The Sad State Of American’s Domestic First Class Meals

Filed Under: American, Travel

The amount of domestic flying I do has been greatly reduced the past year or so. I do a lot more international travel, and a majority of my domestic travel consists of short hops, rather than 2-4 hour flights. I’m able to plan stuff so that I can hop around the country in a fairy logical order, rather than doing several transcons per week.

As a result, I’m not spending as much time in domestic first class as I used to.

A couple of years ago I wrote about how I mostly stopped eating on domestic flights, because the food (at least on American) was both unhealthy and unappetizing. It’s one thing for the food to be unhealthy, but at least make it taste good. Unfortunately American wasn’t doing very well on either front.

It has been a while since I’ve taken several back-to-back flights in American’s domestic first class. That’s partly because many of my upgrades haven’t cleared, and also because I’ve been doing either short hops without meal service, or transcon flights, which feature enhanced service.

But my gosh, after flying three flights this week (between Florida and the west coast via Dallas), I was reminded of just how sad the state of American’s domestic first class catering is.

Every meal started off with warm mixed nuts. Don’t get me wrong, on one hand I love these, but I wish they’d mix this up once in a while (I know other airlines don’t do so either). When you’re flying through Dallas you’re often served two meals, so that’s enough fiber for about a week.


Every meal also finished with a cookie, with the choice of a chocolate chip cookie or snickerdoodle cookie. American’s cookies used to at least be good, but that’s not the case anymore. However, I’ll leave the in-depth cookie analysis to View from the Wing, since it’s something he’s more passionate about than I am.


For lunch on one flight there was a chicken salad. The salad itself was good, though a small portion. However, the chicken breast was chewy and low quality. This was probably the best of the meals. The issue is that the quantity of salad was tiny, so if you actually wanted to be full, you’d have to eat the bread roll, nuts, and/or cookie, which probably have 10x as many calories as the salad itself.


Then I also had two dinner flights, with the choice between stuffed peppers or chicken. The chicken was terrible — it had to be one of the lowest quality chicken breasts I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of airplane chicken. The picture doesn’t do justice to how low quality it was.


The stuffed peppers were very spicy, to the point that my nose was running. Of course it was also doused in sauce and cheese. I still can’t make sense of how serving meals like this on a plane is a good idea.


So I guess the moral of the story is that not much has changed. American’s first class catering is still weak. Frankly I find their sandwiches you can buy in economy to be better than what’s served in first class.

I realize this isn’t just American, but probably true of domestic flights in general. Would it kill an airline to just serve a decent, large, salad with higher quality protein and not overly processed dressing? I know that’s probably asking too much…

Or hell, can’t they just serve Auntie Anne’s pretzels? If they’re going to serve meals with a bunch of fat and calories, it might as well be tasty.

What has been your general experience with domestic first class catering? Which airline does it best nowadays?

  1. Yeah, it’s been backsliding. When they have Mahi or another white fish out of MIA in J, it’s surprisingly good, but that is rare.

    Most of the dinners are nuts, salty appetizer, carb, carbs, carbs with some inedible protein.

  2. I’ve found that a few drinks in the admirals club before your flight makes the catering way better, I flew first class from PHL to MSP last year and I’m guessing it was the G&Ts, but man that mushroom risotto was tasty!

  3. I have gotten into the habit of eating at the AmEx lounge before boarding, their food is far superior to AA or United’s in-flight (and lounge) offerings.

  4. I had the chicken dish Thursday evening, and food poisoning all day yesterday. I guess I’ll be asking for a cheese plate from coach from now on.

  5. Northwest used to serve a fantastic big salad with corn, black beans, avocado, and chicken breast. That was always one of my favorite first class meals.

  6. Maybe they should hire a chef that didn’t get his culinary training at Folsom Prision. Stuffed peppers? Really? if you opt for this “entree” make sure you have an asile see and no more than three steps to the lavatory. You will know when it’s being offered when you board and the flight attendants are furiously putting coffee bags in the first class toilets. Cause great is what we’re aiming for…..,

  7. United has been mixing it up lately and it has been phenomenal! Their nuts are now a different variety and now have a seasoning on them. I took a leap and had the shrimp salad and was so surprised. The shrimp were large, well seasoned, and simply really good. I mentioned something to the FA’s and they had also noticed the significant improvement.

    At least one domestic carrier is doing some good.

  8. Remember… we have spoken! We have told the airlines that we will fly and fly regardless of their cuts, bad food, bad service and devaluations. So it really doesn’t matter. Check mate to the airlines. They win!! Gosh… they are even selling out first class!

  9. @ Tachyon_OGG-SBA-IAD — I’d say the only airline I’ve flown that does domestic catering right is JetBlue. Their Mint food is fantastic, and their concept is great. Transcon food is often decent as well, on American, Delta, and United. It’s the shorthaul food that’s really bad.

  10. American is truly industry-leading in the horrible catering department.

    I’ve had recent flights on both Alaska and Delta where the meals were downright impressive for domestic flights, but I can’t remember the last time I had anything even remotely palatable on AA.

  11. @AdamW – totally agree, United’s domestic catering up front has had some nice surprises. Gets a bit repetitive at times but at least the quality is consistent.

  12. As a very frequent AA flyer (already reached Exec. Platinum for 2018) I can tell you that I rarely accept the FC meal when offered. If I find myself hungry I just ask a Flight Attendant to bring me the fruit and cheese offering for sale in economy class. I was surprised the other night with a beef offering on a 787 domestic flight, it was slightly larger than the diameter of a silver dollar and almost unchewable. I have resigned to accepting that flying on American is about getting from one city to another and not about a travel experience.

  13. Generally Delta does a good job on medium-haul and transcons. I actually enjoy their hamburger. The only meals I’ve had on Virgin America have been on transcontinental fights, and most of those have been pretty good. Alaska is real hit or miss, with the last year being somewhat better.

    I’ve only been on one American flight in the last year, a medium-haul from DFW to the west coast. Filet was served. It was not a great cut, and it was also over cooked.

  14. JetBlue is definitely my favorite on the domestic food front both in quality of offerings and their approach – I love the variety from choosing 3 small items which you can pick to be mostly healthy and then have 1 substantial item or go less healthy depending on what you’re after.

  15. The sandwiches from coach are pretty good. They should allow you to choose that over the hot meal.

  16. @ Ben…have you ever seen the “cheese pasta” dish? Husband ordered that for our CMH-LAX flight… food was equally gross. I’m half-Italian, and couldn’t identify anything Italian about his pasta! On the plus side, since we were flying first class on AA LAX-SYD, we did eat and drink well in the Qantas First Class Lounge (met Sting too)! Food on the LAX-SYD flight in first was kinda ok, but not really….however, we did have an excellent crew!

  17. Flew last night dfw-lga in F. No warm nuts. Apparently, I was the only one that noticed and/or asked. The attendant said that they had forgotten to load the can of nuts. But a bit later she brought me some nuts (cold) from somewhere. Kinda worried me but I had it anyway as the chicken was exactly how you described it and was almost inedible. At least the ice cream was good.

  18. It’s pretty bad. The saddest thing is that the meals in your photos are basically what coach meals looked like in the 1990s before they were discontinued. The only difference is a linen napkin and metal cutlery. Meals in F used to have real quality – I remember getting sick to my stomach when my brother cracked open a lobster tail on a Delta L1011 from LAX to OGG in 1996. You’d never see anything like that in an F cabin today.

  19. @tiffany you might want to post those pictures on Flyertalk, myself and others would disagree with you when it comes to meals on AS..

    The Poblano peppers dish has never been too spicy, a little heat yes, since I can’t see AA serving something that would burn the mouth of passengers. Now, I agree that the catering on AA has gone down hill, I wish the FA’s would take some pride in what is being served instead of taking the foil wrapper off the dish and serving the meal when it’s swimming in water…

  20. I try to avoid any meat, poultry, or fish on any flights – microwaving even the highest quality products will ruin them. One of my other complaints is the overuse of spices on savory food. Last summer AA promoted its celebrity chef (none of whom I ever heard of) food on their TATL flights – just odd ingredients of frou-frou food designs on plates. Just awful. I normally snack on salads and deserts on flights preferring to eat before or after the flight.

  21. I still remember being amazed how good AA’s food was in 2012-2013 when I shifted a lot of my UA business over due to the $misek destruction of UA.

    Funny how the two carriers have done a 180 in their own respective ways since then…UA domestic dining experience is actually good these days (as is their beverage program…another area of weakness for AA).

  22. Was very impressed with the crab cakes we had on Delta a couple months back in F from NYC-MIA.

  23. When I was a kid (so 20-30 years ago) and flew Alaskan in economy, the food was really good. We even had steak on ANC-SEA as I recall. The explanation for such good food is that Alaskan serves the same food at their board meetings, so it had to be decent. Was that just an unfounded rumor?

  24. I beg to disagree. My last two experiences on AA domestic premium cabin have been very good. Not sure what’s to complain about nuts and cookies, the only thing I would complain about – if anything – is the quality of the coffee.

    Yet again, we saw lots of love for United lately…

  25. @Tiffany, fly premium from Europe on AA sometimes (I realize you only use miles and would never be able to fly premium with your money), you will see the catering is really a notch up from the US competition.

  26. I actually really liked that chicken. Also I think their breakfast omelette with sausage is very tasty!

  27. How do you ensure that you will not get MSG-food on board or in lounges?
    Both in the US and internationally?
    If you care about MSG at all?

  28. flew to Sam Juan and had choice of stuffed peppers or chicken salad with a shrimp app and while I was hopeful for a cookie it was cappuccino cake. the nuts were burnt!
    when I asked for just the chicken the FA didn’t know how to process but made me laugh when the guy next to me said “I’ll have that two” and we decided it was the only healthy thing. we both enjoyed the chicken and our one roll.
    thankfully I travel with my own food (even in First) so was able to supplement.
    I don’t fly for the food thankfully but seriously let Panera cater a better sandwich

  29. I once ubered a guy to LAX who was flying First Class to Hawaii but wanted enough time to eat at a restaurant beforehand because airplane food is still airplane food even in First.

    This is one of the best times of the year for an upgrade. When colleges are on spring break business travelers might stay home that week and next week is Passover and Easter.

  30. You could have a generic headline:

    The sad state of American’s domestic ________.

    The sad state of America’s _________.

    I recently flew international Premium Economy on Japan Airlines and Qantas. On one trip last year I flew business from Seattle to Dublin on American. All aspects of Japan Airlines and Qantas were better than American business class.

  31. Really weak post below OMAAT’s usual standards. Lucky admits to few recent observations, then makes gross generalizations based on a sample size of 3 recent flights while engaging in hyperbole and exageration (no, the nuts etc. don’t have 10x as many calories as the salad). And of course there isn’t actually any new news here. Weak.

  32. I just fly for pleasure, mostly Delta and mostly international and always coach. I’ve never had a problem with the food. Maybe because I’m excited to be traveling somewhere new. Actually I enjoy everything about my flights. In my everyday life I never have a chance to relax for 10 hours, watch movies and be served.

  33. And to think it all began 30 years ago with [Robert Crandall] removing an olive from the salads to save a few cents. Looks like AA still hasn’t reached the bottom. Good for them, that means there are still more savings to be squeezed out.

  34. Would it kill them to give you a pillow? Flew JFK to Tucson – no foot test or pillow. Delta Shuttle gives you a pillow on a 36 minute flight. Never again.

  35. I’ve flown F on AA and DL on connecting medium hauls (3.5-ish hour flights, connecting to the same, roughly) a fair bit lately, and I have to say that I was in equal measure positively surprised by DL’s catering and disappointed by AA’s. DL’s selections were tasty and ample, with quite appealing presentation and tableware, whereas AA’s were smaller and fairly unappealing in their presentation. Plus, DL’s pre-departure anything you want drink offer vs. AA’s nothing at all on each of my segments puts them even further ahead.

  36. I fly FLL-DFW in AA FC several times a year, but I’ve ever gotten a cookie. Is it an MIA thing? I feel like I’m missing out on some epic badness here. 🙂

  37. Flying public, please remember that USAir bought AA 3 yrs ago. USAir is now in charge. AA is now managed by USAir management.

  38. On AA, flights in First, flights of 699miles or less get a “basket of savory and sweet snacks for customers to choose”, flights of approx. 700-999 miles get a “Lite Bites basket, offering a variety of options including: fresh fruit, breakfast cakes, tea sandwiches and sweet or savory snacks”

    And it has to be within AA’s “dining times”…


  39. As bad as their domestic first meals are, I’ve had even worse international business meals from them… Flying back from NRT to DFW on their brand new 777 super diamond configured layout, the Japanese meal was so terrible I was starved by the time we landed and had to pay to eat somewhere… The domestic leg that followed actually tasted better. Was highly disappointing, how do you arrange terrible Japanese catering when leaving Japan?!? Not to mention refilling my water bottle with a bigger one the whole flight, that is just so cheap to me. Delta is far, far superior in food quality when it comes to US big 3.

  40. I write this from a Delta flight from ATL to SNA. To say that lunch was disappointing wouldn’t do it justice. The options were grilled Korean beef on jasmine rice or grilled chicken salad on kale and some other stuff. I chose the beef, my partner chose the salad.

    I didn’t take a picture, but it was sad. And pitiful. Decrepit. All “courses” served at once. No bread. Flavorless. One other comment in here was that today’s F meals are the 1990’s coach. And that is so true.

    I remember (and loved) Continental’s first class. Every flight, even a 3 hour, had warmed bread. Courses served as they were ready, and ample drink refreshing.

    On this flight, I wish I would have purchased a coach meal instead of the slop we were served.

  41. I’ve stopped upgrading on American’s domestic flights all together. The food is nauseating and the leg room is barely better than coach. I’d rather have an exit aisle seat.

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