American Airlines Improving First Class Meal Service, Bringing Back Hot Food

American Airlines Improving First Class Meal Service, Bringing Back Hot Food

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Virtually all airlines reduced inflight service during the pandemic, and over the past few months we’ve seen airlines progressively add back more service, though at different paces. For example, Alaska Airlines has more or less fully restored its first class inflight service, while Delta Air Lines is a long ways off from returning to pre-coronavirus service levels.

Well, American Airlines is today further restoring inflight catering, though it’s a gradual, phased approach. Let’s first recap American’s current first class service, and then we’ll talk about what’s changing.

American Airlines’ current first class catering

First for some context, what is service currently like in American Airlines domestic first class?

On flights of up to 900 miles, American serves drinks and snacks from a snack basket, but there’s no food service otherwise.

American serves drinks on flights of under 900 miles

On flights of 900 to 1,499 miles, American serves a “Fresh Bites” snackbox, which is intended to be a tapas-style box with several options, like salad, cheese, fresh fruit, veggies, and more. Below are some screenshots from TheFlyGuy2 of what exactly you can expect.

American Airlines “Fresh Bites” options

Then for flights of 1,500+ miles, there’s a slightly more substantial “Fresh Bites” snackbox.

American Airlines “Fresh Bites” options
American’s “Fresh Bites” snackbox
American’s “Fresh Bites” snackbox

Then exclusively on premium transcontinental flights (including from New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Orange County, and from Miami to Los Angeles) and Hawaii flights, American serves hot meals.

American serves hot meals on select premium transcons

American Airlines improving first class catering, bringing back hot meals

A couple of weeks ago we learned that American Airlines planned to eventually restore hot meal service in first class, though no further details were provided. We now have a bit more information:

  • Starting today, American will be reintroducing tray service in domestic first class, though this will be progressive “over the next several months”
  • As American describes it, this “incremental approach” is part of the carrier’s strategy “to ensure everyone onboard feels safe and comfortable”
  • During this transition, customers traveling on domestic premium cabin flights of 900+ miles will notice the Fresh Bites offerings on trays, rather than in boxes
  • Over the next several months, American will gradually return to hot meal service on trays that customers were familiar with pre-pandemic; however, we don’t know exactly which flights will qualify for these hot meal services yet
  • For regional jets, over the next several months American will introduce fresh meals on flights of 900+ miles

As you can see, this sounds like it will be a very gradual change. The Fresh Bites offerings will start to be displayed on trays rather than placed in boxes, and then hot meals will also be returning in the coming months. For now American’s meal offerings will more or less take a “surprise and delight” approach. Or I suppose since we’re talking about American Airlines catering, a “surprise and disappoint” approach.

Hot meals should be returning to more American flights

American Airlines’ evolution on service cuts

Understandably all airlines cut back inflight service during the pandemic, and they’ve been working on progressively restoring service. However, up until recently, American seemed hell-bent on avoiding a return of hot meal service.

For example, in August 2020, American’s SVP of Flight Service at the time, said the following about the future of inflight catering, which suggested that these kinds of cuts would be permanent:

“When you think about the footprint we have for meal service and how we served, it’s been very similar over the years. And is there a way to bring back something that still has a premium feel but is different and more modern, and is this an opportunity to reset in a way that we might have made more incremental changes before.”

Everything we heard for a long time suggested that American would avoid bringing back hot meals as much as possible. So, why is American backtracking on its planned cuts to first class meals?

  • It seems American is recognizing that competitors are restoring inflight service, and the current offering isn’t competitive; for example, United has brought back hot meals on flights of 1,500+ miles, and on even shorter hub-to-hub flights
  • Pilots generally get the same meals as first class passengers, and apparently there have been lots of complaints by pilots about American’s current catering

Bottom line

American Airlines is taking a gradual approach to restoring meal service in first class. “Fresh Bites” options should now start to be served on trays rather than in boxes, and over the coming months we should see a reintroduction of hot meals in first class.

It remains to be seen exactly which flights will qualify for hot meals, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

What do you make of American’s domestic first class meal improvements?

Conversations (16)
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  1. Janet

    Jet Blue has been serving meals (hot meals) in Mint class throughout the pandemic. American is nickel and diming themselves out of once loyal customers. I just canceled my American flight because they still aren't serving hot meals in first class. If Jet Blue had Mint class flights between my city pairs, I'd be on one of them. Instead, I'm book on United.

    Sorry, not sorry American. Get your act together and maybe, just...

    Jet Blue has been serving meals (hot meals) in Mint class throughout the pandemic. American is nickel and diming themselves out of once loyal customers. I just canceled my American flight because they still aren't serving hot meals in first class. If Jet Blue had Mint class flights between my city pairs, I'd be on one of them. Instead, I'm book on United.

    Sorry, not sorry American. Get your act together and maybe, just maybe, your first class customers will come back.

  2. Rob

    AA Concierge Key here... which means absolutely nothing. As president of my company, I am very, very seriously considering making a switch to United as I am not hub-based and have options. The American first class product has deteriorated dramatically. I know they use the pandemic as an excuse, but even before the pandemic they were changing the seats and removing IFE via seat back. Then the pandemic hit and while United, Delta and Alaska...

    AA Concierge Key here... which means absolutely nothing. As president of my company, I am very, very seriously considering making a switch to United as I am not hub-based and have options. The American first class product has deteriorated dramatically. I know they use the pandemic as an excuse, but even before the pandemic they were changing the seats and removing IFE via seat back. Then the pandemic hit and while United, Delta and Alaska have restored hot food service, you’re lucky to get pretzels in American First. It’s just absolutely insane and quite clear the customer is NOT valued. When my business is spending the amount of money it spends, it appears I can receive much more value from United Airlines or even Delta or Alaska than I can from American. American better quickly turn the ship around, or they’ll lose significant business from me — may not mean much to them — but others will follow suit. I guarantee it.

  3. David

    Exec plat here on AA, I have been flying a different carrier all together than AA because the service in first has dropped drastically on AA. Maybe I will come back, not sure yet. Will take a wait and see approach. For now first class on a different carrier with hot meal service has been fantastic. But that's also because flies the rout I need most.

  4. RaphP

    I had my first flight since 2020 last weekend. Reading the extent of service cuts still present in the US with a recovery well underway, I was apprehensive of what an Air Canada Montreal-Toronto would look like in J.

    I was surprise to see that for a 1h20m flight of about 320 miles, and about 50 min in the air, not much has changed since the pre-pandemic service in J class. Water bottles served...

    I had my first flight since 2020 last weekend. Reading the extent of service cuts still present in the US with a recovery well underway, I was apprehensive of what an Air Canada Montreal-Toronto would look like in J.

    I was surprise to see that for a 1h20m flight of about 320 miles, and about 50 min in the air, not much has changed since the pre-pandemic service in J class. Water bottles served at boarding, a snack of mezze was served in actual china with real silverware, and 3 rounds of drinks with full bar available served in the pre-COVID glassware (ie. no plastic glass or mug). Still limited in economy, but for a flight this short, nothing should really be expected...

    If AC can do this while hemorrhaging cash, no doubt that the US legacy are maintaining the scaled back service as cost cutting. Especially with all the cash they received from taxpayers since March 2020...

  5. AaronP

    I flew MIA-SFO last Thursday and had the Quinoa salad with the steak. It was okay, not great, but I have had much worse...

  6. mauipeter

    Since everybody is into complaining, I liked my food in J, coming back from Europe a week ago. The salmon, wild rice was delicious from FRA to DFW, although the FA seemed a bit judgemental, when I asked for my third bubbly, an the veg lasagna was quite OK as well from DFW to OGG, especially since 2 FA's were so eager to serve me drinks, that I had to cut them off, LOL.

  7. Quinten

    Are you sure these meals are from First Class and not from economy?

  8. Phil

    Kind of pathetic. United is eating their lunch ..... (not in a good way).

  9. Ryan

    Great. Now bring back glassware and hot towels.

    And ice cream sundaes and service by course on AFS and IFS flights.

    1. lennon

      and the hot nuts with tropical fruit bits on first class flights to Hawaii please.

  10. Pierre

    Completely off-topic but I do not know where to post the information (I have not seen it on this blog, did I miss it?),
    American at London Heathrow has sneakily moved back (partially only) to Terminal 3. This was implemented on August 2 without fanfare.

    This makes absolutely no sense to me , especially considering that the New York flights ONLY (JFK-LHR-JFK) remain at Terminal 5.

    I would have thought it a joke if...

    Completely off-topic but I do not know where to post the information (I have not seen it on this blog, did I miss it?),
    American at London Heathrow has sneakily moved back (partially only) to Terminal 3. This was implemented on August 2 without fanfare.

    This makes absolutely no sense to me , especially considering that the New York flights ONLY (JFK-LHR-JFK) remain at Terminal 5.

    I would have thought it a joke if I hadn't verified it on the "Live Departures and Arrivals" of LHR.

    Does anybody have more info?

    1. Jef

      Its been discussed in the AA FlyerTalk forum.

      You might find more info there.

      Link:
      https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-airlines-aadvantage/2049006-aa-splits-operation-lhr-london-heathrow-t3-t5.html

  11. Dan

    This is so idiotic. Southwest and Frontier have already reported concerning numbers regarding future bookings due to the Delta variant. It’s going to be a tough winter. Not as tough as last year but airlines are going to have to start cutting amenities again and catering will be one of the first to go since it requires everyone in first to remove masks to eat.

    1. Jan

      Imagine thinking that meal service cutback is a COVID safety issue and not cost-cutting issue

    2. Steve

      Let's not be naive they are not cutting services "for our safety" they are using "safety" as an excuse to cut back on all costs.

  12. PDS

    Gradual because someone ordered way too much disposable plastic and boxes that need to be burned off first. AA is reluctantly restoring hot meals entirely due to competitor activity; never because it’s the right thing to do for customers and lead from the front

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PDS

Gradual because someone ordered way too much disposable plastic and boxes that need to be burned off first. AA is reluctantly restoring hot meals entirely due to competitor activity; never because it’s the right thing to do for customers and lead from the front

Janet

Jet Blue has been serving meals (hot meals) in Mint class throughout the pandemic. American is nickel and diming themselves out of once loyal customers. I just canceled my American flight because they still aren't serving hot meals in first class. If Jet Blue had Mint class flights between my city pairs, I'd be on one of them. Instead, I'm book on United. Sorry, not sorry American. Get your act together and maybe, just maybe, your first class customers will come back.

Rob

AA Concierge Key here... which means absolutely nothing. As president of my company, I am very, very seriously considering making a switch to United as I am not hub-based and have options. The American first class product has deteriorated dramatically. I know they use the pandemic as an excuse, but even before the pandemic they were changing the seats and removing IFE via seat back. Then the pandemic hit and while United, Delta and Alaska have restored hot food service, you’re lucky to get pretzels in American First. It’s just absolutely insane and quite clear the customer is NOT valued. When my business is spending the amount of money it spends, it appears I can receive much more value from United Airlines or even Delta or Alaska than I can from American. American better quickly turn the ship around, or they’ll lose significant business from me — may not mean much to them — but others will follow suit. I guarantee it.

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