What Are the Best Transcontinental Flights?

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Flying from one U.S. coast to the other can feel like flying to Europe. Your flight might be a tad shorter, but you’re still in the air for roughly six hours. Splurging on the best transcontinental flights can be money (or points) well-spent. 

Plus, the amount of time spent in the air can help you justify the cost of flying first or business class with a transcontinental flight.

Don’t forget to earn the most miles for your flight tickets by using a personal or business credit card that earns extra rewards. Here are some of the best transcontinental flights:

JetBlue Mint

JetBlue might be one of your favorite discount airlines already. With their Mint Business Class, you have one more reason to fly JetBlue. Mint is available on select coast-to-coast and Caribbean routes.

Ground operations crews ready a JetBlue aircraft Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

If you’re flying from the East Coast, you will need to fly from either New York, Boston, or Ft. Lauderdale. New York and Boston fly to the Pacific coast and the Caribbean.

Some of the JetBlue Mint perks include:

6’8″ full lie-flat seat

Free in-flight wi-fi

15″ seatback touchscreen with unlimited movies, DirecTV, and SiriusXM radio

Premium in-flight meal

Hayward & Hopper amenity kit

Expedited security and checked baggage handling

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If it’s been a few years since you last flew JetBlue, it’s easier to book an award flight. JetBlue is now a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner. JetBlue continues to be a transfer partner with American Express Membership Rewards as well.

Delta One

Delta is in the process of upgrading its premium cabin. You should look for Delta One seats on their A330 or 767 fleets. These flights have a reverse herringbone seat that lies flat.

Delta Air Lines Inc. Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg

Atlanta to Los Angeles or New York to San Francisco can be your two most likely options to see these upgrades.

You can also fly first class on their 757 fleet, but you will have the “classic” first-class experience without all the bells and whistles. One exception is to the current 757-200 fleet which has been updated to include lie-flat seats.

When you fly a Delta One transcontinental flight, you can enjoy:

Westin in-flight bedding

Extra wide in-flight entertainment screen with noise-canceling headphones

TUMI amenity kit

When you fly DeltaOne on international flights, you can also fly a DeltaOne Suite for extra privacy. It’s something to keep in mind for when you fly abroad.

American Airlines Flagship First and Business Class

The top-notch American Airlines transcontinental cabin is their Flagship class. This service is available on the Los Angeles or San Francisco to New York routes for the A321 fleet.

You can enjoy expedited security benefits. You also get access to the exclusive Flagship Lounge which includes a shower suite and private wine table.

American offers these amenities:

6’4″ lie-flat seat

Samsung Galaxy tablet for in-flight entertainment

Cole Haan amenity kit

Casper sleep set

It’s also possible to find other enhanced business class seats when flying between other cities. Look for a 777-200 or A330-200 when flying transcontinental as these select flights also offer lie-flat seats. Even if you can’t get a lie-flat seat, the experience is still better than flying in the main cabin.

When you fly business class, you can also enjoy the American Airlines Five Star Service. An American Airlines agent will help escort you through the security process and catching your connecting flight.

United Airlines

United offers premium transcontinental service for the New York/Newark to Los Angeles or San Francisco routes. They also have a service from Boston to San Francisco. When you fly United Business or Economy Plus on these routes, you enjoy these benefits:

Complimentary hot entree and alcoholic beverage

Personal in-flight entertainment

Power Outlets

In the premium business class, you can also rest with your lie-flat seat.

Enjoy complimentary access to the United Club lounge before you depart. If you’re flying from Newark, look for United’s hidden restaurant. Once you land, you can also visit the lounge to refresh before hitting the town.

The Best Transcontinental Flights in the Main Cabin

When it isn’t worth flying in business or first class, you can still have a pleasant experience in the main cabin. If at all possible, avoid flying on a 757 with any airline. These planes are past their heyday and provide a lackluster service in the main or premium cabins.

As some airlines retrofit their fleet to improve their first class or business class seats, they reduce the main cabin size. Airlines also cram more seats together to maximize seating capacity.

Having trouble finding the best economy seat? You can find current seat maps at SeatGuru for the different airlines and plane types.

Most airlines are upgrading their fleets to the A321T. When this plane is slotted for your flight, book it. The odds of having a more comfortable main cabin seat is higher than with other plane types.

If you fly economy for transcontinental flights, try upgrading to a premium economy seat if possible. If not, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines offer good alternatives.

JetBlue

JetBlue Mint is a flyer favorite, but their main cabin experience isn’t bad either. All transcontinental flights are on their A321 fleet. You can enjoy free in-flight movies and wi-fi. Plus, you can enjoy 32 to 34 inches of legroom. If you’re used to flying an airline that only offers 28 inches of space, this is a welcome change.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines offers an excellent cabin experience for transcontinental and Hawaii flights too. In fact, Alaska offers some of the cheapest Hawaii flights from the West Coast.

You can enjoy mood-lighting that produces 12 different shades, depending on the outside conditions. If you flew Virgin America, you know how pleasant mood lighting can be. Each seat also has 9-inch personal touchscreens and leather seats. 

Upgrading to Main Cabin Select or First Class offers even more comfortable accommodations.

Southwest Airlines

Are you seeing a trend yet? If you need to fly economy, try a discount airline first. Southwest Airlines rounds out our recommendations for the best economy seats with their 737 fleet. You will have 31 inches of legroom on the 737-700 fleet. The 737-800 and 737-MAX offer 32 inches of legroom.

Summary

Business or First Class is the way to fly transcontinental. If you’ve ever been dreamt of flying in a premium cabin, these flights strike a nice balance. They can even be cheaper than international flights. Plus, the flight is still long enough to justify the upgrade. When you fly economy, try to avoid the legacy carriers.