Visiting American’s Flagship Check-In, Other New Lobby Areas at LAX

American recently decided to revamp its check-in lobby at LAX, and the result is going to be the blueprint for all of American’s hubs. American invited me to come on up and take a look last week. The highlight? The Flagship check-in service for the fancy pants travelers. I also got an update on a few other projects American is working on at LAX while I was there.

Let’s start with Flagship check-in, which is like checking in with a hotel. If you are traveling in First Class on a three-cabin airplane (either to New York or internationally), if you’re a Concierge Key member, or if you have purchased Five Star Service, you are entitled to use the Flagship check-in area which has a separate entrance directly from the curb. About 65 to 85 people per day use the service, so it’s rather exclusive. (Raquel Welch was checking in as I got my tour, so that certainly added to the glamour.)

Flagship Entrance

This whole thing really does have the feel of a hotel to it. There is a doorman out front with a hotel-style bag cart. The doorman has an iPad with the list of people arriving every day so he can greet them properly.

Flagship Agent

Once inside, there are kiosks for those who want to use them, but most will just go to the hotel-style desk where an agent can help.

Flagship Check In Desk

After checking in, the traveler walks out the door and into an elevator which goes upstairs to security. This uses the same security area as the regular premium line travelers (discussed below), but there is a separate line so people can go straight in.

Flagship Elevator to Security

Pretty fancy, huh? While it’s not easy to become Concierge Key or cheap to buy a First Class ticket, you can get Five Star Service for $125 a person ($200 for two). Is it necessary? Nah, but it does make you feel a little like a rock star.

Now, what about check in for the rest of us? As anyone who’s flown through LAX knows, the biggest challenge for check-in is that the lobby areas are pretty narrow for today’s purposes. That’s what happens when you’re in old terminals. But American has done a fairly good job at making this work after this last makeover.

The west end of the lobby (closer to the Bradley Terminal) is now all self-service.

Self Service Lobby 2

They’ve pulled out banks of six kiosks attached to a computer where an agent is manning the operation. Everyone checks in there, and there are skycap-like runners (no tips) who take your bags to the belt. The counter itself is no longer used. By the end of 2014, there will be an in-line baggage screening area built, the counters will be removed, and bags can then be dropped right on the belt for their journey through the underbelly of the airport. At either end of the counter, there are “resolution centers” if people need help.

By the way, that inline baggage screening area will be built on the bottom floor of the new behind-security connector being built between American’s Terminal 4 and the Bradley Terminal next door. American will take 4 gates in the new Bradley concourse and people will be able to pass freely between the two. So that’s the airline’s growth plan. I asked about whether the new tunnel between Terminal 4 and 5 would ever open, and John Tiliacos, Managing Director of Los Angeles for American, said that they would like to open it up but the old tunnel has become something of a storage closet. It might take awhile before we see that happen.

The east side of the lobby has traditional counters for those who need ticketing (John said a lot of people still come to LAX to ticket, surprisingly) or have more complex issues. But the far east end of the lobby is the new premium check in area.

Looking Down on Premium Cabin Lobby

There is someone standing at the far end of this lobby to make sure only premium customers come in. After check in, there is an escalator there just for premium customers which takes people up to the new security checkpoint above the ticket counter so they never interact with coach passengers. (This is the checkpoint the Flagship check-in uses as well.)

Premium Security Line

All in all, I like what they’ve done with the place. The Flagship check-in piece seems particularly good for recognizing those travelers who really do spend a silly amount of money with the airline.

[See more photos of my visit]

26 Responses to Visiting American’s Flagship Check-In, Other New Lobby Areas at LAX

  1. john smith says:

    woow this seems to have an awsome and organized service! i surely try it out ! thanks for the tip

  2. Eh, it looks nice, but I’d rather stand in line with the rest of the regular people. It seems like a waste of money, and annoyingly snobby as well.

  3. CP says:

    It’s better than the previous version.

    In the premium area, though, during my most recent flight out of LAX (about a week ago) American seem to have forgotten about having staff actually work the counters for business and first class passengers. As soon as there was one person with a real ticketing issue (cancellation, etc.), no agents were available to help with bags for basic check-in, and the lines built. All in all, waiting 20 minutes for a person to help you isn’t a very ‘premium’ experience.

  4. Jerry says:

    You forgot to cover the TSA Pre-Check area. I went thru there a couple weeks ago. VERY short line, kept my belt, shoes and Jacket on. Laptop stayed in my bag, and the whole thing took less than 60 seconds.

    10 years after 9/11 and the TSA finally got it right!

  5. The entrance into the Flagship doorway isn’t very fancy pants looking. They should have done something on the outside wal surrounding the entry way to give it more ‘glam’ (Hollywood after all). I’m assuming the hallway leading to the elevator isn’t that dark and scary looking in real life. :-)

    The east lobby view looks a bit comfusing by the photo but must be less so in real life. But looking up to the second level on the left and far end of photo you see so many people so walking in and seeing a empty-ish lobby level doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people ahead of you.

    • Alex says:

      My guess is that it’s designed to look unobtrusive. Lots of people who aren’t entitled to it try to use the fancy-looking “premium” (regulary Priority AAccess/business/domestic first) check-in area because it looks fancy and efficient. For regular premium passengers, that’s a mild annoyance; for celebrities, that could be a much more significant annoyance. Passengers who aren’t entitled to Flagship checkin probably don’t even notice it, so they don’t bother the ~80 passengers/day who are eligible.

    • CF says:

      I’m with Alex. I think the point is to be understated from the outside – gives it that even fancier-pants factor where it’s so exclusive that it doesn’t need to tell the world by being showy. It’s like those clubs without names above the door.

      And that hallway to the elevator actually is fairly dark. That’s beyond double doors outside of the check-in area, so it’s kind of standard-issue LAX stuff over there. There’s also a pass-through area to right on the way to the elevator for people to enter from the premium check-in area. When Raquel Welch walked by, there were a couple of paparazzi waiting there for her. That wasn’t cool, but I imagine it’s a fire code thing or something.

  6. SEAN says:

    The entrance into the Flagship doorway isn?t very fancy pants looking. They should have done something on the outside wal surrounding the entry way to give it more ?glam? (Hollywood after all). How about gold plating the walls & walk of fame style floors with stars?

  7. @Sean- exactly what I noticed as well. looks like the entrance to an old, shady elevator, like the ones that take you to the some SkyClubs at ATL and very unlike Etihad’s 1st and Business entrance at AUH (I know, not a fair comparison)

  8. Jason H says:

    I am a fan of anything airlines can do to increase efficiency of their pre-security area while not making it unfriendly to the customer or the employees. My biggest bone of contention with airlines is when there is too little signage and when the signage is fixed and they can’t move things around as the demand and need changes. For that I am a big fan of the Delta setup in Atlanta.

  9. Sanjeev M says:

    This is the way to go. All self-service to free up space. Granted, small check-in spaces means short walking distance, which is what LAX is good for.

    AA is really trying hard for its premium customers. Do they do this anywhere else in the world? I mean places like Dallas there’s so many counters that any class check in won’t take that long.

    Brett, what is this tunnel between 4 and Bradley? Are you envisioning connecting passengers to use this in the future?

    • CF says:

      AA rolled out its Flagship set-up in LA first, but it will be in all the cornerstone markets eventually.

      They are building a sterile (behind security) connector between Bradley and T4 as part of the Bradley project. Yes, connecting passengers will use it as AA will have 4 gates in Bradley. (And there’s Qantas, BA, and other partners.)

  10. Arcanum says:

    I’ve had the (mis-)pleasure of connecting through LAX but have never actually checked in there. To me, that premium security line stretching halfway down the terminal looks INSANE. No one (including Cranky) has commented on it though, so should I assume that’s normal for LAX?

    • That does look like a very long “premium” security line.

    • CF says:

      It did look very long to me as well, but they said that the line moves very quickly – it’s just the way they had to arrange the space. They said the person at the back of this line should be through in about 5 mins. I don’t have anything to suggest otherwise, so if others have experience it, maybe they can chime in.

  11. Cranky, I am a frequent flyer on AA and have a Gold level AAdvantage card. In the past it has allowed me to check in at LAX in the Business line to save time. How is AA going to address the type of customer I am? Also, will I still be able to have Priority Boarding previlage? Do Gold Card travelers loose anything with the new set-up?

    • CF says:

      I don’t think anything will have changed for you. You just use that premium check-in area as you’ve used before. I don’t recall any sort of procedural changes being implemented with this physical change.

      • Alex Hill says:

        As before (and at AA’s other large hubs, at least ORD), there are separate lines within the premium check-in area: regular Priority AAccess (Golds and full fare coach passengers) is one line, but business and first have separate lines that higher-level elites can use. You can barely make out the words “AAdvantage Gold/Priority AAccess” on the most-distant of the check-in lines in Cranky’s photo of the premium check-in area.

  12. Felix says:

    Looks nice but one has to wonder if it pays for itself in higher revenue. Definitely something to crow about in terms of luxury but AA has always been quick to show off the family jewels rather than the quarterly statements.

  13. RICH says:

    American sure did a good job of keeping this quiet…But, then again they are not even talking to their employees this month. As a Gold member the ID check went fast no problem..However; we ALL end up with everyone else at the X-ray belt and still wait in line there. Nothing in the American magazine or on AA emails.
    Hey has anyone else noticed some tension with the employees since the layoff of 13,000 AA employees was made ?

  14. You know I think they try to make this look fancy but kinda fail at it.

    I’d insist that the lower level look consistent once you get inside. I get that the outside should be subtle, but once you’re inside the carpet/tile should stay the same, and the ceiling should be consistent. Basically American skimped on something they shouldn’t've skimped on.

    Can someone please get Kirby in head of this airline stat?

  15. Danwriter says:

    Discovered this last week, naturally after schlepping to the Bradlet end of the terminal, as usual. One big change is that this has eliminated the paparazzi perch where the Priority TSA que used to be located. The new arrangement was pretty efficient for me.

  16. Frequent Traveller says:

    I see that the review mentioned the premium class security area. I flew out of LAX 5 times in 10 days about 3 weeks ago, and EVERY SINGLE TIME, the so called premium security line was out the door and down the hall, with easily 30-40 people in it. I went to the normal security line EVERY TIME, and didn’t wait behind more than 6-7 people. I do 200,000 miles a year and it sickens me that these airlines put a Premium sign over something and expect that this means Premium treatment. In many airports, the coach line moves faster than the Business/First check ins too. Saying Premium without actually staffing it to a premium level is like putting lipstick on a pig, and American has this down to an art.

  17. kyemtd12 says:

    This seems like an excellent trade off for taking the pensions and health benefits from their employees!!! And putting employees to the curb GEE right on American Great Company !!

  18. I had a chance to try Flagship check-in last week with wife and kid in tow (F to Asia). We lounged on the sofas while they tagged the luggage. Then the bellman escorted us upstairs to the Flagship line for security. Fun to cut in front of all the elites.

    The check-in, lounge, and in-flight experience were very good. Can’t beat a flat bed. The only negative thing I can bring up was that they served Dewars and Glenlivet 12 years, the same they serve in coach. The wines were more upscale (loved the icewine) but it stood out that the liquor wasn’t.

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