Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Results and Summary

I’ve reviewed every premium transcontinental service from New York’s JFK to San Francisco and Los Angeles. These routes command high volumes of premium passengers and each boast the most comfortable and luxurious experience.

  • Introduction: Scoring and Considerations
  • United Airlines p.s. (757)
  • Delta One (757)
  • AA Business Class (A321T)
  • AA Flagship First (A321T)
  • JetBlue Mint (A321T)
  • Virgin America (A320)
  • Results and Summary

How Do They Compare?

First, it’s important to remember that everyone values parts of the travel experience differently. For some, it’s all about the seat. Others want to be wined and dined. Other still value their privacy or always staying connected. Maybe award availability or arriving on time is critical to you.

So depending on these cuts, here’s how the carriers force rank.

Hard Product

  1. American Flagship First — 58
  2. JetBlue Mint — 58
  3. Delta One — 53
  4. American Business Class — 45
  5. United p.s. — 43
  6. Virgin America First Class — 30

Generally, American’s Flagship First Class and JetBlue’s Mint have the most innovative, comfortable seats and best designed cabins. They would be the best fits if you highly value design, working space, sleeping, and storage. Delta One and American’s business class are solid options in the middle pack, followed by United. Virgin is hampered but the fact that they still use angled reclining seats in a market where every other option is fully lie-flat.

Soft Product

  1. Delta One — 79
  2. JetBlue Mint — 75
  3. Virgin America First Class — 70
  4. American Flagship First Class — 63
  5. American Business Class — 60
  6. United p.s. — 50

Delta takes the cake on inflight service, having some of the nicest food and amenities in the sky. JetBlue is a close second with a very innovative, differentiating product that is quickly gaining traction and loyal fans. Virgin isn’t far behind with its sassy motif, while American and United take on a more bland traditional approach to food and service, making the customer feel like they are cutting corners sometimes.

Ground Experience

  1. American Flagship First Class — 82
  2. American Business Class — 68
  3. Delta One — 63
  4. United p.s. — 62
  5. Virgin America First Class — 62
  6. JetBlue Mint — 52

American really shines on creating a wonderful airport experience — particularly if you value privacy (in first class) and terminal food and lounge options. Delta, United, and Virgin all offer comparable experiences, though none of them stand out. JetBlue would stand to gain a lot by contracting with lounges near their departure gates.


  1. JetBlue Mint — 82
  2. Delta One — 79
  3. American Flagship First Class — 78
  4. American Business Class — 78
  5. Virgin America First Class — 74
  6. United p.s. — 66

If you want to stay connected and have a great entertainment experience, JetBlue and Delta won’t steer you wrong. American provides a solid experience, Virgin keeps up and United could stand to upgrade their WiFi and entertainment options.

Fleet (Frequency and Availability)

  1. American Business Class — 100
  2. Delta One — 89
  3. United p.s. — 99
  4. American Flagship First Class — 50
  5. JetBlue Mint — 47
  6. Virgin America First Class — 19

American definitely has the most seats flying, decent pricing and award availability, while Delta and United have a lot of lift and frequency offerings. JetBlue, with great pricing and American Flagship First, with great award availability are comparatively scarcer and Virgin flies far fewer seats than you’d expect on that route, but it is a smaller airlines.

On-time Arrivals

  1. Delta One — 80
  2. Virgin America First Class — 80
  3. United p.s. — 75
  4. American Flagship First — 74
  5. American Business Class Class — 74
  6. JetBlue Mint — 72

While not materially different, if you want to maximize your chances of arriving on time, Delta and Virgin America are your best bets, followed by United. American has some issues into San Francisco, and JetBlue could stand to improve.


  1. Hard Product: American Flagship First Class, JetBlue Mint
  2. Soft Product: Delta One, JetBlue Mint
  3. Ground Experience, American Flagship First Class
  4. Connectivity: JetBlue Mint, Delta One
  5. Fleet: American Business Class
  6. On-time Arrivals: Delta One, Virgin America First Class

Overall Scores

  1. Delta One — 69
    Helped primarily by it’s soft product, lift, connectivity and on-time arrivals
  2. American Flagship First Class — 64
    Helped primarily by the seat and cabin and highly private ground experience
  3. JetBlue Mint — 64
    Helped by it’s hard and soft product and connectivity, penalized for ground experience, on time arrival and fleet size
  4. American Business Class — 63
    Helped by it’s overall lift transcon and seat
  5. United p.s. — 58
    Penalized for its soft product and mediocrity in most categories
  6. Virgin America First Class — 44
    Penalized by the seat and lack of ground services

In the end, I want to emphasize that the scores themselves don’t matter as much as how you value each individual component. I can tweak the model to say anything I want but agree directionally with it that the first four products on that list are perfectly fine ways to get across the country, excel for different reasons, and are totally a matter of personal preference.

Download the Completed Transcon Premium Cabin Rubric

So take the rubric I’ve used and tweak to your liking to find your preferred carrier. Maybe you could care less about the airport services or food. Maybe the seat is the most important part. Tweak the cells shaded in orange to find out your best transcon product.

So you’ve seen a side-by-side comparison of all the ways to get across the country in style. What matters to you? What would you change in your own personal scoring rubric. What other questions do you have? Comment below!

7 Responses to “Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Results and Summary”

  1. Great series guys. I’ve always wanted to see a comparison like this. You guys and drofcredit are the only blogs I read now. Frequent miler sometimes…

  2. Fantastic comparison, Eric. Thank you for your value add series!

  3. Wandering Aramean March 30, 2024 at 6:06 pm Reply

    How do 5 options all using the same Gogo ATG4 service score so differently for the “connectivity” section of the rankings?

    • Eric can comment on how he determined the scores. I’ll chime in to say I don’t think they’re that different. All but United are within one standard deviation of the mean, and connectivity appears from a rough glance to be the least variable composite score aside from on-time arrivals.

    • Connectivity encompasses inflight entertainment selection and ease of use, headphones and outlets, in addition to Wi-Fi


  1. AA vs Delta Part 1: Intro - The Frequent Miler - April 21, 2024

    […] No (or few) Transcons: Airlines have been battling for the lucrative Transcontinental market: flights between JFK and LA, for example. The major carriers have introduced premium cabin overhauls that make these flights similar in quality to international long-haul flights. It would be interesting to compare AA to Delta on these routes, but I’m unlikely to fly those routes anytime soon. Luckily for all of us, Eric at Travel Codex has already completed this comparison (found here). […]

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