Review: AA Flagship Lounge JFK and JFK-LAX Transcontinental Business Class

by Stephen

INTRODUCTION
As part of a status run to requalify for American Airlines Platinum status, I recently flew on a reasonably-priced DEN-CLT-LGA//JFK-LAX-DEN coach fare and upgraded the transcontinental segment with some 500-mile upgrade stickers. I hadn’t flown business or first on AA’s “flagship” transcontinental JFK-LAX/SFO flight in about a year and a half and wanted to see how the product had evolved, but I had also been meaning to try out the widely-lauded renovated Flagship Lounge at JFK and used this trip as an opportunity to do just that.

NEW YORK JFK FLAGSHIP LOUNGE
The refreshed JFK Flagship Lounge opened a little over a year ago to a good amount of fanfare. In addition to a larger space and refreshed decor, the new lounge also offers an improved dining experience. I was curious to see the lounge for myself, as well as to compare my thoughts on the lounge nearly a year after opening with the impressions of those who reviewed it right when it opened.

The lounge is located in the same physical space as the previous Flagship Lounge, with the elevator entrance right after security in T8 at JFK.  Immediately after the front desk is a long hallway with artwork depicting New York City.

JFK Flagship Lounge entrance hallway

I was on a 9 a.m. JFK-LAX flight and was only able to experience the lounge in the morning. When I arrived around 7:30 (this was on a Saturday), the lounge had only about 15 other passengers. Designed with AA’s new lounge aesthetic that will eventually be expanded to all of its clubs, the lounge is spacious, well-lit, and has plenty of seating.

Seating is grouped into various arrangements with individual seating and group seating, and there are plenty of tables and a good number of power ports as well.

As with the old Flagship Lounge, the renovated lounge offers great tarmac views with large windows that let in plenty of natural light.
JFK Flagship Lounge tarmac views

The self-serve bar and buffet area are in the corner of the lounge. While the improved food selection in the new Flagship Lounge has been a highly touted feature, I was only able to experience the lounge during breakfast in the morning and didn’t get a good feel for the quality of the catering. As for breakfast, the selection was respectably extensive, but I found the quality of the food to be only slightly above average. The spread was what one might expect: plenty of fruit and croissants, along with eggs, potatoes/hash browns, frittatas, and sausage. There was certainly nothing to write home about, and in my opinion breakfast isn’t worth building in extra time for.

JFK Flagship Lounge breakfast

The lounge progressively got more busy starting at around 8:30 a.m. Granted it was a Saturday morning, but even when the lounge was busy it didn’t ever feel overcrowded as others have noted it can become. Having heard so much about the Flagship Bridge, I went to the front desk to ask about it, but was told that the Flagship Bridge does not open until 2 PM. Flying in transcontinental business class, I also didn’t have access to Flagship First Dining, which has been reported to be quite good.

Finally on my way out, I stopped in to use the restroom, which is tucked away in a back corner of the lounge, on the opposite end of where the food is. In comparison to restrooms in the previous Flagship Lounge, these seemed much cleaner and more spacious.

I did not get a chance to try out the showers, so perhaps I’ll save that and Flagship First Dining for a future trip. About ten minutes before boarding, I made my way down to the terminal for my flight to LA.

AMERICAN AIRLINES FLAGSHIP TRANSCONTINENTAL BUSINESS CLASS

  • American Airlines AA255 New York JFK-Los Angeles LAX
  • July 7, 2018
  • Airbus A321T 
  • Dep: 9:52 AM Eastern Daylight Time
  • Arr: 12:32 PM Pacific Daylight Time
  • Duration: 5 hours, 4 minutes
  • Seat: 10A

I arrived at the gate just as boarding began. I’ve previously discussed my thoughts on AA’s boarding process, but one thing I have always noticed is that boarding on AA’s transcontinental flights seems to be a bit less chaotic than on most other domestic AA flights. I’m not completely sure why this is, but I imagine the much smaller cabin (112 seats on the A321T versus, say, 128 on the A319) and presumably higher proportion of very frequent fliers plays some role. At any rate, boarding was uneventful and I quickly made my way to 10A, in the last row of the business class cabin.

American’s Flagship transcontinental service has been around for almost four years now and the hard product has been extensively reviewed, so I won’t do that here. The single-aisle cabin still has a sharp and unique look with its fully-flat seats, though of course this will be a little less unique once the spate of next-gen B737 Max and A321 neos (1, 2, 3) with flat beds up front come online. While the cabin still looks good, it is certainly starting to show signs of wear and tear. Nothing at my seat was overtly broken, many of the finishes were worn down. Not quite like riding on a 25-year old Delta MD-88, but still a bit surprising considering the youth of the specialized A321T fleet.

At each seat in business class was a bottle of water and a Cole Haan amenity kit made of a water-resistant plastic material. I really do miss the older AA Eames Dot amenity kits, as the Cole Haan kits look and feel pretty cheap. Hell, even the old gray United BusinessFirst amenity kits look better in my opinion. Attached to the kit was a promo coupon for C.O. Bigelow products, which any of you readers who want to use it are welcome to.

A pre-departure beverage of water, OJ, or prosecco was offered, and though my pre-noon drinking days are generally over, I figured I’d have a glass or two of the bubbly; it was just fine. With a full business class cabin and a 7/10 first class cabin, we pushed back without delay and had a quick taxi to our runway. By 10:18 AM, we were up in the air and headed westbound. The meal service started about 15-20 minutes after takeoff and began with drinks and a warmed ramekin of very salty nuts.

While the flight attendants were perfectly friendly, they were, in typical AA fashion, not particularly polished or professional. While I’ve come to not expect being greeted by name, I was surprised by the flight attendant’s greeting of, “You ordered some sort of special meal?” I had indeed, having read so many good things about AA’s special meals, and confirmed my Hindu meal with the flight attendant.

Despite being at the back of the business cabin, my special-order meal was one of the first to come out. Keeping with the tone previously set, the flight attendant haphazardly tossed the dining place mat, which was crumpled into a ball, onto my tray table, and followed that up with a “Whoops, I did that wrong.” The meal itself was quite good, and started off with a regular/house salad accompanied by olive oil, a very flavorful chickpea salad with plastic-wrapped naan, and some fruit.

AA transcon business Hindu meal salad

The main entree consisted of rice with a chickpea curry and some seasoned potatoes. It, as well, tasted good and had a surprising but satisfying amount of heat.

AA transcon business Hindu meal entree

This was followed by a meager cheese and fruit plate that tasted as one might expect.

I do have to admit that I was impressed with the speed of the meal service. Trays were cleared off pretty quickly after I was finished, and while the service was efficient, it never felt rushed. I reclined my seat into bed mode and spent the rest of the flight sleeping. The B/E Aerospace Diamond seat is comfortable and perfectly sufficient for transcontinental or even transatlantic flights. There was plenty of space and enough privacy, and I slept well throughout the flight. The non-direct aisle access for window seats is not ideal for longer flights, but this isn’t an issue on ~5 hour flights. My only minor complaint was that the cabin was kept pretty warm, and the individual air nozzles did little to alleviate that.

I woke up a few times throughout the flight and played around with the IFE. Though there were a good number of movie and TV selections, nothing was particularly compelling so I kept the in-flight map on for the entirety of the flight. About 45 minutes outside of LAX, I woke up to the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I passed on them, but it’s certainly a nice touch that much of the cabin partook of. Our descent into LA was, as usual, sunny, gorgeous, and smooth, and by 12:22 PM Pacific Time we were on the ground. Likely because it was a weekend, we were able to avoid the congestion that generally plagues LAX, and we were parked at the gate by 12:32. I was off the plane a few minutes later and on my way to my next flight.

SUMMARY
The new-ish American Airlines Flagship Lounge at New York JFK is a definite upgrade from the previous lounge and offers an experience closer to that of international business class standards and of United’s new Polaris lounge offerings. With improved decor, much more space, and an enhanced dining program (and an even more exclusive experience with Flagship First Dining), the investment that AA has funneled into its premium product is definitely evident. It’s also encouraging to see that there hasn’t been any significant deterioration in the service and product from when the lounge opened a year ago to now. Despite reports of occasional crowding at the new lounge (given the increased number of passengers who haven access), I flew on a Saturday morning and didn’t have any issues with that.

American’s premium “Flagship” transcontinental flights, as well, continues to offer a decent product. Though its transcontinental first class is in a separate class of its own, AA’s business is comparable to that of United (though AA’s product may soon be eclipsed by UA) and maybe Delta, but as most would agree these are all a step below JetBlue’s disruptive Mint product. Would I pay >$1000 for AA transcon business? No, but I’m also not their target market. As with the Flagship Lounge, it seems that the standards of the business class product have remained more or less the same since it was first launched, without any meaningful cuts to the product.

Unfortunately, American’s transcontinental product has been getting progressively more difficult to book with miles at a reasonable (saver-level) price. Given the laughable state of AA saver award space and its ever-increasing use of married segment logic for awards, finding award space on JFK-LAX/SFO and the reverse has become a largely fruitless endeavor.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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