Special Report: American Airlines and the Buttonhole in the Napkin

American Airlines Napkin with Buttonhole

I’m a fan of history and admire many traditions, and one that I’m most fond of is the buttonhole in the dinner napkin that accompanies American’s First Class meal service.

The purpose of the buttonhole is to attach the napkin to your shirt to help keep your clothing from getting stained. And even though today half of the passengers in first class are likely to be wearing a T-shirt rather than a shirt with buttons, I appreciate the buttonhole, even if it’s probably a bit of a throwback to another time (sort of like the soft, butter mint American serves at the end of every flight).

Not only is the napkin quite fashionable, I’ve found it to be quite useful (especially when eating the beef fajitas with salsa).  I know I’m not the only fan either: The Weekly Flyer has praised its utility, and I know a couple of other American Airlines frequent flyers that also make a point of using the buttonhole.

Anyway, I don’t know that they have made any change to the napkin, but I was on a couple of flights last week and the napkin didn’t have a buttonhole.

Maybe it was just a catering issue.  I hope they’re not going away.

Has anyone else noticed this?

(Editor’s note: I know on the list of challenges facing the human race, this isn’t at the top, but it’s a slow news day).


  1. The buttonhole napkin was from the era of CR Smith, former CEO. He instituted it and it lives on in tradition and his memory.

  2. @Erndog @John777 – thanks for update. Split decision so far.

    @ Jeanette – That’s interesting – now I’m an even bigger fan of the buttonhole. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have flown first on American 10 or so times in the last month, and the napkins were buttonhole-less, sadly.

    I too miss them, out of primarily nostalgia, and secondarily utility.

    That said, if it saves them a few bucks and they stay independent, I’m okay with paper napkins, frankly.

  4. The buttonhole napkin adds a touch of class. I also hope they aren’t getting rid of it, I’m not sure how much expense it adds anyways for AA. If they start going down the expense cutting road in F, it seems only a matter of time before pax in F will be drinking from plastic cups and using paper plates.

  5. Flew on Saturday from BOS-DFW, gray napkins, no button hole. I thought it must’ve been a one time thing but it seems as though it’s not! I will miss the button hole…

  6. It is a nice touch and one that costs them virtually nothing. Now, if they put that much effort into the appearance of their F-Class food…

  7. The First Class Napkin Button Hole is one of those AA premium customer amenities that we’ve all grown accustomed to, and never thought about it going away. I traveled to Anchorage, AK last week to attend an annual airline conference. 4 of my 6 flights needed to get back and forth and keep me loyal to AA and/or its airline partners, were on AA operated flights. Sadly, on 3 out 4 of these AA flights, the First Class napkins were missing the classic and legendary button hole.

    I asked the Flight Attendant about it and she said customers have been commenting on the missing button holes more and more recently and that she thought they were being phased out. I sincerely hope this isn’t’ the case. AA is going through a major aircraft interiors upgrade program, spending millions of dollars to keep and attract business customers. To do away with a very popular key discriminator like the button hole napkin in the First Class Cabin we have all grown accustomed to and expect, goes against all principles behind to drive to attract premium customers who I understand now account for 70% of AA’s overall revenues.

    What will be done away with next? The nice hot terry towels being replaced with paper towels or maybe even wet-naps? Disappointing, to say the least.

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