Short premium cabin flights in Europe usually come with lounge access and a decent meal but don’t give you more legroom. In contrast U.S. airlines sell lounge access separately, give you a bigger seat and a bit more room, but the food is often wretched.
I date the beginning of real cuts to domestic premium cabin meal service to early 2001. A cross country lunch flight up front on United might have offered a shrimp appetizer courses separately from a steak entree. In spring 2001 United introduced a ‘gourmet cheeseburger’t hat was controversial for its time but far better than anything a U.S. airline calls a cheeseburger today. (In the late 1990’s United even had chef-branded meals in economy, from Sheila Lukins.)
The race to the bottom has certainly accelerated in recent years. In September 2014 American Airlines imposed drastic food service cuts, US Airways-izing the meals they offered. That only lasted until summer 2015 because complaints from customers and employees grew so lounge.
I’m not a big fan of most of American’s meals today, but at least you can pre-order your choice (so the airline doesn’t run out of your first selection) and there are several pre-order options though those have seen some cutbacks. The Zoës Kitchen pre-order charcuterie option is a decent standby.
None of what’s being served up front should be confused with ‘first class’ though, and it’s a bit odd that U.S. airlines retain the moniker rather than calling it business class as in much of the world.
There was a bit of honesty on a recent American flight, albeit inadvertently. Reader Mark R. passes along this photo of the Kosher Meal he ordered.
Clearly this is a mislabel for a special meal being served domestically. Nonetheless I still believe U.S. airlines are missing an opportunity by not selling better food in first class.