At the end of June I got a preview of Ameican’s new meal service which rolled out domestically August 1st.
The changes were a continuation of improvements that began May 1 when the airline introduced entree salads.
Here’s the pecan crusted chicken salad from a Dallas – Seattle flight on Tuesday.
- The protein is served on the side, in deference to vegetarians.
- A piece of cake replaced the chocolate chip cookie. Many seem to like the cake, I find the center way too rich.
- I wouldn’t have minded a third shrimp in the appetizer, but the cocktail sauce inside a cucumber was sort of neat actually.
Next week I’ll finally try one of the new dinner entrees, steak with lobster mac and cheese.
The salads are fine, they’re lunch. There’s little question that American’s meal service is much improved over where they were September through April. Frequent flyers can debate where the service stands compared to a year ago, and compared to United and Delta. In fact, that’s fun!
And it got me thinking. United has improved its meal service, too. American is back to the point where I’ll eat the food served on the plane again, for months I had simply skipped the meals. What sort of food should an airline serve in domestic first class and why?
- With shorter connecting times (‘banked hubs’) it’s not just the length of one domestic flight but often two and perhaps without time to pick anything up in the terminal in between them as you run from flight to flight.
- Onboard options, especially at airports with limited choices inside security, are more important than ever with the TSA’s War on Water. You simply can’t bring your own food the way you used to be able to.
- It’s a service, you have plenty to worry about in travel, not having to deal with meals is just one less thing.
- It’s traditional. In fact, during the regulated era airlines weren’t legally permitted to compete on price. The government ensured prices at which airlines would earn profits, so they did want to compete. So they competed on non-price items like food. There was even discussion at a hearing of regulating the thickness of sandwiches to keep airlines from engaging in ruinous competition in the form of giving passengers food.
Don’t these same arguments apply in economy, even if the food isn’t free? Airlines offer buy on board, and I’ve actually much enjoyed the sandwiches that American has had in back (100,000 mile flyers get a complimentary drink and buy on board item when flying economy). Although I really liked the buy on board sandwiches they were serving three years ago under Marcus Samuelsson branding.
I was flying out of Seattle yesterday and a flight attendant announced the buy on board options — noting that the meals weren’t loaded ‘due to a shortage’ and there were only snack items to choose from.
The very fact that airlines:
- Do seem to be competing over inflight meals suggest they believe that food matters to passengers, and that customers will book away from airlines offering an inferior experience
- Continue to offer buy on board — less expensive to the airline than offering complimentary meals in economy than they used to, but not necessarily a profit center in its own right — suggests that it’s a basic passenger need, without which passengers will have a negative experience and book away from the carrier in the future.
So food does matter. I had gotten quite used to skipping the meals on American, finding a way to forage in the terminal. Although not having to do this is especially valuable flying American since they board before designated boarding time and so grabbing something to go may trade off with finding overhead bin space.