American Airlines Says First Class Passengers Aren’t Entitled To Meals

American Airlines advertises meals as one of the benefits of first class travel. Specifically, “Meal service on flights over 900 miles during meal times.”

They say they are “elevating your dining experience” and that meals in premium cabins “are healthy, delicious” – so it’s not just food, it’s good food that’s good for you, too.

Of course airlines advertise one thing to convince you to buy a ticket, and to spend more. And they deliver something else. One of the most common occurrences is advertising their most comfortable seats to get you to spend more to upgrade from coach to first class, and then delivering something entirely different.

For instance this was a pitch to upgrade to first class on a standard domestic Airbus A321. They show you that you’re getting their lie flat seat that’s only on the Airbus A321T which operates mostly between New York JFK and premium West Coast markets.

Customers spending the extra money based on what American shows them get this instead:

And too often they get this:

So is it any surprise when a passenger complains that American Airlines failed to cater their first class flight, the airline says,

Our ticket price reflects the cost of transportation. Any meals and snacks served on our flights are considered complimentary conveniences.

It’s like the eBay seller that promises something they aren’t allowed to sell, but claims they’re really only selling “a white envelope” and the contents of that envelope are just a free gift.

This was flight AA2676, a 5:22 p.m. departure from Newark to Phoenix, which is a 2,133 miles and at dinner time. The customer did not get what they were entitled to. American Airlines says they did, falling back on ‘we’re just selling transportation and not the things we advertise.’ That is what their contract of carriage says, of course, and under existing precedent you have no recourse other than complaining to the Department of Transportation which is unlikely to be sympathetic because you received… transportation.

This isn’t just an American Airlines problem – it’s the structure of how a single federal agency’s regulation replaces the standard practices that other industries have to follow and how they’re exempt from common law rules and practices.

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. So I’ve seen this same issue, from the opposite perspective.

    I was the Captain on a flight that was supposed to be catered meals in First Class. Catering didn’t make the flight, departure time arrived…what to do?

    Many passengers (both main cabin and F/C) are making connections and will miss them if I delay the flight for catering. On the other hand, we sold the seats with meal service, and they expect (rightly so) their meals.

    I had the local station manager issue meal vouchers to the F/C passengers, which took a 5-minute delay from departure time. I arrived at destination on time, passengers were able to make connections, and the F/C passengers were able to have a meal, albeit delayed (I can’t comment on meal option availability in ORD).

    The problem was solved, though some passengers may have been hungry for two hours (I was hungry too…catering didn’t board pilot meals, either).

    I am not special, but flight crews aren’t told they’re empowered to make this kind of “non-operational” decision. I took it upon myself…after berating the local station manager…to accept any consequences from the company. There weren’t any.

    I think it falls under leadership…the difference between a pilot and The Captain.

    I hope these issues get straightened out…and I do think they are the exception, not the rule. The crew actually does feel a certain responsibility towards the passengers and their on-board experience. AA doesn’t try to anger the people who pay the bills…but unfortunately, there isn’t a procedure for every single variance that can occur operationally. That’s where experience comes in (and common sense). Sometimes common sense costs $$$…so there is that issue too, from the corporate side.

  2. Airline food is just gross, especially Virgin Air. Horrible. Discount ticket instead of serving food, IMO.

  3. American Airlines are a bunch of highway robbers. We recently had a company vacation trip. We were booked in FC. Received some nuts and cookies. Their admiral club refused to honor our paid for passes and refused to allow to transfer to others who used AA.( I have not fliwn with them for 10 years andcthiscremibds me why) I am surprised they are still on business

  4. Let me describe a different experience. We booked a flight with TUI and paid extra for the comfy seats – wider and more legroom. On departure day a different aircraft was used for the flight than originally planned, and this aircraft did not have any comfy seats! The very same day we received a refund of the extra seat costs from TUI. Obviously, we would have preferred to get what we paid for, but when this is not possible a speedy refund without the customer having to complain is the least that a commercial company can do.

  5. would it be possible to dispute the charge as “services not provided?”. On your confirmation it states amenities — any lawyers?

  6. Technically airlines are transportation, not food service. Obese Americans can actually go several hours without the need for low quality food. As long as there is a safe take off and landing, you got what you paid for.

  7. following that logic they’re not responsible when they lose your suitcase either are they? what about the toilet? bot necessary being a pepsi bottle .

  8. This just goes to show there has been too much consolidation in the airline industry. The Justice department needs to challenge any future merger unless there is a financially distressed party (as in it is either merge/be bought or go out of business). At the same time, airports need to go away from longer term leases and more to a hourly rental rate for gates, then assign gates according to a priority system. That way airlines can’t keep other airlines out as Southwest does at Love field in Dallas. And flight slots are not “owned” by any airline, but rather are auctioned off monthly or quarterly to the highest bidders at slot-controlled airports, and failure to actually use those slots a minimum percentage will disqualify an airline from bidding in the next round or restrict the number of slots they can win.

    At the same time, we need a separate regulatory agency for the airline industry. Keep the FAA as a safety focused department, but have a consumer based regulatory agency that focuses on consumer complaints, passenger rights, and the overall best interests of the passengers as well as arbitrator of passenger/Carrier disputes.

    But then the airline lobby won’t allow any of that to happen because what is best for the consumer cuts into their profits. Competition isn’t good for them.

  9. Just went through this last week. AA denied any compensation. I escalated and the person at Customer Relations re-iterated the same thing that it’s “complimentary” and not in the conditions. The computer system will only spit back 1,500 miles. The rep claimed he was empowered to offer more (I explicitly asked) and said he award an additional 1,000 miles and that was all the “system” would allow him to offer.

    AA is truly going downhill. On UA, when they cut their meal service (after selling flights over 800 miles with meal service listed), they allowed the FAs to compensate with $100 vouchers. AA refusing any compensation is ridiculous, and the “system” 1,500 miles is a slap in the face.

    I’ll try to escalate higher, but it seems AA doesn’t care and will stick to their guns. I guess that would explain though why the AA flights are half the points required for DL/UA. I have no idea whom to write to, but hopefully I can figure that out.

  10. I don’t believe that is correct. Meals are included in the price of the ticket and so if there are no meals than it’s a case of “services not provided.” When I worked for UAL we failed to cater a meal flight and so we offered a $25 discount coupon (we called them “creature snacks”) or a voucher for a meal when the aeroplane landed. I flew FC last week on AAL LAX PHL MIA BOG and had three satisfactory meals.

  11. Captain David Manning did the right thing… albeit while patting himself on the back and shamelessly self promoting. What transpired should be standard procedure at American. When a flight isn’t catered, agents should automatically issue meal vouchers. No one should have to suggest this to them or “berate” them to do so. However I still would have appreciated what he did.

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