Last updated: 08:50 AM ET, Tue October 18 2016

Domestic First Class: Who Does It Best?

Airlines & Airports Delta Air Lines Paul Thompson October 17, 2016

Domestic First Class: Who Does It Best?

Photo courtesy of JetBlue

For many years, U.S.-based airlines focused much of their cabin upgrades on their international fleets. Domestic First Class remained feeling like it was stuck in the 1970s, when First Class meant a wide seat that reclined more than the ones in the back. But thanks to the record profitability at many airlines over the past few years, some of that money is being invested into upgrades that will draw elite travelers.

JetBlue was the first to bring along the renaissance of domestic luxury with the launch of their Mint class, in 2014. Mint completely raised the bar, wth the installation of sixteen lie-flat seats up front. Four of those seats are spacious suites with doors that close for privacy. They take up the cabin width that three seats would be given in economy class. Most international airlines don’t even offer privacy doors at their nicest seats. Mint passengers get free Wi-Fi during the flight, and on-demand entertainment streamed to their own 15-inch screen. They also receive expedited security screening, early boarding, and hot meals that are curated by popular New York restaurants.

READ MORE: Regional First Class: Is It Worth the Price?

Delta Air Lines just announced this week that they will be retro-fitting some of their Boeing 757 fleet with a new lie-flat business-class seat between LAX and Washington Regan (DCA), adding even more fuel to the roaring fire that is the transcontinental battle between airlines. Delta did unveil a brand new Business Class recently that pretty much blows the doors off most competitors, but we aren’t quite sure we’ll see these beautiful new seats on stateside service. After all, 757’s aren’t exactly new, so it would be odd to see a bunch of money invested onto old planes.

Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines

American also flies the LAX-DCA route, so Delta’s move may have forced American’s hand to add an equivalent service on the popular cross-country route. American’s sub fleet of Airbus A321T planes are fit with a First Class that matches what one would find on their newer AA planes flying overseas to Europe or Asia in Business Class. I’ve flown in these particular seats, and they’re incredible. The First Class on the A321T aircraft has direct aisle access for every seat, which JetBlue Mint can’t match.

Photo courtesy of American Airlines

Virgin America has a very nice-looking First Class but I’ve never sat up there. But if you’re into white leather and purple lighting, this is the place for you. It does look very comfortable, but can’t hold a candle to what American and JetBlue are putting out there. And besides, the future of this particular product is very much in question, because of Virgin America’s pending merger with Alaska Airlines.

United’s First Class on aircraft for most domestic routes is nothing too special. It’s a wider, more roomy seat that reclines really well, but doesn’t come close to the lie-flat offerings by JetBlue, Delta and American. The reason I say “most” domestic routes is because you might get lucky and have an internationally-equipped aircraft on your flight within the U.S. For example, they have a 787 flight that goes from Denver to Houston after flying in from Tokyo each day. Flying in First Class on this plane from DEN-IAH costs exactly the same as a smaller Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 with a First Class that is boring by comparison. I always advocate choosing your flight reservations by aircraft type, for this reason, if you have the schedule flexibility.

Before LAX-DCA was added by Delta, most carriers focused primarily on the biggest hubs such as New York JFK to LAX or San Francisco. However, JetBlue has done a great job lately of expanding Mint availability lately to leisure destinations, including Aruba, Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia, and St Maarten.

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No other airline offers such incredible seats to as many domestic or near-international airlines as JetBlue, and for that reason, they are the clear winner when it comes to offering the best service in this category — not only for its availability, but also for the quality of service from the beginning to end of the passenger experience.