American Puts Boxed Meals On Trays As It Prepares To Restore First Class Meal Service

Weeks ago I reported that American Airlines was working to bring back hot meals to domestic first class over the coming months, replacing cold meal boxes.

The biggest challenge is supply chain, and that it takes time to ramp up this up after not having offered ‘real’ food on most flights for over a year. However we’re starting to see progress along these lines, and more details on what to expect.

  • American is slowing bringing back tray service to domestic first class. For now it just means putting the ‘Fresh Bites’ boxes (with all their packaging) onto trays. While just announced today, it began appearing on flights earlier this week.

  • Hot meals on trays will “gradually return” over “the next several months”

  • Regional carriers are going to offer real food on flights over 900 miles, similar to when mainline flights receive meals. Lacking ovens on board regional jets, these will be “fresh meals” but not “hot meals” (as they were pre-pandemic).

I don’t view serving the boxed meals on trays as any sort of improvement, but it makes sense to get tray service up and running making it easier to bring real food onto the aircraft as soon as they’re able.

While the boxes are rather sad for first class fare, American has done more to feed passengers during the pandemic than most carriers including (and especially) Delta. And they’ve retained full beverage service up front, even if predeparture beverages aren’t officially part of the service at this time (and rhetorically tied to the end of the federal mask mandate, whenever that happens).

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. What is super fun is guessing whether you will have food at all on your flight. I have an AA flight from DFW-KOA that is 8 hours. I am in premium economy (real premium economy with the separate cabin and fancy seats) on way out and first class on way back. This should mean (based on AA website) that I get food on the way out and back and should be able to pre-order on way back. But there is no consensus or for sure indication on either and definitely (even tho less than 30 days out) no way to pre-order. I don’t relish calling them and waiting to hear them say “I don’t know”. The website says Hawaii flights have food except to LA and Phoenix. I have a tight connection to make the DFW-KOA flight so can’t grab something there to take, so I’ll pack a sandwich from home or something since I don’t know anyone who wants to go 10+ hours without eating something and being awake. Why can’t this be simple? Bring back food. Period. Because saying its for health and safety at this point is a joke. They encourage you to bring your own! And the planes are packed so its not that they don’t have a need to fill.

  2. Flew Dfw To LGA last night in First
    The box was disgusting WTF is turkey pastrami ?
    It didn’t look or taste like either and the clammy old shrink wrapped roll didn’t help the matter.I say force Mr Parker and his family to eat that rubbish for a month and you’ll see something decent served
    Simply awful and what I expect if ever I go to jail

  3. Pure crap on a cracker. Really, looks like shit served spread out! Is this something to really get excited about?? I don’t think so!!

  4. Had a solid hot meal on SNA-JFK last week, which was unexpected. Flew MIA-LAX later in the week on 77W and passed out shortly after takeoff, so cannot report on that one.

  5. I have very little exceptions anymore from ANY airline. All I look for is to leave on-time and arrive on-time with my luggage. I’m an EP with AA and generally speaking they treat me very well. I always purchase tickets in First Class when I travel and never count on upgrades (useless in my book). I’m amazed at all the complaints and drama about the food in first class. Don’t like it, don’t eat it. Don’t like the product that the airline provides, don’t fly the airline. No one is making anyone fly any particular airlines. 9 out of 10 times I decline ANY meal that is offered to me because I come prepared. I always have a bottle of water and usually have a bite to eat in the Admirals Club or purchase what I want at the airport. If you’re looking for a five-coarse meal with elaborate personalized service then I suggest you fly Emirates from New York to Dallas via Dubai in true First Class and cough up $20K! My father always told me, “you get what you pay for”.

  6. Gary did you write this, AA doing something better than DL? Yes they are, you better lay down and rest after having to admit that.

  7. Every time I see one of your blogs about meal service, i scratch my head in wonderment. We have retired to Malta 2 1/2 years ago. Normally, we travel to Helsinki 3 times a year, even with Covid afoot. LH has not stopped serving hot meals on china, with booze, in business class. They are doing all to retain customers and goodwill. And they recently started selling real food, boxed in coach.

    They also understand that going cheap, head to head with Ryan and easyJet is not a winning strategy. And saving money by dumbing down service is a long term money loser.

  8. I have to admit that AA is winning in the food and beverage arena, even without hot meals back quite yet. Flew PHL-MIA in first a few weeks ago and the box meal was surprisingly better and fresher than expected and works as a good temporary solution until the hot meals return. The wine was of pretty good quality for domestic first as well.

    On a flight this past weekend I flew Delta in first from ATL-PHX, which is just over 1500 miles. They served a choice between two flight fuel boxes, which were just an assortment of random junk food in either box. The beverage service was even more sad with the worst red wine I’ve tasted in a while (read headache in a bottle) and somehow they ran out of it after just an hour into the flight (not really upset about that part lol). The only bright spot was the service, which was friendly and proactive.

    Next week, I’m flying AA from DFW-HNL in business and looking forward to it as they’ve had really good (hot) meals on that route even through the pandemic. My return will be in premium economy and curious what they may even have on offer (hopefully my upgrade clears though). I’m grateful to even fly and have the opportunity to do so, especially when flying up front.

  9. Cold food boxes would be welcome. First Class PHX-DFW-PHX yesterday was snack box only. I don’t think anyone flies for the food (hope not anyway) but for the price paid (no, not a free upgrade) I think we might expect a little better. Even the old cheese ‘n stuff trays would be a step up.

  10. Love your content! Just flew FIRST CLASS on Delta to HNL & OGG through LAX. I was in the air for NINE and half HOURS, first class. I literally received Lays Potatoes chips, a bag of almonds and 2 packs of Oreos. There was no snack and especially no hot food. My entertainment system did not work and it was a very OLD 757 aircraft. They were literally ‘nuts’ when it came to the masks walking down the aisles every few minutes not with food or drink, but only to check on if you had your mask on. It seemed to me all they cared about was masks. Delta WAS (was) the premium US Airline, I am not sure what Ed is trying to accomplish now, perhaps its only to stay afloat? PS, each ticket was over three thousand dollars. It was a very, very sad experience. I did complain to Delta when I returned home. Jeff, Platinum Medallion

  11. American could upgrade to imported fresh cheeze wizz and crackers and go healthy 😉
    Nothing but tHe best for their customers

  12. How many hours is 900 miles?

    May I suggest you automatically translate this cryptic insider information into useful one in the future?

  13. The in flight food options in F that Delta is serving is not the only area they are really having a problem with. Flew Monday JFK-DEN with connect in DTW because n/s was dropped and check in line at JFK SKY Priority area had at least 125 people at 4pm. 10+ positions and only 3 had agents.
    At @ 4:30, 5 additional agents appeared and after a delay we were finally able to check in for our 5:30 flight. Agent took the 3 bags, and told us the gate. Upon arrival in DEN, only 2of 3 bags arrived, and agent at baggage claim said bag would be in the following morning. As I live 2 1/2 hrs away, I asked for bag to be delivered. Agent said the bag would not be delivered as we were late to check in, bags were only accepted at JFK as a courtesy. Had to spend the night in Denver. I explained we were not late for check in, Delta did not provide adequate staffing at check in. Agent never mentioned bags were accepted as ” courtesy”. Multi year Diamond on my dime, can’t believe how far this airline has fallen

  14. In (paid)1st class recently on AA PHL-SEA we were served a very good boxed breakfast/lunch with e.g. a large portion of good fresh lox, fruit and other tasty stuff. Only issue I have is that when I had previously asked the desk people if there would be food on the flight, one said she didn’t know and the other said “better bring your own” – so I was “forced” to eat two breakfasts! OK wine was also served – but a little more attention to quality and not just to price would be welcome.

  15. Wow
    Grow men and women complaining about food on an airplane.
    Is this the reason you fly?
    Food really?
    Its a plane not a flying restaurant.
    When I travel I make sure I carry some snacks.
    When I get to the airport and pass the TSA , I purchase water.
    Get on my flight, kick back and relax to my destination.
    Do you really feel the need to be feed ????
    Got to run catching a red eye in a few.

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