American Airlines is Offering a Whole New Level of Service for their Sydney Flights, Even in Economy

Yesterday I attended an American Airlines event near LAX highlighting the new soft product offerings for their Los Angeles – Sydney flight.

They’re flying as part of a joint business venture with Qantas (the particulars of which are still pending Department of Transportation approval). Qantas is reducing their flying Los Angeles – Sydney and redeploying aircraft to re-start San Francisco flying. And Qantas customers are used to a certain level of catering. Plus it’s a pretty premium route that’s also very competitive since it’s served by United, Virgin Australia, and Delta as well.

Taken together, American saw the need to up its game — pajamas in business class and a redesigned menu.

American was holding crew trainings near the airport and invited select media to preview the full catering so I popped over. (For avoidance of doubt I covered all of my own expenses, and didn’t take the bottle of wine they were giving participants even though it was quite a nice bottle, being served on the route, because I was headed back to the airport without checked luggage.)

First Class Service

American still has first class cabins on their unreconfigured Boeing 777-200s, but is moving to offer first class only on their limited number of Boeing 777-300ER aircraft — which will be serving the Los Angeles – Sydney route.

There’s only 8 first class seats. With an outstanding business class seat, the first class seat isn’t all that much better than business, and with more investment into the business class offerings on this route, American is upping their first class game for the route.

Nick Richards, director premium services, said that all first class passengers would be eligible for complimentary Five Star service at LAX.

Normally something American offers for sale to anyone with a premium flight segment in their itinerary for $250, first class passengers would normally receive some of the benefits anyway — Flagship Check-in at LAX provides a separate VIP area with an elevator that drops off right at the front of the priority security queue.


Flagship Check-in Photos from 2012

Five star though includes coordination of arrival with your car service, curbside meet and greet, and escort from lounge to the gate.

The inflight service has been redesigned as well. They’ll offer smoked almonds at your seat upon boarding. Olives and potato chips after takeoff.

They’ve redesigned the menu to offer a variety of small plates in addition to main dishes. The idea is that some passengers may want a salad and a variety of small dishes, first class passengers can mix and match from the menu as they wish. The flight will be over-provisioned around 150% to meet customer choice in how they organize their meals.

American is introducing a canapé service like the old amuse bouche which was discontinued with the merger.

First and business class meals will be on a 3 month rotation, and offerings are different in each direction based on what’s seasonal at the originating station.

Small plate offerings include poached Maine lobster, lamb carpaccio, and a meatless option roasted tomato tart.

Salad is served in a bowl, a larger portion than currently offered. This one focuses on the greens with few added ingredients. (There’s a choice of a salad dressing or balsamic and olive oil.)

They highlighted a soup course of butternut squash with marshmallows.

First class has 4 main meal options.

You can pair extra vegetables/sides with any entree.

The cheese course consists of 3 cheeses served on a cheese board (business class has 2 cheeses).

Traditional desserts include a chocolate mousse and a warm sticky pudding.

Separate from dessert there’s a chocolate service for pre-bedtime.

Mid-flight snacks include wagyu sliders and a mezze, and there are also packaged snacks at the bar. These are the same in business class.

Breakfast includes 3 choices, two of which are similar to business class. There’s a traditional American breakfast, a continental option, and unique to first class a sweet option.

Here’s a current first class menu: (Click to enlarge)

Business Class Service

The headline for business class doesn’t even start with the food. It’s that, like first class passengers, business class passengers on the Sydney route will receive pajamas (Qantas and Virgin Australia have long offered pajamas to business class passengers). There will also be mattress pads. In business class I usually try to scrounge an extra blanket and use that as a mattress pad, but this is certainly better for a comfortable rest on such a long flight.

American is introducing new pajamas in March from a different supplier, and they’ll be 100% cotton. This is being talked about as an improvement, although I’m a fan of American’s current pajamas — they’re comfortable and they wash well so it’s usually American Airlines pajamas that I bring with me for long haul business class flights where I won’t receive a pair from the airline I’m flying.

Service begins with warmed nuts and a cocktail offering.

There are 4 entree choices. The trays come pre-plated, the only difference is the entree that’s added, and those are pre-plated as well (versus individually plated in first class).

Ice cream sundaes in business class are pre-made rather than built individually as in first class, and there’s a cheese plate as well.

Business class gets the same mid-flight snacks as first class, and two of the same breakfast choices (although not as upscale a yogurt), lacking only the third sweet breakfast choice.

Here’s a current business class menu: (Click to enlarge)

Business and First Class Wines

On the inaugural flight American will be pouring Penfolds Grange in first class both directions. That’s a very special wine.

On an ongoing basis though they have a separate wine service from the rest of international, with an Australian focus.

First class gets the business class wines plus an add-on, and I’m a big fan of the McLaren Value 2011 d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz. It’s a legitimate $50 Shiraz that I’d be thrilled to drink at home.

The whites I was far less impressed by. I thought the Viognier in particular was flat, and wonder how it will translate in the air where taste buds are dulled.

Economy Service

American is putting fewer food items — removing cheese and crackers and the salad — on the economy meal trays, opting to put their investment into larger entrees which will be 50% larger.

There are three entree choices in economy for the main meal, and printed menu cards. There’s beef, fish, and a new option of a cold entree salad.

There’s no vegetarian option, but economy passengers can still pre-order vegetarian meals. I often forget that economy passengers internationally can still order special meals.

Meal choices are on a 6 month rotation, using local, regional, and (semi-, given the 6 month rotation) seasonal products.

They’ve upgraded the bread, with a garlic infused butter. Some are just going to love this, the way it oozes out, though it won’t be universally popular since it comes instead of a butter pat and so it’s not possible to take the bread without the butter.

Mid-flight snacks are a flatbread pizza and salted caramel gelato.

Even for breakfast they’ve gone with an Australian-style yogurt (albeit made in Colorado). I do like the attention to detail.

You get your American breakfast and your Continental as choices.

Coach service today offers free beer and wine (with premium wine for purchase). The Sydney route will include free spirits in economy as well.

Here’s the current economy menu: (Click to enlarge)

Overall Takeaway

Throughout the event people were talking about “what was your favorite dish?” And I didn’t have one. While they articulated a goal of offering restaurant quality meals, I probably wouldn’t be choosing the American Airlines restaurant on the ground. But I did think the food was pretty good, and an improvement over the current international offerings on other routes.

It’ll be interesting to see how the particular foods translate in the air, so I’m less interested in taste on the ground and plating on the ground.

The key here for me is that I’m pleased to see greater differentiation in first class. And I’m thrilled to see regional variation for the route, and a greater investment overall. Frankly it’s not what I’m used to.

Russ Brown, who is in charge of dining and retail, mentioned that the Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge at LAX would be getting renovations this year. He explained this route at the first opportunity, with the bulk of the US Airways merger activities completed, to re-design a long haul meal service. They view the route as a test, and aren’t ready to commit to replicating the service elements elsewhere, but it seems logical to do something similar for their upcoming new Auckland flight which will be part of the Qantas joint venture (and which competes against Air New Zealand which has a strong soft product). It is likely to be a route-specific decision based on competitive factors and the premium nature of the market.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. Hopefully the First selections are well received….though iceberg lettuce doesn’t scream premium.

    This feels like the bare minimum of what a first class cabin should offer, which is a tragic comment on the current state of AA first.

    Same for business. Current offering is so below par it’s dreadful, but this brings it to the acceptable level.

    Your ‘AA restaurant’ comment is spot on – and they need to aim higher.

  2. The only issue is what they show you is NOT what is served on the plane, meaning the kitchen variance when the food is prepared. You showed us the new meals back in Aug for domestic flights and what is place in front of is doesn’t look anything like what your photos where..

    I think anyone who flys FC on 777=300ER should get 5 star service…

  3. @GaryLeff – Great article–thanks for your review. A personal beef that I continue to have with US carriers is their abysmal spirits offerings–primarily in premium classes. Dewar’s white label? In first class?! Additionally, serving the same $20 bottle of scotch in 1st and coach seems like they’re begging for mediocrity. There’s just something special about sipping a nice single malt from a $200 bottle on a flight that retailed for almost 10k. AA especially needs to step their game up.

  4. As others have mentioned, the food looks fairly good plated at the airport though execution at altitude will almost certainly be sub-par. Further, the overall selection is nice *for AA*, but NOT for any other carrier with whom they’re directly competing. Even with these improvements, only AA’s J offering is comparable or better than QF’s. Everything else about a flight to/from SYD/LAX on AA is going to be below the standards of QF. If AA is truly trying to be be on-par with QF, why don’t they just hire QF’s team to work out the MANY bugs of AA’s service between the cities?

    And let’s lightly touch on the topic of service. AA will ALWAYS fall short of QF when it comes to service, both on the ground and in the air. I’m literally just home from a trip in AA F and then BA F to/from SFO/CDG. And while BA doesn’t have a super stellar reputation for above-and beyond service, my FAs and purser were absolutely perfect – nearly at the level I receive on Asian carriers in F. AA, on the other hand…well, I don’t think I need to remind anyone reading this how abysmal in-flight service is on American carriers.

    All these food “upgrades” and lounge renovations are merely lipstick on a fat, ugly pig. Until AA (and UA and DL) can begin training their in-flight crew to do a decent job and be attentive and friendly and proactive and, well, anything other than the sky-hags they’ve come to be, than this joint venture will be a negative experience for Qantas, and no seasoned or knowledgeable traveler will ever choose AA or QF if there’s even remotely a choice. I just wish AA’d be honest about how awful they are.

  5. @Curtis – Hi there and sorry about that — the images auto-resize for the blog both desktop and mobile, and most folks are reading the truncated RSS feed, so this issue hadn’t even occurred to me. Was so much easier just letting the site’s style sheet do the resizing for me 🙂 Grrr….

  6. Agree with a lot of other comments – this is sorta the bare minimum that F should be across the board, not just for a single route.

    The comments about the JV and expectations are interesting, because AA has JVs with JL and BA too, and I don’t think anyone is saying that AA’s F beats those either. AA should be upping its game in both F and J, and this looks a lot like what I want to see on all routes.

  7. This is a nice upgrade for AA. It would be nice to experience first or business class on this route.

    I wonder about the feasibility of pjs in business class. With 52 business passengers on the triple 7-300 plus 8 in first, I think it would take a good portion of the 14-hour flight just for everyone to change into and out of pjs. There are no more than two bathrooms suitable for changing.

    A mattress pad makes a big difference even without pjs. Will FAs be expected to make beds for 52 people in business in addition to first? Seems like a stretch with other duties.

    I agree, however, that AA has great pjs. I prefer my AA pjs over my CX ones by far. I’m a little worried about new pjs. If it ain’t broke…

  8. Have you tried Nossa yoghurt? It’s widely available and definitely the closest product in the US to Australian yoghurt (and excellent IMO). The fruit can be a bit too sweet, but it isn’t pre-mixed, so you can use as much or as little as you like.

  9. agreed with Adam on the service level of US based airlines. there is just no way we can approach the level of asian airlines. the inherent individualism here and beyond belief, why should anyone ‘serve’ anyone? if not for the asian competitors things would have been worse.

  10. And Y will still be 10-across in regular E. Thank goodness MCE is 9 across.

    That being said, I can’t believe you like the current pyjamas. They are cheap crap. Who puts polyester on their skin? If you can afford it, you don’t. Sorry for sounding like a snob but no way I am wearing those crappy pyjamas. At least 100% cotton gives them a chance to be wearable/useful.

  11. This seems like a positive development, we’re not talking Lufthansa level improvements here, but, each of the food options look quite good. It’s good to see American realizing that they need to kick their game up a notch.

    Out of curiosity, how does one get an invite to such a tasting/meal unveiling?

  12. Have to agree with Jake wrt the Scotch.AA serves Dewers while CX in F serves J Walker Blue. Not sure about QF on LAX-SYD but on HKG-SYD last month in J they had Glenlivet and Chivas Regal.
    Not sure what influence (other than price)Dewers holds over these companies but it sure is broad as it is the brand served by Celebrity ship line in its Captains Club lounges.

  13. @Ziggy – premium economy won’t start for about a year, on the 787-9 aircraft they haven’t received yet and that won’t be on this route, so it’s too far out for them to have any idea.

  14. It’s nice that QF forced them to up their catering. Too bad it’s too little to late. If they hadn’t rewritten their program so you have to fly AA or AA coded flights I’d be done. I’d definitely be a free agent if I could afford F or J.

  15. Glad to hear AA is upping their game somewhat, they really needed to. Having recently flown the QF a380 in first and the AA 77w in first, Qantas was miles ahead of American. Now if we can just get some of those improvements spread to other routes…tes…

  16. Note to America West management: Adding the word “premium” to something, whether it’s food, service, or your job title doesn’t mean anything if it’s not well executed. In the case of the latter, Mr Richards is a 31 year old whose previous job was onboard revenue and retail at America West. In other words, he has absolutely ZERO experience in the “strategy”behind an international first or business class experience for an airline. In fact, I probably have more experience (and I’m roughly the same age) as I regularly fly F/J internationally (on my own dime, too).

  17. Flew MEL – LAX on QF this past June in J class (A380 was swapped to a 747, so no F on the flight). I have to say that the meal offerings in J for what AA is proposing look similar compared to QF. I would say that service would probably be better on Qantas, but I’ve had stellar crews over the years on AA. I would give the edge to QF on the soft product, but in business on the 77W, AA might win on hard product.

  18. These improvements look decent. I agree they aren’t amazing, and only begin to scratch the surface of what many other airlines offer in premium cabins, but their hard product (in J at least) blows QF out of the water. Most business travelers don’t care as much about the food/booze so long as its decent. With the mattress pads, AA could be come the airline of choice for J travelers who just want a comfortable seat and bed.

  19. When does the 5* service begin? If I originate at DFW should I expect this, or does it begin with my arrival at LAX?

  20. I just flew this route in F today. I was impressed by the effort that had been made to improve the catering over other routes in F – overall a far better offering than I’ve experienced from AA in perhaps 20 years or so. This said, my fish was badly overcooked. Service levels were on par with QF if not slightly better. The Flagship service on the ground seemed kind of gimmicky. We were all walked from the packed Flagship lounge to the packed gate only to have to stand and wait for aircraft cleaning to finish with all the other customers and watch the wheelchairs board ahead of us. They could really make that whole experience valuable by cleaning the F cabin first and then escorting the Flagship pax in privately ahead of even the pre-boards. The one thing that sticks in my craw for the price of these F tickets is the low quality of spirits and wine. The AA f&b procurement folks are always going on and on about all the awards they’ve won for wine. Guess what guys – if I can buy it for US $20 at the local grocery store it’s not really all that special. The whisky offerings in particular are abysmal. Interesting to note – one of the flight attendants told me that AA is being “evaluated” in the early stages of its new Oz relationship with QF so that a determination can be made as to the feasibility of the partnership in terms of product partity. Personally, I don’t expect any of these improvements and investments to last one minute longer than it takes for AA to pass this initial muster.

  21. Like Doug I flew this route in F today. My beef and lamb was overcooked which was a real shame. This could be a competitive product if AA get the little details right and bring the food and beverage up to QF levels. I was lucky on this leg to have really good service. (Charles was excellent).
    However the crew gather and talk in the first galley area which is distracting. The crew on my outward leg a few weeks ago blocked off the larger toilet for their use alone. I was actually told it was for crew use only.
    We sat in the lounge and watched as all the other F pax were gathered up and escorted to the plane by the Flagship service again a small detail which did not matter in the end but surprising given we were a party of 3 which is a substantial portion of the F cabin. Our experience of Flagship on the outward leg was a lot better. Just small things that can be fixed so easily.

  22. AA thinks that improving presentation and making a fancier menu will make for a premium experience
    Its still crap on a shingle with meager portions
    Qantas whips their but# I food and beverage
    American was good with food on board in business and first back around 2000 I
    Since then they have become almost as useless as the former us air

  23. FYI, just flew J LAX-SYD on AA and received no pajamas. Was informed by the Twitter team that this is F only.

  24. All of you complaining of the AA first class’ food and service should remember that the food is not cooked in front of you, like in a restaurant. And, small portions are preferred because you go to sleep after the meal. I just came back from Europe, flying first class ORD-LHR and LHR-ORD on 777 and 77W. The service was superb, and the food excellent. Thank you American!

    P.S. And by the way, the iceberg salad is delicious. I had it last summer on 777 first class on the same route.

  25. I’m not sure AA can ever accomplish “Premium” ground service from LAX.
    There are numerous entrenched, culturally aggressive, nasty attitudes that prevail there.

    If you encounter a nasty desk attitude and need an issue resolved, the odds are greater than 85% the agent will grudgingly either tell you it can not be fixed or will tell you they fixed the issue and you find out (later) they failed to connect all the required aspects of your travel. Example – Changed your flight but failed to connect the PNR on a linked flight connection.

    IF you are an Admirals Club member and you’ve encountered a nasty attitude. Just go to the nearest AA Club and let them resolve it. The LAX club badly needs the promised upgrades but the Admirals Club agents upstairs are PRO’s and know the systems. Have always gotten smart, fast help there. Just my observations. I travel a lot and LAX is often a mess.

  26. hi we are flying from Sydney to la on the 5 of sep 2017 then on to Nashville then on a tour to new Orleans then fly back to dallas then fly home to Sydney with Qantas can you email me your menus please on my flights
    thanking you ray hemsley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *