American Airlines Stops Bothering To Set The Table For Dinner In International First Class

American Airlines could have created a really good international first class product. They have the lounges (with first class dining). They have the ground service, they just needed to bundle Five Star in with Flagship first class tickets. The seats are antiquated, but comfortable and spacious and the bedding works. They’ve even done nice first class amenity kits before. All that was really needed beyond Five Star was an investment in onboard service and more spend on food and beverage.

Sadly, in their move to suites with doors they’ve committed to eliminating Flagship first class. Boeing 777-300ERs, the only widebody planes with the product, will be getting more business class suites instead. And the fleet of premium cross country A321T that offered a true first class will be reconfigured like standard domestic planes, with routes like New York – Los Angeles either served by new Airbus A321XLRs that will have suites or with widebody aircraft instead.

In the meantime American still has first class. It’s not a competitive product. And they’ve basically already given up on it. In fact, American Airlines Vice President of Inflight and Premium Services Brady Byrnes told a group of employees at a meeting in Dallas on December 9th (a recording of which was reviewed by View From The Wing) that one way they’re compensating for having fewer flight attendants working flights is by reducing what each one is expected to do – even in international first class. American no longer sets the table for first class passengers and now just delivers trays with flatware already on it.

We’ve continued to make modifications to our current service footprint in the hopes of streamlining onboard delivery a bit. For example in first class on the 777-3 when we used to table set, now it’s all preset on the tray….just a few little nits that will hopefully take a some pain points out of your guys’s daily duties.

American will be working through its “next service iteration” with flight attendant focus groups starting in a few months, retrofitting what service looks like including with feedback from British Airways about service on dense premium Boeing 777s.

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. Why am I not surprised?? Even when they had the proper staff, everyone saw the will, the spirit just wasn’t there. They didn’t want to be there, and you could feel it, you could sense it. Maybe because they knew the majority of passengers sitting there were just non revs and crew?, but the airline never really believed in its First Class product. And I’m talking about way before the pandemic hit. It’s really sad, but not surprising at all! Now, they have the perfect excuse. The perfect alibi. OMG , a staggered cabin, full of mini cabs ( suites) that we have to tend to, and fast. I just hope that the BA training really helps and streamlines things, otherwise it’s really going to be an awful experience altogether. The cabins are going to be so big, jam packed with so many seats. I can already hear them, they have the perfect excuse.

  2. Trays shouldn’t be served in business-class, let alone international first. Period.

    Paid $7,000 for a Delta One business-class ticket and couldn’t even get fresh silverware between my starter/first course and main course. And it was all on a tray.

  3. What a joke – BA manages to get it done, they should use clauses in their agreement to enforce standards

  4. First class on the 777-300 offers wider seats, but less privacy than Biz. No huge loss here, and hopefully more seats in Biz would lead to better award availability. Maybe it means that my expectations are less refined, but I still prefer AA across the Atlantic over Delta’s crazy award prices, United’s honest attempt to catch up with Delta’s award prices, Lufthansa’s throwback to the 90’s 2-2-2 configuration, Air France’s unpredictability with all the strikes, and El Al’s narrow foot wells. AA is not perfect, but a good night sleep across the pond is still somewhat more likely than on the competitors.

  5. it sounds counterintuitive to many on blogs and is never covered but the chase for value in the air is a fools errand

    Book coach or economy (or business esavers). Travel more to a lot of destinations on the points you’ve earned. service in row 10 isn’t that much worse than service on row 5 on most airlines

  6. I mean the end of first-class expectations and service only makes sense. They are the only American (North or South) carrier to still carry a first cabin, which really feels redundant and unnecessary IMO. I’m a younger traveler (early 30s), so maybe missed out on the “golden age”, which seems like it was still in pale comparison to travel in 60s and 70s, but people know have more access to private air travel if you really want elevated experience or send business to the few Asian and European carriers that still do…and I’m not sure BA falls into that group? To expect AA, given all American carriers, given the product delivery of Main and Business, to carry a global FC product, I don’t know, feels a little pipe-dreamy, no? So, I’m all for elevating (or attempting) the Biz Class and Prem Econ experience…maybe even Economy. Lol.

  7. Customers should express their feelings about these things to AA management. The flight attendants are in a great position to negotiate these things into their contracts. Less work, more pay. It’s only human nature.

  8. It’s all gone to S**t since deregulation. I’m not a big fan of Government regulation, but in this case… It is severely needed. Anyone old enough to recall how it was prior to de-regulation will know what I am talking about.

  9. I’ve flown FC on both the 777 and A321T. I found the business class seats more comfortable on the A321T. that the clunky confined boxes for FC. The FC on the 777 was spacious, but probably worth it on a upgrade. Cash price for the extra space was not worth it.

  10. T, the union threw in the towel on the issue about a year ago. As one who regularly flies FF, from first hand observations, the job takes two FAs. So, typically, a business cabin crew member comes forward to assist the first cabin FA. This is cost reduction pure and simple.

  11. And oh, the horror, I ran into a napkin in United First domestic this week without a buttonhole. I guess they don’t expect passengers to wear shirts or blouses with buttons anymore.

  12. MDtravel, broad-brushing all AA international flight attendants as you do is sort of like saying that all doctors are arrogant and entitled assholes. That would be unfair. Certainly, there are rotten apples in every group but I have found the vast majority of them to be good apples. Still, there are times when the good apples have bad days when they have to deal with doctors who are arrogant and entitled assholes.

  13. AA loathes its passengers anyway so might as well stop pretending. FAs have galley chatting and some “Us” magazines to catch up on anyway.

  14. @ Lee: Add to your comment, even flying Delta domestic back when DFW was hub. Fly Lockheed L1011 first class breakfast flight DFW to ATL, I mean they had the best BM drinks and ham & eggs just like coming from a blue collar breakfast joint. And lazy boy chairs for seating. Now get on, sit down, shut up, sleep if you can, whatever.

  15. I’m sorry but if your biggest complaint is the flatware being on the tray instead of the table and not getting fresh flatware between courses… Get over yourself. Respectfully.

  16. We just flew first (well, business) from DFW to HNL and it was so very different from first class a decade ago. I like to pull up pictures of years gone by when our meal was served in separate courses and the salad was really something. First used to be a big deal, now it just gets more and more depressing. Better than economy (esp as we get older), but still.

  17. There is a demand for Long Haul F Class, that is why carriers like Qantas have it on their A380 and will be offering it on their new a350 ultra long-range aircraft. It is a niche product but there a lot of very wealthy people who can afford to pay for it. Not everyone wants to throw money away on a private jet.

  18. Love how everyone remembers how great the meals were in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in FC, but never comment about the hard product. I’ll take a lie flat seat with a meal on a tray any day. #OhTheSuffering

  19. I find the contents hilarious, as if this is a major downgrade in service and an inevitable consequence of the great AA demise. Just seems like generational differences to me. I would never think of how the flatware is delivered, now could I tell you how it was delivered on past flights, it doesn’t practically impact the experience. I guess if you’re expecting some great level of detail and unwilling to accept change, this could be a big disappointment. Younger generations don’t care about how utensils are delivered or what color socks the flight attendant is wearing, they would rather have more seats/better prices for the basic business class features (comfy seat, a meal). I think service and product is simply adjusting to new expectations.

  20. @Clark – this isn’t a reference to business class, but to international first class, which is differentiated by elevated service. ‘younger generations’ unless they’re celebrities or ultra-wealthy aren’t the primary consumer of the product.

  21. Wayne Ashton Litton – the main thing is those carriers are primarily ultra longhaul. Qatar, Qantas, etc all have ULH routes as the bread winner. US/EUROPE carriers for most part have longhaul bread winners, not ULH, at least for most part.

    These are also lengths where flying private doesn’t necessarily make sense.

  22. I may be in the minority here but the less the airlines do in terms of serving food, the better. Being a true foodie, I find the food on airlines to pretty much be crap. Not the airline’s fault, necessarily. Preparing meals en masse and storing them a few to > 10 hours and preparing in a cramped galley with a microwave is not a recipe for great food. On flights <8-10 hours, I rarely accept the food service. For the most part they serve crap wine (no matter how they package it) and drinking alcohol on flights is not recommended. So I skip that too. Mostly I bring a couple energy bars to make it through the flight.

    My recommendation to the airlines would be to focus on having a good selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Improve the hard product (bigger pillows, etc) and maybe have a few packaged snacks.

  23. Service downgrade to match the widespread downgrade in passenger attire. All 1st class passengers dress like Silicon Valley billionaires in ripped jeans and dirty turtlenecks, no gents in coat and tie, and no ladies in skirts or dresses. And now consigned to telemarketing-cube-farm-like cabinette.

  24. AA is pretty much a joke unless you happen to get a good crew. I mostly fly AS whenever I can but sometimes it won’t work and I have to fly AA. True story. My friend and I were flying from ORD to SEA a few months ago and one of the flight attendants acted like she was r*****ed as she walked through the aisle with two large bottles of water. The FA by the FC curtain was in hysterics laughing at her. We were both so stunned we just looked at each other with the “WTF just happened” look. So wrong in so many ways!!

  25. OK, I am well beyond the sell-by date for this blog post, but then, @Gary’s been on holiday so what the heck….
    When I read this stuff I do sometimes wonder just how many folk who comment have actually flown AA FF and paid for it. I have, a lot. Mostly LAX or DFW to HKG or DFW to LHR. And I’m talking hundreds of thousands of miles. My comparison to AA FF in terms of international First is: Swiss, BA, Cathay and Emirates. The best? Cathay. Bling and shower award goes to Emirates. However, what no-one ever talks about is price. Typically AA FF was always the low-priced bid and not by a little bit. No-one ever wants to discuss value, which is why I ask how many moaners actually PAID for their seat.
    COVID allowed AA to do what they do best — F up a good thing. While BA still had table service AA was giving us shrink-wrapped trays in FF. It was a disgrace. We got a bit of table service back, now it seems we’re trying to Level Down, something else AA does very well. It’s a shame, but it’s what they do.
    The best thing to do IMHO is pig out in a FF dining room before the flight then let them stuff their silly trays where the sun don’t shine.
    Next year I will probably be booking BA flights that still have First on AA codeshares where I can. I have a vigorous dislike of BA, but they will be the only game in town.

  26. “Anyone remember what it was like flying on Pan Am? Those were the days.”

    Truly. If you were a member of the frequent flyer program you could pre-order from a list of several meals that were quite nice.

  27. I am a flight attendant for American. Working London flights each week on the 777-300 with the real first class. First of all, putting the items on a tray doesn’t alleviate what AA has done to the service and all flights by taking away the little help we have. Fewer flight attendants. AA still wants the same international service in Business class and coach, but with fewer flight attendants. We agreed to a temporary reduction in flight attendants during covid due to layoffs and leaves. But AA forgot the word temporary and refuses to bring back the needed hands in flight, but hey, you can do the full service still. The issue of getting rid of First class because it’s always full of non revs, company employees is false. Never in the past year alone have I seen 1 company employee. They’re, AA, are getting rid of First class because US Air doesn’t believe in first class. We have all US Air management running us into the ground with poor decisions. AA used to have one of the top services internationally, but when US Air took over, we became Cousin of Spirit. One of the worst big 3 airlines because of poor management. Almost 90% of the stories AA puts out is false. Ask a working line employee. We’ll tell you the real truth.

  28. @SC – maybe not non-rev as in only AA employee. However no one was actually buying First. It was 99% employees/ upgrades.

  29. To: prez33 regarding your haughty and misguided condescension of @SC … shame on you for disrespecting his/her sense of corporate-pride lost:

    As a decades-long, loyal, highly-frequent-paying-premium customer of AA, this specific population indeed actually CONCURS with @SC … the contemptuous mindset of USAirways management upon AA’s original quality is beyond deplorable, ever-so-tangible, and exhausting for anyone with a standard sense of value towards matters of quality, professionalism and human grace. I fully respect the cultural differences among airlines offering true long-haul First, from the particular US characteristics vs the particulars of both European and ME carriers (I indeed enjoyed these contrasts and valued what each offers) … yet the third-class USAirways mindset that has corroded and corrupted AA is a pronounced disservice. Just imagine the USAIrways Sr. Management (masquerading as AA) laughing at thoughtful customers like me, and there are countless who appreciate fine things and are willing to pay for it … why instead not take actual pride in one’s work, and relative to First Class on AA long-haul, offer decent and caring service? I have witnessed countless caring flight attendants on AA, but when uniforms and cabin finishes are equally debased, it is difficult to even act as if one cares.

    As many paying customers above have accurately stated, I increasingly take my long-haul First Class business to other carriers, thus resulting in AA’s true bottom-line loss. And as to the more youthful commentator above who mistakenly (so short-sighted) states he or she could not care less as to how the flatware is placed (are your children taught how to hold a fork properly) or if a flight attendant wears mismatched socks, “please” … have some pride in your own humanity and just care the slightest amount more as to the spectrum of refinements that make and distinguish “civilization”. Jetting across the Pacific or Atlantic in style is still marvelous, a tribute to human innovation that SHOULD still be honored with the INCLUSION OF and RESPECT FOR STYLE and perhaps some ELEGANCE.

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