Some time ago, American introduced a buy-on-board pre-order system for Main Cabin. With this system, Main Cabin customers can reserve buy-on-board meals from 24 hours to 30 days in advance. This always struck me as innovative, and one of the few actual enhancements to Economy Class service recently. But I always wondered, does it really work? I had the chance to put the system to the test a couple of months ago.
American Buy On Board Pre-Order System – The Basics
American’s buy on board pre-order system works very similarly to the premium cabin meal pre-order system. You can reserve a selection anywhere from 24 hours to 30 days in advance.
In Main Cabin on domestic flights, this mostly includes the recently introduced Zoë’s Kitchen meals, along with staples like the fruit and cheese plate.
However, you don’t actually pay for your meal when you reserve online. Instead, you pay on board when the flight attendant delivers your meal. Presumably, they do this to avoid issues if they run out of your choice before reaching you. (The fine print indicates that they don’t actually guarantee your choice, even if you pre-order.) Recently, a flight from Burbank to DFW departed at lunchtime; I decided to pre-order a chicken wrap rather than try to find something in the terminal before boarding.
Of course, the concept of pre-ordering a meal is great, but it all depends on the execution. I had a seat in the back half of the Main Cabin section. A couple of rows ahead of me, I overhead the flight attendant tell another passenger that they had no more wraps. Oh well, I thought – guess I’ll have to get something else. But much to my surprise, upon reaching my row, the FA brought me my wrap!
As she reached our row, the FA confirmed that I pre-ordered the wrap, and actually thanked me for doing so. (She even joked that I should offer it up for a big bounty, since it was a popular selection.) She mentioned that she noticed the pre-order on the manifest, and held one wrap back for me. That made me glad I pre-ordered. For that matter, that’s some great service for American, which receives plenty of flak these days for surly employees.
However, she did offer a caveat. At outstations like Burbank, they cater enough snacks at the hub for both legs of the trip. In other words, on this DFW-BUR-DFW run, they load meals at DFW to last both ways. So, she said it’s possible to run out on the first leg, as the first crew might not check pre-orders for the second leg. That’s something to keep in mind, especially if you’re flying from a small outstation.
For the record, the wrap on the menu has changed slightly; at the time of my flight, it came in a non-grilled, spinach tortilla. But regardless, I enjoyed it. The ingredients were fresh, and the tortilla thankfully wasn’t soggy. It’s not a bad option for $11.
Color me impressed with American’s buy on board pre-order system – it actually works! Now, yes, the system itself provides relatively limited utility. I usually don’t order buy on board, for that matter. But in certain cases, it makes sense to do so. For instance, a lunch-or-dinner time flight where I don’t think I’ll have time to grab food in the terminal. Or at an airport like LAX, where the buy on board works out cheaper than the grossly overpriced terminal options. However, keep in mind, it’s still not a guarantee of receiving your first choice.