This past Monday, I somehow ended up in a Delta Transcontinental Business Elite seat. I was originally scheduled to fly from Atlanta to Los Angeles via Raleigh and Minneapolis (for more elite qualifying miles, of course), but with a possibly delay on my regional jet leg between RDU and MSP, I was able to switch to a routing via New York JFK (for even more miles on fewer segments!). I thought this in itself was a coup, as I’m a big fan of window Economy Comfort seats on Delta transcontinental 757s (which I get free domestically as a Gold Medallion), and a few of those seats were still open. However, almost immediately after switching, the seemingly impossible happened – not only did my Medallion upgrade from Atlanta to New York clear on an internationally-configured 767-300ER, but so did my upgrade from New York to Los Angeles. This is usually a battlefield route where upgrades clear just before boarding, and usually only include Diamonds and Platinums on weekdays. Here I was, a Gold, clearing 26 hours in advance. Something tells me this was a happy glitch, which was much appreciated after a very stressful few weeks that culminated in this trip.
Transcontinental routes from New York JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco have a more premium feel in first and business class than similar routes in the US, so I was excited for this flight. United has its “premium service” flights which will soon feature flat-beds in business class on a 2-class plane. American plans to continue running 3-class A321s with flat-beds in first and business soon, but currently has older 767-200s with recliner seats. Delta runs 2-class 757s across the country, but is going to have flat-beds on 767s and 757s on all flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle from New York JFK beginning this March. Delta provides free Sky Club access for passengers with nonstop transcontinental Business Elite tickets from New York JFK to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as nonstop first class tickets from JFK to Denver, Las Vegas, Portland, Phoenix, and San Diego. I’ve usually been able to access the club when upgraded as a Medallion member without needing to present my American Express Platinum card. My favorite Sky Club at JFK is the Terminal 2 club, although that might change once the Terminal 4 Sky Club opens. For flights departing Terminal 4, the Oasis is currently a good option.
Upon boarding, my coat was taken and I was asked if I’d like a pre-departure beverage (to be fair, this happens on normal domestic first flights as well). Two flight attendants were working the Business Elite cabin before takeoff, or a 1:8 crew:passenger ratio. I took my seat in 2A, which had a large pillow and comfortable duvet on it.
On the current 757-200 Business Elite configuration, there are only 4 rows in business class. I like row 2, since row 1 has a bulkhead that has just a slight bit less legroom than the other rows. I don’t have a problem with the person in front reclining since there’s much more legroom than on normal domestic 757 aircraft, although there is a folded and stored curtain in front of seat 2A that is used on longer hauls for the crew rest seat in front. It’s only a minor nuisance on these domestic transcons. I also get to order my meal in the first half of the cabin while seated in row 2, although the purser on this flight pointed out that they stock 23 meals for 16 business passengers so that they don’t run out of choices.
While I’m not usually a fan of Delta meals domestically, their transcontinental meals really shine. Menus were passed out before departure and orders were taken shortly after takeoff. (Apologies for the qualities of the photos, had I known I’d be taking this flight, I would have packed my better camera …).
This was, by far, the best domestic meal I’ve had ever, surpassing the dinner on a similar American Airlines flight last year (as well as the United GlobalFirst meals I had from SFO-FRA and LHR-LAX). The appetizer course was incredible, especially the spread, and the salmon with risotto was delicious as well. The gelato at the end really hit the spot. Service was great throughout the flight, with drinks constantly topped off. I finished up my first movie (‘Ted’) with the provided noise-canceling headphones (I forgot the 2-prong adapter for mine), then reclined the seat all the way back and got a comfy nap in – for a day-time flight, the reclining sleeper seats are comfortable, but I am looking forward to lie-flats on this route. Within a minute of waking up, one of the FAs showed up with the snack basket, since I was asleep when she made her first pass-through. With heavy headwinds, I had enough time to watch all but the last 30 seconds of ‘Pitch Perfect.’
What’s also great about these planes is that they feature wi-fi on board, which is actually pretty common in the Delta fleet. One downside of flying internationally-configured planes, like the 777s or the A330s, on domestic routes is that you forfeit wi-fi for increased comfort onboard. However, the 757-200s on the New York to California routes feature wi-fi, which allowed me to post some of these photos on my Twitter in real-time. I also got the chance to finally test out the Glass Bottom Jet feature on Delta’s new iPad app – while it is a pretty cool-looking feature, I found myself defaulting back to the map on my integrated AVOD. The wifi had periods of low bandwidth, which made updating the app a drag.
Although I prefer just looking out the window –
Lastly, Delta provides an amenity kit for transcontinental passengers, which I can’t say for any other airline on a domestic route such as this. While I didn’t bother using it for this flight, it will sure come in handy for future long flights when I’m not so lucky with the upgrade.
All in all, I’m a big fan of these transcontinental flights, and love them even more when I can score an upgrade on a 6+ hour westbound flight. I’m destined to hit Platinum later this year and I’m hoping that’ll allow me to get more upgrades on this route, either with a higher elite status or with upgrade instruments. They have a great soft product and are only improving the hard product. The only downside is that Delta charges 60,000 miles for a round-trip in Business Elite at the low level, and that in itself if very difficult to find. SkyMiles are better used for partner redemptions – the best practices to get into Business Elite involve being a Medallion member — you can hope for a Medallion upgrade, though this is a tough route even for a Diamond; as a Platinum/Diamond, you can book a K fare or higher and use a systemwide upgrade to go to the top of the upgrade list; or you can book an indirect First Class A fare with a stopover in Salt Lake City and Same-Day Confirm for free as a Gold or higher into an open transcontinental business seat within 3 hours of the nonstop flight’s departure. Each option is more expensive than the last, so it’s up to you to figure out how much that seat is worth. Frankly, I might consider K-fares + upgrade instrument if I can find a good fare, as JFK is a useful connection spot for many of my east coast destinations, although I’d rather just use SDC to finagle my way onto emptier flights.