Are American Airlines Free Economy Meals Any Good?

Posted in American Airlines, Domestic US, In the Air

Airline food is the Rodney Dangerfield of cuisine. When it’s free, people complain that it’s bad. When it’s not free, they complain it costs too much. It always reminds me of the joke that opens Annie Hall (you can stop after ten seconds):

Such small portions, indeed.

So when American Airlines announced that they’d be offering free meals in economy class on some of their routes, I was intrigued. While I could never bring myself to purchase their ham-on-marble rye atrocity from the buy-on-board menu, I was curious if I would be into it if I didn’t have to pay. Something about “free” tastes so much better, right?

a white box with blue and white text on it

Luckily, I had a flight from JFK-LAX last week (one of the only routes that offers free meals in coach) and got to check out the new offerings. Without keeping you in suspense for too long… it was pretty good. Passengers had three choices:

  • Ham and cheese wrap
  • Spicy quinoa wrap
  • Cheese plate

a box of food in a white box

Both of the wrap options come with chips and a package of cookies, so it really is a full meal of sorts. The chips were Kettle Cooked Lay’s and the cookies were dark chocolate Milanos from Pepperidge Farms. Definitely nice of American to spring for a side dish and dessert along with the wraps. If you want a cheese plate, you just get the fruit that comes on the plate. Sorry chipcookie lovers.

I went for the spicy quinoa wrap and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed it. Would I pay $8 for it? Nope. But I felt like it was nice to have a vegetarian option and it certainly came in handy during the long flight. It came packed with quinoa, feta cheese, carrots, green peas, lettuce, tomato, and chickpeas with a layer of hummus spread thin on the tortilla that wrapped the whole thing up. Overall, it hovered between inoffensive and pretty good. The green peas are an odd choice, but that’s just a matter of opinion. Since most food engineered for 30,000 ft. is heavily spiced/flavored to make up for the taste-loss that occurs at altitude, this dish comes up relatively bland. Would the ham and cheese give you a little more flavor? Perhaps. But with cold cuts, there’s only so much flavor to go around anyway.

a close up of food

For those interested in the cheese plate, it comes with what appears to be brie, muenster, and cheddar with grapes, strawberry, and Acacia brand crackers

A few observations:

  • A lot of customers were confused about the whole thing and who can blame them? We’ve been limited to buy-on-board for so long that free food in economy feels like a trick.
  • The flight attendants got tired quickly of explaining that they were free and what the options were. American would be well-served to offer a little handout in the seatback explaining the menu.
  • The cheese plate was, by far, the most popular option among the people around me.
  • People seemed relatively happy about the free meal. Considering that airlines outside of the US regularly offer economy meals (what’s up, Bangkok Air!), it’s amazing how conditioned we’ve become to expecting to get nothing and like it.

The bottom line for me is that even though these aren’t gourmet meals, they’re free and they’re not bad. I think that’s about the best we can hope for these day.





  1. You are not an EXC PLT on AA? If so You get a free snack and free alcoholic beverage on every flights….

    • Am I being Status Shamed? I’m Platinum on AA, which makes me feel special but doesn’t fill my belly on a regular basis.

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