What Makes Flying Delta Different

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

Over the course of my four flights with Delta, I simply couldn’t help but feel like every single employee I interacted with cared. I didn’t feel like I was inconveniencing them by being there.

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?”

“No…”

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:

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.

Bottom line

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…

Comments

  1. wait…you fly economy? lol I guess, I Just assumed you always flew biz or “better”. how often do you fly in the back with us? do you have a cutoff (e.g. if the flight is less than <2hrs) in determining if you fly economy or not? what determines if you fly economy/biz/1st? I'm curious to know your process.

  2. DL award prices are ridiculous. I would love to fly Delta more, but the return on butt-in-seat miles just isn’t worth it for any J awards to Europe.

  3. @ Scott — Amex Platinum gets you into the SkyClub, though you have to pay $29 for any additional guests.

  4. Could not agree more. Although I was executive platinum I have slowly been shifting my flights to Delta. Just wish there SkyMiles had more value. American miles, although stingy of late, still has great value on international flights. It really is the little things that matter.

  5. So sad. I work for United and we love our passengers and try so hard to take care of them. For myself and so many of my co-workers – we want our passengers to have a wonderful travel experience and to prefer to come back and travel with us over our competitors. But day in and day out – all I read is “delta, delta, delta…”. I will still go to work tomorrow and give outstanding service to my passengers, for no other reason than for personal pride and a personal urge to always be kind…but I wish the management team for the company I work for made more cutting-edge, passenger friendly decisions so I can read an article like this about united (instead of delta); it will be so gratifying to feel that our hard work is paid off and recognized by the traveling public. Instead, we just take the media beetings. So sad. Maybe one day.

  6. Delta has changed a lot since I was a road warrior in the 80s-2000s. In those days you has to fly the miles to get the miles for status, so with Gold you’d get upgrades frequently and Platinum got automatic upgrade with purchase of full fare. I was Gold for close to 30 years, and Platinum one year after flying 10 round trips to Europe.

    Now retired, my Million Miler status is worth nothing to them. You’d think it would be worth at least using the priority line for check in. Now SW beats them here in Atlanta on all counts given that first class on Delta ain’t happening for me.

  7. This is exactly my problem. I like Delta’s personnel and product, but their SkyPesos are useless and their SkyTeam partners are atrocious.

    The airlines with good partners are horrible to experience, and the comfortable airlines have no useful partners for going overseas. You can’t win!

  8. In the end American continues to treat you like crap but their program is marginally better
    When redeeming miles as well as premium club access worldwide
    Not the relationship I’d be looking for but your younger and don’t have as many good choices as we did in our day
    I love that I gave up on both AA and the Sky Peso thieves
    Feel awesome enjoying other airline brands and programs
    My 20 years at American pre Parker were awesome but thankfully I’ve moved on
    The chains are off and I watch others getting screwed and poorly treated if problems arise

  9. This is hard to read. I’m getting ready to switch from Delta to American since I live in an American hub now and weekly layovers are killing me. As much as I hate the loyalty program, I really love the flight experience on Delta.

  10. how much economy flying are you doing within Asia that would require you to have OW status to get CX lounge access? How much time are you actually spending in lounges? I’m also not sure I understand why if DL’s experience is so much better you don’t value that compared to AA.

    My problem is that DL doesn’t fly the routes I do.

  11. As a TPA-based flyer, I think about this often, as DL has good connectivity from here, TPA has a SkyClub, and Delta runs such a good operation. But, until they fix their terrible frequent-flyer program, I will never switch. As long as they expect me to pay 280,000 SkyPesos per person to fly one-way to Europe in an angle-flat business-class Air France seat, I’ll stick with UA and AA.

  12. Funny thing for a blogger to complain about:

    “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.”

  13. I was EXP for ten years but the last few years all my flights are credited to BA. I priced out a 5 segment trip today on domestic first class and the price was ≈ $2500 on AA and just shy of $1500 on Delta. I haven’t flown Delta in over 20 years, but no way will I pay a premium to fly on an inferior product. So I signed up for the challenge and will start looking at Air France to Europe and Korean to Asia and Garuda within Asia.

    I’m close to lifetime gold on BA, so will have to pursue that as well.

  14. As a Delta loyalist(probably to a fault) I go out of my way to fly them. They treat me great, bend the odd rule to accommodate, upgrade me where they can, depart and arrive very punctually etc…
    But to echo many, the constant violent degradation of SkyMiles is getting very old and causing a lot of distrust these days.
    TATL in D1 is my ultimate goal with Delta. But seeing 280K miles for a one way is insulting and egregious. Now that Virgin has surcharges that avenue is being destroyed too.
    Delta, I wanna fly you but you are taking my loyalty and abusing it.

  15. As points and miles junkies I feel like sometimes we get so hung up on the “flashy” bits of the experience and forget what really matters, which is to get from A to B

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Cathay and Qantas lounges are incredible, but lounge access is really just secondary to the main purpose, which is to get somewhere. You are very clear about how DL offers a clearly superior product, and you mentioned that they offered reasonable FC fares.

    Even look at the reason why you are loyal to American, two of the four are because of their partners, not them.

    Sure we all like the upgrades and the lounges and the “freebies”, but does it make sense to give money to a business that gives you a consistently worse experience? “didn’t you already get something for free?” is NOT how you are supposed to talked to customers, from non-rev to EXP.

    You and most of us clearly know how to take advantage of loyalty programs to maximize benefits, but I feel sometimes AA and UA use them as a sleight of hand to distract us from the poor experience they offer. We bitch about how SkyMiles sucks because the benefits sucks, but in a way, the ultimate benefit is consistently good in flight experience, not just on the ever decreasing chance that our upgrades clear.

  16. Intriguing cultural difference. I hate, hate, *hate* it when F/As or agents do this:

    – …”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
    – … I witnessed the flight attendants specifically thanking Diamond members and million miler members for their business

    It feels utterly fake and phoney to me, like they’ve been instructed by a central marketing department to have this engagement with each customer. I don’t even like it much when they use my name – or, actually, more often, over-use my name. It doesn’t make them my friend, it just makes them seem creepy. I’m sure they’re lovely people but their employer is making them behave like a robot, in the name of standardised service.

    I’m OWE. Flew back to LGW from LIM yesterday; what mattered to me about having status was:
    – getting access to the only functioning intrnational lounge in Lima airport (LATAM is in dispute with the authorities so their lounge is (permanently?) closed; BA has negotiated a separate lounge deal for its BAEC Golds, etc);
    – the F/A asking me before the rest of the J cabin what food I’d like, to ensure I got my preferred first choice (yes, I’m a picky eater);
    – priority help with IRROPS. I recognise most on here are flying for fun, but for me status is part of what makes my work easier.

    But none of that is more important than the airline flying the route I want to the schedule that works for me; decent product standards; and an experience that is efficient and pleasant, rather than expecting anything more (which means I’m delighted when I fly Qsuites, for instance).

    Perhaps I am treating flying as a commodity experience, and the standards I expect are now too low – reduced by years of interaction with many airlines. Then again, I can’t remember the last time I flew one of the US3; and while some on here enthuse about, for example, an exciting new Polaris lounge, all I remember is Dr Dao.

  17. “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”

    This feels more a case of “let me go above and beyond for the prominent blogger”.

    Maybe i’m just unlucky – most of my DL experiences are very bland. Nothing wrong, but nothing all that amazing to write a tripadvisor review either.

    And my single worst delay of any airline in last 3 years is DL out of DFW, go figure. Not as bad as the kayaker we got octupus bitch slapped, but rather memorable (with the annoying infinite-gear version of rolling delays)

  18. This is why I with that Delta still partners with AS. Of course we know that DL and AS dropped their partnership with DL’s SEA growth and AS/VX merger. I like flying a superior airline (DL) compared to AA and UA, and also get valuable AS miles from that. It stinks for me, and many others that we can’t have an excellent airline with excellent mileage program, especially that AS doesn’t fly to my home airport (CVG)

    Nowadays, I’m crediting DL flights to KE since 1) skypesos, 2) I don’t care about status and 3) chase removed KE as transfer partner.

  19. Your article was great until you called people ignorant. That makes you sound ignorant. Running an airline is complex, I would imagine. American does suck in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t make their management ignorant.

  20. Hm. Like @raksiam, I’m curious how often you’re flying longhaul economy where it really matters that you get OW lounge access. I mean, sure CX first class lounge is wonderful. But it’s not as though their business lounge is slumming it. So, the question really is how much you value being in their first class lounge instead of business — is the price worth being miserable on your domestic flights?

    The bottom line is that American MUST have a better loyalty program and better points, because customers must be bribed into flying them more than once. Delta makes flying sufficiently pleasant that they don’t actually need to spend nearly as much on the skymiles and medallion programs. In my experience, DL prices F more competitively than any other, so for the amount of flying I do, it’s best to simply pay for it (usually with UR points {affiliate link here}) and credit the flights to KE.

  21. Quit American ASAP. For all the reasons you have listed above, delta seems like they are different. You can live without the lounge access in Hong Kong and will not regret the switch when you are treated like the loyal customer that you are on Delta.

  22. as someone who has NO STATUS on any airline, what makes delta different is that their staff cares and it doesn’t seem like I’m inconveniencing them. period. i don’t need to be thanked for flying them. plus their planes (tv, ports), food, etc. are all better on average. i don’t really care about miles earned, because with credit cards you don’t need to fly anymore to redeem awards for international travel.

  23. Interestingly, I had the same opportunity for comparison last year when I switched from Delta to United. I felt that service is about the same, Delta had fluffier blankets and United had better power outlet availability. It came down to international partners. I fly to Toronto a lot, and Air Canada >>> WestJet. However, I also thought Delta provided fewer perks and tried to cut more of them each year.

  24. @Bruce : not just living without lounge access in HKG, it also involves living with the fact that HKG, being a top 5 global banking center, is no longer served by DL metal.

  25. Geoff, couldn’t agree more – was just really disappointed to see that economy to Paris is 170k miles per seat in economy (peak when I’m going), and 280k Delta one! American is 60k economy but not much better on business. For family of three ended up booking Air France one way and American on the way back, even though I wanted to fly Delta direct flights.

  26. Funny, I flew Delta in paid business 2 weeks ago (2 domestic transcon flights, 2 trans-atlantic) for the first time in several years and came away kinda disappointed. On the domestic flights, the food was inedible and service was hit-or-miss.

    On the trans-atlantic, the lie flat seats were the most uncomfortable I’ve ever had. And when I tried to get a Macallan on the return to the US, I was told “Sorry, those bottles tend to disappear when we land, so we don’t have any on the flights back to the US”. Although, aside from that, service was impeccable and very friendly.

  27. Agree with everything with the exception of:

    “I fly a lot between New York and Los Angeles, and there American offers the best upgrade benefits of any airline”

    I fly this route twice a month and get upgraded 90% most of the time to one of the all aisle access Delta One seats on a 767, and if not I have me comfort plus seat in the two’s section on the sides. Remember that Delta, since last year, allows comp upgrades on all North America and upper South America routes including Delta One and Hawaii, slightly better than AA since AA doesn’t allow comp upgrades to upper S.America countries like Colombia and Ecuador

  28. Delta Diamond, and mostly a fan. But, I’ll be buying AF international tickets from AF directly. DL doesn’t seem to appreciate its international passengers. The Asia (India, at least) DL customer line is a bad joke. I want to be on AF metal (mostly) so just cutting out the lame middleman.

  29. It is hard to believe that just ten years ago Delta was the most hated airline in the US. Many, many years ago I liked Delta because so many of their “stewardesses” had a such sweet Georgia accents and personalities.

  30. WHY NOT WRITE ABOUT THE COST TO FLY DELTA!!

    IN AUGUST NY-CDG “OR” NY ATH GO FOR FOR 480K R/T BIZ CLASS —SCREW THE “LOYAL” FLYERS!!

  31. It seems AA management has you figured out. Offer a better FF program then service doesn’t matter. I think that’s basically what you said. As a retired road warrior I fly the airline with the best price/service option and buy a F seat. That’s where I want to sit and I never have to play the gate lottery again. Generally AA is not price competitive for me when doing east coast travel but is usually hundreds of dollars lower on cross country trips from my Florida home.

  32. > “didn’t you already get something for free?”
    Wait, that’s so hilarious. In a weird way I’d rather have flight attendants like that, it’s like they’re roasting you. My experience on Delta also features such “great” flight attendants, one who walked through the aisle literally throwing pretzels at passengers, so that the pack bounced off the tray table. My brother and I just burst out laughing.

  33. It’s really quite simple, and I say this as a current AA Platinum soon to be EXP: Delta’s employees are, by and large, proud of the product and happy to work for their employer. American’s employees are, by and large, ashamed of the product and miserable working for their employer.

    I, probably like many of my fellow readers, have worked in both types of environments before, and I’ve seen the same thing. At the good companies with happy employees, the average employee was positive, cared about customers, and went above and beyond. At the bad companies with miserable employees, the average employee came in exactly on time, left exactly on time, and did the bare minimum necessary to keep their jobs, nothing more, nothing less.

  34. For those of us who fly primarily international long haul flights, DL really doesn’t compete well against AA and One World. A few nice words from Flight Attendants does not offset the negative experience of their inferior FF program, the generally higher cost of their international flights and their poor J product on most of the international routes I fly.

    Agree that power outlet problem on the LUS 321 AA flights is highly annoying and frankly inexcusable.

  35. I MUCH prefer to fly Delta over either American or United, for precisely the reasons you describe. It’s just an overall more pleasant experience. I don’t fly all the often (a few times per year) so I don’t bother with loyalty. I buy tickets based on schedule and convenience, and am also willing to spend a little more to fly a carrier that’s not AA or UA (or their race-to-the-bottom brethren, Spirit and Allegiant).

  36. For me, having a minimum of Gold has worked out well. I have to accept the fact that I will get zero upgrades. I do think Delta does a good job over all in customer service. But where I have noticed a difference is in airports like CDG, where they have dedicated security lanes for Delta Medallion members. That has been a real time saver, in my book. A lot of us have had to transfer in CDG, and others, and the dedicated lanes make life a bit easier.

  37. I’m global services on United and it seems like in the last month or so there was some corporate push to catch up on “thanks for your business” front….notes from the captain, friendly greetings by name from flight attendants, offers to walk my dogs etc…..It really does affect the experience and I think to some extent in any workplace employees model the behavior they see…..previously I felt United people were in some ways expressing solidarity with each other against management by being surly with fliers.

  38. I will never ever fly Delta again and I live in Atlanta. Delta consistently loses my bag, puts it on the next flight. I am so sick of their stupidity. I fly between Atlanta and Baltimore and one of the reasons I am leaving Atlanta is because of their crappy airport and Delta. And I have experience in airports fro Paris to Hawaii.

  39. Am I the only person alive who’s had the opposite experience? I’m based in Minneapolis and my Delta bookings have been consistently awful – huge delays, lost baggage, apathetic employees, etc. It’s as if being a former Northwest hub required them to keep Northwest culture. American, while not great, is at least serviceable. Their gates at MSP are convenient (there are only 3, none of which require mile-long walks), I get to where I’m going without incident, and their partners are better. The last item matters a lot to me, since 90+% of my flight miles are spent on CX or Qantas.

  40. US based travel bloggers seem to focus on having their primary loyalty program with a domestic carrier (UA/AA/DL).

    I’m genuinely curious to know if there is any reason why a person can’t focus on a non-US carrier’s loyalty program?

  41. I agree with everything @Lucky said and most of the comments above. As I see it, AA has vastly superior partners whom I prefer flying for international travel. I realize a lot of your readers have more entrepreneurial lifestyles that give them large degrees of flexibility, but sadly I have a pretty traditional corporate routine. I take maybe 3 large international trips a year. The rest of the time, I’m flying all the time within the US on short hops. And I’d much rather have a pleasant experience on ~99% of my flights, even if that comes at the expense of racking up tons of AAdvantage miles to fly those partners. There’s so many AA credit cards that offer hundreds of thousands of AAdvantage miles, collectively, and 100K offers frequently on Iberia, British Airways, and Aer Lingus to get avios-rich, too. So I’ll continue doing sign-up bonuses to fuel my leisure travel on better airlines and if a Delta redemption ever makes sense, I’ll do it, but I don’t choose Delta for their good FF program (as virtually no one who is loyal to delta does…).

  42. @Stan M – because only elites with the US-based program (AA/UA/DL) get complimentary upgrades to first class – equivalent Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance carriers’ elites do not.

  43. Just last week from LHR to JFK in F, service call was on for at least two and half hours, each staff pretended it didn’t exist whenever they walked by

  44. @Ethan G – how about if travel is primarily international? Any downsides to joining a non-US carrier program?

  45. From what Lucky wrote DL is better because of consistent WiFi, TV screens, and personal “Thank you for your business” instead of a credit card pitch? Those are marginal differentiators at least for some of us.
    What make DL better is their on-time performance and lesser number of proactive flight cancellations. If hurricane is coming AA would cancel flights two day in advance regardless the actual forecast while DL would be still flying. Operatically, DL is certainly better.

  46. Thank you, Anonymous! I’m a million miler on UA…on my way to two million…and genuinely appreciate it when flight attendants genuinely care. I’m not sure if you’re pre-merger United or Continental but for whatever reason I usually get better and friendlier service from a pre-merger UA crew. I actually go out of my way to fly on UA Airbuses and love hearing “I am your purser” during the announcements. I’ve just had so many bad experiences with pre-merger CO crews. Whichever you are, it doesn’t matter since you do try so hard to take care of us!!! Thank you with all of my heart!!!

    By the way, I agree that overall Delta does create a better experience but I am hopeful that United will eventually be the best airline for quality experiences all around and live up to their “Fly the Friendly Skies” tagline.

    “Anonymous says:
    October 2, 2018 at 9:26 am
    So sad. I work for United and we love our passengers and try so hard to take care of them. For myself and so many of my co-workers – we want our passengers to have a wonderful travel experience and to prefer to come back and travel with us over our competitors. But day in and day out – all I read is “delta, delta, delta…”. I will still go to work tomorrow and give outstanding service to my passengers, for no other reason than for personal pride and a personal urge to always be kind…but I wish the management team for the company I work for made more cutting-edge, passenger friendly decisions so I can read an article like this about united (instead of delta); it will be so gratifying to feel that our hard work is paid off and recognized by the traveling public. Instead, we just take the media beetings. So sad. Maybe one day.”

  47. Same reason you would fly DL is the same reason I fly AS, except the miles I earn are actually worth something especially now that both Cathay and JAL will start flying direct out of SEA.

  48. Delta Platinum … I don’t fly for the miles — it’s way to easy to rack up more bank points than I can use — I fly because I have to. And flying fairly often (getting Platinum status when my “commute” is a 1 hour flight connecting to a 30 min flight is quite a few take offs and landings), the little things add up. Like Lucky noticed, just being around people with positive attitudes is a HUGE difference vs being around people who seem constantly miserable (and like you’re making them MORE miserable).

  49. @Lucky: you know you can fly Delta and credit to other partners, right? Like Korean Air? Especially since you are paying for F/J anyways…

  50. I’d say the other big “get” is the VS alliance. I can fly lie flat seats on VS with a “bar” and get access to the clubhouse. that’s the best thing about GM and higher. Anyone who flies delta to England and is a GM or higher gets access to the virgin clubhouse stateside. Not the one in LHR, but still there is another lounge.

    Glad you’re coming around to my way of thinking.

  51. DM here based at a Delta hub. I fly over 200k miles per year and could not be happier that Delta has a hub in my home airport. I could not agree more with your comments. I am treated like a customer which I was never when flying AA or UA.

  52. The redemption of miles on American for where I want to fly (namely Europe) couldn’t suck any worse. It’s almost impossible to even get a mileage & copay upgrade. So much for 100% loyalty to A.A. for over 33 years. Thanks, Doug Parker. Too bad Delta doesn’t hire him and American can go back to appreciating its customers but Delta is too smart for that.

  53. This is too funny- I’ve said this to my husband before about United (where I am 1k) and Delta. I mostly stick with United because I go to strange places in the world where United partners fly with a more direct route, but man Delta sure seems appealing with better seats internationally in business, whether the “old” or Delta One business class seats, and nicer FA when I fly them (occasionally, domestically and in first). Its gotten to the point where I almost dread booking United business seats over water bc of the 2x4x2 ancient 777-200’s and hit or miss (mostly miss) FA attitudes. When possible I fly Turkish or Austrian or Swiss instead. I have though about doing a status match with American but I am mostly going to Africa next year and probably need to stick to United. Alas. Especially with the new 1k requirements…double sigh.

  54. I don’t fly to East Asia very often, so I can’t comment on the OneWorld value you place on Cathay but I find that the lounge access and service benefits with SkyTeam/Delta Friends* are really good. First, you should give the JFK SkyClub a whirl again…its a decent lounge with lots of space even when its super busy. NRT, SFO, SEA, ATL B are also great. BOS is coming along; MSP has improved. Concession: LAX since it moved into the TWA & Air Canada locations aren’t up to par…although I’ve heard they are ear-marked for renovations. While i’ve heard that BA lounges are nice (although they have three levels of lounges and the two galleries lounges I’ve been to were just okay); I’ve had good luck with AF and AZ lounges (KLM is okay) and the Virgin Clubhouse is hands down one of the best lounges I’ve ever been too. Similarly the SkyTeam group lounge at LHR and DXB are strong. No experience, but people I fly around with say KoreanAir is outstanding. Plus you get these benefits as a Gold member.

    All of that is my way of saying, maybe DL and SkyTeam are worth a whirl. SKyMiles isn’t the best in terms of redemption, but DL sure does treat me well. Come and see why we love to fly…and it shows!

    *The two Virgins aren’t members of the SkyTeam but you get similar SkyTeam benefits.

  55. First off, I’m a former decade long United 1K guy, and a 6-7 Year AA EXP guy. This year, I ditched United for Delta. And it was a flight in delta economy that made me make the switch.

    Even in coach, Delta attendants treat you with dignity, bust their ass, and constantly come by to ask if you want a refreshment. United and AA in coach? yeah right, seat, sit, one drink, and forget.

    I think how an airline treats economy passengers is a big deal, and even though its become more rare that I sit in the back these days (but still do a few times a year), it left an impression on me.

    As for upgrades on Delta, the minute i got the Delta Reserve Amex my upgrade priority (even as a lowly Gold currently) has been excellent! Had to do some last minute flights in coach this year and I believe i was 5 of 6 on upgrades into first.

  56. Ben the major reason for the difference in how your treated on Delta versus American is because Delta does not have employee unions. American has organizations (the unions) that work full time telling the staff they work for an evil company. This creates a workforce that has no feeling of buyin or loyalty.

  57. Has to be cultural to WANT all that fuss. Here (UK) most people I know would hate all that kind of commenting on the loyalty program.

  58. Unless you live near an American hub I dont understand what AA and Oneworld has going in it´s favor. Okay, Cathay Pacific is a nice little airline and that´s good, but I nearly fail to think of a second one. AA isnt too great. BA is utterly terrible and what else is there?

  59. Lucky, as many have commented, even Delta Gold Medallion is valuable. You get SkyTeam lounge access, Virgin Lounge access in the US, SkyPriority (very useful when checking bags), and depending on the route, decent upgrade chances to Comfort Plus or First Class. Out of NYC, Delta Gold seems to get you a decent shot for upgrades to First on many non-transcon routes. AA upgrades seem to be easier out of NYC, but Delta isn’t too bad.

    For 2019, I am going for Delta Gold, or Platinum if I can swing it. I get enough of the AA benefits you mentioned by just buying transcon J fares, or through mileage redemptions.

  60. Excellent article. I was going to buy AA business class to SFO from TPA, now will be buying DL business class to SFO. What sucks is the I have few 100K miles with AA.

  61. As an active AA EP member (former CK and still upset about losing it after my most active year ever!), the hawking of the credit card applications is what bothers me most lately while flying them. It puts the flight attendants in a bad spot, looking desperate, and hawking their company’s business interests ad nauseum.
    There’s something about Delta that doesn’t feel comfortable. Maybe that’s my lack of familiarity with their planes and people but something still keeps me away. Anyone else have that feeling? Help me put a finger on it!

  62. I’m mostly loyal to Delta because of my 15 years of living in ATL (1990-2004). And though these days I “only” make sliver or gold medallion, I stay with Delta because of my experiences when things go wrong. First, they rarely cancel flights for no reason, United especially seem to do this often (at least if the social media posts of my friends are to be believed.) Second they have always treated me right when I have missed connections due either to weather or aircraft maintenance. I have been rebooked in first (even though I paid for coach) and the ground staff both in the Skyclub or at the gate have always accommodated my requests for rebooking when I preferred an itinerary that was not the “automatic” choice. Hey when you live in HNL, missing a connection often means you are NOT getting home today, so I try to take advantage of my “extra” night on the mainland.

  63. Agree that too often being thanked for my loyalty is unnecessary. If an FA checks my status, I would gather they know that I know how things operate. So long as I get my first meal choice I am happy to be left in quiet isolation. High speed wifi is something United could work on, but otherwise I don’t feel Delta offers me anything I want. I find the newest D1 cabins have shockingly bland decor compared to the new Polaris cabins on UA, and while United still has 2 years to complete its business class overhaul I’m ok wait. Delta network to Asia sucks, as do most of their SkyTeam partners, as does their FFP.

  64. My take on it is as follows: True, the in-flight experience on AA sucks. Depending upon the plane (and the crew), UA may suck slightly less on-board. In the air, DL sucks the least of the USL3.

    But the problem is, DL doesn’t really go where I want to fly…
    —> To fly SFO-MSY, I either have a stop at LAX, DTW, or ATL; no nonstops (unlike AS/VX and UA).
    —> To fly SFO-LAS, I have to change planes at LAX.
    —> To fly SFO-JFK, while DL *does* have nonstops, they’re more expensive than AS or B6…and if I’m flying in F, I’ll take Mint every time.

    Add to this the elite status I have with AS, DL doesn’t stand a chance… HOWEVER, if I can’t fly Alaska, I will certainly be checking out Delta before I look at AA or UA.

  65. While I have mixed results with the service on American (the highs can be high, and the lows very low), I do agree with you around their hard product leaving a lot to be desired. I recently flew their 737 MAX first (international Business) roundtrip from Miami to Quito, Ecuador. I had read articles before but nothing could really prepare you for the utter lack of pitch, especially on my return flight home when I was against the bulkhead. Watching the Flight Attendants do manual safety demonstrations was laughable on a new plane. I was relieved when I got on my 737-800 for my connection home. I know Doug said he flew Quito to Miami in Economy and thought it was just fine— my guess is becuase the flight was only 50% full both ways.

  66. Wow! Look at all the DL haters out there, as they should be including the UA employee. Delta does not have to have the greatest sky miles program. It’s just not necessary to keep you flying Delta. DL has sent out many surveys to it’s basic economy, and premium flying customers. They wanted to know how was their experience. On the top ten, Skymiles issues didn’t make it. People want the option of low fares, to be treated right by the employees, especially being greeted by flight attendants when boarding, and they wanted to leave and arrive on-time. Delta commands a premium for a reason. Just ask Lucky how he felt about the Delta Experience. Yes, I’m proud to be with DL in my 21st year. Oh btw, I also purchase full fare tickets on DL. I also fly AA but only when using miles from my credit card spend. I’d never purchase a ticket on AA nor UA for obvious reasons.

  67. We have been flying American (both domestic and international) a lot lately. We fly coach and pay to get bulkhead or exit row seats. I have to differ with you, Lucky, about American employees. We have yet to interact with one who wasn’t genuinely warm and friendly as well as helpful. Being a flight attendant is a tough job and the pay is not exceptional. Yet, American employees have done a great job on all our flights. Now—if American would do better on maintaining it’s planes (It’s still better than United but not by much.), I would put up with outright rude employees just to avoid maintenance delays.

  68. Lounge access for me doesn’t make me loyal to one airline. Thanks to a Amex Platinum I made the switch to Delta. For paid tickets, Delta is the best. For collecting miles and redeeming them, I focus more on American. Collect and redeem AA miles, paid flights on Delta

  69. Skymiles aren’t always so bad for normal customers who aren’t flying all over the world. I was looking into a ThanksGiving flight from DCA-ATL and AA was charging 90k one way. That was an insulting charge. Skymiles was a more reasonable 18-21k.

  70. In late August I booked an award ticket LAX-CDG, MUC-LAX in Delta One for 240k miles, which seemed to be a good price. I rarely fly domestically and earn most of my miles on the cobrand Amex card or flying a partner airline in paid J. I also find it irritating that they don’t publish the award charts any more.

  71. @ TG

    “I’m proud to be with DL”

    I find this mystifying. You are investing emotional energy and some of your sense of self-worth into a corporate entity which exists solely to make as much profit as possible?

    Their transactions with you are totally based on you giving them money. How on earth can any human take “pride” in such an association?

  72. @ethang stanm they may get free upgrades however unless it’s a transcontinental flight first class in the US is nothing special. They also have restricted meal service with only a beverage on some. Upgrading passengers devalues a product if people never pay for it. US carriers also offer economy fares which are valid in first

  73. Hi, Lucky in Love, nice fair comments, , our family have stayed loyal to Delta, and have no complaints about them, In fact over the past few years, Delta have got better, and betters no plans to move, We fly International, and we cannot use miles, that give, you the MQM, (not awards travel,as thats OK) we can fly just on Delta from London, or amsterdam, of course, and in USA,

  74. Fly ’em both on an IRROPS day and tell me with a straight face you prefer DL.

    This is the airline that left passengers stranded for WEEKS after major outages or weather at ATL or MSP.

  75. i’m a 2 million miler on AA and lifetime platinum, which means nothing these days… i’m sitting on 40 upgrade coupons and haven’t been able to use any of them. i get no special courtesies or attention of any kind on AA. and boarding is a mess. i’m usually the 37th person on the plane.

    but my experience on delta is the same, of course, i have no status on delta, so that is understandable.

    i hardly fly either anymore. i’m now global services on united.

    and many of the things described in the post above about delta, i experience on a frequent basis on united domestic… and have experienced them, even before i became GS: recognition, thanks at the gate and onboard, strong pours of whatever i’m drinking, frequent check backs to see if i need anything when sitting up front.

    sure, they lose my luggage every now and again. and the wifi sucks. but they go where i want to go, and almost always on time. YMMV. most importantly, i do get the sense that united employees care deeply. and i don’t think it’s because of a recent push or a pep talk that they may have received.

  76. For reasons that escape me, I always have a bad time flying American. Their gate agents and flight attendants are salty af. This includes when I was flying PAID domestic first with my family and we were all downgraded due to an equipment swap from chs to lax with a layover in mia. They bumped us from first class to y and not just y, but we were the last boarding group (which means we had to gate check our bags) and got seats in the last row. I went up to the gate agent 2 hours prior to the flight to very politely ask if we had to fly in the last row, could we please at least have boarding group 1 so we could keep our carryons since we weren’t checking baggage and had paid for first class? Not only was the answer no, but the gate agent was sincerely annoyed I had the audacity to ask and told me seats in the last row were premium seats. This meant we got to wait for our bags in Los Angeles which unsurprisingly took an extra hour.

    I had another memorable for all of the wrong reasons AA flight when I paid 250 dollars to travel with my 7 lb French Bulldog puppy in domestic first and the American FA scowled at me after I boarded the flight with my puppy confined in her bag and told me she needed to stay under the seat the entire time and not take her out at all. No hi, no nothing, just a “DONT take that dog out”. I have no problem traveling the right way and strive to be respectful with my dog but the fa was completely rude for no reason. Contrast this to a Delta flight where the FAs were coming by asking to see the puppy and holding her while asking me all kinds of questions about her.

    I’ve also had bad experiences with American when flights are delayed and I have gone up to the gate to ask for info. One gate agent listened to me ask if they had updated info about a severely delayed flight (I was worried The rental car kiosk at my destination would have closed prior to arrival, stranding me in the airport overnight with a 7 year old) and after a five second frown he said “do you see any info on this board? No? Then I don’t have any”. Ok then. Later when I realized our boarding passes for the same flight wouldn’t download from my phone I went up to the same agent to ask for a physical ticket and before I had said a word he told me there was still no info on the flight and to go sit down. When I told him I just needed our boarding passes he rolled his eyes.

    I’ve had across the board awful experiences with American FAs and gate agents in Miami, Dallas, Charleston, Los Angeles and other cities. Delta is def a cut above American. Delta makes me feel like a customer. American makes me feel like a burden.

  77. Agree 100% with your analysis of Delta. So much of a better experience than AA.

    BTW I’m not sure I follow your logic about AA executives being ignorant. I DO think they’re penny-pinchers who don’t care about their customers (that’s the message they’re sending us over and over).

    BUT, despite how crappy their service is, you’re saying you’re still going to be loyal to AA. So from a business perspective, as much as they’re making the skies a less happy place, maybe they’re doing something right? 🙂

  78. As an EP on AA I agree. American sucks. Just plain and simple. I took a Delta flight recently and the flight attendant saw my EP tag on my bag, thanked me for giving Delta a chance and gave me a free margarita and snack! Hard to even get that as an EP on AA when it is their policy.

    Can you imagine an AA flight attendant being astute enough to notice a Delta Diamond tag and giving them anything other than a credit card application?

    Another time AA was 4 hours late getting me to their hub so when I was running to my connection interminal D at DFW and yelled at the agent to hold the door (as she was closing it), she turned around and said sorry, You should have been here earlier. I said your airline made me 4 hours late and I have a first class ticket to Asia on that plane (a Dreamliner) and as an EP I am disappointed she couldn’t just open the door and let me on. She didn’t even look up at me and said take it up with customer service. Just awful attitudes.

    I despise AA. The only reason I stay with them is the hub is closer than Delta’s. If Delta’s was closer I would instantly change.

    Everything about AA is mismanaged in my opinion. If I get CK I am going to take a picture of my CK card in the toilet next to the bean burrito the night before and post it on Twitter to their CEO.

    Delta has more comfortable seats and a better interior product with cooler lighting too.

  79. @Anonymous

    Please take solace that I generally had a good impression of most UA employees. Yes, I did switch to Delta. Let’s not go into my reasons, but you are a -very- positive reminder that I can go back to UA should DL ever lose my business.

    Don’t blame yourself for the negative press your organization gets. Please take credit when you see people come back. To be honest, I may not be one of those people. However, there will be others who will choose to come back to United rather than trying something completely new, and it will due to their memories of great UA employees who care.

    (Your post inspired me to make my first ever post on OMAAT)

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