One of the best things about being a frequent flyer based in the United States is that we have choices. We have airlines for nearly any budget, providing us with ample capacity to move around the country with ease. We are also really lucky that some of these airlines have darn good premium cabins as well. So the question is: what airline offers the best domestic first class here in the US?
In my opinion, based on hundreds of thousands of miles of crisscrossing this country in premium cabins over the past 10 years, these are my picks for the best first class product in the US (ranked in order from best to worst):
- American Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- United airlines
Whether you agree with me or not, I have solid reasoning for ordering this list the way in which I did. Please keep in mind that:
- When ranking these domestic first class products, the key word is domestic.
- These rankings are based on comparing the domestic narrowbody aircraft of each airline.
- Widebody aircraft (which are primarily used on international routes and occasionally on domestic routes) are not included into the equation. However, I will talk a bit more about widebody aircraft on domestic routes later on in the article. But for now, let’s just focus on domestic aircraft…
Table of Contents
The best domestic first class products here in the United States
Ranking the top domestic first class products of all the airlines here in the US was a lot more challenging than I thought it was going to be. The truth is that most airlines are offering a pretty decent product these days, and it’s hard to poo-poo on any one of them too severely. That being said, here’s my list the best first class cabins range from best to worst:
1. JetBlue Mint
I’ve written about JetBlue Mint so much in the past that I feel like I’m running out of good things to say about it.
Technically, JetBlue does not classify Mint as a first class product. They simply refer to it as a “premium” seating option, which is being modest to say the least. Especially considering that the Frontier Airlines Stretch seat is classified as a premium product as well. There’s simply no comparison.
JetBlue Mint is really good because it’s the equivalent of international business class on a domestic aircraft. The seats are very comfortable, the food is “international business class” level, and it’s often priced far below what other airlines are charging for an inferior product on the same routes.
Pro tip: if you’re traveling solo, book yourself in rows 2 or 4. These are the rows which feature the highly sought after (and fully enclosed) single suite. This is a very comfortable and private way to fly if you’re traveling without a companion.
2. American Airlines
I can sense that many of you clenched your butt cheeks (hard) when you read that I listed American Airlines is the second best domestic first class product in the United States. The truth is that their first class product on a majority of their narrow body aircraft sucks.
As a matter fact, I would go as far as to say that it’s probably one of the worst first class products due to uncomfortable seats and the typically-unengaged cabin crew. That’s just been my experience at least.
The reason why I placed American Airlines number 2 on my list of the top domestic first class products is because of their A321T aircraft. These aircraft, which primarily fly back-and-forth between the East and West Coasts, feature a international-quality life-flat business class product that is quite comfy. And very private.
Not only that, these same aircraft feature a fairly decent business class product. At least as decent as some of the other airlines I’ll be talking about in a moment.
Anyway, if all you’re looking for is a fully lie-flat seat with maximum privacy, American Airlines first class on the A321T is a good way to go. It’s not perfect however, and there are several downsides:
- The routes in which this aircraft flies on is limited. At the time of this writing, it’s only flying between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco and Boston and Los Angeles/San Francisco. Note that they do appear on other routes from time to time, so just keep your eye out and jump on it when you see the opportunity to do so.
- It’s horrifically expensive. Unless you’re obscenely rich (or working for a company with very deep pockets), the best way to book a seat in American Airlines A321T first class is to use points. It’s a really good domestic first class experience when paying for it with points, but it’s definitely not worth the amount of money they are charging for it.
- The food is mediocre. JetBlue and Hawaiian airlines serve much better meals.
3. Hawaiian Airlines
The Hawaiian Airlines A321neo features a very nice (and highly competitive) first class product. No, it’s not it’s good as first class on their A330s, but remember – we are talking about narrowbody domestic aircraft here.
While I consider the Hawaiian Airlines A321neo to be decently sufficient for long five-hour flights to Hawaii and back, it’s not the reason why I placed it so highly in this list.
The reason why I like Hawaiian Airlines first class so much is because of the soft product. It’s the interaction with the cabin crew and the ambience of being onboard a Hawaiian Airlines aircraft which makes it so good. You’re essentially in Hawaii the moment you step on board a Hawaiian Airlines aircraft. The sights, the sounds, the lingo, and even the food – it’s all very much Hawaiian.
The onboard hospitality is also the reason why I would choose a Hawaiian Airlines A321neo over an Alaska Airlines 737 to Hawaii any day of the week. Alaska Airlines is good, but they don’t give off very much of a chill Hawaiian vibe. And why would they? They are Alaskan’s for crying out loud.
4. Alaska Airlines
Now we’re starting to get to the part of the list where everything starts blending together. Yup – the first class products of the remaining airlines are all pretty much all the same.
For the record, Alaska Airlines latest first class product (which can be found on the 737 MAX 9) is good. It’s hardly anything that I would call amazing, but I usually find Alaska Airlines crew to be some of the friendliest in the sky. That alone made me place them higher than Delta and United.
Keep in mind that just like all the other airlines, Alaska Airlines seems to be stuck in a never-ending goal of refurbishing their aircraft. Unless you’re flying a brand new airplane, you’ll never really know whether you’ll be getting their newest Alaska Airlines first class seat, or the old Alaska Airlines first class seat (the old fluffy “pillow” type ones they’ve been flying around for the past 15 years or so).
5. Delta Air Lines
I actually feel a bit guilty for placing Delta so far down on my list of the best domestic first class products. After all, Delta is arguably the best run airline in the United States, and they are absolute masters of fleet consistency. Unlike other airlines such as United and Alaska, you’ll know that there is a pretty good chance that you’ll be experiencing their latest and greatest first class seat every time.
One of the other things that I really like about Delta first class is that there are personal video screens at every seat. All the other airlines are moving away from integrating video screens in their seats, but Delta has fully embraced it. It actually feels like a bonus perk these days – at least compared to 10 to 15 years ago where personal video screens at every seat was far more common.
Additionally, I find the food in Delta Airlines first class to be better than most. Except JetBlue and Hawaiian, of course. Dang it – now I’m feeling guilty again for placing Delta so far down on this list…
6. United Airlines
I don’t have a lot of good things to say about United Airlines domestic first class. It’s not that it’s excessively bad or anything, but it’s just so completely soulless. United first class always feels stuffy to me. Not only that, I don’t think that I’ve ever had a decent meal in United first. Maybe it’s just me and some unfortunate bad luck, but United has never impressed me with any part of their first class offering.
One of the other things that I don’t particularly care for is that (just like Alaska Airlines), you never really know what kind of first class seat you’ll be getting until you step onboard the airplane.
United is still flying around lots of aircraft with very old and uncomfortable first class seats (the really old kind which look like LazyBoy recliners). Those seats are horribly uncomfortable, and I personally can’t sit in them for longer than three hours without destroying my back.
Personally, I’d rather have a seat in economy with an empty seat next to me rather than one of those old-style first class seats.
What about widebody aircraft on domestic routes?
That’s a very good question! As a matter fact, that’s what I tend to look for when I’m booking first class for a domestic flight.
For those of you not aware, widebody aircraft (and even some narrowbody aircraft such as the Boeing 757) are primarily used on international routes. These aircraft fly longer distances, therefore requiring the need for better seating options.
Nearly all widebody aircraft in the US feature lie-flat business class seats. These are astronomically more comfortable than the recliner-type seats found on a domestic narrowbody aircraft.
It’s important to note that not all widebody aircraft feature lie-flat seats in the forward cabin – but the majority of them do. An easy way to find out when your booking a flight is to check the aircraft details when you’re making your reservation:
- All airlines will show you not only the aircraft type, but the amenities that the aircraft features. If you see “fully lie-flat seat” as one of the amenities, you’ll know that you’re getting an internationally-configured aircraft.
- It’s also important to note that widebody aircraft don’t fly domestic routes very often. However, airlines often need to move aircraft between their largest hubs, so it’s not all that uncommon to see these larger aircraft running between large cities.
As an example of an internationally-configured widebody on a domestic route, I was recently on a American Airlines 787-9 between Los Angeles and Dallas.
This aircraft featured a fully lie-flat business class seat, which American was selling as regular first class on this route. I paid a grand total of $220.40 to sit in a VERY comfortable seat for 2.5 hours, and…let’s just say it was the most comfortable trip I’ve ever had between Southern California and Texas.
A few final thoughts about domestic first class
For the most part, I feel as if domestic first class here in the US is getting to the point where it’s becoming somewhat overrated. Yeah, it’s nice to have a slightly bigger seat (and to be first on and off the aircraft), but it’s often not worth the extra cost over a seat in premium economy.
Often times, the best domestic first class seat (for me anyways) is a seat in premium economy with an empty seat next to me. No, I can’t always control how to make sure the seat next to me stays empty, but premium economy often offers the same amount of legroom that you would find up in first class. It’s worth considering.
That being said, there’s no way I would choose premium economy over one of those JetBlue Mint single suites. Those are pretty freaking sweet.