American Airlines: Our Burger Can Compete Against the Nation’s Best, And We’ll Prove It

A really great burger starts with quality beef. It should have processed cheese that melts well. And it should be inside of a potato bun, sesame seed if you must.

Don’t use ciabatta bread or a kaiser roll. As good as brioche can be, it’s not well-matched to a burger. The bun is a delivery vehicle for the burger. It needs to be big enough to contain the burger, but shouldn’t be so large that it overwhelms the contents – especially the meat.

Everything you put on the burger needs to fit inside of the bun. You don’t want the burger to fall apart when you eat it, and it shouldn’t be overstuffed. The goal is a balance of flavors inside, getting a combination of everything with each bite rather than winding up with pieces of meat or pieces of bun leftover at the end.

In ‘n ‘Out, Shake Shack, and Whataburger all do pretty good renditions of the classic burger, though better meat and cheese can improve upon what they offer.

American Airlines Entered Its Burger in Competition

American Airlines entered the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s burger competition with its Flagship Burger. American was also a sponsor of the event and pitted its burgers against 30 others.

As American explains, there’s a people’s choice award and a judge’s award. The judges “included Neil Patrick Harris, David Burtka, Geoffrey Zakarian, Rachael Ray and Andrew Zimmerman.” Neil Patrick Harris has appeared in American Airlines ads.

In fact, here he is the month that campaign launched.

American Airlines wanted to signal they’re producing quality, and ‘daring’ to submit their burger to judgment does seem to signal that.

What the Flagship Burger is Like

I first sampled the American Airlines Flagship burger in their first new business class lounge (Flagship Lounge New York JFK). I had it in their ‘Flagship First Dining’ which is only open to first three-cabin class passengers, though they extended the burger on a cooked-to-order basis to the rest of the lounge for several months in their ‘Bridge Dining’ area.

The Flagship Burger exceeded expectations — it was actually delicious. Danny Meyer’s attempts notwithstanding this is easily the best burger at JFK. It held together, it didn’t have too much stuff, it didn’t try to do too much. It just tasted good.


Flagship Burger, Flagship Dining New York JFK

At the end of last year I had a chance to try the burger again in Flagship First Dining at the Miami airport. I had lunch there with Lucky from One Mile at a Time and Ed from Pizza in Motion.

The burger was good in Miami but didn’t quite have that umami that the New York burger seemed to. The bun was bigger than it should have been. Still, it was structurally sound.

I’ve also sampled the burger in American’s Flagship First Dining at LAX.

The meat was very good in American Airlines Flagship First Dining LAX, but the bun overwhelmed the burger more than in Miami. It was just too large, too tall, too much bun. It was a different bun than they used in New York, and I was told at the time that they were working on sourcing something closer.

So How Did the Burger Do?

American Airlines was a sponsor. They’ve even had a financial relationship with one of the judges. Their burger is good. But the judges picked a burger that will be served at Citi Field in New York: “ground, dry-aged beef, with stewed onions, house-cured bacon, and a sharp cheddar cheese sauce next spring.”

I think this competition misses the point, both good and bad for American. Preparing food in an airport is nothing like cooking outside an airport. Ingredient delivery is a challenge (usually off hours, clearing security). Storage space is at a premium. Knives have to be inventoried, often chained to the wall. You may have to cook with electric rather than gas. Producing good food in an airport is huge and American generally meets this challenge in its Flagship First Dining rooms.

Unfortunately the American Airlines Flagship Burger, while good, isn’t available to many passengers. Highlighting it just doesn’t offer a representation of American Airlines food. I wish they would charge me for better food on board. Their ‘special meals’ are fine, their regular first class meals not as much, and the food for sale in back…

The Flagship Burger was at least available in the ‘Bridge Dining’ section of their New York JFK Flagship Lounge, however I haven’t been in awhile but One Mile at a Time reported over the summer that the burger was off the menu there. So how many people can even eat this burger?

Serve this burger in Admirals Clubs I’ll be thrilled. Serve it on board I’d be truly impressed. I’d be happy if it were available across American’s business class Flagship lounges. But restricted to Flagship First Dining I’m not sure what a win would have meant here, let alone just an entry.

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. I have had this burger. Its ok. Nothing special and I was disappointed because it didn’t come close to living up to the hype. Still for lounge food in the US its on the high end but that isn’t saying much. In New York alone there are numerous places to obtain better burgers, so when it comes to burger competitions this burger isn’t even close..

  2. I’ve tried first class lounge burgers all over the world. The AA burger is good—better than the BA First Lounge burger at Heathrow, which I quite like. However, the best burger I ever had at an airport is the burger at the Emirates First Class lounge in Dubai. The meat was real Kobe and it really did melt in your mouth.

  3. Gary, you need to eat the Aussie burgers when visiting your relatives in Aus, that have an egg cooked over hard on them.

    great taste combination, and protein boost.

    i make burgers with four eggs for my youngest son, for pre or post protein plus workout meals….

    and he eats two of them, eight eggs in total.

  4. It all depends upon you look at it. To use an example from my own field…which is the greater accomplishment: to produce 500 cases of a 96-point, incredible, outstanding Nap Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, or 15,000 cases of a 96-point incredible, outstanding Napa Cab? In the former example, Screaming Eagle averages 20 barrels a year which can be fairly easy when your vineyard produces at least twice that amount, whereas the latter example requires 600 barrels…IMHO, that is a far more difficult task.

    In terms of the AA burger, if you can produce a great burger and no one can have it, what’s the point?

  5. I had it once at the bridge at JFK – cold, grey, overcooked and dwarfed by the bun.

    In other words, it sucked.

  6. Gary, you’re killing any accumulated street cred on the food front by continuing this processed cheese stuff. If you like cheez wiz on your burger, good for you, but bragging on it is like bragging about you favorite haggis restaurant: it just looks bad.

  7. Oh yeah, just caught the note re: processed cheese. When I found out you didn’t like the food in Europe, your street cred took a big hit, but this is beyond a question of taste. What’s wrong with real cheddar, melts just fine.

  8. @beachfan – who says I don’t like the food in Europe? the pastries in france are incomparable! French and Italian aren’t my favorite foods in the world but that doesn’t mean I don’t like food in Europe, heck I once flew to Europe just for dinner (https://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2008/04/19/off-to-roses-and-dinner-at-el-bulli/).

    As for processed cheese I certainly do not like it most of the time, and I love French unpasteurized cheeses, just suggesting it goes well on a classic burger.

  9. @ Gary — I’ve had one at the JFK Flagship Dining, and it was quite good. It was even better than the BBQ buy-on-board sandwich, and that is saying a lot. 🙂

  10. I noticed lots of attention to the bun. Buns and bread are location dependent because of differences in water, ambient temperature and humidity. While we think we can control these factors, the yeast cultures will eventually evolve to a type that is different in every location. One solution might be to fly the yeast in daily.

  11. @gary

    you’re not getting them through the right outlets….

    next time you head to Syd, i’ll supply you a short list to try………

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