REVIEW: American Airlines Flagship Lounge (JFK)
After having Admirals Club membership a few years ago with the Citi AA Executive card, I had well acquainted myself to the paltry snack options and ended up only using it as a place to have some drinks and rest before or in between flights. With the rise in American Express Centurion Lounges as well as other lounge access through Priority Pass, it was an easy decision for me to not prioritize access to AA lounges.
Having said that, when I read that the AA Flagship Lounge was getting an overhaul to cater more towards international flights, I was really excited to check out the new lounge.
I had access from my international business class flight on AA from JFK to LHR. Additionally, you can have access by flying international First/Biz on a Oneworld flight or if you have specific elite status. Unfortunately, Canada does not count as international (at least with AA elite status) so that Cathay Pacific JFK-YVR flight probably won’t apply (but I haven’t tried).
If you are flying First class, there’s also a separate area within the lounge called Flagship First Dining that has a la carte dining and a craft cocktail bar, which I unfortunately didn’t get to try this time.
The lounge is conveniently located just after security and it shares a check-in desk with the Admirals Club, which is in a separate area to the right. Of note, T8 security lines can be very crazy with the amount of international flights. TSA Precheck and Priority Lanes help alleviate that but do plan accordingly.
Design & Comfort
Upon walking through the automatic doors, you walk down this long hallway and nearing the end, I was instantly taken with how large the space was. When I arrived at 5pm, it was quite busy and hard to find somewhere to sit. It got significantly less busy at 6pm (as a lot of flights left around then) but got a bit busier again around 8pm (for the 10pm+ flights).
It can be quite loud depending on who’s talking (noise travels and echoes quite far). On my visit, a lot of people happened to be speaking loudly, facetiming without headsets, or listening to videos on speaker phone, which was very distracting. Additionally, on my day in particular, there were a lot of dropped and broken items by staff and passengers. It happened so often that it didn’t faze the staff at all, instead laughing it off like they made a game of it.
Luckily, there is a quiet room but its overall color scheme and design felt too drab for me to want to spend much time in there.
Design-wise, I mostly like it. It feels airy and bright with a lot of natural light coming in. It’s very open concept, you can see the entire space from almost anywhere you sit. It’s not overly cramped with seating and I actually feel like they could have put more seating if they wanted without losing walkability. There’s some good pops of color and lovely wooden accents throughout the space, especially on the ceiling of the center dining/bar area.
For solo flyers or small groups, if you don’t mind the sun, sitting by the window watching the planes is quite soothing. You can also take advantage of the small cluster of seats that surround one of three TVs.
If you need to do some work, the wifi was very fast and capable even at peak times, and there are also some nice semi-private desk seating etched into the wall, that resemble pods or airplane seats but it can still be quite noisy with the proximity to some of the other seats.
Some of the furniture choices feel a bit inconsistent for me. They vary in color, style, and comfort and the look — while producing segmentation within a large space — feels like it mixes high end and low end without cohesion.
Upon navigating the space, the spatial planning was problematic. My biggest issue was the bar seating in the middle, which my first impression felt right and clever but upon use, it was a bit awkward since you are sandwiched between a narrow walkway and booth seating. That walkway gets a good amount of foot traffic with luggage, so it is not the most comfortable. And with the booth seating, you would be staring at the back of someone’s head, and if the situation was reversed — as I experienced, any amount of talking or noise done from the bar seats behind you would go right into your ears.
I was impressed with all the different options that were available. All food and drink is self-serve and buffet style. The staff was pretty good about replenishing throughout the day, although the buffet was not the tidiest during peak times.
The Tenderloin was flavorful, very peppery. The Potato Salad was quite nice, and I liked the horseradish in it. The Fricassee of Chicken was a bit dry and forgettable. The Salmon was also dry, and did not have much flavor. The Apple Fennel Salad was good but would be better colder. And there was nothing Thai about that Thai Noodle Salad, a definite miss. I enjoyed the French Onion Soup. It’s not as heavy or fatty as the ones I’m used to — probably because there’s no buttery cheesy slice of bread on top, which I wouldn’t mind having that option (nudges AA).
My favorite part of the savory options were these small cold amuse bouche dishes — and interestingly enough, they are on an anti-griddle to keep the dishes cold.
The Chilled Crab was quite good — sweet, fresh, though it did have some shells. There was also a Cocktail Shrimp but not as exciting.
The dessert area had a bunch of cookies and pastries, as well as whoopie pies. Both the chocolate and red velvet whoopie pies were nice. They weren’t dry, but are a bit sweet but not cloyingly so and would go well with coffee.
Beer and liquor were by the buffet area, and the wine had its own special area in the middle of the lounge. There was also a specialty cocktail area near the wine. I’ve read it’s been used before for a bloody mary bar or manhattans.
On my visit, it was a bit less involved with a pre-bottled cocktail: Fred’s Ruby Red Cocktail from Austin Cocktails, accompanied by some grapefruit, lemon, and lime wedges. It was quite refreshing but I made it better by adding some champagne.
Bathroom & Shower
The shower itself was really big, with a bench area, and the shower head doesn’t even wet more than half the shower area. There’s also a toilet in each suite.
The shower came with three towels of differing sizes. There’s also a hairdryer, vanity mirror, and a handset to call for anything you may need. All products were from C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries, Lime & Coriander scented.
The general bathrooms (at least the male one) can be a bit loud and the stalls aren’t fully enclosed so if you want more privacy, I would suggest using the toilet in the shower suite.
All in all, it’s a major improvement to Terminal 8, especially since there’s no alternative (the only lounges in T8 are AA-operated). There were definitely a lot of kinks still — broken glass, heavy traffic and noise during peak times, some odd spatial configurations once you physically navigate and use the spaces — but it’s still a vast improvement to what was there before and is probably the best lounge from a domestic airline I’ve been to.
Also of note, Cathay Pacific flights have recently moved to T8 so this would be the lounge you’d have access to. My biggest concern with this is I take that Cathay JFK-YVR flight a lot and given AA’s policy as not counting Canada as international, I’m not sure if even flying Cathay premium would give access to the lounge.