The soft sounds of happy conversation, clinking of glasses upon tables, and occasional popping of a Champagne cork waft about open, airy spaces filled with white paper lights hanging from the rafters, plants, and a tidy bar. Yeah, I'm sitting in an airport, though you wouldn't believe it. Turns out that the "Atrium" area of American Airlines Flagship Lounge in Terminal 8 at New York's JFK International Airport is one of the best things going in domestic air travel.
American has been hard at work revamping its lounge offerings nationwide, including the addition of "Flagship Lounges" at its major international hubs. JFK was the first to open last year. I've visited several times, and am quite impressed. It makes a notoriously difficult airport an actually pleasant place to be.
Terminal 8 is dedicated to American Airlines and OneWorld partner flights, though passengers on American partners British Airways and Iberia are out of luck, for those flights depart from the British-operated Terminal 7. If you're checking in at JFK and passing through security there, you'll find the Flagship Lounge off to the left, under the flags as you walk down the ramp from TSA screening. If you're flying in to lay over, well, walk towards the exit and look up when you get to the ramp (but don't go back through security).
Flagship is collocated with one of American's regular Admirals Clubs, but requires that you possess a boarding pass for first or business class on either an international or transcontinental (New York to either Los Angeles or San Francisco, as of this moment) flight. Check in at the counter with your boarding pass. Admirals Club members who do not have such a ticket will be directed to the regular club, while eligible passengers will be directed left to the main lounge, or right to the "Atrium".
I am a fan of the Flagship lounge, but think that it's really the Atrium where American has built something special. I've never seen it crowded, and from what I read online, others who visit more frequently than I have found it similarly quiet. The environment is just peaceful, a rarity in an airport. Those whimsical white paper lanterns and the very open, spacious floor plan are the winners here.
Wine and Dine
I'm very impressed with the wine list. Though it is small and has gone mostly unchanged from early November 2017 to early March, I have found it to be head and shoulders above what is offered in most domestic lounges save for the American Express Centurion Lounges. There isn't a complimentary versus paid tiering, so taste away!
On food, I was wildly impressed with the "Flagship Burger" on my first visit this past November, but I was less enthused when re-ordering it in March. The November version was meaty and authentic feeling, while the March version shared qualities with a store bought variety. However, I don't want to take too much away from it… the fact is that both were delicious. I'd just like to see them get back to what they were doing a few months ago.
On scurrying away, I realized I was out of dollars in cash with which to leave a tip. I felt terrible about this, and spoke with the bartender to convey my remorse, letting her know I was leaving Swedish krona that she could swap at the nearby currency exchange. I still felt terribly. Always leave a tip for a job well done, even when the wine or food are "free".
I otherwise find the Flagship Lounge to be very well done, a certain cut above most of what is out there in terms of airline lounges. The first class / business class barriers to entry pose an obstacle, but I'd actually consider rearranging my flight details and miles redemptions around having the pleasure of spending a few hours here. It's well worth it!