Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
- What Makes a Domestic First and Business Class Airline Great?
- The 5 Best Domestic First Class Airlines and Cabins
- The 5 Best Domestic Business Class Airlines and Cabins
- Final Thoughts
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When most people think of domestic first class, a recliner seat is the first image that comes to mind. However, with airlines facing tough competition to fill their first and business class cabins and a landscape changing faster than ever before, there’s much more to premium flying in the United States than meets the eye.
Flying is more popular than ever, and airlines are desperate to get their market share, resulting in competing and ever-more-luxurious premium cabin products.
In this guide, we’ll show you the top 5 first class products followed by the top 5 business class products that fly domestically. We’ll also demonstrate why, most of the time, business class is actually better than first class.
It’s also important to note that the terms “first class” or “business class” are often marketing gimmicks that don’t mean one product is better than another.
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 U.S. airlines aren’t exactly world-renowned for 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, frequent flyers are far more likely to come up with names like Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, or Emirates.
We considered the following aspects of a first or business class flight when determining our rankings:
- Lounge and ground experience
- Hard product (seat size and comfort, amenities, in-flight monitor, cabin configuration, and privacy)
- Soft product (food and beverages, amenity kit, customer service, and staff attentiveness)
- Award pricing and availability
First, first class:
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 A321T.
American Airlines has hundreds of Airbus A321 aircraft. But most notably, it maintains a subfleet of specially configured A321s, known as the A321T. This designation means that these aircraft are reserved for premium transcontinental routes. In fact, if you don’t watch for this important distinction, you could be stuck with a recliner seat instead of a lie-flat seat.
This is a narrow-body aircraft, and in first class, there are only 2 seats in each row in a 1-1 configuration. With 5 rows, the 10 lie-flat seats with direct aisle access are dubbed “Flagship First Class.”
Let’s first talk about which routes offer this product. Currently, American Airlines operates the A321T on premium transcontinental routes, including:
- Los Angeles (LAX) – New York (JFK)
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Boston (BOS)
- Los Angeles (LAX) – Miami (MIA)
- San Francisco (SFO) – New York (JFK)
- Orange County (SNA) – New York (JFK)
These highly competitive premium routes attract many business and leisure travelers, which is why American Airlines excels here.
Let’s start with the ground experience. The ground experience features Flagship First Check-In, an exclusive check-in area with expedited security access. Additionally, you get priority privileges like being the first to receive your checked bags after you land.
What’s more, you get access to some of the best first class lounges in the world — on a domestic flight, no less!
With a ticket in Flagship First Class, you get access to the Flagship First Dining, which has astonishingly good à la carte dining, unprecedented privacy, luxe shower suites, premium alcohol, and an overall exceptional lounge experience.
You’ll find a Flagship Lounge at:
- Chicago (ORD)
- Los Angeles (LAX)*
- Miami (MIA)*
- New York (JFK)
- Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW)*
- London Heathrow (LHR)
American plans on opening a Flagship Lounge in Philadelphia (PHL) in late 2024.
*Flagship First Dining is available at these locations. It is a separate area of the Flagship Lounges, and you’ll need to be flying Flagship First Class on a qualifying ticket in order to access it. This means that even top-tier ConciergeKey members can’t access it.
The first class seats are in a reverse herringbone configuration, each measuring 21 inches wide, offering 62 inches of pitch, and providing 82.5 inches of length in bed mode. That’s a lot of real estate all to yourself.
You’re also provided Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Canceling headphones. These headphones are better than most international business class headphones, which is fantastic.
You receive Casper amenities, which are ultra-plush and comfortable, and an amenity kit from Athletic Propulsion Labs and ZENOLOGY.
The inflight connectivity is excellent, with American Airlines installing the blazing-fast ViaSat system. This was a wise business decision on AA’s part, as these transcontinental routes have a mind-boggling number of business travelers. Lastly, the dining is decent, and the customer service is adequate.
All in all, this is the most well-rounded domestic flight experience, especially when you factor in the amazing lounges, private seats, amenity kits, and food.
The prominent complaint is the service, which can be lacking or inconsistent. This isn’t terribly surprising, as U.S.-based airlines aren’t known for offering the best service.Hot Tip:
Have your heart set on flying American Airlines Flagship First Class? Check out our complete guide on the best ways to book American Airlines first class.
2. Hawaiian Airlines A330 First Class
Next up is Hawaiian Airlines, which operates the Airbus A330 on most of its premium routes from Hawaii. The first class seats are 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, making it one of the most competitive hard products.
What’s unusual about this first class product is that the seats don’t have inflight monitors. Instead, Hawaiian Airlines provides passengers with iPads.
The food and beverage service aboard Hawaiian Airlines is known to be excellent, but Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t offer in-flight Wi-Fi. Since Hawaii is primarily a leisure destination, this is understandable. After all, there aren’t many people who need to do work when flying to Hawaii.
Importantly, the first class product is interesting, and the crew’s friendliness is somewhat of a rarity, especially on domestic carriers.
Overall, this first class product is fantastic 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.Hot Tip:
Dreaming about the beach in Hawaii? Check out our guide on the best ways to fly to Hawaii with points and miles!
3. Delta Air Lines A321neo First Class
Delta’s first class on the A321neo may be the best “typical” domestic first class product in the U.S. right now. It helps a lot that the Airbus planes are among the newest in the Delta fleet, making the experience among the freshest.
The first class cabin features 5 rows in a 2-2 configuration, and the seats are 21 inches wide and have 37 inches of pitch, which is slightly better than on its Airbus A220s (below). The headrests feature oversized wings and seat dividers, both improving the feeling of privacy.
However, where first class on the A321neo shines is arguably the accouterments.
It has a 13-inch seat-back screen (yes, a new plane with screens!), a universal power outlet, and a USB-A port. You can pair Bluetooth headsets to the inflight entertainment system that comes loaded with hundreds of movies. (Delta gives you wired earbuds if you don’t bring your own.) Wi-Fi is included.
Meals have gotten positive reviews and include dessert and a choice of any beverage, including beer, wine, and hard liquor.
The first class-only lavatory includes Grown Alchemist products.
Clearly, we’re excited about Delta’s apparent dedication to improving U.S. airlines’ poor reputation for domestic first class with this promising product.
4. Delta A220 First Class
Delta’s Airbus A220s also have nice first class seats, though they’re not as state-of-the-art as those found on the new A321neos.
Honestly, there’s not much you can expect from these seats because they’re simply larger seats that recline a bit more than the economy seats. However, what you can expect in first class here is 20.5 inches of width and 37 inches of pitch. You can’t complain about having more personal space.
The A220 is a newer aircraft for regional Delta flights, so the inflight entertainment system, seat technology, and in-flight monitor are top-notch. Most flyers rate the food as reasonably good, especially compared to the meals on other regional first class flights.
5. Alaska Airlines First Class
Alaska Airlines is an enigma. It’s not a legacy carrier, yet it’s the fifth-largest airline in the U.S. by passengers carried, seventh by number of destinations served, and eighth by fleet size.
And it operates first class cabins, but these consist of recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration.
The seats are spacious, boasting 21 inches of width and 36 to 41 inches of pitch. The inflight entertainment system is robust, 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, though they wouldn’t be our first choice for a long cross-country flight.
The 5 Best Domestic Business Class Airlines and Cabins
1. Hawaiian Airlines Leihōkū Suites Business Class on the Boeing 787-9
Starting April 15, 2024, Hawaiian Airlines will offer its new Leihōkū Suites, the new standard by which domestic business class will be measured.
The suites will first be seen on Hawaiian’s upcoming Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, which are scheduled to enter into regular commercial service very soon. The 34 suites are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, meaning every passenger has direct access to the aisle.
Each seat converts to a fully lie-flat bed and has an 18-inch inflight entertainment screen, wireless charging station, USB-A and USB-C charging ports, and a retractable privacy screen (for middle seats). It promises to be an upgrade from Hawaiian’s current 2-2-2 business class configuration, which doesn’t have IFE screens.
The only downside we see seems to be temporary: The planes won’t start off with Wi-Fi, but the airline is the midst of installing high-speed Starlink internet on some aircraft, and it’s safe to assume those would include Hawaiian’s new flagship planes.
2. JetBlue Mint Business Class
JetBlue has a reputation for being a low-cost carrier, but it has one of the best domestic business class seats in the U.S., JetBlue Mint.
If you know anything about JetBlue Mint, you’re probably familiar with the term “throne seats.” The image above describes what it is.
The business class seats alternate between 2-2 and 1-1 configurations. As you can probably imagine, the 1-1 seats are far superior to the 2-2 seats. In fact, they take up twice the amount of room, giving you lots of extra space and privacy. On 1 side of your chair, you have a ledge, and on the other, you have a side table. These are the throne seats, and they’re hugely spacious, hence their nickname.
The only issue with the throne seats is that the footwell is wedged between the 2 seats in front of you, which can constrict your legs. Nevertheless, the extra privacy is probably worth it.
You receive an amenity kit from Hayward containing cool toiletries and a pen. One remarkable thing about JetBlue Mint is the great food and beverage service. The main dishes are tapas-style, where you pick from several small dishes to create a meal.
Throne seats are a generous 22 inches wide, offer 60 inches of pitch, and measure 80 inches in length when fully flat. The other Mint seats are 20.5 inches wide, offer 58 inches of pitch, and measure 80 inches long in bed mode, which is plenty adequate. The significant difference is that the throne seats have sliding doors, which can enclose your suite. This is awesome, and it makes the seats similar to premium international offerings such as Delta One Suites or even United Polaris business class.
Additionally, you receive a free Wi-Fi pass, and it’s actually decent. Crews are reputed to be among the most professional, friendly, and well-trained. Best of all, the cash cost of a ticket is reasonable.
The only disadvantages of JetBlue Mint are that not all seats are throne seats (though, as we’ve noted, the other Mint seats are still good) and that JetBlue provides a disappointing ground experience, especially compared to Flagship First Dining from American Airlines.
All in all, though, JetBlue Mint offers a very good domestic business class experience.
Hot Tip: Think that you have to stop flying business class once you have kids? Think again! Check out our list of pros and cons of flying in business class with a baby.
3. United Polaris Business Class
United Airlines offers its “real” Polaris class (i.e., planes that offer both the carrier’s newest Polaris seats combined with a true business class service offering) on transcontinental flights. Previously, it was reserved for select international routes from San Francisco (SFO) or Newark (EWR).
Specifically, United Airlines currently offers Polaris on these premium transcontinental routes:
Hot Tip: Check out our guide to guide to United Polaris to learn more about this product.
United has opened Polaris lounges at a range of hub airports, but transcontinental business class flights do not qualify for access, which is a big drawback.
Currently, the flights featuring Polaris business class are on the Boeing 787-10, the largest and most technologically advanced Dreamliner variant.
Polaris business class is in a 1-2-1 configuration, so all the seats have direct aisle access. Furthermore, the seats are 100% lie-flat, 20.6 inches wide, offer 78 inches of pitch, and measure 78 inches long in bed mode. The footwell is quite deep and wide, so adjusting in your seat is easy.
Amenity kits are stocked by Cowshed, and bedding is Saks Fifth Avenue. You can also expect gel pillows, a perk unique to Polaris.
Additionally, and perhaps most importantly for some travelers, there are individual air nozzles, meaning you can control the air conditioning at your seat.
The inflight monitor is a 15-inch high-definition television with touchscreen capabilities. The Wi-Fi, though expensive, is generally pretty fast. You can’t stream content but should have no problem staying connected to the ground.
The low point of this experience is probably the service, and the inflight catering has been subpar for quite some time.
4. Delta One on the Airbus A330
The best business class product that flies domestically is found on the Airbus A330. Delta One on this aircraft consists of reverse-herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Seats lie fully flat and are 21 inches wide and 80 inches long — this is on par with international business class seats.
Delta’s food — while nothing special — is generally better than what you’d find on American Airlines or United. And the inflight products and bedding are usually of high quality.
For those who want a big, comfortable seat, Delta One on the A330 is probably one of the best domestic options.
5. American Airlines A321T Transcontinental Business Class
American Airlines offers a true first class product on certain domestic flights, but on the same aircraft — the Airbus A321T — the airline also offers a business class product, known as Flagship Business.
This B/E Aerospace Diamond seat is 19 inches wide, offers 58 inches of pitch, and measures 75 inches long when fully flat. The seating arrangement is 2-2, meaning window seats don’t have direct aisle access. In addition, the business class seats are narrower and smaller than the other products we’ve discussed so far.
The main drawback of this seat is the lack of direct aisle access for all seats — you may have to climb over your neighbor to use the lavatory, or they may have to climb over you.
If you want a lie-flat seat, great food, fast ViaSat Wi-Fi, and terrific inflight entertainment, American Airlines Flagship Business Class should satisfy you.
It’s safe to say the major U.S. airlines operate a hodgepodge of different aircraft, and you should do your research to make sure you’re getting what you think you signed up for.
But even with all the variations on so many different products, you should be better able to make an educated decision on which business or first class product to try on your next domestic or regional flight.
Featured Image Credit: Hawaiian Airlines
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best domestic business class cabin?
When it comes to the best domestic business class cabin, we’re fans of the JetBlue Mint throne seat, but we think Hawaiian Airlines’ new product on its upcoming Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners will upstage the now-dated original Mint product.
What's the difference between "real" Polaris seats and "fake" Polaris seats on United?
The “real” Polaris business class is in a 1-2-1 configuration with direct aisle access. Furthermore, the seats are 100% lie-flat, 20.6 inches wide, offer 78 inches of pitch, and measure 78 inches long when in bed mode. United Airlines’ second-best Polaris class is in a 2-2-2 configuration, meaning window seats don’t have direct aisle access. The B/E Aerospace Diamond seat is 19 inches wide, offers 58 inches of pitch, and measures 75 inches when fully flat. This product closely resembles American Airlines’ Flagship Business on the Airbus A321T.
Which airline has the worst service?
We’ve anecdotally found United flight attendants among the least friendly and accommodating on domestic flights.
What's the difference between herringbone and reverse-herringbone seats?
Herringbone seats face the aisle, while reverse-herringbone seats face the windows. Most people prefer reverse-herringbone seats, and most premium cabin configurations reflect this.
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