to get anything at all – I wasn’t sure if they’d resumed food service on board – but the boxed snack, masquerading as a meal, wasn’t impressive.

    To those who say “you can just eat in the airport” – it seems obvious that you’ve never been a busy business traveler. There is rarely time to eat in the airport, and if you have to connect in someplace like Dallas, you spend most of the connection time just getting between terminals and gates. It’s a nice luxury to arrive at the airport early enough for a leisurely meal, but it is usually just not possible.

    AA is not the only airline in town. I wish I could fly Delta more, I think they have the best product of the major domestic carriers these days, but they don’t have much service from my city. I suppose it’s back to United, never thought I’d willingly do that, but they are better than AA these days.

  33. FacsRfriendly A A – The difference between eating MRE’s or a brown bag meal on a C-130/C-5, C-17/KC-135 aircraft and eating salisbury steak on an Airbus A330 is that on the military flights we VOLUNTEERED for it (prior enlisted). As a civilian now, when paying top-dollar for an upgrade to my flight I expect and demand quality–pretty sure folks who have never served would agree.

  34. We’ve been loyal AAL members since the early ’80’s and accumulated millions of miles over the years.
    AA just continues to downgrade service, comfort and now even the meager meals. It’s like staying in an abusive marriage. Time to leave.

  35. We’ve been loyal AAL members since the early ’80’s and accumulated millions of miles over the years.
    AA just continues to downgrade service, comfort and now even the meager meals. It’s like staying in an abusive marriage. Time to leave.

  36. We were totally disappointed in our recent flight on AA – the first leg had no working screen and the second 7 hour leg consisted of bring your own entertainment device and a lovely non-edible COMPLETELY frozen block! It was supposed to be a steak salad but was totally frozen – the looks on everyones face was unbelievable!!!! So much for firs class! Of course no compensation – unreal for a long flight!

  37. I am a long term AAdvantage member, 2 million+ (real) miles and remember the heyday years of real Premium, First Class Service on Pan Am, Singapore, Emirates, and yes, even American in the better years. I remember when American strove to be the airline that provided exceptional, over-and-above service to attract those who were flying frequently around the world. There are very few airlines around the world who continue to strive for the “exceptional” status for their premium customers but they are acknowledged and chosen by those of us who actually choose an airline (or hardware store, grocery store etc) because they are above the norm, not just the cheapest.
    American should strive to differentiate itself, in the premium category, by providing exceptional, not acceptable, service and product. I can tell you from experience that those choosing by price are witnessing the exceptional service for those in First Class as they pass by and witness the amenities (or lack thereof) and then make a decision as to whether they wish to enjoy this or not. If there is no substantial difference, other than a different physical seat, the decision is easier.
    I have lived in, worked in, relaxed in, , , 157 different countries so far in this life and actually helped form an airline that American bought and turned into American Eagle, and I see the same type of mentality in this current market strategy that has stemmed from pure economic analysis rather than true Marketing Intuition and Experience, and it has been proven over and over through the years to be a faulty basis from which to make decisions.
    It’s sad to me to see where American is allowing itself to go, yet I, and thousands like me, will make our future purchasing decisions on the path that American chooses to follow.
    And yes, , , I am an old fart who has experienced a whole lot of this wonderful world.

  38. There will come a time when Flight Attendants will actually have to do something to enhance the customer experience, other than poking me while sleeping telling me to cover my nose. Trying to save time and money at the expense of your best customers only means laying off, or just not hiring more attendants. It is a death spiral. And they complain about customer attitude? I have never been more willing to spend the money for a different choice of airline.

  39. AA forgets that we the consumer have a choice! I hate to hear they are going cheap. Cabin crew are now super lazy, service is no existent. I am Executive Platinum with them and I am super disappointed in the slide of service, quality and passenger comfort. I also have status on two other carriers and I will definitely fly the one most catering to their customers! I will be choosing a different carrier in the future. If I wanted CHEAPO air I would book Spirit! Get your airline back on track and stop being cheap American!

  40. It amazes me that airlines continue to “assume”. Very time I have ever received some kind of survey, it’s always about the “customer service experience”. I would love to see them get “down and dirty” and ask exactly what passengers really want from an airline.
    1. First Class service in FIRST CLASS cabin this translates to: No glorified sandwich in a box. Real glass, not plastic, option of warm or cold food, a real dessert, not a cookie and a smile every now and then. Not to mention a pillow or a blanket.
    2. When having a limited amount of any one option, ask those that fly the most (EXP/PlatPro, etc.), for their preference first. Stop with the even start at the front – odd flight number at the back. Give those that bring the revenue to the company the first option of choosing their meal.
    You do not need to get cheap to save money and increase revenue. You need to get wiser and spend the money where the value is.
    If flying First Class is turning into a “lie flat economy experience”, save the extra money, book economy, take a sandwich and spend all that First Class money you saved, at your destination.

  41. There you go again.,..
    What makes you think American is in the flight business? They are a marketing company selling electronic items that sometimes will allow you to get someplace if you are lucky. Do you think their CEO cares about flights? How many times you think he looks at the financial statements in a day? If the sales system is down for an hour do you think he knows? What if a plane to Paris is 10 hours late today? Does he hear about that? This ceased to be an airline about 10 years ago. Now they are more concerned about challenging the people I elected to represent me in my state legislature about bills they haven’t even read than they are about what they do for a living. If they can save 1 cent per meal they will do it no matter what the quality impact is, if if can even get worse. This is clearly the worst choice in the business. I would rather take Greyhound or drive.

  42. Arguing passengers want less contact is just an excuse for less service. If some passengers want less contact they will simply say “no thank you” when offered a meal or beverage. Those passengers who expect service, myself included, will say “yes, please”. The argument is in the same vein as the announcement that “flight attendants are here primarily for your safety”. It is an excuse that they are doing their job even if they provide lousy service.

  43. This story reads like American Airlines does not operate in a competitive market. Other airlines are bringing back meals – not just in first class… This is a great invitation to try JetBlue, who offers a good value/good product in their Mint business class product. Or, if you want to patronize a legacy carrier, try Delta, who seems to actually care about their customers.

    As one other commenter said, this is a continued ‘death by 1000 cuts’ at AA. The Oasis retrofit did it for me (cramming too many seats into coach, reducing the number of main cabin extra seats). One of the learnings from Covid – choose your airline based on service, frequency, reliability etc – not their continually de-valued loyalty schemes.

  44. In many cities. AA does have a monopoly. Think most places with Eagle service. Or such fine cities as Charlotte, where 90% of flights are on AA. Competition in US aviation is a fairy tale except in very select places.

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