In today's Wall Street Journal, Scott McCartney writes about the luxuries that some foreign carriers are making available to their First Class passengers: private check-in and security screening, bubble baths, cigar rooms, and chauffered planeside service in a Mercedes or Porsche. At the same time, the article observes that most of the U.S. legacy carriers--including Delta, Northwest, Continental, and U.S. Airways--have eliminated First Class service altogether for their overseas passengers, offering only Business and Coach seating.
And for those that do continue to offer international First Class, the service gap between their accommodations and those of foreign carriers could hardly be wider: United Airlines, for instance, recently announced with much fanfare that its international First Class passengers would receive free WiFi Internet access in its lounges, a $9.95 value in recognition of a fare often priced at more than $6,000. (AirlineEquality offers ratings of the various airlines' lounges; you'll notice that the U.S. carriers' lounges receive little praise.)
But we can hardly place the blame for waning service on the airlines. For all of their faults, U.S. carriers tailor their service to what their customers want--and America has become a culture more interested in lower prices than higher quality. As long as that remains the case, we can anticipate that the U.S. airline experience will lag behind that offered by foreign airlines. If you do want to receive outstanding service, put those alliances to use and do your overseas flying with a foreign airline.