American Airlines First Class Cheeseburger Gets a C+

A really great burger starts with quality beef. It should have processed cheese that melts well. And it should be inside of a potato bun, sesame seed if you must.

Don’t use ciabatta bread or a kaiser roll. As good as brioche can be, it’s not well-matched to a burger. The bun is a delivery vehicle for the burger. It needs to be big enough to contain the burger, but shouldn’t be so large that it overwhelms the contents – especially the meat.

Everything you put on the burger needs to fit inside of the bun. You don’t want the burger to fall apart when you eat it. It shouldn’t be overstuffed. The goal is a balance of flavors inside, getting a combination of everything with each bite rather than winding up with pieces of meat or pieces of bun leftover at the end.

In November American Airlines revamped their first class meal lineup and included a cheeseburger option at lunch.

My initial reaction was that it looked very similar to United’s cheeseburger, right down to the Sir Kensington condiments, however it appeared to have a proper bun rather than United’s pretzel bun.

Recently I took two American Airlines meal flights back-to-back and was up front for both. The first was a breakfast flight and the second a lunch flight. I finally got to try the cheeseburger.

At breakfast I tried the ‘scrambled eggs benedict’ which I thought was an interesting idea, but the turkey ham looked like spam and heating the eggs with sauce on a muffin gives you a very soggy muffin. Disappointing.

That’s actually a good thing, I didn’t want to eat too much scrambled eggs benedict and connecting in Chicago I even skipped Tortas Frontera — because I was going to eat the cheeseburger.

My first thought eating this was school cafeteria. I thought the toppings were problematic. I’d have liked thicker slices of tomato, but mostly I thought the pickles should be sliced instead we got cornichons which don’t really go well in a burger. Give me fresh white onion. Grill the onions if you’d like. But don’t marinate them or pickle them. Whenever something is covered up with vinegar I assume it’s to hide the taste, and to make it last longer rather than serving it fresh.

It’s a little odd to have a bread plate, by the way, with a burger that comes on a bun.

Our flight attendant clearly left the burger in the oven too long and the bun was rock hard, like cardboard. I may not have had a fair representation, then, of what the burger could or should be. At the same time it’s clearly not well-suited to the American Airlines galley if this is how it’s delivered in practice. I give it a C+.

American’s Flagship Burger is unquestionably better than the United Polaris burger. American can clearly do a burger on the ground. I think they have some work to do on their burger in the air.

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. Back in my United days, i would request a burger in lieu of the first class meal. I really enjoyed the burger that was not on the pretzel bun.

  2. I am usually always in your court and agree with much of everything you contribute
    However 🙂 IMHO a great burger stands beautifully alone with just the most simple of condiments
    Meat should have a min of 15 to 20% fat grind-ed in
    Cheese is desirable either to hide the imperfection of a burger or to enhance the perfect burger
    I started cooking burgers and steaks professionally since the age of 16 in restaurants and dined on burgers for 24 cents as a kid White Castle (ugh) and as high as 100 dollars or high end beef which is unnecessary

    A burger will never be acceptable in the air as it much like a french fry best consumed withing seconds or minutes after execution for taste and texture reasons
    It only gets worse from there sadly
    Buns are subjective
    I like anything soft,fresh and or slightly warmed or tasted that doesn’t compete with the burger or enhances or blends in to complement the mouth feel in a unique way
    Brioche buns have been trendy for sometime now and I love them
    but I also enjoy whole wheat buns basic burger buns
    Like you I once loved a fresh slice of white onion however today its
    all about red onion for me as I’ve gotten older
    A white onion seems better with sliced tomatoes or sauteed /caramelized
    Food and personal tastes are widely subjective no matter how you look at it

  3. @Gary, the Flagship Burger, I assume you mean in First Class dining, is very good.
    The best in-flight burger, IMO is in Cathay First Class. Perfect and with perfect fries. Not bad for a Chinese (sorta) airline.
    I too have eaten the domestic AA burger recently and it’s pretty sad.

    At the CK mixer in DFW ten days ago I told AA staff I thought their international product was improving, domestic not so much. I also told them that they currently serve the singularly most disgusting in-flight meal/snack I have ever been presented with — the turkey bagel/croissant breakfast snack. By mistake, I got to try it twice 🙁

  4. Just got back from an AA flight, on which I booked the burger. C+ at best. I did like the condiments, but it was overcooked, the bun was mostly hard, and the cheese quite nasty. I scraped it off rather than eat it. Gary, keep holding AA’s feet to the fire and maybe they will improve!

  5. UA fka CO burger has been the best in USA for years and is available in economy class (free to 1Ks). Blows away AA

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