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. Why in the world would I pay or use miles for FC on AA if they’re going to do this? On a recent trip from ORD to LAS they served a cold sandwich in a bag. Then on the return trip, they served another cold sandwich in a bag. I’d like to put you in a bag, American. Do they actually do any research in regards to what FC customers want? Guess I’ll be flying UA or JB when I have a choice in the future. And if I must fly American, it’ll be on the other side of the FC curtains. No thanks.

  2. From Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

    “You chose…wisely. “

    Perhaps someone at AA can read these comments, and go for wiser choices? Alienating the best customers with discomfort seems unwise! Of course, alienation of “the rest” in Economy with the hard bench seats and little to nothing to eat speaks for itself.

  3. I have to say this. I really find it hard to believe that In this day and age Airlines still separate first class from the rest of the People on board. From How we are greeted when we board to what we are or are not served to eat in flight. Personally I don’t think there should be this separation in class… Meaning the rich versus the poor… We are all human beings we all like nice things. And we all pay absorbent prices on that airline. Why the separation still in this day and age. If that is what jou want, then why don’t you just have an airplane that is for first class only. Then we don’t have to look at it. And you can do whatever you want on there. You can serve whatever high class food you like only to the “first class” people. Because that’s how you make the rest of us feel like we are “second class” .
    We all like to be treated like first class. Tear down that curtain. Do you get my drift. Pretty soon you’ll be having seats attached to the outside of the plane for some of us. Flying used to be a “first class” experience for all of us who flew. It isn’t like that anymore. Try getting back to that feeling of “Fly the Friendly Skies”.
    That’s really all I have to say.

  4. @Linda Gibson – You’ve obviously never flow first class – or perhaps only on Aeroflot.

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