Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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When most people think of “domestic first class,” a recliner seat is probably the first image that comes to mind. However, with tough competition changing the landscape faster than ever before, you’ll be surprised to find that there’s much more to flying in the United States than meets the eye.
Flying is more popular than ever, and airlines are desperate to get their cut of the market share, which has materialized into a fierce competition and resulted in luxurious premium cabin products.
In this guide, we’ll show you the top 5 first class airlines followed by the top 5 business class airlines. We’ll also demonstrate why most of the time business class is better than first class.
It’s also important to note that a lot of times, the terms “first class” or “business class” are simply marketing gimmicks and don’t mean that one product is actually better than the other.
Let’s get to it.
What Makes a Domestic First and Business Class Airline Great?
Domestic premium cabin products aren’t held to the same standard as international products.
This is not only because the flights are shorter, but also because the options you have aren’t exactly world-renowned for offering the best hospitality or service.
We considered the following aspects of a first or business class flight when determining each ranking:
- Lounge and ground experience
- Hard product (seat size and comfort, amenities, in-flight monitor, and cabin configuration and privacy)
- Soft product (food and beverage, amenity kit, customer service, and staff attentiveness)
- Award pricing and availability
The 5 Best Domestic First Class Airlines and Cabins
1. American Airlines A321 Transcontinental First Class
The best domestic first class experience out there is on the American Airlines A321.
American Airlines has a number of A321 aircraft, 219 to be exact. These aircraft are typically called A321T, which is reserved for transcontinental routes. In fact, if you don’t note this important distinction, you could be stuck with a recliner seat instead of lie-flat seats.
This aircraft has a narrow-body, which features only 1 aisle. This means there are only 2 seats in each row in a 1-1 configuration. With a total of 5 rows, the 10 lie-flat seats with direct aisle access are dubbed “Flagship First Class.”
Let’s first talk about which routes offer this product. Currently, American Airlines operates the A321T on premium transcontinental routes. These are:
- Los Angeles (LAX) – New York City (JFK)
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Boston (BOS)
- San Francisco (SFO) – New York City (JFK)
These are highly competitive premium routes that attract a lot of business and leisure travelers, which is why American Airlines excels here.
Let’s start with the ground experience. The ground experience features Flagship First Check-In, which is an exclusive check-in area that allows for expedited security access. Additionally, you’ll enjoy priority privileges like receiving your checked bags first after you land.
What’s more is the access to some of the best first class lounges in the world, on a domestic flight, no less.
With a ticket in Flagship First Class, you will have access to the Flagship First Dining, which has astonishingly good a-la-carte dining, unprecedented privacy, luxe shower suites, premium alcohol, and an overall exceptional lounge experience.
You’ll find Flagship Lounges at:
- Chicago (ORD)
- Los Angeles (LAX)*
- Miami (MIA)*
- New York City (JFK)*
There are more lounges opening at:
- Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)
- London-Heathrow (LHR)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
*Flagship First Dining is available at these locations. It is a separate area of the Flagship Lounges, and you’ll need to be flying Flagship First Class on a qualifying ticket in order to access it. This means that even top-tier ConciergeKey members can’t access it.
The first class seats are herringbone-style, each measuring 21 inches wide, 62 inches in pitch, and 82.5 inches in bed length. That’s a lot of real estate all to yourself.
You’ll also be provided with Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones. These headphones are better than most business class variations, which is fantastic.
You’ll receive Casper amenities, which are ultra-plush and comfortable. You’ll also receive an amenity kit from Athletic Propulsion Labs and ZENOLOGY.
The in-flight connectivity is excellent, with American Airlines installing the blazing-fast ViaSat system. This is a strong business decision, as these transcontinental routes have a mind-boggling number of business travelers. Lastly, the dining is decent, and the customer service is acceptable.
All in all, this is the most well-rounded domestic flight experience you can have when you factor in the amazing lounges, the private seats, amenity kits, and food.
The main complaint that people have is the service, which at times is lacking or inconsistent. This isn’t terribly surprising, as U.S.-based airlines aren’t known for offering the best service out there.
Hot Tip: Have your heart set on flying American Airlines Flagship First Class? Check out our complete guide on the best ways to book American Airlines first class.
2. Hawaiian Airlines A330 First Class
Our second-place winner goes to Hawaiian Airlines, which operates the A330 on most of their premium routes from Hawaii. The first class seats are arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, and it honestly looks more like you’re flying in a spaceship than a plane.
Hawaiian Airlines began adding these seats in 2016, and they’re a neat and comfortable way to get to and from Hawaii. The first class seats are fully lie-flat, which makes it one of the most competitive hard products out there.
What’s unique about this first class product is that it doesn’t have an in-flight monitor. Instead, Hawaiian Airlines provides iPad Pros in its place.
The food and beverage service aboard Hawaiian Airlines is known to be excellent. Additionally, Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t offer in-flight Wi-Fi. Since Hawaii is primarily a leisure destination, this isn’t terribly surprising. After all, there’s not many people who need to do work when flying to Hawaii.
Importantly, the first class product is new and interesting. The service is known to be excellent, and the friendliness of the crew is somewhat of a rarity, especially on domestic carriers these days.
Overall, this first class product is a fantastic all-around way, and arguably the most fun and comfortable way, to get to Hawaii. The food is excellent, the service is a joy, and the seat is comfortable and lie-flat — it doesn’t get much better than that.
Hot Tip: Dreaming about the beach in Hawaii? Check out our guide on the best ways to fly to Hawaii with points and miles!
3. United 757-200 First Class
Our third best domestic first class seat option is on United’s 757-200. United Airlines has been actively removing and is almost finished with its removal of first class seats.
The 757-200 actually contains business class seats, though they’re marketed as first class seats. For all intents and purposes, we’ll say that this is a first class seat.
As you can see in the image above, United uses the B/E Aerospace Diamond seats in the 757-200. With only one aisle across, the cabin is arranged in a 2-2 configuration.
United operates the 757-200 with 3 distinct layouts. You have to be careful which seat type you’re booking because one of these seat layouts contains inferior recliner seats.
In our case, United’s 757-200 first class seats are fully lie-flat. The seats themselves are a generous 21 inches wide and 76 inches in pitch and bed length. The main highlights of this flight are the facts that the seats are fully lie-flat and the food is decent.
Ironically, these first class seats are inferior to one of United’s business class seats: their true Polaris business class. We’ll talk about that shortly.
The odd thing is that United operates the 757-200 on a slew of routes and the routes change quite frequently.
4. Delta A220 First Class
Delta operates a business class seat known as Delta One. These seats are actually better than the first class seats, which are typically flown on shorter routes. Delta’s brand-new A220 is the best model representation of a first class recliner seat.
Honestly, there’s not much you can expect out of these seats, because they’re simply larger seats that recline a bit more than economy seats. However, what you can expect in first class is 20.5 inches of width and 37 inches of seat pitch. You can’t complain about more personal space.
The A220 is the newest aircraft used for regional Delta flights, so the in-flight entertainment system, seat technology, and in-flight monitor is top-notch. The food is thought to be solid, especially compared to other meals on regional first class flights.
All in all, if your only option is recliner seats, these seats are the best you can get in first class.
Alaska Airlines First Class
Alaska Airlines is somewhat of an enigma. They’re not a legacy carrier, but yet they’re the fifth-largest airline by fleet size, passengers carried, and number of destinations served.
They operate a first class cabin, but it consists of recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration.
The seats are spacious, boasting 21 inches in seat width and 36-41 inches in seat pitch. The in-flight entertainment system is well-endowed, and the service tends to be very warm. Furthermore, the food is good.
Overall, the seats are big and good enough for a short domestic hop.
The 5 Best Domestic Business Class Airlines and Cabins
1. JetBlue Mint Business Class
JetBlue has a reputation for being a low-cost carrier, but they actually have the best domestic business class seat there is. JetBlue Mint is operated only on the A321, which is JetBlue’s biggest aircraft.
If you know anything about JetBlue Mint, you’ll probably be familiar with the term “throne seats.” To describe what it is, look at the above image again.
The business class seats alternate between a 2-2 and 1-1 configuration. As you can probably imagine, the 1-1 seats are far superior to the 2-2 seats; in fact, they take up twice the amount of room, giving you lots of extra space and privacy.
These are known as throne seats, and they’re hugely spacious, similar to sitting in a throne, hence the name. On one side of your chair, you’ll have a ledge, and on the other, you’ll have a side table.
The only issue with the throne seats is the fact that the footwell is wedged in between the two seats in front of you, which can be constricting for your legs.
Nevertheless, the extra privacy is probably worth it.
You’ll receive an amenity kit from Hayward, which contains cool toiletries and a pen. One unique thing about JetBlue Mint is the food and beverage service. The main dishes are essentially tapas-style, in which you pick from a selection of small dishes to create a meal.
Throne seats are a spacious 22 inches wide, 60 inches in pitch, and 80 inches in bed length. On the flip side, the other Mint seats are 20.5 inches wide, 58 inches in seat pitch, and 80 inches long in bed mode, which is still not bad.
The major differentiator for JetBlue is the fact that the throne seats have sliding doors, which enclose your suite. This is awesome, and it makes the seats similar to premium international offerings such as Delta One Suites or even United Polaris business class.
Additionally, you’ll receive a free Wi-Fi pass, and it’s actually decent. Lastly, the crew is reputed to be among the most professional, friendly, and well-trained. Best of all, the cash cost of a ticket is reasonable.
The only disadvantages of JetBlue Mint are as follows:
- Not all seats are throne seats
- Disappointing ground experience, especially compared to Flagship First Dining from American Airlines
All in all, JetBlue Mint offers the best domestic business class experience.
Hot Tip: Think that you have to stop flying business class once you have kids? Think again! Check out our list of pros and cons of flying in business class with a baby.
2. United Real Polaris Business Class
United Airlines recently started offering their real Polaris class on transcontinental flights. Previously, the real Polaris class was reserved for select international route from San Francisco (SFO) or Newark (EWR).
Now, United Airlines is joining the ranks of American Airlines and JetBlue in offering their best business class products on their transcontinental flights.
Specifically, United Airlines currently offers Polaris on these premium transcontinental routes:
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Newark (EWR)
- Newark (EWR) – Los Angeles (LAX)
- San Francisco (SFO) – Newark (EWR)
- Newark (EWR) – San Francisco (SFO)
Hot Tip: Want to read more about United Polaris class? Check out our guide to United Polaris.
United recently opened Polaris lounges at a variety of hub airports, but transcontinental business class flights do not qualify for access, which in my opinion, is a big mistake.
At the moment, the flights featuring Polaris business class are operated with a 787-10, which is the largest and most technologically advanced Dreamliner variant.
The Polaris business class seat arrangement is in a 1-2-1 configuration, so all the seats have direct aisle access. Furthermore, the seats are 100% lie-flat, 20.6 inches wide, 78 inches in pitch, and 78 inches long in bed mode.
One benefit of the seat is that the footwell is quite deep and wide, so adjusting in your seat is easy.
Amenity kits are stocked by Cowshed, and bedding is Saks Fifth Avenue-branded. You can also expect gel pillows, which are a unique perk to Polaris.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly for some travelers, there are individual air nozzles, meaning you can control the air conditioning at your seat.
The in-flight monitor is a 15-inch HD television with touchscreen capabilities, but the size of the monitor is actually smaller relative to international business class offerings.
And Wi-Fi, though expensive, is generally pretty fast. You can’t stream content, but you’ll have no problem staying connected to the ground.
Food is nothing to write home about, but also nothing to complain about. One highlight is the fact that they serve illy espresso on the flights.
The low point of this aircraft is probably the service, as United Airlines has some of the coldest flight attendants around. This is no secret, but it would be a shame to see United upping their hard product, only to have its soft product fall drastically short.
3. Delta One on the A330 Business Class
The best business class product is flown on the A330. Delta One on this aircraft consists of reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. This is on par with international business class seats.
The seats are each 21 inches wide and 80 inches in bed length. All of the seats are fully lie-flat and have direct aisle access. The hard product is the highlight of Delta One. These seats are hugely spacious.
As far as amenities go, Delta uses luxury travel brand Tumi for their amenity kits. These are very sleek and would definitely be a great collector’s item. Additionally, the headphones are typically noise-canceling products, which is excellent.
The bedding on Delta One is great, as it is provided by Westin Heavenly. Delta’s in-flight dining is somewhat lackluster.
For those who want a big, comfortable seat, Delta One on the A330 is probably one of the best ways to do it domestically.
4. American Airlines A321T Transcontinental Business Class
American Airlines’ Flagship First Class is one of the best ways to traverse coast-to-coast in America. For those who are familiar with the aircraft, you know they also feature a business class product, which also has fully lie-flat seats.
The seats are a B/E Aerospace Diamond seat that is 19 inches wide, 58 inches in pitch, and 75 inches in bed length. The seating arrangement is 2-2, meaning window seats don’t have direct aisle access. In addition, the business class seats are narrower and smaller than the other products we’ve discussed so far.
Lack of direct aisle access for all seats is the main drawback to this seat relative to the above competitors. There’s a possibility that you’ll have to climb over your neighbor to use the lavatory, or worse, they’ll have to climb over you.
All in all, if you want a lie-flat seat with great food, fast ViaSat Wi-Fi, and great in-flight entertainment options, American Airlines Flagship Business Class will leave you satisfied.
5. United’s “Fake” Polaris Business Class
The last product we’ll discuss is the United Airlines “fake” Polaris business class. You’ll notice that the newest Polaris class offerings have direct aisle access for all seats and a new design for the seats.
United Airlines markets Polaris class across all business class seats, and it can often be difficult to differentiate them just by looking at a seat map. In this case, United Airlines’ “second-best” Polaris class is in a 2-2-2 configuration. This is not that bad, but it certainly is not as good as their real Polaris class.
The product resembles American Airlines’ Flagship Business Class on the A321T quite a lot. The seat design is exactly the same, using B/E Aerospace Diamond seats.
The main difference between United and American is the service and food. United’s food is nothing special and even inconsistent. Their service is lacking on many fronts, and the Wi-Fi isn’t as fast as American Airlines’ Flagship Business Class service, which uses ViaSat.
However, their amenity kit and bedding are the same as the real Polaris business class, which is a step forward. Unfortunately, this Polaris business class simply isn’t as good as the competitors above.
Still, if you find these seats on a domestic flight, you’ll get a lie-flat bed, which is more than some products can say for themselves.
We looked at pretty much all the aircraft ranging from old Embraers with recliner seats that are about to fall apart to the state-of-the-art American Airlines A321T or JetBlue’s Mint class. In general, the major U.S. airlines operate a hodgepodge of different aircraft.
By now, I’m sure you can agree that there’s a bunch of variation with different products. But, you can now make an educated decision on which business or first class product you’d like to try on your next domestic or regional flight!
Featured Image Credit: Daniel Ross
Frequently Asked Questions
Our vote for the best domestic business class cabin is the JetBlue Mint throne seat!
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