Brown Paper Bags: Great for School Lunch and For American Airlines

American Airlines now uses brown paper bags to hand out food to passengers in coach on international Boeing 757 aircraft and they’re looking at using them more broadly, too.

Years ago American Airlines used to give out food to coach passengers in bags as they boarded the aircraft. It was a little awkward for someone with a rollaboard and a laptop bag or purse, picking up the food and managing to make it to their seat, juggling bags and food as they got settled.

The quality of what was in the bag varied over time, in the 90s you might have gotten a chicken sandwich with cheddar, lettuce and tomato along with a bag of chips and a cookie. At one point American Airlines did a deal with America Online to include their startup CDs in the bistro bags. Airline passengers, of course, are a desirable demographic to advertise to.

One of the kinder things that was said about the bistro bags by around 2003 or 2004 was “beastly bags” — and of course the same bag that contained food soon doubled as an air sickness bag.

Bistro bags were initially eliminated from flights under 3 hours, and then free meals in coach on American officially ended February 1, 2005. Now they’re back for second service on overnight 757 flights, but use may spread.

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, 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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  1. Frankly, considering the sheer amount of trash that is generated on each international flight, I’m fine with this, even if the presentation is a bit cheaper.

  2. Parallel trends are indeed amazing!

    When the railroads operated our passenger trains, and fares were fixed by the ICC, they competed on the quality of their freshly prepared cuisine. Other than “The Canadian” and “Rocky Mountaineer,” we no longer have that level of dining North America.

    Before deregulation, the airlines too had their fares fixed by the CAB;. Like the railroads, they competed with each other over their controlled routes on their ability to serve up epicurean meals.

    Today, the bankruptcy of the legacy carriers and their inability to compete with discount carriers has toiletted any interest in acceptable food. Funny how the quality of food on just an inter-European Lufthansa Business Class flight between FRA-OPO is far superior to the longer flights in F between ORD-LAX on AA!

    Our expectation for an acceptable level of service and quality of food has vanished from the U.S., but still available in Europe, whether by air or rail.

    Sad indeed! And the Board of Directors follow like lemmings the green eye shade guys who swept out Marketing to stack their pennies at our legacy airlines.

  3. Seriously Gary?! “It was a little awkward for someone with a rollaboard and a laptop bag or purse, picking up the food and managing to make it to their seat, juggling bags and food as they got settled.”

    It was a small, light weight bag with handles. Hardly an obstacle. More than ever, your flair for dramatic storytelling is approaching tween heights.

    I don’t see how this is such a negative move. They currently off a box. Box, bag, who cares?! While it may or may not generate equal amounts of trash, it’s certainly reduces the space in which the trash takes up, both on the planes and in landfills (if it makes it there). It will expedite crews being in aisle with carts, while passengers are using lavs and shuffling through bags before landing.

    It’s an airplane… not a restaurant. Things must be done differently.

  4. i’d prefer the bag, myself.

    but, you get to post your weekly “bistro” pic, so i guess there’s that.

  5. I find those brown bags one of the few things I actually like about flying coach on American–and having to purchase food. They’re a handy place to put trash and use very little space when they’re collected. (The food inside them is a totally different matter.)

  6. Legacy carriers are now low-cost carriers. But the best thing the legacy carriers could provide which wouldn’t cost them a dime is customer service.

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