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.
For example, neither American Airlines nor United Airlines come to mind when thinking of the “world’s best airlines.” Instead, names like Singapore Airlines or Emirates come up most often.
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.”
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 excellent, and the crew’s friendliness 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.
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 the 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
2. United Real Polaris Business Class
3. Delta One on the A330 Business Class
4. American Airlines A321T Transcontinental Business Class
5. United’s “Fake” Polaris Business Class
We looked at pretty much all the aircraft ranging from old Embraer’s 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 variations 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!
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