My Crowding Fears Come True: American’s New Flagship Zoo

Filed Under: American

Yesterday I wrote about American’s new Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining facilities at JFK. JFK is the first airport to get American’s revamped lounge experience, and as I explained, the new facilities greatly exceeded my expectations.

American’s new Flagship First Dining is available exclusively to three cabin first class customers, and offers a restaurant style experience in an intimate setting.

Meanwhile American’s new Flagship Lounge is a nice space physically, though more importantly, they’ve very nicely improved the food & beverage offerings. The selection is significantly better than it was in American’s old Flagship Lounge, and they even now have a limited menu off of which you can order in the Flagship Lounge.

Not only has the Flagship Lounge improved, but it’s also open to a lot more people. A lot more. Previously the Flagship Lounge was exclusively for oneworld international first class passengers and oneworld Emerald members, while now it’s also available to oneworld international business class customers, oneworld Sapphire members, and those traveling in A321 business or first class to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

While the new lounge space is bigger, there are also a lot more people with access. If I had to guess, I imagine at least three or four times as many people are eligible for access to the Flagship Lounge under the new rules compared to the old rules, and I feel like that’s a conservative estimate.

Since this concept was first announced, my biggest concern was crowding. With so many people now eligible for access to this premium lounge, I was worried that the lounges would get really crowded really fast… and it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.

Reader Terence shared pictures from his visit to the Flagship Zoo Lounge yesterday afternoon, and it looks… uncomfortably full.

Apparently it got this busy in the afternoon, and stayed that way for quite a while. I asked if he had a chance to order anything off the menu, but he said it was so crowded and busy that he didn’t even notice that option.

Now, in fairness, I suspect this won’t always be an issue. In the mornings and early afternoons I suspect this lounge will only be comfortably occupied, though I imagine in the afternoons and evenings the above will be the norm.

To me the single greatest benefit of lounge access is having a quiet place from which to work. While upgraded amenities are nice, I’ll take a quiet lounge with limited amenities over a zoo with better amenities any day.

This is just one data point, so I can’t say with certainty this will be a consistent problem. However, it matches what I was expecting, and I figured it was a discussion that’s worth starting. Hopefully more people can report back with their experiences as they visit this new lounge.

If you’ve had the chance to already visit American’s new JFK Flagship Lounge, how crowded was it?

  1. Not even sure what’s the point of Admirals Clubs? My guess would be to just take that instead of the zoo

    Essential the Flagship is like BA Galleries lounges

  2. It seems like AA went too far in giving oneworld Sapphires access to this lounge (unless they were forced to do so by oneworld rules). Though even if that group is removed, all of the business class passengers on the various European flights would still be enough to make this a very busy lounge.

  3. Amen Ben! If I wanted to join the rat race I’d hang around at the gate. AA just destroyed what was a special place. Now it’s just like any other Admirals Club. My AC membership is up at the end of June. With the overcrowding and terrible food/drink options at most clubs I’m not sure I’ll renew it.

    Thanks AA…

  4. Mob mentality
    They are eating as much as they can becuase they know once they get onboard it will suck really bad
    For many since the progrsm went in the toilet and saver awards have become nearly non existent it’s simply the last supper before they find another airline
    Get it while u can!

  5. Maybe some customers like a “lively” lounge with good amenities? For some trips, I do. Based on the photos, it seems like it wasn’t too crowded as to prevent customers from having access to the bar or food offerings. I’ve had that issue with Centurion lounges – this seems to be better.

    US airlines aren’t going to invest in large lounges and unnecessarily limit access to them. American is in a battle at JFK against international carriers, Delta, Jet Blue, and others for premium passengers on the transcon routes and on international routes. It makes business sense for American to offer this amenity to business class, Sapphire and Platinum/PlatPro/EXP customers traveling on long haul routes.

  6. Maybe I just visit the wrong lounges at the wrong hours, but these photos look like normal lounge population to me. Fighting for space in a lounge has become normal in my recent experience. I agree that the whole sapphire access thing left me confused – eliminating that would probably cut back access considerably. Hopefully they won’t turn people away at the door who actually paid cash for their International F or J flights due to overcrowding from the sapphire crowd.

  7. Dear god … ok thanks for these pix, I am now going to cancel my upcoming summer mileage runs … there is no point to even want Oneworld status anymore if I have to deal with this JFK Zoo … from 2018 it will be a la carte paid lounges and the emptiest lounge gets my $$$. This especially after my mother told me about her experience at JFK yesterday before flying to Zürich … she said it was the pits and I replied it’s almost always been that way.

    Also a nice time to ask in case anyone from AA is reading: won’t you ever retire that sad old 767 and use a quality aircraft to fly to/from Switzerland? Even 20 years ago it was a sad plane.

  8. What are you all talking about? In every one of those pictures about 50% of physical seats are empty! I love how many people in miles/points game explain to average people how to get access to exclusive perks and then complain that the unwashed masses (or in this case “animals” since zoo is referenced multiple times) take advantage of the tips they’ve been given and overcrowd or ruin deals. It’s just really hard to feel sympathy for the fact that the lounge wasn’t up to your 10%-of-seating-capacity expectations.

  9. This is kind of hilarious. But I noticed that often times these days, the boarding areas in a terminal can be far more peaceful than lounges. I think that a lot of people go to lounges just for the sake of it, because they’re allowed to and it makes one feel special. Even if being in the terminal would be more comfortable by any standard.
    For a while, because I had lounge access I wouldn’t even consider not going, even if it was obviously crappy and crowded. But now I just go with common sense. Just a few days ago I left the Alaska lounge at LAX after just a few minutes, even if I had 2 hours to kill. Better food and seating options in the terminal and wifi is widely available in most airports these days.

  10. Im swed with a BAEC Silver wich means OW Sapphire. I dont expect to get access to this kind of lounge when Im travelling in business or econony class. This schould be First class and Emerald only.

  11. The US really is in a race to achieve full 3rd world status isn’t it. What with the urban infrastructure, public transport and aviation industry, it really is just becoming a total dump.

  12. Yesterday (Thursday 25 May) was a particularly bad day flying in and out of JFK, LGA and EWR due to extensive weather delays. That could be one reason for the overcrowding. But I agree with Ben’s initial concern that when you open the lounge valve too much, overcrowding is the result. Just ask AMEX who introduced a great concept, but has opened the valve too far which has turned a nice lounge into a crowded feeding frenzy.

  13. Ben, what do you think is the best next move for the airlines in terms of lounges? There are examples of huge lounges (Doha e.g.) however to me, as someone who hasn’t used one, it would seem that the huge size would really just make it feel like its own premium airport rather than an exclusive lounge.

    Is there really enough space in the US airports for huge airlines like American to make a spacious lounge? I’m not sure the answer but I suspect not! So what’s the next step? tougher entry requirements? Expansion out of the major hubs (seems highly unlikely)?

    I’ve no idea! 🙂

  14. Will LAX-JFK pax in Business on the A321T be able to access this new Flagship Lounge on arrival at JFK? Or is it for departing pax only?

    What if I am arriving in business on the A321T and then connecting in JFK to DCA on domestic first?

  15. Maybe PHL will be the place to connect to Europe now that they are using that empty envoy space for flagship?

    But really, public travel sucks and is unremarkable.

    AA is really USAir.

  16. @ Mark P — It’s for departing passengers only, so you couldn’t use it as an arrivals lounge. I’m seeking clarification on whether eligible passengers could use it based on their inbound flight if they have a connection. I’ll report back once I find out.

  17. There were IRROPS in NYC yesterday that could’ve caused excessive congestion in this lounge.

  18. Ben what is amazing is that I was there yesterday and it was a zoo and I am in actually in one of his photos.

    They also told me as of that day concierge Keys have access so I was admitted even though I was flying JFK to Charlotte.

  19. I have visited the Flagship Lounge JFK several times, as AA EXP, in the evening before flying red-eye flights to CDG or LHR.
    I have never noticed much of a ‘zoo’ in the evenings.

  20. OMG AA really needs to restrict access to this lounge.
    It should be a first-class only lounge (on a 3-cabin plane), and status pax or pax in F on a 2-cabin plane should not be granted access.
    That’s the only way to make the lounge not as crowded.
    AA better change the access policy soon.

  21. Wow I was there in Feb flying F to LAX before official launch and it was nice and empty. The ribs were tasty and wine decent. It looks less zoo like than the T5 DL lounge or the DFW Centurion lounge. It took a while wandering around before I could get a seat at those lounges. It would be cost prohibitive to only let the readers of this blog in 😉 Will be in there in Dec will be curious to see what that is like. Usually there just to grab a couple bottles of water as the service even in F on the 321T can be unattentive.

  22. It’s basically an admiral’s club with expanded food options. How is this any better than just sitting in the terminal?

    @Steven M: Don’t even get me started on the Zurich 767 from JFK. 45 minutes into our flight there was a loud boom and the captain notified us that the computer system was acting up (you could her the alarm in the background while he was talking). We had to return to JFK and swap out planes.. arrived 5 hours delayed, but in one piece thank god. The plane is disgusting… no In-Flight entertainment, no charging ports for economy. It was awful.

  23. I think the Polaris lounge restrictions to only first and business class passengers (not status based customers) could work here. It would be a comparable offering to United, and face it, the US3 find safety in emulating each other such that people cannot discern the best value choice.

  24. I’ll stay out of the discussion of allowing general Sapphire access, but AA certainly did need to do something for international business-class flyers, because the Admiral’s Club really was sad, and not up to the standards you’d get flying other One World airlines in business. (LHR Galleries Club can be crowded, but it still has better snacks and much better drink selections.) I had several paid flights in business to Europe and South America last year, and the whole chit thing was pretty poor.
    If the lounge remains uncomfortably crowded, I’d think AA might want to take away Sapphire access (and I am a Sapphire, so it would hurt me, although I often travel with an Emerald), but I think it makes sense for long-haul business class travelers to have access.

  25. 1. The Admirals Club immediately past security is still under construction and cut more than in half
    2. Terminal 8 has a glut of international departures in the evening
    3. Delays from storms yesterday afternoon and evening

    Wouldn’t consider this indicative of the norm quite yet

  26. @Bgriff: They were not forced by OW. Many OW airlines, including BA, JL, QF have their International First Class Lounge (or what they call it) just for Emeralds (BA) plus their F pax (JL, QF) – on BA, F pax get Concorde Room/Bar, at least where it exists. So the previous AA policy was perfectly in line with OW.

  27. Completely agree with AndyShrugs on this. Seems funny to complain, while still actively selling everyone on the idea that “you can have this life too!”

  28. I understand the frustration.

    But when you refer to the crowded lounge as a zoo, you are calling the people there as animals indirectly.

    Several of them could be your readers who followed your advice on this blog.

    Your contempt for them is not necessary.

  29. Lol at the people threatening to cancel their summer mileage runs over this. I am sure AA will happily hold the door for you as you leave.

  30. @Slippers on a Plane has completely nailed it. On the one occasion I paid business class on AA to get home, rather than BA or VS I was completely horrified by the crapness of the Admirals Club. It was or should have been a national embarrassment. Didn’t even hold a candle to BA Galleries and forget comparisons to the Virgin Clubhouse. You can’t expect pax paying business class prices on a OW airline to accept that rubbish. I think a possible answer is to allow fair paying J passengers access to this okay lounge – it doesn’t look that fabulous to me – and allow sapphires travelling in Y or Y+ into the Admirals Club. Although on reflection this compromise might contravene OW rules – I say this a Sapphire btw.

  31. I’m a first year AA Plat and have an upcoming trip to Moscow in a couple weeks, routed via LHR. Flying on an AA Saver Award in Y that cost me $100 & a few miles – honestly surprised I’ll have access to this lounge before the JFK-LHR leg. Can absolutely see how somebody paying for a J fare, or even an EXP flying on a business award fare wouldn’t want to have to share the space with me.

    But hey, smoke ’em if got ’em as they say. Not going to turn down the opportunity, but interested to see how long AA keeps access for lowly me.

  32. What’s the guesting policy for these lounges? If i’m flying business or 1st on the A321T, canI invite 2-3 friends who are not flying in the pointy end?

  33. I don´t get it Lucky.

    The main idea of OMAAT is to teach readers to give a better use to their points/miles or any other benefit they can have while traveling. And that include using airport lounges. Why do you call “animals” to the people that use these new AA lounge then??

  34. Has anyone checked the dictionary lately?

    Zoo as described in the article means something chaotic or crowded, which looked like it based on the pictures. The word isn’t use to imply to the people in the lounge are animals.

  35. Lucky, you are a hypocrite. You want access as long it for you, but not others. I see you whines when they cut off access via so so card. You even teach people find access loopholes.


  36. The access policy was probably based on a lot of people losing status (or decreasing status level) after this year. The dollar requirement will thin the herd a lot. I suspect that next year things will be a lot calmer. In the meantime people that don’t mind the crowds may want to spend more to keep their status next year…

  37. Memorial Day holiday travel makes it worse. I would get another data point NOT heading into a 3-day weekend.

  38. Now that Lucky has started doing TV segments, it’s obvious that we are well into the status and mileage bubble now. AA is still roping in the suckers looking for the free cheese cubes that come with 50,000 miles a year, but the smart money left the status game 18-24 months ago. Enjoy that lounge Sapphires, you “earned” it.

  39. People complain, complain, and complain SO much! My goodness. You have the PRIVILEGE of accessing a lounge with FREE food and drinks, and you still complain if it’s crowded? Come on. You’re still part of the few % of people that can access such a lounge. If it’s too crowded for your liking, chill at the gate! And be grateful for what you have.

  40. To give the lounge some credit, at least the food looked more decent than many lounges I have experienced. I wonder how often the food area was maintained or if the empty dishes sat there for a while before being restocked, which is one of the common problems at airline lounges these days.

    Last year I was in a United lounge which was better than sitting at the gate, but not much better. The food choices were pre-packaged cheese and raw vegetables as well as a couple of other snack-like items, and much like the Admirals Club, it was like a zoo. I barely found a place to sit, and the lounge was huge.

    I was in an Admirals Club a few years back and was greeted with a food and beverage menu for purchase. At least the Delta lounges have some basic alcohol for free and charge for premium alcohols. The problem is with so many credit cards now offering lounge access it can easily become a zoo.

    In my experience lounges in Asia tend to be a bit more luxurious and often the first class lounges are accessible with the Priority Card (which as Lucky has often pointed out is available as a benefit for free with many credit cards). These lounges even today have full meals, showers and sleeping rooms, etc

    Sometimes my travels have taken me to Europe and Africa, I would say that even lounges across hub cities in Africa are much like a zoo, too, but for a different reason — all of the international flights depart around the same time. While lounges in Africa tend to be only for business class passengers and Gold members, not having other partnerships for access, because of the departure times, even those become a zoo.

    Bottom line – I think it’s just something that we are going to have to get used to.

  41. I don’t think allowing OWS cardholders access was a conscious decision, rather a product of the fact that AA’s flagship lounges are not among the lounges which have waivers from the OW access rules. There are only 8 lounges (or lounge sections) in the OW network with such a waiver to my knowledgable and they’re well publicised.

    I think more accurately, just as OWE cardholders received access because it was a “first class lounge”, when AA began allowing business class passengers into the lounge, that made it a “business class lounge ” granting OWS cardholders access under the same principle/terms.

    It’s possible that at some point AA will move to have a OW waiver put in place, but they haven’t for the last 10+ years, so it’s important to recognise it as a continuation of existing policy rather than a new decision to give OWS members access. Furthermore, given that T8 is AA and codeshares, I would be surprised if that many non-AA status cardholders are in the terminal in the first place. The main users of the former AA Flagship lounge, under the old rules, seemed to be AA EXP cardholders travelling internationally in J or below.

  42. @ Ben Schlappig (Lucky) – I saw a CNBC news feature of at least one airport that has an hourly hotel with a choice of a 56 or 80 square feet rooms with a TV, wifi, bed, etc, as well as dogs that welcome petting, and people that passengers can ask for directions in the airport. Better food options at all price levels, and premium stores at regular pricing just like in a mall as they try to attract people to change planes there versus other places, recognizing people have these choices. I have a few related questions for you:
    1. Do you think such features really affect where people change planes?
    2. As the hourly hotels expand throughout the country, do you think they will become more ‘zoo-like’ with credit cards and mileage programs offering free access for their premium members?
    3. What do you think airports will offer their guests in the future to keep up with this new kind of competition.

  43. This is a non-story. I was there about 6 weeks ago when they were still installing the TV screens i.e. it wasn’t open to OW Sapphire members and it was just as crowded.

  44. Here’s my guess as to what’s happening: since the debut of United Polaris, AA has been scrambling to address the perceived threat to their premium cabin brand. I bet that AA’s international business and first were recently rebranded as “Flagship” Biz and First to create a brand identity that directly competes w/Polaris. And having Polaris-level Flagship lounges is part of that strategy.

    However, as we know, AA also has to deal with the issue that if they turn their Flagship lounge into an international business class lounge (which the JFK lounge now now technically is), per OneWorld agreements, they also have to open those lounge to all OneWorld Sapphires and up.

    This may not be a big issue for them at other airports, but I think it’s likely to continue to be a HUGE issue at JFK and LAX, where there are so many international flights. Maybe Dallas too, although lounge capacity is so huge their it’ll probably be less of an issue.

    Curious to see how they handle this. E.g. BA at JFK, having dealt with similar issues, restricts Concorde Room to BA F only, and also limits some services in the JFK Club World lounge to BA flyers only. International F is not a priority for AA (at least on the transatlantic side), so I don’t see a Concorde Room-type situation happening any time soon. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there are adjustments over time to who gets what services in the Flagship lounge.

    The one thing that mystifies me is that all SFO/LAX transcon C and F passengers get access to the lounge. That’s a LOT of people (an extra ~50 people an hour on weekdays), and it’s not a route where they’re competing with Polaris. Maybe transcon routes are just so profitable, AA is trying to keep the product top-of-the-line? Or maybe this is about competing with JetBlue/Mint, which seems to have changed the game on these routes?

  45. Due to the overcrowding, the internet connectivity is atrocious. I keep getting disconnected and even when connected, it works well for less than a minute at a time.

  46. That title made me LOL! I’m not an American ff as I’m based overseas but that is one crowded lounge!

  47. I have been to the lounge a few times prior to this policy change and I have been now twice since it was opened to the wider audience on the 25th May. The words are exactly as described ‘a zoo’, where people seem to have never seen food or drink before. The internet is practically unusable and finding a seat or a quiet space (even in the quiet room) is impossible. If the lounge was advertised as an international business lounge then this would make sense for its utilisation rate. But to include all Emerald and OneWorld clients is devaluing the reason of trying to achieve and maintain status with AA or using AA at all as a OW member. The Flagship international first class dining lounge is nice but small and you feel like you are the one quarantined.
    What is odd is that the regular Admirals lounge is quiet, and nice. The main Admirals lounge on the other end of the mezzanine is now closed so will what happens.

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