American Airlines vs. United Airlines: Comparing The Top Two Carriers

American Airlines and United Airlines are often top contenders when choosing an airline. 

While similar in many ways, each airline has its own strengths that cater to various traveler preferences. 

Both American Airlines (AA) and United Airlines operate a modern fleet of aircraft, delivering various classes of service to accommodate passengers’ needs and budgets. AA holds a strong presence in the domestic US market and offers an extensive international route network. On the other hand, United has a vast global reach, serving numerous destinations on almost every continent. Additionally, AA and United are members of expansive airline partnerships, allowing travelers seamless access to thousands of airports worldwide. 

This article provides a comprehensive comparison between American Airlines and United Airlines, exploring their flight networks, carriers and aircraft, classes of service, baggage policies, in-flight services, loyalty programs, and partnerships with other airlines.

Key Takeaways

  • American Airlines and United Airlines have extensive flight networks and cater to a variety of traveler preferences.
  • Both airlines provide multiple classes of service, baggage policies, and in-flight amenities for passengers to choose from.
  • AA and United offer frequent flyer programs, credit card partnerships, and alliances with partner airlines to reward passenger loyalty and provide uninterrupted travel experiences.

American vs. United Airlines Flight Networks

An American Airlines airplane taking off.

United Airlines Flight Network

United Airlines operates an extensive flight network, with its primary hubs in major cities such as Chicago, Houston, and Newark. 

They have a strong international presence, offering flights to hundreds of destinations in Europe, Asia, and South America.

In addition to its global reach, United has a vast network of domestic flights within the United States, covering all 50 states.

American Airlines Flight Network

American Airlines is a leading airline in the United States, operating an extensive route network covering domestic, international, and intercontinental flights. 

AA’s domestic flights span the US, reaching major cities and small towns alike, while international flights reach key destinations in Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America.

American vs. United Airlines Carrier and Aircraft

United Airlines Carrier and Aircraft

United Airlines boasts a diverse fleet of aircraft, ranging from wide-body models, such as the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner, to narrow-body planes, like the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737. 

In total, they have just over 900 aircraft in operation, making it one of the largest fleets in the world.

In addition to their larger aircraft, United also operates regional jets like the Embraer E175 and Bombardier CRJ-700 through their United Express service. 

American Airlines Carrier and Aircraft

American Airlines has the largest fleet in the world at present, including 945 mainline aircraft. 

Some commonly used aircraft include the Airbus A319 and A321 and the Boeing 737, 777 and 787.

Additionally, as of 2023, American Airlines is renewing its fleet, having recently ordered an additional 159 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing – the largest commission in its history.

American vs. United Airlines Classes of Service

Aerial view of United Airlines airplane on the runway.

United Airlines Classes of Service

United Airlines offers a range of service classes catering to different traveler needs.

Each class varies in terms of service, comfort, and amenities and includes Basic Economy, Economy, Economy Plus, United Premium Plus, United First, United Business, and United Polaris. 

Basic Economy is the most affordable option for passengers but comes with certain restrictions, such as limited carry-on luggage and no option to choose seats.

​​In this class, travelers can enjoy complimentary snacks and beverages; however, alcohol and hot meals (when available) are typically not included in the price. 

Seat pitch ranges from 30-31 inches (76-79cm) with standard recline. 

Economy class offers travelers a slightly more flexible option compared to Basic Economy, including two pieces of hand luggage. 

That said, the seat pitch and in-flight amenities are similar to Basic Economy.

Economy Plus is designed for passengers seeking extra legroom and priority boarding. 

Featuring a seat pitch between 34-36 inches (86-91cm), this class ensures a more comfortable and spacious journey while still offering the same in-flight amenities as an Economy ticket. 

United Premium Plus delivers additional comfort with a seat pitch of 38 inches (96.5cm) and enhanced dining options with premium meals and alcoholic beverages. 

Passengers in Premium Economy can also enjoy larger entertainment screens, a power outlet and USB charger, and priority boarding privileges.

United First and United Business are top-tier options for domestic and short-haul international travelers. 

These classes offer travelers spacious seats, full-flat beds on select aircraft, priority boarding, and access to United Club lounges. 

Onboard, passengers can enjoy à la carte dining options, complimentary premium beverages, and dedicated in-flight service.

United Polaris is the ultimate travel experience for long-haul international flights. 

With exclusive pod-like seating providing extra privacy, passengers can relax in their fully flat beds. 

Polaris guests are provided with luxury bedding, dedicated in-flight service, à la carte dining, and premium beverages. 

Additionally, Polaris travelers always board the aircraft first and have access to the United Polaris Lounge.

American Airlines Classes of Service

American Airlines provides its guests with eight (8) classes of service, depending on the destination, including Basic Economy, Main Cabin, Main Cabin Extra, Premium Economy, Business, First, and its Flagship First/Business Cabins.

Basic Economy is the most affordable option on American Airlines, featuring seats with a pitch of 31 inches (78.74 cm). 

This cabin class includes complimentary drinks, snacks, and entertainment but has a few restrictions, like no checked baggage, seat selection, or upgrades.

Main Cabin is AA’s equivalent to ‘standard’ Economy Class and provides slightly more perks than Basic Economy, such as one free checked bag on certain routes.

Main Cabin Extra allows guests more legroom in the Economy cabin, providing seats with a pitch of 35-36 inches (89-91 cm). 

In addition to the in-flight services available to all Economy guests, Main Cabin Extra ticket holders receive priority boarding.

Premium Economy provides a more comfortable experience than standard Economy. 

Seats in this class offer a pitch of 38 inches (97 cm) and have enhanced amenities, such as priority boarding, premium meals, and complimentary alcoholic beverages.

In Business Class, passengers can enjoy lie-flat seats, as well as exclusive access to the Flagship Business lounges. 

This class offers a higher level of service with more privacy and personalized attention from the airline staff.

First Class is the ultimate luxurious experience on American Airlines, designed to provide comfort and exclusivity to its passengers. 

With private pods and wider seats, Flagship First customers enjoy top-tier amenities, such as fine dining and exclusive access to Flagship First lounges at select airports.

American vs. United Airlines Baggage Policies and Extra Fees

United Airlines Baggage Policies and Extra Fees

United Airlines has specific policies regarding baggage allowances and fees. 

Passengers can bring checked and carry-on bags; however, the rules may vary depending on the ticket type and destination.

Basic Economy ticketholders are only permitted one personal item on board, and checked bags are always for a fee.

Personal items must fit under the seat in front of you and cannot exceed 9 x 10 x 17 inches (22 x 25 x 43 cm)

Economy, Economy Plus, United Premium Plus, United First, United Business, and United Polaris travelers are allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item. 

The carry-on bag must not exceed 9 x 14 x 22 inches (22 x 35 x 56 cm) so it can fit in the overhead bins.

For checked baggage, the baggage allowance depends on the ticket type and MileagePlus status. 

Bag sizes must not exceed 62 linear inches (158 cm) (length + width + height), and weight limits are typically 50 lbs (23 kg) for Economy and Premium passengers or 70 lbs (32 kg) for First, Business, or Polaris travelers.

Fees and taxes on United Airlines flights depend on several factors. 

Seat fees, for instance, may apply when selecting a specific seat outside the complimentary seat assignment window. The cost varies by class, demand, and route.

United Airlines also charges for additional checked bags and overweight or oversized items – the more you have and the heavier the luggage, the higher the fees. 

Passengers can also often upgrade their seats for a fee, but prices depend on the type of upgrade and the route.

American Airlines Baggage Policies and Extra Fees

The American Airlines baggage allowance includes both checked bags and carry-on bags. 

For all classes of service, passengers are permitted one piece of carry-on luggage and one personal item. 

Carry-ons must be smaller than 22 x 14 x 9 inches (56 x 36 x 23 cm), whereas personal items may not exceed 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) so they can fit under the seat in front.

Checked bags on American Airlines have their own size and weight restrictions, depending on flight route and ticket type. 

The maximum dimensions allowed for a checked bag are 62 inches (158 cm) (length + width + height). 

For most flights, the weight limit is 50 lbs (23 kg) per bag; however, First or Business Class passengers are allowed up to 70 lbs (32 kgs).

Passengers may be eligible for free checked bags if they fly to particular destinations, have certain status levels in the AAdvantage program, or are flying in First or Business class. 

Additional fees and taxes apply when checking bags outside of the free allowances. 

The cost varies depending on the number of bags and the route traveled. 

Overweight and oversized bags incur extra fees, so checking the airline’s policies before flying is essential.

American Airlines also offers a variety of seat options, and certain seats, like Main Cabin Extra, require additional seat fees.

These costs vary depending on the route and time of booking.

Lastly, travelers can pay for upgrades if they desire a more comfortable flying experience; however, prices depend on the route, fare class, and availability.

American vs. United Airlines In-flight Services and Amenities

Airplane aisle during flight.

United Airlines In-flight Services and Amenities

United Airlines offers various in-flight services and amenities, like in-flight entertainment, which includes a range of movies, TV shows, and music options.

Not all flights or fare classes have seat-back screens; however, guests can usually stream the in-flight entertainment via their mobile devices once at cruising altitude. 

All seat classes come with complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, and Economy guests may purchase a selection of alcoholic beverages and additional food items, depending on the route.

Premium and First/Business Class guests have their food and beverages included in their flight fare.

Long-haul flights often come with a free hot meal (or two) for Economy passengers, depending on the duration of the flight and the route.

Passengers who need to stay connected during their trip will appreciate the availability of United Wi-Fi. 

Although it is not free, it offers reasonable pricing depending on your destination and flight duration. 

American Airlines In-Flight Services and Amenities

American Airlines also provides in-flight entertainment, including the latest movies, TV shows, and music options. 

Personal seat-back screens are available on all flights, and passengers may purchase headsets or bring their own.

All passengers receive complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic beverages.

Depending on the flight route, there may be a complimentary meal for Economy Class; otherwise, passengers can usually purchase snacks and beverages from the menu. 

Travelers in premium cabins enjoy a refined dining experience with a curated selection of gourmet dishes and premium beverages.

Although American Airlines does not offer free Wi-Fi, they do provide passengers with reliable in-flight Wi-Fi for a fee. 

American vs. United Airlines Loyalty Programs and Credit Cards

When comparing American Airlines and United Airlines, their loyalty programs and credit cards are essential factors to consider. 

American Airlines offers the AAdvantage program, whereas United Airlines provides the MileagePlus program. 

In terms of travel credit cards, American Airlines partners with Citi and Barclays Bank to offer a range of AAdvantage credit cards, while United Airlines collaborates with Chase for their United MileagePlus credit cards

Each airline’s credit card lineup includes various options, offering benefits like bonus points on airline purchases, free checked bags, and priority boarding.

Airport lounge access is another perk of these loyalty programs. 

American Airlines AAdvantage members and credit card holders can access their Admirals Club lounges, while United’s MileagePlus members and credit card holders can enjoy the United Club lounges. 

Members of both airlines’ credit card programs often receive benefits such as a certain number of complimentary airport lounge visits annually.

American vs. United Airlines Partnerships and Alliances

American Airlines airplanes at the airport.

Both American and United have entered into codeshare agreements with various carriers through their respective alliances.

American Airlines is a founding member of the oneworld alliance, which connects passengers to over 1,000 destinations globally and includes key partners like British Airways and Delta Airlines

United is a member of the Star Alliance, providing customers access to nearly 1,300 destinations across 195 countries, with notable airline partners such as Air Canada and Lufthansa

Through their partnerships and alliances, AA and United provide their passengers with a vast network of possibilities that offer efficient and convenient travel options.