Review: The Exclusive Chelsea Lounge At New York JFK Terminal 8

The Chelsea Lounge JFK is the most premium spot at the New York airport for American Airlines and British Airways passengers. It is the true first class lounge, open to those flying in first (and not business) class on international flights as well as flying in first class on Flagship domestic routes such as to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

One way to think of this lounge is as a replacement for American’s Flagship First Dining, which used to be inside their business class Flagship lounge. Since that was American’s exclusive first class space, it’s a natural comparison. The Chelsea lounge menu isn’t as extensive. And with BA moving its operations to terminal 8, there are many more first class passengers in the terminal than before. This larger space handles the volume well, while still offering an exclusive experience.

Entering The Chelsea Lounge JFK

The only way into the Chelsea lounge if you’re not flying British Airways first class or American’s Flagship First Class is to buy an American Airlines ‘Business Plus’ business class fare, that comes bundled with access, or to be a rarified BA Premier or Gold Guest List elite or American Airlines ConciergeKey member flying on one of these flights in a cabin other than first class.

Here’s the internal cheat sheet showing who has access, and what guests they’re permitted to bring.

Since this document was introduced, access has been tweaked somewhat. British Airways Gold Guest List member access now aligns with American Airlines ConciergeKey: only available flying long haul international or on Flagship domestic routes like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

To reach the Chelsea lounge you proceed through security and turn right after the Bobby Van’s steakhouse. Elevators there take you up to the Soho lounge and the Chelsea lounge.

Directly ahead as you exit the elevators is Soho lounge check-in. Turn to the right and you’ll be facing the entrance for the Chelsea lounge.

It seems that staff at the door to the Chelsea lounge face passengers throughout the day who don’t have access. I think that access rules may be a bit confusing, and the naming convention doesn’t provide clarity.

While the 3 new shared American-British Airways lounges are Chelsea, Soho, and Greenwich – 3 neighborhoods that are both in London and New York – the names themselves won’t elucidate for most people which is the most premium, or who ought to have access.

I went up in the elevator with a woman who admitted confusion. She was headed to the Chelsea lounge but not sure she’d have access. She was just off of an international flight, connecting to domestic. She told me she’d flown in first class on the way over from Europe. However when she made it to the desk it was revealed that she’d flown in business class, and so had access to the business class Greenwich lounge instead (she didn’t have qualifying status that would have gotten her into Soho, the subject of an upcoming post).

Once I was inside I passed by desks for agents to assist passengers, and beyond that was a striking bar.

Drinks At Chelsea

The bar in the Chelsea lounge is gorgeous and reminds me of the bar at Cathay Pacific’s The Pier first class lounge in Hong Kong. (Interestingly some of the design elements of United Polaris lounges like marble walls and signage are reminiscent of Cathay Pacific lounges as well, an inspiration that was acknowledged to me by the airline.)

To the side of the bar there’s plenty of additional seating. I should note that both at the bar itself, and throughout the lounge, there are plenty of outlets everywhere. It’s worth noting that while there are traditional plus as well as USB charging, these are U.S.-style outlets. I didn’t ask about the availability of U.K. adapters.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of the lounge is that there are no windows to the outside (the way other lounges in the terminal offer) but they do a nice job with backlighting.

From the bar you can see the entirety of the rest of the lounge – seating and dining areas – with the exception of the restrooms and shower rooms.

Here are the beverage menus:

Wine and beer menu

Champagne menu

Cocktail menu

I drank a glass of the Bordeaux both with my meal and a also a second one at the bar and it was excellent but really needs time to decant. I wonder why they don’t keep a bottle open, perhaps open one at the start of service and then open another as soon as that one is finished, rather than waiting until a customer asks for a glass to open it?

One thing the British Airways Concorde Room is known for is its ‘champagne bar’ and when this lounge opened it promoted a striking number of premium champagnes. That’s already been replaced on the menu with a notation to ask about the ‘Chelsea Signature Series’ of rotating champagnes. When I first asked about this the server didn’t know what I was talking about and just pointed me to the menu. I told her the menu said to ask, and so she went to ask – and came back and said “we don’t have that.” But she showed me a bottle of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, which was in fact the current ‘signature series’ selection.

Sitting at the bar later a passenger asked for champagne on the premium list, and the bartender said she didn’t have any. I mentioned I’d had La Grande Dame. The bartender again said she didn’t have any. Then she looked – and she did have some. Staff mean well but they don’t seem to have been given proper training to understand what they’re serving?

The lounge, though, isn’t offering numerous premium champagnes at the same time as had been my impression at first opening. The original champagne menu which included Krug and Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, which were unavailable. A seemingly-knowledgeable staff member said they’re rotating Krug, LP, Grand Dame and one other bottle – and that they had challenges with getting enough Krug from their supplier’s allocation. He noted they were also out of the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs off of the regular menu.

Everything here is service-based, rather than self-serve. There are beverage stations set up for water, juice and coffee/tea however I never saw anyone using this for self-serve. It was always staff members who went to the stations to bring things to passengers.

That’s great but there are no passenger-accessible refrigerators. In the business class lounge I’ll grab a bottle of water for my flight. I did ask for one and a staff member was happy to get me a bottle for take away. I imagine many won’t think to ask because they don’t see it in front of them.

These wine dispensers, by the way, appeared to be for adornment only

Food In The Chelsea Lounge

When I entered the lounge I was immediately approached and asked whether I’d like a seat in the dining room. I demurred, since I wanted to have a look around first. There was only one other passenger sitting there at the time (and two other passengers total in the lounge, it was still early afternoon and so before the rush of transatlantic departures).

After looking around a bit I walked over and was invited to have a seat. They brought me the wine, champagne and cocktail menus that I shared above, as well as the dining menu.

All Day Dining Menu

I decided I’d try an appetizer and two different entrees. What I most wanted was the cod, but I also wanted to order the burger so I could compare it to the Flagship burger that American has been serving since opening its Flagship First Dining rooms. Unfortunately they didn’t have the cod available, which is unfortunate because the menu isn’t very extensive.

Still, the prawn cocktail and the burger were going to be plenty of food. And the prawns were really quite good!

While also good, the beef burger was a step down from the Flagship burger I’d had in Flagship First Dining earlier this year. It was served with a sesame seed bun that was rock hard. Fries were especially crispy and to my liking through! Overall I still think a Priority Pass $28 credit at Bobby Van’s next door produces at least as good a burger.

I thought I’d try a couple of desserts, really for this trip report, promising myself just a bit or two of each. The praline dome was accompanied by chocolate ice cream. The olive oil cake was a bit bland, perhaps it could have been a bit more moist.

Both would be fantastic, I think, paired with the right dessert wines. I noticed that they offered none on the menu, so I asked. My server was unfamiliar with the idea of a dessert wine, but went to find the chef. It turns out they did have a port and a sherry (albeit no sauternes).

Additional Seating In The Chelsea Lounge JFK

The lounge isn’t large but offers a variety of seating types, in addition to the bar and dining area. It’s a gorgeous space, and was plenty of seating even as the lounge got busier closer to 5 p.m. I’d like to see how it handles passenger volume at 7 p.m., however I had my own flight to catch and wasn’t able to test that.

Unlike the Concorde Room at London Heathrow there’s no private cabanas, and no spa. Everyone in the lounge was friendly. Service was mostly good, even if a little bit confused at times. I did see one staff member hiding in the corridor outside the restrooms and showers, wearing a hoodie over his head and spending a good bit of the afternoon on his phone. That photo I’m not including here…


The shower rooms are beside the restrooms. I didn’t need to ask anyone for access to see one, they were unlocked and none were in use. I peaked in and noticed cleaning supplies left behind on the sink. There were no-name wall-mounted toiletries.

I’d prefer branded shampoo, soap, and conditioner. And I’d also like a pass-through built into the door so passengers could offer up their clothing to be pressed while the bathe. Still, having the showers inside of this lounge was nice and I wouldn’t imagine they’ll get as much use as on the other side of the Pond where so many people are arriving off of overnight flights.

How Does The Chelsea Lounge JFK Compare?

Overall the Chelsea Lounge JFK is an outstanding product. It’s nicer than any American Airlines Flagship lounge or United Polaris lounge. I found the service more responsive than in the British Airways Concorde Room at London Heathrow.

However it isn’t as nice as the Flagship First Dining facility that American operated in terminal 8 previously. Of course it’s not been completely clear if that product would survive, and since Chelsea is meant to be comparable to the British Airways Concorde Room we can expect that the new product will have a future.

Of course there won’t be many American Airlines passengers who actually get to use it since it’s for first class passengers only, and American Airlines is eliminating first class in favor of a larger business class. This will increasingly become a British Airways lounge, more or less. And on that basis it’s outstanding. However I’d give the edge on food to Air Canada’s Signature Suites.

Since there’s no natural light or tarmac views, I suspect that some will prefer to dine here and perhaps even quietly take a drink over to the Soho lounge next door.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. They REALLY should have put in the nice dining booths that the Concorde Room had/has. The dining area looks very much “one each, standard issue, color beige, lounge table.” Everything else looks nice.

    Given the access rules, I wonder if access will be an up-sell when transcon shifts to the XLRs and Flagship Business is the top cabin. Premier Business? Five Star?

  2. What a lackluster food menu for a first class lounge, and Ferrari Cardano Chardonnay…what is this the Tesco selection?

    Perhaps you should read the FlyerTalk BA forum thread on this lounge, with plenty of pointed colour from the special clientele who frequent the service, and then amend your review. Those who frequented the JFK Concorde room note a material downgrade in quality of what’s offered and service delivery. It is in that thread, a blunder on par with the removal of the Union Jack from the tails of BA’s fleet in the late 1990s.

    And perhaps you would like to also share with your readers how you gained access to the lounge for this review.

  3. Thanks for taking time on such a detailed review. Much appreciated. My only beef is that these airlines send so much money on the physical structure but then, as you allude to, don’t train staff to a first class level. Such a let down of the experience.

  4. Visited a couple of weeks ago before heading to LHR with AA104. I am CK. Your descriptions are very much spot on, it was reasonably busy when I got there around 8:30pm, but had no trouble finding a table for dinner. I only had the lamb tagine, wich was excellent, restaurant quality. experience. Had two glasses of Ruinart, the first one was ok, the 2nd was served at room temperature… Staff both in the restaurant section and at the bar, was friendly, but clearly had received very little training and service was very slow and confused. Very much a let down within the entire experience and not at the standard of LHR’s Concorde Room. Definitely room for improvement here.

  5. AA & BA needs to pull their head out of their Chelsea Club ass and focus on their overall operational performance!

  6. I was in Soho recently and it took them a good 15mins to figure out where I had access. Soho desk sent me to Chelsea and back again. Eventually they took out the cheat sheet (which is quite clear IMO) and let me into Soho. There was another guest going through the same ho-ha with a different agent. I do not understand the agents resistance to using the tools they are given to do their job!

    The lounge (morning) was quiet with more staff than guests. They were still finding their feet but I give them a bit more leeway in getting up to speed on the F&B service side.

    Shower was good, but a design flaw in the unit I was in, meant water escapes out under the shower door. Also lacking in shower room is a small stool/bench for getting dressed/undressed. Otherwise quite good.

    FIsh and Chips from the menu was very tasty. Menu seems to be 90% same as Chelsea

  7. Apropos of nothing, but I notice that infrequent flyers conflate business and first class all the time. I’ve given up telling people that, no, you did not fly Delta first class to Europe this summer, and no, business and first class are really not the same.

  8. @Gary glad they let you in at last. Yes, that bar is reminiscent of the Cathay Pier bar.

    >I decided I’d try an appetizer and two different entrees.
    Well, of course you did.
    >I thought I’d try a couple of desserts, really for this trip report,
    Of course. Just for the trip report. 😉

    Interesting that you think First Class dining has a step up in food quality if not decor.

  9. Interesting follow-on…since it’s missing from the list.
    Does OW Emerald get you in? Or is this a “premium” lounge like the Concord Room?

  10. @Woofie – this is akin to Concorde Room. oneworld emerald flying business class (or premium economy or coach) would have access to the Soho lounge.

  11. So far have visited all 3 lounges at Jfk shared by BA/AA and have been unimpressed. In my opinion, those accustomed to the AA Flagship Lounges at Jfk might feel shortchanged.

    Was in Chelsea and Soho mid morning and the experience was dreadful.
    Perhaps the newness of the lounges, untrained staff and lack of food choices colored my opinion. Soho had frozen berries because they were improperly placed on a freezer slate and otherwise very limited warm breakfast food choices.

    Chelsea offered an a la carte menu, but the warm food breakfast item I ordered was served cold to the touch and inedible. Service was inattentive and slow, not what would be expected in an airline lounge.

    Greenwich, when I visited in the early evening was crowded and offered more limited food choices that weren’t frequently restocked, so that there were frequently empty serving trays.
    The Flagship business lounge that it replaced was less crowded and offered a wider variety of food choices. Flagship First had a better menu and was always more exclusive.

    Hopefully, things will get better…

  12. I am CK and visited the lounge last week on my way to LHR on an AA flight. The space is beautiful. The service was so so. The staff didn’t seem well trained and it was a bit crowded. If they iron out the issues, this can be great.

  13. @Paul I was afraid exactly of reading that (as a non-AA OWE with access to FL which I really enjoy).
    Haven’t visited yet.

  14. It may be an upgrade for AA but a big fall down for BA. JFK CCR may have been shabby but it felt like home, quiet, excellent food and wine, plenty of space to sit. Chelsea is like being sat in the worst part of the Arts Club in London.

  15. I am in the lounge right now. I can’t believe this is what BA are offering for the First Class passenger. It has all the allure and atmosphere of a Hilton hotel breakfast room. No magazines or newspapers. The prawn cocktail was nice, the burger garbage, the waitress never brought my drinks order. I overheard two passengers asking if there was luggage storage while they went to duty free .. there is no luggage storage. And after being in this dull soulless beige windowless room for 45 minutes I have only just got an internet connection. Apparently they’ve been having issues for days. If passengers think this is the definition of luxury first class travel then I feel sorry for them. Every time I fly BA, which is intentionally less and less, you notice what they have taken away rather than what they have given. This lounge is another step downwards.

  16. The Chelsea lounge is the pits. A serious mistake has been made here and yet it opened over 6 months ago and it has not got any better. Anyone expecting anything close to the old Concorde Room is in for substantial disappointment. Avoid BA/AA to JFK. Find someone else, anyone.

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