American Airlines this summer will introduce a new Flagship First Dining experience at JFK’s Terminal 8 that will feature regionally-inspired and locally-sourced food and wine for its premium and elite customers traveling on qualifying itineraries. To give media and influencers a sneak preview of the new sit-down dining service—a first of its kind among U.S. carriers—American hosted a progressive tasting experience in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood. The event was just one piece of a multi-billion-dollar strategy designed to disrupt the traditional airline experience and change perceptions about the brand. It was also a foray into what the airline hopes will be more live experiences.
“The event was a different approach for us,” says Brady Byrnes, director of global marketing at American Airlines. “In the past we would have issued a press release that very few people would have picked up, and we would have educated our customers about the proposition through trial and error and having them use the space. Because Flagship First was such an innovative program, it shows that we’re back to our roots of being an innovative airline. We wanted to make sure that we were able to share this experience and this moment with our best customers and influencers so folks could tell our story for us.”
The invitation to the event came in the form of a hand delivered cocktail kit, featuring all the ingredients needed to create one of the signature cocktails that will be featured on the new Flagship First menu (we got the Spiced Tequila—and it was delicious). The event took place in a once vacant retail space beautifully transformed into a sleek and inviting bar and lounge. The exterior architecture and branding appeared so “permanent” passersby wandered in in search of coffee and cocktails.
The tasting experience kicked off with a welcome by American executives who then ushered the group to the first stop—the bar—where attendees could pick from five signature cocktails that included an Old Manhattan, a Gin Basil Lemonade, a Spiced Tequila, a Pisco Sour or a Champagne Cocktail. Mixologist Pamela Wiznitzer talked about the inspiration for each drink and explained the local origins of some of the ingredients.
Next, attendees traveled to the wine and cheese bar, where Master Sommelier Desmond Echavarrie offered insights on the three pairings on offer, while Hudson River Valley cheese purveyor Sprout Creek Farm talked about the flavors of cheese that will be featured on the menu. The experience then moved downstairs, past a buffet table piled high with cheeses, meats and fruits, to a craftsman creating customized leather luggage tags. Guests then sat for a main course featuring a succulent burger topped with bacon chutney. A representative from Joyce Farms offered a short history of the beef sourced for the burgers while Echavarrie stopped by to share more details on the wine.
“[The event] is really just the starting point for us,” says Byrnes. “We really feel like we can own the world of food and culinary. We have a rich partnership with the James Beard Foundation. We sponsor a lot of marquee food and wine festivals. We have celebrity chefs on board the aircraft. So, it ties the bow, if you will, around what we’re doing in the food and wine space.”
The culinary experience wrapped up back upstairs at a sprawling dessert and espresso bar, where attendees were sent home with customized cookies (featuring snapshots gathered at the start of the tour), a cutting board and a monogrammed leather luggage tag. Two social media stations—one, an inviting swing set against a green wall, the other a live Instagram printing station—inspired attendees to pose and post in the moment, making sure to tag #FFDining as they did (Geometry Global, New York City, handled).
The Flagship First Dining initiative is part of a multi-year renovation across all of American’s Flagship lounges that will include refreshed décor and ambiance, and additional healthy food and beverage options. In addition to the lounge at New York’s JFK airport, renovations will be phased in at LAX in Los Angeles, Dallas/Fort Worth, London Heathrow, Philadelphia and Miami.