9 ways the pandemic has transformed the American Airlines lounge experience
Editor’s note: This is one of three reviews of the Big U.S. three airline lounges during the pandemic. You can find the Delta Sky Club review and United Club review here.
The best airport lounges used to be a respite from the hustle and bustle of a terminal.
But with air travel and passenger traffic just a blip of what it used to be, what purpose do lounges serve now? That's the question I wanted to answer during my journey on American Airlines from New York to Los Angeles.
After visiting American Admirals Club locations at two hubs, it's safe to say that the lounge experience is drastically different.
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Yes, many of the amenities that premium passengers and high-value customers expect are no longer available. However, that has been replaced with a sanitized enclave with fast Wi-Fi, loads of space and a few perks that can make it worthwhile to stop in.
Here are nine observations from the American lounges during the pandemic — and how the overall ground experience has radically shifted.
Related: Review of American Flagship First transcon during the pandemic
Flagship Lounges and Flagship First Dining are closed
With major service reductions and international flights curtailed, it's no surprise that American's most premium, international-focused airport lounges are currently closed. American shuttered its Flagship Lounges and Flagship First Dining in mid-March at the onset of the pandemic in the U.S. and there's no sign that they will re-open anytime soon.
However, any passengers eligible for access to a Flagship location can use a nearby Admirals Club.
In my case, I was flying in first class between JFK and LAX, so I would have had access to both the Flagship Lounge as well as Flagship First Dining. Instead, I was admitted to a temporary Admirals Club location at JFK Terminal 8 (partially converted from the Flagship Lounge) and the Admirals Club at LAX Terminal 4 upon landing.
...but Flagship Check-In is still available
While American's premium lounges are not open, the ground experience isn't totally neglected for those eligible for Flagship First check-in. In fact, this exclusive check-in area is open across American's system. However, there are reduced hours and staffing.
At JFK Terminal 8, I was warmly greeted by an agent who confirmed eligibility and welcomed me inside the private entryway.
While there were two check-in agents available, I was the only one being helped and was quickly able to switch my seat to the last row of the Airbus A321T first-class cabin. Usually, there would be another ground agent who would whisk you to the front of security. However, as expected, that's not available now and it would be superfluous since the TSA security line was so short.
Unfortunately, the TSA PreCheck line was closed.
Admirals Club service is more personalized than ever
Upon entering the Admirals Club at both JFK and LAX, I was escorted to my seat by an agent. While this is a safety measure to ensure the area that you sit in is sanitized after you depart the lounge, it also happens to double as a personalized, premium touch.
Many seats were blocked off with signage to maintain space. And at LAX, small, square placards were located on all seating surfaces. A staff member would then remove a placard if you were to sit there as a reminder to clean it once you left the lounge.
At the LAX Admirals Club, I was immediately asked if I wanted any drinks or snacks before I could even sit down. These same attendants also ensured that all lounge-goers were wearing a mask. And I saw agents gently remind travelers to wear a mask when they were no longer consuming any food or drinks — even while just sitting in their designated spot.
Related: Guide to airline social distancing policies
Expect reduced club hours and service
The only Admirals Club locations that are open are located at the 10 hub airports of American. Even within these airports, not all the lounges are in operation, and hours are restricted. For instance, the LAX Terminal 5 Admirals Club remains closed but the Terminal 4 location is still open.
All food and drink services vary by the local jurisdiction (as I'll further explain below). These are the Admirals Clubs currently open:
- Charlotte (CLT) – Concourses B and C
- Chicago O'Hare (ORD) – Concourse H/K
- Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW) – Terminals A, B, C and D
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Terminal 4
- Miami (MIA) – Gate D30
- New York Kennedy (JFK) – Terminal 8 (in the Flagship Lounge)
- New York LaGuardia (LGA) – Concourse D
- Philadelphia (PHL) – Terminals B/C and F
- Phoenix (PHX) – Gate A7
- Washington Reagan (DCA) – Terminal C
Related: Which airline lounges in the U.S. are currently open?
You'll have plenty of space with few crowds
Every Admirals Club that is currently open has a maximum of 50% occupancy. And throughout the lounge, there are signs and floor decals to encourage spacing with flexible seating to allow for social distancing.
During my weekday afternoon visits to both the JFK and LAX locations, neither Admirals Club reached was even close to 50% occupancy. At most, I saw up to 15 other people at a time — including both staff members and passengers within the lounge. That's far cry from the overcrowded lounges pre-COVID.
The JFK location had its shelves stripped of magazines, newspapers and other reading materials that may be considered high-touch. However, I was surprised to see LAX still had a rack full of magazines for anyone to take.
Related: The best credit card for Admirals Club access
Food and drink will vary wildly by location
During the pandemic, Admirals Clubs are operating with food and drink policies that are based on the local laws of the city, county and state of location. At most clubs, you'll find single-use glassware, a full-service bar and touchless menus with QR codes.
However, self-serve areas remain closed, which means all concessions are delivered to you by a lounge agent. In addition, American reintroduced hot food items at select Admirals Club locations in August. Still, the offerings are pretty meager at the lounges that do have any food items.
My visits to both the JFK and LAX Admirals Clubs wildly differed, based on the local regulations of each location.
JFK Admirals Club
The JFK location is located in a part of the Flagship Lounge that formerly was an Admirals Club (it's interesting to see it's back to its former self). However, the location and decor is the only recognizable element of this club. That's because there are no amenities nor food or drink items available whatsoever. That's right, according to American, nothing can be consumed within the club.
That means the Admirals Club pretty much functions purely as a waiting area with speedy Wi-Fi, clean restrooms and comfortable ottomans to prop up your feet and watch the tarmac below.
Upon exiting the lounge, you'll be given a grab-and-go box of snack items and a bottle of water.
LAX Admirals Club
The difference between the JFK and LAX Admirals Clubs were night and day.
The LAX location had a fully stocked bar, fruit on display buffet-style, typical lounge beverage offerings and the infamous "snack towers of sadness." That is, not much seemed to have changed from pre-COVID, except for the fact that everything was delivered to you by a lounge agent.
No complimentary hot food was available when I was there at 6:30 p.m. However, there was food for purchase which included select salads and sandwiches that were even displayed on a counter.
Restrooms are clean, showers are out of commission
On the plus side, restrooms were clean and fully stocked with soap and paper towels. However, don't expect to rinse off at an Admirals Club anytime soon. Shower facilities are closed for the foreseeable future.
That makes sense since many long-haul flights are not available and it takes significant staffing to ensure shower rooms are clean (and sanitized) after each use.
Masks are required and hand sanitizer is plentiful
A face covering is required while you’re in the club, but you can remove it to eat or drink. Throughout the JFK and LAX clubs, I found hand sanitizer stations to be readily available (unlike after the security checkpoint at JFK).
To keep airline employees safe, it was good to see commercial-grade shields at reception and service desks not only at the Admirals Clubs, but the entire JFK and LAX airport area.
There are fewer planes to spot out the window
With fewer passengers, that means fewer interesting planes to watch from the Admirals Club windows. Still, one of the best spots for planespotting is the far end of the Admirals Club in Terminal 4 where you'll get a fantastic view of several gates of Tom Bradley International Terminal.
I caught a glimpse of an Air New Zealand flight bound for Auckland and an EVA Air flight bound for Taipei.
View this post on Instagram
Hopped off the plane at LAX to this view. One of my favorite things to do is just sit back and watch some planes. With amenities and service stripped back at most airline lounges — including the @americanair Admirals Club — it’s good to know you’ll still have this awesome view of Tom Bradley International. More to come on the AA ground experience on @thepointsguy soon!
JFK Terminal 8 has always been a bit of a ghost town and that's been exacerbated during the pandemic. The only plane that I could see was a single American aircraft at the far end of the concourse.
Related: 7 ways the pandemic is changing airport lounges
Like much of the travel world now, the American lounge and ground experience feels innately familiar yet foreign at the same time.
It felt like a relief to be once again strolling into a lounge, taking a seat and connecting to Wi-Fi. Yet so much has changed too.
Next time you find yourself in an Admirals Club, it'll be in a quieter, cleaner space with more personalized service at locations like LAX. However, don't expect all the amenities you had before. And in some airports, like JFK, your club will be nothing more than a sanitized waiting room.
All photos by Chris Dong/The Points Guy.