United Vs. Delta: Which Transcontinental Premium Cabin Is Better?

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are very prominent carriers on both coasts. United maintains hubs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Newark Liberty. Delta maintains hubs in Boston, Los Angeles, and New York-JFK. Here’s how these two airlines stack up on one of the most hotly contested routes in the US.

Delta and United
United or Delta, which one is the best for transcontinental flights? Photo: Getty Images

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The planes

Delta and United both operate varied fleets. However, onboard, both airlines offer different experiences. Here’s what equipment is flying each route.

Boston to Los Angeles (BOS-LAX)

Delta’s hub in Boston means the carrier is flying some of its best aircraft on this route. Delta uses its Boeing 757s in a premium configuration for this service. In business class, called Delta One, passengers can find a 2-2 lie-flat configuration that is pretty standard. There are 16 seats available up front.

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

United Airlines operates a different set of aircraft on this route. The carrier puts its Boeing 737s on this route, which are configured in a recliner-style first class. Primarily, the airline flies 737-900s on the route with 20 seats in first class.

Boston to San Francisco (BOS-SFO)

A Boeing 757 with standard, recliner-style first class, is available on Delta’s routings between Boston and San Francisco. The 757 still provides a good amount of capacity, which shows that the airline wants to be competitive on this route. However, this is not the carrier’s top narrowbody product.

United Airlines 757
United is flying its 757s between Boston and San Francisco. Photo: Getty Images

United Airlines, however, takes this route a little more seriously. The carrier traditionally flies Boeing 757-200s on the route– the same type as Delta. However, United’s 757s are equipped with lie-flat seats up front in business class in a 2-2 configuration– pretty standard for a narrowbody and similar to Delta One on the 757s.

New York to Los Angeles (JFK/EWR-LAX)

United offers plenty of daily frequencies out of its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Los Angeles. However, there are a few different types of aircraft operating this route. One of the most prevalent models is the 757-200 flying the same product as the carrier’s BOS-SFO route. However, one type of 757s contains 16 seats in business; another has an incredible 28 seats up front.

There are also some United flights onboard a Boeing 777-200 that has the airline’s high-density business class product that is lie-flat, but 8-abreast in a 2-4-2 configuration– tight and outdated for a business class offering when, now, carriers are putting doors on their products.

Lastly, some flights are on the carrier’s shiny new Boeing 787-10s, which are in a 1-2-1 configuration. This is the plane that flies the carrier’s true United Polaris product.

Polaris is only available on the 787-10 for transcontinental flights. Photo: United Airlines

Delta is much more standardized with nonstop JFK to LAX flights. The carrier is only flying its Boeing 767-300ERs on this route with business class in a forward-facing 1-2-1 configuration. This Delta One product is a bit outdated with little privacy.

Delta One 767
The Delta One product on the 767 is not very competitive, but better than United’s eight-abreast. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

New York to San Francisco (JFK/EWR-SFO)

For United Airlines, this is another important transcontinental route that connects the carrier’s two primary coastal hubs. United is flying the same types of planes and products on this route as it flies between Newark and Los Angeles.

The high-density business class on the 777s. Photo: Paul Lucas – Simple Flying

Delta Air Lines is flying its premium Boeing 757s with lie-flat Delta One on this route.

New York to San Diego (JFK/EWR-SAN)

United flies nonstop between Newark and San Diego onboard Boeing 737-800s. These planes are equipped with a recliner-style domestic first class with 16 seats in the premium cabin.

Delta is flying 757s on this route. However, most of the flights are conducted on 757s outfitted with recliner-style first. But, some flights are available onboard Delta One-configured Boeing 757 aircraft.

Delta 757
Delta has plenty of 757s in its fleet, which fly transcontinental routes. Photo: Getty Images

Washington D.C. to Los Angles (IAD/DCA-LAX)

United Airlines operates another major hub out of Washington-Dulles (IAD). On this transcontinental route, United operates some frequencies onboard high-density business class on the Boeing 777– as it does on some flights between Newark and Los Angeles. Other flights, however, are onboard Boeing 737-900s with recliner-style business.

United 777
United flies 777-200s transcontinentally. Photo: Getty Images

Delta does not fly nonstop between Dulles and LAX. However, the carrier does fly its premium Boeing 757 on a flight from Reagan National (DCA) to Los Angeles.

The ground experience

Delta Air Lines offers passengers access to its Sky Clubs– which are located at all of these airports. However, access to the Sky Clubs is only reserved for Delta One passengers, not domestic first class. You can, however, access these lounges with certain credit cards or by paying an access fee.

While United does operate a premium Polaris lounge, transcontinental business class passengers only receive access to the United Club, which is comparable to a Delta Sky Club.

United Club
The United Club in San Diego. Photo: United Airlines

Dining

Both United and Delta offer some of the best food in transcontinental premium flights with a full selection of alcohol. This includes multi-course meals with food, specially curated for premium passengers. The current health crisis, however, has altered some of the food and beverage services onboard these flights.

Domestic first-branded flights will still have a meal service. However, those services are not as drawn out and will be more standard domestic first class airline meals.

Amenities

Delta One passengers provide passengers a TUMI amenity kit with branded lotions and other health and beauty products. For bedtime, the airline gives passengers a Westin Heavenly bedding set.

United also provides passengers with an amenity kit that includes basic toiletry products along with Sunday Riley’s hydrating inflight remedy. United’s bedding is branded from Saks Fifth Avenue.

So, which one is better?

Unlike Simple Flying’s American vs. Delta comparison, United vs. Delta is not as clear cut. Here are the routes where it is easy to determine a winner:

  • BOS-LAX: Delta
  • BOS-SFO: United
  • NYC-SAN: Delta

Delta offers lie-flats on BOS-LAX and NYC-SAN, which United does not. On a flight that long, there is definitely time to catch a nap, and a lie-flat would be wonderful for such a time.

United LAX
The flights to Los Angeles are a little murkier and challenging to determine a winner. Photo: Getty Images

The New York transcontinental flights are not as clear cut. While United has an edge on flights operated with Boeing 787-10s, those 787-10s do not perform all of the carrier’s frequencies. Some products, especially the eight-abreast 777s, are not that competitive, even when compared to Delta’s 757 and 767 products.

The other issue is that Delta and United fly out of different airports in New York. United actually flies out of New Jersey from Newark Liberty. Meanwhile, Delta’s out of JFK. Some people may find Delta to be a better option due to JFK’s proximity, while others may choose United for the same reason at Newark.

Delta planes at JFK
Delta Air Lines has a significant presence out of New York-JFK. Photo: Getty Images

A similar thing plays out on the Washington D.C. to LAX route. United flies out of the larger, but further from the city, Washington-Dulles. Delta flies out of Reagan National. Again, the distance to or from an airport could really make the difference for some passengers.

Obviously, other details, such as the airline’s crew also makes a big difference. There are great crews and some not-so-great crews, which can change a flight experience. That, however, comes down to some luck.

Which is your favorite, Delta or United, on transcontinental routes in premium cabins? Let us know in the comments! 

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