American Vs Delta: Which Transcontinental Premium Cabin Is Better?

American and Delta are two of the most prominent airlines in the United States. Both carriers go head-to-head in many markets, including the lucrative US transcontinental ones between New York and Boston out to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Here’s how they stack up.

American and Delta Planes at LAX
Both Delta and American fly transcontinentally to Los Angeles out of Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York. Photo: Getty Images

The planes

American and Delta, while they do have some common fleet types, are operating very different planes transcontinentally. Below is a breakdown by route and plane type.

Boston to Los Angeles (BOS-LAX)

On this six-hour route, American traditionally flies Airbus A321s and Boeing 737s. These planes are configured with 16-20 recliner-style first class seating in a 2-2 configuration.

American Airlines 2-2
First class is in a 2-2 layout on Boeing 737s and A320-family aircraft in American’s narrowbody fleet. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Delta, on the other hand, is flying Boeing 757 aircraft. These planes are the airline’s special premium-configured jets that contain lie-flat Delta One seating. In Delta One, there are 16 seats in a 2-2 configuration.

Delta One cabin
The Delta One cabin on the 757. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Boston to San Francisco (BOS-SFO)

American Airlines does not fly nonstop between Boston and San Francisco. Instead, the carrier offers a number of one-stop itineraries on domestically-configured aircraft via places like Chicago and Philadelphia.

Delta flies nonstop using a Boeing 757 between Boston and San Francisco. However, unlike the BOS-LAX route, this plane is served with a recliner-style first class. There are 20 first class seats onboard this plane. Other Delta One, lie-flat itineraries are available if you connect in a hub like JFK or else first do the Boston to Los Angeles leg and connect to San Francisco.

Delta 757 First Class
Recliner-style first on a Delta 757. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

New York to Los Angeles (JFK-LAX)

The JFK to LAX is one of the most hotly contested routes in the United States. American Airlines takes this market very seriously and has placed an incredibly unique aircraft on this route.

While American has a large fleet of Airbus A321s, a subset of that fleet is comprised of specially configured Airbus A321Ts– or transcontinental configuration. This includes ten seats in Flagship First. This class of service is in a 1-1 reverse herringbone configuration.

Flagship First
Flagship First on the A321T. Photo: American Airlines

Flagship Business class is also a lie-flat product. This is outfitted in a 2-2 configuration with a partition in the middle, similar to what KLM flies on its Boeing 777s.

Flagship Business
Flagship Business on the A321T. Photo: American Airlines

Delta is also only flying one type of aircraft on its LAX-JFK route. The Atlanta-based carrier uses Boeing 767-300ERs on this route. The widebody offers only business class in the form of Delta One. The 767 Delta One is a forward-facing lie-flat, staggered configuration in a 1-2-1 configuration. This is the same kind of product that the carrier flies on high-profile international routes such as between Atlanta and Bogota, Detroit to Munich, and others.

Delta one 767 business class
Delta One on a 767-300ER. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

New York to San Francisco (JFK-SFO)

This route is not as high profile as the JFK-LAX one, but, it is still essential to both Delta and American. On this route, American Airlines also flies its Airbus A321Ts– the same kind as it flies to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Delta flies its premium Boeing 757– just as it flies between Boston and Los Angeles.

Delta 757
A subset of Delta’s 757 fleet is configured with lie-flat business class. Photo: Getty Images

New York to San Diego (JFK to SAN)

New York to San Diego is not as high-profile a transcontinental route as the others, but still, one that both Delta and American fly on. As a very leisure-oriented route, both airlines fly domestically configured planes on this route.

American Airlines 737-800 aircraft
American Airlines flies 737s and A321s on some transcontinental domestic flights. Photo: Getty Images

American Airlines primarily flies Boeing 737s with recliner-style first class seating in a 2-2 configuration. Delta flies Boeing 757s. Usually, these are the recliner-style first class flights, but sometimes, you can find the premium 757 with Delta One on those flights.

Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles (DCA-LAX)

A perimeter rule governs Reagan National (DCA). However, Delta and American have exceptions that allow them to fly from DCA off to Los Angeles. American Airlines mainly flies Airbus A321neos on this route with recliner-style first. Delta flies its Boeing 757s with Delta One on this route.

The ground experience

American Airlines offers one of the most exclusive on-the-ground experiences– depending on your cabin class. For customers booked in Flagship First, American gives access to the Flagship Lounge and exclusive Flagship First Dining, where you can try a specially-made meal with a selection of alcohol on the ground. Flagship First, however, is only available in New York and Los Angeles. For those flying in Flagship Business, American offers access to the Flagship Lounge. However, these are located only in Los Angeles and New York-JFK.

Flagship First Dining Lounge
The Flagship First lounge was small and offered an intimate setting for passengers. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

If you’re flying out of San Francisco in Flagship First or Flagship Business, you’ll get access to the Admirals Club. Do note, however, on non-Flagship Business or Flagship First itineraries, that is, if you are just flying domestic First, you will not receive access to these lounges. Out of San Diego, American offers passengers no lounge access.

Delta Air Lines only offers one kind of on-the-ground lounge experience. The airline operates Sky Clubs at all of the aforementioned locations. You will only receive access if you are flying in transcontinental Delta One routes. This leaves domestic first passengers without lounge access– similar to American’s domestic first customers.

Both airlines offer premium passengers priority check-in, including dedicated check-in areas for premium transcontinental passengers.

Dining

Both airlines pull out the stops on nonstop itineraries in Flagship First or Flagship Business on American and Delta One on Delta. This includes multi-course, award-winning chef-curated meals paired with full availability of alcoholic beverages. These procedures, however, have been modified as a result of the current health crisis and may vary from flight-to-flight and itinerary.

American Vs Delta: Which Transcontinental Premium Cabin Is Better?
A sample Delta One meal between LAX and JFK. Photo: Paul Lucas – Simple Flying

On the flights sold as domestic first, both airlines offer traditional meal service– but nothing too fancy or worth writing home about.

Amenities

On American Airlines, in Flagship First, passengers can expect an Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL) amenity kit with products from ZENOLOGY and APL. This includes some traditional skincare items, a sleeping mask, earplugs, and dental hygiene materials. For sleeping, passengers receive a Casper sleep set with pillows and blankets. In Flagship Business, passengers also receive a smaller APL amenity kit and a Casper sleep set.

Delta One passengers will receive a TUMI amenity kit with LE Labo lotion and other health products. When it comes time to take a nap, passengers will receive a Westin Heavenly bedding set.

So which one is better?

There are clear winners depending on your route:

  • BOS-LAX: Delta
  • BOS-SFO: Delta
  • JFK-SFO: American
  • JFK-LAX: American
  • JFK-SAN: Delta
  • DCA-LAX: Delta

On routes out of Boston, a Delta hub, the carrier offers a better inflight experience with Delta One on flights to LAX. However, the BOS to SFO route is nothing special with domestic first. Still, it beats American’s one-stop itinerary.

Out of New York City, American takes the cake. The carrier offers one of the most exclusive cabins in the sky. For passengers wanting a very premium experience, Delta does not provide the same experience as Flagship First Dining or a 1-1 configuration onboard the aircraft. Even in business class, which Delta One is more comparable to, American’s cabin is smaller and slightly more private than Delta’s. Plus, Delta’s product is more outdated on the 767s.

American A321
The A321T flies American’s transcontinental routes out of JFK and is an exclusive experience. Photo: Airbus

The last two routes, from JFK to San Diego and DCA to LAX, only go to Delta because of the Delta One-configured 757s. Do note, however, that some of Delta’s JFK to SAN flights are on domestically configured first class, which is not too different than American’s.

There are other variables, such as the crew. There are excellent Delta and American crews, and below-average Delta and American crews. Which one you get, however, is a bit of pure luck.

Which carrier do you prefer on transcontinental flights? Let us know in the comments!

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