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A New Age of Transcontinental Travel Begins: My First Lie-Flat Flight JFK-LAX on United p.s.

by on July 23, 2013 · 26 comments

in American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United, Virgin America

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With friends and employees in New York, Miami and Los Angeles, I generally fly across the US at least once a month. Over the next couple years the trend of putting nicer planes (with a focus on premium cabin products) is going to increase as United, Delta, American and even JetBlue have plans for fully lie-flat business class cabins.

However, the airlines are not planning to just “give” these seats away. Transcontinental routes can demand huge premiums since many companies will purchase business class for flights over 5 hours and the entertainment business certainly helps keep prices high. Flying in business/first on JFK-LAX is always a fun time – just this year I’ve sat next to Danny DeVito and Marcus Mumford in United First Class and have met countless other interesting people in the entertainment world. So how does someone who isn’t a celebrity or millionaire get to sit up front? Luckily, some airlines still give complimentary upgrades (American Airlines to their Executive Platinum members starting 100 hours before departure and Delta to all Medallions, but not until departure) and others allow elites to use upgrade certificates (United) or even same-day upgrades (Virgin America).

My Flights.. Miles vs. Cash?
For my last minute, one-way flight I was looking at ~$600 coach tickets and $2,500 business class fares. Luckily, I was able to snag two saver level awards at 25,000 miles and $2.50 each for me and a friend. I avoided a $75 last minute ticketing fee because I’m United Premier Platinum, thanks to a status match. I would have preferred to buy a cheap coach ticket on American and then upgrade, but this trip was last minute and American prioritizes upgrades based on when they were requested, which greatly disadvantages those of us who can’t plan far in advance. Plus, I was traveling with Miles (my dog) and since I don’t really fit in coach as a 6’7″ traveler, I certainly didn’t want to also cram my dog in what little space I’d have in coach. So instead of shelling out thousands, I decided to use United miles, which took the stress out of the trip and would allow me to get some rest on my flight.

United’s plan is to rip out all existing business and first class seats on their 757 p.s. planes and install all new lie-flat BusinessFirst beds. While the planes are losing the first class cabin, in my opinion the new business class seats are more comfortable for sleeping since the old first class seats never become fully horizontal.

United Business Class seat

United’s New p.s. Business Class seat 5A- the first seat in the second business class cabin. I wouldn’t recommend due to it being next to the galley, which can be noisy and bright

United's old First Class seat- not as good as the new lie-flat business class seat, in my opinion

United’s old First Class seat- not as good as the new lie-flat business class seat, in my opinion

United's old business class recliner- thin, but comfortable with manual controls!

United’s old business class recliner- thin, but comfortable with manual controls!

My plane was one of the newly retrofitted ones United started operating on transcon routes back in March (the airline plans to finish retrofitting all its planes on these routes by the end of the summer), and instead of the old p.s. planes which had first, business and Economy Plus classes, this one had 28 United BusinessFirst seats with 180-degree flat-bed seats with 6’4” of space when fully extended, and 15.4-inch entertainment monitors;  48 seats in Economy Plus with 36 inches of legroom and 9-inch entertainment monitors; and 66 seats in United Economy with individual seatback 9-inch entertainment monitors.

New seatmap, courtesy of seatguru.com

New seatmap, courtesy of seatguru.com

Personally, I don’t miss the old first class since United’s BusinessFirst is also lie-flat and stretches to 6’4″ and was the same seat I had when I flew from Newark-Dublin back in December on United as well. Currently only 4 of these 15 757′s are retrofitted. You can track the p.s. fleet reconfiguration progress here which is suppose to be complete by the end of 2013.

The business cabin will contain all BusinessFirst seats.

United’s BusinessFirst seats recline to fully lie flat.

Here are the other new features of United’s refreshed p.s. product:

  • Complimentary in-seat audio/video on-demand entertainment
  • USB and standard 110v power outlets accessible from every seat
  • Quicker Gogo Wi-Fi
Appetizer

Shrimp cocktail and a salad with mozzarella and olives.

Meal service was pretty decent, though nothing to go on and on about – as usual, I thought the steak was probably the wisest choice and it was pretty tasty vs. a creamy stuffed chicken or creamy tortellini pasta option.

Dinner

Dinner entree.

I was able to access the United Club at JFK, since United provides complimentary lounge access to BusinessFirst customers on their transcon routes, and while the lounge isn’t the most exciting, at least it’s a quiet place out of the main concourse where I could get some work done before my trip.

Overall, my experience was really nice and a good upgrade from United’s previous business class offerings on this route. Even more exciting, though, is that it heralds a new day in transcontinental flying.

How the Competition Stacks Up

American's A321’s outfitted for transcontinental service will replace American’s current 767-200’s used on routes from New York JFK and San Francisco and LAX

American’s A321’s outfitted for transcontinental service will replace American’s current 767-200’s used on routes from New York JFK and San Francisco and LAX

American

American currently offers between 8-10 non-stop flights a day between JFK-LAX and it will start replacing its aging widebody 767 aircraft with a huge new order of smaller A321’s beginning in November 2013 through 2014, dropping the number of seats on each plane from 168 to just 102 and then increasing the number of flights per day to about 14.

The new A321’s will have 10 fully lie-flat seats in a 1 x 1 configuration in first class. Business class will have 20 lie-flat seats in a 2 x 2 configuration, while the Main Cabin will be your typical 3 x 3 configuration with 36 Main Cabin Extra seats. The entertainment systems on these aircraft will also have seat-to-seat chat, live text news and weather updates, 3-D moving maps, airport maps and connecting gate information. Travelers in premium classes will have access to free entertainment on the 15.4-inch screens, and Bose headsets.

American has Flagship Lounges at JFK and LAX, and any ticketed business or first class passenger on an F or Z fare can access them, while travelers in business with J or U fares can also access the regular Admirals Club at these locations and at SFO.

Delta is operating 767's with lie-flat seats on JFK-LAX 4 times per day.

Delta is operating 767′s with lie-flat seats on JFK-LAX 4 times per day.

Delta

Delta is currently operating Boeing 767’s with its fully lie-flat BusinessElite seats and 757′s with 16 recliner BusinessElite seats on all long-haul flights between Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.

They began operating fully lie-flat 767′s back in March, and now have four of their seven daily flights between JFK-LAX and one of five daily flights between JFK and Seattle operating with 767’s equipped with latest BusinessElite product. The entire fleet of Delta widebodies is scheduled to be completely refitted with the seats by early 2014.

The 767’s  have 29 Economy Comfort seats with 35 inches of pitch and 50% more recline (to maybe about 5 inches). For those stuck in the 171 Economy seats back, every seat  has a personal 9-inch video monitor and USB power while Business Elite and Economy Comfort seats will have 110v power outlets.

The 757’s have 16 recliner BusinessElite (expected to be converted to lie-flat seats within next 2 years) seats in a 2 x 2 configuration, 44 seats in Economy Comfort and 108 Economy seats, each of which will have its own video monitor, and every seat has 110v and USB power ports.

Customers flying in Delta BusinessElite on transcon flights receive complimentary access to the Delta Sky Club.

JetBlue plans to add mini-suites on their transcon flights.

JetBlue plans to add mini-suites on their transcon flights.

JetBlue

JetBlue announced earlier this year that they plan to add a business class product to their current all coach fleet. The new business class will include 4 single seats that are ‘mini-suites’ types. These mini-suites consist in a seat with surrounding furniture intended to provide privacy to the occupants.

In addition to a new business class, there will actually be an ultra-premium first class on the airline’s new A321 aircraft, which are scheduled for delivery by the end of this year. There will be 16 premium seats total which will be broken down into 4 first class suites, and 12 business class seats. These will only be used for their transcon flights, but if they do well, it’s possible that JetBlue will add first class to other types of aircraft in their fleet. These planes are scheduled for delivery by the end of 2014.

Virgin America's First Class seats.

Virgin America’s First Class seats.

Virgin America

Virgin America currently flies a fleet of A320′s between JFK and Los Angeles/ San Francisco. They currently have 5 daily flights to/from LAX and 4 daily flights to/from SFO. The A320 has 8 First Class seats, 12 Main Cabin Select seats, and129 Main Cabin seats and occasionally an A319 will fly this route, which offers the same number of First and Main Cabin Select seats, but only 99 Main Cabin seats. Their planes are probably best known for their sleek/futuristic interiors that feature mood lighting and are equipped with Gogo Wifi on-board. All of the seats feature audio visual on demand touchscreen seatback TV’s and personal power plugs.

Virgin America’s First Class cabin features white leather recliner seats with 55 inches of pitch, 21 inches of width and 165 degrees of recline. First Class passengers receive complimentary food, drinks and entertainment, two free checked bags and priority boarding. This product is similar to Delta’s current 757 recliner style BusinessElite seats.

Virgin America has Clubhouses at SFO and JFK (and Washington Dulles). Confirmed First Class, Main Cabin Select and Elevate customers can purchase access to the lounge at SFO (either at online check-in or at the airport) for $35. Only Confirmed First Class and Main Cabin Select passengers can purchase access to the Clubhouse at JFK for $75.

Which new product are you most excited to test out?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Li

    Can you recline your flat bed and still have miles under the seat in front of you?

  • Wes

    Was the Gogo actually faster?

  • sfomsp

    United sorely lags behind Delta on the soft product side – serving $10 Canyon Road wine instead of $20+ bottles on Delta. And much better food presentation. Once Delta goes lie flat next year really no brainer if you’re paying full freight to choose Delta on this route.

    Though interesting that $600 + 20,000 miles to upgrade wasn’t your choice. If there was saver business avail you had a very good shot there, and get the tax deduction on the $600 fare.

    How did Miles work out – thought pet carriers weren’t allowed with the lie flat seats?

  • Wandering Aramean

    Virgin Atlantic status only allows you to buy upgrades to first class earlier than other passengers; there is nothing complimentary about it. Only Main Cabin Select is comp’d in some cases.

  • tjh8402

    so what’s the best way to get on one of these premium seats as an award ticket? I’ve looked and Delta (of course) has no availability, and UA doesn’t really seem to offer much at the saver level, only standard. Would it be better just to purchase the coach seat cash and use miles to upgrade? (I don’t have status with any airline so a complimentary upgrade won’t be forthcoming).

  • thepointsguy

    I didn’t discuss Virgin Atlantic status in this post. Assume you’re talking about Virgin America and I stated that they often sell first class upgrades (regardless of elite status). Nowhere did I say they complimentary upgrade anyone to first class

  • thepointsguy

    I just used it on my phone for email/web and didn’t notice a difference to be honest

  • AA Skeptic

    Is it me or did AA cut flights recently between JFK & LAX? And are these new planes really coming in November because I cannot find them on their flight schedule.

  • To Delta or not to Delta?

    Seems to me this is another example of Delta’s superior product not being worth it since they have such incredibly poor award availability. Would love to see an article where the pros and cons of being loyal to Delta are truly examined. (I mean, seriously, their award availability is simply a joke – makes it easy for those with options in non hub cities to go elsewhere)

  • Liam Patterson

    American allows any First or Business class passenger on a transcon in the Admirals club, and any three class First class passenger in the Flagship Lounge, regardless of fare class. They dropped the fare class requirement last summer.

  • thepointsguy

    I was searching for Delta availability LAX-JFK for tomorrow and one-way on Delta is 140,000 SkyMiles vs 25,000 on American and United (with unlimited availability at the 50,000 mile Peak level). Delta is really a joke when it comes to award availability on the transcon routes (and most others for that matter)

  • thepointsguy

    The new flights are not loaded yet, but hopefully they will be soon. Can’t wait to try out the new F in a 1×1 config!

  • thepointsguy

    United and AA open up a lot of availability within the last couple days before departure. You can also pay for coach and upgrade, which is almost always significantly cheaper than paying for business/first outright.

  • Sally B

    So lucky Iwehave a choice here in New York/LA/Chicago. I mean, what’s the point of being loyal if you can’t use your miles at a reasonable price? Farwell Delta!

  • Ali

    What about United transcon between SNA & EWR?

  • sfomsp

    You said you were traveling with Miles. How did you make that happen? United is pretty explicit about pets in BusinessFirst:

    “Pets are not permitted in United Global First, United First, United BusinessFirst or United Business on Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777 or 787 aircraft due to inadequate storage space under the seat.”

    http://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/travel/animals/in_cabin.aspx

  • audisfo

    How would you know which flight was still at old configuration and which one is at the new business class configuration?

  • joeypore

    MILES!!! Your dog’s name… IT JUST CLICKED!!!!

    bahahaha. Well done, sir.

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  • tomg63

    I think we all want to hear how he brought Miles into BusinessFirst. Something seems fishy here.

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  • Richard Tell

    For what it’s worth category – I flew home last month SFO – EWR in business/first on a United 737. The plane was out of the 1980′s. The entertainment system had a small screen that drop down a seat or so in front of me. I asked for a pillow and was told they didn’t have any. The ticket upgrade was 40,000 points. I saw several brand new Virgin America planes there. Guess what? And the lounge ant EWR – another story.

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  • Roderick Scott

    I have a friend that is often comped from SFO-FLL. But he is quite the charmer, very handy at the gate.

  • Roderick Renfrew

    NOT BUSINESS CLASS in th flagship lounge, unless you got very lucky. They guard the LAX one like hawks.

  • Roderick Renfrew

    I tried it out earlier this month and was not that excited. I remember the days (and think the meal service sorely needs upgrading, given the $4,000 retail one way fare, to the old days of caviar, lobster tail salads and cooked to order filet mignon, but not holding my breath.

    salads and cooked to order filet mignon.

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