This means you’ll need a credit or debit card to purchase headsets, alcoholic drinks or food.
In the lineup of frequently asked questions, this is the answer given to the question “can I still pay with cash”:
We anticipate that most of our customers will be prepared for cashless cabins as the vast majority of our domestic tickets are purchased with credit cards.
Awesome marketing spin – “we anticipate”, “most”, “vast majority”. All code for “some passengers will be screwed”.
I’m especially concerned about unaccompanied minors and (younger) tourists visiting the US from countries where plastic is not as popular. First the airlines take away free food and drinks, then they take away the ability to pay for it with cash.
If you do not have a credit card but still want access to on board purchases, I recommend finding a prepaid card (available from Walmart and most grocery stores). Still, that is a bit of a hassle to go through, just to get a drink and a bite to eat, so your best option is to get some real food at the airport and bring it on board. Airport concessions still love your cash.
American Airlines is not the first to go completely cashless, Midwest, JetBlue, Virgin American, AirTran and Frontier all converted to plastic payments ages ago, but American Airlines is the first of the big 5 to make the move. Expect the others to follow really soon.