Your guide to airline classes

For the everyday business traveler, negotiating the array of different airline classes can be bewildering. Business class, Economy, Premium Economy, Economy Plus. All these different terms are used to describe the service you get, and the facilities you have access to when in the air. But what do they really mean? What exactly should you expect when buying a certain ticket? And how does it vary from airline to airline? Here is our guide to decoding the world of airline classes.

Basic Economy

Created for cost-conscious passengers, these seats provide most of the same in-flight services and amenities available in standard Economy but exchange several perks for lower ticket prices. 

  • Assigned seating: Unlike Economy- you will not have an option to choose where you sit. Instead the airline will assign you to a seat, although most allow you to change it for a fee at check in.
  • No Group or family seating: Basic Economy is not recommended for groups or families who want to stick together.
  • Last to Board: Basic Economy passengers will be in the final boarding group.
  • One personal item is allowed: You are allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other item.
  • Locked In: Basic Economy fares usually do not permit changes, although some airlines allow them for a fee subject to conditions.


Also called ‘Coach’ or ‘Main Cabin’, Economy is the standard package offered by the airline. Your seat here will be the narrowest, between 16 and 19 inches wide and with 30-34 inches of legroom between you and the seat in front.  Economy service is simply about getting you from A to B with limited fuss. Some amenities will still be on offer, but this will vary from carrier to carrier. JetBlue is an example of a domestic airline offering snacks and beverages to economy travelers free of charge, as well as in- flight entertainment systems.  

Premium Economy

Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to offer something like premium economy. Since they first introduced it, more and more airlines have incorporated this tier of offering in between regular economy and business class. Premium economy offers:

  • Larger seats than either standard or basic economy
  • More legroom for a more comfortable journey
  • Preferred boarding so you spend less time waiting at the gate

Additionally, each carrier has particular perks they offer to their premium economy passengers. Here’s how the main domestic carriers compare.

American Airlines

American Airways gives its premium economy customers access to Choice Plus, which means no change fee, additional reward miles, a complimentary beverage and same-day changes to your flight.


‘Delta Comfort’, the airlines premium economy fare, offers dedicated space in overhead lockers, complimentary snacks and beverages, TUMI amenity kits, Westin blankets and access to their entertainment package.


Travelers receive larger seats (18x35), legroom to its premium economy customers, as well as priority boarding, checked bags and more miles.

Jet Blue

Larger seats (18X37-41), Expedited security and boarding.

Business Class

This is often considered the happy medium between the regular economy package and the expense of first class. But not all business offerings are created equal. So here is what the major U.S. carriers offer.

American Airlines:

American Airlines has several different business offerings, leftover from the airlines multiple different programs deployed since 2013 but there are certain things they all have in common. For instance, 18-inch screens able to access almost 300 movies, AC power and USB charging plugs, amenity kits from Cole Haan and menus from award-winning chefs.

Delta Airlines:

Delta offers 18 inch screens, a back-catalogue of movies, HBO, Showtime, 18 Satalite TV channels on select flights, podcasts, 2,500 songs and interactive games. Travelers will also get a USB port and universal power outlet. Delta also has ‘Heavenly’ bedding from Westin, amenity kits from Tumi, complimentary Kiehl’s products and five-course dinners with wine pairings by Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson.

United Airlines

United has unveiled its new and long-awaited business-class offering, the ‘Polaris’ business class suite. They will feature bedding from Saks fifth Avenue, with matching pajamas, amenity bags from Soho House’s Cowshed Spa line, food from Chicago chef Bill Kim and wines selected by United’s master sommelier Doug Frost. However, their entertainment offering is less compelling than the other airlines, with 16 inch rather than 18 inch screens, 150 movies and 185 television shows. And while that may be less, 150 movies is still a lot to get through on a flight.

First Class

First is the most luxurious cabin class, offering higher levels of service, comfort and amenity to travelers for a higher price. Although there is a lot of overlap, these benefits once again vary airline to airline.

American Airlines

Each seat in American airlines gets 38 inches of ‘pitch’ (the spacing between rows of seats) and 20 inches of width. The carrier unveiled a partnership with mattress company Casper at the end of last year, rolling out new bedding products in many of its premium cabins. Travelers are guaranteed an on-demand entertainment package, whether a 12.1 inch touch-screen on the seat in front of them or in the form of a Samsung tablet packed with movies, music, TV show and games. Passengers also receive complimentary food and beverage service. 

United Airlines

First Class passengers on United receive a pre-departure beverage, additional loyalty miles, a huge selection of entertainment channels due to a partnership with Direct TV, newly released movies and complimentary food and beverage service. Travelers can also check two standard-sized bags for free, both of which will receive priority baggage handling.


Delta offers their first-class travelers a seat with extra legroom and greater recline, as well as a larger 11-inch seatback screen giving access to movies, TV and games. A pre-flight drink as well as complimentary food and beverage service are also included in the package, as well as other amenities such as as in-flight blanket by Westin and ergonomic earbuds by Billboard and in-flight Wi-Fi.  


Despite its history as a low-cost carrier, JetBlue has introduced a luxury first-class equivalent called ‘Mint’. Customers will get expedited security and check-in procedures, early boarding, free Wi-Fi, and 15 inch entertainment screens as well as reclining, flat-lying seats with a built in massage function. Complimentary meal options are provided by Saxon + Parole restaurant, while the free amenity kit is by Hayward & Hopper.

While all of these offerings are subject to the particular route you are flying and plane you are allocated, this should give you a reasonable picture of what to expect when booking or boarding your next flight. To be sure of what to expect, check the details of your particular flight and route.