If We Don’t Like American’s New Catering, They’ll Think Customers Are Telling Them They Don’t WANT Food

When the American and US Airways merger got the final go-ahead, I said there were ten things to expect. So far things are playing out pretty much… as expected.

One of those things was the US Airways-ization of American. New leadership said that American’s service standards would survive But what that turns out to meean is a meeting in the middle for meal times — American was at about 2 hours, and US Airways at 3 hours 30 minutes so the new standard is 2 hours 45 minutes.

But it’s US Airways’-style food.

Yesterday was my first time flying on a meal route on a flight qualifying for food since new American meal standards went into effect September 1.

Since I was on a meal flight it’s still catered with mixed nuts, but with a new presentation.

I had the beef enchiladas rather than the pasta.

And we were promised we’d get to keep warm cookies! (There had been rumors in American’s catering shop of chocolate cake replacing the cookie.)

It turns out though that it’s a different cookie — smaller, no choice of kinds, and not nearly as gooey or delicious.

My own working hypothesis is that by changing the meals — and in general feedback I’ve heard is very negative, though the enchiladas were fine — they’ll discourage customers from actually eating them. And then they’ll be able to declare that customer feedback has made it clear that first class passengers prefer uncomplicated service and the ability to work uninterrupted by a full meal. So changes to better meet their needs will entail even more meal flights replaced by the ubiquitous snack basket.

That is, unless United gains traction by broadening its meal window

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. You are suggesting the New American will deliberately spin customer feedback to justify cost-cutting. I could believe this is if they had a monopoly. But flyers can choose other airlines. So it makes no sense for American to deceive itself or others temporarily, cut the level of service, and watch flyers find a better value with a competitor.

  2. Gary – Were you able to identify the insides of the enchilada? To me it did not resemble anything like beef. It also looked and had the texture of re-fried beans. The contents in the enchilada were certainly not beef. I guess the chemically engineered it to “taste good”.

  3. How is this any of a surprise? Parker has been known to count the nuts in the ramekins.

    The quality has gone way downhill. He has succeeded, as you suggest, Gary, as I bring my food on board in domestic First.

    Such a shame, too, because it is, er, was a great airline.

  4. Unless you can’t fly another competitor on that route, or they are $400 more, or Spirit…

    I agree with your prediction Gary, too bad you couldn’t input travel preferences for work and leisure profiles…

  5. This is no attack on you or any of the other writers who have mentioned the same thing, but it sounds a bit ridiculous for adults to complain about the quality of a cookie.

    It’s the juxtaposition of the word “cookie” – which has the inherently funny “k” sound and is associated primarily with children – and something as ostensibly adult as flying First Class. If I were American and wanted to make elites sound over-entitled, I would make them complain about cookies.

    It’s perfectly understandable, though, because in a way dropping quality on a cookie is more offensive than dropping quality on booze BECAUSE it’s such a small, petty thing. As in, “I care about your business so little that I’m going to take away your cookie.”

  6. @Chris
    No its not petty at all complaining about a cookie a beverage or a meal.
    Its called brand standard and one that is meant for what’s appropriate in a premium cabin
    For American to attract and retain premium passengers they need a good product not one that is crap or sub par
    Its an issue Domestically and especially International where it matters more
    AA continues to be a lesser brand in demand amongst high paying passengers because it trails that of other international carriers in every regard
    Both food and service. Hard product improvements will help but It wont be the save all either
    American is fast becoming US Air like every day and those folks at US AIR will likely in the end finally make United successful by failing if this and dozens of details that matter to many customers most keep spiraling downward
    They just don’t get it!!! SIGH

  7. @greg American flyers will be unhappy with the changes, but if they want to comfort themselves they could always try a few trips on United #GrassAintGreener

  8. I thought maybe it would just be better if airlines gave a $10-20 discount if you didn’t eat a meal. Airlines would save on catering and weight on a flight so win-win as we could eat what we want at airports. I only eat the meal more than anything out of boredom. AA really needs to get more planes with inflight entertainment!

    This seems faimilar…..former CEO of Continental Airlines, Gordon Bethune, said it best that you could keep cutting out the cheese and sauce on a pizza until you had a pizza so bad that nobody would eat it.

  9. You must’ve had a bad cookie preparer. I just flew JFK-SFO and the chocolate chip cookie was super gooey. Even had a choice between chocolate chip and sugar.

  10. @Greg

    Greg wrote: “The AA fanboys are in for a ride. Come on over to UNITED.”

    Well this AA elite will not go to United to not be Taken For a Ride. Thanks.

  11. Your upgrades are dwindling by the day, and you have less than half the extra-legroom coach seats.

    Enjoy it. UNITED is the carrier on the move in 2015.

  12. @Goosh, JFK-SFO, along with MIA-SFO, JFK-LAX and LAX-MIA, are exception routes. They still have AA’s old meals.

    The rest? This disgusting glop that US Airways thinks is acceptable.

  13. LAX-MIA had nice lunch this week in J (chicken) but beware the MIA-LAX return breakfast. The turkey quiche was a crust filled with glop. Cooking it longer just made it hot glop. I couldn’t eat it.

  14. While Lax-Mia this week on the 777 J lunch had nice stuffed chicken (stuffing wasn’t bad although about 500 calories, so I scraped it of), the Mia-Lax J breakfast on the return had something they called quiche that was just glop in a crust. I asked them to cook it more, and got back hotter glop. BEWARE, it’s inedible.

    Gary, the word over on FT is that the beef enchilada is really beef slime inside. Your street cred is taking a real hit by saying those are fine.

  15. As a heavy US airways flyer, my complaint has never been food quality. The food’s never been anything to write home about, but generally it’s perfectly acceptable. Instead it’s the tiny proportion. On a transcontinental the main course is small and the appetizer and salad are tiny, nowhere near a sufficient meal. You are right when you say US elites are hungry, it’s because the portions are way too small for a full meal on long flights.

  16. I often find myself in the minority when discussing this on FT, but I couldn’t care less what I’m served on a domestic flight. There is a 100% chance that the departure terminal has something better to eat than whatever I’m getting in domestic F, so I always eat before I go. Even if AA’s offerings are getting worse, they (and every other airline) were never good to begin with in domestic first. If they did away with meal service entirely, I don’t think I’d be bothered.

  17. American’s food has been inedible for quite some time. Came back to Miami from Santiago in steerage, and neither my wife nor I could eat what was served on the 9+ hour flight. (And we’re not picky eaters.).

  18. The movement to USAir stds is disappointing and a dangerous move for AA given others are raising the quality of their inflight product. I care about on-board food especially when tight connections and changing terminals in DFW leaves little time for getting a good meal. I care about details and appreciate Gary bringing them to light.

  19. I don’t understand the suggestion that mgmt will spin complaints as saying that pax prefer to work uninterrupted by a meal. One always has the option of declining a meal.

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