I visited the brand new American Airlines Flagship Lounge at New York JFK this past week and was really impressed. The lounge has been made larger, redesigned, with some really good food added.
Many more people have access now, and there’s an exclusive dining room for first class passengers only with good food and service that just shocked me coming from a U.S. airline.
I’ve had a few days to think about the experience and I realize just how much I enjoyed it that I’m thinking about ways to get back to this lounge and use the other new Flagship lounges that American is building. Once I requalify for American AAdvantage Executive Platinum I’m thinking of crediting my flights to a oneworld partner frequent flyer program…
The Flagship Lounge
Immediately past the security checkpoint at New York JFK is an elevator up to the Admirals Club and the Flagship lounge.
After verifying your credentials at the check-in desk you’re invited to turn left into the Flagship Lounge instead of right into the Admirals Club. There’s a long corridor with New York-themed art on the wall.
The lounge is way larger than the old space, it was busy but not overcrowded when I arrived at 7 p.m.
There are several seating areas that give the lounge a sense of size, place, and depth. There’s window seating, workspace seating, quiet room seating, and a variety of lounge seats as well as a dining area.
The dining area is well-used because it’s beside the buffet, and there are hot and cold options, desserts, as well as small plates. Here are some of the seating areas.
And there’s also cafe tables to the right of the self-serve champagne.
Near the champagne bar is a cocktail station as well (and there’s separately a bar at the buffet).
Here’s the dining area and buffet. Two of the main entree items while I was in the lounge were pan seared salmon and chicken fricassee.
There’s more counter-style seating off of the buffet.
At the far end of the lounge past the buffet and the champagne bar there are a variety of seating areas and also workstations.
Like the old first class lounge there are great tarmac views, and they’re available along the window line in both the first class dining area and in the larger lounge.
This is the quiet room, though there’s no nap room in the lounge.
There’s luggage storage in the main lounge (though they’ll take your bags and store them in the area between the bar and dining room in First Dining if you have access).
The bathrooms are large, spacious, and new enough that they show none of the pre-renovation wear.
The shower rooms are lovely, though I’d prefer if they offered a pressing service. Change out of your clothes, have them pressed while you shower, and they’re returned through a pass-through in the door by the time you’re done. It’s a feature I first saw in American’s Arrivals lounge at London Heathrow years ago and wish it was replicated more broadly.
Flagship First Dining Room for 3-Cabin First Class Passengers Only
True three-cabin first class passengers receive an invitation card to Flagship First Dining, and that card is checked once you enter the dining room. The entrance is over to the right once you’re inside the lounge.
Whereas the rest of the Flagship Lounge is large and at times crowded, the Dining Room is small and serene. Lovely calm background music plays. You’re greeted and welcomed into the dining room and invited to store your bags inside.
You’re shown to a table, there are small tables by the window looking out over airport operations, small tables in the middle of the dining room, and there are booths as well. There’s also a bar.
I took a booth. The server seemed a little reticent at first to allow just one person to take a booth, but them remarked that “we’re not very busy so it’s alright.” The same server later told me they are never busy, and indeed I never saw more than three other people in there at once (7 p.m. onward) and that he wishes more people had access.
I was presented with a wine list. The wines aren’t luxury bottles but still good drinking choices. I ordered the 2015 Truchard Chardonnay which is creamy without being over-oaked. However it was served as though it was kept in a freezer — way too cold.
There are cocktails and beer as well though I didn’t partake.
First Dining has a lovely bar, with both bar stools and small tables. I had a chat with the bartender on duty, he had come from a job at Madison Square Garden, and he looked mostly bored during my visit. He simply didn’t have drinks to make. A couple of times a server came in from the outside lounge and ordered something from him but otherwise he just waited for someone in the dining area to want a cocktail. Nobody did.
Here’s the Dining Room Menu:
I ordered the duck and the arancini starters to try. I waited for a bit and then the duck was delivered first. The waiter made a show of removing the charger before bringing the appetizer.
The duck was flavorful but served too cold. I definitely get that they’ve pre-prepped the food and need to keep it refrigerated. There isn’t enough volume in the dining room to take out the food on the chance it might be ordered in the near-term.
Next up was the arancini ball, which was excellent though the tomato sauce seemed too heavily salted.
Since the goal was to get a feel for the lounge and its offerings I ordered two entrees to try as well. I first ordered the udon noodle bowl with crispy katsu chicken. I was a little afraid of splattering a soup on myself but it seemed worth the risk. The chicken was tasty, the noodles were good too.
Up next I ordered the burger, I’ve read a lot about it and it’s gotten tremendous kudos so I figured I needed to try it. And I was surprised. It exceeded expectations — it’s actually delicious. With apologies to Danny Meyer this is easily the best burger at JFK.
There’s also a dessert menu:
I ordered the chocolate trio but I was told they were out. I’m not sure how that was even possible, there had been about 5 guests in First Dining in the previous two hours, and I didn’t notice any order dessert. I was told it would take about half an hour to ‘make more’ but since my flight was delayed 90 minutes I wasn’t in a rush. In fact it took about 15 minutes to be served.
Service in dining was very good. Scott my server was friendly and checked in regularly, I heard him asking people how their time was wanting to make sure he could get everything out appropriately.
Food does take a surprisingly long time considering that there weren’t many guests and the rest of the airport’s food outlets are geared towards quick service.
Talking to other passengers about Flagship First Dining to a one they all said ‘this is REALLY nice’ and it is. It’s not a destination restaurant but it’s the best food in terminal 8. However if I had the time for a sit down meal enroute to JFK I’d still stop in at Spicy Lanka in Jamaica, Queens.
Cooked to Order Food Coming to the Broader Flagship Lounge Later This Year
Flagship First Dining is great, but most guests of the lounge aren’t able to use it. I had been told by American when the lounge first opened that there was a limited order menu that all guests would have access to but that wasn’t the case when I was there.
There were no menus in the main lounge, no one offering one, and when I asked in Flagship Dining about it they didn’t seem to think it was so. One staff member I asked near the lounge buffet said she’d never heard of such a thing — but that it would be a really nice idea to offer.
I followed up and learned that it will be later in the year before the feature launches. They had some technical issues which limit the quantity of guests they’re able to serve this way and that’s delayed cooked to order dining in the rest of the lounge.
When it does become available later in the year this will be the menu:
Areas for Improvement
There were no paper towels in the Men’s room when I was there. I know the offer paper towels because the lounge could do a better job cleaning up better after passengers who are slobs.
There just aren’t enough outlets in First Dining. There are some under the bar, and there are a couple in the dining booths but those are really tough to reach, since you’d have to go underneath the table to get to them. (There’s no outlets for the rest of the seating in the dining room at all.)
One of the light fixtures in the First Dining bar was already missing, perhaps it broke or perhaps they never even finished it properly. It’s the little things…
In a couple of spots there were seemingly random pieces of furniture that just didn’t quite belong, they may have had an intended purpose but had somehow already become divorced from that purpose.
While I waited out the last of my stay I saw a lounge staffer taking handfulls of chocolates from a bowl in the lounge. He’d shove them in his pocket and walk off. And he did this more than once during my visit.
At peak times the lounge does get busy — approaching in particular departure of transatlantic flights since the lounge is open to everyone in business class on all of those flights as well as everyone in economy with Platinum status or above and partner elites too (plus the premium cabin passengers of other oneworld airlines in the terminal). But it was more than manageable by 7 p.m. when I arrived, and earlier in the day should be peaceful as well.
The biggest failure I experienced in the lounge though was watching guests get turned away from Flagship First Dining. While I was in the dining room I watched several people who wanted to enter turned away and others who entered seemingly lost (or acting lost ‘looking for the bathroom’ to excuse themselves for being somewhere that they didn’t belong).
Staff tell me they do have arguments (“But I’m a ConciergeKey”). Since they say flagship dining is rarely crowded they would prefer to accommodate more people but they are told that unless the person has an invitation card they cannot be let in. They don’t seem to relish the confrontation but do their job.
Regardless it’s a major customer service fail to be kicking out a steady stream of premium cabin passengers and elites, who enter because it’s not obvious they aren’t supposed to. The check-in desk for Flagship Dining is inside the dining room. Moving it outside would save a lot of embarrassment and awkward confrontation, the staff member could explain what’s inside to anyone who asked rather than turning them around having already entered.
American tells me “[w]e have implemented signage to cut down on confusion. The sign will be placed outside the entrance to Flagship First Dining and says ‘Flagship First Dining – invitation only.'”
I still think that the staff member checking credentials ought to be stationed outside the dining area.
How American’s Flagship Lounge Compares
American’s Flagship Lounge is a vast improvement over their old first class lounges, and available to more customers. It’s nicer than what Delta currently offers and is competitive with United’s Polaris lounge concept.
I enjoy the food and design aesthetic of United’s Polaris lounge in Chicago better. United also has features like a relaxation suite and concierge which American lacks. United already has food to order in the Polaris lounge, something American is adding.
However United, which is phasing out international first class, doesn’t have anything which compares to American’s first class only dining concept.
I wouldn’t say that this is one of the better lounges in the world, but it’s one of the better lounges in the United States. Their champagne display is reminiscent of British Airways, their sit down dining of Cathay Pacific and Qantas (though I don’t think it comes close to Neil Perry’s menu in the Qantas first class lounge Sydney).
And it really is just a lounge, not a total ground experience, they don’t announce flight departures you’re on your own to know when to go to your gate and to get there. The best first class ground experiences include an escort from check-in to the lounge and from lounge to gate, something that American Airlines sells separately as Five Star service.
Once they add cooked to order food in the main lounge, I can find a spot and order a burger and have all the water I can drink along with a power outlet and I’m good to go. What I like most about Flagship First Dining is the respite from a sea of people, and I don’t quite get that in the main lounge.
If the tables beside the bar had power I could just sit there, by the window, and work away the afternoon… but since I’m unlikely to be flying American Airlines 3-cabin first class departing New York JFK I may not have the chance again in any case.
Accessing the Flagship Lounge and Flagship Dining
Originally I had been invited out to the lounge pre-opening to check it out but that didn’t work with my schedule. So I arranged a visit when I was in New York. I needed to go down to DC, but instead of taking the train I schlepped out to New York JFK for a regional jet that would land at a bus gate. But I wanted to see what American had done first hand.
Normally as an Executive Platinum member of American AAdvantage (or even a Platinum member) I’d have access when flying economy internationally, or when flying in business or first class internationally or on a 3-cabin premium transcon flight.
Here are the access rules for the Flagship lounge:
- Business or first class passengers flying on American or oneworld airlines flying to Asia Pacific, Europe, Central or South America and Mexico. (First class passengers may bring in one guest, business class passengers do not get guests.)
- Business or first class passengers flying non-stop New York JFK – Los Angeles or San Francisco and Los Angeles – Miami.
- American’s Platinum elite members and above flying internationally or connecting to an international flight on American or oneworld, with one guest permitted.
- ConciergeKey members even on domestic flights, with one guest permitted.
- oneworld Emerald (top tier) and Sapphire (mid tier) members even on domestic flights with one guest permitted.
Flagship Dining is accessible only to passengers flying three-cabin first class on American Airlines flights, including at this location New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco.
So far only the New York JFK Flagship lounge is open. The old first class lounges which used to be called Flagship lounges are currently dubbed International First Class Lounges and don’t yet have expanded access rules or new amenities. But we should be seeing Chicago O’Hare and Los Angeles opening soon.