Reviewing new American Airlines Admirals Club renovations with Phoenix as case study

Travel through the airport, step out of the chaos, pick up a glass of wine. That's what airport lounges are built for. If you travel often, you might even be on a first name basis with the bartender at your favorite airport (looking at you, folks in Admirals Club Terminal C at Reagan National). Here's the thing... while better than sitting at the gate, a lot of these lounges aren't much to write home about. Happily, American Airlines has been remaking their Admirals Clubs at some key airports for well over a year. I recently stopped into the new edition near Phoenix Sky Harbor International's (the best airport name ever) Gate A7. Here's what I found out.

They've gone for a modern look.

Back in April 2015, Ben Schlappig at One Mile at a Time speculated that in the effort to go modern, the concept art for the new lounges made them seem a bit too cafeteria-like. Not unfair, but now that we've seen the results, I'd say that a lounge renovated in this style is certainly a welcome improvement over the old. It's bright and comfortable. Accent lights are mostly tasteful. There's the token odd sculpture hanging from the ceiling, something that literally no airport establishment seems to do without, but I frankly don't care how odd the art is if there's a way to charge my stuff at every seat. There is. Though I love dark wood and banker's lamps just as much as the next history geek, you can't walk through an airport without tripping over someone's new take on modern. American has pulled it off admirably (I know, I know, terrible pun). 

The food and drinks feel like they've improved. 

I still think there's a lot of room for improvement when it comes to house wine selections at most airline lounges (not just Admirals Clubs), but a quick look at the menu tells me that the food and drink options have improved in the renovation. I grabbed a sandwich downstairs before heading up (an experience that reminded me of why I indulge in airport lounges to escape the zoo), but I kind of wish I hadn't when I saw the Turkey Florentine Panini on the menu. The Lobster Mac and Cheese looks interesting, though I always hesitate when ordering Lobster so far inland that I know it couldn't have been driven to you fresh that day. The complimentary house white was sufficient, though I did notice them sneaking in a $12 glass of Soave on the pay-to-play menu. Come on.

There are more coming.

Renovations have already completed at airports in Rio, Phoenix, and São Paulo, with more underway at LAX, Miami (one near gate D15 and another at gate D30), and JFK in New York. They're "starting soon" (whatever that means) at Chicago O'Hare and Dallas / Fort Worth. Entirely new lounges crafted in the same style are opening in Houston and Orlando (whose spiral staircase and big picture window out to the flight operations as shown in the concept art look promising). I really hope, and am sure they will, follow suit at the clubs in my American hubs of choice in Washington, DC and Charlotte, NC.

My bottom line here is that, if Phoenix is any indication, I think American is making really good strides with their Admirals Club renovations. I clearly prefer them in the domestic airline lounge market. I do wish that they (or someone) in this business would get a bit more creative with their wine and beer selections. Though it adds complexity, I'd love to see local brews and vinos poured in each city's club. Local flavor is one of the best parts of travel, and I think touches like that would go a long way in character points.