Fort Worth-based American Airlines is investing in its airport lounge catering options once more, just as other competitors appear to be paring down in other places. Just this week, some frequent flyers noticed that American Airlines is trialing new heavier food options in its Admirals Club-branded airport lounges, a move that could make it more competitive with premium lounge services like the American Express Centurion product.

The new options include sliders and pasta dishes, items that arguably could pass for a full meal in a pinch. That’s a pretty significant upgrade from standard lounge fare, which is typically only light snacks and beverages. Only in the last few years have airline clubs started adding heartier fare such as soup, oatmeal, cold cuts and vegetables — largely due to rising competition and a desire to enhance the premium traveler’s experience.

So far, the new fare is only in Chicago (Terminal H/K), Phoenix (A6) and Houston, but the new fare will spread to other lounges soon. “We’re in the pilot stage right now, and will have some rotating options so we can continue to learn and hear what our customers are enjoying,” Nick Richards, director of Premium Services & Customer Experience told Skift. “This will all be paired with a new wine program coming this summer and we look forward to seeing what other enhancements we can introduce later in the year.”

American also confirmed that the catering upgrades at the Admirals Clubs were part of a larger initiative to improve dining across the entire travel experience. “We are making enhancements onboard too,” said an American spokesperson. “Earlier this year we announced two new chefs for Oceania and Asia and a new wine ambassador. Later this year we’ll look at ways to refresh the main cabin food for sale menu.”

an airline catering arms race

American’s moves appear to be in line with the latest industry trend of improving the premium dining experience while cutting costs at the basic economy end of the spectrum. In the last 18 months, American, Delta and United have all brought back meals in economy on some premium routes while catering options in airport lounges has been steadily improving.

Press releases over new in-flight food options are now de rigueur; just last month United proudly announced that it would start serving breakfast tacos in flight. In March, Delta upgraded its international Main Cabin and Delta One offerings.

UNITED BUCKS THE TREND

As the catering race heats up and investments start to build, United may be signaling that it’ll be the first to balk.

Just last week the Chicago-based airline updated its in flight meal service policy to dial back some of its options on shorter-haul flights and reduce the number of meals it serves. Soup, for example, has been cut from Polaris service while several beverages have been taken out of the service cart (though the airline did wind back its tomato juice plans on Thursday).

United’s move may be a small cost-cutting effort in light of strong competition that it’s facing from American and Delta. Though profitable, CNBC reports that United’s shares are only up 3 percent in the last year while American and Delta have surged up 19 and 31 percent respectively. So while an arms race in catering may still continue on the front lines, the profitability arms race may cool things off.

Photo Credit: American's new airport lounge snacks include this much maligned (but delicious) avocado toast. American