It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of American Airlines. Among the major U.S. airlines, they rank last. And that’s hard to do, given how often United lets me down.

While my most recent trip with American was uneventful, it helped illustrate a stark contrast between their product and that of a mainland Chinese airline.

When Economy Service Beats First Class

It’s been a while since U.S. airlines have offered full meals in economy class. All the major airlines still offer meals in first class, but only on flights over a certain length. I gave us 50/50 odds on whether anything better than the snack basket would be offered on the hop from SFO to LAX. Turns out that snacks only was a safe bet. 

The flight covers 337 miles and is typically blocked for around 90 minutes. Actual flight time is shorter, of course, but it is more reasonable than the CRJ hop to SFO from Arcata, and certainly better than the shortest flight in the continental U.S. into SFO. It makes reasonable sense that no meal service would be offered.

But then I recalled my flight with Xiamen Airlines from Taipei to Xiamen. It is of a similar length. Actually, it is shorter. The hop from Taipei Songshan to Xiamen is just 218 miles.

On that brief journey, the flight attendants served hot meals to an entire 737. Not just first class. Everyone. It surprised me at the time. Actually, our flight in Xiamen Air 737 economy class was excellent. Xiamen delivered above and beyond all expectations that flight.

It makes me wonder…if a Chinese airline can manage to serve honest-to-goodness hot meals consisting of rice, meat and veggies to well over 100 people on a 218-mile hop, can’t a U.S airline offer hot meals in first class on a similar journey?

Given the typical service on U.S. carriers, I should not be surprised that they forego this sort of service. Especially at American. If American is truly going for great, they might consider differentiating themselves here. But they haven’t. And they won’t, of course. They just follow the lead of the other major carriers, a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses attitude.

Conclusion

I guess I shouldn’t pick on American Airlines, as I doubt any of the carriers serve a full meal on this short hop. But the flight with AA just illustrated what a difference you can expect on some foreign carriers. It’s not that I really needed a meal on that flight. I didn’t. But it would certainly be nice to think that U.S. airlines might learn a thing or two from the excellent service offered by foreign carriers.