American’s Brand New Chicago O’Hare Business Class Lounge Opens Thursday, Here’s What’s inside

Last night I had an opportunity to visit the new American Airlines Flagship Lounge at Chicago O’Hare for its pre-opening party in advance of its opening tomorrow.

The old Chicago O’Hare First Class Lounge at the end of the K gates will close Wednesday night and won’t re-open. Eventually American says that H and K piers will be connected for passengers to walk through.

Thursday morning at 3:30 a.m. the new Flagship Lounge will open. It’s one floor below the main H/K Admirals Club, about 17,000 square feet on the second floor.

And goodness knows it can’t come soon enough. I stopped by American’s pre-opening Open House celebration for the new Flagship Lounge and since I arrived an hour early I went to the Admirals Club first. Agents were letting guests know it was standing room only up there. The Admirals Club remains under renovation, and is packed.

Opening up the Flagship lounge will mean that all of the people currently using the Admirals Club because they’re partner elites and international business class passengers will move downstairs to the Flagship Lounge and relieve some of the crowding in the club. And it’ll draw them downstairs because it’s nicer.

Inside the Lounge

You come out the elevator and to your side is the entrance to the lounge. Someone will check and take your invitation card, which you’ll be given at lounge check-in.

After all anyone who gains entrance to the Admirals Club goes to the elevators and presses the button either for the second floor (Flagship Lounge) or third floor (Admirals Club). So this paper invitation system is how they check credentials. I should have picked up some extra invites while I was there.

The lounge isn’t very deep. It’s long. And as a result there’s plenty of light, the whole length of the lounge runs along the window line and it makes for some fabulous views.

The whole lounge really is one long room, with different types of seating areas creating a sense of separation.

I’m disappointed by the Quiet Area. It’s their version of a nap room but there’s no separation at all between lounge chairs. The lack of a divider of some kind is a lost opportunity.

There’s a media room at the far end of the lounge.

Also towards the end of the lounge are showers.

Lounge Food and Beverage

The dining area features a buffet, chef station, wine and champagne display, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage stations.

There’s Bollinger champagne and a wide variety of wines.

The liquor is self-pour with premium (but not super-premium) bottles.

There’s a beer fridge and a non-alcohol beverage fridge. The bottles of water are small, but easy to grab to go before a flight.

It’s worth noting that on the other side of the lounge, similar to the New York JFK lounge, there’s a cocktail station apart from the main alcohol setup.

I’d rate this better than a Snack Tower of Sadness.

In the dining room there were two buffet setups, one with hot items like salmon, chicken, and potato rosti and one with cold items like cheeses, meats, and sushi. I thought the choice of chicken was a bit strange, these are large pieces that could be challenging and messy to eat.

Cooked to order menu items are still under development, and I heard two versions of what to expect. At New York JFK there’s afternoon cooked to order food in the ‘Bridge’ area of the lounge, a subset of items available at Flagship First Dining. The goal is to expand that, and it’s taken longer than originally expected because it’s a logistical challenge to do cooked to order food for so many people out of the kitchen, turn over dishware, with appropriate staffing levels.

There seemed to be a school of thought that they might not ultimately roll it out, though it was still something they talked about, given that they have a chef station beside the buffet. They’re offering a single item there.

A breakfast item will be available and then it will change over with the rest of the buffet at 11 a.m. though it won’t be available until close.

In addition to the main dining area there’s a second extension area with dining seating that was originally designed to be the place for Flagship First Dining. In New York (and Miami and Los Angeles when they open) there’s a lounge-within-a-lounge for first class passengers only, although there was some hint of discussions that access could be broadened in the future.

This space offers sit-down dining and a private bar. Chicago, which doesn’t offer 3-cabin first class either on cross country or international flights, ultimately didn’t build this into the lounge.

In this area was a cake to celebrate the lounge.

The Race Against United

American has managed to open its second new premium business class lounge (after New York JFK) before United has opened their second one. And they’ll open Miami and Los Angeles this year as well. Although in fairness the new Chicago Flagship Lounge isn’t quite as nice as the JFK one, and isn’t as nice as United’s Polaris lounge in the O’Hare airport.

While I think the best Delta SkyClubs are nicer than United Clubs and American’s Admirals Clubs, these new business class lounges are much nicer than Delta’s clubs and Delta isn’t currently matching with separate premium class lounges.

Accessing the American Airlines Flagship Lounge

The following passengers have access, although the way to think of this is that it’s a business class lounge — open to American Airlines Platinum elites and higher flying international, ConciergeKey members flying domestic, business class passengers and oneworld sapphire (mid-tier) elites any time.

  • 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.
  • Non-American Airlines oneworld Emerald (top tier) and Sapphire (mid tier) members even on domestic flights with one guest permitted.

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. So who does that leave slumming it in the regular Admirals Club? Is it just paid memberships and day passes that are not invited to Flagship?

  2. Was there any indication that this food/liquor spread will be standard or do you think they were sprucing it up for the pre-opening party? I’ve been to the Flagship First Dining Room at DFW and it was abysmal. If they’re using that as a starting point, then I’m expecting this Flagship Lounge to suffer almost immediately.

  3. @AdamR – I specifically asked about the wine and was told it’s what would be served. Flagship First Dining at DFW was a temporary solution and isn’t the starting point.

  4. @swag – correct, it’s pretty much just paid (whether cash or premium credit card signup) and day passes in the Admirals Club. Everyone there by virtue of elite status or class of service goes to Flagship. At JFK that has made the main Admirals Club really a better place to sit, go get your food in flagship and walk over to the Admirals Club..

  5. Your last bullet point means non-AA oneWorld sapphire members, correct? AA Platinums and Platinum Pros are Sapphire.

  6. Wow, this changes things a lot. AA miles are bank again to be great things to horde.

    Gary I give you permission to push AA credit cards on me.

  7. “these new business class lounges are much nicer than Delta’s clubs”

    Honestly looking at these photos, the DL sky club in terminal B (or F) at ATL seems significantly better to me — with the possible exception of quality of the free booze, but I don’t drink in airports, so that doesn’t really affect me. What I care about for had product is a clean space, enough seating and edible, reasonably healthy food–and good coffee. Where Delta even further blows past AA is the quality and level of service provided by the staff.

  8. I will be using my AA miles for a trip to Tokyo. I can’t wait to use the Flagship lounge. It is better than any Delta lounge and unlike I can bring in a guest for free. Delta charges $27. Gary you were lucky to have been invited for the pre opening.

  9. @Gary,
    If you are Platinum and up, and just arrived on an International OneWorld flight in Business, but are connecting to a domestic AA flight, does that enable access?

    Or if not to the flagship club, how about the regular Admirals?

  10. Seems like a tacky lounge full of riff raff. I’ll bet none of these people even paid for access. If I’m paying for a first class international ticket I expect privacy and exclusivity. I don’t want to be thrown in with a bunch of freeloaders looking for cheap alcohol.

  11. Interesting photos and description. Seeing the tacky m&m’s and sheet cake (yeah I know it’s a one-time thing, celebrate with a tacky sheet cake) makes me seriously ponder this astute comment:

    “Seems like a tacky lounge full of riff raff. I’ll bet none of these people even paid for access. If I’m paying for a first class international ticket I expect privacy and exclusivity. I don’t want to be thrown in with a bunch of freeloaders looking for cheap alcohol.”

    Because goodness knows with no dividers people won’t be going there for some rest.

    Am guessing the premium brands disappear and the m&m’s prevail.

  12. Glad I didn’t sign up for that $450 AA card expecting the Admirals Clubs would be getting any love. At least this should reduce overcrowding?

  13. I read on another blog the reason the relaxation room doesn’t have a proper closed-off separation is because it was forbidden due to Chicago fire safety laws. The slats was the best they could do.

  14. This will make the elevator ride to the AA Club a bit more tedious. I always like taking the stairs–but they are closed off. Having to now stop all the time won’t be fun!

  15. That admirals club has the slowest elevator.
    I was at the FL Thursday night. It was ok. The wifi was slow and unusable. I much prefer the old FL by K 18. Much more intimate and not overrun by the masses.
    Some of the people there were just shocked to see things like salmon and beef.

  16. Any idea when Miami will open? Originally I thought Chicago was supposed to be after Miami but obviously either I was wrong or work in Florida has been slower than work at O’Hare.

  17. @M.B. – Miami is expected to be this year, probably November, as of last week they were evaluating what Hurricane Irma would mean for construction schedule.

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