American Airlines Suspends Most Food & Beverage Service, And I’m Not Sure It’ll Fully Come Back

With load factors in the 20s, it makes sense for passengers to spread out and social distance from each other on the plan. And where possible it makes sense to limit interaction between flight attendants and passengers right now, too.

JonNYC reports on changes to American Airlines food and beverage service going into effect this Friday, March 27. They aren’t offering anything for sale in coach, to limit credit card swipes. They won’t service meals in first class except on routes long enough where they figure they have to. And there’s more to it than that.

Flights Under 2200 Miles

American is scaling down interactions, which are most frequently around food and beverage. This make sense. Southwest has suspended all service (except canned water on request) on all flights including mainland – Hawaii. American is still offering more than that.

  • No food in first class
  • No food for sale in coach
  • Beverages will be on request only. The full complement will still be offered in first class, while no alcohol will be offered in coach.

I understand why nothing is being offered for sale in coach, and that includes alcohol. However alcohol had been free for Main Cabin Extra passengers. Removing that, but still serving drinks, doesn’t seem to alter flight attendant interaction – just save cash (which is understandable in itself right now).

Perhaps the thinking there is,

  • If they have it on board coach passengers will want it
  • Alcohol is more likely to be requested than other beverages so increases flight attendant interaction (or is more likely to be asked to be refilled)

Flights like Charlotte – Los Angeles will no longer have meals up front. Customers be advised to bring their own. This is a huge cut in catering expense, and a blow to caterers, who can expect to lay off staff as this continues.

Flights 2200 Miles Or Longer

It’s harder to cut out service entirely on longer distance flights. Beverage service will remain ‘on request’ rather than proactice. In addition,

  • Premium cabins get single tray meal service, covered or wrapped and the customer will unwrap themselves
  • No snacks or food for purchase in coach, except that the airline’s remaining long haul flights such as Tokyo and London will still receive a meal
  • No alcohol in coach (or Main Cabin Extra), except on the airline’s remaining long haul flights

Meal Service Going Forward

Changes are ostensibly going to last until April 30, but this may change. While this is being described as a ‘suspension’ I don’t actually expect a “snap back” to old standards once the things ‘normalize’.

Initially customers are going to be concerned about flying, even when it’s considered more advisable to do so. People will want to social distance. Some of the cutbacks, like beverages on request and packaged meals, may continue to make sense.

Passenger demand isn’t going to flip back on light a light switch. Bookings will be light initially. In a likely money-losing environment, at least initially, airlines will work to keep costs as low as possible.

Food and beverage is being limited currently in American’s lounges. That’ll probably loosen somewhat as conditions normalize. After all, Mastercard was paying fro the guacamole and perhaps that continues. However the state of play many of us have gotten used to is a level of investment which has gradually increased over the last 10 years. We’re turning back the clock a decade on the industry even when flying returns.

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. Gary, a semi-dumb question here but one I have seen on a lot of threads on different sites – why are airlines still running high frequency city pairs with LFs in the 20s (or lower)? It’s not out of the goodness of their hearts, trying to encourage social distancing…is it contractual? Will that magically change April 1?

  2. I’m not sure I would notice much different from the regular AA so called premium service other than the clubs closing.American has always been noteworthy for sub par service under Doug Parker’s regime With plenty of agents/front lines that lack any meaningful empowerment to help customers even on their best successful day.Food was mostly disgusting
    I’m sure Mr Parker has refused his salary to assist his fellow colleagues
    While I’m through being sarcastic I will be helping other family’s tomorrow filling up my trunk to help with food and supplies they are unable to secure.Have to do something as I am off the road

  3. I’m sure that Flagship JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO will have catering in Business and First untouched. *roll eyes*

    As for the rest of AA’s routes, all of a sudden Spirit’s “Big Front Seats” look incredibly more attractive.

    BAD Idea AA.

    Very Bad.

  4. Unlike 9/11, it will come back. I suspect fewer flights, with the same service level. This is a health issue more then a cost cutting issue. All other airlines are making these changes but AA is making most of them first. Who’s leading in this crisis. . .looks like it’s AA.

  5. With these changes, along with the cuts to food service in Admiral Clubs, can someone explain what value that there is for flying American over Spirit?

    Also–what is the benefit of cutting alcohol? I do not understand why cutting alcohol over any other beverage makes things safer from the virus.

  6. @UA-NYC re ongoing flights, my guess would be pre purchased non refundable tickets. If the flight goes out then they can count a bunch of people as no shows and keep the money.

  7. How is serving wine or a can of Coke any different than serving water? The FAA requires every airline to have water on all fights, regardless of length. Even on short flights with no service in economy on a CRJ-200 they have to give you water if you ask for it.

  8. Gary, please proofread! It’s hardly worth it when I have to read a sentence two or three times to understand it because of the typos. Autocorrect was not your friend in this report as many words have simply been replaced by words that don’t make sense in your sentence.

  9. Well with MIA-LAS non-stop r/t fares as low as $41 BE and $117 MC why not?
    Side note: this is on a 777.

  10. My flight from Austin to Dallas to Memphis was canceled and re-booked to now go from Austin to Charlotte back to Memphis. I am assuming to save money (obviously not in fuel). I only fly first class; got hooked years ago. Sometimes, I just want a drink and I sometimes pay double the cost for 1st class. If they are taking all the ‘extras’ away, then I’ll stop paying for nothing and slow my travel even more…which none of it matters because the government (we) will bail them out anyway.

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