Wall Street Journal had interesting article on its Middle Seat column regarding what constitutes first class and how it differs in North America depending on the route.
Most of the “first” class in North America is not really first but rather business class. There are some flights such as the AA’s special transcons between JFK and LAX/SFO that are truly three class and then there is the daily Cathay Pacific New York to Hong Kong via Vancouver where the airline has fifth freedom right to sell seats.
You can access the WSJ article here of which below is an excerpt:
Sometimes first class means you get a 6-foot-long bed and a large entertainment screen in your personal suite. Sometimes first class means a skinny seat with a slight recline, no entertainment other than jokes from a chatty flight attendant and a snoring seatmate to climb over to get to the bathroom.
And sometimes those two extremes are offered on the same route by the same airline for the same price.
The causes of the confusion: Airlines have been inflating premium-cabin offerings, cooking up special cabins for particular routes and moving more international planes into domestic service. As a result, some travelers don’t know what they will actually get when they buy a first-class ticket or land an upgrade.
American and United have at least three different versions of “first class” on domestic routes, for example. New brand names for premium cabins add to the fog: Delta Air Lines ’ Delta One, for instance, is better than Delta’s first class, even though it is sold as business class.
United sells BusinessFirst that is nothing but business class. Air Canada used to name its business class as Executive First. Not sure where the first came from. Definitely business class product.
The problem also is that the airlines can always substitute the equipment at the very last moment and the first class you booked could end up being completely different (or no first class at all as I have experiences number of times). I booked specific Emirates flight due to the route operated using an Airbus A380. Now the route has been downgraded to 77W and I will miss the on-board bar and the option of having the shower (don’t usually do this).
The airlines NEVER guarantee the equipment. So, you may end up being on very old equipment when you booked let’s say A350 or Boeing 787.