Last month, I needed to book a one-way flight from Dallas to Ft. Myers to pick up my mom and drive her back home. Yes, this is the return portion of my 1,200 mile road trip with my mom’s cat, which I reported on back in early September. I would have greatly preferred a nonstop flight to minimize travel time, but the only nonstop option is on AA, which was nearly triple the price of connecting options on Delta, Southwest, or US Airways. I’ve flown Southwest several times this year already, and the separate US Airways product will soon disappear into the AA collective, so I decided to go with Delta. I actually used to fly with Delta quite a lot, back when they had their mini-hub at DFW; they provided outstanding service to my family on a trip to Puerto Rico many years ago, so I returned the favor by giving them my business. Flying DL became impractical after the hub was dismantled, though, and I’ve flown them maybe 3 or 4 times since the hub shut down in 2005 (most recently a flight from RSW to DFW in 2010 – so I guess you could say I’m finally flying the other end of that round-trip 4 years later).
On this trip, since I’d have to fly two segments, I decided to use the opportunity to compare DL’s coach offerings, both regular Economy and Economy Comfort (a regular coach seat with extra legroom, similar to AA’s Main Cabin Extra, UA’s Economy Plus, and Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select). NOTE: Delta is rebranding their coach products as Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+, as Rocky wrote about earlier this week, but the products themselves are not changing, save for the addition of free alcohol to Economy Comfort. With no status on Delta, I’d also have to pay full freight for the extra leg room, giving me the chance to test the value proposition for fliers thinking about a small upgrade.
Delta Air Lines (DL) Flight 2310
- November 15, 2014
- Depart: Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) Gate E14, 10:45, on-time
- Arrive: Atlanta (ATL) Gate E11, 13:29, 19m early
- Economy Comfort, Seat 11A
- Equipment: McDonnell-Douglas MD-88
I booked a Super Shuttle to get me from home to the airport, and the night before, they called and asked if I wouldn’t mind being ready 10 minutes earlier than my scheduled pick-up time. No big deal. The next morning, the driver showed up an additional 10 minutes earlier than even the earlier time. No big deal again, but thanks to nonexistent Saturday morning traffic, this also meant we made it to the airport EXTREMELY early, as we pulled up about 8:45. Given the easy security at DFW, I usually like to show up about an hour before flight time. On the bright side, this gave me a chance to explore and take copious photos of DFW’s seldom explored Terminal E, of which I will be putting up a separate post soon.
Anyway, first impressions: the gate agent was actually cheerful, and greeted all passengers with a smile. What a concept. I had always encountered good crews on Delta in the past, so that (fortunately) hadn’t really changed. Economy Comfort does come with Zone 1 boarding thrown in, so I found my way to my seat quickly and settled in. The blue leather seats were clean and well-maintained, and there was a good amount of legroom, though the seats did feel a little tighter than my experience with AA’s Main Cabin Extra. Sure enough, whereas AA’s 757 offers 35-37 inches of pitch with MCE, DL’s MD-88 runs at 34 inches in Economy Comfort.
Also a note for those who don’t fly Delta often – their Mad Dogs are configured with 3 seats on the left (A-B-C) side and 2 on the right (D-E), the exact opposite of AA.
The captain came on the horn gave us some information on our route, and we pushed back right on time. Just as we were leaving, a Delta Connection RJ pulled up beside us, and as we headed towards the taxiway, got a good shot of the “Satellite E” terminal that used to be an integral part of DL’s DFW hub.
As we climbed, I was surprised to see the seatbelt sign go off shortly after we reached 10,000 feet; you rarely see that these days, as most captains seem to prefer to keep the sign on until reaching cruising altitude. Shortly thereafter, our peppy group of flight attendants began beverage and snack service. Delta remains the only legacy carrier to offer snacks in coach, on this flight, a choice of peanuts, pretzels, or the famous Biscoff cookies. You know what I chose; time for some Biscoff-y goodness with that ginger ale. The FA initially handed me a bag of pretzels on accident, but exchanged them for the Biscoff when I reminded her without fuss. I guess she decided to hand me a second packet for the trouble?
Service in general on this relatively short flight was of a high standard. The FAs provided old-fashioned Southern hospitality, came through a second time to ask everyone if they needed a drink refill, and as we were boarding, even offered to hang the coat of a coach class passenger when he asked if there was extra space in the First Class cabinet. These are little things, but little things that are often missing on AA (I’ve rarely received bad service, but it’s typically average at best). Wi-Fi and Delta Studio were available, but I didn’t try either. I was too preoccupied with trying to follow our progress out the window. You only thought you were going to escape a trip report without my famous window scenery photos…
The Airport Freeway (SH 183)/Bush Turnpike interchange shortly after liftoff from DFW
Crossing the Mississippi River near Greenville, MS
Fall foliage on display in Atlanta’s southeastern outskirts
Another DL jet on final approach, with Atlanta skyline in background
Better shot of Atlanta skyline
We arrived at ATL quite early, and as we were descending, the captain did warn us that we might have to wait for a gate. Luckily, ours was open despite the early arrival, and we clocked in a good 19 minutes early. I was already scheduled for a 1 hour 42 minute layover, so this just meant more time to eat and surf the internet courtesy of ATL’s free WiFi. Many of you who are frequent fliers will undoubtedly laugh at intentionally selecting an hour and 40 minute layover – but I have to tell you, I HATE tight connections. I’m a nervous, anal type that gets easily stressed about missing a connecting flight. I’d much rather dork around a boring airport terminal for a couple of hours than risk having to sprint through the airport to catch a connection. Anyway, my connecting flight departed from the B gates, which meant a ride on the “Plane Train”. The station at the B gates is directly downstairs from the food court, which worked out well. Lunch today would be fried chicken, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes from Paschal’s.
I know, I know – heavy meals before a flight aren’t a good idea. But what can I say. I’m a product of the South, and I need my grease. The mashed potatoes were delicious. The mac and cheese and fried chicken were alright; they probably would have been excellent fresh, but as you’d expect from an airport buffet line, they’d been sitting under the heat lamp a little too long. The biscuit was dry. Not a bad airport meal, though.
It was a busy Saturday afternoon at Hartsfield, but since I was so early, I was able to find plenty of seating at the gate, even one with access to a plug. Delta has outfitted alternating rows of seats with a plug stand that can be shared with four people. Very nifty, and thanks to the free WiFi (good enough to run the Vonage app, by the way), I could catch up on the news on my phone before my flight.
DL Flight 2396
- November 15, 2014
- Depart: ATL Gate B26, 15:26, 4m early
- Arrive: Ft. Myers (RSW) Gate C4, 16:56, 7m early
- Economy Class, Seat 32A
- Equipment: Boeing 757-200 (75U)
Strangely, I’d gone through a 9-year stretch where I’d flown a 757 maybe once, and now I’ve gotten one three times in the last 5 months. Go figure. I’d be sitting in regular Economy on this leg, so I boarded in Zone 3. We started boarding a few minutes late, but actually ended up pushing back a few minutes early. Delta has 8(!) versions of the 757-200 in its fleet, and this was an older 75U version with overhead monitors, no in-seat power, and no Live TV. Not a big deal, though, considering this was only an hour and a half flight. The cabin was fairly well maintained, though the seat covers were starting to show their age a bit. Legroom was definitely tighter than Economy Comfort, but still wasn’t terrible (caveat: I’m only 5’7″, so your mileage may vary).
You’ll notice the picture is of an empty middle seat. The door closed, and the seat remaind empty. Yee-haw. The captain once again gave us some route information before we pushed back. We once again had a friendly flight attendant, though this time, the only snack available was a bag of pretzels. BAH – no Biscoff. The flight wasn’t full, so we were offered more pretzels if we wanted, and the FAs once again came through the cabin a couple of times to check on everyone. And we were once again greeted with a smile upon boarding. This plane was again outfitted with WiFi, but I didn’t use it; the late afternoon sunshine once again had me preoccupied with looking out the window. And it was a beautiful afternoon for flightseeing (pardon the picture quality in some photos; the forward window was scratched and dirty).
Crossing the Florida panhandle coast southeast of Tallahassee
West side of the Tampa Bay area; Howard Frankland (top) and Gandy (bottom) bridges over Old Tampa Bay
Sunshine Skyway bridge south of St. Petersburg
Sanibel Causeway linking Ft. Myers and Sanibel Island
Ft. Myers Beach
We landed at 4:51, and with RSW being such a small airport, parked at the gate by 4:57. We were once again greeted by the FAs and the captain as we deplaned, and I was on my way to my sister’s house within minutes to rest up for the big drive the next day.
I was generally impressed with what I saw from Delta on this day. Gate agents and flight crews were friendly, and while the coach snack isn’t much, it is something. Some of DL’s planes are long in the tooth, but they appear to be making an attempt to keep them looking presentable (though having so many versions of a single plane is maddening if there are particular versions you really want to fly on). Most importantly, both legs were on-time, actually a little early, something both AA and Southwest have had issues with lately. Is Economy Comfort worth it? I paid an extra $29 for the seat from DFW to ATL, and it would have been $58 if I’d upgraded both segments. I don’t know that I’d pay that much; AA’s MCE provides more legroom than EC, and it was $47 each way on my trip to LAX in June. $40-45 would probably be my max for a 2 1/2-3 hour flight. BUT, Economy Comfort (or Delta Comfort+ as it will soon be known) will soon include free alcoholic beverages, and that does make the upgrade more compelling. I’ll be curious to see how pricing changes, if at all.
But the biggest problems with DL are still very much problems – 1) the poor state of the SkyMiles frequent flier program, which is the worst of the major programs by a wide margin, and Delta’s rebranding is going to dilute program benefits further, and 2) with a few exceptions, unless you’re going to ATL, using Delta out of Dallas means dealing with regional jets – even to LAX. Would I consider flying Delta again? Seeing as I don’t fly enough anymore to earn status on anyone, sure, if the price is competitive and I could fly mainline. If I had status on AA, though, would I give it up to fly Delta? No. I appreciate the friendlier flight crews and the generally superior experience, but it wouldn’t be enough to exchange nonstop flights and a superior FF program for connections on RJs and an inferior loyalty program.