In the United States, no airline route competition is quite as fierce as the coast to coast theatre. With New York city and Los Angeles being the two largest cities in the United States, there’s no question that there’s bound to be a high traveller demand for the two major economic and tourist hubs. Let’s take an inside look into the major players in the lucrative transcontinental market and see how their competition stacks up.
The largest and most populated route by a “cross-country” mile is the New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) one, with flights departing two and fro each city, every hour, of every day! The three biggest carriers operating the route are Delta, American, and JetBlue, in no particular order.
United Airlines moved out of their JFK hub, along with their 26 slots sold to Delta, and a couple others given to British Airways and Alaska Airlines, across the river to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) after United merged with Continental Airlines back in 2015. United now mainly serves their “premium” transcontinental passengers from the Newark area, as well as the greater NYC area to Los Angeles. For the better part of three years, from 2012 to 2015, Delta and American had a duopoly on the market share, with the two operating more flights and carrying more passengers than any other airline on the transcon market. American offers flights from both JFK, however they also have a focus at the smaller, more domestically-centered New York LaGuardia airport (LGA) after their merger with US Airways back in the mid 2010’s.
Only until recently, the New York based airline JetBlue came around and began to challenge DL and AA for the market share on the route. Propelled by fantastic service, a modern and consistent fleet, and a substantial “Mint” business class product, JetBlue quickly came up to the ranks with the two legacy carriers. Many frequent flyers and leisure travelers alike were lured by JetBlue’s accommodating atmosphere and friendly flight crews for their flights.
For Delta and American, usually the best and brightest of their domestic fleet work around the clock, all day, every day on these flights. Delta uses a wider variety of aircraft, but their main workhorses are the newly reconfigured Boeing 757/767 aircraft with their Delta One business cabin in a 2-2 configuration for their narrow bodies, and a 1-2-1 for their widebodies. Delta uses both the 767-300ER and the rarer -400ER, and they use the normal -200 variant of the 757, as well as the stretched -300. Occasionally on equipment swaps or repositioning flights between two of Delta’s main hubs, an Airbus A330 is used, which offers the international Delta One product in a 1-2-1 configuration as well.
American Airlines uses specially equipped A321T’s which offer the only true “first class” on any U.S. domestic flight with a 1-1 configuration of the suites, along with a business cabin and an economy class. American Airlines also uses their legacy 757’s and 767’s on the routes with the standard 2-2 and 1-2-1 configuration business class, respectively. JetBlue has a consistent all around product, with their A320’s and A321’s making the rotations with their staggered 1-1 and 2-2 business class seating in the “Mint” branded business class, and a standard 3-3 economy with WiFi, 24v power, DirecTV satellite television, and a selection of foods and beverages for the trip. While United doesn’t fly to Los Angeles from JFK, they do offer a premium transcontinental service to Los Angeles from Newark with their brand new Boeing 787-10 aircraft with their Polaris product and premium economy seats.
So, which choice is the best for you? It really all depends on airline loyalty. If you fly frequently on JetBlue, then they are going to be your best bet. However, you’ll find very similar experiences amongst the legacy carriers in United, American, and Delta, and whichever loyalty program you have or belong to, is the airline you’ll want to fly cross-country on. Even though United stopped their service to JFK back in 2015 and now serve Newark (EWR), they still offer a competitive experience to American and Delta, and if you live in the greater New York-Newark area, and are loyal to United, you can use their services flying to and from California and the Big Apple.
It will be interesting to watch the rest of the year unfold to see what each of these airlines do to lure in more and more travelers from their competing airlines, both in terms of travel products, and on-ground amenities including lounges, loyalty and reward programs, airport infrastructure, etc.
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