American Airlines is dropping meals on most domestic flights that are over 2200 miles as well as short haul international. These flights, that have been receiving single tray meal service in first class throughout the pandemic, will get a fruit and cheese plate instead.
Does Meal Service Matter Right Now?
Lucky at One Mile at a Time argues this is not a big deal and specifically disagrees with my assertion that “a strong inflight experience is more important than ever.”
Some commenters felt that meals don’t matter, ‘just pack a lunch’ which isn’t the easiest thing to do without refrigeration, with TSA liquid rules, and carry on limits not to mention that with connecting flights you’re talking about the airline hoping people will pay for first class and the premium service they’re selling doesn’t include a meal on a travel day that can stretch over 12 hours.
Customer Experience Matters More Now Than Before The Pandemic
To be clear, my argument isn’t that meals alone drive choice of airline. However,
- Product may have mattered less, even though there was more product investment, when planes were full – chase one passenger away and the airline fills the seat with someone else albeit maybe at a marginally lower fare. That’s basically the strategy American was pursuing before the pandemic (their own data shows frequent flyers were moving away from the airline)
- Now with empty seats to fill airlines will actually have to compete with customers. In contrast it made sense to drop service in April when only those who absolutely needed to travel were doing so, and as flights were being pulled from the schedule.
- When we’re talking about meals the difference here doesn’t fall into the ‘nice to have’ bucket, it’s flights over 2200 miles that have lost meals. Someone flying Philadelphia – Los Angeles – Honolulu in first class gets no meal. That’s a problem with few options open in terminals, and removes incentive for customers to buy first class.
Lucky says seat blocking matters more but American Airlines isn’t doing that either and without meals you might as well just buy two seats instead of buying first class, it’s cheaper but that’s not better for the airline.
To be sure there’s less premium demand with business travelers not in the air – that’s the argument for a cheese plate instead of a meal on 900 mile flights. But those aren’t the flights we’re talking about here.
What is someone buying first class connecting through Los Angeles to Hawaii going to think when they board and are surprised to find there’s no meal? What will that do to repeat purchases, the airline’s reputation among other potential customers, and the ability to sell premium seats?
American’s Bigger Strategic Move
Now’s as good a time as any to leak the new American Airlines livery, I suppose:
Copyright: boarding1now / 123RF Stock Photo
You might argue ‘but American Airlines still service complimentary drinks (on request) in first class’ while at Spirit you have to pay for them, but even that’s hit-or-miss. Many flight attendants don’t read their service memos, and learn what they’re supposed to be doing via rumor on Facebook (which is often wrong).
If American is going to offer a product that’s more or less Spirit Airlines Big Front Seat then they are going to be facing Spirit Airlines pricing. That’s the direction their President told us they were headed two years ago anyway.
The problem for American Airlines – with their relatively high cost structure, and greater debt than any other airline – is that they need to earn a revenue premium relative to the industry or they’re going to fail. They’re never going to earn a revenue premium without a superior product. If they can’t earn a revenue premium even with a better product, that’s an argument for giving up entirely, taking what assets they have now and calling it a day rather than an argument they can earn their way out of the crisis.
Yes This First World Problem Matters
Whether or not you get meal service in first class may not matter compared to people dying of Covid-19, and by the way it didn’t matter before the pandemic next to the threat of war in the Mideast or any number of other real crises. However American Airlines is loading itself up with $40 billion in debt, receiving government-subsidized loans and grants, the future of the airline and whether it’s making itself uncompetitive (at a time other airlines like JetBlue ramp up meal service) matters to investors and taxpayers.
And what airlines are doing to bring back travel in this country matters too. Furthermore as a consumer-focused site, helping people understand what they’re getting when faced with the choice of buying a coach ticket, two coach tickets, or first class is important – otherwise American Airlines will be duping passengers into buying up to first class, unaware that it doesn’t mean what they think it means.
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