American Airlines announced today that it will add complimentary meal service in the Main Cabin on select transcontinental flights between New York JFK and Los Angeles and New York JFK and San Francisco, effective May 1st, 2017. Customers in the Main Cabin can expect to receive a continental breakfast or a boxed meal with a sandwich wrap, chips and a dessert, depending on the time of day. Vegetarian options will also be served, which will include a fruit and cheese plate.
Undoubtedly, this is a product enhancement designed to match a similar offering launched by Delta, which commenced earlier this month on March 1 between New York JFK and SFO/LAX. However, unlike American, Delta’s offering will be expanded to ten additional city pairs starting next month on April 24, including Boston-San Francisco; Boston-Los Angeles; Boston-Seattle; Washington Reagan National-Los Angeles; New York JFK-Portland, Ore.; New York JFK-San Diego; New York JFK-Seattle; Seattle-Fort Lauderdale; Seattle-Orlando and Seattle Raleigh-Durham.
There are some underlying reasons why airlines are bringing back meals in the Main Cabin, particularly on Transcontinental routes:
They Can Afford to
There’s not much additional explanation to this one beyond simple rationale: the fact of the matter is that airlines are consistently profitable and are raking in billions each year.
Segmentation is Easier with Advanced Technology
It is now faster, easier and cheaper to segment target customers with multi-tiered product offerings. The practice of un-bundling in the early 2000’s led to a major churn and burn of certain consumer sectors in the airline industry, and now that airlines have grown larger thanks to mergers, there is a renewed focus on trying to win those customers back with multi-brand strategies. Moreover, airlines have infinite amounts of data on customer attributes and buying behavior, and can leverage this information to lure them with attractive prices marketed at the right time, the right place and using the right channels.
Spreading this information using social media and targeted emails has made it easier than ever to educate and inform customers who might otherwise defer to another carrier based on a small product attribute alone.
In summary, the focus is now on winning back passengers rather than winning back profits (solely, at least)
Hybrid Carrier Disruption
One major underlying reason why American, Delta and United have stepped up their game in the transcon space is due to the success of the JetBlue Mint Product. Last spring, following its failure to merge with Virgin America, JetBlue expanded the MINT product beyond core Boston/New York – California routes, bringing MINT to Seattle, San Diego, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale and a few premium Eastern Caribbean markets.
I strongly believe that this prompted Delta, in particular, to consider elevating its in-flight products to become more competitive with JetBlue. This summer, Delta will begin flying internationally-configured 757s on routes between Boston and San Francisco and New York JFK and San Diego.
Noteworthy Differences Between American and Delta
It is noteworthy that American will be deploying the complimentary Main Cabin meal service without testing the product first. Practically speaking, it is not necessary for them to do this given that Delta already tested the product last fall, determined that it was worthwhile to proceed forward, and will be rolling it out to 12 markets this spring. In American’s case, starting with the classic A321T routes (which pertains to all of the 3-class routes between NYC and SF/LAX) is predictable, but not particularly innovative. Moreover, it will be worthwhile to compare how the quality of the food breaks down between Delta and American. If American is simply de-monetizing its Buy-on-Board sandwiches, much like it does on some routes like Miami – Port au Prince or Dallas/Ft. Worth – Panama City, then this will not be a particularly enjoyable product.
In contrast, Delta has gradually pioneered its own approach towards re-introducing complimentary meal service in the Main Cabins. Back in 2014, Delta added free sleep kits and snacks for its Economy Comfort fliers on transcontinental routes, before eventually rolling out these enhancements to Customers seated on its International Comfort + routes (it has since rebranded the Premium Economy product to become Comfort +). Notably, American has not taken this approach, going straight from strictly buy-on-board in the Main Cabin to complimentary meals for the entire cabin, rather than take a tailored approach towards differentiating between its Main Cabin Extra product (with additional legroom) and its Premium Economy class product (which only exists on International long-haul flights on the 787-9, at the moment). Perhaps the one thing American has done was re-introduce main cabin meal service on select Hawaiian flights
In other words, American’s approach is clearly emulation rather than innovation, which one could argue is a by-product of being one of the last major carriers to merge.
What will United Do?
United will also emulate, because it is a fierce competitor in the transcontinental space as well. Given that United has made concerted efforts to isolate its P.S. service between Newark and Los Angeles and Newark and San Francisco, while also deploying its newest 777-300ERs between cities like Boston and San Francisco, there is no reason why United shouldn’t match, and be able to do so relatively quickly.
In Conclusion: Where Can You Find Enhanced Transcon Meals?
Effective this summer, here are all of the routes where you can find the enhanced meal service on U.S. carriers:
American (Eff May 1st)
- New York to Los Angeles
- New York to San Francisco
- New York to Seattle
- New York to San Diego
- New York to Las Vegas
- Miami to San Francisco
- Miami to Seattle
- Miami to Los Angeles
- Miami to Las Vegas
- Boston to Los Angeles
- Philadelphia to Seattle
- Philadelphia to San Francisco
- Philadelphia to Los Angeles
- Philadelphia to San Diego
- Philadelphia to Las Vegas
- Charlotte to Los Angeles
- Charlotte to Seattle
- Charlotte to San Francisco
- Charlotte to Portland
- Charlotte to San Diego
- Charlotte to Las Vegas
Delta (March 1st)
- New York to Los Angeles
- New York to San Francisco
Delta (April 24th)
- Boston-San Francisco
- Boston-Los Angeles
- Washington Reagan National-Los Angeles
- New York JFK-Portland
- New York JFK-San Diego
- New York JFK-Seattle
- Seattle-Fort Lauderdale
- Seattle Raleigh-Durham
United (Potential Additions?)
- Newark to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Orange County
- Boston to San Francisco and Los Angeles
- Los Angeles to Orlando and Washington Dulles
- San Francisco to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Raleigh Durham, Washington Reagan and Philadelphia
- Washington Dulles to Portland, Seattle, San Diego and Las Vegas