Like other airlines, American Airlines reduced inflight service during the pandemic. They blamed Covid but it was at least as much about cost. There wasn’t much premium business to compete for.
Alaska Airlines did a good job bringing back food this summer but is rolling that back for January 2021 because flight attendants don’t want to do the service and they’re prioritizing operational reliability in the face of mass cancellations.
United Airlines is doing alright with their meals and is bringing back warmed nuts and coursed meals to business class. But while American Airlines has done more for passengers inflight overall than Delta, they’re lagging behind the industry.
American blamed supply chain. The flight attendants union has been against asking cabin crew to heat meals. They blamed Covid-19, as though galley ovens are a vector of spread for the virus.
We were supposed to see improvements this fall. They put their boxed meals on trays to prepare for the return. And while pilots have started seeing hot meals, customers on domestic flights – other than premium cross country flights – have not.
There’s only so many shrink-wrapped turkey sandwiches I can look at. I usually pass when offered this, but trust me the vegetarian option ‘pimiento cheese sandwich’ is much worse.
However this appears to finally be on the cusp of changing. Last month a spokesperson told me, “We are getting close and I’ll have more to share on the onboard dining after the first of the year.” Now they’re saying that “we still don’t have any plans that are final quite yet.” However aviation watchdog JonNYC shares that more and better service is expected to start rolling out in February.
AA will roll out service upgrades starting in February.
They will do it in weekly waves based on mileage.
Expect alcohol to be very limited due to flight attendants and the covid touch points
— ˜”*° JonNYC °*”˜ (@xJonNYC) January 8, 2022
During summer 2020 the airline’s Senior Vice President of Flight Service declared that old-style meals would never return and that the pandemic was an opportunity for a “reset,” to introduce something “more modern” but that “still has a premium feel.”
That executive is no longer at American. CEO Doug Parker is stepping out of his role. When Oscar Munoz took over at United he set an employee and customer-friendly tone by traveling the system to listen to employees, and by introducing product improvements. There were ‘quick wins’ like Illy coffee and stroopwafels, and longer-term promises like greenlighting a huge investment in their business class.
Meals are an opportunity for a quick win for the new airline CEO. This hasn’t been an area of focus in the past, but that’s precisely why doing a nice job now would help with the narrative of finally focusing on customer needs.
What American Airlines offers domestically today is not a first class product, and it’s often not worth the price increment that’s asked. They need to fix the value proposition of the product. Isom has said they need “to figure out how to make [the cabin configuration of their A321s and 737s] work best.” They have less space up front than before.
They can solve a customer pain point – business airport food vendors, short connections and delays, not enough time for customers to get a decent meal on their own – by offering something that customers traditionally expect from a first class product.