Prior to boarding our Cathay Pacific First Class flight from New York to Hong Kong, I was excited to visit the American Airlines Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining at JFK Airport.
Flagship Lounges represent American Airlines’s most exclusive lounge concept, and are offered at the airline’s hub airports in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and London Heathrow.
Moreover, Flagship First Dining is a separate à la carte dining room featuring premium chef-inspired dishes and top-end beverages that’s found within all the Flagship Lounges at New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Miami.
American Airlines Flagship First Dining New York JFK – Entry & Access
Access to the Flagship Lounge itself is extended to all American Airlines First Class and business class customers, elite status members, and Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members.
Access to Flagship First Dining, on the other hand, is a lot more exclusive. Ordinarily, it’s only available to passengers travelling in the American Airlines Flagship First cabin on international flights and select domestic flights; however, here at New York JFK, Cathay Pacific has also negotiated access for their own First Class passengers to access Flagship First Dining prior to their flights as well.
As someone who almost never flies with American Airlines, then, I knew that this would be a rare opportunity to get a glimpse into the airline’s First Class ground experience, and I was looking forward to it as we arrived at JFK a solid four hours prior to the flight’s departure time.
Cathay Pacific shares Terminal 8 with American Airlines, and its check-in counters are at the very far end of the terminal. This would be my third flight on Cathay Pacific First Class in total, so it was a very heartwarming feeling to stroll up to the First Class check-in sign, as though I was seeing an old friend.
Our check-in was conducted smoothly by a Cathay Pacific agent who was fully masked up (this was in late February, when COVID-19 had yet to fully take hold around the world, and masked-up airport staff was still something of a noteworthy item).
She inspected our Vietnam visa-on-arrival invitation letters – which we had needed because this itinerary was the return leg of the Cathay Pacific First Class mistake fares departing from Vietnam, even though we’d be getting off in Hong Kong and connecting onto another itinerary – and issued our boarding passes soon after that.
Even though Jessy and I had TSA Pre-Check via our NEXUS cards, it was one of those evenings at JFK Terminal 8 when they only kept a single security queue open for some reason, so we still had to wait in the queue for about half an hour before we made our way through to the departures hall. A bit ridiculous, if you ask me.
By that point, I was ready to head for Flagship First Dining and have a drink as soon as possible. The Flagship Lounge is easily accessible as you come out of security – you’ll find a set of elevators that bring you upstairs to the lounge, or there’s a set of staircases around the back as well.
The agents at the front desk welcomed us to the lounge and inspected our boarding passes. Seeing that we were flying in Cathay First, she asked if we’d like to make use of Flagship First Dining (“Are you interested in dining with us tonight?”) – and I responded very enthusiastically in the affirmative.
With that, the agent walked us all the way into the lounge and accompanied us into the separate Flagship First Dining room, which is sealed off from the rest of the Flagship Lounge by a set of frosted-glass sliding doors.
American Airlines Flagship First Dining New York JFK – Dining
There, we were greeted by our host for the evening, and invited to take a seat at one of the open tables. The dining room mainly consists of some booth seats and individual dining tables.
At first, all of the booths were either occupied or reserved, so we sat down at one of the tables in the middle; however, after a few minutes the host informed us that one of the booths was indeed available and we were free to move there if we wanted, so we did.
The room also had a row of solo seats along the window, which seemed like they’d be great for planespotting during the daytime. If I had a daytime departure out of JFK and I was eligible for Flagship First Dining, I know I’d love to come here several hours early and sip on my coffee while watching the planes come and go.
Then there was also a cute bar area where you could perch up for a drink.
As we sat down at our booth, we were immediately presented with the food and beverage menu for the evening, which read as follows:
Similar to other à la carte dining experiences in airport lounges around the world, the idea here is that you can order as many dishes or drinks as you’d like, free of charge. Since we knew that there’d be more indulgences waiting onboard the flight, however, Jessy and I kept things reasonable, ordering a couple of appetizers, one main course, and some desserts between the two of us.
Of course, we’d begin with a round of drinks, and I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that American serves Krug Grande Cuvée here in their Flagship First Dining room. I say “surprised” because Krug is more often associated with some of the world’s best airlines, like Singapore Airlines, whose reputations exceed American’s by quite some distance.
Meanwhile, Jessy ordered a Flagship Lemonade – a blend of bourbon, lemon, and mint, one of five Signature Cocktails available on the drinks menu.
Our meal would begin with Maryland-style crabcakes and the grilled Roman artichokes, both of which were quite delicious. I definitely liked the flavour and crispiness of the crabcakes a little more, but the fondue-style sauce on the artichokes was pretty tasty as well.
Next up was the main course. When choosing my dinner, the vegetable ramen definitely sounded tempting, but since I had already eaten some noodles at the excellent Raku in Manhattan that day and would likely indulge in a few more bowls onboard Cathay First, I opted for the grilled black bass instead.
Since we were the only guests in the Flagship First Dining room at the time, service was extremely quick, and everything came out as soon as it was ready.
The black bass turned out okay, but not outstanding. While the presentation was excellent, I thought the flavour was somewhat lacking, and really needed to dip every piece of fish in the drizzly red wine butter sauce to get the dish going.
Finally, we were offered the dessert menu, which also listed a handful of after-dinner drinks:
Jessy chose the chef-inspired Dark Chocolate Budino, whereas I couldn’t resist the Signature Flagship Sundae. Somewhat expectedly, Jessy could only finish a few bites of her dessert before passing the rest onto me, leaving me with quite a bit of chocolatey goodness to finish all on my own.
I ordered a pot of green tea to wash it all down, bringing our meal in the Flagship First Dining room to a very satisfying end.
On the whole, I was quite impressed with the American Airlines Flagship First Dining concept, and I thought it achieved a noticeably higher standard than the United Polaris Lounges I’ve visited in Newark and Chicago.
(I’ve yet to try Air Canada’s Signature Suites, though, and I imagine it would come down to these two in a battle for the best pre-flight à la carte dining in North America.)
American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK – Buffet
After finishing up our dinner, we retreated to the rest of the Flagship Lounge to pass the rest of the time before our flight. The Flagship Lounge is a spacious and smartly designed space, offering a variety of seating zones for guests to spread out across.
There’s a range of high-top seating and dining tables close to the buffet spread, which is where you’d grab your food and drinks if you didn’t have access to Flagship First Dining (such as if you were simply travelling in business class on a Oneworld airline).
The buffet spread was on par with the usual standards of a business class lounge, with several hot dishes available for your custom-plated dinner.
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I had already eaten in the dining room, but decided to sample a bowl of sweet corn soup from the buffet, which was very appetizing.
Here’s where you’ll also find the lounge’s selection of premium spirits.
Moving deeper into the lounge, there’s a bit of an elevated area in the middle, where you’ll find the champagne and wine counters.
Alas, the Krug is reserved for Flagship First Dining customers, and you’ll have to make do with Bernard Lonclas here in the rest of the Flagship Lounge itself.
(If you do have access to Flagship First Dining, I’m sure the staff wouldn’t mind if you headed back into the dining room to refill your Krug either.)
American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK – Seating
Then there’s some more traditional lounge seating over in the back of the lounge, as well as a few solo seating booths, which seem ideal for getting some work done in your own private little nook.
A separate corridor runs parallel along one of the lounge’s side walls, where you’ll find a few sets of couches and chairs facing each other in a communal arrangement.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge New York JFK – Other Facilities
This is also where you’ll find many of the Flagship Lounge’s additional features, like the quiet seating room, phone booths, and luggage storage room.
Lastly, I decided to take a look around the shower facilities here in the lounge as well. They’re located down the hallway from the bathrooms, and have quite a sharp look about them – although in this case, they do pale in comparison to the United Polaris Lounge’s Saks Fifth Avenue-inspired shower rooms.
We spent another half an hour or so snacking on a few items from the buffet, before it was time to head to the gate for our much-anticipated flight on Cathay Pacific First Class.
Since I don’t imagine myself seeking out a flight on American Airlines’s premium cabins anytime soon, it was a welcome opportunity to be able to try out their First Class ground experience here at New York JFK.
For an airline that often receives a fair bit of stick, American’s Flagship First Dining offering is quite impressive overall – including some top-shelf champagne on the menu – and I would highly recommend making time to stop by the dining room if you’re eligible for it on a Cathay Pacific First Class departure out of JFK.
For me, this ranks as the best airport lounge I’ve visited in North America thus far, outranking the United Polaris Lounge on account of the stronger dining experience. I’ll definitely need to try out one of Air Canada’s Signature Suites sometime soon in order to see how they compare.