Two of the most well-known airlines in the United States are American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. Both carriers offer a domestic First Class. But, how do they compare? Simple Flying takes a look.
On a number of recent domestic flights, I had the experience of testing out both products on shorter and longer flights in domestic First Class (recliner-style) on different types of narrowbody aircraft. Here’s how they compared.
When it comes to Airbus aircraft, both American and Delta operate the A319, A320, and A321 family of aircraft. Meanwhile, for Boeing, Delta and American share the 737-800. Separately, American also flies the A321neo, the currently-grounded 737 MAX, and the Embraer 190– although the E190s are being phased out. In addition, Delta flies the Airbus A220, Boeing 717, Boeing 737-900ER, Boeing 757, and MD-80 and MD-90 aircraft.
Here are the following American Airlines aircraft and the number of First Class seats available on each type:
- A319: 8 First Class seats
- A320: 12 First Class seats
- A321: 16 First Class seats
- A321neo: 20 First Class seats
- Boeing 737 MAX: 16 First Class seats
- Boeing 737-800: 16 First Class seats
- Embraer 190: 11 First Class Seats
Meanwhile, here is the seat count for Delta in First Class:
- A220-100: 12 First Class seats
- A319: 12 First Class seats
- A320: 16 First Class seats
- A321: 20 First Class seats
- 717: 12 First Class seats
- 737-700: 12 First Class seats
- 737-800: 16 First Class seats
- 737-900ER: 20 First Class seats
- 757-200: 20 First Class seats
- 757-300: 24 First Class seats
- MD-88: 16 First Class seats
- MD-90: 16 First Class seats
The hard product in domestic First Class
In terms of seat pitch, American is working on standardizing its domestic fleet of recliner-style First Class to 37″ of pitch. However, some aircraft have a little more such as the A319 with 38″ or a little less like the A320 with 36″.
Moreover, except for the E190s, all of American’s narrowbody recliner-First is in a 2-2 configuration.
Most of Delta’s narrowbody aircraft have 37″ of seat pitch in First. On the low end, some of them can go as low as 35″. However, this is generally in areas like the bulkhead and not across the entire First Class cabin.
Delta’s narrowbody recliner-style First Class is in a 2-2 configuration across the board.
In terms of seat width, both airlines offer First Class seats 21″ wide. These seats are about 3-4 inches wider than economy or extra-legroom economy seats.
While both airlines have a similar onboard offering, Delta’s First Class cabins on Airbus aircraft are larger than American’s. This means more opportunities for upgrades for passengers or else more seats to sell. However, at the end of the day, it is pretty close to a tie in terms of the seat itself on both airlines.
Inflight entertainment in domestic First Class
American Airlines is working on removing seatback screens from aircraft. So, on more and more American narrowbody aircraft, the view directly ahead of you is this:
While there are still some aircraft in American’s domestic narrowbody fleet that still have seatback screens in First Class, those numbers are dropping due to cabin retrofits. Meanwhile, on Delta, the view directly in front of you looks like this:
Do note, however, that Delta’s MD-80s and MD-90s and Boeing 717s currently do not offer seatback screens.
On both airlines, it is possible to use inflight wifi to stream free entertainment on a personal device. And, American’s cabin retrofits are coming with personal device holders designed to make it easier to watch some entertainment inflight.
However, Delta’s seatback screens appear ready to stick around. So, for this, Delta will take the win on inflight entertainment. This is especially wonderful on some longer routes topping three hours.
Food in First Class
This is one area where domestic First Class really could use some improvement. This is especially true on shorter flights. For reference, here is American’s policy on inflight dining:
- Flights under two hours (699 miles or less): light snacks
- Flights between two and two-and-a-half hours (700-899 miles): warmed mixed nuts with plated snacks or a warm cookie
- On flights between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half hours (900-1298 miles): warmed mix nuts, a three-course meal, and a warm cookie for dessert
- Flights over three-and-a-half hours (1,299 miles or more): Appetizer, main course, and cake or ice cream for dessert. On flights over four-and-a-half hours there are more dessert choices
Meanwhile, here is what Delta advertises:
- On flights under 900 miles (under about two-and-a-half hours): Complimentary choices from a snack basket including almonds, Cheez Its, Biscoff cookies, etc.
- For flights between 900 miles and 1,399 miles (under about three-and-a-half hours): Full meal service along with a snack selection only on departures between 5AM and 1:30PM and 4PM to 8PM
- On flights above 1,500 miles (around four-ish hours or above): Full meal service with snack options at any time of day
American Airlines has some more differentiation of service on shorter flights. This is definitely an area Delta can improve. On some flights that are over two hours but under the minimum time required to conduct service, say from San Antonio to Atlanta, Delta could still conduct a lighter meal service with plated snacks and make the First Class experience a little more worthwhile.
However, both airlines also make exceptions to these. On shorter premium routes, especially those out of key hubs, both Delta and American offer a full meal service.
In terms of quality, domestic First Class food is not known to be outstanding. And, both airlines have hit and miss dishes. Ultimately, American’s meal service has some nuance to it on some longer flights but Delta is willing to provide meal service even on late-night flights.
At the end of the day, both American and Delta have a similar onboard First Class experience. On the ground, both offer expedited ground service lanes, two free checked bags, and priority boarding. In addition, onboard, both airlines offer similar inflight services. However, Delta offers seatback entertainment on domestic First Class while American is doing away with those. But, American will offer a little more nuance on some shorter flights in First Class while Delta does not.
Ultimately, passengers should choose an airline that works well for them. This can be based on loyalty, geographic location, and itinerary.
Which airline would you rather fly in on domestic First Class segments– American or Delta? Let us know in the comments!