American vs Delta vs United

Showdown: AA vs Delta vs United, which US airline is the best?

Over the past year, I’ve travelled to United States more than any other country, with 7 round-trips across the pond. I’ve flown all 3 major US carriers in this time both long haul and domestically. Perfect time for a comparison?

As it happens each of these airlines are part of the 3 main airline alliances with American a founding member of oneworld, Delta part of SkyTeam and United the Star Alliance representative.

All 3 airlines have surprised me in many ways recently in how far they’ve come in terms of trying to play catch up to the competition internationally. Not just with European carriers but even the Asian and Middle Eastern carriers !

Which US airline is the best?

This head to head comparison will take a look at the key differentiators between the airlines looking at the best seats, the catering, staff & service,  lounges and overall best customer experience? Let’s dive right in !

Hard Product ( Dom / Caribbean / C. Americas  )

This site is not about economy travel so I will only focus on the premium seats of each carrier.

All 3 carriers offer domestic First Class with reasonably spacious recliner seats in 2-2 configurations for the bulk of their mainline airliners. These are comparable to international Premium Economy products.

All they have invested in new products with their latest narrowbody deliveries with more modern seats and tech.

The experience can start to differ is when you have a domestic First Class ticket on shorter commuter hops on their subsidiary’s like Delta Connection, American Eagle and United Express.

On aircrafts such as Embraer E175, CRJ-900 the layouts are in 1-2 configuration which can be rather desirable for those travelling solo but the interiors of those aircrafts tend to be much older, often with no IFE.

I feel there really isn’t much to differentiate between the 3 overall so I would say this one is a tie.

Hard Product ( International Long Haul )

All three carriers now have modern and competitive business class products ( mostly ! )


The new Delta One Suites is a solid product on many respects, it is based off the first version of Thompson Vantage XL seat.

Delta One Suites 4J
Delta One Suites 4J

On the A330 NEO the product does feel somewhat narrow and squished, but this is better on the wider A350. Not only that, I believe aesthetically the CMF ( Colour, Material, Finish ) is also better on the A350.

It features all the mod cons such as a HD 18″ screen, good mood lighting with a personal lamp, great connectivity options and a decent flat bed. The doors are very smooth to operate. There is also a modified version of this seat on the 767-400 retrofitted aircrafts, but I honestly would not fly it, as I found the A330Neo version narrow as it was.

Delta still operate large fleet of aircrafts with older products on A330s and 767/757.

Delta One Business 3J
Delta One Business 3J

The 757s feature B/E Diamond seats which ok for 5/6 hour flights but I would not want to fly on them overnight to Europe either. 757s were great for their time but it is simply too loud and uncomfortable on long journeys.

Therefore Delta is by far the worst with product consistency. They have so few A350 as of now. That will change in future with 20 more A350s on order, but this cannot come soon enough !

( Score  7/10 )


American calls it’s product Flagship Business. There are several product manufacturers at play here. The decent Safran Cirrus seat comes in a reverse herringbone on Boeing 777-300ER, which the likes have Cathay Pacific have also used, though Cathay has a much better finishing touch to it.

Their 777-200s and 787 aircrafts feature Collins Aerospace Super Diamond seats, which is the same product of British Airways Club Suites, just without the doors.

American Flagship Business. Which US airline is the best?
American Flagship Business. Which US airline is the best?

Doors aside, I actually found Americans implementation of this seat one of the most comfortable out there!

But it doesn’t end there, this year American is introducing a newer Flagship Business on new 787 aircraft deliveries from this Spring, these are based on the excellent Audient Ascent product I recently flown on Qatar’s Mini QSuite.

American Flagship Business Suite 787
American Flagship Business Suite 787

( Score 8/10 )


United launched it’s great Polaris Business Class back in 2017. I’m a big fan of this product, based of a Saffron shell. United made it it’s own with a sleek design and colour palette.

United Polaris Business Class Window Seat Privacy Level
United Polaris Business Class Window Seat Privacy Level

The product offers all the business class bells and whistles you really need other than a door. But the product is plenty private, especially if you get a true window seat.

What is interesting here is that United was so invested and believed in this product that they planned to roll this out across all long haul international routes. Boy that is a lot of planes that needed retrofitting!

Since then it took over 6 years to finish that job.

What is unknown right now is United’s plans for the near future. While the current product is fine now, it could easily start to look rather dated in 4 years. Just look at this IFE for instance, it was already dated at launch !

United Polaris Business Power Sockets & IFE Controller
United Polaris Business Power Sockets & IFE Controller

In terms of product consistency, United would win this.

( Score 8/10)

Best Hard Product Winner: American


It’s important to bear in mind that all 3 now only serve meals on flights over 900 miles. This is unfortunate, as some flights that fall into this category could still mean you can be seated on a plane for almost 3 hours ( factoring in when you board/any delays ) without a proper meal.

This I experienced on a Delta First Class flight from Houston to Atlanta, probably the only time in recent times I remember getting off a plane hungry !


Previously I’d regard Delta as having the most consistent level and quality of on-board meals comparable to decent European carriers. Unfortunately in last year I have found them to go a little side-ways.

On a 10 hour overnight flight from Seattle to Europe, the meal service just felt un-inspired, they don’t bother with printed menus etc. Combine that with a sloppy service, it left much to be desired.

Delta One Suites SEA AMS Lunch Dinner
Delta One Suites SEA AMS Lunch Dinner

The meal was ok but nothing to ring home about. I did not like the service flow at all there where they half heartedly serve you “courses” in separate walk-throughs but might as well have just served everything all on one go !

( Score 6/10)


American, on the other hand totally impresses on this front. It has been partnering with the James Beard foundation to curate it’s meals and the service flow is just a whole lot better..

American Flagship Business Macadamia Crusted Seabass
American Flagship Business Macadamia Crusted Seabass

and their Sundaes are great !

American Flagship Business Sundae
American Flagship Business Sundae

Not only that, American has a very well stocked snack galley should you be peckish in-between meals

American Flagship Business Snacks Galley
American Flagship Business Snacks Galley

( Score 8/10)


The catering situation with United is rather famously, woeful. Most of the time. But I have been surprised once or twice including on a domestic First Class.

Service wise, United really seems to have upped it’s game and means well. It has been making attempts to improve it’s onboard catering for quite some time, but so far little has actually come of it.

United Polaris Business Class Denver to London Dinner
United Polaris Business Class Denver to London Dinner

And area where they do very well is certainly with their famous dessert carts..

United Polaris Business Denver to London Desserts
United Polaris Business Denver to London Desserts

That is perhaps the redeeming feature here.

( Score 5/10)

Best Catering Winner: American



American has two levels of lounges, with the more accessible Admirals Club lounges available from most airports.  I’ve been to a fair few of these lounges and found them to be relatively decent.

Then there are the more exclusive Flagship level Lounges available in New York, Chicago, Dallas as well as other key hubs like Los Angeles/San Francisco.

These lounges are rather premium indeed with champagne welcome, chef inspired meals and all around good facilities.

They have even better lounges off course in the form of the Soho and Chelsea Lounge for First Class customers, but since both Delta and United no longer offer First Class, I won’t consider them here.

( Score 8/10)


Delta’s lounges are called SkyClubs, however they all come in various shapes and sizes, some that offer fuller facilities include full meal services while others are just basic snacks and refreshment cafes. I would rate them anywhere from okay to downright appalling.

The only lounge with decent food options I’ve found were in New York JFK, whereas other important hubs like Seattle/Atlanta are super lacklustre. And all of these still have one huge problem, over-crowding. You might be forgiven for thinking you are in a human zoo.

On the plus side, the hub lounges all have good business and shower facilities!

There is the impending Delta One Business Lounges that will be more exclusive and will go head to head with United and American Flagship Lounges. However, with only 2 in the works now, it will be a long time before they have enough of them to cover all hubs.

( Score 5/10)


Like American, United also has two categories of lounges. The Club lounges are comparable to American’s Admirals Club. Most of them are pleasant. I’ve a very Delta like experience in United Club in Denver in early 2023, but that has now all changed.  There are still some tired dated ones in Houston however most should and be going through refurbishment by end of this year.

At the premium level, United has the Polaris Lounges, which are on another level. It competes with he very best Business Class lounges around the world. Think luxurious seating options, gourmet a la carte dining with attentive waiter service, plush spa like shower rooms, nap rooms, bars with premium liqueurs, it has it all!

Polaris lounges are available in New York EWR, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston.

( Score 9/10)

Best Lounges Winner: United

Bed, Bedding & Beyond

For long haul night flights being able to enable some good sleep is an important requirement for a Business Class ticket but as is being able to look after your skin with onboard amenities.


Delta used to partner with Tumi for their amenity kit, but now have switched to a Mexican based brand Someone Somewhere, all in the name of “sustainability” off course. On a serious note, I am all for sustainability and reducing unnecessary waste. But the fabric pouch just feels a little cheap (though I supposed it could be worse and have a paper one like Virgins! )

On the plus side, I do like the Grown Alchemist  products and the slippers.

Delta has also downgraded bedding from what used to be Westin Heavenly, to something else entirely. There is also no mattress pads to speak of.

In lie flat position, the seats are a little tight and feels boxed in but they were comfortable enough to get a few hours sleep.

( Score 7/10)


Onboard American’s Flagship Business you will find a leather Shinola Amenity Kit. It contains solid offerings, with good quality eye shades, flights socks with lip balm and hand/body lotion by local New York brand Radio Bombay.

They also team with Casper for bedding and PJs. Though you only get the fullest set on the few First Class flights they still have or onboard their longest flights, which as Sydney/Hong Kong and Auckland.

On my recent night flight back, I found a good set of pillows, blanket and a mattress pad which were of good quality.

The physical bed was also very comfortable.

( Score 8/10)


When it comes to amenities and bedding United absolutely nails it, and I mean they can go head to head or outrank the top international carriers from other continents.

They partner with Rileys for skincare goodies, and Away for the mini case that is packed with high quality contents.

The physical product in bed mode is decent, but again somewhat feels tight on the shoulders.

United only provides slippers and PJs on night flights over 12 hours.

( Score 9/10)

Best Bed/Amenities Winner: United

Programme & Status Recognition

This is where things get a little tricky, while on the one hand, if you have status that is not from a home carrier, you actually get better treatment i.e lounges.

On the other hand for things like free upgrades, you are all but in-eligible. This is where each airline prioritizes their own frequent flyer members before others of the alliance.

When it comes to seat selection/baggage when flying Domestic Economy. United does not give any free seat selection for cheap economy tickets (even within 24 check-in window) but you do get free checked baggage as well as full size carry on as a Star Alliance Gold.

With American, I was able to select even extra leg room seats for free due to my British Airways status. It is absolutely fantastic to be able to get access to American Flagship Lounges even flying domestic as a oneWorld Sapphire or above.

My comments here are mostly based on the assumption that most of my readers might be members of programmes based in Europe. Earning and redeeming miles as a secondary/third level programme, I would rate American top, then United and then Delta on this respect.

Delta allows free extra  legroom seats for SkyTeam Elite+ members and also general seat selection within 24 hours.

But again, this is perhaps of little significance here as the focus is more on those paying for premium tickets anyway so the scoring system is a little different here:

American –  4/5

Delta – 3/5

United – 3/5

Status Recognition Winner: American

Ticket Flexibility

A crucial win all 3 US carriers have over their European counterpart’s is that except the cheapest (basic economy fares ) most tickets are changeable without a change fee! I feel this is one area that the EU in general should have clamped down on long time ago.

Once I changed a United flight date and got a small refund!  We have been so conditioned with airlines fleecing us for every nickel-and-dime, getting a few dollars back honestly felt like winning the lottery, and a breath of fresh air.

This got me thinking, over the years I’ve probably paid thousands in change fees just to British Airways/Virgin/Turkish alone.

One caveat to bear in mind, you must book your tickets directly with the airlines to take advantage of this. OTA’s still will charge their change and administration fee as I found out the hard way for a Delta ticket change !

Ticket Flexibility Winner: Draw

Overall Winner

With a total score of 36 over United on 34 and Delta on 28 points, American Airlines is the overall winner! It is great to see these US airlines become more competitive, that I no longer seek to avoid them.

These comparisons are from a UK/European perspective for those of us considering travel options to the States. Locals may very well have different criteria’s including how well each of those carriers serve their home airports, local credit cards etc. There are many other factors that I intentionally did not consider, such as on-time flights, WiFi.

Which US airlines are the best in your experience? Let me know your thoughts!



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