An Insider Preview of American’s Brand New Meal Service Rolling Out This Summer

This afternoon I popped over to Dallas to learn about upcoming catering changes at American. I was able to try some of the new entrees, that appear to be improvements, and most importantly signal that the airline is investing in product which has been an ongoing open question for the US Airways-American merger.

When US Airways and American merged, you took an airline where customers were hungry (no meals on US Airways flights less than 3 hours 15 minutes) and an airline where they were reasonably well fed and sort of met in the middle for meal times while adopting a legacy US Airways catering approach. That led to a backlash from customers, and American’s management has been making changes ever since. Bringing back entrée salads last month was an important step (and those will continue).

There are new meals coming for domestic first class and premium transcon first class, plus they’re changing up wines and adding some improvement to the lounges.

There aren’t press releases going out onthese, but they’re significant developments for passenger experience. And they had a small customer event that I wrangled an invite to (and that a small group of bloggers and journalists did as well — I ticked off a bucket list item by finally meeting Benet Wilson).

The event was held at LSG Sky Chefs corporate headquarters about six miles from the airport terminals. Fun fact, that not everyone at American knows: the reason LSG Sky Chefs’ North American headquarters is near the Dallas Fort Worth Airport is because Sky Chefs was an American Airlines operation started in 1942. Back then there weren’t outsourced airline catering operations, airlines started their own. Lufthansa bought pieces of it in the 1990s acquired the rest in 2001.

Key takeaways:

  • New meals in transcon (New York JFK – Los Angeles/San Francisco plus Miami – Los Angeles) first class starting July 1.
  • New wines July 1.
  • New appetizers in Flagship lounges mid-July
  • New meals in domestic first class August 1
  • Expanded meal windows and renovations coming to Admirals Clubs

American’s Vice President of Marketing Fern Fernandez opened the event acknowledging that American ‘had some missteps’ with its inflight catering last fall.

Other executives including Hector Adler, who is Vice President of Inflight, as well as folks from lounges, catering, and AAdvantage were on hand and consulting chef Sam Choy.

Domestic First Class Menu

Starter
Warm Mixed Nuts

Appetizers
Antipasto Skewers
Tomato Tart

Salad
Wedge Salad
Romaine and Kale Salad

Entrees
Beef Filet with lobster mac and cheese

Shrimp & Grits

Lasagna

Lentil Chili with Polenta Cakes

Asian Slaw Salad with Teriyaki Chicken

Dessert
Salted Chocolate Caramel Premade Sundae

Transcontinental First Class Menu

Appetizers
Spicy crab with Sushi Rice, Avocado and Wasabi Aioli

Burrata Cheese with Oregano and Capers

Edamame Hummus with toasted garlic baguettes

Entrees
Beef Oscar with Crab Asparagus, béarnaise sauce and smashed potatoes

Steamed Sea Bass with soy glaze and ginger cilantro, pasta rice

Lobster Risotto with shaved brussel sprouts, lemon oil and parmesan crisp

Wagyu Meatloaf with sriracha ketchup, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and candied onions

Pan Roasted Coconut Lime Chicken with olives and garlic mashed potatoes

Turmeric Paneer with red tikka curry, jeera rice and roasted two-color cauliflower

Summer Seasonal Vegetables
Baby Sunburst Squash and Zucchini (Eastbound)

Blanched Baby Carrots and Sugar Snap Peas (Westbound)

New Snacks for Flagship Lounges (which complement existing meal service)

“North America” Macaroni and Cheese

“Asia” Sesame Soba Noodles with Chicken Satay

“Europe” Ricotta whipped with lemon and extra virgin olive oil, ciabatta crostini

“South America” Peruvian Causa Yellow Potato West Coast Dungeness Crab Aji Amirillo Basil Cilantro Oil

It turns out that the mac and cheese will come in multiple varieties — truffled mac and cheese, for instance and sweet pea and ham mac and cheese. They will be presented on small plates (they were friend in our presentation but won’t be in the lounges) and they hope to bring some on-demand customization to the mac and cheese.

There will be additional meal changes coming, such as new non-egg breakfast dishes in domestic first coming sometime in August (for instance, different pastries).

American breaks the country up into 4 domestic regions and assigns meals to each region for a month. So the meals from Dallas to Miami are different than Dallas to Los Angeles. Each month the meals cycle so that for instance Miami might get one month what Los Angeles had the previous month. The full menu only gets replaced once a year.

Wine Changes

American presented some of the new wines:

US Airways and American flights in the same regions will have same wine selections effective July 1. There were several other wines present as well, such as an Etude Pinot Noir which I much like for a $30 Pinot. I’d find this an excellent business class wine, though merely a role player at best for international first class where they’re deploying it.

Bubbles in domestic first class will be a Bottega Prosecco, replacing the current sparkling.

Verdict on the Food

Everything tasted good in the LSG Sky Chefs building. I’m going to reserve judgment on the specific meals until I’ve tasted them in the air. I’m happy, though, to see American investing in the meal service. They’re clearly trying to get better here, recognizing that the roll backs from last September went too far, and intending to put out a quality product especially as meal service is an area that both Delta and United are focusing on as well.

The Flagship Lounge snacks presented were probably closest in taste to what will actually be delivered in-lounge. As an addition, they’re an improvement. But mostly they signal a continued investment in American’s first class lounge product, so coupled with plans for a new Flagship lounge at DFW airport it indicates a commitment to first class despite only having that cabin on one aircraft type internationally (Boeing 777-300ER) going forward plus on their 3-cabin domestic transcon flights of course.

The most popular dish amongst those tasting today, it seemed, was the beef oscar (filet and crab meat) although that wasn’t one of my own favorites. Among the beef dishes I actually liked the meat loaf, although calling it ‘wagyu’ is I suspect a bit of a stretch (perhaps there is some small portion of American wagyu mixed in to legitimately use the term) and the ‘sriracha ketchup’ wasn’t at all spicy. Still, not bad.

Everyone present acknowledged the end of the ‘mystery meat’ which it turns out was a short rib.

Additional changes to service and lounges

A handful of other conversations were of note.

  • Fern Fernandez mentioned that American is running a purser training program in Dallas, emphasizing customer service and managing the inflight service crew. Their goal next year is that flight attendant recurring training will include broader customer service training as well so get greater consistency.

  • Expanded meal windows in the Admirals Clubs, although I don’t have the timeframe for this to begin. I like their new soups, for instance, they just aren’t out long enough and so stopping by the ‘A’ club in Dallas today at 11:45am all they offered was fruit, vegetables, and cookies.

  • I also had a long conversation about the coming revamp of the D15 Admirals Club lounge in Miami which will hopefully start in a few months, be done in stages, and complete next summer. They are taking over some space next door to the lounge that had been offices in order to expand the lounge. They eventually plan to get rid of the ‘terrace overflow’ space and move reception forward closer to the escalators. They have a more efficient seating plan in mind to accommodate more customers in this admittedly over-capacity lounge.

Takeaway from the day is that they’re investing in product, they aren’t doing everything I’d like to see, but they are doing more than I thought. We’ll see how these execute, but I think we can also expect that if some of the things they’re trying don’t work well in practice they’ll continue to iterate and improve.

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 InsideFlyer.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. @Gary – ah, thank you! That’s unfortunate. I hope you do press the issue the next opportunity you get!

  2. For Blacksheep:

    Flight attendants are on board for your safety, not to serve your miserable excuse for a life snacks and coffee. I hope I never have to sit next to you on any flight.

    Go to Europe or Asia, stay there and enjoy those carriers.

    And lastly, see my comment above yours (@7:55), which seems to apply to you in the extreme.

  3. JL, if you include all fish the number is about 6 million in the US. I realize you don’t care about those who will suffer, but that is more than 1% and I think well past the threshold for taking into account when designing a menu. That also does not take into account the people who don’t like fish. I have been traveling a long time and I am certain this is the most seafood I have seen on any airlines menu and adding the seafood to the non seafood entree is? I assume you also don’t care about the sustainability and cost as long as you get your seafood. I do not think this new menu will last long so fly while you can.

  4. @Shawn I don’t like ricotta cheese. It’s absurd that American uses ricotta in its lasagna, because that leaves me with only one meal option! There are plenty of people who don’t like ricotta. When you add in people who don’t like parmesan, plus those that are lactose intolerant, they’re ignoring a pretty large group of people. How can they not care about us?

    I think the idea here is there’s always a choice of meals, and if you preorder (provided you’re booked into first 24 hours out) they should have your choice onboard for you.

  5. @ Gary
    With all due respect and I know we all have our likes and dislikes
    lasagna is supposed to be made with Ricotta Cheese !
    What would you want too see? 🙂 A lactose free version? Cottage cheese ?American cheese? lol
    I see the problem here as a lack of choices and good ones
    But even though I don’t like much of their pasta they have that one right and I am as tough a critic as they come !

  6. Jeff, Although no one should dignify your comment with a reply, people die from food allergies, and if any company designs a menu that will make approximately 6 million Americans sick, then they should hear about it. I am surprised your comment was allowed to remain posted here due to the profanity it contains, but as long as name calling is allowed in this blog I will use a non-profane word and tell you that you are a douche. A big total douche. At least I can take comfort in the face that I do not have to interact with you on a daily basis. And don’t respond to me. You don’t have permission.

  7. Gary, Thank you for your last reply. There is a big difference between not liking something and being allergic. But thanks for the snarky comment. Now I know I will no longer have to waste time reading your blog. Ba-Bye.

  8. @shawn, you’re the one who raised the issue of liking something (“That also does not take into account the people who don’t like fish”) and that’s what I was responding to. You also raised the issues of “sustainability and cost” in addition to allergies.

    So we are talking preferences, I wasn’t actually being snarky. Meanwhile, you’ve just called someone a ‘douche’. (I tend to think that each person’s comments reflect mostly on themselves so I don’t censor comments unless they contain extremely graphic sexual imagery or non-public personal information about others, and I’ve only banned I think 3 people – ever.)

    Although I’m not sure how different the issues of allergies and preferences and aversions are, if they all take one selection off the table for a given customer.

  9. I’ve tried the Shrimp and Grits and it was very GOOD!!! the American Light Bites menu onboard is also a good choice.

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