Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Who Has the Best Flights Coast to Coast?

If you’re flying between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles, you’ll find that most airlines offer “upgraded” experiences compared to the rest of their route network. This week, we’ll be extensively reviewing who has the best first class flights coast-to-coast in an attempt to make the most comprehensive analysis out there.


Delta, American, United, JetBlue and Virgin America each fly these routes and compete fiercely on business and first class fares and offerings. I was fortunate enough to fly all six services (AA has both business class and a three-cabin first class) coast-to-coast this year. So I’m in a unique position to present a side-by-side comparison of the seats, food/beverage/service, ground experience, connectivity, and operations of each carrier so you can choose the right flight for you.

Here’s how I’ll break up this series:

  • 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

Intro, Categories and Scoring

I wanted to be as objective about this as possible. No flights were compensated by any carrier and crews/staff were not alerted to any review happening, but I took furious notes and created a rubric to compare everything as apples-to-apples as possible.

Download the Transcon Premium Cabin Rubric (Empty)

Download the Completed Transcon Premium Cabin Rublic - NEW!

Screen Shot 2024-03-16 at 5.19.43 PM

This is part of the rubric I used to review the airlines on nearly every factor they compete on. Feel free to download it and give it your own weights!

You’ll notice that smaller facets of the experience, like bedding or inflight entertainment, are grouped into larger categories like “service/soft product” and “connectivity”. Each factor is scored independently on a scale from 0 (worst) to 100 (best) and weighted within its category to arrive at a composite score (e.g., food contributes more than whether newspapers were offered).

I’ve designed the rubric to allow you to assign your own weights and the composite scores will readjust, so if there’s a factor that matters more to you, or not at all, you can tweak the weights and arrive at a personalized comparison. (See the orange boxes in Columns I and J)

Here are the main categories and why I grouped them the way I did:

Hard Product (Seat, Cabin, Interior) — 35%

These are things that are literally constructed into the aircraft and probably the single most important part of the flight since it most directly impacts your experience. They also are the hardest to change since it would require taking the aircraft out of service

Soft Product (Food, Service, Amenities) — 25%

These are either performed by people or third party suppliers and are usually opt-in/out as you need them. Important, but not as much as the seat.

Ground Experience (Lounge, Terminal, Gate Areas) — 10%

Everything on the ground from check-in to boarding to lost bags. Matters greatly to some but not at all to others

Connectivity (Inflight Entertainment, Wi-Fi, Power) — 10%

Worth calling out separately since it’s not an easy fix like many of the soft product aspects are and is quite the game changer on flights this long (less so on short-hauls)

Fleet and Operations — 20%

How many seats are on each route and how often those seats arrive on time. Critically important if a carrier is noticeably above or below the industry average, particularly for SFO and JFK where weather can already be an issue.

Stay tuned for a review of each carrier, spaced throughout the week!

14 Responses to “Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Who Has the Best Flights Coast to Coast?”

  1. I look forward to reading your reviews! I only fly transcon a few times a year but have only flown UA, DL, and Jetblue on those routes. I tend to fly JFK-LAX in the morning where my main concern would be wifi & food and I normally take the redeye on LAX-JFK, which means all I care about is being able to sleep. I flew DL two weeks ago on JFK-LAX r/t and noticed they completely rebranded their businesselite to Delta One.

    • The DL rebrand was announced like in Jan… And maybe the greats think the same as The Points Guy also wrote the same topic on transcon a few days ago?

      • Haha, yes we noticed it too! :) He does focus more on the seat, and you should always read several reviews before coming to any conclusion. Scott and I spent the past few weeks trying to make this as comprehensive and definitive as possible, so I hope you enjoy our analysis too!

    • What did you think of the rebranding? Style over substance or noticeable changes?

  2. As is typical with overly detailed mid-2010s era analysis, the most important factor is missing.

    Price. Whether in cash or standard upgrade.

    I don’t care how nice one is over the other - if it’s $500 more not going to take it. They’re all nice seats and services. Delta and JetBlue have the best food. AA First is the best seat and lounge.

    • Pricing changes daily and I trust that you can use Kayak/ITA/Hipmunk et. al.

      We debated using price as a rating factor, but value for quality is so subjective that any stance we take is going to be seen as too cheap or too blind to cost by some. Jetblue likely has the cheapest pricing starting at $599, if you get an empty flight and are flexible on days. This series is more targeted at people paying to fly up front or have business authorization to do so - which likely means that schedule and comfort matter more than a few hundred dollars.

      So read on to understand why they are different, and see whether it’s worth it to you.

  3. You should add a DL767 review to the mix. Pretty different product than the 757 and it is the only widebody as well.


  1. Transcon Premium Cabins: United p.s. - Travel Codex - March 23, 2024

    […] Introduction: Scoring and Considerations […]

  2. Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Delta One (formerly BusinessElite) - Travel Codex - March 24, 2024

    […] Introduction: Scoring and Considerations […]

  3. Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: American Airlines Business Class - Travel Codex - March 25, 2024

    […] Introduction: Scoring and Considerations […]

  4. Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: American Airlines Flagship First Class - Travel Codex - March 25, 2024

    […] Introduction: Scoring and Considerations […]

  5. Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: JetBlue Mint - Travel Codex - March 26, 2024

    […] Introduction: Scoring and Considerations […]

  6. Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Virgin America First Class - Travel Codex - March 27, 2024

    […] Introduction: Scoring and Considerations […]

  7. Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Results and Summary - Travel Codex - March 30, 2024

    […] Introduction: Scoring and Considerations […]

Leave a Reply