No Plans For American Airlines To Reintroduce Real First Class Meal Service Before Covid Ends

American Airlines has been offering their old coach buy on board sandwiches as first class meals throughout much of the pandemic. It’s a sad service, but still better than what Delta has been giving customers.

On certain Charlotte flights they’ve tested a protein box and a vegetarian box as alternatives. This test is happening on about 40 flights a day and runs through March 9, 2021.

american airlines protein box
Protein Box, Credit: JoeyE

During American’s “State of the Airline” presentation and question and answer with employees, Managing Director of Flight Service Brady Byrnes explained that they’re working through what’s next for meals and are talking with the flight attendants union “about what is the right timing both from a customer and from a crewmember perspective.”

Some flight attendants are reluctant to be asked to provide service that they haven’t had to offer for the past 10 months. Frequently you’ll hear that flight attendants are safety professionals and here primarily for your safety. However I have every confidence they can multi-task: they aren’t being asked to serve food while assuming the brace position.

According to Byrnes, the purpose of the Charlotte meals test is to “kind of understand when we do reintroduce full service, what products we should be offering, kind of streamlining the service for our flight attendants and really making sure that our customers enjoy it.” The return to service is going to be streamlined.

Furthermore, American has “no immediate plans to re-introduce the full service traditional pre-covid. a nutshell we will establish service again when it’s the right thing to do for our customers and for our crew.”

However post-pandemic we might at least see improvements,

Sometime this year when we get our arms just around vaccinations and the pandemic goes away and the business comes back we’ll make sure that we are out there plugging our flagship service and really making a difference for our customers.

In August then-Senior Vice President of Inflight Jill Surdek told employees 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.”

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. The disgusting food we serve is an excuse for pax to keep their masks off. I cannot tell you how many times I have to tell someone to put on their mask. Over and over and over. It’s exhausting. If your metric for a flight is FOOD then you have a serious problem. It is TRANSPORTATION airlines are tasked with. We do it very well, and very safely. Please, stop with the unimportant issue of airplane food. I watch people eat that stuff and am grossed out. We do however still have booze. And the drunks onboard are super happy! Alcohol consumption in FC is through the roof…..there are FA’s who won’t serve drinks. I’m not one of them. Please, try and be respectful. I don’t want to tell a grown human to wear a mask. Just wear it!

  2. Amazing how AA persists in operating within a cocoon, oblivious to the highly competitive world it lives within. Just like Amtrak when it comes to F&B; but Amtrak has no competition.

    What is the rationale expressed at Board meetings for re-defining first class ass backwards? Sandwich fine at lunch; but dinner is dinner.

    Interestingly, I learned how VIA Rail Canada had modified its first class F&B service on the Toronto-Montreal Corridor. When they realized how passengers were not so interested in lunch/supper meals, they reduced their expenses and plowed the savings back into dinner meals.

    Given the far too numerous and disappointing issues evident at AA, including their thinking about service, it is apparent that the issue starts with an inexperienced and unenlightened Board that cannot control its management.

  3. This is old news. AA has switched to the Delta method- First Class gets a box of carb loaded crap. AA is a follower not a leader- this probably saves $. The sandwiches and cheese was truly nice. Next AA will do the Delta thing for drinks- only one type of beer or white wine for drinks nothing else( ludicrous- but cheaper for Delta). In defense the low fares means low to no service.

  4. …….and since covid is never going to end we know where this leaves us. Just fold already…..and take United with you.

  5. American is still offering more than Delta and about on par with United and Alaska. So who are they being oblivious compared to? For that matter with 3-5 hr flight tickets selling for $2-300 in First, while I understand the hot meal costs them $5-10, at least they have the flights priced for what they are. Heck even the transcon J services that still offer amenities and hot meals just about every flight on the schedule is $4-500, they just aren’t filling up. So when the flights are full and the prices can go back up, the level of service will resume.

  6. In the 4th quarter, Delta had a 19% yield (revenue per paid seat mile) premium over American.

    Passengers don’t care about food as much as they do about space. As much as I would like some form of caffeine on Delta domestic flights, passengers are paying for what they most want.

  7. and since its just transportation…let’s get rid of the flight attendants too. We can engineer the doors to pop open in an emergency. That will save payroll and help reduce confrontations on the airplane which are often egged on by f/as with a hero complex.

  8. I recently flew first class from Bradley to Charlotte. The flight left at 6am. Silly me, I never expected that a) AA wouldn’t even give me a granola bar or pretzels, and b) then wouldn’t let me in the AA lounge. I actually researched this and saw the AA lounge was open in Charlotte, but somehow missed I wasn’t eligible despite flying on to Mexico and being in first class. Wow!

  9. As an AA Platinum member (gold now) who bought their tickets out of their own pocket because I love to travel and fly. One of my regular trips is paying the extra to fly first class PHL to TPA at dinner time nice meal drinks and a movie. For me I saw the value in the extra cost to go FC. I’m in the process of getting my second Pfizer vaccine shot and would have been interested in returning to traveling but I just can’t see the value of paying the extra money for first class to get attitude from a flight attendant and one service of red wine in a cheap plastic cup.. Americans concerned about covid so they cut out most services, yet they’ll pack the planes full even the middle seat.

  10. I will take the booze over food any day. I can always find a sandwich in the overpriced airport concessions or bring my own PB&J…it goes great with beer or cheap wine.

  11. While I understand and agree with the need to maintain safety standards during the pandemic, I also feel that FC should offer more than a slightly bigger seat and some additional leg room. There used to be some cache to flying and especially flying FC. What happened to pride in service? The reality is that after all of this time not having to provide regular or basic customer service, FAs are going to resist doing anything more than they are currently required to do. It is human nature and does not bode well for the “experience” of FC now or in the future.

  12. @Constance
    They’ve been resistant to doing anything substantive since 9/11….and since they’re all FAM’s now (so they think) there will never be any pride in service ever again. The way they see it, they are prison guards there to keep us in line. China Joe might actually allow foreign carriers to fly domestic routes now ….at least Chinese carriers that is….and then all the domestic carrier fas can get their old jobs back at the jail, or dmv.

  13. It’s just ridiculous. So what do flight attendants exactly do. HUM. oops that’s right just nothing.

  14. For domestic flights, I actively research the service offering in First before deciding upon booking class. If a hot meal will be served, I consider the particular fare and weigh the value. If there is no meal service offered, I go to the Coach option immediately.

  15. Call me crazy, but when I pay a premium price for a premium ticket, I expect a palatable meal/drinks and better service. The entire travel industry is using covid as an excuse to cut back service and perks. I dont expect this to change once covid is over. And, for those FA’s who complain that their job is customer safety rather than food service, I call bs. You knew what you were signing on for when you took the job, so just call a spade a spade and admit you just want to continue doing less work.

  16. @Hector – the fare has been reduced. Have you priced airline tickets lately? Get over yourself man.

  17. And in the gutting of Flagship Lounge benefits and you have real winning combination. But all in the name of safety.

  18. I love reading the comments. But, really, what do you WANT? Realistically, in this COVID time, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT, and WANT?
    Thats what I would like to know. I am an airline Professional, and my customers of course are my paycheck. So I want you to be happy. Please, be realistic, and tell me what you want.
    Listening .

  19. I served the new box out of CLT to SFO and received rave reviews from my FC passengers. Do you/ readers realize that a plane is a form of quick transportation. It’s requirement is to get you from point A to point B safely, and in a reasonable amount of time. PERIOD! Anything that happens in between is optional.
    As an airline employee I want to see happy people, to make their flight awesome. My primary objective is to be there for your safety, understand that. I can’t fix your nasty attitude when you come onboard, I can’t fix your relationship at 38k feet. Don’t ask me too or take it out on me or others.
    But I can smile behind my mask,you can see it in my eyes, try and make you as comfortable as I can and thank you for flying ???(airline cannot be named)

  20. Joules – food does mean something to premium fliers. Maybe you’re immune to it with your job as a FA, but food + service mean a lot to premium passengers. It’s a differentiator.

    Should we really be lauding you for serving drinks while some FAs refuse to? I would prefer that you look for another job rather than complain about the passengers who contribute largely to your paycheck.

    Oh and btw – Delta doesn’t even have booze to ameliorate the considerable loss of f&b offerings and general service.

  21. Due to family situation, I’ve been flying during Covid weekly and I’ve flown AA, Delta and United, both first class and coach. AA is a complete joke. F/as don’t want to do anything (generally across the board) except making announcements :). Here’s my ranking (best to worst) United, Delta, AA.

  22. If I buy a first class ticket and it’s $800 vs flying $400 for coach I expect a little bit more. We are paying a higher premium for the service and food and I believe we should get a little something instead of f/a saying they are helping with the health and safety of the customers. If they care about the health and safety why are people still crammed together in coach? Is it too much to ask for a hot meal for first class service? I don’t think so. It’s an excuse for the airlines to give less and less to the customers, that’s how I see it. If the f/a feels like they are treated so bad they should go into another career. Let’s just have all coach seats, have everyone bring on board whatever they want to drink and eat, pick up our own refuse (pack it in-pack it out), have a video playing ahead of time for safety, and just do away with the flight attendants.

  23. I choose first class for 1)additional baggage 2) additional space 3)meal service 4)assurance of overhead space 5)ease of boarding and deplaning. I am willing to pay the extra price for these things and I do want a decent (doesn’t have to be gourmet) meal while I am flying if it is mealtime. Or a healthy snack option in between. It’s not difficult to offer nuts or fruit. I appreciate that the attendants role is primarily a safety role of course, but I feel it is also one of comfort and assurance for the customers while traveling and I don’t think that is too much to ask. Providing a meal, beverage, and/or snack also provides a distraction of sorts to help customers pass the time while flying, so I do think FA’s are providing a service to anxious fliers in that regard. Many fliers are reassured by seeing them in the aisles doing their jobs and interacting with customers cheerfully which reassures those who are anxious in the air.

  24. I fly alot on personal flight to the point that I get my executive platinum every year. The only thing FA are looking for is heading to the back seat and talk with each other for the entire flight. Safety are you kidding if something happened and both of them in the back of the plane great safety!

    It probably will never matter that you had the various and that your vaccinated. Airlines see this as there window to get people use to getting nothing and telling people to go buy whatever they want.

    There’s still some experience FA that know what it means to give service to there FC passage. Price of flight are creeping up every month this year, but service is not changing at all. Best service I got on AA this year was a flight from MIA to LAX flight. But the other 22 flights I took this year you almost have to buzz the button to get a soda in FC now., and you almost have to beg for crackers I don’t see this changing anytime in the near futur.

  25. Hi My Wife and Recently flew AA FC from Chicago to Louisville and was so disappointed. No water offer or soda. Why did I pay for first class? We asked for a water and a glass of wine and were told this service is not offered.

  26. It’s all different and also depending on the FA that are working the flight! It’s just crazy that there’s so much difference between each flight

  27. We just returned to the mainland from Maui on AA FC. No meal for a 6.5 hour flight. Only a bag of chips and one pass on the drinks. the FA was SO cranky and rude. I get that we’re all trying to figure out how things are during and post Covid but wow. On the trip over, they had sandwiches, which they ran out of by the last row of FC so we got chips instead. I went to the restroom during the flight and saw that the FA had saved the sandwiches for themselves. just WOW. I did buy FC for the space (they’ve swapped out planes so no more lay down seats) but for that long of a flight a sandwich or a plate of cheese would be nice. I will still fly AA at some point, but only if the ticket is the cheapest and in economy (FC not worth the added cost), They’ve lost me as a loyal customer and now I’m just motivated by price and route. So sad.

  28. Wow the comments made by the flight attendants make me smh. They tell themselves, and us, that they are only there for our safety. This is clearly because they want to justify sitting there and playing candy crush. Well, I guess you have the right job if you hate serving your customers.

  29. It’s amazing how during covid times that the LCCs are still serving buy on board and FC pax who are paying 2x minimum more than coach prices can hardly get a drink much less a decent meal.

    I understand that flight attendants are there for our safety, but we are paying for a premium product and deserve to be accommodated. This goes for the top 3. Heck, you can only get beer, wine, or water on DL.

    Buy your FAs the medical grade N95 masks. I think you should be able to afford for 1-2 FAs to have those masks so they are protected in the FC cabin.

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