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The US Airways / American Airlines merger is in full swing, and while the frequent flier programs will be separate and distinct until at least late this year, and maybe even sometime next year, many other things are changing very quickly.
The most recent news relates to meal service in first class and the ability buy up to elite status.
First, the meal service in first class.
This isn’t important to the average flier, but to those of you who are on American and US Airways flights very frequently, and among their best customers, it is very important.
There will be changes to meal service in first class on domestic flights and business class on select international flights starting April 1st as reported here.
Here’s what’s happening:
US Airways is one of the most stingy airlines in the U.S. when it comes to serving meals on domestic flights in first class. They only serve them on flights that are longer than 3.5 hours long, which rules out most domestic flights.
But starting April 1st meals will be served on flights of 1,000 nautical mies or more, which is flights of about 2 hours and 45 minutes long. So flights from Phoenix to Seattle that clock in at just about 3 hours will start getting meals, while currently they don’t. That’s good news.
American flights on the other hand have traditionally been the most generous in the U.S. for first class meals, offering them on most flights as few as 600 miles, so many shorter flights like Dallas to Denver, which clocks in at just 641 miles currently get a meal during meal times.
One of the big fears American fliers have is that the two airlines will meet in the middle for food policies, meaning fewer American flights will serve meals and more US Airways flights will get them.
For April 1st that’s not yet happening as US Airways flights are getting more meals, and the generous American domestic flight meal windows are unchanged.
But in September all meal services will be aligned across American and US Airways, with menus and the windows of flights that get meals made the same on both airlines. There are not details on what those will be but that could be when the bad news hits for American fliers. US Airways may be testing satisfaction with the increased meal times on US Airways flights and seeing how American fliers who take those flights react to them compared to the more generous windows on American flights.
The good news is it doesn’t look like a decision has been made yet, so passenger feedback will probably be important for the next few months. But it feels like some downgrade to American’s domestic meal service is in the cards, especially since Delta and United aren’t as generous as American today.
American’s flights from JFK to London, Manchester, and Dublin will see the meal in Business Class downgraded to an ‘express’ meal service similar to what its partner British Airways offers on the same routes. So instead of an elaborate multi-course meal affair on the way to England or Ireland you’ll get a one tray all-at-once smaller meal.
The thinking is that on these flights that are only about 6.5 hours long there just isn’t much time to do a full meal service and do what you really paid the big bucks for….sleep in a lie-flat bed. The current meal service can take as much as 2 hours or more to complete so it’s hard to get any real rest if you wait around for it. And if you decide to skip it altogether it’s harder to sleep with all of the action going on while flight attendants offer the full service to those who want to eat.
The rub is British Airways lets passengers eat a meal in the lounge before departure. American doesn’t offer that unless you’re a top tier Executive Platinum member with access to its Flagship Lounge.
So on the whole this feels like a cost cutting move more than anything, though it can be spun as something to enhance the experience and be more like premium partner British Airways. This will please fliers who usually fly British Airways but end up on an American Airlines flight, and would prefer a shorter service and less disruption. With American offering its best in class lie flat Business Class seats on all New York to London flights it’s a lot more enticing to get the sleep you need.
US Airways had an aggressive program that let you buy its elite status, all the way up to its highest Chairmans Preferred tier in cash. For just $3,999 you could buy Chairmans Preferred, which normally needs 100,000 miles in flying without ever setting foot on a US Airways flight.
Those days are gone as of March 1st according to BoardingArea. Starting then, you will only be able to buy a maximum of 24,999 miles toward Preferred status each year, meaning you can only buy up one level ahead of where you currently stand. And it’s going to get more expensive. Buying 24,999 miles will cost you $2,499 versus $989 today.
If you’re an American elite member this is good news. There is less risk of someone buying top Executive Platinum status on the cheap and diluting its value. And it shows the new American isn’t going to go for every cash grab that the old US Airways was known for.
Which makes sense since the new American will have a higher concentration of elite level fliers thanks to a bigger combined route network, making it more likely each elite flier ends up flying on American / US Airways flights more often than before.
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