American Airlines Won’t Bring Back First Class Meals Anytime Soon, Envisions ‘More Modern’ Service Going Forward

American Airlines Senior Vice President of Flight Service Jill Surdek made the decision to pull food off of the airline’s flights during the pandemic herself. A primarily cost-cutting move, they’ve even taken meals out of first class on flights over 2200 miles though they appear to have a plan to at least offer sandwiches that used to be available as ‘buy on board’ in coach.

Now Surdek tells flight attendants, during a question and answer session held on Wednesday, not to expect a return to meal (tray) service any time soon. And when they’re ready to offer meals again to expect something ‘more modern’ which in my experience is usually code for something cheaper and less extensive,

We’re not going to come back with full tray services immediately. There’s going to have to be some interim step. And I really think there’s an opportunity to re-think it. When you think about the footprint we have for meal service and how we served, it’s been very similar over the years. And is there a way to bring back something that still has a premium feel but is different and more modern, and is this an opportunity to reset in a way that we might have made more incremental changes before.

Surdek also muses on the challenge that’s “[n]ot going to be five or 10 years off but how are we going to differentiate our service?” She knows service matters “to bring customers back on board our planes” but envisions offering service “with less touch points, masks, etc.” so they’re working through what it means to “provide the service over the long term that gets customers back flying.”

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Some of the food options AA was serving in F before pandemic were mediocre at best. Perhaps, this is an opportunity to ditch the old contracts. But I would not hold breath with the current management. Remember shelf-stable small sandwiches in F? Anyone is missing those?

  2. I think what they mean by more modern is seeds & weeds as opposed to the heavy meals served previously.

  3. Modern = taking the playbook from their new partner’s Mint product? Pick and choose small dishes instead of app, salad, and entree.

  4. No big deal – people that get excited about airline food (especially domestic airline food) need a life. Personally I’d rather eat before or after the flight. Just get me there on time with minimal hassle and I’m happy . Food is the LEAST of my concerns.

  5. The food service and drinks is a part of the draw to pay a high price for a seat. If it is just like being in the cattle car why pay a premium.

  6. I flew AA from CLT to SMF in mid July in first. We were offered a choice of hot meals. I chose a beef dish, and it was surprisingly delicious.

  7. AA’s purposeful downward spiral in the quality of its meals in F tracks in parallel with Amtrak’s deliberate downgrading in meal service in F on long distance trains. Amtrak’s initial rationale for ceasing freshly prepared meals in the dining car was to blame millennial travelers who preferred to eat privately in their compartment. The result of incompetent marketing and inferior F & B management. Sounds familiar to AA?

    AA acts as if it has no competition, so “take it or leave it “ I have left AA’s Orwellian world of thinking everybody is a novice flyer and stupid by serving what they imagine to be chateaubriand, when it is clearly unadulterated crap.

  8. I have not found AA’s first class meals to be poor at all. They are essentially TV dinners but it’s certainly better than nothing or just a sandwich. I don’t wan’t “modern” food, whatever that might be – perhaps something overly healthy but terribly inedible (from my standpoint).

  9. I agree with JimC. I enjoy the experience and overall haven’t found their food to be horrible. Ironically their transatlantic meals have been worse to me than most of their domestic meals. I flew to/from Paris last year and the beef entree made me sick both times. To say it was tough was an understatement. At the same time I’ve had positively outstanding meals in Flagship First from LHR to MIA. I’ve enjoyed many good meals over the years. Granted they have been declining over time, but not awful. The cookies are certainly no where near as good as they used to be (as they moved to pre-made versus bake-on-board). Still, the experience is nice regardless. A ‘modern’ approach sounds like tiny bits of cold appetizers packed in a box that is retrieved at boarding. Definitely not a premium feel there.

  10. AA First Class service is continuing its downward spiral to the absolute bottom! Enjoying a delicious meal in first class should be standard for First Class! The pandemic is now the reason for all cost-cutting measures. If the aircraft is so safe with added cleaning and protection, it should be a non-brainer to serve an attractive tray meal of traditional food. Wear gloves! AA is definitely in the LCC class. Continuing to cut services and comfort will lead to bankruptcy. Any solution? The AA Board of Directors should have the determination and will to make executive changes. Time for Doug Parker and his management crew to be relieved! Enough damage has been caused to an iconic airline and its former reputation!

  11. Fliers need a filling hot option – many outlets in airports are closed now, and finger food is not as sanitary as food eaten with a fork and knife.

    After airport outlets open, many fliers are pressed for time and need a satsifying premium meal if they plan to pay a first class fare.

  12. The legendary airlines are slowly but surely putting themselves out of business. An opportunity exists in this space for a quality non traditional service.

  13. One thing to note is that they quickly brought full meals back to MIALAX. Took less than a week.

  14. I support elimination of food and beverage as a way to get people to keep their masks on. If they’re going to do water so that people don’t “die of thirst,” they should at least stagger delivery so different people are drinking at different times. If indoor dining/bars are closed, you shouldn’t be allowed to drink/eat on a plane. Yes, you can last five hours without eating — ask Gandhi.

  15. Of course this is nothing more than resetting bar for airline service. Not just AA but all of them.

    Does anyone know what the real risk is with offering food/drink service, or even the first class nuts? Everything in life has risk. You might get in a car wreck going to the airport. Your plane could crash. I came close once. You could catch the flu on your flight and be sick as hell for a week. Where does this fit in?

    It’s sad but we’re being conditioned now to think everything is an unacceptable risk. Sure covid is a concern but we seem to have lost some perspective in all of this. You want to fill your planes again? Give them some sense of normalcy when they do.

  16. This is ridiculous I hope your competitors feel different. maybe it’s time for us to change while you are changing you don’t need our business evidently anyway .. keep chasing us away bravo … good job you should get a promotion you are such a genius …

  17. You are so biased and “snake oil” sales pitch is quite transparent.
    The statement of “modern” followed by, “which means…insert negative adjectives” is written to illicit the “slam AA” comments. Your “viewfromthewing” is

  18. Yet another reason not to Fly American… Thanks Doug Parker… you have ruined one of the worlds finest airlines…

  19. Sorry to be so non-cynical, but we always flew first class on American, and we loved the first class meals as they were.

  20. I usually flew 6-8 segments monthly , all on American in order to maintain status prior to Covid. It appears that American has now removed what little vestige of First Class travel that existed prior. Time for me to rethink my loyalty to AA.

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