With all the moves recently (and there have been a lot, even before JetBlue‘s mini-suite unveiling yesterday) in the transcon premium cabin market I started thinking about just where the different airlines were in terms of competing with each other on various aspects of the service. The data I have here is compiled from a variety of sources and is based mostly on what the announced new products will offer on at least some planes in the fleet by mid-2014. The schedules are based on the current month because that was much easier to compile thanks to Vinay.
American wins on the JFK-LAX route and that will only get better as they launch their “shuttle” service between LAX and JFK next year offering nearly hourly flights between the two cities. The planes are smaller so the overall capacity won’t change too much. No surprise that United is winning on the SFO route given their hub there and onward connections to Asia which it facilitates.
American wins for First Class by virtue of being the only contestant still in the game. And the product does look pretty nice. Of course it remains to be seen if anyone actually pays for it, but that’s a different story. In business class JetBlue wins for the size of the beds and offering some with the solo seat and sliding door. No word yet on if those cost more so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. United has the most business class seats in the cabin though that’s far from guaranteeing that an upgrade will clear. Only American and Delta allow unlimited, space-available complimentary upgrades from coach to business (not shown on the chart) for their top elites. JetBlue and Virgin America are the most restrictive in that regard.
Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select wins in terms of pitch and benefits, but it is only 12 seats (including exit row which excludes some customers) and the premium to buy up is usually quite a bit higher than the comparable offerings from the other four carriers. JetBlue fares well with their 37″ Even More Space option and United does well having 48 seats in the EconomyPlus section. For passengers looking to simply pay the lowest fare and take what they can get JetBlue offers the best option at 33″ pitch, plus a free checked bag (VX also offers one free for Main Cabin Select and all the airlines offer their elites at least one free).
Details on American’s IFE are quite limited at this point so that’s a tough call to make. I personally happen to like the range of selections on United’s AVOD movie selection – a spread of classics, new classics and new releases – more than the others I’ve flown recently. Plus it is all included, unlike Delta which charges for some. Virgin America’s Red gets good reviews but I don’t have any personal experience recently; I don’t remember being all that impressed a few years back. And, given that Fly-Fi isn’t actually flying yet (but soon!) it is not possible to compare the performance of that versus the GoGo options.
There is no single winner across the board in every category (no surprise there) but there are some trends. If you travel enough to make top-tier elite and want the complimentary upgrade American is quite likely the best option, with a decent fall-back in Main Cabin Extra if the upgrade doesn’t clear. If you’re stuck in the back no matter what JetBlue is starting to look very nice on their new transcon configs, with the newer DirecTV setup and the best legroom. United sortof hangs out in the middle, with more EconomyPlus seats and more BusinessFirst seats, though you’ll need to redeem miles or an RPU to get that upgrade. Virgin America is solid if you can get in to their Main Cabin Select on the cheap; otherwise I’d look elsewhere. And I’m not really sure under which circumstances Delta is a smart play.
What do you think? Which is your preferred choice for transcon flying??
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