You Don’t Have To Be A Food Snob To Hate American’s New Catering

Filed Under: American

About a month ago American and US Airways aligned their domestic first class catering policies.

I’ve been pretty vocal about how horrible the changes are. I’m not one that’s especially critical of domestic airplane food, given that my expectations are low to begin with. Even so, they’ve managed to underwhelm me.

My first experience with the new catering on American was within the first week of it being implemented. The “salad” consisted mostly of shredded lettuce, and the chicken was possibly the worst chicken I’ve ever had in a premium cabin.


Unfortunately I had beef with my next first class meal as well… the “beef” was inedible and made me long for the days of middle school cafeteria food.


But all that looks downright gourmet in comparison to the sandwich I had on my American flight last night.

I was flying from Chicago to Los Angeles on an 8:40PM flight, and was actually in the main cabin (only my second time this year not in a premium cabin!). They didn’t have any food for sale. Not even snacks or anything, which I find to be kind of unbelievable (you’d think they’d at least have packaged snacks for sale — they’re leaving money on the table).

As an Executive Platinum member you get a complimentary snack and alcoholic beverage when seated in the main cabin (which I find to be a really nice touch on the part of American), so the flight attendant was nice enough to bring me the two sandwiches on offer in first class (you can apparently select both as a first class passenger).


You ready for this? Viewer discretion is advised!

There was an “arugula pesto & roasted tomato” sandwich:


Then there was a “turkey, swiss & honey mustard” sandwich:


This is all that’s served in first class on a 4.5 hour westbound flight departing at 8:40PM.

Remember in 1998 when you’d grab a sandwich on your way down the jet bridge when boarding an economy flight? Yeah, well those sandwiches were downright tasty compared to these.

I just don’t get it. American’s buy on board sandwiches in the main cabin are actually edible and quite good when they’re for sale.

Yet they serve this in first class on evening flights?

Has anyone else tried American’s new first class “sandwiches?”

  1. It’s all part of the US-ification of AA. There was a period of time, under Horton, when I thought that AA had it made – easily the best FF program, some great new planes coming in, a member of a pretty decent alliance…even catering was improving. On top of all this they were making money. Halcyon days! If you think this is bad, however, just wait until DP gets his teeth in to AAdvantage…..

  2. Makes no sense why they wouldn’t offer buy on board, unless there was too much waste, and it was too costly. But I’ve heard plenty of stories of them running out of food when people in coach still wanted something.

    BTW- I thought I saw you at O’hare last night, I guess it was you.

    how did you not get your upgrAAde if you were first on the list?

  3. This is beyond embarrassing. Have you contacted AA ? Pictures speak a thousand words and you should let them do so…

    I wonder how much of this was due to the fact it was an 840pm flight? I flew on American Eagle recently ORD-EWR and they served a very tasty chicken meal, very nicely presented too.

  4. i agree with SmarterBlog, Horton had a vision to make AA a real competitive airline… too bad his plans were axed.

  5. “BTW- I thought I saw you at O’hare last night, I guess it was you”

    Which brings up an unrelated question : If we do spot you at an airport, can we come up and say hello ?
    Or do you prefer being left alone?

  6. Why not just buy something in the concourse and bring it on board. This is better for two reasons: 1) you get to choose what you eat. Imagine that! and 2) there is a better chance it will be good.

    No brainer in my book.

  7. The new catering in First class is absolutely ridiculous. I flew First class between ORD and LGA a couple of weeks ago with an 8:10 pm departure and was outright shocked by the beverage and snack selection, or the lack thereof.

    Not only was the snack basket much more elaborate than peanuts (I.E., definitely not a “premium snack basket”), but the wine selection was only in small bottles format (how horribly disappointing) with the flight attendant having to apologize for running out of wine after the first round of drinks. Seriously? While I understand the need for some changes and to align the food and beverage rules between the old AA and the old US, this downgrade on the shorter flight is totally embarrassing, not only for the new AA as a company, but for the flight attendants, as well.

    I have spoken with a number of flight attendants on my recent trips, and was told that a lot of first class passengers have been complaining about the new food and beverage rules.

    I of course sent a complaint to AA right away – and at least got an acknowledgement of my furious message.

  8. I just pack a nice triple meat sandwich for myself when I fly main. I had a dry, burnt, tasteless chicken in first last month, so I learned my lesson.

  9. That’s why I love Jimmy John’s!!!! 🙂 Well, at least it is way better than whatever you call that you got from AA. That is plain disgusting!!!! And BTW, the other food you got on the previous flights look horrible.

  10. I just flew United from Newark to Milan, Italy, and the food on the way out there was awful, on the way back, it was a bit better. Though, after seeing THAT, I guess I should count my blessings….

  11. @Lucky – I agree with Anthony Bourdain that there is rarely a reason to eat on an airplane. As he says, you never finish an airplane meal feeling better than when you started. I understand there are a few exceptions in international premium-class cabins (I have enjoyed some meals on SQ and TK to name a few) but especially domestically just plan to eat when you land.

  12. @ Brian — Sorry I missed you! Wasn’t expecting fresh food, but at least snackboxes for sale, or something.

  13. @ Adi-T — This is now the standard catering on flights departing after 8PM. They’re better off having nothing as opposed to this, in my opinion.

  14. @ Doug — I agree, I’m not expecting a gourmet meal domestically, but when you fly a lot it’s nice to get something edible. The sandwiches they used to sell in economy were definitely edible. These sandwiches weren’t.

  15. They served this garbage in F on my ANC-DFW red-eye flight last weekend leaving at 8:45p and blocked at over 6 HOURS in length. Inexcusable for an F cabin in my opinion!

  16. @ Lucky – you’re finally discovering why AA is the worst airline in the skies for non-premium travelers. As I said on a previous comment when you’ve described how wonderful they are, you have no idea how downright awful it is in the back.

    Things may improve with new aircraft, but management has done an appalling job for the past decade. The planes are dirty, the terminals are shabby, there seems to have been NO investment in the passenger experience for the 90% of passengers who don’t fly Business or First, and the crews invariably seem utterly miserable.

    On that last point, I empathize. They’re just like the passengers.

  17. Perhaps that was a bad/botched sandwich? I don’t see any arugula on it at all. That’s worse than prison food.

  18. It clearly states on the website that snacks are not offered in main cabin after 8pm. Besides, you’re better off getting something from Tortas Frontera than any of the “free” items onboard.

  19. They risk damaging their reputation long term
    Hopefully they can cut back on that one slice of processed turkey and cut their way to high profits
    Doug Parker has already ruined damaged the airline and he has barely begun the job
    I am going to continue buying tickets on Alaska and Virgin America

  20. I complained at got back a form email talking about improvements, and acted like the only change was meal windows. I’m Ex Plat, it was a waste of a complaint.

    By the way, was that only one slice of turkey (bad as it was)?

  21. I do not particularly care to be an Aapologist here, but perhaps everyone should rethink food at 30,000 feet.

    AA already has rethought things, BUT they have not levelled with the consumer by saying “for the money, you will be far happier with what you can get on the ground.”

    Once that has been said, food at 30,000 feet becomes something which they provide merely to keep the customer from starving. And that can be a real issue, especially if one has a connection which does not permit a pit stop at the food court. But with respect to comfort, I’d suggest that domestic flights abandon any theory that hot food may be executed well at 30,000 feet. All they serve is a TV dinner with a “tablecloth”, and even at ground level, a TV dinner sucks. I’d like to see more movement to quality cold/room temperature service. You know, a “real” roast beef sandwich, or a large enough salade nicoise. I can live with them telling me to contain my expectations of what they can provide at 30,000 feet, but within that significant limitation, I want them to up their game.

  22. Lucky thanks for this post.

    I like you have pretty low expectations for catering on flights. I do too, but I am extremely easy to please as I was very happy with AA past offerings. Meals were a BIG reason I do try to fly up front. After all the only other perk about domestic F is more leg room (which can be equal to an exit row) a little more width (but I am not fat so not much of an issue with me) and better access to a bathroom.

    As you know with all the cuts, flying is just not as luxurious an experience that it used to be, and coach is now starting to resemble greyhound more and more each day. First domestically still has free drinks and a meal. Mileage running to keep status at that point was still working for me.

    For me elite status has been all about the upgrades. With the changes at AA with the US merger I decided to drop my Exec Plat status and just buy points when I need to fly or even purchase discounted business class tickets on the airline that had the best flights (including meals) seats and leg room..

    I enjoy a meal, and for me mileage running was always done with a partner and conversation over a meal (even a sub par meal) was part of the pleasure.

    Airlines are looking to cut costs. As an elite you often (although my executive platinum upgrades were down significantly and I predict will continue to slide) could sit up front for free. I think meals were too expensive – even a $4 sandwich so they turned them into $2.50 sandwiches.

    This post makes me happy as I really am starting to believe that dropping Executive Platinum status has been hard, but for me I am starting to see that I made the right decision.

  23. We had a better-looking sandwich in economy on a Lufthansa short-haul flight! We also had complimentary adult beverages! AA’s food IS embarrassing for a premium-class product!

  24. Next time pick up a sandwich or salad at Tortas Frontera at gate K3. The best airport food in the country.
    I haven’t had any expectations of edible “free” or for purchase food on any airline in more than a decade so I plan accordingly. I can’t even imagine what that “turkey” substance is in that sandwich. It looks similar to a sandwich they once passed out on an Aerolineas Argentina flight I was on. Mystery meat.

  25. Speaking of dog food, I suppose nobody had the pleasure of having the beef enchilada. I would not feed that to a stray dog

  26. I agree that all of this looks pretty awful, that said I disagree that this is a recent change. Over the past 12 months I’ve had at least 20 domestic first class meals on US and AA and by far the worst main courses were on AA, before any changes were made.

    Over the past decade, US has actually improved their food a fair amount, though it’s still, as others have noted, a glorified microwave dinner on either carrier.

    Last week I had two meals on US that were passable, and far better than any of your meals look.

    That said, in general (even in most international business class flights), the main course is generally the worst, and it’s the starters, sides, and desserts that are decent. This is consistent with earlier comments that generally cold or room temperature food is easier (and of course dessert can just be loaded with sugar).

    Overall, I think your memory of domestic meals is more favorable than mine. The main change is less flights with meals in my opinion. By far the worst domestic F meals I’ve ever had were on United.

    I have 6 domestic F meals on US/AA over the next month, so I’ll let you know if my perspective changes (along with enough international business flights to provide some contrast 🙂 ).

  27. @MS
    That “pesto” sandwich definitely was NOT a one-off.

    I’ve been on 3 flights now with that sandwich (fly PHX-DFW a lot, was always a meal service, now just these “lite bites”). Each and everytime they were just like Lucky’s (actually, his looks as if it has more tomato than I’ve seen so far). My first one, I was sure had to have been a fluke. But no, the pesto is just a small smear, about the size of a quarter coin..

  28. Just flew BA LHR-CDG and they served a cold plate lunch for their one hour flight that was delicious in F. In the back, they offered nice sandwiches.

  29. Hi Lucky

    Let me shed some light into what’s going on here.

    Previously on AA there was a focus on providing a healthy option, a premium product and providing fresh products where possible. US has the absolute opposite approach. They want nothing fresh as it requires labor to produce which costs them money.

    The horrible sandwiches in F are brought in frozen, are slacked to thaw then placed into the basket for service. If these sandwiches were freshly prepared I doubt many of us would have as big of a problem with them.

    The new entrees in F are ALL frozen as well….a unique item called a “pop out” – they arrive in the kitchen in the exact shape and size of the dish. The kitchen “pops them out” of the plastic and drops them into the dish. So you are eating a frozen dinner. Most airlines use pop outs for pasta (even AA did this) but typically the other entree is a freshly prepared item.

    Previously on AA for Breakfast and Lunch there was a fresh option (cereal & fruit for Breakfast and a salad for lunch) along with a frozen entree. Great combo. Now even at lunch you get two frozen entrees. You see the quality that comes from this. I’ve seen some of entrees where there was so much liquid in the dish I felt like I was eating a stew. Disgusting.

    The best food in the air is Virgin America – both front and back. 100% of what they serve is fresh and they have a high focus on cage free eggs and pork, organic veg, etc. Best food and service in the air, hands down.

    Delta is also high on the fresh scene. A large amount of their food is prepared fresh including the sandwiches served at lunch in F. UA recently announced a move towards more fresh in F…that begins in Feb, 2015 I believe.

    AA is making record profits and they are doing so at the customer’s expense. I doubt any of us would really mind these changes if the airline were heading to bankruptcy but that isn’t the case. Fares are higher. Planes are fuller. Profits are sky rocketing and AA is dropping the quality of their service.

    My final point is that Doug Parker lied. He told the employees, the investment community and the communities the airline serves that AA had a superior product, a higher RASM and that to complete he would bring US up to AA standards. That was a lie. More and more AA is being downgraded to US standards. Just one more example of a corporate leader lying to get a deal done.

    I’m sitting on 2.5M miles on AA. I have a lot invested in this airline and it irks me beyond belief to see some Cactus Jockey ride into town and ruin what was arguably a really nice product.

  30. I recently flew AA F to Hawaii. I go there for business 5-6 times a year and as EXP get upgraded almost all the time. This last visit was under the new catering directive. Unbelievable how bad it was. It was always a treat in F to Hawaii compared to the rest of domestic catering. They’d offer a glass of sparkling wine, or mimosa before take-off, choice of dressing for the salad, and especially nice was the desert which was ice cream offered with a choice of toppings, whipped cream, nuts.
    The new catering is simply just very bad. You couldn’t sell that in any fast food restaurant anywhere in the US, no matter how cheaply. And AA are offering it to First Class customers ! It really is a joke, it’s almost like a sketch from SNL !
    I agree with a previous comment. They should just drop the pretense and tell their Executive Platinum customers, even when on a 6 hour flight in First Class, to buy food before they board, because the food they have on-board is pure garbage. It’s what I’ll be doing from now on.
    I’ve been a loyal AA traveller for nearly ten years because after UA it was remarkable to me how much better the experience was. It’s sad to see them following the same formulae now that they are merging with US. It seems like a race to the bottom.

  31. I had it for the first time the other day and the breakfast was DISGUSTING. I wrote a complain to American and I suggest everyone else does as well (especially if you are exec platinum. Every time I write them a complaint I start off by saying “congratulations on being the “new US Airways”.

  32. Those meals, especially the so-called sandwiches, make United’s snack pack I got on my late-night (~ 10 pm) IAH-SEA flight look like fine dining!

  33. I just read this and the ‘arugula pesto & roasted tomato’ sandwich looked like a sponge used to wipe a baby with a bad case of… Yeah, that…

  34. Funny thing is that on a British Airways flight from Sofia to London, in ECONOMY, you get a sandwich that doesnt look like it is covered in radioactive bile, but stuffed with real deli. Not to mention that it already comes with dessert and drink.

    And whats funny is that everybody in the cabin got the sandwich, sans frequent flyer status.
    Also, the flight was only three hours, as compared to the 4.5 hour flight here.

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