Review: New American Airlines Premium Check-in, New York JFK

There’s a scene in the 1987 film Wall Street where Michael Douglas lays out the dream for Charlie Sheen, “I’m not talking about some $400,000 a year working Wall Street stiff flying first class and being comfortable. I’m talking about liquid. Rich enough to have your own jet. Rich enough not to waste time.”

I’ll never be wealthy, and I’ll never own my own jet. But there are two things I really value, and not just in travel.

  • Not wasting time. I’ve said often that if you haven’t missed a flight you’re spending too much time in airports. I almost never just show up at a busy restaurant without reservations. I don’t like to queue.

  • Stress-free environment. one of the things I love about first class travel is just not being in a sea of people. My introverted personality finds being surrounded exhausting, while having plenty of space and just a few hours around calming. Add in not worrying about what time I board (I love airlines who have someone escort passengers and bring them on last), not having to worry about what I’ll eat or whether there will be something to drink.

I’ve flown private, but it was free and I’ve flown scheduled commercial, but from a private terminal. Most of the time though I’ll have to opt for the next best thing, which is avoiding the chaos of a major airport.

American Airlines and British Airways have done a nice job with their new premium check-in area at New York JFK terminal 8, which takes inspiration from the old Flagship check-in in the same space at the airport and from the British Airways First Wing at London Heathrow. This is accessible to:

  • American and BA premium cabin passengers

  • American Airlines Platinum members and above flying long haul international and premium transcon flights

  • oneworld sapphire and emerald elites from all oneworld airlines other than American flying any American or BA flight (so even domestic American). American’s ConciergeKey members can use this for domestic flights as well.

Put another way a British Airways Silver or Royal Air Maroc Gold member flying coach on an American Airlines domestic flight can use premium check-in. An American Airlines Executive Platinum on that same domestic flight cannot.

Premium check-in is just inside the first door of terminal 8, right as you approach. The terminal now highlights British Airways as a primary tenant in the American Airlines terminal. Outside that door you see a sign detailing access eligibility.

Step inside and you’ll see the entrance to a genuinely gorgeous space, with an agent out front verifying eligibility to enter. I pointed to the ConciergeKey tag on my laptop bag and was waved through. There was no need to check a list, as seemed to be the case in some Flagship check-in experiences. I wouldn’t have been on it – I’d just booked my flight a couple of hours before.

Inside there’s a long hallway that opens up to a couch and to numerous check-in desks, first that have chairs for a seated check-in and then standing agents closer to the end of the hall. It was lightly staffed when I went through at 1 p.m., long before the rush of transatlantic and South America evening and late night departures.

I was approached with an offer of help, but honestly I’d just wanted to see the space. I wasn’t checking any luggage and I was already checked in for my flight on the American Airlines mobile app. So I didn’t need anything, and walked on through.

The space opens up directly into a security line. And you’ll skip even the precheck line here. American Airlines controls the terminal, so there’s no CLEAR option (n.b. CLEAR is part-owned by both Delta and United) but this should be even faster than CLEAR most times.

Once through security you’re facing the lounge complex. To the left and up an elevator is the business class Greenwich lounge. To the right, just past Bobby Van’s and a right turn is an elevator up to the Soho and Chelsea lounges.

Overall a simple, streamlined, and elegant check-in process. Though there are a a couple of things that could make this an even better experience.

  1. There’s significant confusion over which lounge passengers have access to, that may in part be due to the naming convention (Chelsea, Soho, Greenwich which aren’t at all descriptive of access rules) and also having three separate lounges. Handing customers an invitation card corresponding to their access could help, and also alleviate any potential agent confusion at lounge check-in as well!

  2. Most passengers are going to breeze through fairly quickly, but they have seats at desks for a reason and even couches. If check-in is going to take a little while to sort, for instance if it involves changes or ticketing issues, then have light refreshments to offer – perhaps a hot towel in winter, cold in summer along with choice of bottled water, tea, iced tea or coffee?

These aren’t necessary, and the lack of these items aren’t criticisms, just easy ways to elevate the experience even more. Ultimately they provide an uncluttered check-in experience apart from the chaos of the rest of the landside terminal and front-of-line security access.

A truly elevated experience, however, would start with porters at curbside outside that door to assist with luggage and an agent who escorts the passenger through check-in, security, and to the lounge (and ultimately to the gate). In other words, the something along the lines of Five Star service American already offers, at scale.

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. It is definitely a step up from the old Flagship First check-in.

    With the old FF check-in, security at the end of the hall was TSA Pre-Check. If a travel partner did not have TSA Pre-Check, the person had to go in another line. So, is the TSA checkpoint at the end of the hall dedicated like the First Wing security checkpoint in London? Or, is it as it was prior to the remodel? Thanks.

  2. The Flagship Lounge at JFK Terminal 8 was always the best lounge in the AA network; glad they’re retaining it with the BA co-branding and updates. Truly stress-free and – with the dedicated TSA security lane – it feels like you’re on your own private G650 (almost).

  3. @Gary – are AA non-elites in 1st or business class, departing on Transcon flights (LAX/SFO) out of T8 eligible to access either premium check-in or lounges?

  4. As a BA Gold , I used this last week. It was very nice until I boarded a filthy republic airlines/American eagle flight to DC where the flight attendant told me I couldn’t hang my coat in the coat closet because it was full. Even though I was the first one on the plane. When we landed in DC, she opened the closet and took her bag out. There were no coats hanging in the coat closet. Just a lazy F/A. A typical Republic Airlines flight.

    Let’s face it – AA will never offer a premium experience. It’s just not part of their DNA.

  5. That sign indicates that Qantas is one of the T8 tenants. Have they resumed their 1-stop JFK-SYD flights?

  6. I’m not sure a Non-AA Oneworld Sapphire has access flying AA domestic flights (Emerald yes but not Sapphire). This joint AA/BA Check-in appears same as old AA Flagship Check-in for non-AA OW elite.

    Per AA website, “If you have Chelsea Lounge™ or Soho Lounge™ access, you can enjoy seated check-in for a luxurious start to your journey. Premium check-in areas lead directly to dedicated fast-track security for an exclusive experience.” Per same webpage, Soho lounge is granted to “Other oneworld® EmeraldSM”.

  7. @Peter, thanks, agree that per the website, OWS won’t have access. However, looking at the picture of the signage that Gary posted above, it seems to suggest that non-AA OWS will have access.

  8. To everyone, the various categories eligible for this new check-in are no different from those eligible under the old Flagship First check-in before the remodel. EP and PP were added (I think) in 2020 while the other categories have been in place since 2019. As a BA Gold (OW Emerald), I use Flagship First check-in at LAX all of the time for my plain vanilla AA domestic flights.

  9. I had a bad with Flagship First check-in at JFK in September. I know some of it was due to construction. But a lot to do with poor service and manners. I agree with Gary they need a luggage porter and agent to escort you through the process. At LAX, once they verify you, the man took my very heavy bags to check in then escorted me to security. Also I read your Chelsea lounge review. It sounds like it won’t be the same (as nice) experience as FF Dining. Is it still worth paying for FF out of JFK?

  10. I originated at JFK. 1-way coach ticket JFK-DFW. I am EXP on AA. Got upgraded to first class at 100 hours prior to flight. Arrived at Premium Check-in, they refused to let me in. I said I am EXP and first-class. They said you are only going to DFW and that does NOT allow you access to Premium Check-in. Same exact story at Chelsea, Soho, and Greenwich. They said you are only going to DFW and that does NOT allow you access to Chelsea, Soho, or Greenwich.

  11. As previous commenter said and Gary confirmed, this is not a FF Check-in hence it was removed from AA’s FF check-in web page. I’m still kind of surprised that they are letting non-AA OWS use this new premium check-in (even on domestic), seems pretty generous.

  12. Will be arriving at JFK to fly to LHR Arriving mid morning (leaving a cruise ship) for a 6 pm flight. Will we be able to check in hold bags and access lounge (BA Silver)?

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