4 Reasons I Prefer Business To First On American’s Transcon Flights

Filed Under: American

As I’ve mentioned previously, I spent much of late February mileage running (I know, that’s a funny joke in 2016). My itineraries were technically in international first class, but the best aircraft were the A321 on the transcon routes between New York and San Francisco or Los Angeles.

I had a half-dozen segments in business class on the transcon routes, which gave me plenty of time to form an opinion on the product, especially in comparison to first class, which I’ve flown several times in the past.

And on balance, I think I actually prefer the business class product!

1) Especially in the window seat, there’s more space for my stuff

The first class seat certainly has plenty of space in general, with an extended table, and a couple of sections for storing personal items.

American A321 first class cabin

So it doesn’t seem like this should be the case, but in practice there’s more workable space in business (at least in the window seats).

American A321 business class seat

Being able to keep your bag under the seat throughout the flight of course helps, but the little slot under the monitor is nice for stowing a laptop during the meal, and the storage area by the headrest has enough space for phones, chargers, amenity kits, water, my Kindle, etc.

And in a pinch, there’s plenty of space along the side to stash pillows and blankets until you’re ready to use them.

2) I can talk to my seatmate, or not

The seats in business class are slightly staggered, so while you have a seatmate, you still have some privacy.

American-Business-Class-A321 - 9
American business class A321

This is great if you’re traveling solo, as you don’t feel obligated to talk to the other person, since you’re not really sharing much space.

But it’s even better when you’re traveling with someone, as you can actually talk and share the experience. That’s tough to do in first given the separation between seats.

Ice cream sundaes are better when shared

3) The seat itself is more comfortable

This probably comes down to personal preference, but I find the business class seat to be more comfortable all-around. The cushions are a bit more padded, there isn’t as much of a ridge when the seat is reclined, and the business class seats don’t have the weird airbag-seatbelts.

I also like that the IFE screen is head-on in business. In first you have to pop the screen out to watch the monitor (which means it also has to be stowed for taxi/takeoff/landing), but in business class you can watch the airshow from gate to gate.

You also have more legroom and foot space in the window seat of business than you do in first. The aisle seat of business and first are closer to being equivalent, ironically.

American-Business-Class-A321 - 7American A321 business class window legroom

This looks smaller in the picture than it actually is — my “personal item” has about the same dimensions as Ben’s Killspencer bag, and fits in that space with no issues.

4) I can see out the window

You can see out the window in first, of course, but the angle is less natural due to the reverse herringbone configuration. So there’s a bit of neck-craning that has to happen.

In business class (and in the window seat), the window is right there. Which, if you’re like me and want to spend the bulk of your time marveling at the miracle of flight, is a nice perk.

A321 wing over San Francisco Bay

So what about first?

Having done a half-dozen transcons in the past few weeks, in a mixture of business and first, I definitely prefer the business class seat. Even on a red-eye the reduced privacy didn’t bother me, and the other seat features are preferable in a lot of ways.

Of course, while business class is all about the seat, first class is differentiated by a few “add-ons,” which are worth mentioning.

1) Flagship check-in

This falls in the category of “things I couldn’t possibly care less about, personally” but I can see why it would matter to others.

American-Flagship-Lounge-LAX - 1American Airlines Flagship Check-In LAX

First class passengers flying between New York and Los Angeles or San Francisco can use the Flagship check-in areas; business class passengers cannot unless they’re continuing on to international first class.

As I never check a bag, and typically have Pre-Check, I find this to be of marginal value. But, it could make a difference to some.

2) Access to Flagship lounges

While American’s Flagship lounges are hardly up the standard of international first class lounges, they are still a significant upgrade. The access rules are as follows:


Again, first class passengers on the A321s have access, while business class passengers do not (unless they’re connecting onwards in first internationally).

Personally, I think international itineraries are when Flagship lounge access would be most valuable anyway. Unless you’re timing your arrival at JFK such that you can avoid the disastrous security situation, the lounges in LAX and JFK really aren’t worth spending extra time at the airport for, and San Francisco doesn’t even have one.

3) The bubbly

For a few glorious weeks in late summer, American was offering Lanson Brut in both business and first class on the A321 flights. Those were some fun plane rides.

Nowadays, American is serving prosecco in business, and keeping the champagne exclusive to first. I think that’s probably a good decision on American’s part, and I do like prosecco in general, but this particular prosecco is…. bad.

4) The lavatory

Granted, this seems like a minor thing, but the first class cabin has ten seats, and one lavatory.

The business class cabin has twenty seats, and still only one lavatory.

So, you know, you can do the math there.

Bottom line

While the extra perks of first are nice, on balance I still prefer the business class seat on this plane. If I was booking an international ticket and both cabins had award availability I think I would have a hard time choosing even as a solo traveler, and if I were traveling with someone, business would be an easy choice.

And I don’t think I’ll use system-wides to upgrade to first again on this route.

What about you? Does anyone else prefer business to first?

  1. I too am almost always checked in before reaching the airport, and flying with carryon only. But question about Flagship check-in at JFK: do they do anything for you with regard to security in the hours when Pre-check is closed? If they are able to escort you to the front of the non-Pre line at those times, that would be a huge plus.

  2. @ Jeff R — Well, they escort you to the ID check podium, which is theoretically helpful. The problem at JFK specifically is that the security cluster happens after the podiums, as everything merges into one queue for the single security lane. The airport does a good job of managing the lines before the podium, so Flagship saves maybe 30 seconds?

  3. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but would the person in the window seat have to hurdle the person in the aisle seat if that person was fully reclined?

  4. At LAX, they escort you all the way up to the conveyor belt for you to put your belongings, which can potentially save you A LOT of time. I find it extremely useful but sometimes a bit awkward as other passengers now think you’re a jerk.

  5. @ Donna — Yeah, a little. I had a seatmate sleep for an entire day flight the other week, but I was still able to get out without disturbing him. If you’re not feeling particularly nimble it would be hard though.

  6. I have to say, the B/E Diamond seat AA uses in business on these routes is great. I haven’t flown AA’s version but have flown it on other airlines and find it by far the most comfortable seat for sleeping, and quite a bit more spacious than most herringbone or reverse herringbone configurations (especially the 777 B/E Diamond seat, which I think might be a bit bigger than the A321/757 version).

    Overall I do still quite like having direct aisle access when I’m traveling by myself, but I don’t know if any business class seat has actually managed to achieve a more comfortable sleep offering than this one.

  7. Yup, I agree with this — when I did a transcon over in F and back in C not too long ago, I remember thinking, “boy I actually like business class a little better,” and I’m not even one world emerald. The only downside to me is noted above; the problem of having to hurdle another pax to get up (or having to be hurdled).

  8. a bit off topic, but regarding Flagship lounge access, flying CX F HKG-LAX, connecting to AA first (business) LAX-SFO is there Flagship lounge access during transit based on oneworld longhaul same day F? would it include one guest?


  9. I completely agree!

    In fact this is in many ways similar to my views on Elite status too. Just because the makerting program promotes heavily some advertised benefits often they are of no value and sometimes even less value.

    I am a flyer who always travels with a friend/spouse or family member so my needs may be different than others. I like the ability to of course talk to my seat mate.

    What’s important to me is service! I find the service pretty similar between first and business on the transcons anyhow and usually it comes down to which individual flight attendent working the cabin.

  10. @ Dan — Yep, though the lounges in TBIT are nicer and probably worth the walk if you don’t have a super short connection.

  11. Tiffany, how does the food compare in both classes?
    Are there any significant differences when it comes to food?

  12. @ Tom — The menu is virtually identical. First class gets an extra course (yogurt in the AM, soup otherwise), and upgraded wine options. The entrees and appetizers are the same.

  13. @Tiffany thanks so you like the oneworld business lounge in TBIT better than AA Flagship lounge? Have only been to Flagship and Qantas/oneworld First lounge before

    thanks again

  14. @Stvr
    Personally speaking, there are many times where J cannibalizes F sales, such as AA on their 77W and arguably SQ as well.

  15. I find myself wishing I had more width for my arm & shoulder to stretch on these biz seats, on the side facing the divider.

  16. Wait . . . you’re saying you prefer the BE Diamond (same seat UA uses) in a 2-2 configuration to the Zodiac Cirrus (same seat CX uses) in 1-1? Seriously?

  17. @Kacee it’s not the same product. The F seat on the A321 is substantially more cramped than the CX J seat on the 777 (same as AA J on the 77W). Something about the angles, but it’s a lot less comfortable for sure.

  18. I doubt very much mr lucky given a choice business or first on AA transcontinental Service you would fly business.
    I doubt it and its laughable lucky.
    Your a cabin snob like the rest of us.

    See you in first lucky.

  19. One thing I did not like about business class on the A321T on a recent 7am JFK-LAX trip was that the sun reflected so brightly off the wing that I felt compelled to keep the shade down the entire flight. I was sitting in 8A, so the sun was on that side of the plane for my outbound flight. It’s a minor point, and one that would only affect some people at certain times of the day — but if you’re the kind of person who prefers the shade up to see what’s going on (like me), something to consider.

  20. Another plus of biz over first is that the biz rows provide better stability for the floor. Heavy footed flight attendants are far less annoying in biz than first.

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