American Airlines Is Trying to Be More Like Your Favorite Fine Dining Restaurant

But they’re failing to change the fact that you’re stuck in a turbulent metal box 30,000 feet in the air

Last Thursday, American Airlines debuted a direct flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Sydney, Australia. The new route called for a new menu—15 hours is a long time to go dinner-less—and since the airline has recently invested over $2 billion in “the customer experience,” the offerings sure sound spiffy. Take, for example, the 2010 Penfolds Grange Shiraz with a suggested retail price of $850 per bottle. The expensive bottle is only available in first class, but even those who can afford it might question whether the flavor-altering high-altitude cabin is the optimal locale for enjoying such a precious bottle.

The redesigned meal service aims to give travelers in premium cabins the experience of dining in a restaurant. Passengers are handed a menu at the beginning of the flight and encouraged to order whatever they want, whenever they want it. Entrée options like the “Cedar Plank” Halibut is available and served on a small wooden board to look like something offered in a rustic and rural farm-to-table restaurant. Other local touches like bread from La Brea Bakery, Sonoma County cheeses, and locally-sourced produce from a variety of Southern California organic farms are all impressive.

American isn’t the only airline at LAX using local culinary resources. Singapore Airlines has Los Angeles’ Suzanne Goin designing menu options for first and business class cabins. Do Goin’s dishes taste as delicious at 38,000 feet as they do served fireside at Lucques? That’s for the rich and famous to decide.

Perhaps the best improvement (or at least most relevant for us plebeians) are the upgrades in Economy en route to Sydney. Part of American’s investment in service included researching what the customers actually wanted to eat (brilliant, eh?) and the flight attendant’s account of what they were consuming. It turns out no one was eating those tiny iceberg salads with processed ranch dressing. Fascinating. So instead they upped the portion size of new entrees like roasted sirloin steak with red wine sauce and pan-seared whitefish with tomato caper compote. And even more apropos en route to down under: Economy travelers can now drink complimentary spirits in addition to beer and wine on the 14 to 15 hour flight. Cheers mate!

This trend in in-flight improvement is certainly a welcome one. Do we want airplane food to be more delicious? Of course. But airplanes aren’t restaurants. They are small, kitchen-less, often turbulent cabins that don’t exactly inspire one’s appetite. And flight attendants aren’t waiters. Their primary job is to oversee safety procedures on board, not recommend wine pairings. Also, with so many excellent new dining options available in the terminal (Campanile, 8 oz Burger, Cole’s French Dip, Kogi Truck), grabbing a couple Korean short rib burritos before boarding is irresistible. That said, instituting such down-to-earth cuisine on board is admirable, even when served miles high in the sky.