7 Things You Need To Know About Flying First Class In The USA

On my last flight from Chicago, I paid for a first class ticket (I don’t have status with United). It was $278 one-way but, after I did the math, it was only $90 more than flying coach (considering all the add-on fees I would pay extra for, like checking luggage, etc), so it was worth it to me. I’m sure you would have jumped at the opportunity as well because who doesn’t want to be flying first class in the US?

But back to that flight. I had a stressful departing flight that ended up lasting 7 hours (for a 2-hour flight), and I was traveling with my dog, (here’s how to properly travel with your dog on a plane) which further justified spending another $90 to fly more comfortably. It was so nice to finally settle in a first class seat.

flying first class, traveling first class


Sitting next to me was a young girl who had never flown first-class before. She had a million questions (how did you get your tray table out of the arm rest? where’s the power outlet? drinks are free??), which was adorable, and it inspired me to write this story on flying first class. To give some reference on my authority, I’ve been a travel writer for 15 years, and I’ve flown over a million miles in first class (both domestic and international).

If it’s your first time flying first class in the US (whether you’re upgraded like her or buying your own ticket), this is what you should expect.

Oh gosh, what's back there?? Coach vs First.

Oh gosh, what’s back there?? Coach vs First.

7 things you need to know about flying first class in the USA

1. Paying for a first-class ticket is not as expensive as you’d think. With airline wars at its most competitive, first-class fares are a lot cheaper than they were in the past. This is because airlines want to sell those seats rather than give upgrades. They keep the fares (based on route and demand) relatively inexpensive to actually sell the seats rather than give out the upgrades.

Some times you can find first-class fares less than double the fare of a coach seat. Do the math. If you’re not status on an airline, you already save $20-$25 for checking luggage, $15-ish for priority boarding, $10-$60 for premium economy and God knows how much for in-flight booze. The fare could be in your favor.

Rakuten Rewards

Also, it’s guaranteed you’ll fly in first rather than develop a mild case of anxiety not knowing whether you’ll be upgraded or not at the final hour. Peace of mind, y’all! I encourage you to look at first-class fares when you’re booking your next flight. You might be surprised at how inexpensive it might be.

2. Yes, booze is free. Not only is booze free, you get a meal out of it too (depending on how long your flight is, generally three hours or longer). On every flight on most US airlines, they’ll bring a basket of premium snacks, and you can go crazy here (it’s unlimited, like a snack buffet). During Covid, some airlines may not be serving alcohol, but you should always check with the carrier.

Btw: This is my favorite luggage. it’s reliable, durable and has lasted me forever — and I travel 2-3 times a month. Check out Samsonite’s new luggage selection and see if you like it.

3. Not all first-class seats are created equal. Obviously, the long-haul domestic flights (like LAX to NYC) will use better, more modern planes (lie-flat seats, seat-back entertainment, etc). I was on an older plane which didn’t have seat-back entertainment, the power outlet was dated and didn’t work and there were no pillows offered. But I still got the perks of a huge seat, better service, priority everything (see below).

You’ll notice how first-class seat fares vary when you’re booking your flight, and this is often determined by the plane you’ll fly (the better the plane, the more expensive).

4. That bathroom at the front of the plane is just for you. Well, it’s intended for you but coach passengers will sneak up in and use it, and flight attendants rarely make a fuss. I wrote about this in my story Things You Do That Annoy Other Passengers. Even still, you never really have to wait to use the bathroom, and it’s rarely a mess as far as plane bathrooms go.


5. You’ll get better service. This is a given. While service on US airlines are notoriously meh (I think Delta Air Lines has the best service), first-class passengers are treated better. This is not rocket science. Expect flight attendants to call you by Mr/Mrs, and actually laugh at terrible jokes you might tell (I do it a lot!).

6. No fighting over overhead storage space. Can we talk about this for a second? Don’t you get anxiety not knowing whether you’ll have to check your luggage or not when you fly coach? Or don’t you hate it when the nearest overhead bin with available space is about 30 seats away from you, so you have to wait until everyone is off the plane to get it? Booooo.

First class rules.

7. Priority everything. You will be grateful checking into the faster first-class counter, being among the first to board and using the priority security line if you don’t have TSA Pre-Check. Also, you’ll be the first off the plane and the first to get your luggage at baggage claim. Doesn’t flying first class in the US sound awesome? Now, make it special and look your best. My favorite sunglasses are at Bloomingdales.

8. JetBlue, American and Delta have the best transcontinental first-class seats. JetBlue’s Mint Class is notoriously posh, American’s 777-300 is the plane used for international flights (so there is not only a great business class but an even more amazing first class) and Delta One is moving mountains. In fact, Delta has gone above and beyond on their newer planes when it comes to first class in domestic travel.

Ruby  loves JetBlue's pet-friendly Mint Class. traveling first class with dog

Ruby loves JetBlue’s pet-friendly Mint Class.

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More Travelbinger stories:

7 biggest travel trends that will happen in 2022

6 flaws in business class that airlines hope you don’t notice

12 reasons why you should fly first class on your next flight

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed at over 600 hotels and clocked millions of air miles. He currently lives in New York City.

2 thoughts on “7 Things You Need To Know About Flying First Class In The USA

  1. 1. The best first class food is still either reheated from a ground prepared meal, or made by (albeit trained) airline crew. So really, how good can it be in absolute terms? Why would you over-indulge on it? 1st class lounge food is also limited to above average, if you are a foodie. Nothing compared to starred/hatted restaurants.

    2. Don’t get into a fight, walk around shirtless, get high on drugs in cabin or piss drunk….. why would any business class passenger have no idea about not doing any of this? Are you aiming this “article” at adolescents?

    3. Kids in first class that scream and cry are unfortunate for the rest of the passengers. Their rich parents feel the right the indulge their kids. The rest of the cabin feel an undervaluation of the ticket price as a result. Both are valid points of view. Conflict is the way of the world. This is not limited to first class.

    4. Don’t break wind in 1st class? I am sorry. Everybody farts. Especially when flying, due to pressure changes. It cannot be helped. This includes the queen, or Princess Diana, or anyone with a gentle classy image. They all fart mid air. It’s part of human physiology. Some 1st class products might have a separate bedroom and shower. None has a separate pressure chamber, as far as any business class passenger knows.

    5. Propositioning attendants for sex – unacceptable midair whether in business class or 1st. Charmingly optimistic, if in economy. But what happens after the flight in private isn’t anyone’s business.

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