American Airlines has rolled out four Flagship Lounges, all excellent, and there are several more slated to come online. I had a chance to visit the newest one in Los Angeles during the week.
The State of Airport Lounges in the U.S. (or Flagship Lounges in Context)
The quality of airport lounges has gotten substantially better in the U.S. over the past several years.
- Airlines will tell you it’s because the industry has ‘stabilized’ because of consolidation and consistent profits. In fact an economy that’s avoided recession for a prolonged period of time, combined with low oil prices, have driven profits. And there’s money to be made in the premium passenger segment.
- And with the rise of joint ventures US airlines are increasingly trying to sell to partner airline frequent travelers whose expectations for ground and inflight experience exceed those that US customers have become used to.
- Airport lounges have increasingly mattered over the last 15 years as customers leave earlier for the airport than they did pre-TSA because of uncertainty in the time that it will take to clear the security checkpoint.
As American Express lost access to American and US Airways lounges for its members (US Airways lounges being a replacement for Continental lounges which it lost with their United merger) they’ve been building out a high quality network. And they’ve learned that nice lounges will be frequented by more passengers and for longer than anyone would expect, even accounting for how nice lounges will be frequented by more passengers and for longer than expected. Their curse is their success, the lounges are often way too busy, and they’re expanding the size of Dallas Fort-Worth and Miami lounges.
United, American, and Delta have been renovating and investing in pay-in lounges. Delta’s food offerings are better here than United’s or American’s. But Delta doesn’t have anything that competes with United and American on their new generation of international business class lounges.
United rolled out its first Polaris lounge a year ago at Chicago O’Hare, but has been woefully behind with the rest of the lounges and so far there isn’t even a second one while American has done a great job opening its suite of new international business class lounges, first at New York JFK and then Chicago followed by Miami and now Los Angeles — all in the last 7 months.
They’ll still be opening Flagship lounges in Philadelphia, Dallas Fort-Worth, and London Heathrow.
Overall amongst U.S. airline lounges I’d rank:
- American Flagship First Dining
- United Polaris
- American Flagship Lounge
- A big gap
- Delta SkyClub
- American, United, and Alaska clubs
While American’s Flagship lounge isn’t as nice as the one and only United Polaris lounge to date they’ve done a great job with a quality business class lounge that meets world standard while be accessible to many.
I had the chance to check out their new Los Angeles Flagship lounge and — even though it’s smaller than Miami’s, and allows access to far more people than the old Flagship lounge at LAX did — it’s really nice and while it got busy it was never overcrowded during my half day visit.
Key Details Accessing the American Airlines Flagship Lounge LAX
These are international business class lounges. If you’re flying international business or first on American or another oneworld airline you have access, or business or first Los Angeles – New York JFK.
If you’re a Concierge Key member, an AAdvantage Platinum or above flying internationally, or a oneworld mid-tier elite you have access.
Premium cabin and American’s own Platinums flying in coach get access not just on flights to Asia, Europe and South America but also to Central America and Mexico City — but not elsewhere in Mexico, not Canada, and not the Caribbean.
First and business class customers can bring in a guest. Elites cannot, except that ConciergeKey members can bring in their immediate family or two guests.
The American Airlines Flagship Lounge Los Angeles is 13,000 square feet and seats 210 people. That may not sound like a lot, but unlike New York JFK which clusters its international departures in the early evening and Miami which has a substantial number of evening departures to Central and South America, Los Angeles international and transcon flying is spaced throughout the day.
For instance London is in the evening, but Sao Paolo is an afternoon departure. Sydney, Auckland, and Hong Kong leave late at night.
The lounge opens at 4:45 a.m. and closes at 12:45 a.m. daily.
Touring the Lounge
American’s Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge in terminal 4 are directly across from gate 40. They share an entrance. Walk through the doors and agents verify your credentials.
If you’re eligible for the Flagship lounge you’ll be given a black invitation card. Take the elevator upstairs to both the Flagship lounge and the Admirals Club. Flagship is to the left and you’ll hand your black invitation card to an agent outside the door.
Directly inside the Flagship lounge there are more agent desks on your right for travel assistance, and a gorgeous entryway ahead.
The Flagship lounge was crowded when I came in around 10:25 a.m. However if you head right when you enter instead of left you’re walking towards the bathrooms and Flagship Dining.
That’s a nice placement for Flagship Dining because there’s less foot traffic, and it’s less awkward that so many people in the lounge don’t get to go in there (this is important because the reception for Flagship Dining is inside the space, not outside, so lounge guests have to go inside to learn they aren’t welcome — a problem at other Flagship Dining facilities in New York and Miami as well).
Past Flagship Dining is a very quiet area that was completely empty. That’s where the lounging chairs are. There’s no privacy for resting, my biggest complaint about Flagship lounges, but the room itself was empty so that balances out somewhat.
The main area of the lounge features seating at one end and dining on the other. Along the entire wall is glass looking out over airport operations.
Across the alley is the Tom Bradley terminal.
Turning to the left the dining area is large with plenty of seating, and different kinds of seating.
This area has the ‘Flagship lounge signature lighting’ which I’m not really a fan of aesthetically but does offer consistency across their lounges (along with consistent backsplash behind the bar areas, and similar furnishings).
Turning to the right there’s a television area and seating along a narrow corridor.
There’s a business area, but unfortunately no private cubicles for working.
One thing that there isn’t enough of is power outlets. They exist throughout the lounge, but I was surprised by how many seating areas didn’t have them. Perhaps there will be enough that do, although I’d hate to be relegated to an area without them when the lounge is busy. Some of the outlets are in the floor where you have to get down on hands and knees and use two hands to plug in a cord — one to open the outlet and hold it open while the other sticks in the plug. That was awkward and I bet many of you would have enjoyed watching me doing it, pointing, and laughing.
The Flagship Lounge has 8 showers, and the adjoining Admirals Club has 3. (Flagship and Admirals Clubs flipped locations, so the Admirals Club used to have more showers than Flagship.) Between the two lounges showers are used an average of 125 times per day.
The showers are gorgeous, it’s unquestionably something American Airlines does well.
Buffet and Self Pour Drinks
The kitchen and dining area features soft drinks as well as a self pour bar. There’s also self pour wine and Bollinger champagne which is certainly respectable in a business lounge.
At breakfast there’s meats, cheeses, fruits, patries, yogurts and the like. I’m thrilled to see they have a nice smoked salmon display as well.
There are hot items like eggs, bacon, and the bananas foster bread pudding is sinful. There’s also congee in the hot section as well. And the morning features sushi too.
Afternoon and evening change over to a different menu. Like at breakfast there’s one buffet with predominantly cold items and one buffet that’s mostly hot.
The buffet menu is changed up monthly.
I found the shrimp salad in individual shot glasses to really encapsulate the approach to food in the lounge. There’s a very nice spread, but there’s also real attention paid to cost. They use small plates so you don’t take too much at once. Here they put a couple of small bay shrimp on top of a dollop of guacamole (so the glass looks more full). It’s a nice presentation — but it’s also almost like their mantra is the jerk store episode of Seinfeld called ‘The Comeback’: “The ocean called, they’re running out of shrimp.”
Cooked to Order Omelettes and Vietnamese Pho
In addition to the buffet there’s a “chef action station” which means someone is available to make food to order. In the morning it’s omelettes and in the afternoon it’s Pho (Vietnamese soup).
I walked up to the omelette station at 10:32 a.m., the chef was making someone an omelette, but he told me “we’re closed, sorry.” I was two minutes late, they stop making omelettes at 10:30 a.m. That was a reminder that this is a business class product, not a highly personalized first class product, no matter how nice it is otherwise. And indeed I was two minutes past cut-off.
In the afternoon and then again in the late evening they prepare customized Pho.
I’m impressed by the speed with which American has rolled out their Flagship lounges. They’re offering a high quality business class lounge product. The LAX lounge gets busy, but while I was there it wasn’t a madhouse. Food and beverage options, as well as showers, are quite good.
While I often skip the Admirals Club unless I need help with a reservation, it’s at least worth stopping in here if you’re eligible for a snack.
I do wish they’d offer even more outlets and better private relaxation or nap areas, though. When I asked about this I was told that they worried about customers having sex in the lounge if given too much privacy, and also that if customers went to sleep they’d miss their flights. Surely these are issues that can be managed while at the same time doing a better with nap chairs than they’re offering in the lounge today.