Just as Asian and Middle Eastern airlines have built lucrative businesses serving executives and the wealthy, U.S. carriers have intensified competition for full-fare passengers who frequently travel between New York and Los Angeles.

The contest for first- and business-class fliers on the heavily traveled route is pitting American Airlines (with 32 percent of the market), Virgin America (21 percent), Delta Air Lines (19 percent), United Airlines (16 percent), and JetBlue Airways (11 percent) against each other in a battle for investment bankers, celebrities, and others who can afford tickets topping $6,500.