Here’s What American’s New Meals are Really Like Inflight

Last night was my first opportunity to try one of the new domestic first class dinner entrees that American rolled out August 1 (although I remain happy with the entree salads that rolled out May 1, up until yesterday I’ve only been on breakfast or lunch flights in August).

Here’s what the steak and lobster mac and cheese looked like in the test kitchen:

Here’s what it looked like in flight:

(Since the flight wasn’t 1299 miles or more, there wasn’t an appetizer on the tray — but the tradeoff there is that we did get a bread plate!)

The steak was perfectly edible and wasn’t overcooked. I wouldn’t have been happy with that piece of beef in a restaurant, but it was nonetheless better than I expected and ten thousand percent better than the ‘mystery meat’ American had been serving since the September 1, 2014 cutbacks (“US Airways-ization”).

The mac and cheese was delicious. Not much lobster of course, but that’s to be expected. The pasta itself was much better than what American had been serving.

So I was thrilled all around.

For domestic meals there’s no plating involved, the tray is delivered to the plane and flight attendants just remove the plastic and heat. Heating in the galleys causes the meals to come out ‘differently’ than they would on the ground.

I suppose it shouldn’t matter how the food is served, but I think the much improved meal would seem even nicer with a better presentation than a plastic tray with a paper liner. I really like the trays that were used on my Delta business class flight earlier this year:

All things equal I’d rather the food cost go into the food but the presentation certainly could be improved.

I also wish they’d offer more than one salad dressing. I’ve never had a single conversation with anyone, ever, about how they like ranch dressing and want more of it. Regardless, there are choices of meals and I wish there were choices of dressings as well. That’s something that used to be offered onboard. Years ago I remember one of United’s choices was ‘Green Goddess’ dressing which meant that as far as I was concerned there was only one choice (the dressing that wasn’t Green Goddess).

But there’s no question this is a huge improvement. I’ve gone from always making sure to have eaten before the flight to assuming I’ll eat onboard. And that means I stay at the office longer, since I don’t need to get food on the way. That makes travel less stressful overall.

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 looks like most of the lobster ran away versus the sample. Given that some people, such as yourself, would certainly do a picture comparison, maybe a more realistic sample would have been a better idea. Glad the taste was there.

  2. I really do not care for that wood tray look that Delta uses. It just looks to much like a cafeteria tray. The American tray with that mat is a step better. The table cloth presentation used on most foreign airlines is the best, but probably costs way more. I agree the money should be spent on the food and not presentation. Would a cloth mat add that much money to the food budget?

  3. ” I’ve never had a single conversation with anyone, ever, about how they like ranch dressing and want more of it.”

    Man that’s up there with Pauline Kael expressing befuddlement about Richard Nixon’s victory when none of her friends voted for him. Ranch dressing is phenomenally popular in the US

  4. @Gary Do you have any idea why we are not seeing tray linens? I think that would help with the presentation. I had the beef option on a dinner flight post August 1st. I can agree the food was edible, but certainly not a culinary experience. However, at the moment I don’t think we could realistically expect a dining experience on any domestic flight.

  5. My overview
    lack of salad dressing choices I did like their oil and vinegar mini bottles in the past
    the salad portions are too small what the #### does lettuce cost?
    The steak looks dry and the color somewhat unappealing. This is the improvement?
    Not a single vegetable anywhere heavy on carbs. There should be some lighter options
    Id rather have the Uno pizza back if I am going to stay overweight than risk how American and the caterer would handle seafood in the air. What little microscopic slivers they are willing to part with

  6. I don’t get the decision to serve lobster mac with the main steak dish. Not everyone likes seafood, and something that can please as many people as possible is the best choice. Seafood is almost always a dodgy choice when it comes to airplane food anyway.

  7. Are you saying they didn’t offer oil and vinegar to you?

    I thought I had it on my transcon meal flight recently.

  8. I have a theory that ranch dressing is the O Negative blood of dressings and dips. Never the first choice but always better than nothing.

  9. @Gary. If you keep eating meals like that you won’t be around long to keep writing this blog. I hope you don’t have heart disease in your family! You focus too much on food.

  10. @William I disagree that “something that can please as many people as possible is the best choice” since that’s why there are two selections to choose from to begin with. Doing something interesting or daring, rather than lowest common denominator would be welcome.

    That said I don’t consider this daring. rather by putting a couple of pieces of defrosted lobster meat on the plate they can say they serve steak and lobster which sounds high-end.

  11. I had the steak and lobster mac & cheese on a flight to PTY. The steak was done perfectly. Not over cooked as I’ve often experienced on DL. Mac & cheese was delicious as you said. The only disappointment was the appetizer, which I thought was a second salad. The ice cream desert was very good but not to the level of a DL sundae. I prefer AA’s tray to DL’s faux wood cafeteria tray sans liner.

  12. The salad looks way too small. I don’t understand why they don’t offer larger salads. Glad to hear the steak wasn’t overcooked, and that the mac was improved. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the olive oil and balsamic vinegar they used to have. For me, it’s that or nothing. But my spouse loves ranch dressing and can never have enough of it.

  13. Correction. For purposes of accuracy, my flight with the mac & cheese and beef was to BOG not PTY for anyone keeping score.

  14. Amazing they didn’t overcook the steak Gary
    Its been years since the AA didn’t dry every entrée out they were serving
    The beef has been so low in quality I rarely will do anything but take a tiny taste and spit it out in my napkin
    I was on one of the past flights where the head of catering was monitoring passenger feedback without outing the fact who they were
    We had a conversation in the galley. The purser tipped me off who it was
    Passengers were angry as it was an international flight and almost every passenger self included hated the food. Most of it was thrown away and one Pax refused to fly AA again who paid his full fare
    Premium cabins have to reasonably reflect premium product and experience
    Enough said! serve a ham sandwich on a fresh bakery roll if you cant cook or to stingy to allocate a proper budget. But whatever it is do it well!

  15. You got lucky. Mine and my wife’s dishes were grossly overcooked and inedible. The steak also came with a strange green butter on it that was awful. Biggest problem was that the lobster mac and cheese was rubber and the steak was completely brown inside and not at all crusty on the outside. It was well done plus without any of the nice things that well done can do. It was also a hockey puck. The cookies, however, were good.

  16. As someone who hates ranch dressing and kept finding it the only option I finally figured out how to “make” my own. Ask the FA for a few lemon wedges and maybe a lime wedge too. Squeeze the juice on, add the salt and pepper, and it’s at least better than dry lettuce.

  17. I’m sure there is still room for improvement…
    but this looks a LOT better than many first class domestic meals I’ve been served over the years…
    And a steak that’s heated on board and not overcooked is pretty “rare”, too – gotta celebrate the small wins!

  18. Maybe they should focus more on their pathetic service. The 6:35PM flight from MIA-LAX was delayed for 15 hours yesterday. How do you justify making passengers sit and wait for 15 hours for a cross country flight?

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