One Passenger Shared How Bad American Airlines Service in International First Class Has Become

I recently wrote about poor service in American’s international first class and about catering which hardly seems fitting for a product that’s supposed to be a cut above business class. The reports just keep coming in on American Airlines international first class.

Here the passenger stopped by the American’s Flagship First Dining at LAX and asked their server how he was doing. The man’s response was “this is my Friday night…at least it’s almost over.” American describes their Flagship lounges as an extension of the cabin, and that set the tone for the flight he was about to have.

American Airlines flight AA193 is Los Angeles – Hong Kong, blocked at 14 hours 39 minutes. On boarding the inflight entertainment system wasn’t working, and the first class cabin was told it probably wouldn’t get fixed. Fortunately a reset managed to fix things.

  • The passenger’s “pre-ordered meal was not available because the menu was now different.”

  • The flight attendant taking orders “was encouraging people to opt for a cheese plate then bed and not the full meal service. When he took my order he tried to skip over courses, presumably with the intention of not having to serve them.”

  • The purser “brought out salad with the wrong dressing which he had to replace, brought out wrong side with main, never offered cheese (I would have passed, but still) then brought out the wrong dessert.”

  • No beverages were offered during meal service, something I’ve noted in reports from other passengers as well.

  • Apparently there were “no rolls just sliced white or dark bread. My salt shaker was also broken and the top had to be unscrewed to get salt out.”

  • Midflight “there were no snacks or water or other beverages in the galley” in other words the self-service display hadn’t been set up. So the passenger went scrounging in business class. No drink service had been offered by crew. (“The people in the Row 2 middle have been drinking beverages they brought from LAX.”)

  • Another passenger went foraging through other classes of service for snacks, and got up the nerve to say something to the pursuer who reportedly yelled at the passenger.

  • Passengers were woken “5-6 hours before arrival” to see if they needed landing cards for Hong Kong.

  • An hour and a half prior to landing the passenger wanted breakfast so they went to find a member of the crew. The purser was “slurping congee from the [first class] catering menu.” So about that breakfast,

    As the [flight attendant] is walking out w[ith] my tray, she walks past my seat, the purser claps his hands and whistles at her and tells her she went too far. No jam or anything for the croissant (had to ask) and the “milk tea” is just hot water with a tea bag. …The breakfast was more shorthaul domestic [first class] than [transpacific three-class first class]. ..I asked for water it never came.

American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER First Class, Credit: American

The discounted first class “A fare” for Los Angeles – Hong Kong is nearly $9800 one way.

American’s seat isn’t close to competitive with Cathay Pacific’s who also offers international first class on the route. American’s food, beverages, and amenities don’t match what’s offered by other airlines to Asia in first class.

When American Airlines CEO Doug Parker famously said his airline would never lose money again, he also said it’s difficult to offer a better product than competitors, because competitors will match the product. As a result it’s the company’s culture and employees that will give them an advantage. It seems like he has work to do.

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 would anyone fly AA on this route when they can fly CX instead? Example. I just flew on CX in J from HKG to ORD (final destination PHL) — and I had the opportunity to upgrade to F on AA instead and go HKG-LAX (then on to PHL). That routing would include access to the QF first-class lounge at LAX, too.

    I stuck with CX in J — and my experience was so much better than what was described in F on AA above.

  2. This strikes at the core of the AA problem.

    Due to the bidding process these were likely senior FA’s on this trip. So the issue is not training – they already know better.

    It is the permeating attitude among FA’s and their supposed supervisors – they simply DGAF.

    Lifetime gold that avoids AA as much as possible.

  3. How many of these were upgrades from biz fares

    US carrier biz class has been more like a biz plus product than first class for a couple decades now – at least service wise

    Needs to be fixed but not hopeful it will

  4. I guess no one should complain about the lack of international award tickets based on this kind of service?

    It brings to mind one of my pet peeves. If you are paying a premium amount of money ($10K one way is definitely that) for a service you do expect it to go nearly flawless. For example if you are paying a few hundred for nice steak dinner and it isn’t cooked right, service is very sloppy, etc. then despite whatever apologies, I’m very unlikely to return. Unfortunately airline employees are seldom held accountable and except for passenger feedback, unlike other jobs, they are working in an environment w/o management/supervisors watching them. So they often get away with doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing on company time.

  5. Doug Parker
    @ American We are going for great folks (applause applause )
    What I meant to say is I have a great golden parachute when no wants to fly the airline anymore and I have damaged American Airlines brand and reputation permanently

  6. I flew in CX F twice from SFO to HKG. It was totally unlike this AA story. Whenever I was awake, the FAs would ask if I needed something, kept topping up my champagne, made Hong Kong milk tea, and served excellent food. They were always smiling and respectful. They even set up a table extension so that my wife could sit on the buddy seat for dinner. We sat across from each other and had a dinner date at 30,000 feet with champagne, caviar and a multi-course fine dinner. Half way through the flight, they even made a fantastic burger that was as good as or better than anything I’ve had on the ground. They made scrambled egg *on the flight*, not premade on the ground and refrigerated. We credited the miles to AA because we live in the US. This is why I’d fly first class, and I won’t pay AA to fly in their premium cabin. I’ve flown CX J several times as well, and it was always consistent and beats this AA F experience by a long shot.

  7. The craziest thing to me is that according to the passenger, AA gave literally NOTHING in compensation. They know how bad their service is and literally don’t care. Why we keep feeding that abject disaster of an airline our money is utterly beyond me.

  8. AA flight attendants actually know that most of the people in First didn’t pay for their tickets and treat them accordingly. Contrast this with Asian carriers which don’t automatically upgrade everyone with some sort of mediocre loyalty status where passengers are treated like they actually paid for their tickets. When AA and other U.S. airlines stop with upgrading every joe blow who signed up for status on the back of a cereal box, F and J passengers may get treated with respect.

  9. Can a passenger sue in small claims court (and be successful) for bait and switch or unjust enrichment? I would consider filing a claim that takes quotes from the website of the advertised offerings and then document how none of those services which were paid for were met. I think unless there is financial penalties/disincentives… customer service complaints really won’t do anything.

  10. @Steven – There we go. Found the AA employee.

    You can always tell when staff come out of the woodwork, because the excuses are laughably endless.

  11. So if you were an Airline CEO and know your time is nearing the end of the road would you fix stuff just so on your next job the competition is better or worse? Asking for a friend.

  12. I laugh every time I read a story like this…I laugh because there are still people who choose to fly AA. First, Biz, or Coach, it doesn’t matter. The planes are bad and getting worse. The Customer Support/Gate/FAs are bad and getting worse. Why would I choose to spend on AA if I have so many other good options.

    As for compensation…recently had a 24 hour bag delay on my F ticket…AA determined 3k AAmiles was more than enough compensation. They didn’t respond when I told them DL recently gave me 5k Skymiles for an inoperative IFE…

  13. @Steven – first of all, if the company decides to upgrade someone it’s because they want the customer well-treated. Why is an upgrade an excuse for not providing service?

    second of all, you are incorrect, American Airlines doesn’t provide complimentary upgrades to international first class on the basis of status (except perhaps where lower cabins are oversold and must do a ‘cabin roll’ or operational upgrade to get the plane out with everyone booked on it).

  14. Never thought I’d choose UA over AA, especially living in Dallas. But even to Europe I’ll take UA via a hub or LH via Frankfurt just to avoid the abysmal experience on AA. As a 3 MM multi-year ExPlat I’ve flown enough AA International to see the deterioration of service. In one case I didn’t even get to board the plane due to utter incompetence, and I was booked DFW-LHR in F. Never got as much as an apology from AA, even after I contacted the ExPlat hotline demanding a refund (and a 40 minute hold, thank you). I could go on and on with many specifics but it just makes me angry. Instead, I just choose another carrier, generally UA. Knock on wood, as a 1K they’ve been much better.

  15. Oh my gosh

    If you are upgraded or not, it does not f$%ing matter. It is not the problem AT ALL!
    What is the matter with people realizing that you have to deliver the same service regardless or method of payment?
    I bet these are the same people that get upgraded and tip flight attendants when they just do their job the way they are suppose to be.
    Mentality like these just help the problem to continue. And the funny thing is that it is something that happens specifically in American Airlines.

  16. It’s time to start photographing and posting photos of the bad apple AA FAs. I couldn’t care less about AA’s photo policy. Naming and shaming is the only way it changes.

  17. More and more, as the negative stories keep trickling in, whether it’s on “View From The Wing”, “The Points Guy”, “PlaneBusiness Banter”, etc., I have to wonder just what the actual f-ck is going on at AA. It’s almost like Parker and Isom are ASKING to be terminated. It’s like the just don’t care anymore. Clearly they’ve lost the locker-room, so to speak, in terms of the trust of their employees. But they couple that with continuing to alienate their customers. Especially their elite, premium, most loyal frequent fliers. I honestly think that unless things change for the better soon in a big way, the Board is going to make a change. They simply have no choice.

  18. The comment about justifying the terrible AA International First Class service because there might be frequent fliers who were upgraded is EXACTLY the attitude that continues to drive AA’s service and reputation into the ground. Ever fly Delta? They could have nothing but non-rev employees in their first class section and the service still goes above and beyond.

    Business 101: you don’t design your service to fit the makeup of your first class cabin on any particular flight. You design it around the product and experience befitting as if everyone paid the highest fare. THAT is how you stand out. Enjoy the long, slow, painful climb from the bottom, AA!

  19. I fly AA First Class at least 10 times per year – mostly using miles but many times I’ve paid cash. I’ve been pleased with the crews – the food is mediocre but edible. On my last flight in august KEF (Iceland) to DFW – the seats were very comfortable (757) and the food was outstanding (catered in Iceland). My wife and I are million mile AAdvantage members and have Gold status.

    Unlike some of you we like AA!

  20. Even with lifetime Platinum on AA, I don’t ever fly them anymore. Partly it’s because I no longer live in a place where their routes make a lot of sense (DEN), but mostly it’s because they suck. Even when I’m flying to an AA hub, I’ll usually fly UA or even F9.

    I’ve flown BA DEN-LHR a few times, but the OW Sapphire benefits simply duplicate what I get on paid biz fares anyway, so now that UA has made DEN-LHR year-round, it’ll really just be a schedule/price thing.

    How sad is it that both the hard and soft product on HP 15 years ago was superior to the hard and soft product on AA today?

  21. As a former EP, AA purposely drove me from the airline with their movement to revenue based mileage program. I used to be a captive flyer spending $10K to $20K a year of my own money on AA. I have not flown on a single AA flight since. So I do not care if the airline goes to the dogs. Woof Woof.

  22. I’m an idiot & owning AA stocks, about the only pleasure seeing it drops is I know Parker lost money. The crook bought 50k shares in June.
    Fire Parker.

  23. It’s become obvious to us who fly us, my wife and I from Phila to different locations in Europe about three times a year. What’s obvious is that the staff is disenchanted with American Airlines lack of concern as well as interest in the staff and the passangers.
    It’s time for a management change from the top.

  24. Parker wants AA to offer a product/service that no other airline will match. Since no self-respecting airline wants to offer such bad service, it looks like he’s finally succeeded. Time to give that man a raise!

  25. I flew home from DFW to DCA on 1 Sept. I was in first class , I paid over $500 for my ticket r/t. I needed to use the rest room, my timing was off because the pilots needed to use them at the same time. ok, I’ll wait. I could have gone back to another rest room but I have a bad hip and didn’t want to walk back. The FAs blocked the area with the 1st class rest room with their cart. Understandable. However, when the pilots were finished, I walked to the cart which was still blocking the toilet. I stood there for a minute or so. I asked the FA if I could use the toilet. Well, they were using the cart to prepare their credit card applications and the senior FA told the other FA to finish what she was doing. Really? I guess I’ll fly SWA from DCA to DFW from now on. Screw AA and their 1st class.

  26. My husband and I flew American recently because Delta which we fly all the time did not offer what we needed and it was awful! We will try to avoid flying them at all cost! sure hope we don’t have to again, they sure have gone down hill!

  27. So instead of combing the internet to find a bad passenger experience on AA (every airline has tons of individual bad pax experiences every day) and then trying to extrapolate it to deeper “woes” at the airline, perhaps you might want to cover a REAL and meaningful story about flying AA. That story, which affects millions of travellers every week, is that AA is now running a very good operation with few cancellations and very good on-time performance. Aren’t you even a little interested in this real story? Don;t you think it deserves a ton more attention that the plight of one guy who got bad inflight service? BTW, I’ve seen no improvement or worsening of in flight service on USA airlines in the past decade. I think that stats would clearly show that. It’s a mixed bag: Asian airlines do a better job. This is not news — AA’s operation is.

  28. @Steven who said that the cabin is full of upgrades and not people who paid to be in first class:
    This mentality of segregation and providing different levels of service depending on tickets is a corporate culture that has been around AA for a long time. From punishing their own employees to denoting who are upgrades and award ticket users creates a level of animosity that is unexplainable. I remember seeing a flight attendant treat a employee’s parents so badly in first class that I was embarrassed and mortified at the same time. I have seen flight attendant to take an amenity kit away from a child because there weren’t enough and an adult Exp Platinum was missing theirs. I have countless examples of this happening and I pointed all to the corporate culture an American.

  29. Thank you for this, I’ve been flying American Airlines and today the flight from Italy to Dallas (stop over) so disappointing, usually those people on a wheelchair goes first but today we have to wait for a long time, (from Italy) and for sure our luggage will not going to be in the proper place, we flew economy, and since we are a mileage holder, we supposed to get at least a decent comfortable seats, but NO, our seats row 22ABC, were cramped, my husband couldn’t even get to stretched his legs, my mom who’s suffering from arthritic pain unable to stretched her legs as well, and I would like to find a lawyer that can help us sue the airlines, when they were serving the breakfast, Mary one the the flight stewardess rolled the wheel onto my mother’s toes, she said sorry but there was a smile on her face. My mom is already in pain, usually they will announce if they will pass snacks or food to warn passengers, now my mom has more pain, not only that, the pilots landing was so abrupt I thought we were going to hit something, it was scary. And now we are here seated and waiting for our connection going home to LA and our flight is delayed. I felt the discrimination from the stewardess who ran over my moms toes, no regard at all.

  30. If only it were true that AA is running a good operation. The reality is that AA’s operation sucks, regardless of cabin, but it is highlighted when expectations are raised slightly higher by paying more for a ticket.

    There are outstanding flight attendants, gate agents and others who love their job, but their work product is diminished by those who are taking up space and think they are doing AA’s passengers a favor by showing up and service is beyond their call.

    Many of us put up with it for many reasons, it doesn’t mean that we don’t notice it and begrudge the money we are paying for it.

  31. Why should i fly AA when CX and QF offer far superior service. From SIN via SYD though longer on QF is far more superior.

  32. I have flown AA International First class quite a bit, typically to HKG and LHR. My experiences DFW-HKG were typically better than LAX-HKG but not remarkably so. I do think the DFW-based crew are a little better in terms of service than LAX-based crew, but that’s a subjective opinion.
    On the one occasion I had a bad experience LAX-HKG when my seat would not recline AA went far beyond what I asked for in making it right.
    I have only ever had outstanding experiences in the First Class dining room at LAX, so I’m sorry to hear a throw-away human comment used to denigrate the entire establishment. I have only ever experienced first-class service there and food which IMO is better or at least as good than I get in the The Pier or the Concorde Room.
    BTW, in terms of a comment about “Why not just fly Cathay?” It’s called price. I checked on ITA Matrix just now. A First RT in mid-October Tues-Tues LAX-HKG is $11K on AA and $29K on CX. Pick your poison.
    I buy First internationally for one reason — being able to sleep. I don’t get on a ‘plane for gourmet food, Krug champers always welcome (thanks CX).
    I have never come close to having as bad an experience as the passenger you listed @Gary, but I would be torqued through the ceiling had I done so.

  33. Thanks. After so many of these about AA, including my own experiences, cancelling my AA card, and will use the left over miles on a alliance airline.

  34. Not true about the bad service being from senior flight attendants. In fact, purser can be any seniority these days, and so can the “so called senior routes” at American Airlines. In fact, you can be a new hire and be the purser, fly international trips, as well as these senior routes, all because American Airline believes in rotating reserve. This allows new hires to be able to fly routes, typically in the airlines industry, that usually takes at least 25+ years of experience to earn, to step onboard and work an international trip or a purser position. So if you have a bad experience with first class service, please, please email the better business bureau, because American Airlines doesn’t care, or they wouldn’t let new, inexperienced crew in such an important service position on the aircraft.

  35. @Sheri your statement is completely false. A new hire could be given out for off reserve but anyone on the crew who is qualified has to take that position. Secondly, if there are new hires on board, no they probably do not know how to do the service but they are enthusiastic and excited to have the opportunity and are in most cases much nicer to pax because they are not jaded from flying for 30+ years. International especially Asia routes are very senior so it’s unfair to blame bad service on new hires. Regardless of class of service, if you are in the customer service industry it’s your job to make everyone’s experience how you would want yours to be. Just my humble opinion.

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