American Airlines is closing a page of airline history today when it closes its first-ever Admirals Club at New York LaGuardia airport. It is moving locations from concourse D to concourse A at terminal B. The original lounge first opened its doors in 1939. Another lounge will replace it in the new terminal effective the morning of Dec. 16, just in time for the holiday travel rush.
Originally, this historic location was an invitation-only club with members, known as “admirals,” invited by the airline’s chairman C.R. Smith. New York LaGuardia was one of the airline’s top destinations, and such was the importance of the destination, that the airline even moved its offices and hangars from Chicago to LaGuardia. Smith, and the airline’s sales team, gave important customers, legislators and well-known people membership to the club. It wasn’t until 1967 when the airline began selling membership to the general public.
Originally, the dues were $25 per year (or $250 for lifetime membership). Today, membership for a non-elite status member costs $550 although members can choose to pay with AAdvantage miles or gain access via an eligible credit card.
Today, most major network airlines (and some credit card brands) in the United States have their own airline lounge system. American’s clubs are still called Admirals Clubs with more than 50 across the the country (and a few overseas).
Interestingly, the lounge was once called the Flagship Club before being renamed the Admirals Club. Local laws prohibited the club from selling alcohol, but C.R. Smith had his own private collection of whiskey at the club. It has been on display in the Admirals Club for decades, and it will move to the new club.
Unlike airline lounges of today, members had to dress appropriately with coat and tie required. The entire club was decked out in nautical decor with bartenders known as “stewards” and receptionists called “skippers.”
American Airlines opened its second lounge at Washington National Airport, but members (who still had to be invited) were required to pay monthly dues.
Local Virginia law did not permit the sale of alcoholic drinks, but the lounge allowed people to store their own bottles for a nominal fee. At one time, according to Flyertalk.com, the lounge had more than 9,000 bottles stored for its members, many from important dignitaries and politicians.
American’s new LaGuardia lounge will eventually measure over 20,000 square feet with seating for more than 350 people. The new club opens Dec. 16 with the second phase planned for next spring.