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Throughout American Airlines’ history, the term Flagship has played an important role — from its “Flagship Fleet” of DC-3s in the 1930s to “Flagship First Class” on its first 777s. However, until recently, the name has mostly been synonymous with an almost-extinct first-class product, rather than the latest and greatest the airline has to offer.

Not only was “Flagship” absent from the promotion of AA’s newest first and business-class products, AA also dropped the name from its top lounges — renaming them “International First Class Lounges” instead.

Turns out, all of this is part of a larger plan by American to revive the Flagship brand. Starting with the opening of the new Flagship First Dining and Flagship Lounge in New York’s JFK last month, the airline is starting to Make Flagship Great Again.

In This Post

Flagship First Check-In

While top passengers only get Priority desks at most airports, there are five locations featuring an exclusive Flagship First Check-In desk for qualifying passengers: Chicago (ORD), London Heathrow (LHR), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA) and New York’s JFK. There are “plans to add it at Dallas Fort Worth” (DFW), but a timeline hasn’t been released.

Flagship First Check-In entrance JFK

While there haven’t been any recent changes to the Flagship Check-In experience, American Airlines updated its access policies to include AA Executive Platinum elites on international flights. The access policy is complicated enough to fill an entire post by itself, but generally includes AA ConciergeKey and Executive Platinum elites, first-class passengers on international and transcontinental flights and non-AA Oneworld elites.

Flagship Lounges

After passing through security, the next step in the Flagship experience is the Flagship Lounge. There are initially going to be seven Flagship Lounges in the network: Chicago (ORD), Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), London Heathrow (LHR), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York-JFK and Philadelphia (PHL).

The first of these to open was JFK’s Flagship Lounge, newly renovated and open since December 2016 as the “International First Class Lounge.” Last week the signs were swapped out, with “Flagship Lounge” signs taking the place of “International First Class Lounge.”

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The Flagship Lounges in ORD, LAX and MIA are slated to open “later in 2017” and the DFW, LHR and PHL lounges will open sometime in 2018.

The Flagship Lounge is accessible to:

  • AA and other Oneworld carriers’ first and business-class passengers on qualifying international and transcontinental flights
  • AA Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro and Platinum elites on qualifying international routes
  • AA ConciergeKey elites regardless of cabin or itinerary
  • Non-AA Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire elites regardless of cabin or itinerary

Qualifying international routes include flights to Europe, Asia, Central America, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico City (MEX). Qualifying transcontinental routes are JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO and MIA-LAX.

Flagship First Dining

Opened just last month, the newest aspect of the Flagship experience is the Flagship First Dining. We got an early sneak peak of the JFK experience and were quite impressed.

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While United was the first US carrier lounge to have sit-down dining (with its Polaris lounge), AA’s Flagship First Dining takes it to the next level with a dedicated dining space where the experience is more like visiting a restaurant than a lounge: from being greeted, seated and waited on the entire way through.

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Most importantly (for a dining experience), the food is excellent. TPG Assistant Editor Nick Ellis was treated to an almost-overwhelming six-course meal during his preview of the experience. From the Arancini appetizer to the decadent desert, AA is providing top-notch dining to its top customers.

However, it’s not going to be easy to experience this yourself. Flagship First Dining is currently only open at JFK, with locations in Los Angeles (LAX), London’s Heathrow (LHR) and Miami (MIA) opening later in 2017. Dallas/Fort Worth’s International First Class Dining concept is slated to be transitioned to Flagship First Dining in 2018.

Access to the Flagship First Dining experience is limited only to first-class passengers on American Airlines’ qualifying international flights and transcontinental flights — including flights to Asia, Australia, Europe, South America, JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO and LAX-MIA.

This is more limited than you might think, as you need to be flying in first on a three-class aircraft to qualify. Flying up front on AA’s 11-hour flight from JFK to Buenos Aires (EZE)? Unfortunately, you don’t qualify, as this aircraft only has an international business-class cabin.

TPG’s Take

A few weeks ago, TPG himself got the chance to preview the Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining experience at a special one-night SoHo pop-up event. For the first time in a while, he was impressed by changes being made by American Airlines — noting that the drinks and food are definitely a step up from the standard Admirals Club sips and grub.

AA Flagship Dining cocktails
TPG had the chance to experience a slice of Flagship First Dining before anyone else.

The experience left him reconsidering his transcontinental flight options. He’s got two primary choices: JetBlue Mint and American Airlines’ A321T. As an American Airlines Executive Platinum (for now), he can reliably use a systemwide upgrade to jump from AA’s business class to first class on these transcon flights. And, JetBlue Mint and AA’s business-class products are priced about the same. So, his decision is effectively between AA’s first class and JetBlue Mint.

Recently, JetBlue Mint has won most of his business — as Mint trumps AA’s A321T first class on board in TPG’s experience. However, with the new Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining, AA has now significantly stepped up its game. It might be enough for TPG to consider switching some transcon business back to AA.

What’s Next?

Recently, we noticed that AA launched new Flagship First International, Flagship First Transcontinental, Flagship Business International and Flagship Business Transcontinental landing pages on the airline’s onboard product webpage:

AA Flagship branding onboard

Is this a foreshadowing of American slapping the “Flagship” name on all of its international business/first-class cabins, similar to what United has done with Polaris? AA won’t say now, so we’ll have to wait and see.

For now, American seems to be headed in the right direction in providing top-notch products — on the ground and in the air — for its top customers. While economy seats are trending toward narrower and tighter, if you’re willing to pay, AA is making strides to make your flying experience better than ever before.

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