Review: American Flagship First Dining JFK Airport

Filed Under: American

In late May American opened their new Flagship Lounge in New York, with greatly expanded access requirements. However, the most revolutionary thing about the lounge wasn’t the space as such, but rather one of the features inside the lounge. Specifically, American introduced Flagship First Dining, which is an exclusive dining facility for passengers traveling in three cabin first class on select routes. This includes:

  • Those traveling in American three cabin 777-300ER first class to/from Asia, Australia, Europe, or South America
  • Those traveling in American three cabin first class between New York and Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, and Miami and Los Angeles
  • Cathay Pacific first class passengers departing JFK get access as well; ordinarily oneworld first class passengers don’t get access, but American and Cathay Pacific have a special arrangement at JFK

As of now the only Flagship First Dining facility is at JFK, though by next year they should also have these facilities in Los Angeles, Miami, London, and Dallas.

I was traveling first class from New York to Los Angeles, and was excited to check out the restaurant. I had a chance to tour it just a couple of days before it opened back in May, though was much more interested to see what it was like once opened.

American’s JFK Flagship First Dining is open daily between 4:15AM and 11:30PM.

After landing from Chicago I headed in the direction of the main American Airlines club at JFK, which is just near the Concourse B security checkpoint. The lounge is a level above the main concourse, so I took the elevator up.

American Flagship Lounge JFK elevator

There was a reception desk with the Flagship Lounge to the left and the Admirals Club to the right. Once the agent scanned my boarding pass she told me I was eligible for Flagship First Dining, and asked if I had been before. When I explained I hadn’t, she went over the basics with me.

She handed me an invitation card, which I don’t think is the standard invitation, since it said “It’s been our pleasure serving you.” It’s my understanding that they’re supposed to give these to passengers after they’ve eaten there, so I assume they just ran out of whatever the standard invitations are.

American Flagship First Dining JFK invitation

On the back of the invitation she wrote my name, flight number, and the date.

American Flagship First Dining JFK invitation

I walked down a long corridor into the Flagship Lounge, and then hung a sharp right, where I saw a sliding glass door leading into Flagship First Dining.

American Flagship Lounge JFK entrance

American Flagship First Dining JFK entrance

Inside the entrance I was greeted by a host (who seemed to be separate from the servers), and was invited to sit wherever I’d like. Inside the entrance is a bar area, which takes up maybe a third of the space. You can sit at the bar, or just sit in a more casual area by the window.

American Flagship First Dining JFK bar area

Then the rest of the space is the main dining room. The dining room has just over a dozen tables, ranging from two person tables by the floor-to-ceiling windows, to booths that could seat more people by the interior of the lounge.

American Flagship First Dining New York JFK

American Flagship First Dining New York JFK

American Flagship First Dining New York JFK

The lounge has fantastic views of the American Airlines gate area — there aren’t many better view for a meal, in my opinion!

American Flagship First Dining New York JFK view

There were only two diners in the restaurant when I arrived. As much as I would have liked to sit by the window, rather annoyingly they only have outlets in the booths, so I decided to sit there, since I needed to charge up.

American Flagship Dining table

A moment after I settled in I was greeted by Scott, who would be serving me. He presented me with the menu and beverage list for the day.

American Flagship Dining menu & wine list

The all day dining menu read as follows:

The wine list read as follows:

The cocktail list read as follows:

Scott explained that they had just switched to the fall menu, and as a result some changes were recently made to the menu. I was asked if I wanted still or sparkling water. I selected sparkling, and a moment later was served some San Pellegrino.

I also decided to try a few of the cocktails, starting with the gin basil lemonade. Yum!

American Flagship Dining cocktail — gin basil lemonade

Later during the meal I had a champagne cocktail, which was fairly good, though very sweet. Then again, that’s on me for ordering it.

American Flagship Dining cocktail — champagne cocktail

Later on I had a pisco sour. Usually I don’t love pisco sours, but I really enjoyed this one. I spaced those drinks out over the course of my roughly two hour meal, though was still feeling quite buzzed by the end of it.

American Flagship Dining cocktail — pisco sour

I told Scott I wanted to sample as many of the dishes as possible, so ordered the sesame crusted seared ahi tuna to start, as well as the roasted butternut squash soup. Scott asked if he should just bring the dishes out as they’re ready, or if I had an order in which I preferred them. I asked him to bring them out as they were ready.

First out was the sesame crusted seared ahi tuna, which was phenomenal. I’m not sure why exactly, but there’s something about the way the chopsticks were presented that took away from the presentation, in my opinion.

American Flagship Dining meal — sesame crusted seared ahi tuna

Next up was the soup, which was poured tableside.

American Flagship Dining meal — roasted butternut squash soup

The soup was flavorful and unique, given that it had apple, fennel, and toasted walnuts in it.

American Flagship Dining meal — roasted butternut squash soup

For the main course I was going to order the poached black sea bass, though Scott told me that the dish “isn’t going over well.” I appreciated his honesty. When I told him I couldn’t decide between the beef and the chicken, he told me they could prepare me small portions of both.

First up was the barbecued braised beef short ribs, served with horseradish smashed fingerling potatoes, roasted rainbow baby carrots, and a demi glace. This dish was another winner, including the sides.

American Flagship Dining meal — barbecued braised beef short ribs

About 15 minutes later I was served the chicken with roasted artichoke hearts, farro pilaf, and natural herb jus. Seriously, I can’t fault the food here one bit. It too was excellent.

American Flagship Dining meal — pan seared free range chicken

Next up was dessert. Let me say that of course I was already ridiculous full at this point. I had eaten four courses and had three cocktails. Heck, my stomach still hurts. But I didn’t want to let you guys down either, so couldn’t skip dessert. 😉

The dessert menu read as follows:

I ordered the chocolate trio. The menu claimed that this consisted of dark chocolate brioche bread pudding, a milk chocolate smoked sea salt tart, and white chocolate strawberry syrup. In reality there was more, as there was also a scoop of chocolate ice cream.

OMG THIS DESSERT WAS AMAZING. Every individual component was great, but together it was even better. Between the sweet bread pudding and the kick of the smoked sea salt tart, this was an incredible dessert that I can’t recommend enough.

American Flagship Dining dessert — chocolate trio

To go along with dessert I had an americano.

American Flagship Dining americano

The general intent is that you eat in the restaurant and then go back into the Flagship Lounge to hang out afterwards if you have a long layover, though I see no reason you couldn’t stay in the restaurant area for an extended period of time. I sat at my table for about two hours. I could also see it being fun to sit at a table and then later move over to the bar area. At no point did I feel at all rushed.

In terms of how busy the restaurant was, there were consistently 2-4 tables taken, including mine. It’s clear this place never gets full, though most people eating here seemed to be in a rush.

Most people seemed to be enjoying the place, though there was a British couple that wasn’t happy at all. They explained they didn’t have much time, the guy ordered the burger, and he kept asking on the status of it. Eventually he stormed out of the lounge saying “this is freaking ridiculous, do you need me to go in the kitchen and make it myself? It has been 40 minutes and we’re leaving.” Ouch.

After spending about two hours in Flagship First Dining I headed back into the Flagship Lounge, which was very crowded by comparison. Flagship First Dining really is an oasis within the lounge.

American Flagship Lounge JFK

Flagship First Dining constructive criticism

I think my review has been positive, and that’s for good reason — I couldn’t believe I was in a facility being operated by American Airlines. However, like everything, there’s some room for improvement, so I want to share a few of those areas.

First of all, I think they need to do a better job of controlling access to the restaurant. There’s a host who seats you, though the problem is that they’re standing inside the door rather than outside. While I was in the restaurant, literally dozens of people walked in who didn’t have access, and then I overheard them having a conversation with the host. “Can oneworld Emeralds get in?” “Can I make a reservation here?” “What is this?”

It’s only natural for this to happen, though I feel like the ambiance would be better if the door weren’t constantly opening and you overheard the same question over and over.

Speaking of the ambiance, I appreciated how quiet the lounge was. I hate to point this out, because the staff were so nice, but the only ambient noise in the lounge was the staff complaining about all kinds of stuff. They stood near the door in a circle talking, about 10 feet from me, and they talked about staffing issues, how one of their colleagues doesn’t do a good job, etc. That’s not cool to do in front of guests.

My other two issues are even more minor. First of all, I wish they had power outlets by the window tables, so you can enjoy a view of the tarmac while also recharging your electronics. So just as I praised the Flagship Lounge Chicago O’Hare for all the practically placed outlets, unfortunately this facility doesn’t get similar compliments for that.

And lastly, this is exceedingly minor, but they use the same coffee machine in Flagship First Dining that they use in a Flagship Lounge. If you want to create a true top restaurant experience, I feel like barista made coffee drinks with latte art, etc., would be a nice touch. 😉

American Flagship First Dining bottom line

Despite a few minor areas for improvement, what an incredible facility. I couldn’t believe this is something being run by American. The decor of the space is beautiful, it was peaceful and spacious, the food was incredible, and the cocktails were top notch. It’s sort of amazing how few people have access to this — in addition to those traveling to Los Angeles and San Francisco in first class, the only other flights with three cabin first class are a once daily service to London and a once daily service to Sao Paulo.

Very, very well done, American! These Flagship First Dining spaces truly give American some of the best airport lounges available domestically.

  1. “there was a British couple … he stormed out of the lounge saying “this is freaking ridiculous””

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard a British person use the coy euphemism “freaking”, so I’m not sure I believe this vignette.

    The interior design of this looks much better than the other new US lounges you’ve reviewed over the past few days.

  2. Nice! I’ve dined in Flagship Dining three times so far, but all were for breakfast. I’m dying to go back to try lunch or dinner. Like you, Lucky, I found few faults. The only misstep I can remember is that for breakfast, the cheddar biscuits were a bit rubbery, not soft or fluffy (or even crumbly, really).

    Kudos to Scott for the honesty about the bass. Great experience all around.

  3. I ordered that same burger from the small section of the Flagship Lounge where you can order from a much smaller menu, and it took 32 minutes to arrive, so I believe the story. Why is it so slow?! (It wasn’t at a busy time — around 3pm on Labor Day.)

  4. What if your flying let’s say MIA to LHR via JFK, when the lounge at MIA opens; do you get to use the flagship lounges at MIA and then again at JFK during transit ?

  5. I was there on Tuesday of last week in the mid to late afternoon. I stayed in a booth for several hours after I had eaten to work. No issue at all from the servers to stay there long term.

  6. Presumably, those flying in three cabin first on the same day, even if not necessarily from JFK, also have access, no?

  7. I visited the JFK Flagship lounge yesterday which I was quite impressed by (alas no FC this trip). Funny story as I was leaving though and waiting for the elevators I noticed there was a family checking in. The DrAAgon goes along the lines of you are eligible for both lounges. Points to FL and goes this one is a buffet and then points to AC and goes this one you can purchase food off a menu. They ultimately chose FL so I didn’t butt in but it was amusing to see the agent seemingly equate the two.

  8. Unfortunately, I don’t really see this amenity lasting much longer in this format given how underutilized it is.

  9. Ben,
    i was recently in the lounge as well and had a great experience. i gave a tip b/c of the quality of service. did you? do you think a tip is necessary? i noticed no one else did but i cant imagine the staff gets paid appropriately for the high touch service.

  10. @ Steve Alderson — Happy to hear you had a great experience! Yep, I absolutely did tip. I don’t think it’s required or necessarily expected (especially given the number of foreign guests who have different cultural norms), but it’s certainly appreciated. It’s my understanding that servers here have higher base pay than in normal restaurants, though not to the point that they could make as much as they’d otherwise make in a good restaurant, so tips do make a difference.

  11. Nice review. Not sure when I will get a chance to utilize this lounge in the future given the limited availability of it since I don’t see needing to head to the west coast anytime soon. Maybe Sao Paulo though…

  12. OK so I have done professional food work and while I can very much appreciate what an awesome perk this is and how nice the views and room are, I certainly have a few issues with the menu and presentation of the food. The menu sounds like food you’d get on a plane. Not necessarily a bad thing, but given it’s not on a plane, but in an actual restaurant maybe they could come up with something other than a Sundae for dessert? I don’t fly AA but United and Continental before them have done Sundaes to death. And what on earth was that on your chocolate trio? Did some micro greens fall off another plate onto your dessert? Which to my eye was not a great presentation. I’m just saying if you eat out in New York at a certain level you expect the food to look a certain way. This all looks fine, very hearty and filling but kind of midwestern. Ditto their wine list: Here have big naked Californian wine we have Chardonnay or Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc that tastes like a Chardonnay. Same with the reds: No subtly.

    Sorry I know how some of you must respond to this, but my point is they must have hired someone to guide them and maybe this menu hits all the buttons of AA first class fliers. It just seems from this sampling not very well thought out, diverse or particularly well presented. Thin about the Cathay first class passengers who are going to experience better food on the plane and then dine at the Pier in Hong Kong while waiting for their flight home? I mean looks at Ben’s one review and the way that food is plated, how that menu is composed. Sure this is an amazing leap forward, but from the pictures and menu as shown here it looks more like a dressed up Olive Garden than a fine dining experience.

  13. Nice review!

    Random thought: I wonder if Cathay was involved in the design/concept of this. When I visited the incredible Cathay F lounge at LHR this March, the waiter told me that all of Cathay’s F lounges globally were being redesigned along the same concept as The Pier.

    This lounge seems to have a similar “clubby” feel to The Pier’s restaurant area, and a similar menu (although the decor is more mod). And it’s serving as Cathay’s F lounge at JFK. Maybe it’s AA’s version of The Pier, or the closest thing we’ll ever see to that in our space-time continuum? 😉

  14. Ben, do you realise how often you describe food as phenomenal? Love reading, but since it’s the food I’m usually interested please review with a bit more depth. A phenomenon is by definition a rarity so not sure it applies to anything in a menu 🙂

  15. I’m confused with that menu. How can starters be followed by entrees? An entree IS a starter. Entree is a French word that literally translates to entrance, hence it is used to denote the first meal.

  16. An “access” question, award ticket through AA flying Etihad First Apartment AUH – JFK- First only to DTW. Clearing customs in AUH. Would we be able to experience both the Etihad lounge and Flagship at JFK, or are there certain rules for changes in carriers?

  17. @ Cheryl — Nope, no Flagship First Dining unfortunately, since only American three cabin first class and international customers get access to it. Sorry.

  18. I echo ildc’s question – just out of curiosity, and per Ben’s earlier comment about CX F customers having access, do CX F pax flying JFK-YVR get access? It’s mighty hard to find out from either CX’s or AA’s websites. Thanks!

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