American vs Delta vs United: which one is best?

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel conteststipsseries, or news.

Today (November 16, 2018): Travel tip: Which is the best USA airline to fly long haul in Business Class?

It is pretty fashionable to complain about American carriers, especially about the service they deliver onboard, which is often considered to be inferior to that of their non-American competitors. However, that may no longer be true, since the USA’s main three legacy carriers – American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines – have all recently upped their game as I experienced myself over the past few years:

DELTA ONE A350 SUITE
DELTA ONE A350 SUITE

When choosing one of these 3 carriers, the big questions is whether they differ at all regarding their premium cabin class products? And which one is the best? Well, here you have some facts & my opinion on the cabin layout, seat features, food and amenities of American’s, Delta’s and United’s international Business Class products.

You can share your own opinion below in the comments section or take my poll.

  • Chauffeur service: unfortunately, none of the USA carriers offers complimentary chauffeur service to/from the airport for Business Class passengers.
  • Lounges: all three USA legacy carriers have an extensive networks of lounges within the USA and across the globe. While the lounge experience in the USA does not come close to what is offered by Asian and Middle Eastern airlines, I would rank United’s new Polaris lounges in San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Newark as the best airline lounges on USA soil. American’s new Business Class Flagship lounges (which are open in New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare, Miami and Los Angeles) are not quite as nice as the United Polaris lounges, but are better than Delta’s unimpressive Skyclubs lounges.
  • Reliabity: despite its aging (but well maintained) fleet, Delta has the best on-time performance of the 3 USA legacy carriers. United is more likely to be delayed, although the carrier is improving its ontime performance. American is the worst when it comes to on-time performance and its flights are increasingly delayed because of aircraft reliability issues (despite the fact that American operates a modern fleet).
  • Frequent flyer program: although it has devaluated over the last couple of years, I consider American Airlines’ loyalty program AAdvantage as the best frequent flyer program in the world, mainly because of its reasonable award chart and its many airline partners, within and outside the One World alliance (you can read my review of the program – with pros and cons – here). Delta’s frequent flyer program SkyMiles is the worst of the 3 USA airlines (it was the first program to become revenue based) but Delta performs very well on other areas as it has a high customer satisfaction, so it doesn’t need to spend a lot on its SkyMiles loyalty program to attract customers. United Airlines’ frequent flyer program Mileage Plus is decent, but it’s not as excellent as AAdvantage albeit not as bad as SkyMiles.
  • Fleet-wide consistency: Unfortunately, the layout of the Business Class cabin and the seat type you’ll get depend on the aircraft type since none of the major USA airlines offers a consistent Business Class product across their fleet. That said, United is the only carrier that strives towards one uniform Business Class product across its entire wide body fleet (although it will still take a few years before its has completed the refurbishment of all its planes).
  • Cabin interior & design: All three carriers have invested in the introduction of new cabin designs, but I feel that United is the winner here (again). The cabins of their newly delivered B777-300ER and refurbished B767/B777 planes are designed by PriestmanGoode and feature bespoke furniture elements like a on-brand entrance area, a bar area and United branded cabin elements.
  • Cabin layout & seats: your Business Class experience onboard United, American or Delta will largely depend on the aircraft type, since each aircraft features a different flatbed seat & cabin layout. The best wide-body Business Class layout & seats are (in order from excellent to mediocre):
    • Delta A350: excellent and super-private suites with sliding doors, arranged in a 1-2-1 layout.
    • American B777: spacious seats in a 1-2-1 herringbone layout (direct aisle access for all seats).
    • United B777 & B767 (with Polaris seats): a 1-2-1 herringbone seat layout, with rows alternating between seats facing forward and at an angle. This United seat is a great seat, but it’s not as comfortable or spacious as American’s B777 Business Class seat or Delta’s A350 suite.
    • American B787: seats in a 1-2-1 herringbone layout (direct aisle access for all seats).
    • Delta B777 & A330: seats in a 1-2-1 herringbone layout (direct aisle access for all seats). The Delta suites with sliding doors will also be rolled out on the B777 over the coming years.
    • American A330: seats in a 1-2-1 herringbone layout (direct aisle access for all seats).
    • American B767: seats in a 1-2-1 staggered configuration, a so-called Sogerma Solstys layout, whereby the foot compartment for each seat is located between and under the seats in front (the foot space can feel cramped).
    • Delta B767: seats in a 1-2-1 staggered configuration, a so-called Sogerma Solstys layout, whereby the foot compartment for each seat is located between and under the seats in front, similar to American’s B767 (although the latter definitely has a fresher and more modern look).
    • United B767 (without Polaris seats): seats in a 2-1-2 configuration. This seat layout wil gradually disappear on international routes as United is refurbishing these planes with the new Polaris seats.
    • United B787: seats in a traditional 2-2-2 layout, slightly angled towards the windows.
    • Delta B757: seats in a traditional 2-2 layout, slightly angled towards the windows.
    • United B757: seats in a traditional 2-2 layout, slightly angled towards the windows.
    • American B757: seats in a traditional 2-2 layout, slightly angled towards the windows.
    • United B777 (without Polaris seats): seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, with rows alternating between forward and backward facing seats. This seat layout wil gradually disappear on international routes as United is refurbishing these planes with the new Polaris seats.
  • Flat beds: All 3 carriers offer flat beds on their medium- and longhaul international destinations (with the exception of routes to the Caribbean, Canada, Central America and some South American routes). The most comfortable and spacious flat beds are those on Delta’s A350 aircraft type, followed by American’s B777 aircraft and then United’s B777s with the Polaris seats.
  • Amenity kit: all three USA carrier offer above average amenity kits, with Delta being the winner (both because of the look of the kit itself and the quality of its content).
    • Delta’s Business Class passengers get a silver hard-sided TUMI amenity kit outbound from the USA and a soft-sided black TUMI amenity kit inbound to the USA, allowing you to add variety to your amenity kit collection each way. The kits feature travel essentials including Kiehl’s lip balm and grapefruit-scented deluxe hand and body lotion with Aloe Vera and Oatmeal, a dental kit featuring Crest toothpaste, tissues, mouthwash and ear plugs.
    • United Airlines’ amenity kits echo many of the key design elements that distinguish the carrier’s Saks Fifth Avenue luxury bedding and contain a signature padded eye mask, earplugs, skincare products from Soho House & Co’s Cowshed Spa, cozy socks, toothbrush, toothpaste and a tissue pack.
    • Created in partnership with fashion designer Cole Haan, American Airlines’ amenity kits are available on long haul and transcontinental flights between New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Inside, the kits contain beauty and skincare products from C.O Bigelow, 3Lab, Clark’s Botanicals, alongside a new eye mask, socks, ear plugs, toothbrush, toothpaste and headphone protectors.
  • Pajamas: United offers pajamas to its Business Class passengers, albeit only on upon request and on flights longer than 12 hours. American only offers pajamas in Business Class on routes to Auckland, Hong Kong, and Sydney. Delta doesn’t offer pajamas in Business Class, except on routes from Los Angeles to Shanghai and Sydney.
  • Bedding: all three legacy carriers of the USA offer terrific bedding, with United being the winner here IMHO.
    • United’s bedding is from Saks Fifth Avenue, with a choice of two different blankets: a quilted duvet and a lighter throw blanket. Mattress cushions are also available upon request.
    • Delta’s bedding is Westin Heavenly branded and includes an oversized duvet, a high-quality blanket and down-alternative pillow.
    • American Airlines has a partnership with Casper for their inflight bedding, which comprises a pillow, duvet (only on Pacific routes), and slippers. On flights to Auckland, Hong Kong, and Sydney, passengers also get a mattress pad and slippers.
  • Catering: USA airlines are not known for their onboard gastronomic experiences, but the food they serve is far from bad either. My best meals have always been on United though, followed by American and then Delta (although the difference between the three is only marginal).
    • United Polaris customers get a multi-course inflight dining experience designed by chefs from The Trotter Project, a nonprofit organization committed to mentoring and internship programs for youth interested in the culinary arts. The menus rotate every month, so you’ll continue to have new dishes to experience on board.
    • American collaborates with several celebrity chefs from the USA, New Zealand and Japan to create their inflight menus (e.g. Maneet Chauhan, Sam Choy, Julian Barsotti, Sean Connolly, and Jun Kurogi). Each wine is selected by master sommelier Bobby Stuckey.
    • Most of the time, Delta also offers decent food, with seasonal and regional entrees featuring fresh ingredients and flavors. Delta’s master sommelier – Andrea Robinson – selects wines from around the globe, including regional selections paired with onboard meals.
  • Number of meal services: on longhaul flights, all 3 carriers offer 2 meal services (a full meal after takeoff, and a light meal or breakfast 90 minutes prior landing), so there’s no difference here.
  • Inflight entertainment: IMHO, there’s no difference in the onboard entertainment offered by American, Delta, and United in Business Class. In-flight entertainment on all three legacy carriers is completely free and comprises an extensive library of movies, TV shows, audio options, games, and live TV on select routes. On most flights, you can also stream the library of movies and TV shows to your phone, tablet or laptop (on condition that you have the airline’s app on your phone or tablet).
  • WiFiThe US always has and still is the most developed market for in-flight WiFi. Delta Air Lines tops the list of the most connected airlines, as measured by available seat-miles with at least a chance of getting a wireless connection, according to the survey by Routehappy.com, a site that evaluates in-flight amenities. More than 500 million of Delta’s available seat-miles are covered. It’s closely followed by United Airlines (500 million miles) and American (more than 400 million miles).
UNITED B777 POLARIS BUSINESS CLASS
UNITED B777 POLARIS BUSINESS CLASS

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