Last week I had a business trip to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When booking the trip from Milwaukee to Greensboro, I noticed that the only options on my preferred carrier (United) consisted of four legs on 50 seat RJs. The ticket was over $650. I have already re-qualified for 1K, so I decided to dig a bit deeper to find a more comfortable experience. Delta had itineraries with all mainline jets, and the tickets were much less expensive. I still have Delta silver status for a few more months, so I decided to go for it.
I don’t typically write about my domestic travel, but this trip was unique compared to my normal experiences, and I’ll work through the comparison I made between flying United and Delta.
I used to fly Delta fairly often, and before that, Northwest. I’ve always like the mainline jets from my home airport, but my company’s preferred carrier is now United, and I strongly prefer Mileage plus vs SkyMiles. I was a Delta Platinum for a few years through 2011, and I had enough MQM to get silver for 2012, but other than one flight in January, these are my first Delta flights of the year.
It was my first flight in a long time where I could not access the elite security lines. Thankfully, the Milwaukee E terminal is not particularly busy, with only Delta and a few United flights to Cleveland departing from there. Silver status also doesn’t help much with regard to upgrades on a Monday morning from Milwaukee to Atlanta. Even so, Delta has somewhat larger first class cabins than United.
not gonna get the upgrade
Despite my slim upgrade chance, I was able to secure an exit row seat, which had excellent legroom. For this flight, I stuck with this seat rather than move to economy comfort, Delta’s extra legroom section, which is free for silver medallions within 24 hours of departure.
Exit row seating on MD-90
Although my flights were not on Delta’s best equipment (MD-90, DC-9, and CR7), I have to admit that the in flight experience is very nice. I did not partake in the Gogo wifi, since my flights were relatively short, but to have that option on even larger regional jets was nice. Another nice perk, although it wasn’t an option on my flights is the free in flight entertainment. Delta offers free DirecTV for all passengers on some of their aircraft (some 737s and 757s). United has this on most 737s, but charges economy passengers.
I also appreciate the free snacks in coach. Its just peanuts, pretzels or Biscoffs, but its better than nothing that is offered on most carriers domestically. I also had a few drink chits, so I could enjoy a Woodford Reserve on board. A very good bourbon, especially on an airplane
There were a few other things I noticed that isn’t going to change my mind about my preferred airline, but I couldn’t help but notice. I’m no fashion guru, but compared to the uniforms by sUA and especially sCO, the stylish uniforms of Delta front line staff are actually modern and professional looking. Another nice thing I noticed was the flight credit posted to my account within 24 hours. Much better than 3 or so days with United.
My trip on Delta wasn’t a flawless experience. As much of a hassle as O’Hare or Newark can be, I really don’t like dealing with connecting in Atlanta. Long cramped concourses get old fast. On my return trip, I had a short connection there, and my first flight had a maintenance issue that looked like I would be delayed. The very responsive @DeltaAssist twitter team protected me on a later flight within in a few minutes of my request. Fortunately that was not needed. The flight boarded very quickly and ultimately pushed on time, and we arrived at ATL within a few minutes of our scheduled arrival. Unfortunately, there were various jetway problems, so we stood there for some time and predictably I had to go from one end of concourse C to the far end of concourse B. By the time I made to my departure gate, all groups were boarded, and as they scanned my boarding pass, they printed out a baggage tag for my rollerboard. Annoying, but not unexpected at that point. I was just happy to be heading home
As pleasant as my Delta experience was, I have no plans to fly them regularly in the future. I still feel a nostalgic connection due to my history flying Delta/Northwest, but there are many reasons they are no longer my carrier of choice. The Skymiles program is quite inferior to the competition already, and the rumors of a change to a revenue-based program in the future make it even less desirable. Some good values can be had with Skymiles redemptions, my favorite is Business Class on Virgin Australia between the US and Australia (and/or New Zealand) for 150,000 miles, but Star Alliance miles are worth much more to me.
Speaking of nostalgia, check out the airline options I had at my hotel on the lobby computer when I was printing my boarding pass. I promise this photo was from November 2012, not 2008!
Hyatt Place time machine!
I enjoyed my trip on Delta simply for variety, but I don’t think I’ll fly with them much going forward, especially since I’ll have no elite status in 2013. For the remainder of this year, I only have a few trips remaining, and the flights are back on my usual carrier, United. To answer my question in the title, “Is the grass greener?” Yes, in some ways it is, but its not enough to go against my corporate travel policy and struggle with the Skymiles program. Delta has a very nice domestic product, but its not enough for me to make a change.
Top photo thanks to Flickr