Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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To wrap up a great family vacation in Hawaii, I was able to score American Airlines Flagship First seats from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to São Paulo Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) for the final flight of a 20+ hour journey
The one-way itinerary from OGG-LAX-JFK-GRU cost only 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles. A great deal, but I was most excited about the final leg.
Besides being able to finally fly American’s “true” first class seat on a long-haul flight (that will soon be retired), I also got access to the brand new Chelsea Lounge at JFK.
Perhaps I was a bit too excited or had set my expectations too high, but my family and I left the lounge somewhat disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it was a stunning lounge and probably the nicest option at the airport, but with all of the lounge experience that AA and BA have combined, you might think that this joint premium lounge would be a bit more polished.
Let’s take a look at this lounge and what you can expect if you have access to it on your flight through JFK.
American Airlines and British Airways have partnered to open 3 joint premium lounges in Terminal 8 of John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The Chelsea Lounge is the most exclusive of the 3 lounges.
Offering à la carte dining, a Champagne bar, and a fireside lounge, this is where you’d choose to be — in theory.
The other 2 AA and BA joint premium lounges are also named after London and New York neighborhoods, Soho and Greenwich. Soho sits next to the Chelsea Lounge and is billed as an ultra-premium lounge (you can be the judge using the pictures below). Greenwich is a rebrand of the popular Flagship Lounge above gate 12.
The lounge names and access policies are confusing, even after studying the website for a few minutes, I wasn’t sure which I could visit with a guest. And without searching the internet, I would guess that many travelers may not know which is supposed to be the nicest club based on neighborhood names alone.
The Chelsea Lounge and the Soho Lounge are located above gate 14 in Terminal 8 of JFK.
If you are arriving at the terminal and need to pass through TSA, access will be after security on the right after passing Bobby Van’s Grill — a good spot to use your Priority Pass restaurant credit (if eligible).
There is an elevator bank with American Airlines and British Airways logos, as well as the Chelsea Lounge and Soho Lounge names. Take one of the elevators up 1 level to access the lounges.
The Chelsea Lounge is immediately to the right when the elevators open, but we were called over by the staff at the desks straight ahead in the Soho Lounge since that is likely where most guests go to check in anyway.
The Chelsea Lounge and Soho Lounge are both open daily from 4:30 a.m. until 12:30 a.m.
Hot Tip: Be sure to check out the full list of lounges at JFK before your next trip through New York.
The Chelsea Lounge is AA’s most exclusive lounge. The answer to whether or not you are allowed in is just as elusive.
My family and I were allowed in because we were flying Flagship First from LAX and also because we were continuing on to GRU. Because of the international leg, we could also each bring 1 guest.
Access and guest policies vary by flight and elite status. The signage and website are equally confusing.
Here are the current requirements for access to the Chelsea Lounge:
ConciergeKey members on qualifying American Airlines flights (any cabin) or long-haul British Airways flights can access the lounge and bring 2 guests for free.
Qualifying international flights include flights between the U.S. and:
Qualifying transcontinental flights between:
Qualifying Hawaiian flights between:
If you don’t have ConciergeKey status, no other elite status will help you get in. You will need to be traveling on a qualifying Flagship ticket.
Qualifying tickets include Flagship First International, Flagship First Transcontinental, or Flagship Business Plus on a qualifying same-day flight marketed by a Oneworld airline or JetBlue and operated by American Airlines. Passengers flying Flagship First International can bring in 1 guest. No other passengers can bring in guests.
Qualifying Flagship International flights include Flagship First and Flagship Business Plus between the U.S. and:
Qualifying Flagship Transcontinental flights include Flagship First and Flagship Business Plus between:
Ok, now that we’re in, let’s check out the lounge!
Advertised as American Airlines’ “most exclusive lounge,” I went into Chelsea Lounge with high expectations. They were met immediately (at least in the design department) as soon as I walked in and saw the stunning Champagne bar.
The bright bar with white marble and gold accents was the first thing I saw when entering the Chelsea Lounge and it gave a great first impression.
Walking around the lounge, there were equally nice furnishings, seating areas, a fireplace, and a relaxation area.
However, there were no windows, so no natural light or plane watching, which is a bummer. There were virtual windows, but with relatively low ceilings and a long narrow layout, I could see how some might find this lounge a bit claustrophobic.
Besides the relaxation area, the entire lounge was essentially 1 big room, so there was not much privacy to speak of either.
My family and I found 2 small sofas and a table off to the side so that we wouldn’t be a bother to anyone. The lounge was very quiet. It had more library vibes than a Champagne bar.
We arrived around 5 p.m. and the lounge was relatively full. There were only a handful of seating options that could accommodate 6 people somewhat comfortably.
The Chelsea Lounge is the smallest of the AA/BA options, measuring around 9,700 square feet (900 square meters). It filled up quickly before the evening flights departed.
If you like to sit at the bar, the Champagne bar is a great option. The stools were comfortable, outlets were available, and it was close to the good stuff.
My family and I opted for an alcove with 2 sofas and 2 small tables, which served us well.
There were also chairs and sofas along the edges of the lounge with charging options and small tables.
The fireside lounge with various chairs and sofa seats was at the center of the Chelsea Lounge.
Behind the fireside lounge was the dining room with 2-top tables that could be pushed together for larger groups.
Those needing a bit of privacy for work had access to cozy cubicles with outlets and a shelf along the side of the lounge.
And in the back of the lounge, there were lounge chairs in the relaxation area that looked comfortable enough for a quick nap. More on that area below.
The food and beverage options are where, in theory, the Chelsea Lounge should shine.
The drinks were delicious (hello, Krug!), but the dining options left us a bit disappointed. Again, maybe expectations were too high.
Unlike many other lounges, there was no self-service or buffet option other than a small snack station. We had to find a staff member and order from the all-day menu to eat.
At most lounges, à la carte dining isn’t a problem, especially when the menu is robust and the servers are available. Unfortunately, the food menu at the Chelsea Lounge was rather limited and the understaffed lounge had trouble keeping up with the orders.
We started out with a cheese and charcuterie board after seeing guests at the bar enjoying one. We had to ask about it, as it was not on the all-day menu that was given to us.
After a 25-minute wait, the board was brought out to us at our seats and it was delicious. I would have liked more bread, but that seems to be an issue I have with most cheese boards no matter where I am!
After seeing the menu (mostly soup, salads, and heavy meals) and realizing the wait time, I took my kids over to the Soho Lounge to grab some snacks.
For our meal at the Chelsea Lounge, we opted to move into the dining room to eat more comfortably and try some of the meals “prepared with our partners at the James Beard Foundation.”
Despite the server warning me that the dish wasn’t very good, I ordered the butternut squash curry. It wasn’t bad, but it was pretty flavorless and disappointing. I hoped that a lounge that serves so many passengers to London would have a decent curry. Oh, well!
My wife ordered the beef burger. It was nothing special. The server didn’t ask how she wanted it cooked and it came out well done. Not bad for an airport burger, but it could have been done so much better. The fries were good, though.
My dad ordered the battered cod and mushy peas (fish and chips), which was quite good. I’m not going to claim to be a fish and chips connoisseur, but we order it quite regularly and this one was very satisfying. Even the kids grabbed some. Love those mushy peas!
We finished things off with dessert back on the sofas. We all shared the chocolate praline dome and the New York-style toffee cheesecake.
Unfortunately, neither was very good and they were left unfinished between 6 people, including children.
Undoubtedly, the real star of the Chelsea Lounge is the Champagne bar.
Designed to be the focus of the lounge, here you can try some delicious (and expensive) bubbly.
The Champagne menu during our visit featured options from Moët, Roederer, and Ruinart, as well as the Chelsea Signature Series, which is a “line-up of rotating premium Champagnes.”
According to people we chatted with who had already visited the lounge, apparently, this Chelsea Signature Series is a new addition because the lounge could not keep enough of the premium Champagne in stock. So instead of promising the good stuff on the menu, guests will now just need to wait and see what is available.
Fortunately, during our visit, Krug Grande Cuvée 170ème Édition was available and it was delicious. This bottle retails for around $200 per bottle, so it was definitely a treat.
For dinner, I went with the Roth Cabernet Sauvignon. Not a particularly fancy bottle, but it was very good.
And for those who prefer a cocktail, there was a full bar with top-shelf liquor, including some fancy-looking whiskeys.
Food was pretty much menu-ordering only, but there was 1 small snack station available. It was nothing special.
Next to the bar, you could find some bags of potato chips, cookies, and fruit. This was the exact same spread as across the hall in the Soho Lounge, and not a far cry from your standard Admirals Club offerings.
The Chelsea Lounge is a relatively simple lounge.
It was quiet, comfortable, and fancy. No TVs, kids’ room, cooking stations, light music, or anything that would otherwise disturb the eery silence — I mean, the calming preflight experience.
One of the advertised highlights, and the literal centerpiece, of the Chelsea Lounge, is the fireside lounge.
The fireside lounge is an area in the middle of the lounge with seating for about 24 people.
In the center of this seating area is a glass fireplace that extends through the ceiling.
However, during my evening visit of over 4 hours in January, the fireplace was never turned on.
If you need to get some rest during your visit to the Chelsea Lounge there is a relaxation area available.
Located in the back right of the lounge, there were 3 lounge chairs and 2 armchairs separated by thin curtains.
The armchairs appeared to be there as a smaller option to not block the service door. If staff use this door often, it probably isn’t too relaxing without much privacy.
Taking a shower before or after a flight is a great way to get refreshed and is something I try to do if I have time. Fortunately, I had plenty of time during my visit to the Chelsea Lounge.
I’ve recently had some great lounge showers, including at the American Airlines Flagship Lounge in Miami and the United Polaris Lounge in Houston. Unfortunately, the Chelsea Lounge shower didn’t compare to either.
The first aspect that my wife and I both found strange was the lack of reservations or organization. My wife asked the concierge to reserve a shower for her and our daughter and was told to just go see if one was available. When she went back to the shower area, there was no attendant, just 2 unlocked showers and 1 that was out of service.
My wife entered one of the available showers and realized that she would need an extra towel for our daughter. She asked for one from a staff member who was passing by. They responded by curtly saying “no, there are 3 in the bag” and walked away. The 3 towels were a face towel, bath towel, and floor towel. So they ended up sharing a wet bath towel. Not a big deal, just not the level of experience to expect from the “most exclusive” lounge.
And since there was no reservation system, at least 3 people tried to open the door during their shower. Twice during mine.
The bathroom and shower were both nice at first glance.
A nice marble counter, strangely dark mirror, and even a Dyson hair dryer were nice touches.
There were no slippers, but there was a plastic bag with towels (mine only had a face and bath towel) and a small selection of amenities including a dental kit, shave kit, deodorant, and feminine hygiene products.
The shower had 2 options: an adjustable handheld shower head and a rainfall shower head.
The rainfall showerhead did not work and the handheld showerhead was plastic and poorly secured to the wall. I honestly thought it was going to fall off.
Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash were wall mounted and did not have a specific brand displayed.
Overall, the shower served its purpose, but it was neither a luxurious nor a relaxing experience with people knocking on the door multiple times.
The Wi-Fi at the Chelsea Lounge was fast and easy to connect to.
Since I had already passed through the Flagship Lounge in LAX earlier that morning, my phone connected automatically because the network name and password stay the same throughout American Airlines’ lounges each month.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a screenshot of the internet speed, as I was busy focusing on my Krug, but it was fast enough to play around on social media without issue.
The Chelsea Lounge is no doubt a beautiful lounge with some great offerings, but it really dropped the ball in a few places. One of the most notable places was service training.
The staff was perfectly friendly but lacked the polish and personalized service that is advertised by American Airlines.
Besides the front of the house being understaffed with just 1 bartender, 1 server, and a manager during our visit, the staff clearly needed some proper training.
Since there were minimal self-serve options, the entire lounge needed to rely on 1 bartender for almost everything. This ultimately resulted in delayed and forgotten orders, which was completely understandable but frustrating for passengers on a tight schedule.
The icing on the cake was the server who surreptitiously served my curry with a $20 bill in her palm so that I wouldn’t forget to tip. I’m sure it was an honest mistake, but based on the rest of the service, it’s hard to tell.
Since service and selection weren’t great for kids in the Chelsea Lounge, we hopped across the hallway to check out the Soho Lounge a couple of times.
The Soho Lounge was much larger with a more open feel to it.
It had lots of natural light and views of the airline lounge sponsors.
The bar area was one of the first areas I saw when entering the lounge. It had a pretty good vibe.
There was plenty of seating throughout the lounge.
Many options looked more comfortable, or at least more functional than over at the Chelsea Lounge.
This workstation offered tarmac views.
For food, self-service options included a hot and cold buffet along with snacks and cookies. You can order food via a QR code by your seat if you prefer.
The buffet had a nice salad spread.
There were also a few soup and pasta options. Nothing special … barely above Admirals Club levels.
For dessert, there were 2 standard cookie options.
There were assorted chips and snacks.
The wine fridge featured some of the same wines from next door at the Chelsea Lounge.
We found a solid selection of self-service beverages, which I love having in a lounge.
American Airlines sells the Soho Lounge as an ultra-premium lounge. It felt like an upgraded Admirals Club to me. Either way, it was a nice place to spend some time before a flight, but we ultimately preferred the Chelsea Lounge.
Overall, the Chelsea Lounge was a beautiful club to relax in before or after a flight, but it was far from perfect and certainly not up to the level that many first class passengers expect.
The Champagne bar was stunning, and being able to sip on bubbly that costs hundreds of dollars per bottle is a rare experience at a lounge in the U.S., especially one run by American Airlines. However, disappointing meals and spotty service from the staff take away from the experience.
To be fair, the lounge had only been open for less than 2 months when I visited, so maybe more training is coming. Hopefully, these are just growing pains. Time will tell.
With a little bit more staff, some self-serve options, some tweaking of the shower system, and (maybe) some ambient music, the Chelsea Lounge could easily become a polished premier lounge.
Unfortunately, for my visit, the vibe was just off. It was awkwardly quiet, where most people were whispering instead of casually enjoying a glass of Champagne and a meal before a flight.
The virtual windows were better than nothing, but not having natural light made the lounge feel more claustrophobic and less luxurious.
I will certainly visit the Chelsea Lounge again if my ticket allows, as it is undoubtedly the nicest lounge in Terminal 8. It just may not be the best option for everyone. Alternatively, I would have no issues spending some time at the Soho Lounge or the Greenwich Lounge (formerly known as the Flagship Lounge) on my next trip through JFK.
It is possible to find Krug being served at the Chelsea Lounge at JFK, however, it is part of a rotating premium bottle series, so alternatives may be available instead.
Only ConciergeKey members and passengers flying Flagship First International can bring in guests to the Chelsea Lounge.
No, there is no children’s playroom at the Chelsea Lounge. The closest option in Terminal 8 is at the Admirals Club.
The brand-new Chelsea Lounge is now considered one of the nicest, and definitely the most exclusive lounge at JFK’s Terminal 8.
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