Almost one year ago, American made the decision to revamp its domestic First Class meal policies. You can read the specific detials in Rocky’s post on the subject from last summer, but the gist was, meals would be downgraded to snack baskets on flights under 1,000 miles, with baskets added on shorter flights that previously received no food service at al. US Airways, meanwhile, would see marked improvements, with the flight length cut-off for meal service reduced from 3 hours 45 minutes down to the same 1,000 mile standard (roughly 2 hours 45 minutes).
Reaction from legacy American flyers was negative, and it didn’t take long for the airline to backtrack – just a month after the initial Labor Day rollout, American reinstated full meals on flights between 900 and 1,000 miles, while also improving the offerings in the snack baskets. As Rocky reported last month, American again changed the basket offerings, but the change also replaced the baskets entirely on some flights with “plated snacks” such as a cheese plate or hummus and pita chips on some flights. I’ve had the opportunity to fly American’s domestic First product four times over the last month and a half, thus providing as good a chance as any to see if things really had improved. Think of it as the in-flight version of my famed Restaurant Reviews. I’ll go in order of flights flown, starting May 16th and ending July 5th.
Breakfast – May 16th, DFW to Chicago O’Hare
This flight was my jaunt in Business Class on American’s new 787. The meal choice on this breakfast flight included oatmeal or quiche. I’m not a fan of quiche, so I chose the oatmeal, despite warnings not to. The meal came with a side of fresh fruit, a package of dried fruit, and a buttermilk biscuit.
The oatmeal looks pretty bad when they first bring it out – like a square hockey puck – but once you mix it up a little with a spoon, it looks better, it was moist, and the taste was alright. The biscuit was pretty good, light and flaky with a little bit of crunch to the top crust. I don’t get why you’d offer both fresh and dried fruit with the same meal; AA should really pick one or the other, and offer something else as the other side item. I used to do the breakfast time flight from ORD to DFW all the time, but it’s been about 4 years, so I don’t really remember what I used to get for comparison. I vaguely recall a choice of ceral or eggs. In any event, I’d rate this meal as acceptable for an airline meal.
Dinner – DFW to LAX, May 29th
This was the first leg of a round trip to Los Angeles and back to try out American’s new Airbus A321 in First and Main Cabin. The choice on this flight was beef short rib or pasta; both my wife and I ordered the beef, which came with a side salad, a cheese roll, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a chocolate chip cookie. Warm mixed nuts were served prior to the meal.
There were several issues with this meal. First, everything – from the nuts to the cookie – tasted burned, as if they’d been left in the oven a little too long. The salad was reasonably fresh, but seriously lacked pantry ingredients. I found it chintzy that you didn’t even get a piece of tomato or a couple of shreds of carrot to go with the lettuce. The cheese roll was delicious, and the vegetables and mashed potatoes were decent, but the beef wasn’t very good. It was rubbery and overcooked, and the sauce had no flavor except for too much salt. And as alluded to previously, the cookie tasted slightly burnt. This was a disappointing experience, and while the utensils and dishes are a step-up from what American used to use before the changes, I found the meal overall to be a downgrade from what used to be served on this route.
“Plated Snack” – DFW to ATL, June 24th
This flight was the first leg of our long-awaited multi-mode trip to Europe. At 731 miles, Dallas to Atlanta was a short enough flight that you only received warm mixed nuts under the old system, and hadn’t read the news that American had replaced the snack baskets with more substantial snacks on shorter flights. So, I found myself pleasantly surprised when we were offered a choice of a fruit and cheese plate or hummus and pita bread. I’m obsessed with cheese, and so took the cheese plate, and my wife had the hummus and pita. We were also served the mixed nuts, not pictured.
It wasn’t bad. The grapes were nice and sweet, and the cheese selection consisted of three hearty varieties. Except for the cheddar in the middle, though, the other two wedges were a bit too thick to effectively eat with the crackers provided, so I just ended up eating them by themselves (not the end of the world by any means). And both options were far, FAR superior to the snack basket sandwiches I’d encountered flying back from Orlando the day the new meals were introduced.
The issue here is that both plates were small. We had both eaten before getting on the flight, so it wasn’t a problem, but if you’re on a flight that advertises a “plated snack” and were expecting a substantial, filling meal, you’re not going to get it. I agree with Rocky’s assessment that American really should pass around the snack basket in addition to the snack plate, for those who need something more substantial. But overall, I found the offerings satisfactory – certainly better than the big bag of nothing I was used to receiving on this route.
Dinner – Washington Dulles to DFW, July 5th
This was the final leg of our European vacation. The scheduled departure time of 6:42 P.M. meant dinner on this flight, and we both pre-ordered the mushroom ravioli with cream sauce, over the teriyaki chicken. The entree was served with a mixed greens salad and pretzel roll. We were also offered the standard mixed nuts to start with, and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert (neither pictured, but the same as what we received for dinner on our flight to LA).
I have to say, I really enjoyed this meal, so much so that I tweeted American my seal of approval afterwards. The salad was much improved over the version we were served on the way to LAX; at least this one had a variety of greens and some nuts thrown in for good measure. The pretzel roll was soft and delicious, with a hearty, almost “meaty” flavor. And the pasta, while slightly overdone, was really good. The cream sauce was tasty, and the sundried tomato topping provided a hint of sweetness that nicely offset the bitterness of the mushroom filling. The nuts and cookie weren’t overwarmed this time, so we avoided the burnt flavor of our earlier flight. I’ll admit, one of my guilty pleasures was the cheese tortellini American used to serve for dinner before the changes, but this was way better. A really solid effort overall.
Averaged out, I’ll go with 3 stars – 3 for the breakfast, 2 for the DFW-LAX dinner, 3 for the snack, and 4 for the IAD-DFW dinner (because, let’s face it, there’s no domestic airline meal worth walking, er, flying 500 miles for). Based on other reports I’ve been hearing both on UPGRD and other blogs, consistency is still an issue – good meals on some flights, not so good on others – but things do at least appear to have improved from the dog days of last fall.