Cutting Corners: The Surprising Truth About First Class Service Flow On American Airlines

An American Airlines flight attendant proudly shares how they deliver first class service on a short domestic dinner flight. What’s striking to me is a corner that they cut to get everything out to 20 first class passengers on the Airbus A321 – and that they’re proud of how they do it. The truth here is that there’s no great way for one crewmember to do service for 20 passengers, and American Airlines is cutting too many corners on staffing.

This flight attendant places warmed nuts in ramekins prior to takeoff. What is the purpose of heating the nuts, exactly, then? It’s more efficient for him, but he’s going to serve room temperature nuts. A first world problem for sure, but it points to an underlying problem – since that’s not the intention the airline has, or the experience that’s supposed to be delivered. Cabin crew are meant to heat the nuts in aluminum trays and place them in ramekins just prior to serving!

It’s not really his fault, though. Broadly speaking, American reduced flight attendant staffing levels during the pandemic and hasn’t brought those levels back to they were even as they’ve brought back service. However the domestic Airbus A321 staffing has always been to FAA minimums, which is fine for passing out peanuts but not for delivering premium service.

Twenty first class passengers are a lot for one flight attendant to serve drinks, nuts, and meals to on a short flight and service will take longer than passengers can reasonably expect – and longer to have their trays removed so they can go back to work as well.

At a minimum the number three flight attendant should prep the nuts and stay up front to assist with drinks and serve nuts while the number one flight attendant prepares the dinner trays.

So the beef here is with American Airlines inadequate staffing, not with this flight attendant who clearly takes pride in his work.

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. So basically the point of this post is to say AA is cutting corners, or specifically this flight attendant, because he is warming up nuts prior to takeoff???? Come on Gary. You can do better than this.

  2. I’m fairly certain that he puts the ramekins of nuts back into the over before takeoff so that they’re still warm when served.

  3. AA is rough, this feels nitpicky. The guy looks proud of the work he’s doing and is doing it with a smile, which is surely a lot better than the service most FAs unfortunately provide right now.

  4. I feel a little ridiculous posting about hot nuts, but they are one of the AA (domestic) First trademarks. I don’t think they’re being served at room temperature, the ramekins obviously cannot be out during taxi & takeoff, so they go back in the oven. Many times I’ve had a fairly hot ramekin. As said above, he does a great job with a good attitude, nothing to see here.

  5. @ Gary — Back to work? Really? Maybe you, but I don’t even try to work on airplanes. It is pointless, even in international First. Your time is better spend sleeping or reading or just relaxing. Why do we feel the need to work in such a horrible space? Do we really need to make more money to leave to someone else? I want to die just as I spend my last penny…

  6. Some people work on planes, and I do it sometimes, but the idea that first class passengers as a whole need to get their trays cleared as quickly as possible so they get “back to work” is kind of laughable and a throwback to 2003 or something. Most people, including in F, are listening to podcasts or something.

  7. I am a flight attendant for AA. Most of put them in the ramekins before take off, place them back in the oven, and heat them in the ramekins to make things easier for us after take off and I assure you this is what he’s doing. Gary, you are a vile, ungrateful person. If you have flight attendants so much you should really just drive everywhere. Stay in your lane.

  8. Everybody lay off Gary. I get his point.

    During the nut preload 🙂 ostensibly the guy is supposed to be doing something else in furtherance of the boarding process.

    So of course American is understaffed. They are under- everything’d.

    As others have noted the real headline here is that there was an AA FA with a smile on his/ her face

  9. Most honest thing in the article is labeling this as a first world problem. There are service issues at AA but really…….

  10. Gary,
    Which US3 airline staffs the 321 with more than four flight attendants? They all have the a321 variants now.
    This is a strange post ignoring other airlines’ staffing on the 321 and how every domestic narrowbody with every US carrier is staffed to FAA Mins.

  11. Once again Gary trying to drag down AA every chance he get, to prop up his
    rewards for pushing /praising Delta.
    Most domestic F/C Delta flights you get a prepackaged bag of nuts, pretzels or other in F/C.

  12. This is a horrible review. Maybe you should do more research before posting. You cannot reduce the number of flight attendants if the seat count remains the same. And who said the nuts are room temperature!

  13. I can’t think of any US domestic that does it differently. Or worse. Don’t understand the beef- they’re all understaffed and every domestic FC passenger gets less these days.

  14. In India I was down with the ‘delhi belly’ after eating only ONE NUT with my drink at my hotel . I have NEVER ever since eaten any nut from any doubtful source . So , Gary , I say “Nuts!” .

  15. “It’s more efficient for him, but he’s going to serve room temperature nuts. A first world problem for sure, but it points to an underlying problem – since that’s not the intention the airline has, or the experience that’s supposed to be delivered. Cabin crew are meant to heat the nuts in aluminum trays and place them in ramekins just prior to serving!”

    Is a pretty clear critique of the service flow (which – in the Instagram post linked – the FA explicitly mentions he heats the nuts again, so he doesn’t serve room temp nuts)

  16. I think the warmed buts are a nice touch! But why do some AA flights on the pre-beverage routine have a tray of water and 2 orange juices to pass out at a time? There’s no way it’s because of time (we had another 10-15 minutes before boarding door closed, and there’s just 8 people in 1st), and it feels weird/socially awkward to order a drink, but I do, which since it’s served in a can, I just ask (and prefer!) the can.

    Why does AA do this on the pre-flight beverage? It happens a lot on morning flights, but I have seen it in the afternoon too, and sometimes not at all, especially on regionals.

  17. @It’s me – Regarding widebodies, AA was meaningfully above FAA minimums before reducing cabin crew. United reduced crew too by the way. My point is that FAA minimums are a safety requirement, but proper service flow requires more than minimums.

  18. I do the same thing with the nuts in first class. But he’s just saving time heating the nuts with the ramekins instead of putting warm nuts into cold ramekins. Sheesh.

  19. The ‘nuts’ issue may seem trivial, but it tells a lot about AA’s corporate culture regarding customer service. Do the minimum.

  20. Compare this:

    On the BA 747 upper deck, with 18 passengers, they always have two flight attendants.

    And those two flight attendants don’t have to do the purser tasks.

    That one FA on AA is doing the work of three.

  21. The author made statements that were false. The flight attendant clearly did not serve room temperature nuts and although the writer may have felt wronged at some point in his life, it was no reason to write falsehoods in this article. He seems like a pretty miserable fellow. Most passengers are very happy to get the service they get and show their gratitude in many ways. Seeing a person like this get their article published when it is so clearly just some kind of rant, is very disappointing

  22. All American Airlines (not just AA) should go to Vietnam to figure out how they do it

    They serve a full meal and drinks to an entire plane from Bangkok to Phuket
    It’s like 30-40 minutes in the air. (Don’t know full flight time but it’s close)

    I’m the only lush here, but all I care about is the pre departure beverage.
    Delta does this 90% of the time
    UA like 50%
    AA very rarely

  23. I have flown UA and DL A321s in First domestically with meals. Both only staff the FAA minimum of 4. On all occasions, there were 2 crew in First at least through tray delivery (UA typically does the same on the 737-900 with 20 seats in First).

    I’ve had a couple of AA flights where zero service was done in coach but they left the F/A up in front (on the A321) by themself to do the service. A few weeks ago on a flight from CLT to Florida, the former America West F/A, who did a great job even thanking Exec Plats for their business and using names, did the service alone while the pilot said that “due to possible turbulence no service will be performed in coach… it’s only a 90 minute flight anyway.” The other 3 just sat in their jumpseats or probably in the aft galley and did nothing… except two came forward when it was time to hawk credit card apps. I asked the F/A why none of the others came up to help. He just shrugged.

    But I guess for a free elite upgrade on a $89 basic economy ticket I shouldn’t have a right to a view on the matter…

  24. As. 6.7 million passenger I have watched first class service deteriorate. It is not the fault of flight attendants it is management’s problem I have cut my ties with AA . Locality is not in one direction . There are better options .

  25. Gary’s right in terms of FA3 should be at least helping serve the nuts and make or run drinks. But, the crew in this case (and most others) on the 321 with 20 pax up front, are doing the best they can with what they’ve got to work with. AA refuses to put another FA on staff for those flights. The AA 757 used to run with FA5 quite often, especially MIA to South America destinations pre-scamdemic, specifically to assist FA1 up front. Overall, AA’s manpower management is horrible for flight attendants and this nutty post is a microcosm of a larger problem.

  26. I think this is a great article and I very much so appreciate it. Flying on American Airlines is all about suffering through indignities and identifying the inconsistencies in service.

    Also, warmed nuts are such a boomer thing. They are gross warmed and then also warmed then cooled off is even worse. They get a pulpy kind of texture in all of them. It’s pure acrylamide. Where is the Prop 39 warning?!

    In conclusion:
    – AA indignities
    – Who eats warmed nuts?!!!!

  27. Give it a rest Gary. The nuts will be warm when served and show me all those business travelers “working” – First is full of freeloading upgrades who fly on a company credit card but are fortunate enough to accrue miles they most likely haven’t paid for and then whine when they don’t get their upgrade!!!

  28. Gary, it’s usually the norm for the FA to load the ramekins with nuts, preflight, and warm them before serving. It’s not wrong, as you say in a previous comment. International flights are catered with nuts already in the ramekins, but not on domestic flights and I’m sure that has to do with catering costs, not because it’s wrong. There’s a lot of things FA’s do preflight that they technically shouldn’t be doing, but do anyway because it speeds the process inflight so that passengers “can go back to work.” You whine about the most trivial stuff and with this, you whine about something that’s not even true. If it were really about understaffing, then why bring up your lie about not heating nuts and your assertion that heating them in ramekins is wrong?

    And to those referencing PDB’s. If your FA doesn’t offer them, write it up. They should be. If they bid that position, that’s their job. Nothing is going to change if they’re not held accountable. You simply have to email or tweet flight number and date. The company has the crew information it needs to address that FA.

    In regard to the understaffing, yes, long ago, on 757’s and 20-seat S80 and 737 flights, for example, the number 3 would be assigned upfront and assist in the back after the service. Those were also the days of linens, appetizers and salads before entrees, sundae service, etc. There’s no reason the FA can’t serve 20 meals on a 2 1/2 hour flight. What often makes it a lengthy service is people thinking they’re the only one onboard and interrupting the service. Seriously, sitting there and having things brought to you is the easiest part of traveling, yet so many people make it harder on themselves and on the crew and it unfortunately conditions the crew with this “get it done” mentality or taking shortcuts, as you say (though the nuts was not a good or true example).

    Everyone chill out, passengers AND crew alike.

  29. I’d rather be handed a bag of chipotle during boarding. Help myself to a walk up bar in flight. The FA can do whatever they want. Play candy crush on their phone for all I care.

  30. @JRMW, I think you have your countries mixed up. Both Bangkok and Phuket are in Thailand.

    As for staffing, the minimum is one flight attendant for every 50 passengers per the FAA. Having a flight attendant tied up with a relatively small percentage of the passengers doesn’t leave that person available for those in flight safety emergencies. The FAA should probably mandate one flight attendant for every 50 passengers in coach and an extra flight attendant for every 50 passengers in other classes.

    I wonder how many senior citizen flight attendants move that fast. He does a good job.

  31. The nuts can be warmed in the ramekin. In fact, on international flights the nuts are already loaded in the ramekins.

  32. On a recent United flight, there were two flight attendants in 1st, and two in coach. I don’t think they could fit a 3rd FA in 1st, there just isn’t enough room.

  33. Gary, do you actually ever do research or just go on galley gossip? The only reason the nuts aren’t pre dished out is because of oven space, in fact on the 777 to Europe the nuts are pre dished into ramekins and covered with tin foil. After takeoff the entire rack goes into two carts that serve beverages in the aisle. Additional nuts are catered in a tin for those who would like more. There should be an additional flight attendant in the front to assist with beverages and hot towels. Please stop posting inaccurate information l

  34. @Gary Leff will you pay a higher ticket price to staff an extra flight attendant to warm your nuts prior to putting them in the ramekin?

  35. Warm nuts, hardly. Last four trips I’ve gotten bagged cold nuts in AA 1st Class. When is this going to stop? Ever decreasing value. Treatment by gate agents rude about 50% of the time.

  36. One thing that changed about AA’s service flow, post-merger, is that FC service (drinks and meals) are done without the cart–i.e., the FA is running back and forth from the galley for every drink, every tray, etc.

    This guy seems to take pride in his job, but I get Gary’s point that staffing has been reduced and it’s tough for one FA to complete the full service, so FAs can resort to shortcuts (another one that’s more common than before–just serve the nuts on the mail meal tray, rather than before the meal).

    But it seems that allowing the FA to use the cart would make it more feasible, reducing steps and improving service consistency while not negatively affecting the passenger experience. They use the carts in international business class–why not in domestic first?

    I never minded service off the cart–in fact, I think it led to better service at times (for example, when serving the meal tray, the FA would often ask if you’d like a glass of wine with your tray; in the current bring-it-from-the-galley model, ordering a refill or something different to drink with the actual meal disrupts the FA’s flow, and thus very rarely is a glass of wine or water offered with the actual tray). Of course the pre-merger AA service flow also encouraged a second drink with the tray because two glasses (one for water, one for wine) were catered ON the tray, making it even easier for/prompting the FA to ask and then fill.

  37. I fly ORD-PHX r/t 20x a year all on AA. Service dropped noticeably in FC 2020-2023. Flights this year have seen a tangible uptick in service and every flight has seen a second flight attendant assist nearly the entire flight in FC. When service is solid, I happily hand out AA commendations to flight attendants.

  38. Guy who is doing it wrong mad at people doing it wrong….

    @Gary: When you post an article claiming that the nuts are served cold when they are in fact heated just before service, and then fail to correct the article when that is pointed out, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

    Come on, at least try and get the very basics of public writing right. Is not lying (which is what it is at this point now that you know your article is mistaken) too much to ask?

  39. It’s the New AA way. Minimum crew for full service. Only reason this happened was during COVID, AA and the flight attendants union agreed to minimum crew. Because AA has offered leaves and did layoffs. The union, APFA, forgot to put a reinstatement date for full crew. AA took advantage of this and never brought back full crew service standards. But AA was quick to bring back full service on oversold flights. Sending crews to the breaking point. Too much work and duties for so few few crew members! To top off the bad service and food more. At DFW, AA opened their own catering kitchen. Squeeze the penny a little more with sub-standard food and catering. Why pay another company more when you, AA, can do it worse and cheaper. Literally farm animal quality grade food being catered.
    AA and Robert Isom follow in the shadows of Spirit and a bad used car dealership. Horrible leadership. Lack of any care for their employees. Who cares about anyone when you can hire anyone at bad wages off the street. Ask what the turn over ratio is for a flight attendant? At least 50% after 6 weeks of training with no pay. Only to find out they can make more money at Walmart or McDonald’s!
    Sad state of airline. AA. Needs new leadership and better care for employees and passengers!

  40. I agree with those who point out the ramekins no doubt went back in the oven to hold, so I don’t see an issue at all with the service.

    FAA minimums for an A321 is 4 F.A.s, why would AA allocate a 1/3 split? 2.5 hours is plenty of time for two main cabin F.A.s to begin cart service, so that the lead in F can do meal orders, drinks & nuts, and tray service while a second is heating and plating.

    Once meals are out, then moving the 4th FA to assist in main makes sense.

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