I’ve had some work travel in recent weeks. After being grounded for months, I now have had a few trips and wanted to share my experiences. I don’t write about my domestic US flights all that often, but it is a strange time to be traveling. While I definitely miss travel, overall, the current state of things is not exactly a great experience. As I’ve long said, much of my work travel is far from luxurious, that is especially the case for domestic travel these days. My recent trips had me flying American to LAX, as well as a nonstop to Detroit on Delta. American is my go to airline for most things, but nonstop on Delta just made too much sense since to get me to Michigan
Flying American to Los Angeles
The first trip I took was to Los Angeles. A common route for me, but due to a greatly reduced flight schedule, there were less options than usual. I routed from Milwaukee to LAX via Phoenix on the outbound, and DFW on the return. Flights weren’t close to full, although my PHX-LAX flight generated an offer to change to another flight due to it filling up. Ultimately, I got an upgrade just before boarding on the first flight. In the past, this means a poor On the flight to LAX, a gate agent offered an upgrade, but since I had a whole row of Main Cabin Extra to myself, I declined. There is no service on the short hop, so no loss. I’d rather have the extra space.
On the return, upgrades cleared before my flights. Other than a wider seat, and the availability of alcoholic beverages, first class isn’t otherwise different from economy.
On American, on flights over 900 miles, passengers receive snack bags. This includes a 500ml bottle of water, snack mix (unclear to me if this is the “first class” offering, or for all passengers), and a single use packet of hand sanitizer. Shorter flights, so in my case PHX-LAX and DFW-MKE (just under the threshold at ~850 miles) get no service at all. Flight attendants only pass through the cabin a few times collecting trash. Be prepared, bring food/drinks, especially for longer flights. While airplane food on domestic flights is rarely anything special, it really seems that American is using the pandemic to cost cut. Especially as compared to Delta. Even my sub 1 hour fights on Delta connection had more service offered than much longer flights on American.
Flying Delta to Detroit
My next trip took me to Michigan. Normally I’d prefer to fly on American, but connections were brutal, and it was hard to justify a connection in Charlotte or O’Hare to get to Detroit. So I booked with Delta. Normally my 3rd or 4th choice among domestic carriers, the convenience of a nonstop won out here. Plus, based on these 2 trips, Delta hasn’t been cost cutting nearly to the extent that American has. Delta continues to block middle seats, and on the 2-2 CRJ-900, the B seat in each row is blocked. My company has some corporate arrangement with Delta, and I could access exit row seats at booking. I could pay to upgrade to Delta Comfort ($9) or First (~$45), but I didn’t bother for the 45 minute flight either way. I had an open seat next to me in both directions.
On both flights, a snack bag is offered to each passenger, consisting of a 2 small bags of salted almonds or almonds and Biscoff, a small hand sanitizer packet and a small ~250ml water bottle. More surprisingly, before departure, one of the flight attendants went around the cabin welcoming passengers, her line to me was something like, “thanks for flying with us again, we appreciate our corporate frequent flyers”. Keep in mind I have flown Delta only a handful of times in the last few years. I’m far from a frequent traveler on Delta. As an Executive Platinum with American, I almost never get any comment from flight attendants on American, although Cathay and other alliance partners sometimes make a point to welcome elite members. In any case, well done Delta.
Hotels are also very different than pre-pandemic. My go-to hotel (a Hyatt Regency) in the LA area has no food/beverage service. I didn’t realize this until check in. No major issue, but kind of a hassle, and it should be more clear. Hyatt offers a whole 500 points per night to Globalist members for not offering breakfast. Meh. Also, no housekeeping service is available except by request. Doesn’t bother me in the least on shorter stays that I had. One odd quirk of the lack of meal services in full service hotels is that even at more limited service hotels, meals are still available. Not nearly as extensive as it was before, but still something.
I had one night at the Hyatt Regency LAX before an early departure, and while their restaurant is closed, the snack shop is available, and Globalists are offered a $25 credit for use there. Even with crazy markups, I much prefer this to 500 Hyatt points for a complete lack of food offered. Bottom line with hotels these days. Be prepared for the bare minimum of service. This is perfectly fine for most of my business travels. A clean bed, and ideally a quick breakfast option is all I really want most of the time,
While in Los Angeles, I dined into a restaurant for the first time in many months. Granted, this was in Ventura country, with a less strict stay at home order. It was odd, and various procedures are in place with safety of staff and guests in mind. Sitting outside, it feels safe, other than the odd sensation that it had been a long time since dining in anywhere. I expected to order take out and eat in my hotel, so this was a nice surprise. Take out food is available most anywhere, otherwise as it has been for months.
Final thoughts on current domestic US flights
I still miss travel, and while I’ve had some trips, they were very much out of necessity, not for fun. While I don’t think traveling is particularly high risk, taking proper precautions, it feels strange getting in close proximity of strangers in an enclosed space for hours at a time after months of avoiding just that. We have some leisure travel coming up later this summer. I’m hoping we can make it happen somehow, but we still haven’t decided, and likely won’t until much closer to our planned departure. Flying feels relatively safe, most people wear masks as they should, and thus far, my flights haven’t been totally full. Seemingly that will change soon.
While I’m still flying American as my primary carrier, when I’m flying, it is always good to see what else is out there. Delta has certainly changed their policies, but there is not so much blatant cost cutting as seen on American. Economy class on any flight isn’t meant to have any luxury. That is certainly the case now, and remember to bring your own food/drinks on board. Many airport food outlets are closed as well, so planning ahead is required.
When will you fly again? Business travel wasn’t much fun, and leisure travel won’t be either, but at least maybe we can go somewhere to get away safely. That’s the goal anyway.