While I’m not a huge fan of airport lounges as a general destination I have to appreciate the announcement this week that American Airlines is upping its game with he Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge products. More and larger lounges is a good thing, as is upgraded offerings resembling real meals. New Flagship facilities will open at Miami, Philadelphia and Dallas-Ft. Worth while JFK, O’Hare and Los Angeles will see upgrades. But most interesting to me is the shift in access rules and how this will play out for various customers.
Many more passengers will have access to the Flagship Lounges once the renovations are complete. As the company indicated in the release:
With more expansive spaces dedicated to each Flagship Lounge, all trans-Pacific, trans-Atlantic, deep South America and Airbus 321T transcontinental customers booked in First Class and Business Class will have access to Flagship services beginning in 2017.
Opening up access to business class passengers rather than only first class travelers can be seen in two ways. On the one hand, it brings American on par with some of its partners, such as British Airways, in terms of offering real food as part of the pre-flight lounge experience. That’s good for consistency and getting the “metal-neutral” part of the joint ventures a bit closer to actually being neutral. The other aspect is that, in an increasing number of cases, there is no first class cabin. Eventually the company will have business class as the highest cabin on the vast majority of the fleet; only the 77Ws will keep first class. At that point it is unlikely there would be enough daily passengers at most of the hubs to support the Flagship levels of service. Fortunately for travelers, rather than choosing to cut the offering American will open it up to more passengers and bring the offering up a bit. This is also why the Flagship Dining – available only for First Class passengers – is not coming to all six intercontinental hubs.
From an elite status perspective the access rules are also interesting. American’s AAdvantage Platinum elites will continue to have Admirals Club access while Executive Platinum members will continue to have Flagship access on long-haul flights. But a non-status business class traveler gets the Flagship access and EXPs do not get the Flagship Dining experience unless also in first class. Similarly, oneworld partner elites should not see any change unless also flying in a premium cabin.
This makes sense to me, controlling the capacity issues which would likely arise even with the expanded space. Especially around the large departure banks (say 5-11p a JFK every night) there is potential for 600+ premium seats to be passing through each night. Adding in more elites would overwhelm the lounge. Even if the Platinum flying in coach does not get access while a non-status passenger flying in business class does.
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