Yes, American Airlines Domestic First Class Meals are Really Bad

I used to look forward to dining onboard. I’m not just talking about when I first started flying after college, when lunch might be a (halfway decent) steak with a shrimp appetizer, I even remember being appalled at a cheeseburger being served in United domestic first class on a transcon but it was orders of magnitude better than the burgers we see today.

Unquestionably the quality of food offerings onboard declined leading up to 9/11 because of recession and then after as the industry struggled. Things got worse with the financial crisis.

However there is a difference between airlines in terms of what’s served onboard. American’s domestic first class meals are significantly below the standard set by other U.S. airlines. They got much worse after the US Airways merger (not surprising), improved a bit, but have since seen real backsliding.

One Mile at a Time wrote about the sad state of American Airlines domestic first class food, and I have to agree.

American’s August 2015 meal service was an improvement for dinner, not up to pre-merger standards but a huge step forward after norming catering with US Airways in September 2014 (the ‘mystery meat’ which I later learned was supposed to be a short rib was genuinely disgusting).

Domestic Steak and Lobster Mac & Cheese, August 2015 – October 2016

The new dinner service was supposed to last a year but that extended into the fall. The choices that were introduced — Julian Barsotti meals — in November were a real step down, and both breakfast and lunch lags as well.

American’s entree salads at lunch are fine. The salads themselves are small, and the protein generally dry and overcooked, but still it’s likely the best thing on offer. Here’s the salmon salad, and compare below to a salmon salad from Delta.

I think breakfast speaks for itself.

And I have to wonder about the salad (hint: it’s in the upper left hand corner of the tray) accompanying enchiladas.

I no longer eat on American Airlines domestic flights. Living in Austin, I’m at most flying AUS-JFK or AUS-LAX, or flying via Dallas or Chicago. Better for me, and it’s more relaxing and enjoyable. I can keep watching a TV show on my laptop or more likely just keep working straight on through. I don’t have to eat, finish, and wait for a flight attendant to clear my tray before I can go back to work.

Yes, Delta’s domestic first class meal service is better. And oh by the way you get a snack basket in addition to the meal on a midcon.

Yes, Virgin America’s domestic first class meal service is better. And oh by the way you get a snack basket in addition to the meal on a midcon.

Yes, even United’s cheeseburger is better.

The funny thing is that I was actually impressed by the steak and ravioli I had onboard an American international flight in business class last month. They’re capable of serving a nice meal. They just need to bother.

Update: and my goodness, after United dropped Starbucks Delta went with that for coffee. United now serves illy. Onboard coffee is constrained by the water it’s made with, but American really does have to ditch FreshPoo.

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. Well, I’m shocked that you and lucky both have articles about the sad state of AA food domestically. However, the enchiladas that you posted aren’t enchiladas at all but manicotti, kinda the same, but from different regions of the world.

  2. Problem is, they’re going to try to improve this by pulling in more ridiculous celebrity chef names and ridiculous recipes.

    In truth, they just need to invest in better ingredients and presentation.

  3. Well if they were manicotti that are indistinguishable from enchiladas, that says a lot no?

    When they first upgraded their snack basket for premium transcons, they had brand name stuff (Mr. Vickers chips, Pepperidge Farm cookies, SmartPop Popcorn). That didn’t last long. While the replacement stuff isn’t bad, it isn’t enticing. I guess I should be happy as there basic meal is often carbs with carbs.

    The only thing they do right really is the nuts and the whole fruit on transcons (the oranges are consistently decent). Otherwise, their motto is “with all the carbs, fat and salt we use, who needs taste!”

  4. It is really absurd. And the international is not much better although they are contending that they are improving certain routes like HKG and SYD. They just do not get it. While I liked the culture at AWA/US, the food was always horrible. That has been blended into the generally PAX unfriendly AA culture. Bad and Bad. Oh well…. This is why I try to fly partners internationally when the EQD’s do not dissuade me…

  5. I flew AA to HK first class and the food was terrible. Why can airlines like Singapore, Cathay & Emirates serve decent meals and AA can’t? I was embarrassed for the flight attendant who had to serve me that garbage. She knew it was lousy too.

  6. UA has really upped their game. I do a lot of transcons, and the it is nice they plate out the meal. First is the salad, then comes the entree. And their list of entrees are intriguing too. Does AA just offer 1 tray with everything on it on transcons, or plate it out like UA with salad course, then entree, then dessert? How about DL?

  7. @beachfan I fly enough to know there are no true Mexican enchiladas is the food rotation, also enchiladas sauce is not as bright at what is in the photo..

  8. I think the lobster mac & cheese is great. At least AA has the decency to serve premium cabin meals on linen rather than the faux wood trays Delta uses.

  9. I wonder what the cost difference for the airline is between the AA domestic food and the DL domestic food. I’d guess 3 or 4 dollars. With most folks paying something to sit up front these days, you’d think you might try to entice them to pay with decent food. In other words, decent food might help sell pricey first class tickets.

  10. Everyone wondering why the AA F meals are so bad can thank the penny pinching former US Air management that is now running AA.

    I made a horrible mistake going for EXP when I could’ve made United top elite status by now. Sticking with Alaska Air next year.

  11. International seems no better. Last month the ‘Surf and Turf’ had the hard-to-achieve combination of being so overcooked it was inedible, and yet was also served lukewarm.

    A Tweet to AA got me a request for my PNR, but nothing else.

    On the othe hand, that mades me less disappointed that AA has almost no award availability. Who was the comedian who joked “The food’s lousy and there isn’t much of it”?

  12. @GLeff, Dishes come and go. Lobster mac & cheese was great last year. Not sure what you like about the fake wood trays, but restaurants don’t use them. I think delta may have plans to remove them.

  13. Last week I took 10 pm SAN->MIA redeye on a 737 without entertainment system and with slim leather seats in F. Is that USAir configuration? Those seat barely recline and are very uncomfortable. No pillow for a long redeye and only standard black blanket.
    Food option included a snack consisting of either supermarket brick cheese + 3 grapes or humus and veggies. I had cheese and it was truly disgusting. However, I have to admit, it was a perfect match to a $5/bottle wine they were serving in F.

  14. The International business class is just as horrible. I flew LAX-LHR 1 April. Just horrible food. BA puts them to shame. I had higher expectations since this is a high-profile flight. Even the inflight service was horrible. I’ll be flying BA between the USA and LHR moving forward. By no means are they perfect but much better than AA. Too bad I have over 2 million with AA. Ugh.

  15. No mention of AS F product. This has been discussed at length on AS forums.
    The fact that passengers in F can no longer request the Fruit and Cheese Platter from Y , for free, is a bone of contention. Many just decline the meal.
    For example, two “balls of white rice with a small square of mushroom. Two overcooked spears of asparagus and a white roll with butter. Carbs on top of carbs.
    AS has shown that they can do decent meals. They had small plate service on Transcons, but quickly pulled the program after 2 months, due to cost.
    Too bad they will not keep VX F product as it is now , but transform it to become AS F.

  16. I was on AA first class last week MIA-PHX, and it was a sorry attempt for a meal. Some circular thing that may have been a dried out piece of processed chicken? I was raised flying PAN AM…Kobe beef was standard fare in the old days! sigh…..

  17. @ALEX777 that was a PMAA 737, and you should have had an overhead screen, which I find horrible. Those are horrible seats too boot. BTW, the meal you got was standard snack service on AA.

  18. You don’t have to eat. There are plenty of people in board that will eat the meal. You aren not paying to eat to but to fly from point A to point B with same day service.

  19. It’s better not to eat the terrible food anyway. AA’s food is loaded with salt and carbs. Bring your own salad on board. AA’s chef must be 300lbs with terrible heart disease if he eats the meals they serve their passengers. Shame on AA!

  20. The thing is people want low fares and top quality food. That combination doesn’t work with the margins most airlines are operating at. Are you willing to pay another $50 for your ticket if you get a good quality steak? Most people won’t.

  21. You are right Jim. And the same people complaining are the ones using free upgrades for tickets their company buys for them. It’s hysterical watching he misery from afar.

  22. On my personal blog I recently wrote a retrospective of AA domestic first meals over recent times reviewing 14 different meals, plus links to two other reviews looking at 3 other meals. My conclusion is my opening sentence, “I believe American Airlines has given up on caring about its domestic first class meals.” Same conclusion as you and Lucky laying out more evidence.

    If you are interested, the article is here:

  23. First class from Seattle to LAX, lunch was to be served so I didn’t bother to eat much in the morning.. Was in the first row but they started everything fro the rear so when the FA got to us, all that was available was what she termed was a ‘Vegetarian Wrap with fruit’. OMG!! It was a wrap of nothing but cream cheese in it. Fruit? One strawberry, yes, no typo. 1. Pita chips and cheese cake.
    I took a few bites of the wrap and put it down. We are booked on AA to Columbus, OH next week and I am wondering if it is best to eat beforehand or order a special meal…this is rivaling the total
    Slop that Delta serves these days. The best food and service I have found on Domestic is Hawaiian Air.

  24. Never rely on AA for food. I always eat before my flight even in international first. My food from LAX to HKG in first was just disgusting. I would rather bring a good sandwich or salad onboard with me.

  25. First world problems!

    The food in my opinion is adequate give the logistics. I would far rather have service improved in FC than worry about Michelin quality food!

    If you sat in coach now and then, you wouldnt be griping so much about FC dining.

  26. When I pay for international first class and fly for 14+ hours I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a decent quality meal. I don’t get people who make excuses for mediocrity. If I wanted to fly coach I would book my seat in coach.

  27. Unfortunately flying has become a commodity. When we turned that corner, we settled for mediocre. FC has become former Coach quality and Coach has become Baggage.

    My wife and I are foodies, so we appreciate great food, but again I’m just putting it in priority of what I would like. So I agree with you, but I also appreciate the logistics and the cost factor involved. Im just saying to me, I would much rather have high quality customer service from FAs and better drink choices. Not much cost increment nor logistics involved there!

    FC is definitely not what it used to be. Seems any ill mannered clown in shorts and a t shirt can end up beside me in FC and then have to put up with sarcastic FAs. Last 2 flights I ended up sitting beside nose pickers….I mean seriously….how much of an appetite can you have sitting beside slime balls like that?

    Our world has devolved across the board, airline food is only a small fraction of the deterioration. If you’ve been flying as long as I have, you’d realize how far we’ve deteriorated.

    In MHO keep up the deregulation and hopefully it will open up space for someone to offer a premium service at slightly higher ticket prices. I’d gladly pay a 100$ more for a ticket if I got truly good service across the board, and maybe it would weed out some of the classless clientele, and perhaps some better eats!

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