The best transcon US flight: Comparing American Flagship First, JetBlue Mint and United Polaris (2023)

Editor’s note: During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we are publishing new flight,hotelandloungereviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. We have also been publishing a selection of our most popular reviews from the past year.We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.

Bear in mind that for the foreseeable future, service on board will be greatly reduced to lower the risk of contamination, and that the ground experience — with lounges closed or without food and amenities — will also be very different from what was available before the pandemic.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, I flew to Los Angeles to get a first-look at the brand-new Amex Centurion Lounge at LAX. Since I’m based in NYC, I’ve got lots of choices for getting to California. I wanted to maximize my comfort on this cross-country trip, so I decided to review some top-notch products there and back.

On my way to LAX, I flew United Polaris on the carrier’s flagship Boeing 787-10. To get home, I decided to try something different. I’m a newly-minted AA Executive Platinum member (thanks to Hyatt), so I flew in AA Flagship First on the A321T to get an EQM boost. And in my review, I called it the “best transcon in America.” After all, none of the other airlines offer a true first-class product in the U.S.

But now I want to take a deeper look at that claim. Each year at the TPG Awards, the editorial team awards a U.S. airline with the best domestic business class. I have recently flown the 2019 winner — JetBlue Mint — so let’s see how these three top transcon experiences compare.

In This Post


There’s no question about it. Getting a seat in JetBlue Mint is the easiest of all three products.


All of JetBlue’s transcon flights from JFK to San Francisco (SFO) and LAX feature 16 Mint seats. Though JetBlue’s TrueBlue loyalty program is the weakest of the three airlines, the paid fares are quite reasonable. In fact, JetBlue shocked the industry when it introduced pricing starting at around $600 for the one-way business-class transcon.

Not all of United’s flights between its hub in Newark and LAX and SFO are flown on the Boeing 787-10. During the coronavirus crisis, some are being flown with single-aisle airplanes and some with 787-8s, not all of which have the latest Polaris cabin. The fares are typically in line with JetBlue’s — especially when booking in advance. From time to time, you can find award and upgrade space for the 787-10 as well.

Naturally, the most exclusive product is AA’s Flagship First. With just 10 seats in the cabin, it’s no surprise that unless you’ve got deep pockets, it’s going to be a challenge to sit up front. These fares are often priced much higher than biz, even in miles. The key to sitting in first is using an upgrade certificate, which I’ve discussed here.

Ground experience

Once the actual experience begins, American wins on the ground — if you’re flying from JFK or LAX. That’s because AA includes Flagship Lounge and Flagship First Dining for passengers seated in the first-class cabin. When I flew from LAX to JFK, I was wowed by the ground experience. The lounge was a big step up from your typical Admirals Club, and Flagship First Dining is one of the most exclusive spaces in all of AA’s terminals. Note that there’s no Flagship Lounge or Dining at SFO, so I’d prefer United’s ground experience if starting your journey there. (These ground experiences will be very different until restrictions due to the virus will be lifted.)

United comes in second place, but by a wide margin. Though it operates five Polaris Lounges, a transcon biz ticket doesn’t give you entry to these exclusive spaces. So you’ll be stuck spending time before your flight in overcrowded United Clubs. They’re not the most inspiring business-class lounges out there, but it sure beats JetBlue’s offering.

And finally, JetBlue. The New York-based carrier doesn’t operate lounges, so there’s little incentive to arrive early to the airport. There’s a small dedicated check-in facility at the carrier’s hub in JFK, but that’s about it.

Here’s the thing, though. When flying domestically, I don’t necessarily plan time to relax in the lounge before my flight. So while AA definitely wins here, if you’re like me, you could make do with the lack of a (good) lounge when flying Mint or Polaris.

(Video) The ONLY First Class In The USA | American Airlines Flagship

Cabin and seat

This may be surprising, but while AA’s Flagship First is more exclusive than the 44 seats in United Polaris, it’s only marginally more private than the 16 Mint seats.

Flagship First is arranged in a 1-1 reverse herringbone configuration. Each seat offers a decent amount of privacy and between two and three windows per seat. At 77 inches long, it’s quite comfortable in bed mode. When relaxing, there’s a large footwell, and some exposed storage on the counters and three shelves.

With JetBlue and United, your experience is going to differ based on where you’re seated. My personal preference when flying Polaris is one of the odd-numbered solo seats. To me, these offer more privacy than Flagship First, and a similar level of seat comfort. The bed may not be as long (76 inches in Polaris), but the footwell, especially in the bulkhead, is about the same size. Plus, these true window seats have about three oversized windows.

If you manage to snag one of the four JetBlue Mint suites, you’ll have even more privacy than on AA or UA. That’s because each suite has a sliding door. With two large tables, there’s also more storage in a Mint suite, but it’s all exposed. Though the bed on AA and UA is more comfortable, it’s hard to beat a throne suite.

Amenities and IFE

Overall, American is the winner here — but it’s nuanced. AA offers two Casper-branded pillows, two blankets and a well-stocked Athletic Propulsion Labs amenity kit. Though I slightly prefer the IFE system on United, the 15.4-inch screen is crisp and offers a good assortment of movies and TV shows.

And to listen to the content, you’ll be given a pair of Bang & Olufsen headphones (that will inevitably get collected way too early before landing). Wi-Fi is fast and reliable thanks to the strong Viasat signal.

United’s Saks-branded pillow and blanket is supremely comfortable, but I’d still prefer the more varied assortment of bedding in Flagship First. The amenity kit is downright paltry for biz. While the IFE system is the most robust of the three carriers, the Wi-Fi, provided by Panasonic, is the least reliable.

(Video) Flagship First Class JFK to LAX in American Airlines A321

JetBlue’s pillow and blanket aren’t great. But the amenity kit is well above-average and its IFE offering is unique — it has 93 live stations of DirecTV, as well as SiriusXM. There’s a limited on-demand movie selection, but the screen quality is quite poor. The Wi-Fi provided by ViaSat is the strongest of the three — and it’s free!

Food and beverage

This one’s pretty easy. If you’re after the most extensive meal, you’ll want to choose AA. But if you’re looking for an innovative dining concept, Mint is the way to go.

AA offers a five-course meal for lunch. Everything I tried was good, and I particularly loved the two desserts. The drink selection is also quite impressive for a domestic flight.

United’s catering could definitely use some improvement. The food itself was okay, but the pre-arrival snack basket and wrapped sandwiches weren’t appetizing. The On the Rocks Old Fashioned is its saving grace.

JetBlue does its dining concept a bit differently. There are five small plates on offer of which you choose three. There’s also a light starter before the meal and local artisanal ice cream for dessert. In my experience, the food offering in Mint may not be the most extensive, but it’s always the tastiest.


Service is going to differ based on the crew staffing your flight. When I flew American’s A321T, I was very impressed by the lead flight attendant. However, I also recently flew Dallas to Hong Kong in Flagship First, and the service I received was lousy.

United’s also a mixed bag. When Zach Honig flew a few transcons last year on the 787-10, he described the service he received as needing improvement. My experience was much better, though not flawless.

(Video) America's BEST Business Class | JETBLUE Mint Studio

Finally, JetBlue Mint. Over the course of many Mint flights, I’m always impressed with the level of service. I find the JetBlue flight attendants friendlier across the board. Plus, the airline staffs two crew for the small 16-seat cabin, almost guaranteeing that your needs will be cared for.

And the winner is…

In breaking down the differences between these top three premium transcon flight experiences, it’s clear that there’s no one winner.

In a vacuum, Flagship First beat Polaris and Mint. But, if you consider how hard it is to actually book a seat in the cabin (short of paying thousands of dollars), then it’s no longer as attractive.

If faced with the choice between flying in a Flagship First and a Mint suite for $1,000 less, I’d choose Mint in a heartbeat. And if the Mint suites were all taken, I’d fly Polaris in one of the odd-numbered window seats.

Regardless, these three carriers offer some of the best transcon experiences. If you’re fortunate to try any of them, you’ll likely have a great flight.

All photos by the author.

from The Points Guy

(Video) Who was the best US Airline in 2020? Transcon Challenge Wrap-up results show!



What is the difference between American Airlines flagship first and flagship business? ›

Flagship First vs.

Flagship Business class gets you a lie-flat seat, chef-inspired meal, premium lounge access, an amenity kit, and more premium perks. Flagship First class takes all of these up a notch with even better seats, meals, and a special dining area in certain lounges.

Is JetBlue the best US airline? ›

JetBlue is at the very bottom of the list, scoring the lowest or second lowest in every category except mishandled baggage, where they ranked fourth. The company frequently had late and canceled flights. See the full ranking over at the Wall Street Journal. Want more Thrillist?

Is JetBlue Mint like first class? ›

The biggest difference between JetBlue Mint and first class on other domestic airlines is lounge access. JetBlue does not operate any lounges, so Mint passengers have no separate waiting area unless they have access to other airport lounges like Priority Pass or American Express Centurion Lounge.

What's the difference between JetBlue and American Airlines? ›

Winner: American Airlines. While both airlines travel within the U.S. and internationally, American's network is far more extensive. Not only does American fly to more places than JetBlue, but it is also a member of the Oneworld alliance, which offers even more destinations.

What is the difference between first class and business class on AA Transcon? ›

Business class is the highest level of service on shorter international flights. First class offers a premium domestic travel experience on flights between the 50 U.S. states. Meanwhile, Flagship Business and Flagship First Class are available for long-distance flights, either transcontinentally or internationally.

Can I use the flagship if I m flying first class American Airlines? ›

Customers who may access a Flagship® Lounge include customers traveling in a First or Business class cabin on qualifying international or transcontinental flights or other qualifying domestic flights marketed and operated by American, a oneworld® airline, or marketed by JetBlue and operated by American*, AAdvantage ...

What are top 3 best Airlines? ›

To help you navigate the chaos as you make your travel plans, here are Money's picks for the five best airlines of 2023.
  • Delta - Best Airline for Reliability.
  • Alaska - Best Airline for Pets.
  • Southwest - Best Airline for Families.
  • American - Best Airline for Rewards.
  • JetBlue - Best Airline for Customer Satisfaction.
Mar 23, 2023

What is the best US airline to fly for? ›

Overall Rankings: The Best Airlines in the U.S.
  • Delta Air Lines.
  • Spirit Airlines.
  • SkyWest Airlines.
  • United Airlines.
  • Alaska Airlines.
  • Hawaiian Airlines.
  • JetBlue.
  • Envoy Air.
Apr 20, 2023

What is the highest rated airline in the US? ›

Here are the Wall Street Journal's full rankings of the Best and Worst Airlines of 2022, in order of ranking:
  • Delta Airlines.
  • Alaska Airlines.
  • Southwest Airlines.
  • United Airlines.
  • Allegiant Air.
  • American Airlines.
  • Spirit Airlines.
  • Frontier Airlines.
Mar 1, 2023

Is there a dress code for JetBlue Mint? ›

Mint Dress Code:

Traveler 18 years of age and older: Business Casual (no jeans, sneakers, t-shirts or open toe shoes). No fully uniformed Crewmembers are permitted to be seated in Mint.

How to get a free upgrade to mint JetBlue? ›

Upgrade to a Mint seat with JetBlue status

31, 2022. You must book a revenue fare at least 96 hours before departure to redeem this certificate. You'll automatically join the JetBlue upgrade list if you still have certificates in your account.

Are drinks free on JetBlue Mint? ›

All JetBlue flights feature free, brand-name snacks + drinks², including freshly brewed Dunkin'® coffee. Hungry for more? A selection of EatUp® boxes are available for purchase, as well as fresh fare from our EatUp® Café menu on select flights over 3.5 hours.

Is it better to fly JetBlue or Delta? ›

While both airlines service many of the same cities, Delta offers far more destinations total. It also offers a global network of destinations that dwarfs JetBlue by many magnitudes, in large part because Delta is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance.

Are JetBlue seats better? ›

JetBlue, to be honest, already has an advantage over most airlines when it comes to economy-class airline seating, since the company claims to offer “some of the widest seats available on domestic airlines and better than average legroom.” That means you'll likely feel a bit more comfortable on a JetBlue flight, even ...

Does JetBlue have comfortable seats? ›

JetBlue. JetBlue scores at the top for the best airlines with comfortable economy seats. Passengers will enjoy an above-average seat pitch of 32-34” and a seat size of 17.8 – 18.4”. Not to mention, JetBlue is one of only two domestic airlines in the U.S. that offers free WiFi to passengers.

Which American Airlines has best business class? ›

Boeing 777-300ER: The Boeing 777-300ER is American Airlines' true "flagship" aircraft—one of just two aircraft types in American Airlines' fleet with a first-class product. The 52 Safran Cirrus business class seats on this aircraft are generally considered the best business class seats in American Airlines' fleet.

Are drinks free in business class American Airlines? ›

Are drinks free in business class on American Airlines? Yes, international and domestic business class receive complimentary drinks — including a variety of beers, wines and spirits to complement the food menu.

How much better is first class than business? ›

Business-class might offer more legroom but doesn't offer a private space. The food and drink in business class are typically at a restaurant level. However, first-class dining might be at another level with an award-winning chef setting the menu.

Does American first class get you into Admirals Club? ›

If you're flying in first or business class on select international, transcontinental or other domestic flights marketed and operated by American, its Oneworld airline partners or marketed by JetBlue and operated by American, you'll get complimentary Admirals Club access.

How to get free upgrades to first class? ›

10 Legal Tips to Get Upgraded to First Class
  1. Earn Airline Elite Status.
  2. Redeem Miles and Points.
  3. Volunteer to be bumped on overbooked flights.
  4. Use an airline-branded credit card.
  5. Buy a last-minute upgrade.
  6. Follow The Crowds.
  7. Fly With a Generous Elite Friend.
  8. Travel Alone.

Does American first class get lounge access? ›

Does American Airlines First Class include lounge access? Yes, passengers flying on American Airlines first class receive access to departure lounges around the world and the arrival lounge when landing at London-Heathrow.

Which is better United or American? ›

In fact, American outranked United on most metrics in our 2023 Best-Of Awards analysis of major domestic carriers. But United has a few things going for it, including its credit card perks, more legroom in economy plus and the luxurious Polaris class.

What is the number 1 safest airline? ›

The top 10 safest airlines 2023
  • Qantas.
  • Air New Zealand.
  • Etihad Airways.
  • Qatar Airways.
  • Singapore Airlines.
  • TAP Air Portugal.
  • Emirates.
  • Alaska Airlines.
Jan 10, 2023

What is the safest airline in America? ›

Then it won again for three years in a row: 2019, 2020 and 2021. A number of U.S. carriers also made the top 20 list. Alaska Airlines came in first among the U.S. carriers, followed by Hawaiian Airlines, United, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

Which US airline has best economy? ›

The Best Airlines in America: Economy/Basic Economy
  • Southwest Airlines.
  • JetBlue Airways.
  • Delta Air Lines.
  • Allegiant Air.
  • Alaska Airlines.
  • Air Canada.
  • United Airlines.
  • Spirit Airlines.
May 11, 2022

Why is American Airlines the best airline? ›

American Airlines is considered to be a safe airline and has excellent mileage redemption options. It offers flights to many destinations worldwide and has a variety of ticket types for travelers of all budgets.

What is the cleanest airline USA? ›

Delta comes out on top across different categories. We've written up about the ways that airlines all across the country have been implementing cleaning procedures to help slow the spread of COVID-19 both on board and off.

What is the only 1 star airline? ›

Air Koryo is North Korea's only airline. It is constantly referred to online and by the media as being the “only one-star airline” or the “worst airline in the world”. Allow us to help you get to the bottom of this.

Which airline has the least cancellations? ›

"For calendar year 2022, the reporting marketing carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 76.72% down from 78.97% for the same period in pre-pandemic 2019," the DOT reported. American Airlines boasted the lowest flight cancellation rate at only 1.8%.

Do you keep blanket in JetBlue Mint? ›

Blankets. Business and first-class flights offer comfort items like blankets during the flight. You must leave them on board when you're leaving the plane as they can be reused.

Can you upgrade to JetBlue Mint at the gate? ›

Moves to Mint are exclusively available at the gate. They're honored on a first come, first served basis, pending availability. So, if you're hoping to purchase an upgrade, it may make sense to arrive at the airport a bit earlier than usual.

Do you get to keep blanket JetBlue Mint? ›

What is included in JetBlue Mint? JetBlue Mint includes a private suite that reclines into a lie-flat bed on the plane. It also includes a blanket, pillow, gourmet food, fantastic service, and an amenity kit you can keep!

Can I ask for a free upgrade at the airport? ›

Ask and you may receive. Flight upgrades are difficult to get and are even more impossible to attain if you don't ask for them in the first place. Simply and politely ask for one and remember to smile and be positive--flight attendants and employees won't take too kindly to any sense of entitlement you may give off.

How do I ask my flight attendant for a free upgrade? ›

He said: “You should ask the lead flight attendant or the flight attendant at the boarding door. “You should ask prior to door closure, but don't be surprised if they don't move you until after you're in the air if they're going to grant your request.”

Can you ask an airline for a free upgrade? ›

So while you shouldn't expect a free upgrade on a flight, you can still ask for upgrades from booking till boarding — and you may be able to pay your way to a much more comfortable seat.

How much is the upgrade fee for JetBlue Mint? ›

When JetBlue began selling its first flights with the new Airbus A321neo Mint suites Thursday morning, 1A and 1F — the two larger "studios" — were available for anyone to select. Now they come along with a $199 one-way upgrade fee.

How much is a JetBlue Mint seat? ›

While Mint seats start at $599 one-way, many sell out weeks in advance. Because Mint seats are limited to the first few rows of the plane, they often fill up fast.

Is JetBlue Mint the same as business class? ›

How JetBlue "business class" works. Technically, JetBlue doesn't offer a designated business class. Instead, you can go all out and purchase JetBlue Mint airfare, the airline's premium travel experience and JetBlue's version of first class.

What is the best day to fly JetBlue? ›

Cheapest Days to Fly JetBlue

This is true for most U.S. airlines including JetBlue: Cheapest days to fly: Usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. JetBlue fare sales often restrict travel to those days.

Why is JetBlue the best? ›

The airline is best known for being a low-cost airline. The company offers many budget-friendly flights in the United States and to international destinations. JetBlue also has a good frequent flier program, good in-cabin amenities, and few to no change and cancellation fees depending on which class you fly.

Does JetBlue have first class? ›

Does JetBlue offer a first-class flying experience? Kind of — and it's not too shabby an option, either. However, if you're looking for seats specifically labeled “first class,” you may have a hard time finding them; the airline calls its premium seats “JetBlue Mint."

What is the most desirable seat on an airplane? ›

Exit rows, aisle or window seats, and anywhere close to the front are typically considered the best seats on a plane. On a short business trip, you might want an aisle seat near the front of the plane so you can debark as quickly as possible on arrival.

What is the best seat to book on a flight? ›

Usually, it's best to pick a seat toward the front of the plane for several reasons: It's usually quieter, and you can get on and off faster. There's a balance between choosing front/back and window/aisle.

Where is the best place to sit on a JetBlue plane? ›

Which Seats to Pick. Naturally, you'll be best off with an Even More Space seat, given that they're located near the front of the plane and offer three extra inches of legroom. Of the Even More Space seats, I'd opt for window or aisle seats in rows 2, 3, 4, 5 or 11.

Which airline has the smallest seats? ›

Air Asia has the shortest seat pitch in economy, at 29 inches. Forty years ago, seat pitch was 31 to 35 inches. Seat width was approximately 18.5 inches. Today it's 17 to 17.5 inches.

What is the smoothest seat on a plane? ›

Middle section

This section is stationed directly over the wings, the most stable area of the plane and center of lift, so sitting here makes for the smoothest ride should the plane hit turbulence.

Is business class the same as first class on American Airlines? ›

The truth is, international first class and business class are different on American Airlines. The seat is larger, bedding better, pajamas offered, and food is slightly better in first class. Plus, the ground experience offers a meaningful difference when Flagship Dining facilities are available.

What is the difference between business class and flagship business class? ›

Essentially, if you see "Flagship" on your ticket, you can be sure you're getting a lie-flat seat, premium lounge access, full meal service, and an expanded drink menu.

What is flagship business mean? ›

Your Flagship® Business and Flagship® Business Plus ticket gives you access to elevated amenities and services on international flights between the U.S. and Asia, Australia, Europe, New Zealand and South America.* We also now offer Flagship® Business on select flights between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. Book now.

Is it better to fly first class or business class? ›

There's little doubt that first class offers a great deal more luxury, but it comes with a hefty price tag. While business class may not be as luxurious as first class, it's far nicer than economy, and surprisingly comfortable.

What are the perks of flying first class on United? ›

Since United First is offered on shorter flights, you will not find lie-flat seats in this cabin. Instead, you'll get a large, recliner type seat. You also receive a free checked bag, bigger seat, priority boarding and security lines and complimentary alcoholic beverages.

Does flagship business get lounge access? ›

If you're flying in Flagship Business, you can enjoy Flagship Lounges at Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), and New York (JFK), with a location opening soon in Philadelphia (PHL).

Why can't i book first class on American? ›

American Airlines is getting rid of first-class seats on international flights because people simply are not booking them, an executive for the airline revealed this week.

Is American Airlines phasing out first class? ›

With the roll-out of the new business and premium economy product and the removal of first class, the premium seating on American Airlines' long-haul fleet will improve by a staggering 45% by 2026.

Do business class seats fully recline? ›

The business class seats still recline fully flat, but you don't get a separate bed (your seat is your bed), you'll have less privacy from other passengers, and there is less personal space allocated just for you.

Does business class get lounge access? ›

Flying internationally in a premium cabin

Most legacy airlines — including Delta, American and United — have dedicated lounge spaces where business- and first-class flyers can relax.

What is the difference between Admirals Club and flagship? ›

Admirals Club guests can pay extra for premium drinks and meals. Meanwhile, Flagship Lounges offer a wide range of complimentary self-serve alcohol, a buffet of complimentary meals and shower suites in all locations.

What is the highest status with American Airlines? ›

Executive Platinum status

Although ConciergeKey is American's highest elite status level, it includes all the privileges of Executive Platinum, which is the airline's highest published elite tier.

What is American Airlines top level? ›

American Airlines' ConciergeKey (often misspelled as “Concierge Key”) status is the coveted holy grail for any AA flyer. It is the top tier in its AAdvantage program, given only to those who truly spend more money than almost any consumer.


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