American Airlines Surveying Whether Predeparture Beverages Have To Come Back

American Airlines has been working to bring real food back to domestic first class and they’ve been looking at meal options. It was their hope during the pandemic never to return service to the way it used to be, offering something “more modern” that “still has a premium feel.” What they’ve been serving is often something like this:

The airline, though, is surveying customers on what they’re going to need to offer in domestic first class based on customer expectations.

[O]ne portion [of the survey] had rankings of various items of importance to the premium cabin dining experience and “Flight Attendant Service/Demeanor” was one of the items along with Entree, Beer/Wine, Salad, Non-Alcoholic beverages, etc. There were a few questions related to service on it, which I found interesting, but generally seemed like it was about fine-tuning offerings.

One of the questions, not mentioned in this report, was “How important is the pre-departure beverage to your domestic premium cabin experience?”

Look, on an American flight earlier this week it was 90 minutes from boarding before I could have a glass of water. I was running late so didn’t stop to buy a bottle in the airport, the shops that were open all had long lines. A pre-departure beverage is the bare minimum courtesy for a first class passenger. Otherwise why even pretend you’re offering the product?

You might think – and some executives hope – that you don’t need a predeparture beverage. And that’s true. It’s just that they already offer this product, and it’s called coach.

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. How pathetic that “Flight Attendant Service/Demeanor” is even a question. That should be an absolute given — not up to discussion. AA is seriously wondering whether they can get away with just letting FAs be unfriendly. In first class.

    What a bunch of losers.

  2. I have flown several international flights in first and business class on AA. Predeparture beverage, they claim they can do it due to Covid. I say it is cost-cutting. Also, in international first and business-class beverage services, they use disposable plastic cups for all beverages except for coffee. For coffee service, you get upgraded to a paper cup. Just to be sure, I have flown BA business class and the results were completely different. Pre-departure champaign and appropriate glassware for all beverages selections. AA is just pathetic especially since they give you discounted service at full, retail price. Yes, AA will give you a pre-departure beverage in premium, international cabins – a bottle of water.

  3. I like the bottle of water option, waiting for me when I board (DL still does this I think). This prevents the back up at the boarding door that the preflight beverage service always seems to cause and eliminating it would iimprove onto performance.

    Our recent FC trip to HI from PHX has a nice cold meal service (fruit, humus with veggies, steak salad and a great (I mean really good) brownie. It was healthy and light, best I’ve had in a while. Everything was plated and coved which I am fine with and single tray service makes sense, especially domestically. I do wish to see pre-board beverage service continue for Flagship and Premium Economy (I wish they would use the old TWA “Ambassador Class” tag for this cabin :)) as that still make sense for what your paying.

    Overall, change is ongoing in all industries (seriously hotels are the worst at the moment for “service”) and we should expect more modification going forward. Overall, happy with the AA direction verses the lack of anything you get on DL (btw, talk about high fares, gezz).

  4. Based on a flight between the mainland and Honolulu the food is as Gary has shown and no predeparture drink. Let alone during the flight very little service in first class. I will not fly AA again

  5. The fact that they even have to ask about pre departure beverages shows just how far off they are in understanding product = revenue premium.

  6. Even if they do “bring it back”, which is debatable, the FA’s will do it 50% of the time like before the pandemic

  7. When I buy a first class ticket I expect first class service. And that does include a pre-departure beverage. I am “old school” and still think flying is a treat. I address the flight attendants with respect and like to be treated well, especially in first class. I hope the industry is not losing it’s taste for providing good service; it still means something to me to be able to fly first class!

  8. No way I’m taking off my mask when a hundred plus passengers are passing inches from me. On twin-aisle jets boarding from behind first/business, that’s fine.

  9. @Steve Case has it exactly, ably supported by later comments. I am a long-time supporter of AA’s “Flagship First” between US and LHR and US and HKG, for two. It was certainly only adequate First, but it was OK for the price, and sometimes even better than that. No longer. It is truly awful, and this along with a few other thumbs in the eye to their best customers (I’m Key and an Airpass spender but it doesn’t seem to make a damn’s worth of difference once you’re past the computers) has pushed me over the edge. I’m glad Steve confirmed BA is giving their usual service ’cause that’s where I’m going inbound to LHR. Which is something I never thought I’d say.
    And no clubs??? Really. Not even an Admirals’ Club at LHR, let alone a Flagship lounge. And now they’re back in T3 at LHR, AA has plenty of customers to support it.
    Yes Steve, it’s just cost cutting. @Gary doesn’t allow pics in comments but my latest review of what passes for “First” internationally at AA is on TripAdvisor.

  10. Yes it is necessary. I buy First Class tickets and the service needs to reflect that purchase. American Eagle and even AA often did not provide pre departure beverages before Covid and it was always an irritant that the FA would stand in the galley looking at their iPhone or chit chatting with another FA instead of performing basic service. On American Eagle you often had FAs that would use the excuse that it is a short flight to sit on their butt and do nothing. AA needs to get their service back in order from years ago not just pre Covid. After all without service I may as well as fly Southwest. At least I will get peanuts. I predicted in March 2020 that AA specifically and airlines in general would strive to make the cuts in service permanent.

  11. Every time i get on my LH biz class flight, I think of AA and laugh! Full service for three meals a day within Europe. Booze is served and food is served on china. Maybe foreign airlines should be allowed to fly in America!

  12. So glad I was able to travel extensively pre-covid. These should not even be questions. But the “new normal” is pay more and get less.

    Shut up and take the abuse. Because safety and whatever.

  13. “The airline is surveying customers on what they’re going to need to offer in domestic first class based on customer expectations.”

    I didn’t realize AA offered First Class. I thought their three levels of service were: Crap, Sh*t, and the 9th Level of Hell

  14. I don’t like the hovering and stalling that it creates with the boarding process. I have survived without a glass of water for that 30 or so minutes and I could never finish a cocktail before it had to be taken.

  15. The answer depends on how long they have to load the plane and where they’re boarding.

    When First Class is between the boarding door and the cockpit, then it makes sense to offer pre-flight drinks. Or if they load the First Class cabin first and then wait 5 minutes before boarding Premium, then you also have time to offer pre-flight drinks.

    When it doesn’t make sense is when a flight is trying to make a tight takeoff window after an inbound delay, and that window will be missed because the boarding passengers had to wait for the First Class cabin to get their drinks. Even as a First Class customer, you think, “was that drink really worth the 30-minute delay we just took?” It’s better to have a bottle of water waiting for you and supplement that with regular service once in the air.

  16. I have a cunning idea for American: offer a first class product that people will truly want to fly and more people will willingly pay extra to enjoy it. In other words, do exactly the opposite of what you’ve been doing.

  17. I’ve flown Delta F a few times, and there was always a bottle of water waiting for me in my seat. I think that’s a nice touch.

  18. Maybe bringing back respectful F service with PDB will cut down the inflight disruptions aka brawls between FA’s and passengers over the mask mandate.

  19. Just traveled on Air Canada LAX-YVR-LHR biz class. No PDB but drinks came shortly after takeoff and served in real glasses (take note AA & UA) along with good food, served in courses by happy & cheerful FAs! Also my 2.5 hr Iberia flight LHR-MAD biz class had full hot meal service. So, why the f*ck can’t US airlines at va least try to compete? Do they want to be known as worse than Aeroflot?

  20. Robert
    Are you that hard up for a meal and a drink.
    Omg and a real glass.
    Adults are so needy and just Bi&@#y
    So to sum it up.
    You fly for food and a drink.

  21. @Dee I have never seen a flight delayed cause First Class was getting beverage service. The coach boarding is always so slow that a good First Class attendant can simply hold the line for a few seconds at a time to take an order or deliver drinks. There is no time lost cause the line moves at a snails pace. There are exceptions to the rule obviously but most of the time lack of a pre flight drink is laziness or cost cutting by the airline. I have had good FAs apologize for not offering a pre flight drink because of a quick turn around or late catering of the flight and they often take drink orders while still on the ground so they can provide quick service once in the air.
    I agree with those commenting on allowing foreign airlines access to the US domestic market. Most people don’t realize how horrible US airlines are until they fly an international carrier. We need competition in the US market.

  22. have been on flights where water is in the seat before departure. Also FA take order while boarding. If can not do the PDB then do it once up in the air. Think it depends on how long it takes the back of the plane to move along.

    I like the planes where you turn left for First / Business and Right for Coach. Makes it so much easy to load. Even better when there are TWO jet bridges.

  23. Bringing predeparture beverages back would make be a nice and simple touch. I still fly 1st class but sometimes wonder why. If it’s about covid then why are so many concert and sports venues re-opening to full capacity?

  24. AA is always making excuses but it is really cost cutting when it comes to the food/beverage product in First/Business Class. The top AA executives do not eat or drink the garbage that is served. They are so busy treating everything like their personal ATM machine. They also privately lease jets and seldom fly on their own airline or test the product. They do not care as long as someone else is paying for it. It is obscene how often they replace lower/middle management in the Dining, Catering and Cabin department. Also, they have to hire “off the street” for Inflight (Flight Service) management because none of the Senior Flight Attendants /Pursers would ever consider the position. It pays much less money. Management acts like it is costing them a fortune to offer a bottle of water to First/Business Customers. Without a doubt, the airline business is filled with failed management and there is no accountability until they are “called out”. No other business would ever put up with the constant failures and meltdowns. Yet, it continues and the passengers and employees suffer. American Airlines is now worse than the old Aeroflot from the Soviet days.

  25. lol almost all my delta flights I have a bottle of water waiting for me at my seat when I board if I’m in F. And if I didn’t, I’d have no problem asking the FA for a water and have no doubt they’d happily oblige. Not only that, if I’m just in C+, sometimes I ask for water on the way in and they’ve always obliged with a smile.

    Why do you give your business to an airline that would withhold water for 90 minutes in first class?

  26. They should absolutely. You are first to board. Enjoy the privilege of first class. I was on a flight from BOS to TPA. Due to canceled flights, boarding dragged on for 90 minutes. There we sat. Nothing. As someone else pointed out, service on AA first class is extremely subjective depending on the temperament and competence of the lead FA. Many don’t do fast firsts even before COVID. .

  27. @Aviator — no, I’m just looking for friendly service along with decent food, and what passes as biz class service and will go out of my way to find it. LMFAO @ you. Obviously you misread my comments.

  28. Most flights i have been on, they have never done it to begin with. Before taking it away they should train their flight attendants to actually implement it.

  29. I always fly first class due to wanting to be comfortable and American used to be one of my top choices mainly because I live in Pittsburgh and they are the only ones with a lounge at Pittsburgh International but wow how far they have fallen.

    I was ok with the covid excuse in the begining but now it’s no longer acceptable. I am flying AA to Phoenix on Thursday first class with my wife and noticed they were still not offering a preflight drink. These tickets were significantly more expensive then economy for AA and a boat load more than a Southwest flight to Phoenix.

    I booked them several months ago and figured at this point things would be back to normal so I’m pretty upset AA is still pulling this crap.

    When I flew AA last month to Dallas my first class seat had broken the day prior so they moved me to economy instead and to add salt to the wound it was a center seat between two passangers of size. That was a long flight and I have no I’ll will towards those two individuals who themselves had paid for that empty center seat and lost it because my first class seat broke. We had a conversation on the flight and I still chat with the one individual frequently. She is still waiting for AA to refund her the center seat she paid that I occupied and I am still waiting in my refund for the difference between the first class seat I bought but could not use and the center economy seat I had to sit in.

    Been 45 days and radio silence from AA.

  30. The PDB service in FC is a given. Why are the airlines even questioning this? I understand Delta has resumed this service but they are the only ones. Using COVID as an excuse for everything will not work anymore.
    Taking the FC passenger for granted makes no sense and will backfire in the long run. I always fly upfront and as soon as the dust settles, the airline that returns to normal and appreciates it’s customers will have all of my business. And I’m sure I speak for many.

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