The past couple of years US airlines have really been upping their game when it comes to the lounges they offer. From Delta’s SkyClub in Seattle, to American’s Flagship Lounge Chicago, to American’s Flagship First Dining New York, to United’s Polaris Lounge Chicago, I love the direction US airlines are taking with their premium ground experience.
If you told me a few years ago that a US airline would offer an a la carte dining experience in their lounge, I wouldn’t have believed it.
I reviewed United’s Polaris Lounge Chicago just a couple of days ago, and the part of the experience that impressed me most was the sit-down dining experience. In this post I wanted to compare the a la carte dining experiences offered by American and United.
When American opened their Flagship First Dining at JFK, they claimed they were the “first U.S. airline to open a restaurant-style dining experience on the ground.” Is that claim true, given that United’s Polaris Lounge opened before?
American’s Flagship First Dining is a lounge within a lounge, and is exclusively available to those traveling in international first class, as well as in first class on select premium transcontinental flights.
The JFK lounge is stunning. It feels high end, has lots of natural light, and perhaps most impressively, is generally empty. While most premium lounges nowadays are packed, when I visited only a couple of other tables were taken. The facility is a true sanctuary.
The food was really good as well, both in terms of presentation and quality.
While a lot of lounges offer custom cocktails, I was impressed by the quality of the cocktails in the lounge, which were a step up both in terms of taste and presentation.
Service was excellent, though I think perhaps this lounge suffers from being too quiet, because you can hear everything the servers say… including their complaints.
While American’s Flagship First Dining is only open to international first class passengers, United’s Polaris Lounge is open to international business class passengers, so access to it is much less restrictive.
The dining area doesn’t have the same ambiance as Flagship First Dining, as it’s integrated into the rest of the lounge. So while Flagship First Dining is an oasis, the Polaris Lounge isn’t quite as relaxing, especially during peak hours.
What impressed me most about dining in the Polaris Lounge was the quality of the food. It was excellent, and in my opinion on par with what American serves.
I only had one cocktail in the lounge, which was great, though not quite to the level of what’s offered in American’s Flagship First Dining.
On the drink front, one advantage the Polaris Lounge has is that freshly prepare espresso-based drinks, rather than using a machine. I’m a sucker for a good cappuccino.
In terms of service, it was excellent as well, roughly on par with the Polaris Lounge.
So, which dining experience is better?
One would assume that Flagship First Dining would be significantly better than the dining experience in the Polaris Lounge, given that the former is only open to first class passengers, while the latter is also open to business class passengers.
Based on my experience, Flagship First Dining has a huge edge in terms of the ambiance it offers, a slight edge for the cocktails, and maybe a slight edge for the variety of food on offer.
The Polaris Lounge has an advantage for having espresso-based drinks.
But other than that, I thought the experiences were roughly comparable. In terms of food quality and service, both were excellent.
So, is American’s claim that they’re the “first U.S. airline to open a restaurant-style dining experience on the ground” honest, given that United’s Polaris Lounge opened first? American makes this claim because the restaurant is a completely separate experience from the lounge, you’re seated by a host, etc. While that’s true, other than that I think it’s perfectly reasonable to call the Polaris Lounge experience a proper restaurant-style dining experience as well — both facilities have excellent food, cocktails, and service.
Based on my (admittedly limited) data points, the main difference between the two facilities is the ambiance.
If you’ve used United’s Polaris Lounge or American’s Flagship First Dining, what did you think? Do you think there’s a major difference between the a la carte dining experiences?