American’s New Protein Box In First Class

Last week American Airlines shared with its pilots that they’re testing what they call ‘tapas’ in domestic first class. That’s of interest to the airline’s pilots because their crew meals are “a reflection of what’s happening in first class.”

This test of new meals is happening on about 40 flights a day departing from Charlotte. It began January 13 and runs through March 9, 2021.

And, a spokesperson for American shares with me that there are two versions of this new meal, a “fresh new protein box and vegetarian box meal concepts.” Here’s what the ‘protein box’ looks like:

american airlines protein box
Credit: JoeyE

American offers,

As part of American’s Clean Commitment, this trial menu was created with limited touchpoints top of mind, so customers will notice each fresh meal concept will be served in a one-step delivery to help care for the wellbeing of customers and flight attendants.

Meal service for domestic flights was significantly scaled back in March to reduce touchpoints between customers and flight attendants. While we don’t have immediate plans to return to full in-cabin food service on most flights, we are using small tests like this to make sure we have the best options available for our customers and team members when we’re ready.

The airline shares that as they “continue to evaluate service levels and offerings, a small number of eligible flights may be included in future trials as we evolve and refine the menu.” This doesn’t strike me as a meal, but it looks fresh which is a real plus and compares favorably to Delta’s current soft product.

I’m not sure that presenting everything in plastic does more than suggest cleanliness (since you unwrap/unpackage yourself). The packages were put together by a person, so I don’t know that this really reduces touchpoints. However Covid-19 really is spread through aerosols in poorly ventilated indoor environments, far more than by placing a hot meal in a galley oven.

When I first heard about the test I took it to be along the lines of then- Senior Vice President of Inflight Jill Surdek telling American employees in August that we wouldn’t see a return of first class meals as they used to be, instead to expect “something that still has a premium feel but is different and more modern.” What do you think?

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. It’s true it’s not a meal but it sure looks a lot fresher and healthier than some of the fat and carb loaded hot meals right before COVID (pasta slathered in cheese anyone?)

  2. How is that box called a “PROTEIN” anything? I don’t see much protein-heavy food there. Or is that an omelette in the bottom right?

  3. Lame. With a side of lame.

    I’m a million miler with AA and haven’t flown them in 2 years. Delta’s/Sky Team’s product is so.much.better. I bought a first class (KLM) ticket to Africa last fall and it was a pleasure to pay full fare because the experience was so nice.

  4. Jerry, you need to try the very recently updated JetBlue Mint food. It is really very good. Before the pandemic I’d do LAX-JFK 2-3 times a month, so, yeah…I used to avoid morning flights because their breakfast food was just that bad. Someone must have wandered into the catering department and waved a magic wand because I flew JFK-LAX a month ago in MINT and it was exceptional.

  5. I like it. Healthy and uplifting. Sign me up!

    Clearly some people don’t know that enough about protein. I guess the simplest way to share it is that race horses (think muscles) are vegetarian. And their protein is like ours (22 amino acids). So no, you don’t need an omelet or cheese or meat to have protein. But yes, tastes will vary. I was raised on fast food, but fresh good good makes my body function better frankly, and my taste buds took a while but converted over to agreeing with the body.

  6. What a joke of an offer

    The most sanitary offering is hot food eaten with a fork and knife

    Just present what BA manages on short haul and we’ll be thrilled and feel we’re getting premium value

    This is something I could easily buy at the airport convenience store

  7. Protein box was quite good…cheese, meat, hummus, salad, fruit, crackers, crudités, crownie….decent offering given these times.

  8. If getting Covid on airplanes is supposed to be next to impossible as the airlines claim, they can’t use that as an excuse for eliminating or reducing service.

  9. I had the opportunity to have it yesterday on one of the CLT-PHX flights. It was surprisingly good and fresh. It is extremely hard to satisfy every single individual passenger during the pandemic but the shrimp and grits days are over folks! At least for a while.

  10. Why do so many equate a flight to a restaurant ?
    It’s a mode of transport not a culinary experience .
    I wish airlines would do away with meals all together . The fares ( should ) come down dramatically .
    Offer a beverage and a meal bar on flights under 6 hours for those who didn’t have time to grab something they like in the terminal or left their lunch bag at home etc.
    The lessened weight of the food carts and food would reduce operating cost. The reduction in refrigeration, ovens, catering vehicles, supplies, inventory … would reduce cost .
    The meals are HIGH in sodium and fat , LOW in nutritional value … and add a ton of cost to the ticket .
    Why 20 plus beverage choices are offered in another “ stupid” thing . What restaurant offers so many different soft drinks and juices ?
    Water, coffee, tea, apple and orange juice , ginger ale and a diet and regular cola product is all that should be provided .
    Dr. Pepper, sugar and sugar free , 7 up / Sierra Mist diet and regular, Tomato Juice , cranberry juice, seltzer, , club soda, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, Coke and Diet Coke , root beer, V8 , ice tea in a can , …. come on already !

  11. Gary, you wrote “It becan January 13… “. It turns out that
    Becan (Spanish: Becán) is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Becan is located near the center of the Yucatán.
    Either way the box looks awful.

  12. American is dropping the ball on everything. Let’s just keep blaming covid for everything. So exactly what are flight attendants doing now. Oops forgot nothing.

  13. What @The Ocean said. Everyone suddenly forgot to care about being so wasteful in the name of health theater. Fomite transmission is not a thing, yet almost all of the effort, outside of a simple mask, is geared towards this.

    Skip the compartmentalized pieces of lettuce and I’m a fan; at least for the time being. Provided it’s actually offered on all the flights meals were previously offered on. Not just premium transcon flights.

  14. Did anyone find a nutrition label with the calorie count for this American Airlines food selection? If so, please post it here.

  15. This “meal” is an absolute embarrassment to first class passengers.

    First Class Passengers don’t want these table scraps in box!

    First class passengers want a hot meal on their flight!

    AA enough of the fake COVID-19 cost cutting excuses, listen to what your customers really want.

    Instead of offering the “take it or leave it” types of amenities that Doug Parker and his America West/US Airways low end management team keep coming up with.

    AA, you should be embarrassed about offering your top tier members this garbage.

  16. These table scraps in a box is not what AA First Class Passengers want, when it comes to a meal.

    AA enough of the COVID-19 cost cutting excuses.

    Truly listen to what your First Class Passengers are telling you and stop offering your horrible “take it or leave it” amenities that your incompetent management team keep on offering.

    This is a total embarrassment to your top tier travelers.

  17. Why do so many equate a flight to a restaurant ?
    It’s a mode of transport not a culinary experience .

    Amen! Although I don’t agree with your suggestion of dropping meal service completely. I have a friend who constantly complains about how his beef was done on international business class. What rational person goes to United Airlines looking for a good steak? If you want a good steak, go to a frickin steak house.

  18. You are saying that toucbpoints aren’t reduce because someone has to pack this boxes… Yes, maybe but that’s the o ly job that person does. Fa can interact with THOUSANDS of passengers in a day. Do you want them to take your dirty tray with silver wear, and then go to another Pax with the same gloves and do the same?
    Delta and United co ti ué to give you a plastic bag with a cookie and a small bottle of water in first class. I don’t understand the comparison with jetblue mint. They mint routes are very limited, and American offers a hot meal JFK to lax / sfo where mj t is offered.
    To those insulted and saying this is not what “first class passengers” want,.. They well most if not all Pax sitting in domestic or short haul first class are complimentary upgrades, or airline personnel. Nobidy is paging first class fares at this moment.
    This pandemy could change the first class (domestic) model in the US forever. That first class cabin loses money, since nobody pays for it, and us airlines moving to a intra-europe type of first class could be the case soon.

  19. My initial take was they took 4 food offerings from Admirals Club and stuff them in a box. After all, that’s exactly how food is presented at AC, with the matching logo on the plastic lid.

    With that said, this is probably fine for a mid-con flight snack. There’s enough veggies and sauces, and significant less carb than the current shelf-stable snack boxes. And I think they hid the salami under the cheese cubes. Definitely more than the Biscoff and Cheez-It on on DL.

  20. The only thing wrong is that is is a cold box.. And the olive dressing is cold. So it is gross when you put it on your salad.. Had a cold bottle of olive oil dressing on a BA flight in Dec.. Lost my whole appetite..HORRIBLE!!!

  21. Most road warriors up front just want a quick, filling snack (check) to be delivered quickly (check) with a drink (check) so they can fly undisturbed for a few hours (check) on a nonstop (check). Those who predicate their flying experience on the meal will instead bring a gourmet box from the Fresh Market with them, long before they rely on the carrier’s catering company to fulfil that need.

  22. LuGee, I have been a frequent flyer for way over 20 years. Top tier for 18 consecutive years. I can remember when meals in coach were standard, then were downsized to jet way bistro bags grab and go, and then those were eliminated. Seats crammed in closer and closer. Not once have I seen a reduction in service result in lower fare prices or a better deal for the consumer.

  23. “Where’s the beef?”
    Seriously, while this may be healthy, it is environmentally irresponsible with enough plastic and packaging to choke even an armchair environmentalist.
    Really does not look appetizing.
    I also agree with the comments that it’s all about cost; not safety. Shameful. You’re watching the further degradation of a legacy brand in real time.

  24. @Erick Just because you’re not buying F tickets doesn’t mean other people aren’t. I still am. Others are, too. Whether with money or miles (I’ve done both) I’d rather be in front than in back when going wherever I go. And I’m actively NOT choosing AA because I don’t want boxed food and I don’t want trash service. Other airlines somehow manage to give great meals and great service. AA does everything it can to save money and say it’s due to the Rona. It’s not–either it’s safe to fly or it’s not–but cheap food in a cheaper presentation means AA (UA) gets a pass because they just can’t hack it.

  25. @Beat Navy

    Umm, how did you fly KLM first class to Africa, when KLM does not have a first class?

  26. @Beat Navy
    I agree. My last flight on AA was March 2nd. I predicted back then the airlines and especially AA will use Covid as an excuse to reduce service further and flight attendants would use it as an excuse to do even less than normal. Before Covid on about 30% of my flights, and I always pay for First, AA flight attendants would do a cursory service and then hide behind the galley curtain for the remainder of the flight to read, play on their phones, or visit with a dead heading flight attendant. My friends and business associates who still have to fly occasionally are reporting exactly that scenario. Service cut by AA and flight attendants who do absolutely the bare minimum on many flights. Makes me want to fly again, NOT!

  27. @Erick, you are wrong about no one buying first class. I only fly first class and I pay for it. American has too many levels of premium flyers to waste time wait listing. I am too old to sit is the crappy packed to the gils seats in back. Since American has become USAir, I am moving my money and flights to Delta, yet I will still pay the first class fare. What I see in the picture is just another way AA is cheapening the First Class experience, while raising the fare. My fare from Columbus (CMH) to Orlando (MCO) is three times the cost of the coach fare, but still better than sitting in back!

  28. @JohnB. Sorry: I was in business—but paid for it because it was last minute and I couldn’t get a miles flight to match dates. I had a first earlier that month. They had a great product ATL-AMS-JRO and back. Great food, great service, great everything. Going back in May because I loved it.

  29. @Capsbuilder. Delta isn’t giving any service. Upfront. No even alcoholic drinks. You get a bag with a bottle of water, a sanitizer, and a cocokie.
    @beatNavy you are comparing two different products most airlines including AA still provide a hot meal on trasncons, Europe, deep South America.
    Domestic, you are not getting that.
    This product is at least fresh, Avianca is giving a small snack box on any flight under three hours, and a bigger box over three hours, but under six.

  30. Convenience store products. Meh. Not a ‘meal’. For ‘first class’ rather pathetic really.

  31. @Erick What flights have you been on? Delta has given me drinks (four wine choices) even on short flights like PIT to ATL. This was DEC and JAN (PHX to MSP, etc.)

  32. I had it the first day it came out. The flight attendant was so excited for us to try it. The comments from the other 1st class passengers quickly took away any enthusiasm she had. The box was so-so at best.

  33. I like the idea of tapas, and having healthier, smaller meals. JetBlue is doing a fantastic job with tapas. It’s modern, simple, fast, and gives you a variety of flavors.

    This offering from AA looks like a “grab and go” breakfast at a Hampton Inn, or a gas station meal box, not a first class experience. All that plastic is moving in the wrong direction, and there’s nothing luxurious or modern here. I’m hoping this was just a prototype…

  34. Looks like leftovers from the Admirals Club. Pretty uninspired. If they want to see what ‘tapas’ are, they should look at their new partner, JetBlue.

  35. Traveled 7/3 lunch time…. my husband had the protein I had the vegetarian.
    Both were fun and tasted great. We were very pleased and surprised because we did not expect it.

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