Apparently, passengers flying in first class on American Airlines are not entitled to meals (despite the advertising), only transport. That leaves me wondering if full payment for flights can also be a “complimentary convenience” rather than a requirement.
Claim: First Class Meals Are Merely A “Complimentary Convenience” Rather Than A Requirement On American Airlines
- priority check-in queues
- complimentary checked baggage
- priority security lines
- priority boarding
- a wider seat with more legroom and recline
- in-seat power
- complimentary meals (on flights over 900 miles)
Most do value the seat as the primary benefit of first class, but the seat is only part of the package. Meals are part of the package too and something that I look for when choosing a carrier (since the seats are often similar no matter which airline you choose).
A man was flying from Newark (EWR) to Phoenix (PHX) on American Airlines. His flight was delayed for five hours. When it finally departed, flight attendants informed first class passengers (once in the air) that the flight had not been catered with hot meals and the only choices available were among the snack boxes onboard.
He sent American Airlines a note of complaint, pointing out that meal service was part of the package. His response was surprising:
Thank you for contacting American Airlines Customer Relations.
I sincerely regret that your trip to Phoenix on October 1, 2023 did not go smoothly. I can certainly understand your frustration with the handling at the airport. That’s not at all the kind of experience we want you to have with us.
It’s kind of you to take the time to share your perspective. Please know that the specific concerns you’ve shared have been thoroughly documented for further review by the appropriate leadership teams here at American. It is never our intention to disappoint our customers and we are grateful to you for giving us the chance to improve as we look ahead.
I know you were hungry and, I’m sorry to hear you’re disappointed that you didn’t receive a meal on your flight. Complimentary food service is offered in our First Class cabin on all itineraries system-wide that operate within traditional meal windows (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and have a fly time of more than 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Our ticket price reflects the cost of transportation. Any meals and snacks served on our flights are considered complimentary conveniences.
I want you to know that we care about the negative impact this had on your trip. As a gesture of goodwill, I’ve credited your AAdvantage account with 15,000 bonus miles. This adjustment will be reflected in your account soon.
Again, I apologize for any inconvenience you encountered, and we value your loyalty being an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member. We are all working hard to ensure that every flight you take on American is enjoyable. Please continue to travel with us, you are appreciated.
Did you catch that bolded part? It reminds me of the old Reading pipe case, Jacob & Youngs, Inc. v. Kent in my contracts class. American Airlines is saying it got the job done and that meals are a trivial part of whether the contract is fulfilled. But whether important or not, the implied contract based upon the way in which American Airlines advertises its first class cabin is that meal service is included.
View From The Wing says this is like an “eBay seller that promises something they aren’t allowed to sell, but claims they’re really only selling ‘a white envelope’ and the contents of that envelope are just a free gift.” I think a more apt analogy is selling a car but then saying at closing that the seat belts are not included. Oh, it’s still functional…but you will have to pay extra for those items.
The good news here is that this was a catering snafu on a delayed flight rather than any policy change on American Airlines. But the bad news is the premise that a promise to serve a meal really means nothing at all. It sets a dangerous precedent for other service shortfalls that can merely be dismissed as not critical to the substantial performance of the contract, i.e. transport from A to B.
American Airlines believes that a ticket cost includes transportation and that any extras like meal service “are considered complimentary conveniences.” That’s quite an outlandish statement to make considering the way in which American Airlines adversities its first class cabin and explicitly promises hot meals on flights over 900 miles.