As other airlines begin to gradually reintroduce onboard meal service, American Airlines has taken the opposite approach, cutting first class meals on more flights. Now an American Airlines executive has offered a sinister threat to frequent flyers: those meals may never come back, at least in the form we are used to them.
American Airlines Envisions A “Modern” Approach To Meal Service
View from the Wing notes American Airlines Senior Vice President of Flight Service Jill Surdek addressed the issue to flight attendants during a question and answer session earlier this week. She notes the “old” meal service may never come back and a new “modern” approach is under consideration:
We’re not going to come back with full tray services immediately. There’s going to have to be some interim step. And I really think there’s an opportunity to re-think it. When you think about the footprint we have for meal service and how we served, it’s been very similar over the years. And is there a way to bring back something that still has a premium feel but is different and more modern, and is this an opportunity to reset in a way that we might have made more incremental changes before.
When Surdek mentions she wants to bring something back that still has a “premium feel” the implication is that it just feels premium, but is actually not. American has been serving fruit and cheese plates and will soon add sandwiches to premium cabins similar to what were offered for sale in economy class prior to the pandemic.
Now this model could work. Maybe instead of the cheese-covered entrees routinely featured on American Airlines prior to the pandemic, the airline could diversify its onboard offerings and offer a wider variety of dishes, some of which would feel “modern” simply on the basis of being different. Food looks much better when served on a plate or in bowl versus a plastic bag. But there’s something more going on here.
In other comments Surdek did not dismiss how important onboard service is, yet mentioned that airlines including American Airlines must face a new reality “with less touch points, masks, etc.”
Why This Matters
Why get worked up over something as trivial as meal service? Does it really matter when so much is going on in the world?
My answer is yes, it does. Not so much for the meal itself, but because American Airlines is foreshadowing an era in which in-flight service largely ceases to exist. Flight attendants, masked up, quickly serve drinks and a light meal (if we are lucky) and then disappear. It upends the service model that gets to the heart of why I love flying. Granted, this is one of the ultimate first world problems, but that’s the nature of this travel blog…
I realize that most people are just looking to get from A to B. Fine. You go right ahead and do it. But, at least for me, all the great flights in my life have involved warm and professional service onboard. And so much of that centers around the meal service onboard. Think of it like an activity you love. When you take out an essential element, the activity is fundamentally transformed. It becomes less enjoyable. Less rewarding.
There’s fun in seeing the world, but there’s also fun in getting from A to B. American Airlines is envisioning a sterile world in which flights become simply a means to an end, not an end in themselves. For those who love aviation and flying, the news from American Airlines is sinister. The entire flight experience, centralized around the meal table, may never return. That’s quite dismaying indeed.