Review: New American Airlines Flagship Lounge & Flagship First Dining New York JFK

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.

There’s counter-style seating near the champagne bar.

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.

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. Great comprehensive review. I’m flying to LHR in a week in first and am really looking forward to time in this lounge and especially the dining room before the flight.

  2. I thought Domestic J on a premium 3 class transcon would get an ExPlat in. Usually when I see One World Emerald regarding AA lounge access, I assume it’s One World Emerald excluding those that have it through AA status.

    Could you clarify – it doesn’t seem to be covered in your bullets (although it is in the paragraph preceding it).

    Thanks!

  3. @beachfan I’ve added the clarification, yes business class passengers on non-stop transcons JFK-LAX/SFO and LAX-MIA can access.

  4. Gary: You say this is nicer than what Delta offers, but that’s not a fair comparison because Delta, despite all of its marketing, does not offer an international first-class product.

    While Delta experimented with offering on-demand menu dining for business-class customers at a couple of lounges a year or two ago, it doesn’t offer it now. Moreover, when Delta’s flagship J.F.K. lounge had menu dining three or four years ago it wasn’t free.

    With that said, I do think American could open its dining room up to top-level elites flying on paid tickets on American metal or even any business-class passenger with a departure after 8 p.m. The dining room is probably pretty quiet after 8 p.m. anyways. Plus, it would (1) reward loyalty and (2) maximize the amount of sleep a passenger gets on already short transatlantic flights.

  5. American can’t do dining right as it’s too cost conscious on board or off
    I rarely fly them as the premium is only in the price you pay not in the product and service you receive onboard or in the lounge
    I agree Neil Perry is a genius with food and it’s 90 % of the reason I do anything to fly with Qantas over Emirates and all the other premium carriers
    And the other reason I no longer fly American is the poor award availabity
    They killer their one golden producing goose

  6. Good review. I dropped in a few weeks ago. I admitted that my EXP status and economy flight on Japan Airlines did not qualify for entrance to the Flagship First Dining room and they were nice enough to give me a tour anyway.

    This is a devaluation for EXPs who currently have access to the American International First Class Dining room at DFW and the terrific a la carte dining experience of the Cathay Pacific and Qantas first-class lounges. The extremely limited cooked-to-order menu that American will implement at a later date is no comparison. Grilled chicken caesar, mushroom flatbread and a hamburger is American’s idea of a la carte dining — (really?).

    The menu in the Flagship First Dining room is comparable to the menus of Qantas and Cathay Pacific first-class lounges. I worry that by denying Oneworld top elites access to American’s First Class Dining room, airlines like Qantas and Cathay Pacific may begin denying access to their dining rooms for EXPs. It is a shame that American EXPs are treated better on other Oneworld carriers than on American.

  7. @FNT Delta Diamond both the Flagship lounge at JFK without Flagship Dining and United’s Polaris lounge at O’Hare are better than Delta’s lounge offerings, though I believe that SkyClubs are in many cases nicer than United Clubs and Admirals Clubs. That’s without getting into 3-cabin first. But Delta’s lack of 3-cabin first simply underscores the point that they do not have a product as nice as the best product from American.

  8. AA’s beer and liquor selection seems a big notch short of the UA Polaris Lounge

    Amazed that UA and DL have had craft beer partnerships going for a couple years now and AA still has nothing

  9. @FNTDeltaDiamond and other deltaphiles, IMO the comparison between American and Delta lounges is completely fair. Just because Delta refuses to offer first class is no reason to deny that the Flagship Lounges and Flagship First Dining is far superior to anything Delta offers. Delta alludes to an ersatz first class product by referring to its international business class as DeltaOne. It slaps a door on a business class seat and calls it an enclosed suite (new A350). There are things that Delta does better than American but Delta’s best SkyClubs (JFK T4, ATL B and F, and SEA A) fall way short of American’s Flagship Lounges. End of story.

  10. @Gary Leff “Once I requalify for American AAdvantage Executive Platinum I’m thinking of crediting my flights to a oneworld partner frequent flyer program…” Not going for bust on Concierge Key?

    Good review. Hopefully the First Class lounges at DFW and LAX will meet a similar standard sometime this millennium.

  11. @Woofie – I probably wouldn’t get there based on revenue and even if I could there’s no guarantee of it at any given spend level

  12. From the American Airways website concerning the new Flagship Lounge concerning One World Emerald or Sapphire members:
    Get access if you’re departing on or connecting to any flight marketed and operated by American or a oneworld® airline (regardless of cabin).**
    The double asterisk explanation is this:
    **American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum customers traveling solely on North American itineraries do not qualify for Flagship Lounge access. North America is defined as the United States (including Hawaii and Alaska), Canada, Mexico (except MEX), Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean.
    This seems to mean that the humble Silver BA passenger is entitled to the full lavish offering by simply flying from JFK to Washington DC! I remember getting into the lounge easily a few years ago, but this has upped the ante significantly. Or am I deluding myself?

  13. @Roger Callan – yes a British Airways silver member can use the Flagship lounge on a domestic flight in economy, but they cannot access Flagship First Dining.

  14. @Gary Leff, I know it looks like there are no paper towels in the main bathroom but they ARE there. They are hidden under the big mirror and there is a small obscured sign telling you that paper towels are under the mirror. They’re hidden – but there!

    I’m in that lounge often and the Flagship First dining room (thank you Cathay Pacific First class booked usually with Asia Miles). They will customize a meal for you in Flagship dining if you ask. For me they make a delicious tofu steak covered in ponzu sauce 🙂

  15. You say business to Mexico qualifies but isn’t it only business to Mexico City? Cancun and other Mexico destinations get no club access. isn’t that correct?

  16. I was there on Friday, and they did have a “Invitation only” sign and a little seat & desk for someone to be stationed there (but there wasn’t anyone there.)

    Also, at 3-5pm on Friday, it was PACKED. I got a seat, just, but visiting the restroom 3 times found it was full up and I came back later. Ended up using the facilities in the terminal on my way to the gate.

  17. I just visited the Flagship Lounge yesterday and outside the Flagship First Dining room they did have a sign posted saying Invite only. Must be new bc of the problems you were describing. The lounge was very quiet all morning long but it definitely picked up in the afternoon. However many in the lounge were not flying on American. I had access to the lounge bc of a business class ticket on Finnair. The food was pretty good and the showers were nice. I agree with the towel in the restrooms u have to dry your hands with paper! Make sure u grab a seat at the window so u can plane watch!

  18. I’m still trying to figure this out: If I’m flying LAX-JFK in business, and then connecting to JFK-DCA in first, will I have access to the Flagship Lounge in JFK?

  19. Oh goody. Fancy perks at the cost of us lesser passengers. Here’s how American Airlines treats us: after charging over $250. for a one -way 350 mile flight from Pittsburgh to New York, they cancel the flight on a sunny summer evening. But not before keeping its passengers waiting 5+ hours to learn of the cancellation. And how will the passenger who was scheduled for this one and a quarter hour flight get to New York? American Airlines proposes to fly her the following evening to Charlotte, give her a voucher for an overnight stay and finally fly her to her destination TWO DAYS AND MANY MORE MILES LATER.
    So an airline that can’t fly a passenger a short distance in fewer than three days has a fancy lounge that can’t be reached ? Isn’t their job to fly, not run restaurants?

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