Back on the first of the month, I had the opportunity to fly AA first class from Orlando to DFW, a day that just happened to coincide with the introduction of AA’s new First Class meal policy for domestic flights. I won’t rehash the entire slate of changes here, but the big change was to eliminate full meal service from AA flights between approximately 2 hours and 2 hours 45 minutes in length, regardless of time of day. Unfortunately, I found AA’s new meal service to be substandard, especially for AA fliers who had been used to full service on shorter flights. Fellow UPGRDr Rocky reported a similarly disappointing AA front cabin meal experience on his flight from St. Maarten to Miami the same day. I decided to fire off a complaint to customer relations about how disappointing the new policy was – while I suspect AA isn’t going to reverse course anytime soon, I also wasn’t just going to sit still and do nothing. Plus venting made me feel just a little bit better.
Imagine my surprise when yesterday morning, I had a response to my diatribe waiting in my Inbox from AA Customer Relations. I say surprised not because it took so long to receive one, but because I had checked the box when I submitted my complaint that I didn’t want either a response or any compensation. Basically, that I was just writing to vent about new CEO Doug Parker’s cheapness. Anyway, I’ve pasted the gist of the response below:
As you have noted, a component of these changes is to make consistent between American and US Airways the length of flight where a full meal service is offered. Effective September 1, traditional meal service is offered in First Class on flights operated by American that are 2:45 or longer. While this has removed the traditional meal service from some markets served by American, the changes implemented at US Airways earlier this year added meals to many US Airways markets that traditionally have not offered a full meal service.
Still, I acknowledge your perception of the Lite Bites (emphasis added) basket options that you were offered on your flight. I have shared your feedback with our Catering managers.
While it was nice that my letter actually appears to have been read, I think the response misses the point. While AA points out that many US Airways flights now receive meals where they previously didn’t (US Airways’ old policy was to provide meals only on flights of 3 1/2 hours or longer), the fact is, while the old US policy might have been alright for a low cost carrier, it was simply unacceptable for a full service carrier like AA. Standardizing policies by moving a very good one closer to an unacceptable one isn’t a recipe for customer satisfaction in my opinion, especially considering there are far more AA customers out there than legacy US customers. Combined with the fact that competitor United is doing the opposite by improving in-flight meal offerings in First, as Rohan reported, and that Delta already has a more generous meal policy, this just seems like a bizarre path to be taking.
But here’s what I find most interesting. Notice that the CSR referred to the snack basket as “Lite Bites”, which I’ve bolded in the response above. Those of you who are US Airways regulars will recognize Lite Bites as the name of the old US Airways snack basket. That AA has now appropriated the name is, to me, rather telling. When the US/AA merger was still in the rumor stage, I expressed significant misgivings, primarily because I just didn’t trust Doug Parker, the US Airways (and formerly America West) CEO that built a reputation as a ruthless cost cutter, often at the expense of elite fliers. Proponents of the merger insisted that Parker was “smart”, and wouldn’t be such a cheapskate if he had the much larger (and more generous revenue streams) of AA at his disposal. My response to that was that a leopard doesn’t change its spots, and that it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see AA become the country’s largest LCC in name only within a few years. I say in name only, because Parker has managed to accomplish the remarkable feat of combining LCC levels of service with legacy levels of surliness and pricing over at US Airways (though to be fair, the problems at US seem to be rooted in “East” crews based out of PHL; CLT-based crews have been fine in my limited experience). Indeed, the early returns on this merger, from the very Parker-esque devaluation of the AAdvantage program with no advance notice, to cheap upgrades offered at check-in at the expense of elite upgrades, to the changing of the first class meal policy to more closely with that of US Airways, and now to the adoption of their terminology for said meal service, it seems pretty darn clear that the airline is morphing into US Airways. Or, as a commenter in this meal-related thread on Flyertalk called it, America West dba US Airways dba American Airlines.
So what do I think can be done to improve the new policy? For starters, improve the quality of the snack baskets. Even on shorter (under 2 hour) flights that now get snacks, when the snack is nothing but a bag of chips or cookies that you could have bought for $2 at the airport newsstand, you don’t exactly feel like you received an upgrade for your money (and the finger sandwiches on longer flights are truly awful – vending machine quality is what I said in my complaint). As I mentioned in my original post, I can think of several DFW, Chicago, and Miami-based restaurants that will probably be more than happy to provide inexpensive, pre-packaged snacks that would actually come off as innovative, instead of just cheap. Second, AA really should consider at least upgrading back to full meals on flights over 2 hours at designated meal times. While I can understand providing only a snack basket on, say, a 2 P.M. flight from Orlando to Dallas, the dinnertime flight I was on is another story altogether. Like I said earlier, I’m not 20 years old anymore, and can’t do potato chips and cookies for dinner. And if I have to buy food at the airport because the sandwiches are inedible – well, I’m not wasting my money on first class.