American Will Start Catering More Drinks Onboard in August

Years ago during the ‘oneworld MegaDO’ charter flight our American Airlines Boeing 757 went mechanical in Seattle. We had offloaded all the catering because it had taken so long to feed the entire plane with business class meals. There were packaged snacks at the gate. The extra galley space was used to load up on alcohol.

We drank the plane dry during the delay and we raided the nearby aircraft. A tug was sent to the edge of the airport to go get us more alcohol and I went into the terminal in search of food. First class got personal pizzas while I bribed the bagel shop to give us all their sandwiches (which meant they’d need to stay late to prep for the next day). The station manager pulled out his company credit card.

Not everyone drinks that much, but American Airlines hasn’t fully integrated its operations for the amount of beverages they’ll stock on board. American Airlines used to actually stock fewer beverages than US Airways. And they reduced beverage catering in Phoenix down to the old American Airlines levels. Fortunately that’s being reversed and come “late August” we’ll start seeing more beverages catered in first class across the system.

At last week’s American Airlines employee town hall a flight attendant asked,

321 catering first class.. Florida to California cities, Phoenix, Dallas, I get one drawer of beer and wine to go across the country and one like half the time one drawer of soda. ..If I am on a 319 I still get 2 drawers of soda and 2 drawers of beer wine and champagne. Monday coming out of Phoenix going to Philly I had one drawer of beer wine and champagne with the three splits, I used it all in predepartures and they were all upset I didn’t have anything more for them on the flight. .. Coming out of Philly, Charlotte, DC I always get two.

Both Flying Food Group and Gate Gourmet Servicing an Aircraft at the Same Time at LAX in December

Jill Surdek, American’s Vice President, Customer Planning, says they’ll be going to the higher amounts across the system. She said,

In general commissaries in the past, the cost for provisioning multiple carts is the same within a commissary versus in a model where we use a caterer we’re paying double the amount with double the carts going on. But it’s led to many complaints in particular legacy US flight attendants that come into legacy AA cities and feel the catering is wrong when it’s right. So we’re going to align it and it will be standard across the system.

Another flight attendant responded “our passengers are complaining and we don’t know how to respond to them because we don’t have enough supply. So our carts are pretty much empty.. we don’t have what we need to have, we don’t have snacks, sometimes we don’t have meals. We’re short. 16 passengers, 8 meals, so I’ll choose you to give a meal to and you to give a meal to.”

Surdek insists that flight attendant complaints (reports on their tablet) about catering are down, but anecdotally flight attendants say “it’s worse than it’s ever been.”

Two things I find interesting here.

  1. They actually reduced drink provisioning out of Phoenix back in the fall, thinking they could manage with the lower standard there. (It’s a ‘catered’ airport where they pay extra for the additional cart and cans.) They’re having to increase provisioning.

  2. They’re adding more drinks to their provisioning at a time of increasing fuel costs. Airlines spend a tremendous amount of money flying around soda cans that aren’t consumed because of the extra weight. This is a management that once removed seat power from US Airways Airbus planes because of the weight, now they’re adding weight to the aircraft for customer experience and that’s commendable.

American believes they get poor service from their caterers due to lack of competition (which is ironic given their management’s role consolidating the airline industry). Their response is to pay more money to caterers under new catering contracts. They hope this will mean paying higher wages, hoping that will retain catering staff so that more experienced drivers and people packing carts will do a better job delivering what American orders.

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. They need more champagne on domestic flights. Two preflight glasses and they are dry for the rest of the flight usually.

  2. Hmmm.
    I do a lot of 32B, MIA-LAX- MIA in F and can’t remember the last time there was a catering issue and that’s including PDB’s 80% of the time. Call me lucky?

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