American Introduces Domestic Premium Cabin Pre-Order Meals

When I first ran across this over on a Dallas Morning News blog I was shaking my head, ‘seriously, we’ll get to pick our meals in domestic first class?’ I even shot an email off to folks at American to confirm my understanding, wondering if it would be a benefit limited to paid first class passengers and not just folks upgrading (which is how most of us get there).

If you are a premium class customer on American Airlines (read first or business class) and you can predict what you’ll be hungry for by the time your flight takes off, you can pre-order your entrée under a program announced Monday.

Images of Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook began popping into mind. No, I didn’t imagine I’d be able to pre-order lobster thermidor for a Washington DC – Dallas breakfast flight. Although I’ve used Thai Airways pre-order service to do the lobster on the morning Bangkok – Hong Kong run, which is shorter.

    Lobster thermidor, Singapore business class, Singapore – Bali (1037 miles)

    Lobster Pad Thai, Thai Airways first class, Bangkok – Beijing (2056 miles)

    Lobster thermidor, Singapore first class, Tokyo – Singapore (3324 miles)

American explained to me though that this isn’t an extensive chef’s menu that passegners get to pick from. Instead, the meals that will be on offer on the plane will be available for advance selection. That way you don’t have to wait until the flight attendant reaches your row and pick from what’s left. (You can also select available special meal types online as well, but as before you do not get a menu of options to choose from — just a meal type.)

The real advance here is an end to ‘FEBO’ — American Airlines policy (and this is how it usually works) is that flight attendants take meal orders starting from the front of the cabin on even-numbered flights, and from the back of the cabin on odd-numbered flights. So if you care about meal choice, you can select your seats strategically.

Last week I did have a flight attendant discretely ask for my selection in advance as an Executive Platinum, apparently it wasn’t an elite-heavy cabin. In the end the distribution of choices were enough all of the way around and no one was left without their preferred meal.

Still, it’s a real advance and one that I’m surprised airlines haven’t moved more aggressively towards already. It may seem like a small thing but from the number of times that I see upgraded passengers through a temper tantrum over not having their preferred meal option, throwing their arms and declaring that they aren’t going to eat anything at all because there are no more chicken quesadillas left and they won’t eat a salmon salad, it apparently is a Very. Big. Deal.

It’s also a nice move towards both a focus on premium passengers and an emphasis on improved technology that American has really shown over the past year, which is a trend that’s really nice to see. And it seems like a bigger deal on international flights, where more passengers are paying the premium fare and the flights are longer as well, I can understand a certain amount of frustration when folks are paying thousands of dollars for their ticket and wind up without a meal they’re willing to eat. (I do realize such things are #FirstWorldProblems.)

The only drawback to this system from my perspective is that meal selection will be available between 30 days and 24 hours prior to flight, and about half of my upgrades have been clearing at the gate recently. I’m no worse off then of course, it still means I wind up in whatever window seat is left at the time and hope it’s not the bulkhead. But I won’t be able to take advantage of this nearly consistently enough.

So far the service is available in premium cabins between Dallas and New York LaGuardia and between New York JFK and Los Angeles. On November 15 it rolls out to New York JFK – San Francisco, Dallas – Los Angeles, Chicago – Los Angeles, and Chicago – LaGuardia. All domestic meal flights should have the option by the end of the first quarter of 2013, and international flights will be getting the option during second quarter 2013.

American has been running tests over the past year on certain routes where passengers could pre-order their buy on board items as well. I haven’t experienced that yet, but I’ve also only been seated in back on a couple of flights where buy on board was more than the basic snack items. I’d much rather pre-order my food upfront than in the back cabin!

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, you made my day!

    To me if I am flying trans Atlantic, I always pick my seat based on FEBO. I would rather a middle seat in business on a 777, then an aisle or window that has a BAD FEBO position.

    Great news – you made my day!

  2. Oops- I was so excited I missed the domestic only. Do you have any idea if they will expand to international?

  3. I do think, Gary, that you’re being too generous in describing not getting your meal choice in Business Class on a flight as being a “First World Problem”. It’s not a problem at all, really. In any world. An annoyance perhaps if you really, really can’t eat the other options – but then, wouldn’t you have ordered a special meal if that was a concern?

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