Hank's Travel Best > Trips

By Hank Leukart
May 25, 2014

Best US airline business class

Delta One

I

t may seem hard to believe, but we’re in the Golden Age of American air travel right now. Adjusted for inflation, airlines charge nearly half the price for economy tickets as they did in 1980, tall fliers can buy more leg room (and often AC power) for a small fee, and even TSA Pre-Check has made airport security theater a less invasive annoyance.

Maybe best of all, thanks to intense competition for travelers with a lot of money, flying transcontinental Business Class on US airlines has become a whole lot more comfortable. It’s not a secret among frequent fliers that most domestic “First Class” is almost never worth the price for a marginally better seat, a glass of champagne, and mediocre food. But American’s A321T Business Class (for New York to LA or San Francisco), United’s BusinessFirst (for New York to LA or San Francisco) and Delta’s Delta One (for New York to LA, San Francisco, or Seattle) domestic classes on select transcontinental flights has changed everything with a much higher quality product. During the past couple weeks, I tested out United and Delta’s flights from Los Angeles to New York and back.

Overall, my experience in Delta One was the best. Delta’s flight attendants always seem more professional, friendly, and attentive than those from other US airlines, and the Delta One attendants on both of my Delta flights did a great job responding to any request courteously and promptly. Of course, for transcontinental flights, lie-flat seats for sleeping are the Holy Grail. I prefer Delta’s transcontinental Delta One lie-flat seats over United’s: they’re configured so that everyone has aisle access (so you don’t have to jump over a sleeping person next to you to go to the bathroom) and the L-shaped seats next to the windows are staggered so that no one is sitting or sleeping directly adjacent to anyone else. This configuration is significantly better than United’s because seats feel more private (as compared to having some guy snoring 5 feet from you). If they prefer, couples traveling together can choose seats paired together in the middle of the cabin. As an added bonus, the Westin Heavenly blanket and pillow that Delta provides add to the comfort.

Delta One also scores highly for their exceptional food: Delta hired chef Michael Chiarello to create Southern Italian-California fusion menus. The three-course dinner with wine pairings on my flights was better than any food I’ve ever been served on an airplane, international or otherwise. I also enjoyed the time I spent in Delta’s new Sky Club lounge in JFK before takeoff; it looks good, it’s comfortable, and there’s a great rooftop patio where fliers can watch planes take off from the runway. (The free food options are still skimpy compared to international airport lounges though.)

My United BusinessFirst flight was comfortable, but not quite up to Delta’s service standards. The United lounge at JFK isn’t even worth a look, United’s flight attendants always seem more dour and unfriendly than Delta’s, and the food was a major disappointment after having tasted Delta’s. I also don’t like United’s seats and seating configuration as much; my seat seemed a little short for me (I’m six feet tall) and I didn’t like the feeling of being trapped next to a sleeping stranger when I wanted to go to the bathroom and didn’t have aisle access. However, I did appreciate that United’s seats seemed to be softer and wider than Delta’s. With most lie-flat business class seats, turning over or bending your legs can often be an uncomfortable challenge, and United’s seats make that slightly easier.

American Airlines also recently started offering lie-flat business class seats for some transcontinental flights, but I haven’t had a chance to try them. From reviews I’ve read from other fliers, including The Points Guy and fliers on FlyerTalk, American’s meal service is lower quality (people complain about the bad wine and a lack of enough meal choices to go around), the entertainment system isn’t as good, and the seats are reportedly more cramped than United’s and Delta’s offerings. I’ll update this if I get a chance to try American myself.

For all airlines, there’s still some work to done. I’m astonished that none of these airlines offers free Wi-Fi for business travelers considering that round-trip tickets for these flights usually costs at least $2,000 on less desirable days and around $6,000 on more desirable days. Also, all of the airlines need to work on being more respectful toward passengers who want to start sleeping from the moment they board (especially for a flight only six hours long) by not playing loud announcements and TV commercials during or after takeoff and giving fliers the options to eat their meal in the airport’s business traveler lounge before getting onto the plane so that they’re not disturbed by onboard meal service.

Nevertheless, these lie-flat seats are the most comfortable way to fly in the US. Of course, no amount of pampering has seemed to help my jet lag. I’d pay a huge extra fee for a cure.

How I got these seats: Delta no longer gives complimentary upgrades to members of their SkyMiles program for transcontinental flights, unfortunately, so I paid SkyMiles to upgrade. United allows complimentary upgrades for BusinessFirst seats, but competition is fierce. I used StarAlliance miles to buy a BusinessFirst award ticket for the flight. WB

www.delta.com.

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