I’m not a frequent flyer between San Francisco and New York by any means, although I have found my way onto a handful of transcon flights over the past couple years. So far I’ve flown United three times (twice on a 757 and once on a Polaris-equipped 777), JetBlue once (Mint suite), Virgin/Alaska twice, and American Airlines first class once. My favorite seat of all is the United Polaris one, but most United transcons are going to be in the far inferior 757 seat also used by Delta (on their 757) and American (in business class). It’s a perfectly nice seat for a domestic flight, although in my opinion the two best “standard” options are the JetBlue Mint suite and the American first class pod.
Which one is better depends on what type of trip you’re taking. If you’re in a hurry and trying to minimize time at the airport, my pick would be JetBlue. That is to say, the Mint suite is a more comfortable and private seat than American’s first class pod (which is basically a narrower version of the business class seat on their 777-300). I don’t really care about the door on the Mint suite, and the seat is that Thompson Vantage inflatable deal that I’m not a huge fan of, but the overall amount of personal space is hard to argue with.
It’s a pretty close race, though, and each seat has its pluses and minuses. The drawback of the Mint suite is the restrictive foot area and the fact that the high counters on each side of the seat make it feel coffin-like in bed mode. Plus, the IFE is lower-resolution and has less on-demand movie options than on American. The American seat is more comfortable to sit in, but when reclined there’s a serious lack of room around your knees. The foot cubby is plenty big, but the seat feels very narrow overall. I’ve had this issue with the similar seat on KLM’s 787, although here it was even worse than I remember.
(It doesn’t have much bearing on the flight, but I do want to mention how much I like American’s A321T. It’s a really premium-heavy plane, meaning it only takes around 10 minutes to board, and people aren’t holding up the process desperately trying to find overhead bin space. Unlike the rest of American’s fleet, which is being densified in a positively Allegiantian manner, the A321T is refreshingly sparse, especially for such a high-traffic route.)
As for soft product, I didn’t eat on either flight, and I had great flight attendants both times. On JetBlue this seems to be par for the course, whereas I get the impression that I got lucky on American with a very enthusiastic purser who clearly loved his job. I was actually pretty excited to try the roast vegetable quinoa on American, but I had stuffed myself in the lounge and really didn’t want to cram in another meal just for review purposes.
That brings me to the opposite travel scenario, in which you’re flying out of JFK and either have a long layover before your flight, or you don’t have anything going on before your flight and want to relax at the airport. JetBlue doesn’t offer any sort of lounge access, especially now that the Airspace lounge in JFK Terminal 5 is gone (not that I would recommend going to that piece of shit even if it were still open), whereas American offers access to the best lounge in its entire network.
I was seriously impressed with Flagship First dining (not so much with Flagship check-in), and the Flagship lounge was pretty good. Overall I think United’s Polaris lounge in SFO is nicer in just about every regard, but American’s Flagship lounge at JFK is easily the 2nd-best lounge I’ve been to in the US. It was definitely nice to have a sit-down meal, drinks, and then snacks before our flight, and if I’m thinking of the entire end-to-end travel experience, I have to give American the edge over JetBlue.
The bottom line is that JetBlue’s onboard product edges out Amercan’s by a small-to-medium margin, and American’s pre-flight experience (at least ex-JFK) trounces JetBlue. How much each of those components are worth to you will determine which one you’d be happier flying. Of course, there’s also the small matter of cost… American’s first class is usually very expensive, and JetBlue is priced at or below business class. I used points for my flight and wasn’t that happy about it, since 50,000 miles is a lot for a domestic flight, no matter how long it is. (And it’s pretty shocking I was able to find availability in the first place, although American is definitely better on this front than United or Delta.) On the other hand, JetBlue is often downright reasonable, and with a sign-up bonus or two from co-branded cards, you can easily fly in Mint suites without having to use more valuable miles or transferrable points.
What does everyone else think? Am I crazy for suggesting American beats JetBlue in any capacity, or are there times where you value the pre-flight experience enough to drive your decision on which flight to choose?
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