I really don’t care about airline lounges. Sure, I’ll gladly check one out when given the opportunity just out of curiosity, but as long as there’s wifi and a power outlet, I’m generally more comfortable just sitting with the masses and enjoying the people-watching in the terminal. So when American invited me to check out the airline’s new lounge complex in Terminal 4 at LAX, I punted until I knew I would be in the airport anyway. Recently, I found myself at LAX to watch that biometric boarding test with British Airways, and I figured that was as good a time as any. What I found was a three-tier space that was certainly pleasant. But the top tier, Flagship Dining, is really what grabbed me. I still can’t figure out why.
Previously, the area above the concourse in Terminal 4 was split into two areas. The western half and part of the eastern side (about 65 percent of total space) was the Admirals Club. That’s where the bulk of passengers went and it was for paid members, business class passengers, and some American/oneworld elites. The other 35 percent, the southeastern area, was the Flagship Lounge meant for first class passengers on three-cabin airplanes and only top elites. But American decided to change its policies, and with that change, it had to redo its lounge situation.
The big change was that international business class passengers as well as more elite members would be allowed into the Flagship Lounge. That left the Admirals Club mostly for members and not much else. So, American essentially flipped its lounges at LAX. Now, the Admirals Club is for the riff-raff.
It sits mostly in the southeastern part of the space, but it also bleeds over a bit into the southwest corner. While there used to be plenty of small nooks to find privacy, it’s now generally crowded. You can find a seat, but you won’t have a room to yourself.
Meanwhile, the Flagship Lounge took over the rest of the footprint. The food offerings were spiffed up, and the place looks great.
There’s a TV area, a quiet room, and a conference room or two.
Even though it’s much bigger now, it’s also much more crowded thanks to all the additional travelers gaining access. When I was there, it was mid-afternoon, and there were a lot of people around. That being said, it never felt overly crowded, and there was plenty of space to stretch out.
Like I said, most of this is lost on me. Sure, it looked nice.
It had nice bathrooms, great old American Airlines photos lining the walls, and oh yes, showers. (The Admirals Club has some too, by the way.)
But way back in the northeast corner was something different: Flagship First Dining.
Flagship Dining is essentially the last bastion for the fanciest of fancy pants. Those flying in three-cabin first class only (which from LA means you’re going to New York, London, or Hong Kong) are given an invitation upon arrival at the Flagship Lounge to go have a bite to eat before getting on the airplane.
This, of course, seems completely mad. Flying in First Class means you get wined and dined for hours upon end to help pass the time in the air. Why would you want to eat before you get on the airplane? It turns out there are some good reasons. Particularly for those going to New York, it’s such a short flight that there’s real value in eating before your redeye and then going to sleep. Travelers can also come in and eat AFTER their flights if they prefer. So someone who took the 2:30pm flight from JFK might arrive at 6, hated the inflight meal, and be starving. That’s all well and good, but still, it seems excessive.
American invited me to come on in and test it out (no charge), so I did. When I walked in, it had the look and feel of a nice restaurant. It was also completely empty.
I was naturally given the best seat in the house, a window seat with a view of the alley between Terminals 4 and 5.
The staff was fantastic. I must have dealt with at least 4 or 5 different people during my time there, and they never missed a beat.
I was handed the menu along with the drink list when I sat down.
After a minute, I decided to try the Oaxacan Old Fashioned, a signature cocktail. It was ok, though using tequila and mezcal means it’s not really an old fashioned.
I was brought some bread and salted butter when I decided to try the Soba Noodle Soup as my starter. It was brought out in a rather fancy bowl, and the broth was poured in at the table. It was delicious.
At this point, more people began filtering in (including, I think, Laurence Fishburne though I’m admittedly terrible at actually identifying celebrities). I can only assume that they were all traveling to New York considering the time of day, though it’s possible a couple of earlybirds going to London were there too. The woman across from me was on her phone a fair bit of the time, and I couldn’t help but overhear her raving about the Flagship Dining experience to the person on the other end of the line.
For the main course, I had been told the pasta was fantastic, but many others suggested that I had to try the burger. So I did, and I had a Malbec to go with it.
Sure enough, it was really tasty, and I was getting full. But wait, there’s dessert. I had a sundae.
Finally, it was time for me to head over to the Bradley Terminal, so I was brought what looks like a bill along with an airplane chocolate.
The “bill” is odd and seemingly unnecessary since it’s really just there to say “thanks for visiting.” I had read elsewhere that tipping wasn’t allowed, so I wasn’t quite sure why they bothered.
All I know is that it was a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience, and it’s not one I’d expect to get at an airport. I kept thinking that I should buy a couple First Class tickets so my wife so I could eat there for a special night out… and then refund the tickets after. But I still couldn’t shake this idea that it was just silly and unnecessary.
Thanks to American for letting me take it for a swing, though I’m fairly certain it’s not something I’ll have the chance to do again when I’m actually flying. I’m curious to hear everyone else’s thoughts on this trend of having elegant dining options before (or after) your flight.