While I started a Delta Platinum status challenge late last year, I haven’t flown them a whole lot this year. I’m not sure why exactly, but I guess I just focused on requalifying for status with American, since I value oneworld more.
In the past few days I’ve taken four segments in Delta first class, and my gosh, it made me realize (once again) just how much better the domestic flying experience is on Delta than American.
Here’s the thing — it’s not like the difference is that massive — both airlines have roughly comparable cabins. Delta’s first class seat pitch is on average worse than American’s, and I think their domestic first class food might be worse than American’s, which is saying a lot. Yet Delta manages to differentiate themselves in so many minor ways, and they really add up.
The major ways in which Delta is better domestically
Let me start with what’s actually important. All four of my flights had power ports and Gogo 2Ku wifi. Having high speed wifi and power ports is a game changer. Yes, American is in the process of installing high speed wifi and is in the process of installing power ports on their ex-US Airways A321s, but it will be a while till that’s complete, and it’s ridiculous that this hasn’t been a priority for them up until now.
Nevermind the fact that Delta is taking delivery of beautiful new planes with TVs at every seat, while American has chosen to make the experience on their new 737 MAX aircraft worse.
The little Delta touches that make a big difference
As a point of comparison, let me tell you about my second to last flight on American. I was in economy (my upgrade didn’t clear), and as an Executive Platinum member I was entitled to a complimentary snack. So I nicely asked for that (explaining I’m Executive Platinum), the flight attendant said “didn’t you already get something for free?”
He huffed and handed it to me without saying anything. You’d think that would be a great opportunity to say “thanks for your loyalty, we appreciate it,” but nope. The only time he was nice was when he passed through the cabin with credit card applications. As passengers deplaned, rather than saying “bye, thanks for flying American” he said “would you like 60,000 bonus miles?” to each passenger and held up the credit card applications.
At American more often than not I feel like I’m genuinely inconveniencing employees by being there. Across my four Delta flights I consistently felt valued. Where do we even begin?
- When I entered the SkyClub there was a short wait, and a Delta representative came running over with a portable device, scanned my Amex Platinum Card, and said “I’m so sorry to keep you waiting Mr. Schlappig, and thanks for being a Platinum member, we really appreciate your business”
- On all four flights I was thanked for my business by the gate agent scanning boarding passes (twice by name)
- On two of the flights the lead flight attendant came through the cabin to thank each first class passenger for flying Delta
- While this doesn’t apply to me, on two of the flights I witnessed the flight attendants specifically thanking Diamond members and million miler members for their business
- The service was just consistently excellent, with pre-departure beverages of choice, flight attendants constantly offering drink refills, and just all around awesome attitudes; they seemed like they wanted to be there
- Delta’s technology is mostly pretty good; I get push notifications when my flight is boarding, I get push notifications when my checked bag is loaded onto the plane (checking a bag is a rare occurrence for me), etc.
- Delta has a 20 minute baggage guarantee, so since I had to check bags, I really value this
Gosh, it’s just really sad that what it basically boils down to is that Delta makes their customers feel like customers, and that sets them apart from the world’s largest airline, which pretty often makes me feel either like self loading freight. As I’ve taken this trip I can’t help but regret not flying Delta more.
Why I can’t bring myself to be loyal to Delta
I guess what my issue comes down to is that I still sort of value being loyal to American, for reasons that largely don’t even involve flying American:
- oneworld Emerald status is incredibly valuable in terms of lounge access, especially when flying with partner airlines; I love flying within Asia and being able to use Cathay Pacific’s spectacular Pier First Class Lounge
- American’s Flagship Lounges (and other oneworld lounges) are much better than Delta SkyClubs
- I fly a lot between New York and Los Angeles, and there American offers the best upgrade benefits of any airline
- I can earn the status largely by flying Qatar Airways, which often has reasonable business class fares, and has my favorite business class in the world
Even as I fly Delta, I’m still not sure I see the full value in being loyal to them. Short of going for Diamond status, I just don’t see much value in going for status with SkyMiles. Delta’s first class fares are for the most part pretty reasonable, so I’ve been finding myself just paying for first class on them, since these have all been flights where I’m highly unlikely to clear as a Platinum member (they all have 40+ people on the upgrade list).
So I love flying Delta, and I find that they charge a reasonable premium for their first class. That’s probably also why they sell more first class seats than American and United. So for the flights I take, I think I’d probably still be in the back if I were relying on upgrades.
Every time I fly Delta I’m reminded of how ignorant management at American and United are. American and United think the key to success is to copy the negative changes that Delta makes. Their logic is basically “Delta performs better than us, so if you they introduce any negative changes that must be the right thing to do.”
Rather than trying to replicate what sets Delta apart, they try to copy the negative changes that Delta can get away with.
Delta can get away with the changes they make (whether bad changes to SkyMiles, or the introduction of basic economy, for example) because they truly offer by far the best experience of any global US airline. Delta frequent flyers are happy, not because of SkyMiles, but because they fly a great airline.
I notice this just watching the other people who were in first class on all my flights. I mean, how the hell can they not be, when they’re constantly interacting with such lovely people who make you feel valued?
So now I’m confused yet again, wondering if it is in fact time to just quit American “cold turkey” and switch all my domestic flying to Delta. Hmmm…