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Airline Food in First Class --

  • j

Next weekend I get to fly First Class on American Airlines from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Wondered if anyone out there has tips for me to make the most of it -- food and drink-wise --

Chicken or fish? Or should I request one of their special dietary meals -- usually in Coach those meals end up being better than the usual.

Is it worth saving room for dessert? I am usually on the wrong side of the curtain in coach and catch the wonderful wafts of chocolate chip cookies warming in First Class. Are they as good as they smell?

Do they do anything exceptionally/surprisingly well?



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  1. It depends on when you are flying. I work for the competition, but this is from AA's web site:

    "Complimentary food service is offered in First Class on all flights system-wide that have flying times over two hours and that operate within traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner times. Generally, a snack service will be provided on flights greater than two and a half hours that fall outside of a traditional meal time."

    Check out their web site. Most major airlines have links to inflight services including entertainment, meals, etc. AA's web site includes North American and Caribbean service. There's a link to special meals, also.

    www.aa.com > travel information > during your flight > dining > North America and Caribbean Meal Service

    Special meals are better in the back because they are special made closer to flight time, but this is not necessarily so in the front.

    Just as a note, North American domestic first class meal service is nice, but it's not what you would get on a Transatlantic or Transpacific flight, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

    And you should be able to make your selection now, before you check in.

    Have a great flight!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Loren3

      British Airways - business class is laways as if I'm in US Airways 1st class - BA's service is always the finest!

    2. My first class experience (limited, and it's been on Continental) is that they'll give you a choice of two meals BUT they will have prepared half and half, so if by the time the flight attendant gets to you and all of one of the meals has been spoken for, you get the other choice. One time the choice was between a heated lasagne and a seafood salad. I was in the third row of a three-row first class and everyone ahead of us of course took the lasagne so we were stuck with the seafood salad. And it was vile. If you can request in advance, I'd recommend it.

      The cookies are comparable to Mrs. Fields.

      1. <<Do they do anything exceptionally/surprisingly well?>>

        No. Your meal will be more palatable than what they serve in coach (assuming there's meal service in coach--not a safe assumption these days). But it's still airplane food. Whatever you eat will have been pre-cooked and reheated. So rather than looking for chicken, fish, etc, look for a preparation method that lends itself to tasty leftovers.

        At least you'll have linens, a plate, and real glassware. Better wine is available than the Sutter Home splits you can buy in the back, but don't expect a premier cru. And the cookies, while made from a commercial dough batter, are still pretty good.

        1 Reply
        1. re: alanbarnes

          meals in coach?? just about totally extinct. cant remember the last time i was offered other than soda and MAYBE pretzels or an overpriced 7 dollar sandwich.

        2. Food is definitely better than coach, but still nothing to get excited about,especially AA domestic relatively short hops like Chicago to LA. I'm sure all the airlines are the same.

          I don't recall ever having a choice between between chicken and fish. Usually beef and something else - chicken, pasta or fish- or pasta and something else.

          If you can select now, as Loren3 suggests, do it - they invariably run out of one or the other choice , as jim1126 experienced. I find the cookies exceedingly sweet,but H loves them. Can't remember which flights (dinner? transatlantic? or ??) on which they serve heated nuts to start, but they're probably the best thing about the food. Also don't remember on which flights(probably dinner), but AA does sundaes as you like them for dessert, generally only available with one flavor ice cream. IIRC, if you order a special meal, you get the same one you would get in coach.

          What they do really well is keeping your glass filled, no matter what you're drinking.

          1. Manage your expectations, the food on all domestic carriers is basic airplane crap. Most times jfood skips the food all together, it just isn;t worth the time or the energy. To give you an idea of the quality, next time in the grocer, go to the freezer section and look at the pictures. Then think what's inside. Same sorta analysis.

            That being said, the airlines do make GREAT chocolate chip cookies. It's basicallythe only edible choice.

            Sorry for the bad news but on a ORD-LAX run, jfood would probably have a pizza at Wolfgang's before boarding and maybe sneak a hot dog on board. It's only a few hours.

            6 Replies
            1. re: jfood

              Well, thanks for tempering my expectations. But with the bigger seats, cloth napkins and free flowing wine, it should still be worth the 15,000 miles, right?

              Sometimes it's about more than just food.

              At least that's what I hear... :)

              1. re: JLF

                Oh yes! And the nuts are quite good.

                1. re: JLF

                  On AA they redid their coach cabin a few years ago (remember the slogan more legroom throughout) and converted to mostly high density seat pitch (now less legroom everywhere). So the added room in First is worth it alone. If you are looking for free booze, then you have an added benefit. Likewise the chance of a screaming baby or difficult seatmate is also reduced.

                  BTW - jfood giggles at mentioning the cloth napkin, never really thought about that. And AA has the napkin with the little hole in it so you can place your top button in the hole and the napkin does a nice job as a "table cloth" for your shirt/blouse.

                  Just lean back and enjoy the flight and the weather in LA will be oodles better than you've had in Chi-town recently.

                  Safe flight.

                  1. re: jfood

                    The reason for doing this is that most people just wouldn't pay for the extra legroom.

                  1. re: jfood

                    I agree 100%....I fly v. often on UA in First/Bussines from SFO-ORD or SFO-pick an airport on the east coast and back and food is just edible. And yest I usually buy a WP pizza or sushi take out before boarding because quality is that much better. On international flights on United the food gets better but not by much....

                  2. A relatively short domestic flight isn't going to have terrific food (now, LA to Syndey Australia on Qantas first class is different). Best things will be the warmed nuts and the fresh baked cookies (if you're flying afternoon or evening). If you're lucky, you'll get an ice cream sundae. I wouldn't expect the entree, no matter what you choose, to be anything special. If you are in first class in a three cabin flight, you shouldn't worry about them running out of any of the choice. If you are in a two cabin flight, and you want to maximize your choices, just remember FEBO - Front Even Back Odd, which is how flights serve food, i.e., on even numbered flights they start from the front and odd numbered flights they start from the back.

                    1. howdy j,
                      first off, life is always better in the front of the bus. i fly american quite a bit, usually in business or first class. the food is ok. depending on the time of your flight, you'll probably be given a main meal early into the flight and a so-called snack (cheese, fruit, whatever) about an hour or so before landing. you will be stuffed by the time you land. drink service begins the minute you sit down and continues throughout the flight. the wines (and port) are of good quality.

                      ejnoy your flight. it will be tough going back to coach.

                      1. Check out this website-


                        People post photos and reviews of airline meals here, you can browse by airline. Some of the meals actually look pretty good...

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: whelmed

                          Pay attention to what ESNY said about FEBO - it's important if you care about food choice. It's usually filet mignbon or ravoli - neither of which are all that great. BUT... on my last JFK/LAX flight, there's the famous warm nuts, both the appetizer (proscuitto & melon puree, although I would prefer the real thing...) and the salad were very good. The rolls very - usually hard, (ask the FA's which are the softest) but don't do the crusty bread whatever you do - it's always nasty. And... dessert was an ice cream sundoe with choice of chocolate, butterscotch sauce, nuts, whipped cream - go for it all! I'm starting to see the sundaes on more flights, so hopefully, your's will be one of them. And the chocolate cookies are great - there's always plenty leftover, so don't be shy to ask for more...

                          1. re: torta basilica

                            The warm nuts sound great.
                            Can I also count on a warm towel upon boarding?

                            On a related chowhound-ish topic -- can we generalize that sushi restaurants that don't give warm towels when seated are not as good as those who do, or is that a my perception?

                            And how wonderful would life be if someone came around to our cubicle in the afternoon and handed us a warm towel?


                            1. re: JLF

                              On AA first class you'll get a hot towel (real, albeit rather small) between the nuts and the main course.

                              1. re: JLF

                                As far as the sushi towels go, there was a bit of a stink when someone noticed that non resto adult businesses in Japan also used the towels and the laundry services weren't all that fastidious about keeping them separate. It may be non-green, but I'll take the disposable, thanks.

                                As far as first class meals go, I used to load food onto airplanes in a former life. We never raided the coach leftovers, but on a hot summer day whoever brought back the ice cream sundae cart was the hero. I used to go home with a beef filet in the flashlight pocket of my uniform 2-3 times a week, the rack of lamb fit in the jacket pocket. The days when they carved to order are long gone.

                                Enjoy it because it will be better than coach, but it is still food served in a metal tube at 500mph a couple of hours after it was cooked.

                          2. So if you are booking your flight online - can you still pick a meal? As in through orbitz or expedia - I dont eat meat so it woudl be an issue of someone showed up with baked chicken.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Ljubitca

                              Once your flight is booked - regardless of where and how you booked it - take the confirmation code to the AA.com site and you can tweak to your heart's content. Select meals, change seats, request automatic notification of schedule changes, etc.

                            2. Don't get too excited. While first class is preferable to coach, it's still American and they are no Continental in the meal and service department. As for saving room, I doubt you will be so filled by the entree that you won't have room for the cookies or whatever they are serving that day. Also, depends on the time of day as another mentioned, some flights all they serve in first is a snack.

                              1. Special meals aren't offered on domestic flights any longer - only on coast to coast and international flights...and the ones that are offered on those flights are either for dietary (think diabetic) or religious (think kosher) needs.

                                1. Do NOT go for a special order meal, like kosher etc.

                                  If you do you will just get the exact one you would have gotten in Coach. They don't make First Class Kosher and Coach Kosher.

                                  If you were flying an international carrier and going overseas AND starting out from another country (for example flying JAL out of Narita)... you would have a wonderful dining experience in first. But a domestic carrier for a short-ish flight. It will be just eh. Think hotel ballroom conference food.

                                  The "extras" are nice. The warm assorted nuts, the baked cookies. But the meal? Eh.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Jennalynn

                                    They must still offer a vegetarian option for international?

                                    1. re: Ljubitca

                                      Yes, they do. At least on Lufthansa, British and United. The downside is that I suspect it makes it harder to get an upgrade.

                                    2. re: Jennalynn

                                      They don't serve coach meals, period. so there is no longer such a thing as "coach halal" or whatever on domestic flights. If you make a special order in biz, you WILL get something better than what's served in coach, because coach doesn't get a meal.

                                    3. I flew first class for the first time this year on United from San Diego to Chicago. They give you hot nuts before your meal that are delicious! I also enjoyed the linen tablecloth and real glassware - makes for a nice experience. As for the food, I also had a choice among two but was lucky the one I preferred wasn't out. The choices were Chicken Caesar salad or Seafood Bisque. I chose the Chicken Caesar and it was just alright. No cookie though - brownie instead :)


                                      1. You've got some good advice already. Just remember that the greatest luxury in domestic First Class these days is space, not food or drinks. Enjoy your flight.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: Texstyle

                                          BTW, when I flew (coach) on El Al to Israel they let us use real utensils, not plastic on board.

                                          I suppose they do such a great job screening that once we were all on board, no one was worried that a nut job could have sneaked through security. That was quite reassuring.

                                          1. re: JLF

                                            They still use metal utensils on Lufthansa...even in coach from Frankfurt to Philadelphia.

                                          2. re: Texstyle

                                            I can't fathom why people (including my father) eat airplane food just because it's free.

                                            Even if it tastes okay, it's chock full of sodium and preservatives that will leave you miserable and bloated upon landing.

                                            I don't eat the food unless I'm starving--once in many years. Eat before--some fruit, and save you calories for the really good stuff after landing!

                                            1. re: veganish

                                              I do have to say smelling people eat meat in enclosed areas turns my stomach - but on an international flight its nice to be able to pick from a vegetarian meal if I wanted so - its too long to go ona piece of fruit.

                                            2. re: Texstyle

                                              IMHO the best thing about biz class is your own bathroom. I don't find biz seats in a 320 to be that much more comfortable then coach, really.

                                              Now, on a 767 in lie-almost-flat seats on an 11-hr flight between toronto and sao paolo- yeah, that was great!

                                              1. re: John Manzo

                                                triple 7 to tokyo and beyond works for me. not too big, not too small. just right. japan insists we pass through security during layovers. so be it. just don't want to be on a huge plane on my way to hong kong, singapore, wherever.

                                                business lounge at narita (united) is ok. some snacks, some food, some booze and wifi. upstairs (elevator) is the first-class lounge. same thing only smaller.

                                                united stuffs its business/first-class customers with decent food (eastern/western, your call) and booze. i expect that. what wasn't expected was a nudge from the head cabin attendant three-quarters of the way to tokyo from jfk. cabin was dark, i was asleep and marcia was waking me up. hmmm.

                                                "do you like classical music," she asked?
                                                "yeah," i said.
                                                "come with me," she said

                                                ok, i was hooked. i woke up deb and we followed marcia to the galley. marcia, two or three cabin attendants plus deb and i were standing in the dimly-lit, modest space. so was a gentleman by the name of martin beaver. he had a violin in his hand.

                                                martin was a passenger in the seat ahead of us. he was quiet so i gave him no thought when we boarded. the white plastic case to his right may have raised my eyebrow but nothing more. he didn't recline his seat much and that counts for alot in my book.

                                                turns out that martin was on his way from jfk to tokyo. he had a gig with his pals in the tokyo string quartet. he also, at marcia's urging, was willing to give us a concert at, i don't know, 40,000 feet?

                                                the mid-air concert was special. none of the other passengers even stirred!

                                                afterward, martin passed his violin around. it was a stradivarius. i didn't drop it.

                                                i've mentioned this before but it just goes to show that every trip can be an adventure.

                                            3. imho, fish in the air, regardless of class or airline is less right then any other meat. So Chicken or Beef would be my reco.

                                              And 'special' meals in first are sometimes better i.e. I have had decent cold shrimp salad or smoked salmon . But sometimes the special meal is the back-of-the-bus special meal so it's a risk to order.

                                              I love the hot towel service and the gin & tonic in my hand upon boarding as the two best bits fo first.

                                              1. Does your first class ticket get you into the Admiral's Club? I've found that the food in the lounges, while not a full meal, is generally better tasting than what you get in the air. There is often a soup (sometimes a choice of two), fresh sandwiches, cheese and fruit, various hors d'oeuvres, and a nice dessert selection. Oh, and there is occasionally a bar :}

                                                Pick out a magazine or newspaper from the well-stocked rack, or do some work at their Internet kiosks, while enjoying your grazing. By the time you get on the plane, you won't care what they offer you!

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: KevinB

                                                  This doesn't apply to all Admiral's Clubs, by any means. I've never seen all that in LA, and don't recall all that much in Chicago, although ORD is definitely one of the best and well worth relaxing in early. My husband is an Executive Platinum w/ AA & I've seen a whole lot of Admiral's Clubs, but nothing that generous. I wish!!

                                                  1. re: torta basilica

                                                    P.S. FYI - HNL is the only domestic AC that offers complimentary alsoholic drinks.

                                                  2. re: KevinB

                                                    No, first class does not get you into the Admiral's Club. That's a separate membership. You can get access if you have high enough frequent flyer status, depending on the flight (I'm Platinum with AA, which means I can get access when flying internationally but not domestically).

                                                    The overseas clubs often have hot food and always have an open bar, but domestically you usually don't get much more than snacks and a cash bar.

                                                    1. re: BobB

                                                      OK, thanks for the clarification. We travel to Asia every year or two on either First or Business, and that always gets us into the Lounge. Of course, we are also travelling on Asian carriers, like Cathay Pacific, Eva, Asean, etc. , where service is still considered important. I still remember a stop-over at Inchon in South Korea, where the buffet included Chinese dim sum, Korean nibbles, etc., all refreshed frequently.

                                                      1. re: KevinB

                                                        Wow. Guess I haven't really checked out the Admiral's club on my international flights. Actually I was in London last week and they did have some cheese and crackers, something that is totally absent from the clubs I've been in the US.

                                                        And I've only flown business class twice in my life via American -- the International flight's meal was significantly better than the domestic meal -- with seats that reclined fully so that you're parallel to the floor!

                                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                                          At Heathrow - American also has a first class lounge - which my husband loves - he devours the tea sandwiches - literally. I wish I had a video of it.

                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                            LHR Admirals Club has great shortbread cookies. Bring some on board.

                                                    2. I was upgraded by AA on a recent flight from Hartford to Dallas. I drank sparling wine which was so-so. The warm nuts were undoubtedly the best part of the meal. The meal choices were chicken salad sandwich or turkey wrap. I asked the flight attendant's advice. She said the chicken salad had lots of mayo so I opted for the wrap. It was tasty but not amazing The chocolate chip cookies were good. Nt husband and kids in coach got NOTHING since the flight was too rough for beverage service in coach!

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: Mimi

                                                        I flew first class on AA from New York to Seattle with a layover in St. Louis. We got breakfast (twice) on the way there - a so-so cheese omelet, very good biscuits. On our return trip, we were given Special K for the first leg, and, for the last, just cookies and peanuts. It was my first time flying first class and quite a letdown. What surprised me the most about American was that there were no TV screens or even headphones to listen to music. Too bad my credit card rewards plan accrues AA Advantage miles; friends with Delta Sky Miles returning to NY from Seattle got wine with a steak lunch and watched a movie!

                                                        1. re: Dyna

                                                          Domestic first class is pretty ho-hum - a slightly larger seat with more legroom, a bit more food, and they don't charge you for drinks, but that's about it. The entertainment depends on the plane - if there's no movie in coach, there's no movie in first. Most airlines these days don't offer films on flights under four or five hours.

                                                          The big differences are on international flights, especially the real log-haul stuff like trans-Pacific. Business class on those is far superior to first class domestic - that's where you get the stuff you're imagining, like smoked salmon & real champagne, big Barcalounger-type reclining seats (and on some airlines even seats that fold down to form fully flat beds), and either individual built-in screens or personal DVD players with a stack of movies to choose from

                                                          Personally, I've never flown first class on an international long-haul, I'd love to hear from someone who has what it adds to the already cushy business class experience.

                                                          1. re: BobB

                                                            is business class THE ELITE class on international flights or are there even more elite sections??

                                                            1. re: MarkG

                                                              First class is a step up from business.

                                                              1. re: MarkG

                                                                Most long-haul carriers have three classes: coach, business, and first. As I mentioned above, I've never flown first on a long-haul, but even business class there is considerably more luxurious than first class on a domestic flight.

                                                            2. re: Dyna

                                                              Those AA biscuits are really good - first baked item I've had aon AA that was edible, other than the chocolate chip cookies. I wanted a second, but they'd run out :(

                                                          2. My husband just flew business class to Bangkok - on American from JFK to Tokyo, then JAL on to Bangkok. He opted for the Japanese meal for the one of three he chose to eat on American and said it was pretty lousy - JAL food marginally better. Broken seat that only reclined and foot rest that was broken made for a pretty miserable trip!

                                                            1. In regards to the earlier mention about the Admirals Club, I belong to Delta's Crown Room and enjoy the experience. There is free alcoholic beverages, and occasionally nice snacks. There are usually offerings of fresh fruit, too. Another benefit is the admission to Continental and Northwest's lounges, too. I had a nice experience recently at one of Continental's clubs. Although I do not often fly Delta, I do like the Crown Room and you can have access even if you are not flying Delta, Continental or Northwest, but rather another carrier (I prefer Air Tran.)

                                                              1. It will depend on time of day too. I recently flew first class (mileage upgrade) at breakfast time. It had been a really rough weekend and I had been ill, and couldn't resist the added comfort. This was on United - domestic. The fruit was very good, and there was a perfectly acceptable toasted bagel with cream cheese, and ok coffee. OTOH, the omelet was rubber, and the sausage cold. I did enjoy the real plates and all that....and yes, I had a bloody mary...which helped my outlook.

                                                                OTOH, those in coach got nothing to eat. And when you have a six am flight its hard to "grab something" before you leave. So my breakfast was most welcome...even if I only finished the bagel and the fruit.....

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: janetofreno

                                                                  Ever since I've read about Amanda Hesser (sp?--former NYT food writer) bringing her own meal on the plane, I've been doing that. I pack myself a big bag-o-food and bring that on the flight (usually 11-12 hour flights to Japan) and am very happy. It's gotten a little harder w/ the fascist liquid restrictions, b/c I used to use a frozen water bottle as my cooler, but I still bring a bunch of snacks, including several slices of cheese w/ crackers, some salads that keep well in room temp, etc., and of course, some fresh fruit.

                                                                    1. re: Loren3

                                                                      I'm Diamond with Delta so i fly 1st class domestically pretty much every flight. While it is so much better than coach, the reason is not the food or even the free booze: it's the space. Your chair is much wider and much more comfortable. You don't feel like veal.

                                                                      I fly, also, internationally on their 777-200LRs. Those are the ones with the pods and the lay flat beds. i really enjoy these flights. The tv screen is better and bigger, the movie selection is far superior, the food is a LOT better than domestic first class, and the wine is INFINITELY better than domestic first class. On these flights you have 2 meals always (unless it is ungodly long -- like my flight 3 years ago from ATL to Mumbai, at 18 hours -- then you get one large meal, a snack, and then a small meal). Just like in Economy, you get a larger meal soon after take off and a smaller meal right before landing. Both meals are a LOT better than in Economy. The large meal in 1st class is very large and usually very tasty on Delta. Celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein designs all the courses and selections. Delta even posts their meals (change each month) on their website. For instance, I'm heading to Lima, Peru, in a few weeks for some fun/relaxation. I decided to buy a 1st class ticket (Delta calls it BusinessElite, as it is their only other cabin for international travel, beyond Economy cabin...there is no Business cabin, so in effect it is their 1st Class cabin). I have looked on the website and have decided that I will be having: Braised beef short ribs served with red wine sauce, parsnip puree and baby carrots as my entree. On intl flights you don't have to worry about where you're seated (though FEMO is very handy when traveling domestically in 1st), as there are always enough of every selection for everyone (they over cater these flights...which is good cuz one time I got something that was ghastly and they replaced it with a different menu selection). Normally the big first meal is 6 courses. Starts with an appetizer course (no choice), a soup course (no choice), a large salad (choice of 2 dressings...one always a vinaigrette), a choice of 3 entrees (one is always a vegetarian pasta option), a cheese plate, and ice cream sundae made on a travelling cart, to order. Although lately what they've done (and i like a lot) is they put all the cheeses and mini-desserts on a cart and then sail down the aisle. When they get to you, you just point at what you want and you form your own dessert course. You pick from 4 or 5 types of cheese, several types of fruit, and many different mini-desserts. You get to try a little of everything this way. I like having a little cheese and fruit with a cake or pie type dessert. You normally have a choice of 2-3 red wines, 2 white wines, one sparkling wine, and 2 dessert wines. All the wines I've had have been quite good. They normally run in the $13-$18 range a bottle if you were buying in the grocery store. Delta has a sommelier who tries out all the wines before purchasing, by seeing how they taste 35,000 feet in the air (high altitude does affect taste and smell so all wines are tested first to ensure they'll taste great at that level). So, they don't serve any wine without it going through that process.

                                                                      Drink service is also far greater in intl first over domestic first. Once food is out, they are constantly swirling around to make sure your wine glass is full. Delta has switched to large wine glasses for intl 1st and it makes it much easier to get a bit hammered before you realize it. haha! But much preferred over those tiny little glasses China Airlines serves up. Like a double shot glass...sucks! 1st class service always is better internationally but that's largely due to more resources for those intl routes. Most domestic first class flights only have 1.5 flight attendants unless it's coast to coast, in which case it is 2 flight attendants. Intl first class has normally 5 or 6 flight attendants in first class.

                                                                      Later today I fly from ATL to Las Vegas. I'm on a dinner flight. I've been on this flight for the past 5 weeks, so I know what we're having, in general: a small side salad (sparsely layered with veggies beyond lettuce), choice of hot roll from a basket, chicken and polenta with shredded veggies OR some sort of vegetarian pasta dish. Dessert is a slice of some sort of tart, cheesecake, or tiramisu. Pasta dishes in domestic first on Delta are pretty tasty. I normally prefer them over the chicken dish (especially that sage heavy chicken pot pie they offer every once in a while....EEK!).

                                                                      1. re: kevinabeatty

                                                                        Let's keep the perspective, it's still airplane food.

                                                                        1. re: treb

                                                                          in business class on international, its quite tasty and something worth buying in a restaurant.