A Look At American’s New Flagship Dining Facility At JFK

American has just opened their new Flagship First Dining facility at JFK, and I had the chance to check it out earlier in the week.

American’s radical lounge changes

Last February American announced some major changes that they’re making to their lounges, which impact those traveling in international first and business class. These changes primarily come in two forms.

First of all, American is opening Flagship First Dining facilities, which will be available exclusively to passengers traveling in American’s three cabin first class. The first such facility is now open in New York, and the concept will soon be expanded to other American hubs (later this year we’ll see the concept expanded to Los Angeles and Miami, and in the future it will be expanded to Dallas and London). With this new offering, eligible international first class customers can have a full a la carte meal with table service in the lounge prior to their flight. This really is going after a very small subset of passengers, given that long term only American’s 777-300ER and A321T aircraft will feature three cabin first class; American is in the process of removing first class from their 777-200s.


American’s A321T first class

On top of that, American is revamping their Flagship Lounges. Historically these were open only to oneworld first class passengers and oneworld Emerald members, while soon they’ll be available to all international first and business class passengers, as well as oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members. So these lounges will be expanded in size, though will also accommodate significantly more passengers.


American’s renovated Flagship Lounge JFK

In March I wrote a review of the renovated Flagship Lounge JFK, though at the time it didn’t yet have the new food options and it wasn’t completely open.

A look at the new JFK American Flagship First Dining facility

American had a media event for the new Flagship First Dining facility on Tuesday, including being able to try the new food. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it, though did happen to be traveling through JFK on Monday, so they were kind enough to give me a tour. You’ll notice a bit of clutter in the lounge, and that’s because the lounge wasn’t even ready to be shown, but rather they were still working on the finishing touches. So don’t hold that against American, as they were being gracious by giving me the tour.

The new Flagship First Dining facility is located inside the new Flagship Lounge.

When you enter the Flagship Lounge, just hang a sharp right and you’ll see the double doors to the Flagship First Dining facility on the very right.

The lounge is a stunning space, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the tarmac. I’m very impressed by the lounge’s shiny finishes, though perhaps that’s not fully captured in the pictures due to it being a rainy day.

The facility has a total of 15 dining tables, roughly evenly split between rectangular tables, circular tables, and booths.

All the tables accommodate two, except I suppose the booths could accommodate three (though I imagine you won’t have three people traveling together in international first class all that often).

On top of that, there was a bar area with seating for five, as well as a couple of lounge-style tables. The intention is that you eat in the Flagship First Dining facility and then hang out in the Flagship Lounge, so this isn’t necessarily a place you’d linger (though I suppose you could if you wanted to, assuming no one was waiting to use it).

Flagship First Dining menu

The lounge will have roughly the same hours as the Flagship Lounge, so it will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Here’s the breakfast menu (the actual menu presentation will be better — this is out of their training booklet):

And here’s the all day dining menu:

Like I said, unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to try the food, though I suspect the quality will be pretty good. Apparently the Flagship Burger will be a staple item at all Flagship First Dining facilities, while the rest of the menu will vary.

At the end of the meal guests will be presented with a cute clipboard that looks like a check but really just says “Thank You.”

I asked about the expectations of tipping in the lounge. I like to be cognizant of how people make a living and what they rely on. As I suspected, tips aren’t expected, but are appreciated. That’s to say that the servers in the lounge have higher base pay than servers usually would, though I do suspect they’ll rely on tips from some. Personally I’d certainly tip if using this lounge.

My thoughts on the Flagship First Dining facility

American did a nice job with the Flagship First Dining facility at JFK. The space has beautiful finished and plenty of natural light, which I appreciate.

While I have concerns about the crowding in the Flagship Lounge, I think the Flagship First Dining is plenty large. Actually, I’m surprised that this is a concept that American is investing in, as there are only a very limited number of passengers who are likely to use this:

  • This facility will probably be most popular with passengers traveling on American’s dozen plus daily flights from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco
  • At the moment American’s only 777-300ER routes out of JFK are to London and Sao Paulo, so those are their only international flights with first class
  • In theory passengers connecting to international first class out of Miami, Dallas, etc., would also have access, though typically those passengers would be flying out of LGA and not JFK

So it seems like this facility will mostly be used by transcon first class passengers, though given that there are no westbound redeyes, I’m not sure how much value such a facility really adds. Typically the benefit of pre-flight dining is to maximize rest onboard, and that’s less useful on a six hour westbound flight than on a six hour eastbound redeye.

So it’s an interesting choice, especially as it comes at the same time that American is eliminating first class on their fleet of 777-200s.

Lastly, I think it should be pointed out that United’s Polaris Lounge in Chicago also offers a la carte dining, except that’s open to business class passengers. So I’d say United has an edge here, though do note that American will also offer a limited menu in the Flagship Lounge (though it sounds like it won’t be as extensive as United’s menu, and won’t really be a dining “experience”).

Interestingly American’s press release claims that they are the “first U.S. airline to open a restaurant-style dining experience on the ground,” which seems like a bit of a stretch. I suppose this is because it’s a “separate” experience from the main lounge, though the United Polaris lounge also has menus, servers, etc.

Bottom line

American did a great job with their new Flagship First Dining facility, and this will be a nice treat for eligible passengers. I can’t imagine the lounge will ever get too full. I’m excited to try this myself sometime soon, to see how good the food actually is.

What do you make of American’s new Flagship First Dining facility?

Comments

  1. @ Singularity — Nope, only American metal first class passengers. Cathay Pacific passengers will “only” have access to the Flagship Lounge.

  2. @ Coldagglutannin — In fairness, those aren’t the actual menus, but rather that was out of the training book, which is why. Sorry!

  3. TPG is saying Oneworld access:

    But as of today, it’ll be known as the Flagship First Lounge, and will be available to passengers traveling in first or business class on international flights operated by American or a Oneworld airline as well as passengers flying first or business class on board AA’s premium transcontinental routes between JFK and LAX/SFO.

    Any idea what is correct?

  4. Hey @lucky sorry but the following information “At the moment American operates a single 777-300ER between New York and London, which is their only international flight out of JFK with first class” is wrong. They also use their 777-300ER on AA951 between JFK and GRU – São Paulo, Brazil. You might want to correct the post. Cheers

  5. “As I suspected, tips aren’t expected, but are appreciated. That’s to say that the servers in the lounge have higher base pay than servers usually would, though I do suspect they’ll rely on tips from some. Personally I’d certainly tip if using this lounge.”

    Setting aside our ridiculous tipping culture for a moment, either AA is claiming a “tip credit” for these folks, i.e. Legally paying them less than minimum wage on account of the expectation of tips, or they are not claiming such credit, i.e. they are being paid minimum wage.

    If it’s the latter, they are not entitled to–nor should they be “relying” on– tips anymore than the cashier at your local grocery store would be entitled to tips.

  6. @ Steve — That’s referring to the lounge on the whole, and not the Flagship First Dining facility (and it’s not accurate either, as it will be known as the Flagship Lounge, and not the Flagship First Lounge).

  7. @ AJK — And that’s why tipping is discretionary. 😉 I suspect they’re paid at least minimum wage, though personally I have higher expectations of service in what’s supposed to be a good restaurant rather than a grocery store checkout lane.

  8. If i am flying first or international business class and paying all that money for tickets i think its absurd to also have to tip. They can certainly afford to pay their employees enough. This isn’t some random bar in the terminal.

  9. Cathay (and BA, QF, QR) fly from T7 so using a T8 lounge is pretty lame considering those airlines would not have TSAPreCheck and normal (even premium) lines at JFK T8 are rather lengthy. Other OW carriers flying from T8 only offer J front cabins.

    As for pre-dinner dining for transcontinental F passengers, it does permit them to work late at the office then catch the last two flights west with an extra hour or two of sleep or whatever having eaten dinner in the lounge. Or uninterrupted work as they’ll arrive in LA or SF before midnight and have plenty of time to sleep further on the coast.

  10. In terms of “west bound red eyes,” AA does have a daily 9pm departure to LAX, and even a 10pm a few days. I think between the transcons and the LHR and GRU flights, the Flagship dining will hopefully be utilized without ever being slammed.

  11. I’m often on the AA transcons out of JFK to SFO and LAX. My company will pay for business, but I often will upgrade to F on miles, so theoretically I would use this amenity a decent amount. The food in F on American is decent, but hit or miss – theoretically, the food in flagship first looks better. But I would have to get to JFK earlier give myself an extra hour or two to enjoy it, resulting in taking later flights and getting to the West Coast later. Also, it would be awkward to either eat two dinners (in the lounge and onboard) or to decline the onboard dinner. The amenity makes the most sense on the West Coast, where you could eat dinner and then get on a redeye. The issue is that AA is adding this at LAX, but not SFO. So overall I agree with Lucky that the amenity may not be used that much.

    In general, the enhanced lounge seems to be a way to protect AA marketshare on the transcons vs JetBlue (which I’ve tried and is a great product), Delta and United. GIven American often price matches on these routes, including Flagship lounge access is a good perk. It’s also great for business international routes

  12. @lucky if traveling transcon in F LAX>JFK will I have access to Flagship dining on arrival? (Have an onward flight on Different PNR on AY later that day) I have been given access before to Flagship lounge on arrival on transcon F just don’t know if the dining will be different

  13. @Levi – it’s a good question. In the past, I have been denied Flagship Lounge access on arrival (and I assume they’d deny Flagship Dining as well), but I’d be interested in hearing info from others and any helpful data points.

  14. @ Levi — I could be mistaken, but I don’t believe so. I think you’d only get access if departing in first class, but let me follow up and ask.

  15. @lucky I’ll be going through in July with that itinerary and I didn’t want to get my hopes up but any additional information you could find out would be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance!

    Levi

  16. “Personally I’d certainly tip if using this lounge.”

    At this point I lost any interest in the flagship first dining. Not worth it.

  17. If you can afford to fly revenue international business class or first class and you refuse a free meal because you might feel slightly obligated to leave a 5 spot on the table, then you might be the definition of petty.

  18. @Mark F.

    Why should we subsidize AA’s labor cost? AA can easily choose to pay their Flagship staff a living wage, like how they do in other developed countries. The additional $5-10/hour is probably a fraction of a first class ticket.

  19. @Mark F. Not sure the free meals are being offered to International Business Class passengers.

  20. @Mark F.
    Just 5 bucks? Are you so cheap that you won’t leave a $20 tip or perhaps even $50? You’re flying in international first class, so you probably can afford it. Aren’t you supposed to tip at least 20% or even 25% at a restaurant? Why wouldn’t you leave a comparable tip in the lounge? However, there’s a little problem that the meal is complimentary — no prices. Why should I be inconvenienced by deciding how much I should tip? If I pay AA thousands of dollars for international first, AA can forward twenty bucks to one of their employees to make the trip appear premium or perhaps even luxurious. I’m really not interested in researching the NY state laws and regulations on wage compensation to decide how much I need to tip.

  21. @grrizzly, I’m not there eating since I don’t see the value proposition of first class on AA. But I am laughing at you as you pay $12 for your Whopper Meal at the food court before your first class flight and skipping that free meal just to avoid ‘subsidizing’ AAs wage costs. Lol. Fight the power and make sure those severs don’t get anything extra coming to them!

  22. @Mark F.
    I fly in international first on the carriers where tipping in the first class lounges is not expected. They (CX, QF, NH) are universally considered to offer a much better first class (or actually any class) product than the US-based airlines where the idea of tipping keeps popping up. Is it a coincidence? I don’t think so.

  23. @ grizzly — For what it’s worth, the tipping expectations in this lounge are the same as the expectations in the Qantas first class lounge LAX (tipping is appreciated but not expected).

  24. @Singularity sadly no. I’m flying CX first class in July and have been looking forward to trying American’s Flagship First Dining. Looks like I have to settle with just the lounge for now…

  25. @Chris – I wouldn’t be too down in the dumps. CX 1st is far better than AA 1st!

    Which reminds me of a dilemma I sometimes have when booking international 1st travel — how much do I value a lounge product compared to the onboard product? I tend to opt for the carrier with the better onboard product, since I know how long I’ll be stuck in that metal tube, yet always overestimate the amount of time I spend in the lounge.

  26. This lounge makes no sense since AA is eliminating First Class in international flights, so like you said, will only really be full with First class JFK-LAX passengers, which is a shame. I think they should allow business class as well. Good news is it wont be crowded.

  27. Maybe it’s due to cultural differences, but I have never ever considered leaving a tip on a Lounge.. and after reading this I’m actually feeling guilty for never tipping on QF’s F lounge in LAX. I believe the lounge is not a restaurant, but an extension of my premium experience in an industry in which tipping is not expected. I don’t tip at the check-in counter when they are nice or to the crew when they provide a good service.. if I want to thank someone who has been particularly helpful I have the “thank you” coupons provided by AA.

  28. Hey Ben, I just want to confirm. I am Oneworld Sapphire with LATAM. Is the Flagship lounge and Flagship Dining the same thing, or do I absolutely have to be flying AA F to access Flagship Dining? Or does Oneworld Sapphire have access to it all?

    Thanks !

  29. That clipboard is ridiculous. So American. Just soasking for a tip after you paid thousands and thousands of dollars for your flights! They surely can afford to pay their staff.

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