Introduction: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
A Tale of Two Lounges: SATS Premier T2 and the Qantas SIN Lounge
Malaysia Airlines B737 Business Class SIN-KUL
Malaysia Airlines Business Class Golden Lounge KUL
Malaysia Airlines A330 Business Class KUL-NRT
Japan Airlines Business Class Sakura Lounge NRT
Japan Airlines B77W Business Class NRT-LAX
The Westin LAX
The Westin Westminster
Aloft Boston Seaport
The Consolidated AA Domestic First Class Experience
American Airlines Flagship Lounge JFK
American Airlines B772 Business Class JFK-LHR
American Airlines Arrivals Lounge LHR
The Great Northern Hotel, London
Sheraton Grand London Park Lane
Westin Paris Vendome
Courtyard by Marriott Madrid Princesa
Four Points by Sheraton Barcelona Diagonal
The Consolidated Intra-Europe Business Class Experience
The Casablanca Lounge CMN
Royal Air Maroc B737 Business Class CMN-ACC
Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra
Ethiopian Airlines B772 Business Class ACC-ADD
Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 Business Class Lounge ADD
Ethiopian Airlines B737 Business Class ADD-DAR
Protea Hotel by Marriott Dar Es Salaam Courtyard
Tanzanite Lounge DAR
Qatar Airways A320 Business Class DAR-DOH
Qatar Airways Al Safwa First Class Lounge DOH
Qatar Airways A350 “First” Class DOH-DXB
The Grosvenor House Dubai
Qatar Airways B772 Business Class DOH-BLR
The Ritz Carlton Bangalore
Cathay Dragon Lounge Bangalore
Cathay Dragon A330 Business Class BLR-HKG
W Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific’s HKG Lounges
Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class HKG-SIN
I had a choice of flying directly from Boston to London via BA, but chose instead to take a 50 minute flight to JFK just so I could fly AA.
Why? Three reasons.
First, BA’s business class product is, well, bad. With high-density 2-4-2 seating it’s more akin to a dorm than a true business class product.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m not looking forward to this arrangement, even if it’s only temporary during takeoff and landing. Five minutes of eye contact is plenty, thank you.
But don’t worry! British Airways is launching a new business class product...in 2019. BA is fortunate that its home base is the golden goose of air traffic. There’s no way it could survive having a product like this otherwise. In the meantime I’d give BA airline a wide berth. Unlike the squeezy 2-4-2 it gives its customers.
Second, JFK-LHR is one of the most lucrative business routes in the world, which means (BA aside) you’ll always find the latest airline cabins and products on these routes. And why not. It connects two of the world’s most important cities with a high volume of commercial and leisure travel. AA has a 1-2-1 configured full flat business class 777 aircraft plying this route.
Third, and probably related to the second, AA has just opened its spanking new Flagship lounge at JFK. I know, I know. Lounges in the US are normally the very definition of average. My domestic lounge experience so far has been fruit, water/juice dispensers, biscuits, cheese and more fruit. And a paid bar.
But lounges for international customers are a much different proposition, and AA has been investing heavily in its lounge refurbishment program. The first of its new Flagship lounges is JFK, and that’s where I was heading, as soon as I cleared check-in.
Check-in at JFK Terminal 8 was a disaster. There were a grand total of 3 counter positions open for First and Business Class passengers, and a very long line. 2 of the 3 counter positions were having long, drawn out discussions with passengers who had missed their flights. The lady at the third counter disappeared to resolve something or other. Therefore, the priority line didn’t move at all for close to 40 minutes.
People around me were cursing, complaining and grumbling aloud. More than a few missed their flights. Common sense was in short supply amongst the counter staff- was it really worth it to make so many people miss their flights so they could re accommodate two? In fact, one member of the staff was just waiting on hold on the phone, talking to AA customer service. It was surreal. The situation wasn’t made any better by people trying to join the lines around the side to cut into the queue.
Unfortunately, common sense was also in short supply amongst us, the passengers. For 40 minutes, no one thought of going to fetch the area manager (at least I can claim Asian shyness). Finally, someone did, and the manager pretty much said there was nothing he could do about it.
I arrived at the priority queue 3 hours ahead of time, and finally got attended to at the 2 hour mark. A subsequent complaint email to AA yielded this response.
We are disappointed to learn about the unsatisfactory level of service provided at our ticket counter in JFK as you checked in for your flight with us. Meeting the highest expectations of our customers is our primary goal and we are sorry we failed to deliver the level of service you expect and certainly deserve from us.
In an effort to enhance the service levels and to expedite the check-in process for our passengers, strict adherence to staffing levels and a more equitable allocation of personnel is indeed essential. Your observations with regard to the lines and shortage of agents available for assistance with check in at the counter have been reviewed with the Passenger Service Managers responsible for this area of our operation.
We value your opinion of our service and appreciate your business. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to address your valid concerns and to correct the service issues you mentioned. We look forward to serving you again soon.
In other words-
But enough of that- the new AA Flagship lounge awaited! The lounge is just after security, and confusingly is still labelled “Admirals Club”. FYI, Admirals Club is a different kind of AA lounge that is more akin to a domestic lounge in terms of experience quality. The whole reason AA came up with the Flagship Lounge concept was to try and create a differentiated ground product.
I made it up the lift to reception, where the lady on duty scanned my boarding pass. I asked her if the new flagship lounge had officially opened yet and she said no, but she’d give me a one-time exception and send me there instead of the Admirals lounge.
This confused me- it was well within my access rights to enter the Flagship lounge, as an international business class passenger on AA. I mean, if I were flying business class on a Oneworld partner carrier, or economy with a Oneworld Emerald/Sapphire card then maybe…but I thought my case was as clear cut as they come. So I just nodded and said thanks, but I’m 100% convinced she was wrong about that.
Turning left after reception sends you down a long passageway towards the Flagship lounge.
The official opening definitely hasn’t happened yet, as you can see from the presence of construction tape and cones within the lounge (why would you need cones? Is there heavy vehicular traffic in the corridors?)
That said, completed or not, the lounge is simply stunning. Lots of bright, natural light, full length glass windows giving a great view of the tarmac, classy furniture. Was this really an American airline lounge?
There were also numerous TV watching areas
There are several private work cubbyholes, some with computers and some without. All with powerpoints and USB outlets.
If you can’t snag one of those, don’t worry because there are plenty more individual seats where people can get work done.
If you fancy taking a nap, I believe I stumbled upon the nap room as well. It’s strange because all the lights were off at first, but when I opened the door and stepped inside the motion sensors turned on all the lights. Do you really want that happening in a nap room?
Again, no shortage of outlets. There were outlets in every arm rest, every wall. It was two cars in every garage stuff.
I also noticed a blocked off area that I presume will become the First Class dining room when the Flagship lounge officially opens. I think it’ll sort of be like TPR in Singapore, with a separate reception that only ticketed First Class passengers can get past.
The common dining area has a combination of high chairs and communal tables
As well as regular chairs and private tables
And something I will just call the long bar (table).
I love the central display they have at the heart of the lounge with the wine and champagne selections. Because that’s where champagne should be. At the center of everything.
Even better, I like that they didn’t go for some cheap “California Champagne” Korbel or even a prosecco. They went with proper champagne. I think Bollinger is a very solid choice for a business class lounge, much more so for a US airline.
There was an assortment of other whites and reds too.
Elsewhere you could find a wide range of hard liquors
And a special make your own cocktail section with instructions on how to do an Old Fashioned.
There was a fancy coffee machine with a digital display.
And a soda dispenser with a digital display. Never has loading your body with sugar been more fun. I’m sure you could, with the right tools, hack that sucker to start playing Doom.
The fridge had beer, juice and soda. You know what told me AA didn’t go cheap on drinks? The fact that the water was in Aqua Panna and San Pellegrino glass bottles, and that they had cans of San Pellegrino sparkling orange and lemon. No Dasani nonsense here. This was the life.
And to wrap it all up, someone had thrown a pile of veggies into water and called it healthy.
The food selection was just as impressive, with an extensive selection of hot and cold items.
There were two bread baskets and two soups available, one oriental and one western.
A selection of cold noodles, roast beef and other cold cuts.
A platter of grilled veggies plus these interesting little prawn cocktail shooters and lightly seasoned crabmeat with microgreens. Yes, microgreens are a thing now.
For the mains, there was baked salmon and chicken
Mashed potatoes and greens
What impressed me the most wasn’t just the quantity of food, but the quality too. The chicken and salmon were both cooked perfectly, unlike the usual dry chicken and salmon you’d expect from a mass cooked production line style buffet.
Yes, I tried to take Instagram worthy photos. That’s a much better picture of the prawn cocktail shooter and the crabmeat salad with microgreens.
The only fly in the ointment was the unadorned desert section. It looks like the deserts just weren’t ready for prime time. Protip for AA: when in doubt, serve ice cream.
Wifi speeds in the lounge were excellent. It could be because the lounge wasn’t particularly crowded when I visited though. The lounge has very solid work credentials, what with the abundance of power outlets, fast wifi and free flow of champagne.
Afterwards I wanted to check out the bathroom facilities. The lounge has a total of 8 showers, hidden behind a very ordinary-looking door.
I was surprised to see there was no receptionist at the shower area. Normally you’d expect there’d be a person there to assign cubicles, radio the cleaners to come when someone was done and manage a waitlist if needed. Just as well all 8 units were free so I had my pick of the proverbial litter.
I helped myself to cubicle 8. Because I’m crap at photography, I’m going to steal one of Ben’s photos from his Flagship Lounge review.
I was surprised to see the toilet wasn’t…complete. If you know what I mean. I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Does anyone need lumbar support when on the can the way I do?
On the plus side ,the hairdryer had a cool glowing Tron-like light.
The shower amenities are CO Bigelow branded. C.O. Bigelow was founded in 1838 in New York’s Greenwich Village and is the oldest surviving apothecary–pharmacy in the U.S.A, as per their website.
The shower was decent enough, but the water pressure wasn’t as strong as I was used to. Maybe they were still sorting out plumbing issues.
I was genuinely impressed by what was on offer at the new Flagship lounge. It’s certainly above what I’ve come to expect from airlines in the US. Even if you’re not flying with AA, you can access the lounge when you fly with CX, as it has relocated to T8.
Here’s one last vanity photo, which I call harsh backlighting, random woman in corner of shot and rule of thirds impeccably observed.