My travels took me to Bermuda last weekend, thanks to a very low Delta Air Lines fare from Newark. Despite holding Delta Platinum status for a year (I have no status anymore with Delta), it was also my first time flying through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport—back then I connected in Salt Lake City or Minneapolis only. Even though I was in economy class, the weekend made me realize that a lot is missing on United/Continental.
First, I had all Atlanta-based crews, which Hunter will tell you is either a blessing or a curse. I turned out to be a blessing for me—the crew was excellent on each flight, engaging, attentive and friendly. Back when I flew Delta more often, the service was consistently good, but I was always in first class on those flights. The service you receive in economy class is truly a barometer of whether FAs “care” in my book—on Delta, at least on my four flights, I was treated extremely well.
Second, and just as importantly, I had Wi-Fi on every flight (three different aircraft types, BTW—a MD-88, 737-800, and A319) and complimentary satellite TV and on-demand movies on the Atlanta-Bermuda flights (though the internet and satellite tv did blink off over the ocean). I really can get used to internet and AVOD on domestic flights—the flights helped me understand how much I am missing.
Third, Delta still hands out complimentary snacks on all flights. Granted, free peanuts, pretzels, and cookies are not going to make me switch carriers, but it is nice that Delta hasn’t quite cut back as much on the in-flight product as others have. Delta even gives out junior pilot and FA wings to the kids…and even gave me a couple for my, ahem, kids…
Fourth, 3/4 flights (the only exception being a packed flight from ATL-EWR) went out with open seats in first class. At a time when it has become very difficult for top-tier flyers on United and especially Continental to get upgrades, this was a refreshing sight. I suspect that if I were a Delta Diamond, my complimentary upgrade success rate would be 100%. I was traveling on a T-fare, so Delta would not even let me upgrade with cash ($100/flight) at the gate.
But despite the great trip this weekend (look for my upcoming trip report on Bermuda and a review of the Fairmont Princess Hotel in Hamilton), I do not anticipate I will be flying Delta more often going forward. While Delta is superb domestically (and they even fly Philadelphia-Los Angeles non-stop at great times for me), internationally they remain miles and miles (and miles and miles) behind their competing American carriers. Take upgrades: American allows the use of systemwide upgrades on any fare class while United/Continental allow the use of SWUs on W-fare (lower mid-range fares) and above. Not Delta—if you want use a SWU or even miles to upgrade, you need to buy an M-fare or above, which typically run north of $2,500 r/t from North America to Europe. That makes SWUs essentially worthless, especially after they cut back on the Air France loophole.
Furthermore, when you compare SkyTeam to Star Alliance, there really is no comparison—it’s like comparing a major league team to a minor league team. I don’t wish to denigrate carriers like Air France, KLM, Korean Airlines, and Aeroflot, but when compared to the 26 members of the Star Alliance, the opportunities to earn and accrue mileage in cities around the world is so much less with SkyTeam, and in this globetrotting stage of my life, that is most valuable.
Delta really impressed me over the weekend—they may be stuck in SkyTeam, but I could still see myself throwing more business at them once I make million mile status with United next year if they could only make their international upgrade benefits more competitive. Are you listening Delta?