Which US Airline Has the Best Business Class?

Zach Honig raises the question of which US airline has the best business class. I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that American Airlines has the best business class, though Delta should ultimately overtake it.

United has been slow to retrofit their planes. It’s been two years since the seat was announced and only half a dozen planes in their legacy fleet have been converted. United probably has the best bedding. They’ve improved their meal service, but they’ve also since cut back on their soft product. Now United says they’ll be introducing on average one additional plane every 10 days with the new seats. Once that happens United’s seats will still lag Delta’s and American’s — but they’ll offer direct aisle access and won’t be a reason to actively avoid flying United long haul.


United Polaris Business Class Seat, Boeing 777-300ER

United’s business class lounges are on the upswing, the Chicago Polaris lounge is excellent. San Francisco just opened, then Newark and then Houston over the summer.


United Polaris Lounge Chicago

Delta has the best seat in their new Delta One Suite. So far though it’s just in their Airbus A350s, and that’s just 9 planes right now. Eventually they’ll retrofit their long haul fleet and at that point they should offer the best business class.


Airbus A350 Delta One Suite, Credit: Delta

While their Skyclubs are better than United Clubs and Admirals Clubs, Delta doesn’t offer an elevated lounge experience for long haul business class customers.

American’s business class seats overall and across their fleet are equal to or better than most of what Delta is offering. (It’s a shame their Super Diamond seats don’t have dividers between middle seats.)


American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Business Class


American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Business Class

They don’t have anything the equal to the Delta One Suite, but I’d take American’s seats over the rest of Delta’s. American’s 757 and 767 seats aren’t as good as on the rest of their international fleet, but Delta has way too many Boeing 767s (which have the same seat) — about three times as many as American.

American’s new business class Flagship lounges — so far open at New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Miami and Los Angeles — are also improvements. Their Flagship First Dining is probably the best ground experience offered by a US airline but that’s for three-cabin first customers only, not business. At the business level (and based on the Chicago lounge only so far) they’re not quite as nice as Polaris lounges, but they’re better than Delta Skyclubs.


American Airlines Flagship Lounge LAX

I think it’s fair to say that American has focused heavily on their long haul business class product, and done an overall good job of it, although unfortunately to the exclusion of their domestic product.

All US airlines suffer compared to international competitors with crews whose service varies tremendously. Some are excellent, some are very poor, and you never know what you’re going to get. That’s true of European carriers like British Airways (although certain routes will have longer-tenured ‘Worldwide’ flight attendants whose service tends to be worse than newer ‘Mixed Fleet’).

The good news is that US airline business class is much improved across the board compared to five or six years ago. And of course all are better than British Airways.


British Airways Boeing 777 Business Class

I’d argue that at least Delta and American are better than Lufthansa and Austrian, although Austrian has the best food.

Air France has a very good business class on their Boeing 777s, but their Airbus A380s still have angled seats making those planes the worst of the bunch.


Air France A380 Business Class


Air France A380 Business Class

Ultimately none of the world’s best business class products are flying between the US and Europe — other than Singapore Airlines New York JFK – Frankfurt. The world’s best business classes overall in my opinion belong to Qatar, EVA Air, arguably Singapore (the angle of their flat seats is controversial), and perhaps Etihad only on their Airbus A380s (“business studio”). Some might add Japan Airlines to this list.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Etihad’s Business Studio on the 787s is also an excellent product – identical to the Business Studio on their A380s

  2. Korean has an excellent J product, I think one of the best in the world. Air Canada also has excellent J seats in their 789s and the SSL is also fantastic.

  3. I’m impressed by AA’s Flagship Lounges, to be honest. I’ve been through both the JFK and ORD ones, I’ll be using the MIA one in about 10 days. The food is quite solid, with similar quality (i.e., generally good to quite good) but much wider variety than Amex lounges.

    I don’t drink a lot when I fly because I get terribly dehydrated in the air, so I can’t comment on that aspect.

    It’s no CX business class lounge by any means, but they’re quite solid, and as an AA Plat/OW Sapphire that has to fly in economy for all international work travel, they’re a welcome respite before or after a longhaul.

  4. Did you consider JetBlue’s Mint class when comparing business class products for US Airlines? Or is it so inferior(or on so few routes) that you don’t think it is worth mentioning?

    I’m just asking because I’m curious how you think it compares.

  5. Def. QR Q suites are the best biz class! Its so much better than many F class cabins

  6. Zach Honig is in bed with United Airlines (I think he shines Oscar Munoz’s shoes) and with his boss at TPG (I think he polishes Brian’s doorknobs).

  7. Just flew United last week HKG-NEWARK. Called Polaris with the old seats. Improved meal service? Are you kidding? Must have been dog food earlier, if this is the improved meal service
    a 16 hour flight, during the day we got one small meal after takeoff in business and literally NOTHING the rest of the flight until 90 mins out they served breakfast. No inflight snacks, ZIP, nothing. On a recent Jetblue domestic flight they pass around drinks/smacks a few times during the flightThe dimmed the lights on this day flight so the FAS could dance around making believe they were working. The only thing I saw was napkin folding. My first flight on United Business ever. They stink. Two years and they have 6 planes done? Unreal. AA seats are far better. Food better than United but nothing great. Delta (even the old seats) better than United. I have not been in the new Delta seats. I was on Cathay business class A350. That seat is ok but I like the American seat even more. I also HATE the business class seats on British Airways A380. That is a weird config to me.

  8. @Jed I guess I was talking about long haul international product, I do like Mint mostly because they do a decent meal service and crews are happy and it’s value for the money.

  9. @robertw did you actually fly United? Or just wanted to chime in like your opinion matters? Even United’s shortest TATL flights (UK/Ireland) have midflight snacks. If you looked at your menu, you’d see the info. It’s all on demand for the hot food and there is always an assortment of snacks available near the galleys. Sounds like you’re just a troll.

  10. Not sure why JL business gets so much love. I’ve flown them a number of times and much prefer CX’s product. Plus I find HKG to be a more convenient connecting point to other tourist destinations in Asia and it means a number of extra hours in longhaul J as opposed to regional J if connecting in TYO.

  11. What makes a business class a good or a bad seat? Every lie flat I experienced is more or less the same. Thread count? LOL

  12. Those who asked about Jet Blue Mint. When Jet Blue starts flying to South America, Europe or Aisa then we will talk about Jet Bkue
    mint.

  13. I just flew a 4 week trip
    Chicago to Zurich (Swiss Air)
    Frankfort to Johannesburg and Cape Town (South African Air)
    Johannesburg to Cairo (Egypt Air)
    Cairo to London (Egypt Air)
    London to Toronto (Air Canada)
    All Business Class

    Air Canada Blew them all away in Quality of food and service.

  14. Can’t argue with EVA. I got upgraded to Royal Laurel last month because the plane was oversold. Sadly it was only a 1.5 hour flight from Taipei to Manila…which is probably also why I got upgraded.

  15. @Tony — No, jetBlue *should* be included in the discussion, for TWO reasons. First, jetBlue DOES fly internationally.They fly throughout the Caribbean, as well as Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. That generally requires a passport (Puerto Rico and the USVI notwithstanding).

    But secondly — and more importantly — I think both Zach Honig and Gary Leff framed the question incorrectly. Basically, both have all but ignored DOMESTIC travel on US carriers. How many people residing in the US fly internationally more than they fly domestically? There probably are some (e.g.: the first generation immigrants of people here on an H1B who only fly from the US to the place of their birth; the New Yorkers who work *in* New York City in jobs that never require travel for work, but spend their annual vacation on the Caribbean island of _________; etc .), but I would daresay that the majority of people here fly domestically much of the time and internationally only some of the time.

    Ergo — IMHO — the question *should* be asked, “Which US airline has the best First/Business class seat on a domestic flight; which US airline has the best Business class seat for international travel?”

    Just my 2¢; feel free to keep the change…

  16. I did Delta One to SEL last year and shortly afterwards AA to LHR. Even Delta’s old 767 was better than AA. The food was better, the service was way better. The Westin Heavenly bed is better than AA’s nothingness. Didn’t sleep at all on AA. Slept about 7 hours on Delta. Posts like this make me think that someone is getting paid to say this stuff.

  17. I agree that EVA is among the top 5 worldwide – in the air – but their lounges are a joke. There are Delta Skyclubs that are better than EVA’s Taipei lounges. No airfield views, boring/uncomfortable seating and that ridiculous disco light feature in the middle. The CX lounge at TPE (busy outstation) is far nicer than the EVA lounge at TPE (should be their flagship lounge). But…the service onboard is better than CX in almost every aspect – food, crew and small touches all just a bit better than CX.

  18. In North America the two best business class products in the air are JetBlue Mint and Air Canada transcon 787 flights (such as YVR-YYZ, YVR-YUL, YVR-EWR). Delta, AA and United ALL come up short against those two. Doesn’t Mint offer flat beds on more N.American routes than any other airline? And they’ve even had the imagination to offer the product outside the NYC/LAX and NYC/SFO markets. And 25% of the seats are suites, I don’t care about doors but based on comments on this website a LOT of people care greatly about doors, and JetBlue seems to offer these amazing doors on quite a few routes in N.America. So if you are one of the people who believe that a door conveys specialness, you should be flying JetBlue. The only place the Big 3 beats JetBlue in North America is in the lounges. But if I have the choice of 5 hours in Mint and no lounge, or 5 hours in AA domestic business class with a stop at the Admirals Club for a fist full of cheese cubes – that’s not a fair fight.

  19. AA falls apart on the basics. You will still get a grumpy crew and PDB has never been figured out.

    Air Canada is good long haul but they have a small but determined collection of old hags who are rude throughout the system.

    Japan Aurlines is fantastic.

  20. @Another Steve — Absolutely agree with your last sentence above, would much rather fly Mint w/o a lounge. (Though there’s often a Priority Pass lounge I can access if I’m stuck in the airport for a long enough time to make that useful.)

  21. Cabin atmosphere and ambiance are also important. US carriers have lagged in this category. Traditionally their idea of a color scheme has been 50 shades of gray. It is unfortunate that American stuck with tradition with its 787 8s and 9s.

    Delta breaks the mold, however, with the A350-900. The addition of color to the cabin is its best attribute. In my view, you can’t slap a door on a business class seat and make it a suite. A suite would be something larger and fancier, and other than a door and color, the Delta suite is just ordinary in size and features. The Super Diamond seats on American 787-9s have far better storage. Moreover, those delta seats face forward (not angeled) which requires extending the feet and lower legs into a narrow tube under the console of the seat in front. That’s the same problem with the seats on the 767. Even though the 14 seats on the Delta 747 upper deck didn’t have the features of the latest business class seats, they were arranged 1-1 right behind the flight deck. The private jet feel was amazing.

  22. Agree with everything in the article, except the part about Austrian Airlines. The “throne seats” on the 777-200 (3A, 3K, 5A and 5K) are comfortable and very private. Unlike Swiss, Austrian does not charge extra to book them. Further, VIE offers one of the most convenient connection options in Europe.

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