American Shifts Course, Restores Some First-Class Meals

First-class meals will soon return to some domestic American Airlines flights that lost the premium privilege just last month.

So-called tray service will resume in coming weeks on trips of 2 hours, 30 minutes and longer in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, American said yesterday. Changing the policy will bring back food to 150 daily flights, and snack baskets will be upgraded, said Casey Norton, a spokesman.

“It is the most tangible evidence that you’re in a premium cabin,” said Brett Snyder, an aviation consultant and founder of the CrankyFlier.com blog. “Yes you have a bigger seat, but it’s still a seat. You’re watching the same entertainment, using the same Wi-Fi as everybody else. There’s something about that meal that is really a throwback that separates them.”

The shift unwinds some changes put in place on Sept. 1. American, a unit of Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Group Inc., had extended the flight time needed for meals to 2 hours, 45 minutes except on busy routes such as Chicago-New York. Before that, meals began on flights of at least 2 hours.

“We’re continually evaluating the product and doing our best to deliver a product that customers want and are willing to pay for,” Norton said. “Meal service is part of that evaluation, and we think our customers will find value in the changes we’re making.”

Passenger feedback was part of American’s evaluation process, said Norton, who didn’t comment on whether the reversal was intended to keep American, the world’s largest airline, competitive with rivals.

United’s Meals

After American announced the meal pullback in August, United Airlines said it would add fresh meals on shorter domestic flights, including those on regional jets, as part of a plan to overhaul food service for travelers in premium cabins.

American presented the meal-policy shift at the time as a step to align practices at American and merger partner US Airways Group, which must operate separately while awaiting regulatory clearance to combine operations. Longtime fliers may have been unhappy, said Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of travel advisory firm Atmosphere Research Group in San Francisco.

“American realized the hard way that charging more and delivering less would not be acceptable to its customers, especially those on legacy American flights,” Harteveldt said.

‘Deserve Credit’

Even with the reversal, American isn’t bringing back all aspects of its former first-class meal service, Harteveldt said. “But the airline is listening, and they deserve credit for that.”

American fell 3.2 percent to $33 at the close yesterday, paring this year’s gain to 31 percent, fourth-most among the 11-carrier Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index.

Other changes planned at American include the reinstatement of ice cream desserts on dinner flights of at least 3 hours, 30 minutes.

“This was a signature element of American’s service and we are bringing it back to match the prior standard,” Norton said.

The airline will add warm mixed nuts to the menu and “higher-quality sandwiches,” cookies and bananas to snack baskets on flights of 2 hours to 2 hours, 30 minutes. Breakfast breads and fruit will be offered on early morning flights.

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