London to the United States’ East Coast is a remarkably well-trodden track, and there’s an almost impossible number of airport route pairing permutations for us to wrap our heads around. I hardly have to qualify why this route is so attractive to  analyse regularly for this blog (and it will be regular), but I’ll throw out there what makes it such a Pandora’s box for this AvGeek: All in the same airspace, we have the three major North American carriers about whom it is exceedingly (and I’ll add, lazy and unfairly) fashionable to critique and dismiss out of hand; national carriers with a feverishly loyal customer base; and some boutique carriers who, despite some pretty forward-thinking products, largely go under the radar in comparison to their flag-carrying counterparts.

Despite being a route full of indifference and the uninspired, there is one carrier in particular who is refreshingly slick.

For a route in such massive demand, outrageous levels of supply to match, and competition at almost hysterical levels between both low cost (LCC) and traditional full service carriers (I’m hard pressed to find any other long-haul route featuring competition between LCCs and full service carriers as typical), it is somewhat surprising that this route is characterised by creative indifference, uninspired service and a deeply engrained feeling of Russian Roulette when opting for a carrier (this is of course slightly unfair – there is one carrier in particular who is refreshingly slick between these two lands).

London to the USA East Coast in Economy Class

Let’s jump in…

Virgin Atlantic (no alliance)


This route’s current leader, Virgin Atlantic services a number of East Coast destinations from its hub at London Heathrow using the A330, A340 and B787. Virgin’s seat score is a marked leader, which can be attributed to its A330 and, to a lesser extent, A340 aircraft that feature a 2-4-2 seat layout up the back. Keep a keen eye on the aircraft type, however – Virgin have begun flying their new B787’s on the route, touting the lamentable 3-3-3 seat layout that has become, literally, a perennial pain in the ass for the Economy class passenger. Unsurprisingly, Virgin is this route’s undisputed Service and Value leader, and this is backed up almost universally across its network.

Delta (Sky Team)


The first of the surprise entries, Delta serves a majority of the East Coast to London Heathrow using the proven (but perhaps ageing) B767. Passengers appear to be reaping some rewards of the airline’s cabin refresh programme. Their comparatively favourable seat metric score appears to be a manifestation of the lower density 2-3-2 layout typical of Delta’s B767s, and an effort to roll-out redesigned seats appears to have had some positive impact on Paxex. Service and catering remains spotty and inconsistent, but a far cry from the poor experience the “American Carrier” stereotype suggests.

American Airlines (Oneworld)


Trailing somewhat, American Airlines exclusively employs the B777-200 on this veritable highway of sorts. AA’s seat score should be considered indicative of the very high density 10 abreast layout on these aircraft (they were designed with 9 abreast in mind). American Airlines, to their credit, have come leaps and bounds from the sorry pits of sassy service, sterile-like cabin interiors and meal choices modelled on the humble soup kitchen, and have been pursuing cabin and service refreshes in step with Delta and United.

British Airways (Oneworld)


Occupying a fairly discouraging fourth place, British Airways operates the B747 and B777 between London Heathrow and an assortment of East Coast destinations. BA should be commended for its standard density B777 3-3-3 seat layout (a somewhat endangered setup these days), however the complements appear to stop there. Comments point to a distinctly ageing cabin interior on a majority of aircraft, with In Flight Entertainment of a similarly dated design. Food and catering is another detractor – BA now only serves a single meal on sub-eight hour flights, down from the traditional two.

United (Star Alliance)


In step with their North American cousins, United have embarked on an effort to improve their public image, following some long needed introspection. Their score is certainly on the way up, however passenger experience certainly fluctuates widely as United employs both the B767 and less customer friendly B757 narrow body on this route. United has revamped its on-board catering of late and, unlike BA, won’t be leaving you hungry upon arrival.

Norwegian (no alliance)


Last place, however more by design than complacency. Norwegian services the East Coast from its hub at London Gatwick, using its factory-new B787s. With the layout using a shoulder-crunching 3-3-3 structure, you’re likely to be far more intimate with your seat-mates than is otherwise considered proper. However, reports are the (paid for) catering is edible and the service jovial, with pricing in line with Norwegian’s Low Cost Carrier business plan.

So what?

Virgin Atlantic is a stand-out performer on this route – well worth your curiosity.

For those of us duly married to any of the major alliances, you’d be forgiven for that slightly exasperated feeling one gets when choosing a carrier for this route – a unique moment where loyalty to one’s point balance trumps logic or Paxex. For Oneworld, frequency reign supreme between these two points, however both choices are Paxex laggards, with BA almost gleeful in its reduction in service quality. Star Alliance members are presented with only a single choice, and can take some small comfort in the renewed efforts of United to turn their image about.

For those unattached free souls, or the lucky few with whom their chosen carrier has code-sharing arrangements, Virgin Atlantic is a stand-out performer on this route with greater personal space, service that goes down a treat and a consistent perception of greater value than all other carriers in the context. Well worth your curiosity.

Posted by Tom

Tom is a consultant and founder of, the online travel tool that rates, ranks and dissects every facet of in-flight passenger experience. All views expressed are his own.

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