I Flew Two Old Delta Planes, And They Were… Gorgeous!

Filed Under: Delta, Travel

Yesterday I took my first two flights on Delta since starting my Platinum Medallion challenge. Even though these were just two domestic flights, I have a lot of thoughts on the experience. When you’re so used to primarily flying one airline domestically (in my case, American), the subtle differences between the experiences really stand out.

I’ll have a more detailed post about the overall Delta experience later (based on my admittedly limited sample size), but in this post I specifically wanted to talk about Delta’s planes. Delta is known for operating old planes. Of the major US carriers, the only airline with an older average fleet age is Allegiant (which isn’t very good at maintaining them). However, you’d never really know that based on how well Delta takes care of their planes.

Yesterday I flew two Delta Airbus A319s, both of which were originally owned by Northwest. The last time I flew one of these A319s was in 2008, when they still flew for Northwest. Back then the planes looked ancient, even though they weren’t that old.

While I knew that Delta puts effort into their interiors, I wasn’t expecting them to be as nice as they are. Between the two flights I overheard three people comment about how we had a new plane while boarding.

A lot of airlines do a half-baked job when they refurbish planes, but Delta did an outstanding job.

The planes had beautiful and comfortable first class seats.

Even the main cabin looked comfortable.

The planes had massive overhead bins that allowed passengers to store bags sideways to maximize carry-on space.

They also had the coolest overhead panels I’ve ever seen on an Airbus narrowbody aircraft.

Even the bathrooms were nice-looking, and had Malin + Goetz soap and body lotion (which I really appreciate, since my hands get dry when flying).

On top of that the planes had all the technology you could hope for. There were power outlets at each seat.

Each seat also had a personal television with complimentary premium entertainment. It’s not just that all the content was free, but the system was highly responsive, easy to use, and there were no ads.

Oh, and both planes had Gogo’s new high speed 2Ku wifi. It’s nice to have inflight wifi that doesn’t transport you back two decades in time.

I was in disbelief at how nice the planes were. Meanwhile American’s entire ex-US Airways narrowbody fleet doesn’t even have power ports…

If the rest of Delta’s fleet is this nice, I’m hooked!

  1. What I want to know is: does Delta beat AA in terms of offering a drink before takeoff? On AA non-transcon routes, I feel like I get it about 25% of the time, and often only when I’m in row 1 or 2.

  2. Delta is close to 100% mainline for PDBs. I once got a $100 voucher because they didn’t have them due to a delay. They take the PDB service standard very seriously.

  3. Yea, I’m really not an AA fan. Their product is subpar to DL and UA (in my opinion). I’d almost prefer UA (traveling together) than AA’s new business class products. It’s about the small things, like proactively offering water, refilling the water in the galley area, doing their job (the list goes on). Overall, I agree with you DL’s product is generally solid and much – much better than AA on average

  4. Gotta say – since I started flying Delta domestically, I haven’t looked back. Not a big fan of SkyTeam in general, but for me, United isn’t even competition.

  5. Delta realizes that perception is more important than reality, and people have little actual knowledge about planes. A refreshed interior = new plane to 99% of customers. With that said, they do look nice.

  6. Lucky, curious have you EVER flown in economy?

    When did you stop flying economy? I am waiting for you to say economy was gorgeous.

  7. For domestic flights I used to fly Continental/United and then switched to Delta two years ago (I’m based out of NYC) and have not looked back.
    @Brandon, I’ve always been offered a drink before takeoff on most if not all my DL flights. They’re always in a plastic cup though. When up in the air, they then use glasses.
    Good luck on your challenge!

  8. I’ve noticed that Delta does a fantastic job with aesthetics and branding. I think they are on to something, because I fly Delta a lot and hear those same comments from passengers all the time.

  9. I have a lot of beers with Delta for their SkyPeso devaluations and silly political posturing, but they do know how to run an airline. Consistently a better seat, airplane, crew, and operational product than UA and AA. I’ve never second guessed my choice to use them as my primary airline when I was doing 30+ trips a year (although I play the field now that I’m down 2-3 trips a year).

  10. Economy on these planes is pretty comfortable as well. Not all of the fleet looks like this, but anything recently refurbished seems to. I’ve flown almost entirely on Delta (with a couple of other flights on JetBlue and Air France) this year, after being pretty loyal to US and then AA for years. Delta is better in most aspects, and AA no longer has the loyalty program to really even keep them in the conversation, for me at least.

  11. Gene nails it above.

    While the F cabin does look great the comfort goes to horse$hit the moment a DYKWIA goes full recline. It’s a joke to be flying in F and have a seatback damn near touching your nose.

    And those touch screen in-seat IFE’s are AWFUL when you have an inconsiderate woodpecker tapping the banging the back of your head the entire flight.

  12. Welcome to the dark side. Been flying Delta for six years (and far more frequently, but that’s for other reasons) after a dalliance with UA and loyalty to AA in my high school/college years. The experience is light years ahead of what I remember from the bad old days.

  13. I’ve been telling you this the whole time I’ve read you blog Lucky. I travel paid first so I’m not concerned about collecting and redeeming miles, and I don’t factor that in to my travel decisions … but Delta as an airline is head and shoulders above the US competition in almost all respects. I’ve had a couple of old interiors in the last year or so, but 95% of the time it’s what you just flew.

    I realize not everyone has a choice of airline, and status and upgrade priority will obviously be a factor for many, but anyone with a free choice of domestic first in the US should choose Delta in my opinion

  14. Keep the seat back entertainment! I’m a millennial, but I have a rather clunky, larger laptop that is hard to maneuver seated in the economy cabin (I preface with I’m a millennial because I feel like people expect me to have the latest gadgets and technology). Maintaining the seat back screens is something I really appreciate. AA seems to be headed in the personal device entertainment route, which I find to be a cheap ‘enhancement’.

  15. Yes, DL aircraft are much cleaner and nicer. A 10 year old DL 737 is nicer than a brand new UA 737. The only DL aircraft that I do not particularly like are their older 737-800s and MD/717s. But, these aircraft are only on short hauls, so that’s ok. UA and its fleet of a million nasty 737s are on short and long hauls, and that is just not appealing. The DL service is also better. The DL fragrance (some type of aromatherapy) is also nice and calming.

  16. Agree completely. Delta is doing something right.

    The refurbished planes look and feel great. I actually flew in an A321 (new, not refurbished) followed by a A320 that was decades old and you could barely tell the difference.

    I also find the seats to be more comfortable than United’s, which feel very hard.

  17. Pretty much every Delta domestic plane is in the same range of “newness” these days. The A319s and A320s were the last holdouts of being old and crappy, and with the updates on those aircraft done, I think the “worst” aircraft in the domestic fleet are the older 737-800s, which “only” have power in the front cabin and a slightly older entertainment system, and don’t have the giant-sized overhead bins.

    Of course, the downside to Delta having kept their fleet up to date is that they’ve also used the overhauls as an opportunity to squeeze extra seats onto the plane and install seats with less padding, so you don’t get the old-style big plush first class seats you can still find on some AA planes, and on all of the newly overhauled planes Delta has significantly reduced the separation between coach and first class by removing the bulkhead wall. Since US airlines have to have the flimsy see-through curtain between the classes anyway it doesn’t really matter too much, but it’s still a bit of a downgrade.

  18. The 767-400 I flew on to Europe a month back was gorgeous. Couldnt tell it was over a decade old. The flight attendants were fantastic as well.

    Im a JetBlue guy as the majority of my domestic flying is regional between LGA and Boston and love JetBlue’s e190, but if I need to get somewhere B6 doesnt go or lacks frequency, I’ve been choosing Delta more often than not.

  19. @ Brandon, getting a pre-flight drink offered or having your coat taken on Delta depends on the flight attendant. It is not consistent. Maybe 75% of the time.

  20. Preflight drink rate is nearly 100% on Delta. Ben, I love ya, but some of us been trying to tell you this for years! If you have a choice and are a biz traveler, and can’t imagine picking AA or UA over Delta, particularly now since all currencies are trying to devalue as fast as Delta.

  21. There are still a few old (unrefurbished) A319/A320s floating around, but the rest of the mainline fleet is in similar shape (MD-90/717s don’t have TVs). The RJs are a different story though – very few have power (not to mention how filthy the CRJ-200s are).

  22. I’m amused at the shift happening on this blog, driven by @ben. Not that long ago DL was the enemy with @andrew the only one offering anything positive to say about them. Now DL seems to be all the rage. FF mileage isn’t the #1 reason most people travel and is pretty low on the list. My mother redeemed WAAAY too many SkyMiles a few weeks ago for a domestic DL flight and she was fine with it; she prefers the quality and, for her, schedule of DL. If she’s able to save a few hundred dollars redeeming miles then great, but she’s getting the quality of flights/planes and the overall experience she wants.

  23. The first thing I noticed on one of the ex NWA 319s was the air vents as well. There’s a litany of new planes that still look old but Delta has taken old bones and brought them into today better than others.

  24. Did you notice the 36″ pitch? It’s very difficult to extricate yourself from the window seat, particularly if the seat in front is reclined.

    Otherwise I agree, the DL domestic F cabins are attractive. Nicer than UA or AA.

  25. Almost all the old DL Airbus fleet has been refurbished. They’re now in the process of adding video screens to all the 320s as they were in such a rush to add seats they skipped it on the first round.
    The 757s and even the dreaded 738s are or have already gotten an interior upgrade though it’s not as extensive as the Airbus fleet.
    Economy on the refurbished Airbus is nice, though two outlets per three seats is standard. As a matter of fact all Delta new and refurbished planes have the outlets in coach now including the 717s.
    Glad you enjoyed Delta!

  26. As a DL diamond who just flew a United 757 for the first time in yesterday almost 2-3 years… all I can say is “YUCK”! The white plastic everywhere had an old yellow tint, the seats were the 1980s style woven fabric, and they literally places “Economy Plus” oval stickers on the tray table to indicate the “premium” seats.

    Being accustom to Delta, I cant believe that United gets away with it, and charges similar prices!

  27. Along with having the oldest fleet (outside Allegiant), they also have the best on time performance and fewest cancellations.

  28. Nice report here and on the Delta First meals, Lucky. I’m flying paid DL First tomorrow morning (739 out, 738 return) and I’m really looking forward to it. I am pretty sure the 739s have always had the new interiors, but I am glad there is a possibility my 738 will be refreshed.

  29. From my experience, the 737-8s are the biggest mixed bag left for the domestic fleet, with many still having the old IFE. I flew an A320 last week that still had the old “Economy Comfort” branding on the Comfort+ seats, which is the only time I’ve seen that in 45k+ miles on DL domestic since May. it was still a really nice interior even if it wasn’t the newest. The overwhelming majority of the aircraft I’ve been on have new interiors within the last year or two. Even the 717s and MDs, which don’t have IFE, are relatively comfortable in Y for the routes they typically fly.

    Upfront I’ve been served a PDB every time on the handful of segments I’ve flown in first. Really, my only gripe with the first class seats are how close the IFE is to your face when the person in front reclines.

  30. @Lucky – I flew on a 14 year old Delta A320 in first in July and it was amazing. The cabin was updated just like the one you flew on (loved the futuristic air nozzle thingy). Now I only fly Delta 🙂

  31. yes, DL has done on outstanding job in the redo of the narrowbody planes however, the pitch in FC is horrible the worst of anynUS airline.

  32. Love you you always say you “flew” the airplane instead of flying onboard [as a passenger]….glad I spent all that money on flight school! Now all you need is the photo with the aviator glasses and the cool headset you got on the helicopter tour and crop it like Scott Mackenzie

  33. Yup, you’ve hit the nail on the head. As a Delta Diamond, United 1K *and* American EXP, Delta is miles above UA and AA in just about every respect. More consistent with PDBs (if that matters to you – I’m not going to judge an airline by if I get a $5 cocktail the minute I board), much more consistently friendly and proactive crews, nicer interiors, more comfortable seats, and overall just a feeling they actually care about their passengers…and I say this with more than 100,000 miles a year on all of them for the last three years running.

  34. @Neil every single Delta 2-class RJ has power in FC and Comfort+. And now there are even some E175s that have power through the whole plane…it seems like that might be their new onboard standard.

  35. Ive never flown Delta (AA loyal here) but after so many good things being said about it I ought to give it a shot! I fly out of LAX, does Delta have a good terminal? SkyClub access when flying in First?

  36. Looks pretty, but the 36″ seat pitch in first class is a joke. I also like the last row of first because of the private feel, but without bulk heads it loses the private feel. Flew them a couple of years back, and the service was real nice, though. I don’t care for mile collection, though, so sticking with the better pitch and bulkhead of AA / UA until they copy Delta’s seat pitch and lack of bulkhead.

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