♬ I flew on Delta and I liked it
The feeling of a better product
I flew on it just to try it
I hope American don't mind it ♬

Background

I was originally scheduled to fly home on American Airlines from SLC through DFW to ORD. About 4 hours before my flight, I got a notification that my first flight was delayed which would cause me to misconnect on the last flight out. Checking ExpertFlyer, it showed LATE ARRV A/C DUE TO PRIOR MAINTENANCE DELAYS. I call the Executive Platinum desk and they were able to put me on a direct flight home. This was great until a ground stop started at ORD which delayed the direct flight (it ended up being 3 hours late as it couldn’t depart from ORD).

Upon arrival to SLC, I approached an AA ticketing agent and explained I was on the delayed Chicago flight and already rerouted due to previous maintenance. I asked her if she would be able to interline me on the Delta flight leaving at 5pm and she quickly checked for flights. She made a quick call to hold a seat for me and issued me a ticket. I could not have asked for a smoother experience.

I walked over to Terminal 2 and checked in with Delta. The ticketing agent was able to get me a middle seat in the exit row and put my Known Traveler number on file to get PreCheck. I made my way through security and walked to the gate.

AA App Notifications

At the Gate

Seat Assignment Comfort+Upon arriving to the gate, the display showed the flight was delayed by about 30 minutes. I figured it is still be better than the 3 hour delay on AA. I lined up to ask the agent about getting a better seat, and a large family of refugees was ahead of me. 

From what I had gathered, they had arrived from Africa and had missed their connection. The gate agent was very empathetic, however struggled due to the language barrier. There was a pilot deadheading that was attempting to communicate via Google Translate.

It took about 15 minutes for the gate agent to locate a Prospect employee who could communicate with the family. Meanwhile, the gate agent was printing out meal vouchers and it seemed like they were handed out like candy. In other words, it didn’t seem as though the gate agent had any issue assisting the family by providing accommodations. It appears the gate agent was empowered with the tools to help their customers. 

During this fiasco, I was also pleasantly surprised that one of the flight attendants stepped in and was helping the gate agent sort through and assist with the meal vouchers. The team work was amazing. All the while, the gate agent was trying to help me with my request to move from my middle seat to something better. 

The gate agent explained there were seats In Comfort+ available at a cost and I was happy to pay the $64 to get out of a middle seat. She took my card and was attempting to process it while still sorting out the refugee family. For some reason, it wouldn’t processed and she said for my patience she will move me up for no charge. 

The last piece at the gate which also looked slick were the displays showing available space in each cabin as well as upgrades for each individual (and the cabin which they requested). This has always been a contentious point for frequent flyers on American as it’s hard to pick apart a single list with upgrade requests for a multi-class aircraft.

Boarding

DL App Boarding NotificationI had downloaded the Delta app on my phone after being booked in a middle seat to see potential options. What I wasn’t expecting to happen was to receive a notification that boarding has started. This is something that American could really use given the inconsistency of when boarding starts.

The boarding lanes at this gate were very small with a single post pointing left and right for general boarding and Sky Priority respectively. This is the same with American. For today’s flight, the boarding was by row number (front to back) as there were still cleaners onboard. I did not see exactly when the cleaners got on board, but it seemed like they had plenty of time to clean the plane due to the delay.

On Board

Overhead PanelsWalking down the jet bridge and seeing the aircraft up close from the outside, it showed real signs of age from. However, once on board, the cabin looked surprisingly modern and refreshed. I was also surprised at the size of the overhead bins for such a small aircraft. Similar to the Space Bins on American’s newer Boeing 737 aircraft, these allow bags to be stowed on the side to allow for more bags. 

What I did not like about the bins was that when they were empty, they seemed to close half way. This seems like it could hurt someone standing underneath as well as make it difficult for someone to load their bags in. Like American, Delta also had labels indicating the bins were “reserved” for their respective cabins.

The last note on the bins were that flight attendants (FA’s) were making regular announcements to encourage passengers to close bins as they became full. My only concern with this is I could see passengers self-regulating the bins and leaving them half empty.

In addition to mood lighting, I was really impressed by the overhead units. The blue glow and shape just made it look really slick and modern. The only other observation about the cabin was the divider between coach and first class. I frequently hear complaints about American’s new OASIS product no longer having a wall; well, Delta doesn’t have a wall either.

Seat

After getting settled into my Comfort+ window seat, I immediately noticed that it felt a lot roomier than American’s MCE (Main Cabin Extra). In addition, the seats felt a lot more cushioned. I really liked the smaller pocket which provided extra space for a smaller drink bottle or a handheld device. I often worry about forgetting my phone in the larger seat pockets or just finding a dirty diaper.

Seat Pocket

The other nice touch that I observed was a FA collecting jackets from passengers in Comfort+. I don’t see this being as practical on American since Delta markets Comfort+ as a completely different product. American already struggles with hanging jackets due to space limitations in the premium cabin, so I couldn’t see them hanging jackets for 40+ MCE passengers on a 321, for example.

In-flight Entertainment

Delta and its fans always parade the in-flight entertainment. The flight attendants also encouraged all passengers to use it, but if you weren’t in First or Comfort+ you had to buy headsets for $2. On American, I’ve regularly seen headsets distributed onboard flights with IFE for free. 

I personally bring my own device as I can download shows and movies and can enjoy them without interruption. It was refreshing to see that you can browse the selection of movies without having to first watch an ad, but like American, each movie had an ad. The Live TV is appealing as it featured over 12 channels and during my one test it connected and streamed fine.

As an aviation geek, I really liked that My Flight had information about the aircraft (including the tail number). What was really lacking was the map functionality. There were only 3 views available and as you zoomed in, the plane disappeared. I enjoy watching my AA flight crash into buildings on the satellite map.

WiFi

While equipped with Gogo’s 2ku Satellite WiFi, gate to gate wasn’t available like American’s updated equipment. I prefer getting connected while on the ground as it’s sometimes hard to get a good signal. However, American has a long way to go with modernizing all of it’s fleet.

As a T-Mobile customer, I enjoyed a free hour of internet as is also offered on American. After the hour, I purchased the basic one hour pass for $6. The internet speeds on that plan seemed pretty low. 

Food Service

Another nice touch in Comfort+ was the snack basket which included fresh fruit. Similarly to how jackets were collected in this cabin, I don’t see American being able to offer something similar in their MCE. However, alcoholic beverages were complimentary just like in American’s MCE.

The food and snack options overall looked much more appealing than what American has to offer, even the snack boxes. With the snack options, it didn’t seem they were offered complimentary to Delta’s elites like American does. I think this is one thing that American does right for its elites flying in the main cabin. 

Lastly, while they also generously provide 4 complimentary snack options, the flight attendants made two PA announcements to remind passengers what was available. While it’s a nice touch to have 4 options, I find it simpler to just provide a single snack like American does to make service faster. 

Other Thoughts

Shockingly, Delta is also affected by weather and air traffic control delays. In my case, it just happened that I was at a Delta hub and the equipment was already here. I lucked out with having a ticketing agent willing to interline me. 

My overall experience on this single flight leads me to believe that the culture in the company is much different and customer service focused. Other small touches, such as FA’s standing in the aisle during the video safety announcements were also nice.

Things that I didn’t particularly care for were minor. Such as marketing IFE, but charging $2 for a headset. Flyers also complain about cleanliness, but I found crumbs in the tray table. The equipment is also showing its age–pictured below is the paint peeling off the wing.

I did not have an opportunity to compare the elite benefits. From what I observed, it appears that if you’re not top tier, you would upgrade into Comfort+, where American offers these seats complimentary to all levels of elites, albeit at different times.The requirement for miles qualification is also higher at 125,000, but allows for rollover.

For my travel, Delta isn’t a logical option being ORD based. However, I would strongly recommend Delta to others based on my experience.

What American Can Learn from Delta

Note: these observations are from a single flight, yet were very significant.

  • It appeared the gate agent was empowered with tools to accommodate passengers — it continues to feel that American doesn’t enable their team to provide such a high level of customer service
  • Delta works as a team; at the gate a deadheading pilot was attempting to translate & the lead flight attendant was assisting the gate agent — I have never seen this with American Airlines
  • Upgrade displays — both Delta and United seem to be ahead of American in clearly displaying available space and upgrade requests with associated cabins
  • Boarding notifications — AA should add boarding notifications given its inconsistency in boarding times
  • Onboard service — the flight attendants continuously appeared busy including distributing water to the entire cabin on a short 30-minute delay. I’ve rarely seen American FA’s distribute waters on the ground due to delays; even then it was met with displeasure. 

Update 7/24/19

Follow Up E-mailI received an e-mail a week after I completed my travel from Delta. The e-mail was a nice touch. The text read:

Though it was unexpected, we’d like to thank you for flying with us this week and hope you had a great experience. We know your time is valuable, and we hope our team assisted you with a smooth transition that minimized down time on the way to your destination.

If you have any other questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

It was a pleasure to serve you, and we hope to see you on board again soon.

Sincerely,

The Delta Team