Meals Will Disappear from American First Class on Many Flights Starting September 1

Back in February, American Airlines announced that US Airways would improve its meal services.

  • Effective April 1 they changed the cutoff for meals from flights of 3.5 hours or longer to those of 1000 nautical miles or greater which they said equated to flights of ~ 2 hours 45 minutes.
  • That meant about 40% more US Airways flights would be seeing meals in domestic first class — or an increase of 126 flights a day.

But the news wasn’t all good. At the same time they announced that come September 1, US Airways and American would align domestic first class service — tray elements, food components, and meal cutoff times.

Speaking to an American representative yesterday, he reiterated the September 1 timetable and the 1000 nautical mile standard.

I find the use of ‘nautical miles’ in this context a bit misleading. Here’s what it means in ‘miles’.

Gone will be meals on my Washington National – Miami flights, for instance. No meal Dallas – Miami or Dallas – Las Vegas. Or Dallas-Charlotte.

Fourteen months ago in offering initial thoughts on the merger, I said that US Airways elites are hungry.

I even got that line into the New York Times and worried that they would ‘split the difference somewhere’.

Indeed that seems to be what’s happening.

Update: Some commenters mention key business routes like Chicago – New York LaGuardia. No doubt high revenue routes, and routes where there’s direct competition offering more, matter. An American spokesperson adds,

Some of our most popular routes that fall short of the 2.75 hours for the meal window with have exceptions. Just like there are market exceptions for US Airways.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. This is like a roller coaster with the window cutoff changing every few years! It stinks for BOS-MIA which is sometimes on the borderline of their policy du jour.

  2. And expect exceptions, like ORD-LGA unless they’re ready for mutiny.

    the killer would be if they downgraded the quality as well.

  3. A real disappointment. This would mean that DCA-MIA-BZE and the reverse would go from 2 meals to 0. Not that I believe that plated meals at 30,000 feet are ever a wise use of money, but when a connection is involved, people get hungry.

  4. This is ridiculous. For years I’ve been flying AA in (paid) First from DFW-MCO on a frequent basis, and a meal has always been provided during regular mealtimes. The actual flight time is 2.5 hours — if you’re not delayed. Add on the typical pre-flight and post-flight time in the airport, and that is a long time to go without a meal. If I’m paying all that extra money to fly in First Class, I shouldn’t have to carry my own meal onto a plane!

  5. To clarify, I’m CONNECTING in DFW so there is usually no time to grab anything to eat while I’m there. This really sucks.

  6. US hubs generally involve flying one sub 1,000 mile flight and one very long flight because of their locations near the coasts.

    AA hubs are midcon so as noted above a lot more people will go hungry on itineraries with two sub 1,000 mile flights.

    Bad decision.

  7. I also expect that as they reduce benefits of F class, they will give away more it free.
    I would not be surprised to see “free” upgrades on sub-1000 mile flights and “stickers” on longer flights!

  8. So first class is now Main Cabin Extra Extra?

    With haphazard drink service already an issue, I can’t see paying for first on short flights. How long until we start seeing rows removed from first?

  9. I am not too happy, this means DFW-PIT will lose meals. If I am traveling to LAS via DFW, I get nothing.

    I think they should do 1,000 miles not nautical miles and carve out certain routes like ORD-BOS/LGA.

    Stupid move. I do not want free upgrades for mid-tiers, use the sticker system and keep the AA meal standard across the board.

  10. Bye bye AAMeals DCA-ORD, too. Dougie certainly lessening my pain of loosing Plat Status next year

  11. Gary, no offense, but your “US Airways elites are hungry” line is quite tired at this point. Give it a rest. Maybe your new line should be “US Airways elites are healthier,” since they don’t eat as much cheap, high-sodium food.

    This is by far the most overblown concern/fear of this (or any) merger. I will never understand the outrage at no longer being served a crappy wrap or salad on a two hour flight. I certainly won’t be losing any sleep over this.

  12. @Andrew, out of PIT, the last DFW flight departs at 645pm, my day at the office ends around 5pm. With traffic, getting to the airport takes close to an hour from my desk, then there is the security and getting to the gate. That leaves me with maybe 20-30 minutes before the door closes.

    Where in that schedule can I get a meal? That is why I depend on being served a meal in F on those flights.

    The irony of this is EXP gets food, but in F gets nothing. Oh, maybe this is a telltale that they will end free snack/food in coach for EXPs.

  13. Let’s see if they do it to #238 DCA-MIA in November. Yesterday, 6/6/14 we bought first/biz tickets to Chile, flying down there on 11/8/14. The itinerary says “Dinner” for that flight, a 5:35 pm DCA – 8:30 pm MIA trip.

    I doesn’t take a Diamond Medallion flyer to realize that a sit down dinner anywhere other than the airplane is a lost cause for anyone traveling on #238.

    I just emailed AA customer relations, asking why I should bring a box dinner to a first class seat, on a trip that starts in the US’ capital city and ends in a major international hub.

    You know, if they offer me a cancellation I just might take it, and return to Delta.

  14. Andrew, I’m guessing you don’t go through DFW or ORD often. I don’t and while it doesn’t bother me, I certainly feel for those all day fliers who do.

    Is it just me or does anyone else find the use of nautical miles deceitful. Makes it hard for the average fellow to know whether there will be a meal. I hope the official announcement is more transparent.

  15. All if this just validates a question this AA ExPlat flier asked all along: Is the spend for elite status even worth it anymore? I may just revert back to buying the cheapest fare, regardless of carrier, and saying the hell with it. Maybe I can save enough to pay for my sack lunch.

  16. So EXPs in coach on 3-hour flights get a free sandwich, and those in First get nothing at all? That’s odd, to say the least.

    Not at all a fan of this change.

  17. @Andrew, I’m very happy for you that you’re healthy and don’t care about the meal. Those of us that are on four or more flights a week do enjoy having the option. Yesterday I refused meal service but tomorrow will “enjoy” my oatmeal on my RDU-MIA flight. It’s one less step of buying something in the airport or at my hotel.

    While this change won’t get me to stop using AA and feel I get treated well as an EXPlat. If there are significant changes I will reevaluate then.

    I used to be a Royal Ambassador with IC Hotels but switched almost exclusively to Starwood and Hyatt when the devalued the benefits of their program. I spend way too much time on the road to be treated poorly.

  18. Maybe they can provide free orgasms instead of food. Help build a healthier and happier world.

  19. Well, certainly interesting. I don’t know what they think the differentiator for F is going to be without food. Especially if they are trying to monetize F. One less reason for people to buy or buy up.

    That said, curious about many routes. DCA ORD has always been “too short” and it still gets something to stay competitive. Maybe those of us in DCA will be spared due to the significance of the route. I cant imagine Important Person A flying into DC and having to go straight to a Big Important Meeting at the Capitol/Pentagon/etc. being happy to do so hungry.

    And will they be considering MX/Caribbean domestic? I mean, no, it’s not. But how is a 2 hour flight US to MIA different than a 2 hour flight MIA to some island?

    Have a DCA-MIA-AUA itinerary in F booked that I will be keeping an eye on. Guess that will be the indicator.

  20. This information is incorrect and the AA spokesperson is wrong. There will be meal harmonization this fall and some flights will lose meals, but this is not the cut off. I’m pretty surprised you would post this inaccurate info without more fact checking.

  21. No more breakfast on PSP-DFW (only 1126 miles per Great Circle Mapper).I hope Mackers is open at 5:30 am.

  22. Personally? I don’t believe it. It’s already been investigated and discussed in depth, and the determination has came that 1000nm was a mistake in the original announcement, because some US flights that are under 1000nm (such as PHL-MIA) now receive meals. PHL-MIA is only competitive to US/AA. The discussion led to the finding that 1000mi was most likely the real policy for the new US windows. So, it wouldn’t make any sense, especially given the recent improvements.

    As for the AA representative, it’s possible: a) he could’ve been misinformed, b) minunderstood and thought it was US the person was asking about, or c) basing his answer on an old, cancelled decision to move AA windows to 1000nm (as in, AA has changed course since then and now will plan to offer meal service with current windows in mind post-Sept 1, or a new, less drastic cut timeframe).

    Also, it doesn’t make sense that there has been some improvements being made to transcon service (additional menu choice on all flights, redeye meal improvements, and sorbets as a transcon breakfast dessert), for all that to be yanked away/reduced come Sept 1st.

    Not only that, but UA/DL has a 900mi threshold. It wouldn’t make sense that AA, having a premium image, would go from the best to worst, and becoming worse than their competitors. I’ll believe it when I see it, though.

  23. This wasn’t a random employee conversation, this was a vetted answer by a spokesperson who verified the detail and then clarified above (certain routes are exceptions to the ‘nautical mile’ measure).

  24. I just don’t understand why this is happening, seriously. I mean, DL/UA has a 900mi threshold. We were told on the day of the official merger approval (IIRC, 12/9/13) that current AA parameters would be kept. US hubs are mainly transcon hubs, while AA hubs are mostly midcon (exempting LAX/MIA/JFK, and those hubs serve mostly regional/transcon flights). Also, AA hasn’t changed its meal windows/parameters in over a decade.

    Paint me VERY disappointed, disillusioned, and even angry if this is true.

  25. BOS-ORD would get no meals in first, especially breakfast (a banana, cereal, blueberries, bagel, cream-cheese).

    Another impeachable Obama cut!

  26. Snack basket US/ UAL style is definitely a downgrade. This Den based flyer travels via DFW regularly and it makes that extra leg on AA less likely. Beware of death by a thousand cuts Mr Parker.

  27. Did a quick look, if you travel in/out of DFW, any thing east of SAN or not northeast of WAS/Virginia [RIC barely clears by 8 miles, but still at risk] will lose meals. Basically, almost the entire USA and all of Mexico.

  28. So it appears that cost cutting is coming to the new American. It starts with domestic meal service, so what is going to be next? Complimentary upgrades, reduced SWUs? US only offers 2, while American offer 8 SWUs.

    The US based airlines are on a race to the bottom. I hope Mr. Parker does actually learn from the errors of the CObdaUA merger and understands that cutting elite benefits and driving away loyalty is not a model for a successful airline operation. If the airline is run as USdbaAA, then expect more much cost cutting and elite devaluations. If the airline is run as US-AAdbaAA, then American has a great opportunity to be a successful airline by continuing the current AA policies and elite benefits.

  29. Update – I’ve sent an email to both Hector Adler (VIP of In-Flight Services) at hector.adler@aa.com and customer.relations@aa.com – the template I have below is something you’re welcome to use. Please flood AA with complaints so they may reverse course (if this development is completely true).

    Dear AA Customer Relations/Mr. Adler:

    I am a [level of elite/frequent paid first class customer] who flies [route] often in First Class. I have always enjoyed the meals that were offered, especially on those routes that fall under 2.75 hours. There has been word spreading around the Internet that come September 1st, meals on less-than-2.75 hour (1000 nautical miles) routes will be eliminated, with few exceptions. Here’s an example of the word being spread: http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea….g-september-1/

    This is unacceptable because American Airlines has always alluded to a premium image, treating its’ domestic First Class to meals on as short as 600-mile flights. It’s very important to keep your premium customers, such as myself, coming, and meals is a big enticement for people to pay revenue First class fares. Sometimes business travelers do not have time to grab a meal at home or at the airport before flying, so meals are a nice incentive to pay for First Class. Additionally, this is a competitive benefit, as some of your competitors do not offer meals on the routes you offer meals on. Matching other competitors and even setting the threshold higher will lessen competition and will erode customer confidence in the new, merged American. This is not the time to cut corners. Additionally, American Airlines has not significantly reduced meal service windows in more than a decade, so why start now if what has worked for those years still work now?

    If the new policy being discussed is true, I ask you to please rethink this carefully. Please do not disappoint me, as an [elite/paid first class flier], and do not disappoint your other customers. Make your First Class product stand out, differentiate it, keep it truly premium, and you will retain your high-value flyers. Do not make the same mistake United did. I understand the need for US Airways to save on domestic First class meals, given its’ tight budget, but American Airlines is a different airline. You no longer work for an airline that has its stock ticker called LLC – you work for a premium airline, and I expect better than this.

    Respectfully,
    [your name]

  30. @Andrew g: you say “…meals is a big enticement for people to pay revenue First class fares.”

    Seriously? No one in their right mind can tell me that paying hundreds of dollars more for a seat, just so you can get a meal that costs the airline ~$5, is a sound decision.

  31. @Andrew & @Brian L: if you disagree, you’re welcome to tweak the text to say “…meals are one of several enticements for people…”

    AA meals are generally VERY good, compared to the competition!

  32. Can we all agree that meal situation on US airlines is ridiculously bad regardless of mileage requirements or departure time?

    I was served a meal in LX J (PRG-ZRH, 318 miles) but on a recent trip to Seattle only had a meal once and I think it wasn’t supposed to have happened if not for a plane change: IAH-PHX (US F; meal; 1009 mi), PHX-SEA (US F; snack; 1107 mi), SEA-SLC (DL F; snack; 689 mi), SLC-IAH (DL F; snack; 1195 mi).

    Perhaps they need to adjust the rules and go with something like this: <300 mi – snack; 301-600 – sandwich/wrap; 601+ – meal.

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