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.
- 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!
- 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.