American may not have been on the cusp of the inflight dining scene, but with its merger with US Airways, many changes were made for the better. American, unlike US Airways, operates both a business and first class cabin.
This means that a difference between the service offering has to be presented although it is not as grand as what European carriers offer. Still, there are nice touches here and there.
Admirals Clubs are getting a makeover starting in the airline’s most important hubs. Cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York have been among the first with more to come. With the design overhaul comes many changes to the lounge’s dining offer with the option between two soups in hub cities (one vegetarian; other cities have just one choice), crudites with various dips like hummus and ranch dressing, cookies, popcorn, couscous, and snack mix.
American was a pioneer in selling meals like sandwiches (both hot and cold), soup, and salads in its lounges. While other airlines were focused on beefing up their free offering, American used to provide a bare-bones snack with a pay menu. It was only in the past couple of years that the airline retrenched and offered a solid mix of free snacks and paid-for food. Still, American is the leader in selling food in its clubs, which is often a source of contention for premium cabin fliers.There is no high-end brand of coffee (unlike Delta with Starbucks and United with illy). Instead, American plods along with Nespresso among others.
On domestic flights
American does one of the best jobs of any domestic airline on inflight dining in the premium cabin. But, let’s start with economy. Back-of-the-bus fliers get snack mix with their choice of drink; there’s also the option to purchase snacks like Pringle’s and nut mix with sandwiches and salads available on longer flights. Regional jet aircraft have the non-perishable snacks available for sale, but not other items.
The airline’s most frequent Concierge Key and Executive Platinum travelers are treated to their choice of snack (even a premium meal) and alcoholic drink if seated in economy. The same goes for regional jets, which is often a proactive offer of flight attendants. First class fliers are now offered a mix of high-brow designed by Chef Julian Barsotti like filet mignon and lobster mac and cheese or veggie bowls with quinoa or lentils. The best part of American domestic first class is that travelers can pre-select their meals (up until 24 hours of departure). American is the first of the domestic carriers to offer such a proposition.
There are fewer unique brand partnerships than what Delta and United offer, but frequent fliers do appreciate the oft flexibility of flight attendants to provide a snack from economy if first class meals are not of interest. Another plus for domestic premium cabin passengers is that American offers a special tray-meal service on flights too short for a full meal. Most airlines say that flights under 900-1,000 miles are too short for first class meals, but American (like Alaska) is quite generous in that it offers a rather upscale choice (comparatively speaking) between cheese or antipasti plates for customers in place of a snack basket with chips and popcorn.
When you cross the pond, American offers a rather basic service in economy. Whereas Delta offers bottled water and amenity kits in economy, American goes bare bones with a standard meal service. At least, wine and beer are free.
Premium cabins get more attention as expected. Celebrity chefs were once far more prominent with AA than now. Hawaiian flights still enjoy meals inspired by Chef Sam Choy (his dishes also appear on premium transcontinental routes) while those to Europe might have Mark Sargeant-inspired dishes. In addition, you might see more subtle differences like steak presented with chimichurri sauce on flights to South America or a nice red chile paste on flights to South Korea.
Like domestic flights, American’s premium cabin passengers can order meals for their flight up until 24 hours before departure meaning that few go without their first choice. Asian flights offer intricate presentations especially on flights to Japan. One important note for those that like to order special meals: there are not many options once in the air. Many meals are pre-set, which means if you order a special meal choice, it carries across to all inflight services (including mid-flight snacks and breakfast). Many travelers are often surprised when they have no other options (unless someone opts not to eat).
American may have a great pre-ordering meal system, but in the air, business class passengers are subjected to meals served from beat-up economy class carts. This means that travelers must eat on a set schedule, and when the cart comes by, travelers must be ready for the next course or they throw the flight attendants out of sync. This is becoming increasingly the norm in business class; at least first class has a more flexible schedule.
Upcoming premium economy service is the newest thing to the world’s largest airline. Reports indicate that travelers in this dedicated cabin (that comes with more recline and a leg rest) will be treated to a pre-departure beverage, amenity kit, and a meal similar to economy class, but with more generous alcoholic drink presentation.
American offers a very unique proposition on certain premium flights, like those to Australia and China. Travelers on these flights are offered bonuses like pajamas and boosted inflight catering like caviar plus better presentation. American seems to be testing this type of service out; we can all hope that they will consider rolling it out on other routes.