I was lucky to find a First Class Saver Award on one of the 3 inaugural Airbus A321T flights on January 7th (there was a 4th out of LAX but it was a redeye that landed on the 8th, so I don’t count that). I actually originally found a First Class Saver Award on the first flight of them all, AA #118 from LAX to JFK at 7am, but I’m not about early morning flights.
Instead I used 37,500 Avios for a First Class seat on AA #181 from JFK to LAX at 4:45pm when that flight opened up, and bought a coach ticket for the night before to meet up with the flight. As an Executive Platinum, my upgrade for the coach ticket cleared at 100 hours out, so I flew a banal redeye in business on the old 767-200, then a flight back on the A321T in first class. I’ve never done an inaugural type flight before, so I was looking forward to this, especially since I fly the LAX-JFK route frequently!
I’ll be breaking the report down into two parts – this part will include the Flagship Check-In, Flagship Lounge, and pre-boarding (lack of) festivities. While not necessarily new, they are a part of the Transcontinental First Class experience.
The second part will include the actual flight on the A321T.
I went out into New York City for a while, but the 8ºF temperature quickly brought me back to JFK airport to wait it out for my A321T flight. As a 3-class First Class passenger on a transcontinental flight, I was allowed access to the JFK Flagship Checkin area.
American Airlines has Flagship Checkin at JFK, LAX, ORD, and MIA. They are meant for passengers in 3-class transcontinental or international first class, Concierge Key members, or people paying $250+ for Five Star Services. Status has no say in this – not even an Executive Platinum flying Business Class gets to use this.
With online check-in and mobile apps nowadays, the Flagship Checkin isn’t all that useful for a trip like this, where I had a simple direct flight and just a carry-on bag with no checked bags. However, it’s a serene area of the terminal, located just next to the elevators to the AirTrain. I had to give a door guardian my name and flight number, and after verifying I had access, she let me in. The agent within noted I was the only passenger she had seen in an hour, and I actually hung around for 10-15 minutes after checking in to charge my phone, and no other passengers or employees entered during that time. Plus it was a special First Class journey, so I definitely wanted to have the cardstock boarding pass that requires visiting an AAgent.
The best part about the Flagship Check-in is that the exit door deposits you directly at the front of the TSA Pre-Check line. Given how hectic JFK security can get, this in itself is a great reason to use Flagship Checkin if you have access.
After going through security, I made my way to the Flagship Lounge, located within the Admirals Club near Gate 12 in the main concourse. This again was a product of my transcontinental 3-class First Class ticket. I would normally get it as Executive Platinum on international itineraries, but not on domestic ones. After checking in to the main Admirals Club, the lounge agent escorted me to the Flagship Lounge and swiped me in.
The Flagship Lounge is American’s version of an international First Class lounge – it’s not on par with places like the Lufthansa First Class Terminal or Thai First Class lounge, but it’s certainly better than the Admirals Club outside.
First order of business was to take a hot shower, not for cleanliness, but to warm up after walking outside in 8º weather. Showers are technically part of the Admirals Club, you’ll have to re-enter the Flagship Lounge.
Since I entered the lounge right around a menu change, I nibbled on the light lunch (11am-2:30pm) and afternoon tea (2:30pm-5:00pm) selections, the latter being surprisingly more filling and scrumptious.
And the afternoon tea ….
In between, I met another FlyerTalker in the Flagship Lounge, SFO777, who writes some of the best trip reports on FlyerTalk. He was on the earlier flight, so I went out to the gate with him to see if there were any festivities lined up. There were no special gate announcements, and many people who had booked this flight for no special reason asked why so many of us were taking photos.
I bid adieu to SFO777 and agreed to compare experiences in LA as he had a connection to wait for (long story short, no matter what the hard product, a crew can make all the difference on a flight). I hopped over to my gate to meet the arriving A321T that would act as my flight, only to see none other than Gary walk off the plane. We chatted a bit about the plane and he told me to look out for a couple of things.
I was ready to experience that new plane smell!