My Beef With American’s New Catering

Filed Under: American

American and US Airways aligned their domestic first class catering as of September 1, 2014.

I don’t usually take much of an interest in domestic airplane food, though I did share my first experience with the new catering over the weekend, which was underwhelming. The “salad” consisted mostly of shredded lettuce, and the chicken was possibly the worst chicken I’ve ever had in a premium cabin.

Today I had a lunch flight from San Francisco to Dallas, which is under three hours in the air.

The first thing worth noting is just how much food American serves. There were hot nuts to start.


Then there was an appetizer, salad, main course, and bread roll (pretzel bread!).


And then red velvet cake for dessert.


You’re probably thinking “that looks pretty decent.” And yes, both the chicken with pesto and the salad were good (unlike on my last flight).

But the main course… oh my…

It was described as:


You know you’re in for a treat when the menu describes the food as “beef” — not sirloin, or filet, or short ribs, or meatloaf… but rather just “beef.”

Look, I’ve flown hundreds and hundreds of domestic flights and had a lot of not so great meals. And I don’t expect great meals. But my last flight on American had the worst “chicken” dish I’ve ever been served, and this flight had the worst “beef” dish I’ve ever eaten briefly put in my mouth.

It wasn’t steak. It wasn’t short ribs. It wasn’t meatloaf. It was basically leftover middle school cafeteria mystery meat.


Best I could tell no one touched their “beef,” and the flight attendants were pretty embarrassed about having to serve it.

I never really cared about domestic airline food but up until now at least found it to be edible on American. I guess from hereon out I shouldn’t make that assumption anymore, and should buy a sandwich on the ground instead.

What has been your experience with American’s new catering?

  1. I read somewhere (internal memo) that USAIR and American spend $3.69 on first class domestic food…so you best advised to buy beforehand or ask the FA for the Boston Market Turkey sandwich they sell for $7 from the back –

  2. Did they not serve nuts, or did you mean to say they served hot nuts?

    As to “beef” that picture would be pretty much what I would expect with that description. Looks likes braised beef, most likely short ribs sans the bone. And I would expect a ton of sauce/topping to kind of mask the flavor and make it seem moister.

  3. Maybe best to go with the vegetarian option? It’s easier to hit a given price point with pasta and cheese than with “beef.”

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. As an EXP who earns most of my status domestically, I’ve eaten a lot of American Airlines chicken and beef over the years. My first “beef” meal with the new catering was hands down the most disgusting food I’ve encountered as an adult. I was shocked at just how far the food had fallen in one fell swoop. Let’s hope there’s enough noise — bring back what we had!

  5. Welcome to America West dab American Airlines.

    United is ready for your business, with brand new upgraded menus early next year. The smart money knew this and more is coming and shorted AAdvantage.

  6. Last night on my DFW to Seattle dinner flight, I bought Qdoba burrito and asked the flight attendant to serve me the dinner tray without the main course. Looks like I made the right call although the passenger next to me wolfed down the beef – ha ha ha. It looked disgusting.

    The sides were pretty good including the cheesecake dessert. I do miss the ice cream.

  7. Did SFO-DFW first-class also for lunch a couple months ago. Had the chicken salad. Thought it was fine. Missed the ice cream sundae. Always love the warm nuts.

  8. Just try and fly United and eat the food. Then you will really know what terrible is!

    Last flight my “chicken” was so hard the knife could not cut it. Wasn’t cold or uncooked just hardened in the middle to rock like status.

    No one touched it. FAs didn’t even care. Classic united under Jeff.

  9. This is unfortunate. The last few years I’ve found US Airways to have actually improved their food quite a bit. That said, you can always expect the main to be the weakest part of a meal on most airlines, whereas dessert is usually the best because they can overload it with sugar.

    Food is generally the worst part of flying for me. You’re not going to get the grass fed organic grilled filet you would grill at home.

  10. That “beef” does look disgusting in the photo, though I must admit I had the same exact meal flying PHX-ORD last week and it was good. My meat looked more appetizing than that!

  11. Well, you’re being served mac and cheese in a premium cabin…shouldn’t that have been another sign? šŸ˜‰

    But on the bright side, the salad was a step up this time. They even had a strawberry in there. How fancy!

  12. First post – love the site. I fly 500K miles/ year and came across this site a few moths ago. I have lived a lot of your trip reports and we share many of the same conclusions, e.g. emirates 1st is bling, UA 1st is jock strap. Odd that a post on AA food would make me post.

    Anyway, my view is that AA catering in 1st has fallen but I think it will improve – Parker is a good CEO but will take some time to adjust from popcorn league to the majors. I pay for 1st and honestly, schedule, seat, service, food are my priority. For domestic, my prefs are Virgin, Jet Blue, AA, DL, SW. I despise UAL even though I have the misfortune of being 1K for 15 years and 3M miles on that airline. No fly – all eco carriers, if I want to be treated like cattle, I will get slaughtered and travel via refrigerated rail – its more humane treatment.

  13. I have gotten quite picky about the meat I eat given revelations about pink slime etc. The veg option is the way to go.

  14. When flying from JFK to Bermuda in first class on Monday evening, it was entertaining to watch the stewardess explain to the affluent business travellers that there was not going to be a meal as there had been prior to September 1. The looks of astonishment and disgust as the snack basket was presented were priceless. One passenger asked if he could get a napkin or did the flight have to be over 1200 miles in order to receive on.

    As others have commented about similar situations, the stewardess was embarrassed (probably less so on Day 8 of having to do this) and gave out the email address for the passengers to notify AA of their displeasure. As anyone who has travelled to Bermuda knows, if you are getting in at 9pm, there are few to no options for food so these passengers were especially upset. I would think AA would look at the routes that their most well-healed passengers frequented and reconsider the meal rules for those flights. I will admit to having been upgraded as a EXP but I got the sense I was in the minority of non-paid first class guests.

    Bermuda is not captive to American and passengers can get to New York on other airlines so the ‘snack basket strategy’ is going to do more harm than the slim cost savings intended.

  15. i have a friend that works for their caterer and he pretty much told me that they now get food from Schwans and Schwans stock all middle and high schools in the US. I have seen their frozen pizzas and quick meals in the super markets and they are awful really awful. I had hungry man quick meal once and threw up, never again. When I fly AA in first I never get their food and instead get their sandwich from the back which they always sub for me…

  16. The fact that we know that airlines spend less than $10 (and from many accounts, less than $5) on their premium cabin meals shows you how ridiculous it is that everyone gets so fired up about food in first class. Our expectations should not be high.

    Having said that, Lucky, I’ve gotta disagree with you a bit though – I think you’re being too picky with the food. I’ve had that meal, or a similar meal, a number of times, and it’s perfectly fine. No, it’s not a steak from Morton’s, but it’s certainly not inedible. It’s perfectly normal airline food, in my opinion. Additionally, the salad is good, the appetizer is good, the pretzel roll is good, and the desserts are always great, again, in my opinion.

  17. We had the exact same meal on Monday SEA-ORD. The beef looked way better than your picture and in fact it was quite tasty. Actually much better than most fillet’s we have had on domestic flights. I have some knowledge of meat and it looked like it was from the more tender part of what is often called pot roast, very tender. The sauce was tasty. We were surprised how good it actually was. The chicken was almost like another meat entrĆ©e and was served cold and was also good. The pretzel roll was as good as you will get in a restaurant. Overall it was very good considering it was airplane food. One of the better meals I have had on a domestic plane.

  18. Hi Lucky. Sad news about the new meals. In your experience, is the same true for business and first class meals in the new plans AA is using for transcontinental flights from JFK to LAX and SFO? It would be truly sad if the new lie flat seats came with terrible food. And any insights about food on international flights? I flew to London and back after Sept. 1. The food and wine were the same quality as in the past, i.e. quite good.

  19. We had similar experiences on 9/5 DFW to SFO with the choice of mystery chicken or mystery pasta, chicken was the worst my wife had ever experienced (one bite) . Return trip 9/8 SFO to DFW my wife (wisely) passed on either meal and I had the exact meal in the pictures. Chicken appetizer was OK and the mystery beef with cover up sauce was gross looking and I did not even try a bite. Most other passengers didn’t either and the FA’s looked embarrassed. However, the best pretzel roll I’ve had. Wake up, AA!!

  20. @ LarryH — I don’t think that has changed, at least based on my flight yesterday from DFW to HKG. So I wouldn’t be worried there… yet.

  21. The beef is alternated based on flight direction: Eastbound and Northbound flights the beef is actually Fancy Feast pure beef feline delight. Westbound and Southbound flights the beef is the leather sole from an old pair of shoes. šŸ™‚

  22. It seems AA is waking up slightly, or just trying to appease us a little with the return of warm nuts. My loyalty has waned and I am looking for a new favorite airline. Many of us first class passengers flew as children when flying was something special. A nice first class meal goes a long way to re-kindle those memories, and plays into the emotional aspect of paying for that particular ticket. AA has let us down with even the choice to remove the linen, now a tray is a tray, might as well just serve the food in aluminum, TV dinner style. It has about as much appeal and might save US Airways (err I mean American) a few more pennies. Oh and don’t let the flight attendant wear scarfs, for the savings on weight might save .10 cents on fuel.

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