Business-class battle: The best seats between the London and the US
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International airlines are about to face some stiff competition on bread-and-butter routes between London and the U.S. and London.
Come 11 August, 2021, JetBlue will offer daily service between New York-JFK and London Heathrow (LHR), with flights between New York and London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) launching soon after, followed by Boston (BOS)-London in 2022.
With introductory fares of under £999 round-trip, the new addition has already begun to have a chilling effect on transatlantic airfares, which often peaked well above £4,000 in the business-heavy London to New York market.
Now, with JetBlue setting a new fare floor while offering a fantastic redesigned suite, airlines are competing on price and product. So, which lie-flat reigns supreme? Let’s take a look at what’s flying between London and the U.S. to find out.
Flights from London
London is connected to cities all across the U.S., but no market is nearly as saturated as New York, which often offers some 25 daily flights in each direction — without the addition of JetBlue.
Before we dig in, it’s important to note that London is primarily served by five airports:
- Heathrow (LHR): London’s largest and best-known hub handles the vast majority of U.S. and other intercontinental and long-haul flights
- Gatwick (LGW): The city’s second-largest airport primarily facilitates leisure traffic, both short-haul and long-haul
- Luton (LTN): Far out in the suburbs, Luton is an ultra-low-cost carrier hub where you can regularly find £9 flights
- Stansted (STN): A Ryanair mega-base, and other low-cost Europe flights, plus a small number of long-hauls
- City (LCY): The smallest and most convenient of the group, City was long connected with New York-JFK via a small Airbus A318 that British Airways retired during the pandemic
Most U.S. flights depart from Heathrow, but with tight slot controls, it’s not easy for carriers to add new service. JetBlue has secured temporary slots, and hopes to make its residency permanent soon.
If you’re traveling from London to the United States, you’ll most likely depart from Heathrow — in fact, you can currently fly nonstop to more than two dozen U.S. cities, or you will be able to soon.
The airlines offering nonstop service from Heathrow now and/or later in 2021 include:
- American Airlines: From Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Raleigh/Durham, Seattle
- British Airways: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Washington, D.C.
- Delta: Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, Seattle
- United: Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.
- Virgin Atlantic: Atlanta, Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C.
When JetBlue launches Heathrow service from JFK on 11 August, 2021, New York will be the only city to have nonstop flights operated by all six airlines, though United has announced plans to add LHR flights from Boston — as has JetBlue, in 2022.
Beginning 29 September, 2021, JetBlue will offer the only service between New York City and Gatwick Airport — also with the carrier’s new Mint business class, on the Airbus A321LR.
British Airways operates a very small number of leisure flights between Gatwick and the United States, including seasonal service to Las Vegas (LAS) and Orlando (MCO), which the airline serves year-round from Heathrow.
TUI also has a seasonal flight between Gatwick and the Orlando area, flying from Sanford (SFB) for the time being, before moving to Melbourne (MLB) next year. TUI doesn’t offer a lie-flat product, however, so you won’t see it appear on this particular list.
Making your pick
If you have a strong preference for Gatwick — perhaps to connecting to or from a low-cost-carrier flight booked on a separate itinerary — JetBlue’s upcoming JFK flight could be especially appealing. For most U.K. travelers, however, Heathrow is the best option, thanks to its sheer volume of nonstop flights.
For anyone who frequents TPG, there’s a good chance you’ll be booking your flight with miles, or at least considering your options there. As exciting as it may be to try a new product, even a relatively low £999 fare may seem unappealing if you’re sitting on a stash of Avios and can fly British Airways Club Suite to New York for as low as 100,000 Avios plus fees, taxes and surcharges.
Business travelers and anyone booking a cash ticket are more likely to prioritise flight timing, trip duration and the onboard product, though. Especially if you’re deciding between all five carriers, this is the list for you.
American, British Airways, Delta, United and Virgin Atlantic are all flying their latest lie-flat products from London to New York — while you may see older seats mixed in, for the purposes of this guide, I’m focusing on each airline’s best. I’ll update our rankings once I’ve had a chance to fly JetBlue’s new Mint product across the Atlantic in August, but, for now, this is where we stand.
1. Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Suite
Compared with the other carriers on this list, Virgin Atlantic is especially small, but this U.K.-based airline really packs a punch. The carrier’s “Clubhouse” lounges are truly exceptional, and the new Airbus A350-1000 offers flyers a big step up across the plane.
This is the first aircraft type to offer the airline’s Upper Class Suite, a 1-2-1 lie-flat business-class product with a sliding door at every seat. While we found the door to be a bit less practical than we had initially hoped — it’s more of a slide-out panel than a proper door — the overall product is a big step up, landing it an excellent 87% score from TPG. The big downside here is that the suite is only flying on Virgin’s A350s, and, so far, the carrier has just seven of the planes in its fleet.
That said, it’s a fairly easy ticket to land — Virgin Atlantic offers some of the best award availability we’ve seen across the pond, with low-level redemptions available on many routes and dates. Just be warned: As with British Airways, redemptions come with sky-high surcharges, totaling £450 (or more!) one way.
What we love: Exceptional ground experience and Clubhouse lounges, great food and drinks, comfy mattress pad, onboard lounge, arrivals lounge at LHR (temporarily closed)
Where it’s flying: Los Angeles and New York, with more routes likely to be added soon
Lowest redemption rate: 47,500 Virgin points (plus £450 in surcharges) one-way
2. British Airways Club Suite
British Airways was one of the first global carriers to offer a lie-flat seat in business class — on many planes, that same product is still flying today. With a 2-4-2 configuration and a mix of forward- and rear-facing seats, it can be cramped and even a bit awkward, with some passengers within line of sight of a neighbor.
Club Suite helps minimize both concerns. Laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, there’s a sliding door, like on Virgin Atlantic, but it’s a bit too short to be completely effective — TPG’s Ben Smithson even described it as “fairly pointless” in his review. Still, he really enjoyed the product overall, especially when it was time to get some shuteye, saying it was “one of the better flat beds” he’s experienced.
For now, Club Suite is available on all of BA’s Airbus A350-1000s and Boeing 787-10s, along with roughly 20 Boeing 777-200ERs and 777-300ERs. More 777s are due to be updated by the end of 2021, and the rest of the carrier’s 787 Dreamliners could score the new suites in the years to come. A handful of the airline’s suite-equipped planes remain grounded during the pandemic. While the product is only available on a half dozen U.S. routes right now, it could be added to more soon.
What we love: Great lounge at JFK (temporarily closed), decent space and storage, sliding door, excellent White Company bedding, arrivals lounge at LHR (temporarily closed)
Where it’s flying: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, New York, San Francisco
Lowest redemption rate: 50,000 Avios (plus £400+ in surcharges) one way
3. United Polaris
If there’s an award for “most improved,” it would almost certainly go to United Airlines. Before its fleet-wide Polaris rollout, one version of the carrier’s long-haul business class was such a disaster that it was often referred to as “dorm-style.” Yikes!
With a 1-2-1 configuration and stylish design, United Polaris offers flyers loads more personal space — and looks good doing it, too. On the amenity front, the airline partnered with Saks Fifth Avenue on some top-notch bedding and rolled out high-end Polaris Lounges at most major hubs, from Newark to San Francisco.
While you’ll still find an older version of the airline’s business class on a very small number of London-bound flights, those planes are in the process of being updated, and most should be done by the end of this year. To make sure you’re getting the best product, look for either a 1-2-1 or 1-1-1 seating arrangement, on the 777/787 and 767, respectively.
What we love: Consistent seat across updated aircraft, comfy Saks Fifth Avenue bedding, excellent Polaris Lounges (temporarily closed), arrivals lounge at LHR (temporarily closed)
Where it’s flying: Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.
Lowest redemption rate: 60,000 MileagePlus miles (plus £250 in taxes for flights departing London)
4. American Airlines Flagship business
When I first flew on American’s 777-300ER to London, back in the summer of 2015, it easily would have topped my list of best products across the pond. The 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone seating arrangement is still competitive, and spacious, but as the first carrier to roll out major international upgrades, AA has since fallen a bit behind.
Personally, I prefer the product on American’s flagship 777-300ER, but the airline flies a mix of planes (and seats) to London — all of which are more than adequate for the hop across the pond. Still, while AA’s Casper bedding is top-notch, a combination of the airline’s sub-par catering, lackluster service and less consistency among its updated international fleet lands American one spot shy of the bottom of our list.
Note that both AA and British Airways also offer first-class products on select flights between the U.S. and London, however you’ll typically pay considerably more for a seat that’s just barely a step above what you’ll find in business class.
What we love: You’ll fly on a large Boeing 777 or Dreamliner, Flagship Lounge access, Casper bedding, Bang & Olufsen headphones, arrivals lounge at LHR (temporarily closed)
Where it’s flying: Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Raleigh/Durham, Seattle
Lowest redemption rate: 57,500 American AAdvantage miles (plus £250 in taxes for flights departing London)
5. Delta One
The airline’s flagship Delta One Suite would arguably be the most appealing product on this list. Problem is, while it’s available on the airline’s flights between Atlanta (ATL) and Amsterdam (AMS) and Paris (CDG), you won’t find it on flights to or from London — at least not right now.
What you can fly is an updated version of Delta’s 767 business class, which — while a massive improvement from the older seat — isn’t spacious or private enough to land a spot any higher here.
Notably, unlike with the Delta One Suites, the updated seats flying to London don’t include doors. They’re also considerably narrower than their A350 and A330neo counterparts, though they do offer a similar aesthetic. While substitutions are always possible, you can generally confirm which cabin you’ll have before you book. The latest version of the Delta One seat is currently available on select Boeing 767-400ERs — specifically, you’re looking for the version with a total of nine rows of business seats, rather than 10.
What we love: Updated cabins, high-quality food and drinks, Westin bedding, Tumi amenity kits, access to Virgin’s arrivals lounge at LHR (temporarily closed)
Where it’s flying: Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, Seattle
Lowest redemption rate: 57,500 Virgin points (plus £450 in surcharges) one-way
American, British Airways, Delta, United and Virgin Atlantic have all invested considerable sums in their ground and onboard products, and it really shows. While the experience can definitely vary from one airline to the next, no matter which you choose, you can expect to get a filling meal, reliable service and a comfy lie-flat seat.
It remains to be seen exactly where JetBlue will fall on our top-lie-flat rankings, but with a brand-new business seat and elevated soft product, the airline could very well unseat the top contender once it begins flying across the pond this summer.
Even then, if JetBlue’s new flights aren’t convenient or you’d rather earn or redeem another airline’s points, I wouldn’t sweat it — no matter which carrier you choose, you’ll be in for a transatlantic treat.
Featured photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy
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