Review: American Airlines Flagship First Dining New York JFK

Step inside American Airlines Flagship First Dining JFK and you’ll forget for a moment that this is an airline’s lounge. You’d even forget you’re at the airport, except for the floor to ceiling glass views over the tarmac. The space is serene. The service is excellent. And they’re serving food you’d be happy to eat in a nice restaurant.

I reviewed American Airlines Flagship First Dining JFK shortly after it opened in 2017. It’s been re-opened for a few months, and the food and service are even better than they were when it opened. It’s the best airport dining in the United States, and the experience is up there with the best in the world.

To be sure, there aren’t any spa treatments, the architecture isn’t as striking as Qatar’s al Safwa lounge in Doha, and you aren’t driven across the tarmac to the aircraft (unless you’re a lucky Concierge Key member that’s connecting). But to even have a conversation around the way that the first class ground experience on American Airlines compares to Air France in Paris, Lufthansa in Frankfurt, or Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong is an incredible feat.

I had missed media previews for the re-openings of a couple of Flagship lounges and Flagship first dining rooms, so American Airlines invited me to visit one when I was passing through one of the airports that has one.

Flagship First Dining is open at New York JFK, Miami, and Dallas – Fort Worth. It has not re-opened at LAX, where the future of American Airlines long haul service is limited. Flagship Dining is found inside of Flagship lounges, though the soon-to-reopen Chicago Flagship lounge doesn’t offer it (the space was originally designed for it but Chicago generally doesn’t get Flagship First Class flights).

The American Airlines Flagship First Dining JFK Dining Room

Inside the Flagship lounge is a dark sliding automatic door that brings you into the American Airlines Flagship First Dining JFK space.

american airlines flagship first dining jfk

american airlines flagship first dining jfk

The dining room features both booths on one side (with power available) and tables in the windowline.

american airlines flagship first dining jfk

There’s a separate bar with bar seating area overlooking airport operations as well.

The view here is magnificent.

I highly recommend using this space as an eligible first class passenger, even if you don’t have time for a meal. It is simply more tranquil than the business lounge. Sit in the bar area if you wish, or at the bar itself. Or have just an appetizer or dessert. Sit and work and look at at the aircraft. There’s no better place to wait in the airport.

The American Airlines Flagship First Dining JFK Preflight Dining Experience

I was welcomed into the dining room and offered a booth or a seat in the window. I knew that I wanted to try a number of dishes and that might mean needing quite a bit of table space. I asked for a both, which would also facilitate catching up on work.

They noted the two booths which were open and asked which one I preferred. I chose one, sat down, and they cleared away the second place setting.

Then I had a look over the menu, both for drinks and for a meal.

american airlines flagship first dining jfk menu

I began by asking for a glass of the Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle champagne. Pre-pandemic American was serving Krug in Flagship First Dining. This bottle is at a similar price point, and drinks exceptionally well.

I ordered two starters: the oyster fritters and the tuna. First, though, I was brought an amuse bouche and I was asked whether I’d like to try the corn bread. I accepted. And I explained that I’d be taking some photos of the food so I could write about them, and the woman helping me offered that I should order another dish then and she suggested the bacon and blue cheese salad. I accepted.

The salad out first, and I enjoyed perhaps a third of it.

The oyster fritters are a small dish, just three bites, but each one is excellent. In fact it was a standout over the tuna.

I thought the tuna was a nice dish and well-prepared, but I was mostly interested to see how it would be presented. Since it too was a modest offering, and I just ate the tuna and left the cucumbers, I wasn’t filling up yet (I skipped lunch).

Now for the ‘main event’ I ordered two entrees. The duck has been on and off the menu for years, and I’d tried it before. While I’ve heard good things about both the lamb chops and the shawarma, I don’t go out of my way for either. So I decided to order the filet and the burger (two beef dishes, but very different).

In 2018 I compared the American Airlines Flagship burger to the Polaris burger which United offers in its dedicated business class lounges. The Flagship burger won and the burger at New York JFK was better than the ones offered at LAX or Miami at the time. I cannot vouch that four years later this is still true, but the burger at JFK definitely delivered.

I probably should have tested the ability to customize to ask for the fries extra crispy, though, to see what would have happened. I didn’t think about that until receiving the dish and realizing that they were less crispy than I like them. I also don’t usually favor a relish on a burger but this really was delicious (“red onion bacon marmalade” how could it not be).

To accompany both of my mains I switched to the the Penner Ash pinot noir which was really quite good, which – though not their recommendation with either dish – I thought paired nicely.

I ate about a third of the burger and just a couple of fries. Then I tried the steak with a bite of fried crab. The steak was small, in fact many of the dishes are, but that’s probably for the best before flying and you can have as many dishes as you want. It came out a bit more done than the medium rare I’d asked for but the meat was still excellent and the crab delicious.

I was asked if I would have some dessert and naturally had to at least take photos. Here’s the menu of dessert options and post-meal libations:

I ordered the sampler (‘dessert flight’) and the pineapple sponge cake. I ate more of the sponge cake than I should have, perhaps half of it. It was amazing.

While after the meal I was invited to stay in Flagship dining I left to explore the rest of the (business class) lounge, which I’ll report on separately.

Who Has Access To Flagship First Dining?

Flagship First Dining is inside the Flagship lounge. It’s a special interior door, and guests present an invitation card they’re given at lounge reception.

Flagship First Dining access is limited to:

  • Flagship first class passengers flying American Airlines to Asia; Australia; Europe; or South America or flying between New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco.

  • Historically, to oneworld partners who have paid for access (such as British Airways for their first class passengers in some locations, Cathay Pacific at New York JFK) and to Concierge Key members who have been given a limited number of passes, as well as to those offered a buy-in option or who purchased access through American’s Five Star premium ground service

This summer there will be six international flights with Flagship First Class from New York JFK, nine Los Angeles flights, and four San Francisco flights.

  • All (3) overnight Heathrow flights will have it (the day flight is a Boeing 777-200 without first class)
      AA100 New York JFK – London Heathrow 6:05 p.m. – 6:20 a.m.+1
      AA106 New York JFK – London Heathrow 8:10 p.m. – 7:30 a.m.+1
      AA104 New York JFK – London Heathrow 10:29 p.m. – 10:50 a.m.+1

  • In addition three other destinations will see the Boeing 777-300ERs with first class.
      AA292 New York JFK – Delhi 8:50 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.+1
      AA120 New York JFK – Doha 12:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m.+1
      AA44 New York JFK – Paris Charles de Gaulle 5:29 p.m. – 6:55 a.m.+1

  • There are 9 Los Angeles flights on the Airbus A321T with first class as well as business.
      AA171 New York JFK – Los Angeles 6:00 a.m. – 8:59 a.m.
      AA1 New York JFK – Los Angeles 7:30 a.m. – 10:25 a.m.
      AA255 New York JFK – Los Angeles 10:30 a.m. – 1:24 p.m.
      AA3 New York JFK – Los Angeles 11:30 a.m. – 2:21 p.m.
      AA341 New York JFK – Los Angeles 3:30 p.m. – 6:24 p.m.
      AA185 New York JFK – Los Angeles 4:15 p.m. – 7:05 p.m.
      AA117 New York JFK – Los Angeles 5:00 p.m. – 7:50 p.m.
      AA302 New York JFK – Los Angeles 6:45 p.m. – 9:39 p.m.
      AA300 New York JFK – Los Angeles 8:45 p.m. – 11:42 p.m.

  • And there are 4 San Francisco flights on that plane.
      AA76 New York JFK – San Francisco 6:30 a.m. – 9:48 a.m.
      AA179 New York JFK – San Francisco 9:00 a.m. – 12:22 p.m.
      AA2305 New York JFK – San Francisco 5:00 p.m. – 8:16 p.m.
      AA177 New York JFK – San Francisco 8:29 p.m. – 11:47 p.m.

  • Finally, once-daily Orange County with the A321T as well:
      AA976 New York JFK – Orange County, 9:30 a.m. – 12:21 p.m.

Currently Flagship closes at 11:15 p.m. but hours will be extended to accommodate the Doha flight once it launches in June.

No Tipping In Flagship First Dining

In 2007 then-LAX Managing Director Jim Moses (now Vice President for DFW) told me they consider Flagship First Dining an extension of the cabin where no tipping is permitted.

Officially, American Airlines says that tipping is neither expected nor solicited, which is a bit more careful to recognize that some guests do tip and they don’t actually say not to.

However I did not see any of the thank you cards presented at the end of the meal that used to be used, and very much looked like a $0 check – which was viewed by many as a prompt to tip.

The First Class Ground Experience At JFK Will Get Even Better

American’s Flagship Check-in is being renovated, and will provide a straight path through security into the lounge. I believe American Airlines should meet first class passengers curbside, assist with luggage through the Flagship check-in process, and provide escort to the lounge and then to the gate. In other words, bundle their Five Star service in with first class tickets – as they did in Los Angeles when they first re-launched Sydney service. That would make the American Airlines first class ground experience truly on par with the very best in the world – the Air Frances, Lufthansas, and Thais (should Thai Airways bring back first class).

What’s The Future Of Flagship First Dining?

The terminal will house British Airways soon enough, and first class facilities will therefore get meaningful use and thus seem worth investing in.

However I wonder what the future of international and premium transcon first class on American Airlines is going to be. There’s a rumor that new Airbus A321XLR aircraft could replace the A321T transcon planes eliminating first class (and generously-spaced coach) on New York – San Francisco and Los Angeles. And there’s certainly the possibility that new business class seats debuting on brand new 787s could displace first class.

However American really could offer a great international first class product and ground experience including Flagship First Dining is key to the differentiation. In fact, Flagship First Dining makes me wish I were a Concierge Key member because they’ve historically received a couple of invites a year to use when not flying on an eligible ticket.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Filet crab dish last week was a absolute standout for me. 25K Etihad to get on the transcons and get access to FFD is quite the deal.

  2. That all looks delicious – like you say, would be very happy eating that in a nice restaurant. The space looks lovely too.

    Shame though about the loutish behaviour of some of the other passengers which would detract from the experience for me – can see at least two people slumped in the booths, feet on the seats. Pearls before swine!

  3. The once daily JFK-SNA flight on the A321T also has an F cabin and gets FFD access.

  4. Great review, Gary! I was able to try out the MIA FFD last fall after it re-opened and was blown away by the quality of food and top notch service. It appears JFK does not disappoint either- especially with the views of the tarmac.

    Hopefully LAX will re-open one day. For now, they at least have JFK, MIA, and LHR to make it work and could consider selling passes to non-Flagship First travelers like they do now with the Flagship business lounge. Not sure how many people would jump at that but food for thought – pardon the pun.

  5. Have been to Flagship First Dining twice and it is wonderful. Lovely service, delicious food and the views are not bad. I’ve tipped both times and it was accepted graciously. I hope that AA doesn’t remove the A321T on the LAX JFK route, I actually prefer the seats in business to F and the MCE first row is pretty comfy in Economy. But as with everything airline related, when a good thing is happening, the airlines proceed to take it away 🙂

  6. It is so much easier to prepare and serve food quality on the ground than in the air. And it is also undoubtedly cheaper for airlines. They just need enough of a critical mass to offer it why you will see it in the largest gateways.

  7. The small portions are a smart move – keep the quality high

    And still vital to have a full fledged high quality multicourse meal service in the air, as many don’t have time to sit down and dine before departure

  8. Two small stalks of asparagus, why even bother. No wonder you said you were still hungry. You even had two main courses. It’s all about keeping the riff raff out though.

  9. Does One World Sapphire on AA metal between MIA and ANU get access to Flagship? I thought yes but I didn’t see it mentioned in your review

  10. Enjoy your blog in general, but find it really sad that you and other bloggers think it reasonable to waste food in the name of photos for a blog. Possibly something to rethink.

  11. A huge plate

    Two pieces of asparagus and some mystery meat

    They could save money by just giving you a Chick Fil A spicy chicken sandwich and some waffle fries. Better quality

  12. I have eaten at both MIA and JFK since they reopened and both meals were fantastic. I really liked the skirt steak at the MIA location as well as the drinks. JFK coming off of SNA- JFK was breakfast and unfortunately the bar was not open yet due to local ordinance.

    I was also at MIA on grand opening day, though was only in J and was not able to take advantage of FFD. All said I have been thoroughly impressed with the Flagship lounges since reopening and look forward to my next visit.

    Last time I was at LAX FFD pre-covid I was the only person eating, at the time they had half bottles of Krug and I took advantage. LAX with 9 daily flights to JFK needs to reopen. Instead of 777’s it would be nice to see 321T aircraft on LAX-MIA, at least the overnight flights. Last year I was able to take advantage of some awesome LAX-MBJ F/J web specials, and with a typical overnight medium haul leg a bed is nice. Jetblue cannot even compete as the last leg is coach.

  13. @Nick I came to say the same thing: the “fine dining” aspect of it sure takes a negative hit when you see someone laying down in a booth and another person speaking on their cell phone while dining.

  14. Only reason why AA can offer such a great service for F class passengers on the ground is due to to such services not being offered to non-revs, which dominate the F cabin on most routes … as simple as that. Offer to good stuff for the real customers, and not to the freeloaders!

  15. American Airlines is not what you think. On a Business Class flight from Punta Cana to Philadelphia, they ran out of food in BUSINESS CLASS. Then they tried to force a pre diabetic passenger and 2 lactose intolerant passengers to eat “leftover” pasta draped with nasty looking cheese”. This eas the second Business Class American airlines flight ive been on in the past month where they ran out of food in BUSINESS CLASS. There is NOTHING first rate about that. Then the corporate office rep who called to just “collect information” she said, tried to blame the passengers for American Airlines running out of food in BUSINESS CLASS. This is why the American airlines corporate officers need to reach out themselves and stop playing this thats beneath roll. Without passengers, you have no Airlines. American Airlines cares about dollars, not passengers.

  16. @Gary also note that if you are flying AA from JFK to connect at another AA hub to a Flagship First 3-class flight, you will have access. The agents at JFK are very good about this access rule, and rarely have to be prompted to offer FFD when, say, flying JFK-MIA in domestic first and connecting to MIA-GRU in F, or even JFK-BOS and connecting BOS-LAX in Flagship First.

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