Comparing premium transcon flights in the age of coronavirus

Jun 9, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

If you’re after the best domestic flight experience, then you’re going to want to fly between New York and Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO).

That’s because all the major U.S. carriers offer their top products on these lucrative — and competitive — routes. Passengers sitting in biz (and even in first on American Airlines) will be treated to an exclusive ground experience, lie-flat seats, multi-course meals and more.

Before the coronavirus came stateside, I’d written a guide to choosing between American’s Flagship First, JetBlue Mint and United Polaris. But now that inflight service protocols have been modified to promote safety and social distancing, let’s take a look at how the premium transcon experience differs in the age of the coronavirus. This time, I’ll also add in Delta One to the mix, although it was left out of the guide to the best transcon experience since its seat isn’t as up-to-date or private as the other three.  And don’t forget to pack your mask, since you’ll be required to wear one throughout your journey.

For more travel tips and news, sign up for our daily newsletter.

In This Post

Ground experience

On a typical domestic flight, you won’t be entitled to lounge access when flying in biz. However, the airlines make an exception for premium transcon flyers.

American Airlines

Across the board, American offers the best transcon ground experience since passengers can use the Flagship Lounge, which is typically reserved for international biz flyers. Flagship Lounges offer refined dining options, an expanded bar and nicer seating options than the regular Admirals Club.

American Flagship Lounge LAX (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

However, due to the coronavirus, all Flagship Lounges are currently closed indefinitely. American says it doesn’t plan to reopen the lounges until there’s sufficient demand. In the meantime, Flagship Business and First flyers will be able to access the regular Admirals Club at JFK, LAX and SFO. The LAX location in Terminal 4 is currently open, and the JFK outpost reopens on June 22. There’s no date yet for when the SFO outpost will reopen.

Related: Is American Flagship First worth it?


Delta doesn’t (yet) offer a lounge dedicated solely to business-class passengers. For now, all transcon Delta One passengers can access the Sky Club. The JFK and LAX lounges are open, but the SFO location is still closed with no updated reopening date.


Unlike the big three U.S. carriers, JetBlue doesn’t operate any airport lounges. Flyers in Mint, its business class, have access to a dedicated check-in area at JFK’s Terminal 5, but there’s hardly a reason to get to the airport early when flying Mint since there’s no lounge to use. As such, the Mint ground experience is unchanged.

JetBlue Mint check-in (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)


United’s premium transcon service doesn’t include access to the Polaris Lounge. Instead, flyers can use the regular United Club. While there are clubs open at both LAX and SFO, the Newark (EWR) club is only open for customer service issues (no food or beverage service).

Related: Which airline lounges in the US are currently open?

Cabin and seat

Because of the coronavirus, airlines have accelerated the retirement of many aircraft types. Additionally, we’ve seen some carriers remove their premium transcon jets in favor of more fuel-efficient ones.

American Airlines

American suspended its transcon routes between JFK and LAX and SFO for a short period when passenger traffic was at its lowest point during the outbreak. Fortunately, the carrier is once again seeing demand for these flights, so it brought back its swanky Airbus A321T to the routes. These 102-seater jets are configured in three cabins: first, business and coach.

American Flagship First on the A321T (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)


Delta’s operating a mix of Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft on the transcon routes. These planes all feature lie-flat Delta One seats, but the 767 offers a more private and spacious product.

Delta 767 (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

The Delta 757 is outfitted with the Collins Aerospace Diamond business-class product, which is arranged in a 2-2 configuration. On the other hand, Delta’s 767 sports the Thomson Vantage biz product, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. As such, each passenger gets direct aisle access, so if faced with the choice, I’d definitely recommend choosing flights operated by the 767.

Related: How to fly Delta’s best business class seats domestically


JetBlue offers Mint on just one aircraft type, the Airbus A321. You’ll find 16 lie-flat seats arranged in an alternating 2-2, 1-1 configuration. The Mint Suite in the 1-1 rows is definitely the way to go, since it has a sliding door and added space to help maximize your social distancing. You’ll find Suites in rows 2 and 4.

JetBlue Mint Suite (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)


United didn’t stop flying between the coasts during the coronavirus pandemic, but it did make the experience much less comfortable. It substituted lie-flat-equipped jets with 737s that sported recliners up front.

United Polaris on the 787-10 (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Fortunately, those days are over, and United’s back to offering service on a mix of the Boeing 757, 767 and 787-10 Dreamliner. If you get the choice, the 787-10 Dreamliner offers the most private Polaris experience, since it has the “new” seats. Some 767s do too, but it’s not a guarantee like it is on the 787-10. Finally, I’d avoid the 757 is possible. Like Delta, the 757 is equipped with the Collins Aerospace Diamond business-class product, arranged in a 2-2 configuration.

Amenities and IFE

Though airlines have updated their service protocols, most of the amenities and IFE remain unchanged.

American Airlines

There aren’t any changes to report for American’s Flagship amenities. Customers will still receive Casper bedding, as well as amenity kits.


Delta continues to offer Westin heavenly bedding and Tumi branded amenity kits on its flights.


JetBlue continues to offer a pillow and blanket, and Hayward and Hopper amenity kit. To decrease touchpoints, Mint customers will receive a pair of complimentary earbuds rather than shared headphones.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)


United Polaris customers will receive Saks branded bedding, as well as amenity kits. The headphones remain unchanged.

Food and beverage

Aside from the ground experience, the food and beverage offerings are the most heavily modified in light of the health and safety precautions implemented due to the coronavirus. Across the board, we’re seeing the elimination of the pre-departure beverage, though the details of the food and beverage service differ across the airlines.

American Airlines

The meal options remain unchanged — you’ll still have a choice of warm entree. However, it’s all going to be served on one tray, so you can (temporarily) say goodbye to multi-course meals. Regular alcohol service is still available.


You might want to pack your own food and drinks if you’re flying with Delta. The carrier has suspended the traditional meal service for those flying domestically in Delta One. Instead, you’ll be served a packaged Flight Fuel snack box. Your sole drink option is an individual 8.5-ounce bottle of water (you can get more than one). Note that there’s no alcohol, plastic cups or ice available.


Like Delta, JetBlue is also abandoning hot food service in Mint. Instead, you’ll be served a selection of fresh fare from the EatUp Café menu, which includes options like a turkey and pepper jack sandwich and a jicama and grape salad shaker.

Beverage service is limited to a selection of water, red and white wine and beer, which will be served in single-use cups instead of glassware. In addition, the self-service Pantry will be unavailable.


United Polaris customers will still be served a hot meal, but it’ll all come packaged on one tray. There will be a packaged snack service before arrival too. Sadly, the ice cream sundae trolley is temporarily suspended.

(Photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy)

All beverages will be served sealed, and there won’t be any ice, coffee, tea or poured alcohol. Instead, there will be canned beer and bottled individual wines on offer.

Related: The buffet is closed: How coronavirus forever changed a longtime travel luxury

Bottom line

The transcon flight experience will look a lot different as travel begins to slowly rebound. Though the hard product isn’t changing, many elements of the service, especially the food and beverage options, are going to be quite limited.

Delta and JetBlue have totally suspended hot meal service. American and United still offer hot entree choices, but American’s got the broadest offering since it still offers the alcohol service.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.