The Best First Class Airline in the U.S.
The Best First Class Airline in the U.S.
Apr 15, 2024 2:38 PM

Picture this: You’re in row 1A, sipping a glass of champagne as the masses file past. In a few short minutes, you’ll be reclining your seat, popping on a pair of headphones and enjoying a steak with pomme frites.

No, this isn’t some absurdly glamorous Middle Eastern airline. You’re in the U.S., flying a U.S. airline — and things are about to get luxurious. From lie-flat seats to enclosed suites, let’s find out which is the best first class airline in the U.S.

Factors we considered when picking the best first class airline in the U.S.

The U.S. has several major airlines, but we zeroed in on just three for our analysis: United, Delta and American Airlines. There are others, of course (including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit and Southwest). However, each of these excluded airlines suffer from serious limitations when it comes to deciding the best first class. For example:

Southwest doesn’t operate a business class or first class cabin.

JetBlue has only just started its transatlantic flights.

Alaska doesn’t offer any lie-flat seating.

Frontier and Spirit are both budget airlines that strip down their fares to the basics.

This leaves the “Big 3” as the major contenders when it comes to the best airline to fly first class.

So how do we decide which is best?

Amenities: Often called the soft product, amenities are things such as bedding, food, service and drinks on your flight.

Seats: Each airline uses a different configuration for its seating, with top contenders featuring lie-flat beds and suites with closing doors.

Ability to earn and use points: Unless you’ve got money to spare, the ability to redeem your points for first class seats is going to make a huge impact on your airline choice.

Route network: This is how many destinations each airline serves.

Lounges: Not all airline lounges are equal; each airline uses these differently to woo and delight their highest paying customers.

Airline amenities

Winner: Delta

Airlines have upped their game in recent years as the fight for your loyalty rages on.

The experience varies depending on whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, but each airline offers its own premium option. Delta features Delta One, American Airlines has its Flagship First Class and United boasts the Polaris experience.

Each airline offers chef-curated food and luxurious bedding on board, as well as premium spirits. Both United and American Airlines offer pajamas on select international flights, while Delta doesn’t.

When it comes to customer service, however, Delta is a clear winner. According to the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report issued by the Department of Transportation, Delta had a total of 106 customer complaints across all categories during June 2021. Compare this to United’s 303 complaints and American’s 421 complaints, and Delta comes out miles ahead.

Each airline has a competitive soft product with high-end touches, but Delta far outstrips the rest when it comes to customer service, netting it a win for amenities.

First class airplane seats

Winner: Delta

Airlines often offer passengers different types of first class seats depending on where they're flying. Most domestic routes will feature wide seats that recline. These are comfortable, but nowhere near as nice as the seats on premium transcontinental routes and long-haul international flights. On these routes, you’ll find American Airlines, Delta and United have installed beds that lay-flat — so you can arrive to your destination well rested.

So, which airline has the best first class seats?

United has done away with its distinction between first and business class on long-haul international flights, and has instead launched its Polaris-branded product. Updated Polaris seats feature a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, which offer excellent privacy in a pod formation. Be aware, however, that United also operates an older Polaris product in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration. You’ll be able to see this on United’s seat map when you’re booking your flights.

American Airlines offers both Flagship First Class seats as well as Flagship Business Class seats. Its business class product is similar to United’s updated Polaris product, with a 1 x 2 x1 formation that offers excellent privacy. Its Flagship First Class seats, meanwhile, have a much smaller cabin with as few as eight seats — but they lack high wall dividers, which leaves you pretty open to other passengers.

Delta has also eliminated its first and business class distinctions on long-haul international flights in favor of its Delta One product. While not all of its planes feature these, all A350 and A339 planes operate Delta One suites. These suites have full-height walls and sliding doors for complete privacy.

Although both American Airlines and United offer excellent seats in their premium cabins, Delta’s suites outclass the others with ultimate privacy.

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