Bon Appétit: Some American First Class Meals Have One Year Shelf Life

Filed Under: American

While I’m generally not a fan of American Airlines’ domestic first class catering, the one great thing that American has offered is the ability to pre-order special meals.

For a long time I thought American had the worst food of the major US carriers, though as of the beginning of last year they made the single biggest improvement they could possibly make to their meal service (well, short of spending an extra dollar per passenger, but let’s be realistic).

American began letting passengers order special meals in domestic first class.

The reason I like this so much is because it means I can order an Asian vegetarian meal even when flying domestically. This is typically some sort of spicy Indian vegetarian food. While there’s certainly variance in the quality of Indian vegetarian food, I find that even the worst Indian vegetarian food isn’t that bad (it’s food that reheats well, is flavorful, etc.).

For example, last November I shared the Asian vegetarian meal I was served in first class from New York to Miami, which I considered to be the best meal I’ve ever had on an American Airlines flight.

Well, I guess this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but American is now cutting back on their special meals. As flagged by @xJonNYC and reported by F&B767 on FlyerTalk, American will make the following changes to special meals:

  • Diabetic, Asian Vegetarian, Hindu, Muslim, Gluten Free, and Vegan meals will receive standardized and frozen pre-prepared meals, which will have a one year frozen shelf life
  • Salads and appetizers will be prepared fresh by the local caterer
  • Historically steaks have been offered as part of the diabetic Diabetic option, but that will change to a pre-prepared chicken entree
  • Asian Vegetarian, Hindu, and Muslim meals will all be the same

Well, I guess I’ll be going back to mostly not eating on domestic American flights, because a frozen meal with a one-year shelf life doesn’t exactly sound appetizing.

  1. ” because a frozen meal with a one-year shelf life doesn’t exactly sound appetizing.” first world problem!

  2. I got so excited last year when my upgrade on AA cleared LGA-MIA and I pre ordered the sweet potato gnocchi. Shortly after boarding the flight attendant came by to inform me that my special meal never made it on board. I then ordered the same dish later in the year on AA and it was gummy and disgusting. In contrast, the gnocchi that LH served in first class JFK-FRA was excellent. As was the coach meal on JAL from NRT-JKF which was fantastic. AA you are destroying your brand, that is assuming you haven’t fully destroyed it already.

  3. This is what happens when you and other bloggers abuse special meals. Special meals are an accommodation meant for people who have specific dietary restrictions, rather than people who don’t feel like getting the normal meal. Asking for a special meal when you are able to have the normal meal is in my view just as unethical as not not having mobility issues but asking for wheelchair service at the airport so that you can board before everyone else.

  4. Coming soon to an AA flight near you:

    From the first review:

    “Very impressed with the beef roast as it was very tasty. Had noodles and small veggies inside. My meal also came with wheat snack bread (tasted fine, dry but very heavy and filling, chocolate peanut spread (hazelnut spread – really good), cherry-blueberry cobbler (amazing!!!) and a orange creamsicle cookie (also excellent). I wish I could buy the cherry-blueberry cobbler in the store, it was that good. There were pastry bits mixed in with the cobbler, it’s not just fruit.”

    Sounds better than about 9 out of 10 airline meals I’ve had.

  5. AA Domestic First has food? Strange I’ve never been served it! /s

    I moved to Delta this year as I got sick of paying extra for first and getting nothing more what amounted to a wider coach seat.

  6. @sam. It’s not unethical and certainly not the same as mobility assistance What an idiotic comparison. Anyone is entitled to request a special meal
    Only people with reduced mobility should request assistance

  7. “Abusing special meals” – jeeez, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

    Kudos to Alaska and JetBlue for actually upping their food game.

  8. AA is in a complete and total death spiral. When will management wake up and realize that their strategy of cutting their way to profitability simply isn’t working.

  9. Asian Vegetarian, Hindu, and Muslim meals will all be the same

    Since when did Muslim became vegetarian? I suspect discrimination.

    frozen meal with a one-year shelf life doesn’t exactly sound appetizing.

    Please try before complaining. There are good frozen meals and bad ones.

  10. Given that one is paying first class fares don’t feel special requests are out of line. Obviously there is a logistical aspect to making all meal requests available fresh for all flights. They will adjust and push the limits till they feel financial pushback.

  11. Runs with the general theme of American food – plastic/GMO/cheapest ingredients. Why should their airlines be any different?

  12. Lucky please let us know once you have tried the new meals. I wonder if asian vegetarian meals might actually freeze pretty well for the same reason that they are good on planes (basically just a flavorful stew). Might not be a total disAAster. Fingers crossed.

  13. I wonder how many of their regular meals are also frozen meals with a 1year life? Makes you wonder. You might as well carry aboard a frozen TV dinner from the hotel gift shop and ask the flight attendants to warm it up for you.

  14. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I enjoy your website very much but every single post about AA seems so biased by your previous bad experiences..

  15. @Lucky –

    Please review your article at the end.

    You include “Asian Vegetarian, Hindu and Muslim meals” in both the frozen and unchanged categories.

    Which one is it?

    @Eskimo – Asian Vegetarian is separate from Hindu and separate from Muslim. Hindu can contain chicken and Muslim can contain beef.

  16. @ V — What I was saying is that they will all be the same meal. Not that they’re not changing, but rather that American will serve the same thing regardless of which of the three options you order.

  17. What’s wrong with frozen food? The catering business would fall apart if it didn’t exist.

    Not everything can be farm fresh.

    Many airline meals are frozen and defrosted and heated up on board. Hardly a scandal.

  18. Even at many restaurants, especially when you order from an extensive menu, they just heat up a frozen dinner.

    OK, maybe they put it on a large plate and make a pretty pattern with sauce and put a cherry tomato next to it, but at the core it is still a frozen mass-produced food service product. Restaurants are in the business of selling fantasies…

    Some of those Trader Joe’s frozen dinners are quite edible, better than most of what you get on a plane. Maybe they should use them openly: AmericanTM proudly serves Trader JoesTM frozen dinners…

  19. @Ben –

    Got it, thanks!

    FWIW i ordered the asian veg on delta and got an icy cake of channa masala. Had to be reheated several times. I am pretty sure most airline entrees are frozen and reheated

  20. This is what happens when the blogging community exposes something like this. When American was 1000% over budget on Asian Vegetarian meals in the last few months in response to non-Asian Vegetarians ordering these meals, of course there is going to be a backlash.

    Total abuse of the system for people who aren’t vegetarian, hindu, gluten-free, etc. to order these meals just because they thought the quality would be better. These meals are for people who need them, not for people who are fully able but simply unwilling to pick “chicken or pasta.”

  21. AA is very generous with their Free Miles programmes and many of their customers are not sending them cash for their flights,that ‘s why they don’t hire chefs as food consultants and serve mediocre and cheaper food.
    The fact that the airlines is saying that some passengers “abuse special food” speaks for itself.
    On short domestic flights not exceeding 5 hours,i can easily go without food but on lon haul flights i d bring my picnic.
    I wonder if some regular airlines (like low budget airlines in Europe)could offer food as a paying option thus it would lower the price for those who would not tick the “dinner option” .
    Low budget European airlines offer food (usually bad)on board one can buy .Or not.

  22. I don’t know what is more appaling – the food being served by airlines or the number of people who see no problem with its quality.

    @Chuck Lesker – places you describe deserve to be called a restaurant as much as McDonald’s does.

    I have lived in this country (US) for almost 14 years and I am still often shocked by what so many people eat on a regular basis

  23. TOTALLY different subject – your former columnist james in London – is that now Ben Smithson, leading up TPG UK? Why the different names?

  24. Being a muslim flying AA every week, I definitely will not be eating their meals now. Looks like spending extra for airport food is now in order.

  25. @Jason – Perhaps because there would have been two “Ben’s” at OMAAT causing confusion. Just a guess.

  26. Apart from fresh fruit and salad vegetables, I’m sure most airline food has been frozen at some point. Just because the shelf life is one year, doesn’t mean it’s been frozen that long. It would require a lot of storage facilities to stockpile meals for that long. I just bought some frozen spinach today and it’s “Best to use by” date is January 10, 2022. I don’t plan on keeping it around that long but I don’t think it would taste any different if it was thawed and cooked a year from now.

    What is more concerning is what they are putting in the food – it could be anything. Good reason to avoid airline food.

  27. This isn’t about frozen food. Its about FIRST CLASS tickets that cost more and these meals don’t reflect said premium.

  28. With a few exceptions, I’m with Anthony Bourdain on the subject of airplane food:

    “There’s almost never a good reason to eat on a plane. You’ll never feel better after airplane food than before it. … Much better to show up in a new place and be hungry and eat at even a little street stall than arrive gassy and bloated, full, flatulent, hungover.”

  29. These comments made me laugh out loud:

    “This is what happens when you and other bloggers abuse special meals. Special meals are an accommodation meant for people who have specific dietary restrictions, rather than people who don’t feel like getting the normal meal. Asking for a special meal when you are able to have the normal meal is in my view just as unethical as not not having mobility issues but asking for wheelchair service at the airport so that you can board before everyone else.”

    “Total abuse of the system for people who aren’t vegetarian, hindu, gluten-free, etc. to order these meals just because they thought the quality would be better.”

    Apparently “Special Meal Abuse” is a thing(?).

    Live and learn!


  30. Abusing special meals!?! You can’t be serious?! How about American serving half-decent regular meals so that folks don’t have to fall back to the Asian-vegetarian option for something edible?

    Yeah, go ahead and stick up for the company who makes millions a year. How dare we customers order something edible when we are the ones making the company that profit. SMH.

    Once again, American has chosen a NEGATIVE consumer solution to a problem. Want to cut down on Asian-Vegetarian orders? Improve the damn regular food, and make it a POSITIVE consumer solution!

  31. I have no doubt that this is change is due to an uptick in special meals ordered lately as a result of blog posts costing American more money. However, I don’t feel there is anything “unethical” or “wrong” about ordering a special meal if you want one. Customers were showing their disapproval of the standard meal offerings by ordering something that was ostensibly better. American, instead of working to improve the standard meals chose to take the cheaper route of making the special meals worse to encourage customer behavior. AAdvantage American…

  32. I’m with @TravelinWilly. I respect religious and ethical decisions as I grew up a Christian, and I’m still spiritual, but this all amounts to a choice whether you practice the Islamic faith, practice not eating meat, or practice not eating AA’s standard F meals. Stop sensationalizing everything. Practicing religion is hard. Practicing vegetarianism is hard. Stop assuming everyone going to accommodate your decisions.

  33. Good lord, what a whiner. Try doing a cross country back in steerage with no meals and not even snacks. No one has ever enjoyed air line meals, even in first class. It is a bit of nutrition and something to pass the time, nothing more.

  34. After that last comment, I just gotta tell ya, I look forward to the service and the meals on Qantas as much as I look forward to arriving in Australia.
    On the trip we took to weeks ago, my partner actually commented that it was one of the best meals he had ever had. He compared it to Daniels in New York City! It was really good. I agree that American Airlines has a long way to go, and United isn’t even in the game.

  35. Considering the price premium airlines charge for first class, that the food is generally disgusting is sad. I think the point is that some airline meals can be enjoyed, it just requires the airline to spend an extra dollar or so on them. AA is definitely not willing to do that.

  36. Kosher and Halal have the same dietary and preparation rules. My Muslim friends will shop Kosher whenever it is difficult to find anything labelled Halal. Same history, same environment, same dietary restrictions

  37. I like flying Turkish…even in eco I normally oder seafood . A while ago a long flight in eco
    FA :I am so sorry sir I cant find Your seafood on the list´.
    My reply ; well it was confirmed , but of course it´s not YOUR fault , you only get the blame if things happen ; so let´s hope it works on my next flight…
    So I too the turkish meatballs and a small bottle of red wine .
    10 minutes later the FA returned with a big smile and a small dish ..I got You some seafood from Business class …The starter , which I like when flying their C class A large prawn , smoked salmon and makrill 🙂 and You want some more Wine ?

    Try C on Aegean -even on a 2 hour flight a nice hot 3 course meal served on a tray though.
    Recently I had a 1:40 minutes flight BUD-ATH -No C on this flight…I received a very small hot SFML (Salmon on potato stew) and breadsticks and a Heineken beer.A bit later coffee and water … FULL flight !

  38. I’d never have known they called it first class and to consider that’s what I’ve been flying with them.

  39. My take on the above, why blame bloggers. If they found a way to find food that is half edible then good for them, and thanks for sharing. Isn’t the whole point of sites like this that we find out about ways to better our travel, many of which might be “insider tips” etc.

    And talk about shooting the messenger! Its not Lucky’s fault that AA reaction to this is more cost cutting. Its almost like they are trying to punish their customers for daring to do this.

    Another way that a more customer oriented business culture might have been to say “wow, so our pre-ordered meals are becoming popular, what can we do to learn from this and make our customer experience better. Maybe we can expand the pre order service to more meal varieties, like SIA “Book the Cook”, or which dishes have been really popular maybe we can include those on our regular meal service”

    IMO the real villain of the piece here is not the bloggers but the airline.

  40. Pretty bad when your better off stopping by McDonalds to pick up some better looking food for your First Class Meal…….

  41. Whatever happened to ordering the “seafood” special meals that Continental and other carriers use to offer around 15 years ago? Those were served in coach and sometimes better than the F meals. Did the oligopoly phase that out?

  42. I know you live in your own little world half the time, but dismissing frozen meals as bad just because they are frozen is utterly ridiculous.

    You can very easily make a nice frozen meal.

  43. How do you predict which flights will have meals? So far my ‘first’ experience is a drink and lucky dip from the snack tray.
    Qantas economy is better!

  44. I can assure you that unless you are flying SYD, HKG or AKL. All coach meals have a shelf life of over a year. As working crew, we’ve been re-catered due to delays and the meals came frozen in big brown boxes with 2020 expiry date. AA pays caterers to unbox frozen meals and put them on oven racks for crew to cook

  45. A frozen meal having a shelf life of a year is not too unusual. Most of the frozen food items you get at your super market will have that. Or would have that if it made it quicker to the freezer in the super market.
    We can discuss and review the actual quality, but the frozen shelf life has zero direct correlation with that.

  46. News flash – ALL muslims and hindus and kosher can eat vegetarian!!

    It’s brilliant cost savings by AA. Meat/fish preparation, storage and waste is by far more costly than vegetarian dishes.

    Grow up people – You can have one meal without meat on occasion.

  47. @Jason, yeah that’s weird. He certainly used to have an instagram account with “benjames” (but it’s now deleted). And I’m pretty sure he was writing under James when he first went to “That” website. Maybe he changed his name or it’s an alias?

  48. LOL at all the people defending the airline instead of upholding people’s rights to select the meal that’s best for them (for whatever reason – that’s “freedom” after all isn’t it?) Maybe if these airlines offered better food (or offered food at all!) then they wouldn’t have this problem – and it is their problem.
    That’s why I stick with proper airlines from Asia, Oceania and the Middle East.

  49. Recently I had the revised first class menu in Virgin on my way to Havana.

    And all i can say was it was the best airline meal I’ve ever had, period.

    All the FA’s were super friendly, one apologised that there “might” be an issue with prawn starter availability. There wasn’t, so no problems.

    Slightly bland but meaty prawn starters, excellent (although “well done”) steak, and really the best cheeseboard and snacks.

    After the meal the captain wandered down and asked us all how it was, and apologised for the turbulence earlier in the flight…. hardly down to him i think.

    The order-when-you-want cheeseburger was just the ticket later in the flight and the constant flow of drinks and snacks kept me busy and warded off sobriety.

    Yes i was full when i got off the plane, but it worth the effort….

  50. Reserving a special meal is not abusing anything. Also, why blame bloggers? I didn’t need a blogger to tell me I could click the radio buttons on the “Reserve a Meal” screen to select a different option. It’s pretty obvious.

    Frozen or not I’d rather see a profile setting that allows you to set a default preference of “meat” or “pasta/vegetarian” (similar to how you can set your seat preference to aisle or window) and to auto-reserve that meal for you. Too many times have I forgotten to reserve a meal after my upgrade gets processed and I end up getting stuck with what’s left (of all the things to complain about, right? hehe).

    Food quality in domestic “First” simply doesn’t matter to American, and at this point why should it? I can’t imagine the bulk of their revenue comes from paid First fares. I also don’t see a high-quality food menu in First bringing in enough new paid fares to offset the cost of a fleet-wide food upgrade. And corporate travel will overwhelmingly continue book the cheapest flight for their employees regardless of food quality in First. Does it make AA look bad? Sure, but not among the travelers that actually matter to their bottom line. As the largest airline that’s something they can get away with, and their shareholders will continue to be happy to let them.

  51. don’t wanna ruin it for you, but many meals you get served in the air (soups, curries, don’t faint but even chilled apples) have a shelf life between 6 and 12 months.
    With the turbo snap freezers that catering companies use, they usually taste nicer after 12 months than a piece of 3 day old fish (or steak)

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