I’m Flying Delta Today. What Should I Look Out For?

I’m an unabashed critic of the Delta SkyMiles program. I think they treat their members like a basket of deplorables.

Unquestionably, however, they’ve run a better airline operation than their large US competitors in recent years. And I haven’t taken a Delta domestic flight since 2010.

It’s the end of the year. I don’t need to fly American Airlines to retain elite status (heck, I requalified for Executive Platinum back in mid-June). That makes me a free agent, and I have been for much of the second half of 2016 which is why I inadvertently earned United status this year, and I’ve mixed in some Southwest and Virgin America to boot.

For today’s trip Delta first class was about $50 more than American Airlines economy and the flight time was more convenient. So I went with Delta, because I thought it would be a more interesting experience.

I’m checked in for my flight. They were asking for volunteers, but I need to make it where I’m going and there’s not a good later option with Delta to do that so I declined.

I know to expect a little less legroom than I’m used to in legacy American Airlines first class. And I’m told there’s signage in the overhead bins reserving them for first class passengers. I’ll be watching to see if that’s adhered to.

But since other than a Sydney – Los Angeles business class award flight last year after embarrassingly missing my Virgin Australia flight, I haven’t been on Delta since back when I status matched to Northwest Platinum (because that option would go away when Northwest went away) and was burning through several thousand dollars worth of credits from Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program from back when you could earn a 36% return on gas and grocery spend.

There’s no Sky Club in Austin to use before departure, but I can still use American’s club. Are there things I should look out for though, or pay attention to, to get the most out of understanding the Delta experience? I realize I won’t get a full understanding out of just one trip. But I’m strangely excited.

Now that airlines are telling us we should buy exactly the product we want, and they’re less rewarding for choosing an airline consistently over the course of a year (and even spending more sometimes to do it), I figure I should be taking them literally. So I’m not so concerned that SkyMiles is less rewarding than competitors, those competitors have gotten less valuable too and most points aren’t even earned from flying.

I’m just curious to see how they’re different. What should I know?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Funny. I flew American Airlines in first-class for the first time ever from Detroit-Dallas and Dallas-San Francisco.

    Honestly, other than different boarding announcements and uniforms, had I closed my eyes I probably wouldn’t have known the difference. The 321 between Dallas and San Francisco looked and felt brand new. I liked it a lot — way better than a Delta 737-900.

    My only complaint was the service wasn’t nearly as good. No pre-departure beverage on a 7 a.m. Detroit-Dallas flight, when everyone wanted coffee. In fact, it took 45 minutes for the flight attendant to offer beverages. It wasn’t because of the captain and the seatbelt sign. Rather, it was because she was too busy reading the newspaper.

    I thought the breakfast and lunch served on both flights was pretty much the same as Delta.

  2. Try the Michelle & Augustine cookies in the snack basket! Not to be missed.

    And the app tracks your luggage loading and unloading, which can be nice.

  3. I think the seat pitch in Delta F is pretty bad. AA is usually a little better. The width is the same. Food is the same.

  4. Not much of a difference. Crews are generally better than AA and they are very good at providing full PDB.

    Meals on DL are so so. Might be better than AA now with AA’s recent “enhancement” to their domestic meals which IMHO took a step backwards.

  5. Gary the biggest difference I notice on DL is IRROPS. DL knows where their crew is. They know where the aircraft is coming from and have accurate ETA. They are more proactive about dealing with small MX issues–they get dealt with overnight or there is a team waiting for the plane’s arrival, not one who arrives 5 min before scheduled departure.

    Delta also has the lowest quotient of employees who just don’t care. It’s rare to run into multiples on a single trip, whereas on AA/UA I find that commonplace. Unfortunately, one flight is too small a sample size to really have a representative experience.

    I think DL is the network carrier of choice for travelers who value their time. The reality is, though, that on a points and miles blog, by and large that is a secondary or tertiary consideration for readers and bloggers.

  6. I can tell you that the flight attendants are adamant about maintaining overhead space for first class. Tight connection, last person to board? There will be an open space. It is comforting to know that.

    BTW, Diamond FNT mentioned coffee. They always serve bottled water but the water for the coffee comes from the plane well. Turns me off. Gary: should I be wary of drinking the well water even when it is heated for coffee?

  7. Bins for F and + will have signs inside the bins (on the back wall) about being restricted. This is generally adhered to until the end of the loading process – presumably after F has loaded full. At that point FAs will generally assist pax in loading wherever they can.

    Do note how many Prem + Diamonds load. My experience is that this # is climbing rapidly. And watch the gate licing from the rest. Delta boards so many PAX in Sky (Silver, Gold, Platinum, CCs, +, and Preferred seating buy ups) that it can be 50%+ of the load.

    Water bottles placed on the middle armrest in F have no home, making them prone to take flight on takeoff or landing. Wifi is generally good, though occasionally burdened and slow to initialize.

    Flight tracking system (free) through the wifi sometimes (33%+ in my experience) has no information. Pretty frustrating.

    FAs are pretty great. Especially in F but also in the main cabin.

    Snack baskets will be deployedin f and then in +. Generally you can take a few items. Do some sampling.

    Mind the cabin communication. I find Delta to have the least annoying cabin announcements. Esp. compared to United who seem to talk on and off at random for the first 15,000 feet. I find DL to be quite short and polite.

    And F tray tables… I generally find DL to have the least floppy F tray tables except in higher end planes like the Intl configured Transcons. I hate a wobbly table.

    Enjoy your flight.

  8. @Diamond Dave I’m not aware of anyone getting sick from the water generally, though there have been news reports about plane water, I think the biggest issue is taste

  9. I switched to DL from AA (LPLT) a couple years ago when Parker trashed F on AA. The ONLY thing I do not like about DL is the service pattern in F -the FAs serve drinks and trays together – all within about 30 minutes of take off. Food is usually good. Crews have been fantastic.

    These days I will choose Y+ on DL before F on AA for flights under 3 hours because even in Y+ you get treated REALLY well

  10. “Bins for F and + will have signs inside the bins (on the back wall) about being restricted. This is generally adhered to until the end of the loading process – presumably after F has loaded full. At that point FAs will generally assist pax in loading wherever they can.”

    On my first two Delta TATL flights in Y+ crew stowed their luggage in the reserved overhead bins. Service and food were better, however.

  11. Some commented that DL is becoming the airline of choice for frequent flyers who are impartial to miles/points, while this is true with DL’s operational superiority and relatively strong domestic network where they are the “Emirates” of the USA flying larger jets and providing much superior frequencies compared to UA/AA to most mid-sized airports. However, one thing that is a problem for me is the poor cross airline integration and limited network of SkyTeam.

    IMHO – Skyteam is a very weak alliance outside of NA and Europe. I also find their premium products to be substandard. Delta’s apparent disdain towards some Skyteam partners is not helping them and for the life of me I cannot wrap my head around everytime they complain about AA or UA having JV when I am confident that DOJ/DOT will not block a DL/KE TPAC JV (would make a lot of sense and ICN is a fantastic airport – kind of like AMS of Asia). Maybe there is more history to it, but sometimes I find DL to have a my way or the highway mentality towards their partners and that is no good. Arrogance is not a good way to run a business in the long term.

  12. @Lou, Sky Priority does not include some of the groups you listed (e.g. Silver is definitely not Sky Priority). They board in Zone 1 with any non-elites who have a CC or have paid into Y+. Your overall point is still true that it seems like over half the plane is boarding in Sky Priority or Zone 1. I do think they often board F before the other Sky Priority though, so Gary may be able to board before all the non-F elites.

    I agree with the other comments as well. It’s the IRROPs where Delta seems to excel. They just seem more proactive in solving problems than other airlines.

  13. @Autolycus & @ Lou:

    Having left United (after 2 million miles) for Delta, one of the only things I miss is the boarding process. United’s is very orderly with several specific categories. On Delta I find it tricky to get past the Priority folks that are not Premium or Diamond. It feels very elitist to have to excuse yourself to move people out the way so you can get on the plane before the crowd. They really need a line for 1st Class and Diamond and then a line for Priority and then a line for the other five people.

  14. Hopefully you had great service and on time departure(s). One flight can be an anomaly but over all Delta really is a better airline in terms of operations.

    The diversity of equipment makes it even more amazing that Delta can operate so relatively smooth. This can sometimes leave you without a TV in the seat in front of you but the free options for your iPad are almost universal on Delta.

    If you transferred in ATL hopefully you had time to improve your previous opinion about the airport here. It has the best layout ever and to be the busiest airport in the world it’s remarkably efficient. Plus ATL has some really outstanding food options.

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