American Airlines Promises “World-Class Culinary Experience”

Filed Under: American

Move over, Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s a new hotspot in town — American Airlines!

American has today announced that they’ll offer customers “a world-class culinary experience” as part of their “investment in enhancing the premium experience for customers throughout their journey.”

Yes, indeed, this is just the latest way that they’re investing in enhancing the premium experience for customers. It follows other investments in enhancing the premium journey, like:

American Airlines & James Beard Foundation Partnership

American Airlines has formed an exclusive multiyear partnership with the James Beard Foundation. This will make American the official airline partner of the James Beard Foundation, which will be brought to life on menus designed by their portfolio of established and up-and-coming chefs.

When Are New Menus Being Introduced?

You can expect these new menus to be rolled out in early December:

  • Starting December 3 in Flagship First Dining and Flagship Lounges
  • Starting December 11 in Flagship First and Flagship Business on flights from the US to Europe, from the US to South America, as well as on transcontinental flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco

These items can now already be pre-ordered for premium customers at aa.com, as American allows you to select your meals between 24 hours and 30 days of departure.

Sample Of New James Beard Foundation Dishes

So, what new dishes should we expect?

In Flagship First Dining we can expect:

  • Grilled Roman-style Artichokes: black truffle, fontina fonduta, fresh lemon
  • Mushroom Bolognese: fusilli pasta, cremini and porcini mushrooms, peas, carrots, Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Dark Chocolate Budino: candied citrus, mandarin olive oil, feuilletine chocolate crunch, fresh whipped cream

In Flagship Lounges we can expect:

  • Tuscan Kale Salad: beets, apples, goat cheese, spiced sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seed medley, tahini dressing

Flagship First and Flagship Business passengers traveling from the US to Europe, US to South America, or on transcon flights between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco can expect:

  • Artichoke Ravioli: blistered cherry tomato sauce, green olive pistachio pesto
  • Spinach and Ricotta Rotolo Pasta: pomodoro sauce, basil pesto, pine nuts

My first thought is that it’s interesting to see so many new vegetarian dishes, since I find that generally airline meals are heavily focused on meat (typically very low quality at that).

Should We Care About Airline Celebrity Chefs?

This isn’t the first time that American Airlines has partnered with a celebrity chef, and we know how American food has been for the past few years. I don’t expect anything to be different this time around.

More generally, should we care if airlines partner with celebrity chefs?

Ultimately airlines have very limited catering budgets. So when they partner with a celebrity chef, are they shifting the money that they’d otherwise spend on the food to instead marketing it, or are they actually increasing their investment? If history is any indicator, it’s generally usually the former.

Besides, what are the celebrity chefs doing in practice? They’re collaborating on creating the recipes for “their” dishes. There are only a few problems:

  • It’s up to the individual catering kitchens to try and consistently deliver the same meal hundreds of times a day
  • Long term the celebrity chef isn’t actually involved, so there’s not much oversight, as they might otherwise have in their restaurant
  • The airlines have extremely limited catering budgets, so the chefs are having to work within very tight parameters
  • While the award-winning chefs are likely award winning for a reason, preparing food for 35,000 feet that has to be reheated is a very different art form than cooking food in a high-end kitchen that will be served right away

Personally I’m not at all a fan of airlines working with celebrity chefs, since I assume they’re spending money on that rather than on the food. I tend to think Turkish Airlines is probably the best airline in the world when it comes to catering, and as far as I know they don’t have a celebrity chef.

Do you think this partnership will at all improve American’s catering? Do you care whether an airline has a collaboration with a chef?

Comments
  1. Your analysis is spot on. Only interest is to see what chef is willing to tarnish their name for a buck.

    That being said, It seems like they put more money per person into FFDand flag ship lounge than they do on the plane

  2. Let’s face it, the photos you are posting look like the food may have been good when it was eaten for the first time, but a lot looks pre-digested. Yuck ! Wasn’t it a lobster something on a transcon which made one of your headlines months ago? Apparently, more of the same.

  3. Enough with exotic stuff.

    Can we all agree Short Rib is a low quality piece of meat?

    Bring back the beef filet, a Salmon dish, some sort of chicken breast stuffed with Spinach and whatever exotic vegan dish then call it a day.

    The food is so bad that I’m to the point of not eating it or bringing on board.

    I’m quite doubtful this new move will help as it will likely only make it worse by doubling down on the exotic, eccentric ingredients.

  4. The trick to good airline food is super simple – Hire Do&Co and give them a reasonable budget. This has worked for every airline that has ever tried it.

    There is no need to re-invent the wheel……unless of course you are not really interested in a wheel in the first place.

  5. Its a shame that world class experience doesn’t extend to the new piece of crap Oasis seats they are installing in all their planes. How Doug Parker has survived as CEO with the terrible passenger experience of flying Oasis configured planes is beyond me.

  6. When did VFTW change the look of the webpage? I will never understand the constant need to be so snarky and predisposed to not like something. There is nothing in this announcement other than what the new items are and that there is a partnership with the James Beard Foundation. That immediately gets turned into a negative. I’m sure everyone that comments on this page eats only the finest of foods for every meal, so nothing that AA or UA or DL could do would compare to your meals you eat in your single bedroom condo. If TK or one of the ME3 made a similar change (not stating that they should or need to) it would be heralded as being cutting edge or some other nonsense.

    There are certainly times to be negative and to bash an airline. I can’t see how this is one of them. At least not until it is implemented and everyone can see how it is going. I truly enjoy reading your posts Lucky, however, lately there has been so many more entries like those of Gary that it is getting harder to read through them and take seriously. Begins being just more the rants of someone that has an axe to grind. My $.02, take it or leave it.

  7. Sadly I am not excited. Lucky, you are spot on about Turkish, why doesn’t AA do that? I’m just surprised that the James Beard Foundation would go along with this as it will probably tarnish their image. I’m guessing AA paid big bucks for this. Another dumb move by AA. Bravo, bravo!

  8. @hotintx

    “If TK or one of the ME3 made a similar change (not stating that they should or need to) it would be heralded as being cutting edge or some other nonsense.”

    Maybe. TK and the ME3 have announced changes, and then delivered quality.

    US airlines, on the other hand, tout revolutionary changes with cobrands from celebrity chefs and yeay in, year out, there is disappointment. When it is the US carriers, I have to see it to believe it.

  9. Would it be reasonable to assume that new menu items are tested on typical passengers before they are offered on flights? I’m highly skeptical that testing actually happens because the food is generally rejected by just about everyone. The worst is the recent trend of exotic ingredients and highly spicy dishes. The last thing I want on a long haul flight in J is heartburn. And finally, I’ve never heard of their “celebrity” chefs so they can’t be very good. Dump the celeb chefs.

  10. @Mike

    “Can we all agree Short Rib is a low quality piece of meat?”

    I agree and eat it seldom. I do not want filet on a plane however. Nor do I want anything else that is poorly suited for preparation in a convection oven in the middle of a tiny galley. Short Rib, curries, and fattier cuts are more forgiving in the reheating process, so I will tolerate the indignity on a plane.

  11. @Donna – You should just pre-order a bland meal, problem solved. Most people like food that tastes of something.

  12. Since when is adding a new kale salad to a lounge newsworthy? At my home airport (SEA), Delta changes up their Sky Club menu a few times a year. I have yet to see a press release about it. This level of detail seems desperate on AA’s part.

  13. I’m not a fan of celebrity chefs in general as they usually cater to an audience of critics whose tastes are rather out of line from what normal people actually want to eat. Honestly it’s just bougie BS and not a good use of money. Maybe invest in something people are actually going to enjoy and remember?

  14. “Personally I’m not at all a fan of airlines working with celebrity chefs, since I assume they’re spending money on that rather than on the food.”

    The celebrity chef deal is marketing spend. Spending on frequent flyer programs (marketing spend) doesn’t take away from investment in seats. The lead quote from American in their release came from Janelle Anderson (VP marketing). Why would that trade off with spending on the meal itself?

  15. Jeezus; really? More quasi-fancy crap? It’s not rocket science. Just give us simple, recognizable food of reasonable quality and we’ll be happy.

  16. LOL!!!! And to pair with that “world class meal experience” they will continue to serve wines I can buy for less than $10 at my local liquor store. (no, I don’t chose wine by price but the wine selection all US airlines serve are cheap and bad)

  17. I don’t think the food on airplanes need to be mind blowing good. They just need to be decently good. I mean look at EVA or JAL food, they aren’t super fancy but yet tasty. I never heard of people complaining about their offerings. Why can’t AA do the same?

  18. Well, I guess I’ll find out in February when I go to South America.

    But, alas, I recently took Emirates BC to Thailand. Gonna be a really hard act to follow.

  19. I will say this, across multiple websites, I am amused by people who complain that this food is not what “regular” people eat. I was unaware that Italian food and kale, kale!, is an exotic food now. More people probably eat those things than the alleged “normal” food (read: what the person commenting eats).

  20. Hi Ben
    Is it possible to find out how much of my ticket price is spent on food? E.g. I am flying FF from LHR to DFW in December. Lets say the cash price of the fare is $5000. AA must have some sort of idea how much they spend per passenger on food, wine, staff, lounges, ground handling, luggage, fuel, toiletries, amenities, airplane overhead/ depreciation etc. for each passenger. Is that info published or even estimated anywhere? I figured if anyone would know, you would!

  21. The James Beard Foundation is not a ‘celebrity chef.’ It is an institution to nurture and acknowledge culinary excellence in North America.

  22. It’s definitely down to onboard catering budget since AA can make their lounge food look decent and even the examples above show that the lounge food has more money and effort than the onboard F food.
    The pasta dishes plated in a plastic container wouldn’t look out of place in a decent Y service.

    When other airlines can offer caviar – an otherwise stupidly expensive and underwhelming item *and* good food, it tells you the stark difference in budget.

  23. I’m skeptical as the Oasis torture tubes were considered ‘enhancements’.

    I’m with you on avoiding the celebrity chefs as the investment would go to them versus the actual product.

  24. I’m imagining those pasta dishes the way they will ACTUALLY look when served – a pre-plated, reheated gummy mess with zero attention to detail or care from given from American’s tired, disinterested cabin crew. The dishes will either come out of the oven sloshing around in an inch of their own reconstituted water, or scorched to the point where the pasta is hard on the outside and the sauce has boiled away to nothing.

    Crews on airlines like JAL or Turkish are expected to give a damn how the plates they put in front of passengers look. AA stopped asking its crews to care about things like presentation years ago, and the quality of what’s served reflects that.

  25. As an executive platinum, I fly American frequently and am distressed by how many of their food offerings now have cheese, often gratuitously added so that it is difficult to remove in an attempt to enjoy the remainder of the meal. For those of us who do not like cheese, it is hard to select an AA meal.

  26. Food on AA in long haul First domestically has declined dramatically just like their operations. They’ve also greatly reduced the amount of other onboard catering options like fruit/cheese platters so no other options if you get a nasty meal. Have had F/As tell me to write because company doesn’t listen to them. When I write in, I get the usual BS reply about how sorry they are and their how their catering standards don’t reflect my experience. Parker has managed to take what used to a premium airline and turn it into something much less. Can’t believe he’s still at the helm.

  27. I fly AA to Asia and Europe in business and first around 12 times a year, South America another 6.

    I am a picky eater- and yes, one flight the catering had me relocate from 1A to the lav behind J class (didn’t want to wreck the pilots first accessible lav).

    This news is a disaster for me. I am going to start packing a ham sandwich- who eats that noise? I want to eat fast, work and sleep. They can keep that fancy stuff for top chef.

    I spend 10k on a round trip for sleep and productivity, not for a chef that cant scale.

  28. I hope they will continue to serve the vomit lobster rolls as signature disk.
    They are totally unmatched by any other airline.

  29. @Ben
    I don’t see how reducing the size of the J cabin on certain planes is a negative for the premium experience. Of course it means that redemptions and upgrades may be harder to get, but that does not affect the premium experience. I guess this is written out of a strong bias against AA.
    AA has been taking a step to improve catering before this and successfully so. On the Japan routes, they are now serving the same Japanese meals as JAL does in business class. Far out performing Delta and United in that area. Can anyone imagine United serving same J meals as ANA?

  30. Who the hell flies an airline for a “world-class culinary experience?” God sakes if you want that just go to a restaurant.

  31. Part of the problem with inflight service is that under Parker, new hire flight attendants are barely given any food service training at all. I’m a 30-year international purser, and when I went through training, you had to go through an extra week of training on international food service, after the initial 6 1/2 weeks of training. Now, all new hires receive just one day of training on food preparation and presentation. The company expects the experienced flight attendants to do “on-the-job” training for food service, which doesn’t work when you’re working a full 777-300 to LHR with 8 people in first and 52 in business.

    I had one new hire on her first trip working in coach to London, and she didn’t know that she had to give passengers a tray with their hot entrée. The flight attendant following behind her with the beverage cart noticed that passengers were sitting with just an entrée and no tray, no cutlery, nothing. He chased after her and told her that she had to put the entrée onto the tray and present it as such to the passenger. This is what we’re dealing with on the line, and “Team Tempe” doesn’t care.

  32. I do find the Flagship First Dining at LAX and DFW to be World Class. Specialty cocktails, food cooked to order from an extensive menu, wine (Krug!), and personalized service are exceptional. When we missed our connecting flight from Europe to the West Coast at DFW. the staff really worked their tails off rebooking us at our convenience.

    The one, and the only one, place where AA truly shines. Ironic that probably less than a dozen people a day get to experience it, but I have to give credit where credit is deserved.

    Is it as wonderful as the LH First Class Terminal in Frankfurt? Not quite, but then again what in LAX comes even close?

    Between the LAX Flagship First special entrance, where they escort you to the front of the Security line, (I’ve stopped feeling embarrassed about that), followed by the Flagship Dining, it keeps us spending the miles for FC, when admittedly J on the plane would be nearly just as good. For us a Flagship First sendoff is the perfect start to a wonderful vacation.

  33. Read recently that DL is enhancing “coach experience” (meals,trays, drinks, hot towels etc.),in other words, almost a “retro” flashback to pre-2000’s service.
    A good and smart move on DL’s part to provide civilized air service (something Asian and other lines proudly have continued to offer), but I think that this has always been in DL’s DNA.

    AA on the other hand, well you know the rest… From seat 1A to 55f, they just do not care. Training, presentation, quality, ugh. How can you be on a 2 plus hour 6pmflight and be offered a bag of potato chips or a tiny bag of nuts?

    I can recall a flight fro LHR to CDG, maybe a 45 min. flight on BA. The gear had just come up and was offered a newspaper, coffee and the a full English breakfast which was cleared away on final. Sure it was business class, but the BA team was a fine-tuned service machine.

    Need I mention ANA, Emirates, etc? Perhaps Parker should hop on a few other carrier flights but if he doesn’t know it by now, its too late. Time for a change AA.

    You are a shadow of a once proud line.

  34. United Airlines is so much better. Great service, great food, on-time. Flew SFO-TPE. Only thing is that they didn’t have anything Vegan in the front or the back. But overall it was a great crew and a wonderful flight to be on.

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