American to Pare First-Class Meal Service on Shorter Flights

Aug 04, 2014 6:51 pm ET

(Updates with consultant’s comment in seventh paragraph.)

Aug. 4 (Bloomberg) -- American Airlines Group Inc. will discontinue first-class meals on most flights of less than 2 hours 45 minutes, providing a snack instead.

The change takes effect Sept. 1 for trips within the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, the carrier said on its website and in an e-mail to frequent fliers today. American previously provided free meals to travelers in the premium cabin on flights of more than 2 hours.

“We looked at what the customers wanted, and found a good number of customers didn’t want a full meal on a flight less than 2 hours,” Casey Norton, a spokesman for Fort Worth, Texas- based American, said in an interview.

The changes will align meal policies at American and merger partner US Airways Group Inc., which are operating separately as they await regulatory clearance to combine service. In April, the minimum flight time for US Airways’ first-class meals was reduced to 2 hours 45 minutes from 3 1/2 hours, Norton said.

American’s new policy means first-class passengers on a flight of less than 1 hour will receive a “packaged snack,” while those on trips of less than 2 hours will get a basket with a “variety of sweet and savory snack options,” according to the e-mail to members of the airline’s AAdvantage program.

Busy Routes

Flights of 2 hours to 2 hours 45 minutes will offer a snack basket with fresh fruit and breakfast breads or sandwiches and packaged snacks. Norton couldn’t immediately say what percentage of flights are less than 2 hours 45 minutes. Jets on some of American’s busiest shorter routes -- such as Chicago-New York -- will retain the full meal service.

Jay Sorensen, a former Midwest Airlines marketing director, said American’s move takes it to the brink of abandoning premium service on shorter flights, because meals have long marked the dividing line between economy and first class.

“If you’re going to pay a first-class fare, you should have food on that flight,” said Sorensen, who is now president of consultant IdeaWorksCompany in Shorewood, Wisconsin. “Do away with the charade -- put in wider seats and call it premium economy.”

Coach-cabin passengers on American’s domestic flights can buy snacks on board.

Full meals will remain in place in American’s first-class cabins for flights longer than 2 hours 45 minutes. An appetizer will be added to meals on flights of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, while passengers on longer routes also will get a dessert and pre- arrival snack, the airline said. Meal-service hours are 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Flight Length

American categorizes flights of less than 2 hours as being as far as 699 miles (1,125 kilometers). The 2-hour, 45-minute threshold for full meals would typically cover trips of 1,000 to 1,298 miles, according to the airline.

Delta Air Lines Inc. offers snacks such as cookies or pretzels to first-class travelers on flights of as far as 250 miles and “heartier” snacks on trips of 251 to 899 miles, according to its website. During certain hours, a full meal is provided on flights of 900 to 1,499 miles and a full meal plus snacks on flights of more than 1,500 miles.

United Continental Holdings Inc. provides packaged cookies or pretzels on flights of less than 220 miles, or 1 hour or less; and breakfast scones or snacks and fresh fruit on flights of 1 to 2 1/2 hours, the carrier said on its website. It provides meals on trips longer than 700 miles between Chicago and Boston, Newark and New York’s LaGuardia and between Denver and Houston and Los Angeles.

On flights of 900 to 2,299 miles, or 2 1/2 to 5 hours, United serves a meal during “traditional meal times” on most flights or a snack between those times, and offers a full meal with a snack on flights longer than 2,300 miles or 5 hours.