Delta Air Lines: A Little Bit Better At Just About Everything

Filed Under: Delta, Travel

When it comes to the “big three” US airlines, generally Delta is regarded as being the best. It’s not like they’re that much better than the competition, but they generally lead when it comes to profitability, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, etc.

Simply put, Delta gets it… mostly. Delta’s management strikes a good balance between understanding what customers value and are willing to pay for, and at the same time realizing things that are nice to have, but that don’t make money.

In this post I want to talk about how Delta has built a culture of differentiating themselves when it comes to service. As someone who nowadays flies American, Delta, and United with a fair bit of frequency domestically (I try to fly whichever airline has the best schedule), I think Delta offers the best experience. So what really sets Delta apart?

It’s the little things that make Delta better

While I think Delta is better than American and United domestically, the difference isn’t that obvious or huge. In other words, it’s not like this is a domestic Delta first class flight:

While this is a domestic American/United first class flight:

Rather, what makes flying Delta domestically better is that they’re consistently slightly better in just about every way, and that really adds up.

Sure, we could talk about how Delta has TVs at every seat on most of their planes, or how they have high speed Wi-Fi throughout most of their fleet, or how their interiors are well maintained, or how they have pillows and blankets in first class, or how they have a bottle of water at every first class seat during boarding.

But to me none of those things are really what set Delta apart. Rather what makes flying Delta so pleasant is the people:

  • Delta employees consistently seem aligned with Delta’s mission
  • Delta employees genuinely seem thankful for their customers, rather than the militant tone you’ll find at other airlines, where passengers are sometimes treated as an inconvenience

Now of course no airline is 100% consistent. American and United have some great employees. Delta has some bad employees. But the difference is that in my opinion Delta has a culture of excellence, while American and United don’t.

In other words, when an employee at Delta does a great job, it’s because they’re aligned with Delta’s mission and are a team player. When an employee at American or United does a good job, it’s because, well, they just decide they want to do a good job.

The “average” Delta experience

I flew Delta a couple of nights ago from New York to Tampa in first class (first class was $100 more than economy, which seemed reasonable), and this flight acted as a good example of Delta’s strengths.

Don’t get me wrong, nothing crazy-awesome happened, but rather this just illustrated how the “average” Delta flight is great:

  • When I arrived at the SkyClub I was thanked for my business (even though I don’t have status with Delta anymore), and when I left I was thanked for visiting
  • When I got to the gate, the gate agent announced a delay in boarding because the crew was late coming from another flight; she explained when they were arriving, where they were coming from, and when we’d likely be boarding, and said “if you have any concerns, please see me at the podium”
  • The boarding process was incredibly efficient, and despite starting boarding 20 minutes late, the door still closed five minutes early, and you could see how the crew worked together to make that happen
  • The flight attendant apologized profusely for not being able to serve pre-departure drinks due to the delay and the desire for an on-time departure
  • The flight attendant addressed everyone by name, and provided a detailed description of the meal options
  • After the meal she asked each passenger if they enjoyed their dinner, and repeatedly checked to see if anyone wanted anything else
  • On descent the flight attendant came around to each passenger to thank them for their business

Individually none of this things is noteworthy. Individually each of the above has happened to me on American and United. What’s special is that this is how Delta consistently does things. When I fly Delta I feel appreciated and respected every step of the journey (well, except when I look at my SkyMiles account). 😉

It’s also worth pointing out that none of the above sounded scripted at any point, but rather come across sincere. It’s not like phoning up a credit card company, where they start the call by asking “with whom do I have the pleasure of speaking today?”

On Delta you feel welcomed, which unfortunately isn’t a feeling I usually have at American and United.

Rather I feel like the latter basically bark commands at passengers and focus on the negatives rather than the positives. They tell you everything you can’t do, and treat you like you’re a moron. 

For example, prior to a recent United flight, the gate agent started every single announcement with “once again,” even if it wasn’t something she had said before. To me that basically says “hey idiots, listen up, since I have to repeat myself.” It sets such a negative tone.

Bottom line

In my opinion Delta gets enough little things right that flying with them is actually significantly different than flying with American or United.

Taking everything else out of the equation, and it boils down to Delta employees getting it. They realize they’re there to take care of customers, they’re able to deliver service that’s both genuine and consistent, and when things don’t go right, they’re great at keeping passengers updated.

  1. The DL app also sends a push notification when boarding actually starts, so you can sit in the sky club and not have to hover at the gate at boarding time.

  2. I found it shocking when I realised the experience flying on delta with no status is still better than the experience I consistently had flying AA as top tier.

    I am curious if some airlines will survive another 2008. If I would ever have to build up status from scratch after a period of no or little travel, I would probably rethink my choices and preferences. AA and a few others wouldn’t be making the cut again…

  3. Delta does have the worst hard product of a full service us carrier though. The lease legroom in both first and economy, as well as in their economy+ nonsense. For me, having my rear end not be in pain after a 5 hour flight is important, but with Delta’s modern looking but awfully padded slimline seats, getting comfy in economy isn’t possible. Not to say that Delta’s a bad airline, but their hard product in general is garbage compared to other airlines.

  4. I’m biased since they’re my “hometown airline”, but I agree 100% with what you said. Delta’s culture is just different. I remember having a bunch of conversations with a long-time Delta flight attendant during the merger with NWA. Her sisters were both flight attendants with NWA. The attitudes they had about the merger and about management in general could not have been more different.

    Delta employees feel like they are an important part of the entire Delta team. They feel like they are trusted by management and are empowered to do their jobs and to make the experience better for customers. In turn, they are oriented toward success and positivity.

    The NWA side of her family didn’t trust management one bit and their behavior on the job reflected it. They tended to be more defensive about everything. They are oriented toward failure avoidance.

    The cultural difference at Delta goes back decades. My mom was a stewardess at a small regional airline in the late 60s. She knew Delta was different back then. And that cultural difference is why Delta is not unionized except for the pilots.

  5. Funny how tiny junk greeting gestures here and there make one pick an airline while ignoring gaping holes in their network, esp in long haul space.

    And can we stop pretending DL’s so called BOM route will still happen, given that 9W has finally reached the same fate as Nine West ?

  6. Yup. Really thinking of jumping ship at some point as an AA Executive Platinum. And all the Skypesos comments will become moot soon enough, once United and American are done copying Delta’s lack of an award chart and non-transparent award pricing. Very short-sighted move by the two of them, because it’s the only area of differentiation where they win right now. Can’t wait to see it blow up in their faces.

  7. @ henry LAX — A culture of treating passengers with respect isn’t a “tiny junk greeting.” And I’ve been calling Delta out regarding the BOM flight since day one.

  8. Surprised it took HenryLAX all of 10 minutes to rush to the defense of UA (unnamed) by bashing DL.

    It’s patently obvious at this point as to his motivation…

  9. @ Zortan — I’m not sure I agree with that. I will say that I don’t think Delta has a superior hard product, but I don’t think it’s worse either. I do dislike Delta’s international 767s, given that the business class hard product isn’t good, and they have a lot of the planes in their fleet.

    However, domestically I think the economy legroom and comfort is fairly comparable among airlines. And while they have less pitch in first class, the seat padding is much better than American’s new “Oasis” planes, where the first class seats are downright hard.

  10. I love Delta, for the reasons you cite. In fairness, it’s basic stuff that AA and UA should do, but as long as they don’t, DL gets extra credit. I fly DL as much as I can, but I recently had to fly UA to AUS due to a schedule thing, and it was miserable. The FAs seemed actively annoyed to have to work.

    One thing you didn’t mention is how helpful the folks on the Medallion help lines usually are. In my experience as a Diamond and Platinum, they usually make the fees go away and get changes done fast.

    DL for me as much as I can.

  11. So , I guess you regret flying SBA-DFW-DTW on AA instead of renting a one-way and flying LAX-DTW on DL?

  12. @ anon — I mean, obviously if I knew my flight would have been canceled I would have driven to LA, but to be honest I hate renting cars and driving, so I’ll still usually try to choose the best option out of the airport I’m trying to fly out of. Renting a car and driving to LAX (an airport that can be a mess) is something I try to avoid when possible.

  13. Hi Ben
    Just one question in general and not related to this post: how ist your Carbon Footprint sind do you offset it?

  14. The $100 more first class fare is another point I feel like DL differentiates. Don’t fly DL often (IAH problems), but when we’ve had the opportunity first class fares are reasonable. Feels like when I’ve looked other airlines are double or more, vs the modest premium (although monetizing these seats could be a downside for elites).

  15. @ Ethan — Yep, they’re smart. They do a better job of pricing their cabins and selling premium seats.

  16. I am sure it’s much better to be an employee working an airplane where people are watching TVs than one where there are no TVs and people therefore are bored and irritable; that does reflect in the quality of the service. Little things DO make a difference.

    What doesn’t make much of a difference, however, is the quality of the frequent flyer program — as Delta’s profitability has shown, it’s best for them to spend dollars on TVs and water bottles than on providing better redemption values (i.e. lower the amount of SkyPesos needed to buy a flight)

  17. I reached lifetime AA Gold 15 years ago and then moved to a NWA hub. Delta acquired NWA and the rest is history. I could not be happier that I live on a Delta hub. I fly a lot for business and I echo every piece of your post above. From the time I had no status to now that I am Delta 360 they treat everyone the same. Yes, you get nice perks as 360 but they still treat everyone with respect. As someone mentioned above when you reach Diamond or 360 Delta goes above and beyond to make your life much easier. I am thanked by every employee for being a loyal customer and many times when flying Delta One internationally I have a welcome card handwritten by the purse welcoming on board. The other day I booked a flight and did not realize my assistant had booked already and thus I was double booked on the same itinerary but in different flights. I called Delta and they immediately took care of it and waived any charges for cancelling the ticket. Again, Delta is way ahead of AA and UA.

  18. I agree with everything mentioned. I just wish they were part of an alliance other than SkyTeam.

  19. When I was a kid in the 90s, I still remember flying Delta to Orlando and being introduced to Dusty the Delta Air Lion! Anyone here remember the mascot aimed towards kids? I really wish Delta would bring Dusty back. I absolutely loved the pawberry punch onboard and loved getting those quarterly magazines in the mail!!! Now as an adult in my early 30s based in NYC, I definitely fly Delta whenever I can.
    The overall Delta experience is simply better than UA and AA.

  20. Thanks for noticing, Lucky!

    It truly is getting the “small stuff” right (and consistent!) that makes all the difference. All of us have those “fire brands” we go to because of the consistently good product. I try to emphasize this with my team frequently and I’m glad to see that lots of folks you’re encountering at DL “get it”. Still lots of room for improvement but we’re hungry for it… it’s in the company’s DNA!

  21. I like Delta, but living in Washington DC they pretty much only fly to their hubs, with a few exceptions. With that in mind, Delta is never truly an option, as I will always fly nonstop if I have an option, and AA and UA always have nonstops to where I need to go. While I agree that it’s nicer, I’m not going to add 2-3 hours to a journey I could do in an hour and a half and have to transit in Detroit or Atlanta. just not going to happen.

  22. @Joey – I remember Dusty. I remember Pawberry Punch. I grew up with Delta in Louisville, KY, and I tried to only fly it. Shame I live in a place nowadays where Delta is never a good option for where I need to go.

  23. “When I fly Delta I feel appreciated and respected every step of the journey (well, except when I look at my SkyMiles account). ”

    Thats a pretty big caveat. Since everyone perceives Delta as superior they can get away with a crappy program, but this gives a big opportunity for competitors to differentiate themselves. Alaska still offers a premium loyalty program and Jetblue is at least more transparent about its fixed mileage pricing (making it easier to use for the modal customer), but AA & United are both completely ignoring the opportunity to build loyalty and differentiate from DL.

    If you’re not going to have the best experience, why do UA/AA management want me to fly their airlines when the schedule is comparable?

  24. @ Evan — Totally agree. I think what it comes down to is that American and United management simply aren’t realistic about the product they offer. They think they can match Delta, but they can’t.

  25. I relocated last year from the west coast to the east coast and thus switched most of my flying to DL.

    I am a Silver on DL and a 1K on United, and I prefer the DL experience hands down.

    Let’s go down the list….consistently friendly FAs/employees, better lounges, better food (both on the plane and in the lounges), better wine, better reliability, significantly better and more reliable wifi, better/actually existent IFE, virtually no crowding at the gate for boarding (something any UA flyer would tell you is unheard of), and based on my travel needs, a much better domestic network.

    The only area where I prefer UA to DL is the Polaris lounge. But, DL’s partnership with Virgin Atlantic and access to the Clubhouse is also very nice.

    The reason why Delta is so successful is they’ve actually made the effort to offer something more appealing and modern than “but look at our flight network.”

  26. Of course, the Delta experience is far better than AA, we all know that, but I cannot get around paying 325K miles for a One Way Business Class trip to Europe. This is the ONLY reason I remain in AA’s puddle of misery.

    Now if and when AA adopts, as is increasingly rumored, Delta’s “Dynamic Award Pricing” (and they will, they seem utterly unable not to copycat Delta with autistic delay), it will be “Good Bye Douggie” in less time than it takes to say it, most likely me and many many others. I hope that Delta is getting ready for a rapid influx of millions of new clients.

  27. I’m fortunate my job pays for me to fly first and I live in a non-hub city. This led me to truly spend time deciding where to give my substantial business.

    I fly them all and have status on them all. Delta was the winner. I fly Delta connecting sometimes over non-stops. Because I know I will make the connection and if I don’t they will take care of me and I will be on time. Plus, and I can’t overstate this, Delta’s regional carrier network is more reliable than the others.

    Totally agree the miles aren’t as valuable. Ben has helped me learn how to use credit cards so I can use miles more efficiently when I go on vacation.

    But for what you need every day, I can tell you from real experience Delta is the winner. And this comes from a United million miler and a current AA platinum.

  28. I agree but the biggest issue for me is the $600 to cancel or change 3 award tickets (or just lose the points which I may choose to do) when Southwest is $0 and American is $200. Since I like to book way in advance and change my mind this becomes a huge obstacle. Also 3 flights are typically 120k-150k points with Delta vs. 60k-120k with American and 30k-90k with Southwest on the same route. Basically since I’m using points for literally every flight, Delta just doesn’t work. If paying with card then totally different story.

  29. After reading this article I cannot help but feel that Delta employees, along with JetBlue, really have a sense of pride in working for their company and serving their customers, and it is this same sense of pride that reflects in what they do. I do not see this for many other American airlines except possibly Alaska and Southwest.

    Lucky, where do you think does Delta service (specifically crew and FAs) stand on a global scale? Is it at least half as good as the legendary service of Singapore Airlines? Or Japan Airlines? Or even Jet Airways (their employees continue to unanimously agree that their cabin crew was among the kindest in Asia well after the airline was grounded)? 😉 I am only half-joking here, since Delta seems to be going a long way in trying to shed the United States’ negative reputation of late. And that is always a good thing.

  30. @Jason,
    I live ten minutes from IAD and made the switch from UA to DL about two years ago and to me the extra stop is kind of a nice break, but I really just enjoy how calm the B gates are compared to A, C, and D.

    @Lucky, I agree with your assessment 100%. I love that they value paying premium customers, but don’t bang you over the head for it domestically.

  31. Like you say, these are little things. The big thing that kills Delta for me is the location of its hubs, none of which make any sense for where I live and whee I travel to.

    Atlanta, Detroit and Salt Lake are not cities I ver need or want to got to. Sure, there is a hub in New York but that is true of every airlines. Seattle isn’t too bad but again, out of my way if I am going to Europe or Asia.

    I mostly find myself connecting at SFO, LAX or ORD and delat isn’t much in any of those locations, escept maybe LA but AA and UA are better if you live in California anyway

  32. @Pierre: With Delta it is all about right place at the right time. I grabbed 4 Delta One tickets for my family round trip non-stop US-Europe-US all on the same flights for 128k mikes each at the peak of this summer. Thus, although most of the times their award prices are ridiculous you can find great offers.

  33. When AA goes to dynamic pricing on awards, I’m moving to Delta. DCA is my home airport, and I really don’t see a difference between hubbing in SLC v PHX. AA needs learn from the show that Bonvoy was/is. AA currently have a competitive advantage with its awards program – blow that up and high spenders will migrate. Guaranteed.

  34. To be honest, I believe your First Class photo for AA above is incorrect. That looks like economy seating, not First. I say that because I’ve been on the medium and small planes when flying on the East coast. Even the small planes have a First Class section, with a comfy 2 x 1 configuration. While the Economy and Plus have 2 x 2. The medium planes for First have the 2 x 2 configurations, while the Economy and Plus had 3 x 3.
    Also, I have never seen Delta First Class look like the above photo. Unless you’re getting some brand new fancy plane. All of the Delta First Class seats are similar to AA and United, with the larger seating and 2 x 2 or 2 x 1 for the domestic flights I’ve been on. The above photo looks like something you’d see internationally or on a private jet.

  35. Admittedly a mid-tier Gold Medallion flying out of ATL doesn’t have much choice. DL does a serviceable job generally but their FF program is just so pathetic that I personally can’t justify the “premium” that an individual has to “pay” to fly DL.

    Flying out of ATL as a mid-tier elite means upgrades are virtually non-existent so the main benefit I see any value in at all is the same day confirmed / stand by and they have mostly gutted the confirmed option by requiring the same class be available. More importantly, however when all award redemptions cost significantly more, I just can’t justify taking a haircut on the value I’m receiving. Put a number on it, I’ll say 50% is about right (I’m more domestic economy than aspirational international first).

    Is it really worth taking 50% less in redemption value?

    I don’t think so and am trying to diversify wherever I can (credit cards, leisure trips, even taking an occasional connecting flight on a competing airline). That said, I agree that UA is blowing any chance at differentiation by copying DL with no chart. I took a UA connecting flight (over a DL direct) recently in part due to the Mile Play promo but that may change.

    Still I’m much happier with a recent 64K UA redemption for New Zealand/Australia and a just booked 15.5K Avios on AA (due to Chase UR transfer bonus) redemption for transcon ATL-LAX versus my most recent SkyPesos award: 29K ATL-LAS…

  36. facts speak for themselves : if truly premium customers actually fly DL, they wouldn’t be so utterly failing at flying to one of the Top 3 investment banking centers in the world …..

    from ANY. SINGLE . HUB ……

    and has to resort to using KE JV. Kirby’s estimation about DL NYC being 4% margin might have some error built into his guesstimate, but he didn’t pull that completely out of his ass and publicly state it without some basis in reality.

    4% margin in yet another Top 3 i-bank locales in the world. That tells you a lot how much mileage you can get from “friendly gestures” and “sense of pride”.

  37. @ henry LAX – at the risk of putting my foot in my mouth, the Nine West brand is still around, FWIW. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but your post was weighing on my sole. Hope I don’t come across as a heel, and if this comment falls flat I apologize.

  38. @Drank Sinatra –
    I live in DC – in the city. I mostly fly to Louisville, San Francisco, Nantucket, Boston, and Europe. And occasionally LAX. DCA is by far my go to airport for most domestic travel, but I’ll do IAD for long haul travel. Delta just isnt a good option for any of that, given that AA has 3-4 well-timed nonstops to Louisville from DCA a day, United has a ton of nonstops from IAD and a well-timed option from DCA to SFO, JetBlue and American fly nonstop to Nantucket during the season, JetBlue and AA offer hourly nonstops to Boston from DCA (though Delta is starting on that route later this year), and UA and partners have nonstops to basicallly everywhere I need to go in Europe. I like Delta, but for my travel needs, they never are compelling and normally price out much higher than any of the alternatives.

  39. Also, @Drank Sinatra – ATL is far from calm. I use to go through there all the time and never think much of it… .and then I connected through there a few years ago and nearly had a panic attack. the concourses were simply heaving with people and it was stressful. Yes, I do way prefer concourse B and part of A at IAD to C/D, but Delta’s hubs can be just as busy/ crazy. I use to live in Detroit and the Delta/Northwest terminal there was an absolute dream. But alas, no longer.
    Keep in mind, I dont love my options – AA/UA are things I have to deal with and dont love, but they just fit my needs better. also, as some pointed out, the skypesos issue. I’m planning a trip to Southeast Asia next year. Delta wants 405,000 miles for a one way trip back from BKK to DC in business. I can get a TON of options on United for 90,000 miles in business. This is on partner airlines and for now they say they arent changing the redemption. We will see. But with differences that stark, Delta is just not realistic.

  40. Yep, I am with /henry and Jason – Delta just doesn’t work well unless you live in one of their hubs.

  41. @ henry LAX — Let me make sure I understand this. Delta is a big failure because they don’t fly to Hong Kong? That’s all you’ve got? Hmmm…

    So I’m curious, since Delta is soooo low margin and doesn’t fly to i-bank capitals, how are they outperforming United? How did Delta make $5.1 billion last year, while United made $2.7 billion? Would love your insights!

  42. I don’t fly first or business class, but these are reasons why Delta is my second favorite airline behind JetBlue.

    I seriously will never fly United again after the way I have been treated by them in the past.

  43. Based on these comments and other sentiments, Delta has ZERO incentive to improve the worth of SkyPesos.

  44. I don’t think it’s fair at all to put United in with American on this. Consistently United is doing better than AA. While not to the level of Delta, United has made significant improvements imo over the last 5 years.
    Unfortunately (or maybe thankfully because I actually care about status treatment) I don’t fly Delta cause I’m out west, but I do fly AA and United often and there is a difference.

  45. Something else I left out, it’s nice to have my miles post after I land vs 2 days after.

    The Amex partnership and “Pay with Miles” is also fantastic.

  46. @ Scott — No doubt United has been improving when it comes to a lot of operational metrics, though personally I can’t say I’ve had great experience with service on United, both on the ground and in the air. The exception is the service in Polaris Lounges.

  47. One other positive to add is DL’s on-time performance. I live in an AA hub, but will still consistently fly DL where it’s practical — I’m generally comfortable booking tighter connections because I’m confident that I will make then. Granted, I’m fortunate to often be able to connect in DTW, which is far less chaotic than ATL, but I’ve only been burned once on a missed DL connection (afternoon flight in the summer, so not entirely surprising).

  48. @Ben/Lucky – Delta does as well as they do because they essentially have 3 monopoly hubs where they charge VERY high fares to a captive local population that doesnt have much of a better choice (ATL/DTW/MSP). Yes, they offer reasonable fares from NYC but that’s because there’s a lot of competition there and they have to do so. Try pricing some itineraries at ATL/DTW/MSP and you’ll see fares that are a TON higher. And the traveling public in those cities basically has no choice but to pay up. Delta also owns the southeast. Same thing – fares are HIGH out of all those small cities for the passengers that must connect in Atlanta. In essence, Delta OWNS their major hubs in a way that no other airline owns their major hubs (tons of competition in Chicago, New York, Denver, Dallas, Chicago) and is able to price accordingly. Because of that, they are able to generate high margins and fares that subsidize their presence in more competitive markets such as NYC and LAX, where they really cant charge as much due to all the competition. It’s no mystery.

  49. I wonder if we could get SkyTeam and *A to swap Delta and United?

    It is the little things though particularly the crew speaking to passengers about their satisfaction with the service that make such a difference and cost nothing to implement.

  50. Living in New York, it’s pretty amazing to see how Delta has outfought American, and to a lesser extent, United, in this market. Seven or eight years ago, people loved flying American from here. Now, it is a laughing stock compared to Delta. Corporate travel planners have had to add Delta en masse because people are demanding the ability to fly Delta for work. The proof is here, in a market where all three majors are present, customers chose Delta.

  51. To me it’s all about award travel as I’m retired so every trip is at my expense. For an early Spring trip to Europe from Atlanta, planned many months in advance, AA had two business class seats for several dates that would work at 57,500 miles each way. Even months after I had mine ticketed, AA had seats at that price while Delta never showed anything available for less than 280,000 miles each way! That seems to always be the case with them. Further, I don’t need a bunch of “little things” to make a difference when I can’t get the big things that I mainly want. The minor inconvenience of having a connection-or two-with AA or UA isn’t much to deal with compared with the uselessness of Delta’s Skymiles award travel.

  52. @lucky : maybe it’s just me, that despite being a daily reader of your blog, and 9W’s death by thousand cuts saga being one of the biggest airline-related events in the last 2 months, there seems to be a rather light emphasis of it from OMAAT’s part (and i’ve noticed other commenters making similar observations).

    I did a search on your channel using either “mumbai” or “BOM” keywords, and the only posts i got where that’s a primary topic of discussion (as opposed to a quick mention in passing here and there) are just 2 :

    5/24/18 : initial announcement
    7/24/18 : prediction about ATL-BOM

    as for 9W saga, i could only locate 2 primary posts using the category function – one towards the very end where death was almost certain, and the other being the obituary itself :

    4/12/19 :
    4/17/19 :

    It almost feel as if there’s a *will*, to put it mildly, to minimize the embarrassment of DL BOM because the feed is essentially lost at the other end.

  53. So Delta is great except for the crappy mileage program, high fares, hubs in all the wrong places and a lack of international destinations?

    Otherwise it is great?

    Is that it?

  54. @Anthony : remind me how 4% margin at NYC is “out fought” competitors other than in some frequencies ? they’re neither #1 in volume nor #1 in margin.

  55. Delta is excellent. I used to send my wife and kids on El Al from TLV to JFK to visit her parents. Over a span 9f approx 13 years spent over $100k on El Al flights and received nothing. El Al points expire fast difficult to accumulate. Switched to Delta about 5 years ago better food, better service and we already almost have free flights.

  56. You’re spot on. After a decade as DFW based Exec Plat, I made the switch at the beginning of the year, flying Delta where possible and lately driving to Love to take Southwest where DL doesn’t have service. Both of those airlines seem to appreciate my business and AA clearly does not. As far as “Skypesos” are concerned, I’ve had no more trouble using them for premium international redemptions than I have AAdvantage miles. Neither one is easy, mind you. Basically AA only opens up space these days on BA with crazy fuel surcharges unless you want to pay the 2x mileage rate.

  57. henry LAX — DL is #1 by a mile in volume at LGA and also #1 at JFK (by a mile over everyone but jetBlue). UA is only slightly ahead if you add in EWR . . . its biggest hub. Compare those numbers to 10-15 years ago and there is no question that DL has grown at the expense of AA and UA.

  58. I am nearing 20 years of being an American Airlines Executive Platinum (and not about to change since I live in DFW). I had the recent pleasure of flying Delta in coach and I can tell you their coach service is better than American first class (I get upgraded ~50% of the times). The flight attendants came 3 times on a 2.5hr flight with water & refreshments, had a smile on their face and did seem genuinely interested in providing superior service. Delta and American are playing in different leagues. American service has become horrible over the past 3 years and they should be compared to low-budget airlines like Spirit (which I am flying on my next trip with a BIG upfront seat at nearly 1/3rd the price of AA flight).

  59. @lucky : instead of mostly gouging short-haul pax from fortress hubs, if the profits actually stem from front cabin because business passengers really appreciate the so-called “friendly gestures”, as many attempt to make such a correlation, you’d think they’d do better at NYC and HKG, you know, places where i-banks actually can afford to shell out for long-haul J without blinking an eye.

    and extension, if they’re confident in their ability to compete, they would’ve chosen JFK-BOM instead of twisting themselves into knots trying to create fantasy unicorn on rainbow scenarios to get the numbers to work out of ATL-BOM. Even for a loyal DL pax out of NYC needing to fly NYC-BOM, connections via CDG is far shorter distance than via ATL.

    ignore competition for a second – if your own JV is so great at self-cannibalizing the P&L prospects of a ULH flight, maybe peole can finally come to the realization that their systemwide margin is utterly irrelevant to their margin at places where actual competition exists.

  60. @Storm : they grew largely at the expense of just AA.

    per data on recent threads

    DL is 47.5% weighted avg mainline across LGA+JFK versus UA 55.1% at EWR alone, by departures, further dispelling the notion that DL is so mainline heavy at places where actual competition exists while UA is just a bunch of 50-seater ERJs.

    if profit margin is synonymous with great customer experience then i guess we should all be learning from Ryanair, who, after all, delivers far greater margins than even DL can fathom.

  61. @lucky : when i was under category=India and searched keywords of either mumbai or BOM, as 2 separate searches, that post didn’t show up.

  62. Lucky, ignore the doubters. I agree with you that I generally feel better cared for on DL than on UA or AA. All airlines have good crews and bad crews, but on DL, I feel on average just a little bit more appreciated as a customer.

    The foregoing does not take into account the frequent flier program. In truth, DL’s program has managed to get me nonstop awards at reasonable prices (e.g. DXB-CDG) that UA’s program and AA’s program (and even AS’s program) could not. But for the domestic flying experience, DL is just generally better than UA and AA.

  63. I’m not a fan of United but that picture of AA/United domestic first class is a complete lie. I know Spirit Airlines seating that doesn’t recline when I see it.

  64. Delta and Southwest ensure their employees are aligned with their mission, which is to focus on customer experience. And they are among the most profitable airlines. Important lessons for Scott Kirby and Doug Parker.

    @Cool Breeze: are those “AA” business seats on AA airplanes, or on British Airways? Seems like AA pushes most Europe awards to BA with their ridiculous surcharges.

  65. @ Kevin C — You might want to read the post again. I was saying that the difference *isn’t* like that.

  66. I’ve developed a certain loyalty to Delta in recent years because they seem to have a good culture of problem-solving both proactively and after the fact. Love the ability to rebook simple flight situations right from the app when I’m looking at an IRROPS misconnect and the willingness of GAs to do back up bookings when a more complex ticket is looking like an iffy connection. And how they incentivize quick bags to carousel. Employee profit sharing is big there and I’d bet ramp workers are reminded that the ‘20 minutes or 2500 miles’ domestic bag guarantee does create an accounting liability, though likely very small, come bonus time.

    As for the Skypeso, I’m a quantity rather than quality redeemer and actually have decent luck with C+ award tickets at reasonable prices since I typically have date flexibility. (Oddly better than AA or United out of my small home airport) And there are plenty of additional ways to pick up Flying Blue miles and some other partners airlines and cherry pick redemptions to my advantage

  67. Everything you said is true, but I still do not fly Delta regularly because of their God-awful SkyMiles program. It’s for this single reason I remain loyal to AA. When AA makes the inevitable decision to go to dynamic award pricing then that’s when we will part company.

    I’m EXP with AA and as such they have treated me well over the years. But for me I value predictable award redemption levels over upgrades. If I’m going to get screwed by a frequent flyer program then it might as well be with a carrier that will get me to my destination reliably and more or less on time, with my luggage and a smile.

  68. Mumbai feed – low demand on this blog for people caring about it.

    HenryLAX also apparently doesn’t understand the concept of the “network effect”…sometimes you accept lower margins in one sector/area (aka NYC) to buoy your operations elsewhere. Which clearly has worked well for DL.

    As a counter-case, look at Kirby now bemoaning UA pulling out of JFK. Lower margins there vs. EWR, let’s just pull out! Bye bye added corporate pull. But you are a faux-influencer for UA so I guess you won’t acknowledge that nor any other UA flaws.

  69. I’ve flown four domestic trips and four international trips in F and J with DL in the past year and I haven’t noticed a big difference between them and AA, except for perhaps the food in F being better on DL.

  70. Delta’s southern roots, lack of militant unions and effective use of profit sharing have combined to make it a better experience.

    And, I would suggest that while their SkyMiles program may not be the best, they are leading the way in the industry to roll down and de-emphasize these programs, which is great for shareholders and employees. Carriers should not give away product if they don’t have to, and I would argue they don’t because you are going to fly them anyway. Yes you can switch to UA, AA or WN, or even Jet Blue, but at some point you are going to have to fly one of the big three to get where you are going. Oligopoly

  71. I can tell you that I would *absolutely* take my DL domestic first flight attendant over either of the long-haul AA “flagship” business FAs I recently flew with, if given a choice. So much more personable and pleasant.

    @henryLAX – What make you think DL could profitably fly to HKG? We see fare sales in the $400s routinely. With CX, SQ, AA and Hong Kong Airlines (code escapes me) filling that market, there is really no need for them to enter.

    Just leave the best U.S. airline alone about flying to HKG and let them keep profitably flying to Joburg.

  72. For me, it boils down to a tradeoff between the regular, day-in-day-out flying experience or the incremental quality of the FF program. I fly often, usually taking shorter routes. My FF redemptions are not as frequent as I would like. I have moved my spend strategy to acquire flexible currencies rather than SkyMiles and then I use them for the best value/experience.

    Delta is the best experience for my daily business travel experience, keeping me sane while handling the daily grind.

  73. Completely agree Lucky. My last DL flight from JFK to ATL was almost the same exact situation as what you had. The crews were professional, informative, courteous, and thankful for our understanding of the delay.

    I also have to say, on that flight I was on a 25+ year old 757, yet it felt newer and much more modern on the inside than any recent AA or UA flight I’ve taken, and one of those was on a brand new MAX-8!

    Like you said, it’s not that they are that much better individually, but their consistency and overall polish definitely reflects a much more peaceful and aligned corporate culture. I’ve not had any DL flight regrets yet, and gladly give them my money.

  74. Perhaps it’s the 10% profit sharing check Delta employees enjoy. American’s profit sharing payout this year was a measly 1.53%. Does this explain anything? Money talks, Delta employees feel included in the company’s goals and empowered to be part of the solution. American’s don’t. I can’t speak as to how United’s employees feel as I am married to an American one. Since the merger the Moral at American has gone way down.

  75. @Lucky

    Haters gonna hate hate hate.

    What you should do is write about how Skymiles really sucks. I suggest do a show down for 5-10 routes dom/int from last minute to a year out, compare AA DL UA.

  76. I usually fly on American Airlines, because I live near one of their hubs and am an Admirals Club member. I have been battling cancer for the past 2 1/2 years and American took away my status and did not allow me to put my Admirals Club membership on hold. They have all this publicity during October for Breast cancer awareness but they don’t support the people actually battling cancer. I will do some research and maybe make the jump to Delta.

  77. I think you hit the nail on the head. I would add that operationally DL always seems better put-together, and I think that just bubbles up to the front line staff. UA and AA always seem more like — to use Tiffany’s term — an operational goat rodeo.

  78. I flew from Paris,France to the US with Delta,American Airlines, and United Airlines.
    Delta is for me the best American carrier because everything ran smoothly whereas with the 2 others there were a number o customers’ dissatisfaction sources.
    With Delta the service is “personalized”,the staff will make an effort to make you happy and most importantly they have personal TVs and edible food served on board.
    Could you imagine flying with a family from Paris to New York with AA or from Paris to San Fransisco with UA without watching a film unless you wish to kill your smartphone battery or having tasteless food ? Boring.
    So finally i prefer to use Delta or Air France .

  79. I agree generally but while the staff are great and genuine, the product is good, and their phone support for top tier is the best out there, they are seriously let down:

    – Compared to international airlines and on a par with say, Southwest (of course, you could argue that they don’t care about that as their competition is primarily US-based airlines).

    – Skypesos – it’s ridiculous that I can earn thousands of miles but never really know how much it will cost to redeem them… and that they appear in a state of almost constant devaluation

    – Phone support below Platinum sucks – I almost missed a flight from Europe because the global upgrade hadn’t been correctly processed on my KLM flight and, as it was 2am ET, I was told my wait time for a call back was over 30 minutes! On average, it’s at least 15 mins to speak with someone

    – Global upgrades
    – To Asia (and particularly Tokyo) is worse than roulette and it’s hugely frustrating to be awarded something you can’t reasonably use. Taking the Tokyo example, last year there was never any availability on any route in a 3 week window in Feb/Mar (except thru HNL and who wants to do that!) even when trying weekly from the max time in advance; I could always waitlist, but that’s a fool’s errand.
    – It’s actually easier to redeem global upgrades on partner airlines which is nuts (if only they had such partners to Asia!). As example, going to Europe recently, and being flexible about where I left from and landed, as all would require me to connect onwards, I could redeem outbound on only one delta flight, yet could also redeem on klm, air france and virgin. Coming back, nothing on delta on any route, but could do klm and air france.

  80. This is NOT an “average” Delta experience:

    – “The flight attendant addressed everyone by name, and provided a detailed description of the meal options”
    – “After the meal she asked each passenger if they enjoyed their dinner …”
    – “On descent the flight attendant came around to each passenger to thank them for their business”

    All three of these things are very rare, especially for a domestic flight. More common internationally in Delta One.

    Everything else you listed is, however, typical and occurs on the “average” Delta flight.

    But regardless, you missed a huge point: While American and United are trying to do better — especially United with Polaris — Delta isn’t. Delta has dramatically reduced its offerings in first-class and business-class by way of meals and amenities. No pajamas, slippers and second pillow in Delta One are rare except on Asia flights, multiple courses served at once even on international Delta One flights, some of the cheapest wine in business-class, no mattress pads, and no dedicated business-class lounges.

    If you ask me Delta’s biggest disadvantage, competitively speaking, is it FAILS to offer a dedicated lounge for its highest class of service. By contrast, American, United and several global airlines all offer a premium lounge.

  81. DL is my top choice for domestic carriers. I now try to avoid UA and to a lesser extent AA as they have devalued their frequent flyer programs.

  82. Delta is a star! I’m New York-based and not until a few years ago has it become my go-to airline.

    American is pathetic, they only have flights with frequency from NY to transcon, London and their hubs. The rest of their NY flights is a joke and their product is beyond inconsistent.

    United is clearly on the rise. They have a ton of frequency from NY and the best service and options to Asia directly. Their product is getting better and has hard working employees.

    Jetblue is also up there, but they have flaws. I love their wifi and they have great service to Florida, Carribean, and transcon, but besides they have little frequency. Also, something frustrating is they have frequent delays.

    Delta is by far my favorite. Plenty of frequency to the top destinations and many flights to Europe. I just wish they flew to Tokyo from NY. They have a nice product and THE BEST service hands down. They are so great because they are RELIABLE and have employees who GENUINELY LIKE THE CUSTOMER! Flying Delta just feels different, in a good day!

    United has finally realized Delta is winning and is now playing catch up!

  83. I only travel about 4-5 times per year and mostly inter-continentally. But two of my most recent journeys involved flying transborder (Canada and Caribbean) first class in Delta and United, respectively. My experience concurs with @Lucky’s assessment. My experience with Delta just seemed altogether better. I noticed the water at my seat on Delta and the better fit and finish of the aircraft and flight attendant’s composure. One issue though is that Delta no longer offers Sky Club access to non-status first class passengers flying to Canada while United and Air Canada do.

  84. @FNT Delta Diamond,the article is comparing American carriers Delta,AA and UA not comparing Delta with other global carriers such as Singapore Airlines or Emirates or Etihad which are la crème de la crème for passengers’experience!

  85. Couldn’t agree more! Of the three legacy carriers, Delta is definitely the most consistently good. Just earlier this week, I flew from SLC to STL and back on Delta. Although nothing in particular stood out, everything was just smooth and service was excellent. It helped that both flights landed 20+ minutes ahead of schedule 🙂

  86. A commenter said Delta has the worst hard product? What are they taking? Even their older planes are nicely refreshed, they have fantastic IFE on most of their planes, solid route selection(fantastic from BOS) and their planes to me are very comfortable. And I’m 6’1 275. I’m the guy people fear having to sit next to. I avoid 737s and 757s like the plague because of how typically tight the 3-3 arrangement is. Even Delta’s 737 and 757 planes are somewhat comfortable to me. I flew to Vegas from Boston thru SLC on a 757 then 737 and the trip was comfortable. The IFE had a big part in that.

    Overall, I can’t agree more with the article. Flying has been dumbed down to basic cattle car service. With Delta, I feel like they have some memory of how flying used to be and they do their best to balance cost/presentation to make you feel that.

    There is no doubt we aren’t living in the late 90s anymore, when first and business class made almost all the airlines money and planes could routinely fly half full on the backs of thriving corporations.

    Delta just plain gets it…

  87. Agree %! My husband and I fly first class and we have a saying: Delta is the only major US airline in which one can get intoxicated and fat!

    That is because they are generous throughout the flight with drinks and snacks! So sad when I have to fly an ‘inferior’ airline.

  88. It’s their awful Skypesos that turn me off. For example, I’m looking to fly IAD-FCO r/t any time in the next 2 weeks. Delta is 155k in _economy_ and 585k-640k in business. United is 140k-310k in business.. so Delta is easily twice as much.

    Of course, I realize a lot of flyers don’t care about miles and spending compared to status. If you travel a lot for work, the last thing you want to do is use your miles to take another flight!

  89. Agree with everything except sky-pesos.

    Unless you are flying enough to get status or are an a really expensive ticket why in the world would you credit to Delta? Virgin Atlantic will give 2X to 4X miles on Business class and get you a one way Business Class to Europe (x-UK) for 50K miles. It will also get you Trans Cont Business Class for 22.5K/Economy 12.5K.

    Fly Delta credit someone else.

  90. Those familiar with my many reader’s comments posts here on OMAAT, at its sister blogs, or elsewhere where airline/travel topics and/or avgeeks congregate have long known my commentary and analysis that says there’s nominal difference among the top few remaining airlines after the orgy of mergers that began with Delta’s acquisition of Northwest in 2008, United’s acquisition of Continental in 2010, Southwest’s acquisition of AirTran in 2010, US Airways acquisition of American during its bankruptcy in 2013, and finally Alaska Airlines’ acquisition of Virgin America in 2016 (dates are for when mergers were announced, with full integration of carriers’ reservations, airline codes and operating certificates, etc., completed at later dates) resulted in a toxic, overly concentrated industry bearing many of the classic predatory behaviors and pricing models one expects to see in industries suffocating under the albatross that are cartels and oligopolies – as most readers’ comments, or those of the blogger/industry expert, Lucky, that the big 3 remaining legacy network carriers are nominally indistinguishable from each other, with Delta enjoying a slightly better perception and reputation versus its peers, American or United – or something I long ago described as they all suck, with Delta just better at “sucking less” than the others.

    In fact, I’ve been saying this for so many year and have repeated it so many times that I’d be remiss if I failed to take this opportunity to gloat and say “see, ‘told ‘ya – glad you’re seeing it now, too!

    Better late than never…hehehe!!! ;

    But, truth is my experiences are that Delta’s incremental difference is more than enough in an era when the limbo bar can only go so much lower than it has in this era of government sanctioned airline industry cartel and oligopoly that allows it to stand-out from the rest of our lackluster airlines that have become taken over by managers whose only interest is in lining their own pockets and fast tracking fares paid by passengers into obscenely large, annual multi-billion dollar share buybacks that only benefit the exceptionally few whom already are among the most affluent, privileged and advantaged among us while virtually everyone else is deemed as unworthy of even the slightest decency and respect as planes became sadistic, flying torture chambers where the vast majority of passengers’ needs and comfort were eliminated to better facilitate ginormous stock buybacks and little else with each passing year.

    As I’ve long said (or “ranted” endlessly for years as some say 😉 hehehe ), Delta has just figured out the secret sauce at being the best at degrading the flying experience for most of us – and getting away with it.

    Most of us pretty much agree that Delta’s domestic narrow-bodies are every bit as overcrowded after the successive rounds of densification that has seen standard economy seats row pitch reduced from 31”-32” to 30” and extra legroom rows shrinking to 33”-34” pitch from the 35”-36” pitch when efforts to intentionally degrade aircraft cabins to create additional revenue streams began in earnest as the industry continued to kill of any semblance of meaningful competition one-by-one in the decade or so since Delta got the “let’s all race together” sweepstakes towards the sweet lucre we’ll all have after we create our oligopoly underway!

    But, however little those “little things” are that Delta does that makes them better than their lazier legacy peers, be they a more responsive reservations department; a usually very prompt reply to Twitter DMs to inquires made there; usually friendlier front-line employees; the full-embrace of seatback IFE for most of its mainline fleet; basic economy fares that were slightly less draconian by allowing use of the overhead bins if still available instead of a total prohibition of carry-on bags; a more empathic and responsive special needs/reduced mobility passengers department; the elimination of additional fees to purchase tickets via live call center agents; more thoughtful gate announcements; or my personal favorite recently, a hand-written “thank you” note received on a flight earlier this month after trips to South Africa and Asia in Premium Economy pushed us over the thresholds required to qualify for the lowest status (Silver) in Delta’s SkyMiles frequent flyer program – those things taken together do add up to enough of an overall improvement to make Delta by far the #1 default carrier of choice in our home – or for the wider universe of bookings I often do for family and close friends that over the past 15 months easily eclipsed $30k overall for Delta and its closest joint venture code-share partners such as Virgin Atlantic, Air France-KLM and Korean Airlines versus the under $5k total for other airlines booked.

    And I was reminded of just how significant the difference between Delta and American is recently when my sister turned to me for assistance rebooking my teenage nephew away from a flight aboard a Boeing 737-8 MAX days after the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines 737-8 MAX where apart from an agent contacted by telephone using the number listed for AA’s now closed city ticket office in midtown Manhattan who was at least human when explaining she could NOT waive change fees and penalties to change his flight another flight on an Airbus A319 for a flight scheduled on the same day, but at the time called was before the 737 MAX was grounded, my experience with everyone else at American be it via Twitter DM or contacting agents at the regular call center telephone number was every bit as horrible as a past experience in April 2014 at JFK Airport was, which was so unpleasant that afterwards we simply stopped bothering to even include American in any of our flights/fares searches when planning travel.

    So, yeah, the loos aboard Delta’s mainline narrow-bodies (was except perhaps its new Airbus A220s) are every bit as ridiculously small as those found on AA, United and others; and yep, Delta’s narrow-bodies have the same horrible butt numbing, no legroom slime-line (er slimline…hehehe) seats as the rest of the other otherwise mostly abysmal and terrible airlines packed into planes ever bit as uncomfortable and overcrowded, but Delta’s many other little things done do add up when the bar itself has been lowered so far that so many of us are desperate for whatever crumbs Delta tosses us peons that American and United can’t be bothered feigning an attempt to offer!

    Fortunately, the era of sadism and abuse at the hands of our airline overloaded will eventually come to an end just as even the most bitter of winters are followed by the warmth and beauty of spring once it arrives as the current era of unrepentant greed, spectacular arrogance and unabashed extreme selfishness falls out of fashion as it surely will, and so too will flyers and government regulators tolerance at allowing robber barons to rig the system so disproportionately and unfairly in their favor be it by stepped up regulatory actions and/or taking other actions that better allows for new entrants to inject desperately needed competition back into an industry that knows right now that nothing will be done by the crooks and criminals in power to curtail even the most egregious and flagrant consumer abuses taking place that when taken together perfectly match the abysmal and nominally indistinguishable difference of the top few carriers in the industry’s current cozy cartel who know they can get away with pretty much anything while laughing all the way to the bank!

    But yeah, it sure is nice to see others discovering just how ridiculous things have become in the airline industry of late what with their increasingly alike and unavoidable crappy planes with service that most of us of a certain age remember as being about as horrible as Aeroflot’s reportedly was in the 1970s when the Soviet Union was at the peak of its power and they didn’t even bother to pretend flyers behind the Iron Curtain has “faux choices” like we do now.

    Our airlines mostly suck because there’s an absence of meaningful competition in an over-concentrated industry where just four airlines now control more than 80% of the largest airline market in the world.

    If we want something better, we have to stop drinking the Kool-Aid that says “we’ve asked for” an abusive cartel and that we’re all OK with being abused by that cartel.

    It’s as simple as that.

    Want better? Then we need to disrupt the worsening industry cartel, and instead make COMPETITION great again!

    Just sayin’ 😉

  91. I’m a Delta guy, but fly out of BDL which is a city that Delta treats like a bastard child. Lot’s of old MDs and only during the summer are we given 737s. I realize they can’t fly direct to everywhere from everywhere but some non stops to other than hubs would be nice.
    The Delta employees at BDL are simply the best. They really care; if it’s broken they bend over backward to fix it and that is very much appreciated.

  92. Oh, it’s airline OVERLORDS – not airline “overloaded” as seen in the above!

    Predictive text gremlins just love making mischief whenever they can 😉 hehehe

  93. I agree with Lucky in this article that Delta is the best domestic airline, and it’s the little things they do better in First and Business class. However, I have read his other reviews of Delta, and I can tell you he has a far better experience with domestic Delta 1st and Business than I have EVER had.

    I don’t fly as much as Lucky. I’m not sure anyone does. I don’t have a website this good. Or even a website. But I fly 300k a year, Delta domestic and elsewhere, until I have to fly a partner airline. It is very rare I get the nice service he does. Try going to Hawaii on Delta One. Even on the flights with lay flat seats, the staff are pleasant, but not effusive like Lucky makes it seem.

    And coach? Holy cow. That is some rude F’in stewards there. United and American stewards are nice, but they got a job, you know? That’s their attitude. And their planes and seats are crap, esp American.

    So my even though I agree with Lucky, I haven’t had the wonderful experiences he has.

  94. And it’s “too few”, NOT “too few” airlines/carriers in the above.

    Again, those pesky predictive text gremlins seemed to have their way and I didn’t see it before pressing the “post comment” box.

  95. Ugh! That’s not for “TOP few” – and yes for “too few”

    And me, NOT predictive text gremlins who’s responsible for the screw up in the bungled correction note above!


  96. On a recent flight MSP-HNL (old 767) my in seat entertainment system did not work properly and could not be fixed. I eventually pulled out my iPad and was able to watch movies (though not all the new releases) on Delta Studio. Bonus that the seat had a 110v plug so I had entertainment the whole way. As we neared HNL the flight attendant who worked my aisle came by to apologize that she could not fix my issue and offered to give me Skymiles as compensation (realistically I was expecting 500-1,000), but here is the email I got from Delta:

    “At Delta, we take pride in delivering an exceptional experience, providing reliable
    and thoughtful service at every moment of your travel journey. On your recent trip
    with us, we didn’t live up to that commitment and we want you to know we’re sorry.
    Your satisfaction means everything; it’s why we do what we do. We hope you’ll give
    us an opportunity to make things right.
    Please accept 15,000 SkyMiles, along with our heartfelt apology and commitment to
    be better for you and all Delta customers….”

    Using the “pay with miles” option that’s at least $150 for something pretty minor. I agree with Lucky.

  97. In my experience: Delta is the best airline for non-rev travel if you’re an airline employee. They are awesome for revenue flights. They are really bad for SkyMiles redemptions. Delta is consistently the most expensive, so much that I gave up on SkyMiles a long time ago.

  98. I find myself booked shortly on DL AUS-JFK as DL is the only domestic offering a non-stop on that route and for the time I want.
    Do DL proactively, on check-in, offer upgrades from Comfort+ to F for a more enticing upgrade fee than that routinely thrown up at booking?

  99. Howard Mille, your English Professor would be appalled at your writing skills… “just sayin'” “hehehehe”

  100. I’m not sure who is better; Delta, AA or United but decided to give it a go with Delta! AA was tough as many flights from my home airport did not have many evenly priced routes to choose from.

    I should get to Platinum this year as I don’t think I can get to Diamond since there is a large gap from P to D in MQM’s. I guess I will see how it goes from there. I am just hoping I get one 1st class upgrade next year! I guess 1 per year would be worth it, right? 🙂

  101. All anyone can really say is that it is entirely subjective which of the big three US airlines is the “best”.

    What is not subjective is that they are all crap by foreign standards, so who really cares?

  102. Ben, agree with everything you said. Great that you’re now flying Delta enough to notice the difference.

  103. Over the last 40 years, Delta has consistently has given me the best service especially during weather related irregular operations.

  104. Tried delta on Monday – stl to ATL to mex.

    Stl to ATL:

    – seat had fabric tape covering a big rip. I was shocked
    – operated on time
    – crew was a bit surly

    ATL to MEX:

    – plane was ancient. No inseat power.
    – video worked fine
    – crew was excellent
    – crew was top notch

    Flying AA home today and the flight attendants did the bare minimum like usual.

  105. For those who are attempting to compare any US airline to foreign carriers…

    I have flown several foreign carries which made my skin crawl; horrible service, ridiculously poor reliability, filth beyond the imagination, etc. And I have flown foreign carries which are far superior to those in the US. From my personal observations, the differentiation has been government funded/owned carriers whose ability to stay aloft (pun intended) and provide unrivaled service was significantly dependent on funding sources outside of ticket and ancillary revenues (i.e. their Sugar Daddy Governments). Those carriers which depend on market driven revenues to offset operating costs have to make harder decisions about which products and services they are willing and able to fund, which leads to the point of this article. The “Delta Difference” is what’s making the difference among US Legacy carriers.

  106. I am a DL flight attendant. I love my company. I know I am lucky to work there. We are really trying to be the best.

    This article made tears come to my eyes. We do care about our passengers. And we sincerely care the are happy every flight. We know without are loyal people Delta would not be able to treat us well.

    Then to read all the comments what our passengers wrote made me feel great and “want” to do better.

    Thank you to Mt Schlappig for this article. Thank you to our loyal Delta passengers for making us successful.

    This is from a sincere loyal Delta crew member. #DeltaProud

  107. We booked a direct flight on Delta from Madison, WI to NYC. The flight was delayed due to maintenance (like the other two airlines) and there was a possibility the flight would be cancelled. Other airlines would have done nothing except, perhaps, rebook passengers on a later flight. Delta, paid for a cab ride for all interested passengers to the Milwaukee airport (70 miles away) so we could board a plane there and arrive a few hours later than scheduled. Great service!

  108. @Howard Miller

    Don’t worry about correcting all of your typos. I think 99% of us quit reading after the 218th paragraph. OMG

  109. Ben,

    I couldn’t agree more. The difference is certainly visible to me and I fly all of them almost weekly. Delta is offering a consistent positive experience and crew members who are interested in providing the best service with what they have. Alaska also comes to mind as doing a good job.

  110. Visiting from Australia I’d go for DL every time. More reliable than AA/UA, has more helpful staff , reasonable FC prices and best of all it’s a partner of Virgin Australia so DL flights can earn you miles which are not completely worthless. And VA elites get in to the SkyClubs too.

  111. Delta has the best seats in coach…. other than that, they are my least favorite.
    1. I book expensive last minute tickets and as a Diamond, rarely got a aisle in Comfort Plus and almost never got 1st class. On United, they have large economy plus cabins and aisles are readily available with no convoluted or stupid upgrade process to get one.

    2. International Premium travel on Delta and their partners sucks. I did not care for Delta Suites and thought even UA had better business class food. Call me crazy.. I sleep better on UA old Business Class. I love the solo seats on the 767. SkyClub for DL International Departure lounge is not competitive.

    3. Delta service was pretty damn terrible most the time. I was travelling with a companion and he was next on the list to upgrade. With 5 open seats in 1st at time of departure, no upgrades processed. 4 hour flight, Flight attendant cared but couldn’t do anything other notify gate agent who said they were closing the door. WTF. Ill never forget that. I also struggled to understand how to use their crap SkyMiles. The agents always made up rules.

    4. Catering in domestic 1st cabins on all US carriers is poor, but DL is the worst. Sometimes I am served a ham sandwich with a slice of ham, a slice of cheese and kind of soggy Wonder bread.

    ON time? Nope.. My UA flights are 100% so far this year. I was almost 50/50 on Delta.

    I give Delta a huge nod in Wifi and coach seat comfort. But DL 1st class seats are among the worst with almost no recline and very tight pitch. I do not see what the big hype about this airline is.

  112. Agree pretty much completely with this. The little things matter and Delta gets most of the right most of the time. They’re not perfect, no airline is. But I find Delta to be the best of the domestics, hands down. My last flight on American was in November 2018. We bought first class. It was a series of little AA issues combined with my first ride in an oasis 737. My wife says to me, “can we fly Delta next time?” We did. I offered her a nonstop on AA recently or a connection in ATL on Delta. Answer: Delta. That can be undone, but it’s going to take a lot of improvement by AA, and I just don’t see it happening at the moment.

  113. I fly out of SFO, so the lion share of my trips are with United. However, I have flown both Delta and AA recently so have a pretty good comparison.

    To me, the only thing that I think really differentiates Delta is Delta Studio. Honestly, its much less about setback screens vs BYOD, since United has holders for devices and power outlets. Its really only the ability to watch live tv. That differentiates Delta, but I don’t think its monumental.

    Other than that, there are some advantages for United, including better access to Economy Plus/aisle seating, the Polaris lounge, better hub locations (more major cities) and a better alliance. So, its probably a wash.

    United flight attendants have been friendlier to me on my recent flights and their flights have been generally on time. United once had terrible wifi but on all of my flights this past week, it has improved dramatically.

    I think with United there’s a bad reputation (which was largely deserved) for service that has happened 2+ years ago. Many folks on this board will never fly them again and are biased. But, for most people who’ve flown them recently, they’ll attest to United having caught up and having the trajectory to surpass Delta in the next couple years.

    AA, on the other hand is far behind. I found much more surely flight attendants and delayed flights than I did on either DL or UA. Probably won’t fly them again anytime soon.

  114. I have been an Alaska MVPGold75 for several years now but recently did a Platinum Medallion challenge as I am moving and don’t see Alaska really serving my needs much longer. Most of my flights have been with Korean internationally and Delta domestically since joining SkyMiles, and I have already re-qualified for Platinum Medallion for 2020…and happy that I have. This is in part due to several interactions I have had with Delta’s Medallion customer service team, who went, I feel, WAY above and beyond to help me shift several flights around due to an unfortunate and unexpected illness that hit my mother. Living 9,000 miles away from her, it was already stressful enough trying to book flights at the last minute to get to her, and without a definite idea of when I might head back home to Asia, things just got messy and there was a domino effect. Each time I have called to change things (we are talking about 5 different r/t flights I had planned through July), fees have quickly been waived, as have differences in fares; the folks I have spoken to have been genuinely kind, understanding, and patient with me. In short, they treated me and my situation humanely – something AA, KE, and a few others just did not even try to do when calling them up to ask for help. Granted, the Delta One seat on the 777 I flew from ATL to PVG wasn’t the best and DL catering isn’t winning any awards, but my experience on their domestic, smaller planes have been great in first and premium economy and I am looking forward to flying their A350 in June from ICN to ATL. And, I have found that partner flights credit quickly to my SkyMiles account and code shares are easy to manage, unlike with AA and UA. True, SkyMiles aren’t worth as much as other currencies, but the Medallion program works like they say it will, and the customer service I have received has been the best I’ve had from any company, period. Very happy I made the switch. Now, what to do with all those Mileage Plan miles…

  115. Thank you so much for flying our airline. I am a flight attendant based in NYC. Because you fly with us Delta treats us well. I love my airline. And I am proud of my colleagues and especially the ones that took care of you.

    I know am lucky to fly for my airline and have loyal passengers like you.

    Delta can go more places if we keep loyal passengers. We do care. And we have to continue to keep you coming back.

    I hope we always meet your flying needs.

    And sincerely thank you for your status.

  116. Yesterday Delta announced JFK-BOM year round on 777-200LR beginning December 22, 2019. Tickets don’t appear to be on sale yet, but that is a stake in the ground. Leaves JFK at 9:50 pm. return leaves Mumbai at 12:50 am.

  117. I can understand how one might feel Delta currently is the best of the US airline industry offerings, but I would also suggest that Delta shines not because of excellence, but due to the very poor experience offered by their competitors. In comparison with the vast majority of overseas carriers Delta is far more like United, American, Spirit, et. al. in terms of gate agents, flight attendants, etc. I have seen many lazy, gruff, argumentative, nasty, incompetent, unpolished and haggard-looking Delta staff disgracing a once-proud industry. Further, the fee scheme for flight changes and cancelations etc. (while in line with US competitors) is obscene and really borders on criminal extortion. Delta’s shoddy “customer relations” department is truly a joke, and the robots over there seem capable only of arguing with and/or denying customer requests while using some variation of the corporate dispute resolution lexicon that was drilled into their dense heads. Certainly a sad state of affairs when a C- airline like Delta gets an A because everything else is such crap. Re-regulate the US airline industry!

  118. Hey Lucky,

    How were you able to gain access to the Sky Lounge? I’m traveling SMF-SLC (layover)-JFK next Tuesday in First Class. I was hoping to have access in SLC. I’m booked in Z and I fare. I sent IM on Facebook to Delta. The agent said the following: The ticket you describe does not include SkyClub access. If you carry a Gold or Platinum American Express card through the SkyMiles program, you can have access for $29 for you and up to 2 guests. Access is granted if you have a Delta One international ticket, but for domestic flights, it’s not permitted with this type of ticket.

  119. I’m permanently blacklisting Delta after a loyal 5 years. I only buy first class seats because I am 6’4″ tall but on my last round trip to Seattle I was put in the front bulkhead seats where my feet were jammed back and my knees compressed. Never ever again. They have no right advertising these as first class and I consider it fraud to do so.

  120. Delta might be the best if the worst but US airlines are prehistoric compared to many other countries in:
    Boarding process
    Cabin experience
    Basic respect of fliers
    If you compare our best, Delta here to ANA or JAL you would wonder why Delta is even I business, but most Americans dont get out of the country so they accept the lesser.

  121. Delta sucks. Their frequent flyer program doesn’t let you fly anywhere and it’s the most miles required to do anything. It’s also the most expensive domestic airline flying even to their hubs.

  122. Since being a long time flyer( since 1954) of the 3 legacy airlines without question DL is the airline of choice for most routes. On long haul flights there are a couple of airlines that give superior all round service.Air New Zealand and Singapore are two examples

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