Comparing The Domestic Flight Experience On Delta And American

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Moving to Washington State last year was pretty much the end of my loyalty to American Airlines. The relationship was already deteriorating — the elite benefits stopped being as competitive, and there was nothing to justify the higher fares versus other carriers — but American has very little presence in Spokane with just three daily flights, which was pretty much a deal breaker.

Instead, I’ve moved my domestic flying to Delta, which over-serves Spokane as they continue their attack on Alaska cities. This is great in the short term, as it means flights are plentiful, inexpensive, and there are direct Delta flights to four of their hubs.

I did fly American this week, however, as part of my award ticket to London, and it reminded me that I’ve been wanting to do a comparison of the experiences between the two carriers. I know others are always considering switching their primary carrier for one reason or another, and there are certainly some differences to be aware of. As a Delta Platinum and former American Executive Platinum with a spectacular upgrade rate, most of my in-air perspective is in First, but there are plenty of differences in the ground experience as well.

So, in no particular order:

Boarding

American boards painfully early, and has nine boarding groups, yet somehow the boarding of nearly every American flight seems like a near-disaster. I don’t know if it’s because announcements aren’t being made soon enough, if the advance boarding throws schedules off, or if American is just disadvantaged because of their hub airports, but boarding nearly always feels very disorganized. I consistently arrive at the gate ~5 minutes before the scheduled boarding time to discover that boarding is halfway completed, yet the gate agent is still frantic and passengers are all over the place not knowing when to board.

Delta, in contrast, has a theoretically less-organized boarding process, that somehow is better executed. While American has nine boarding zones, Delta still has the more traditional calls for pre-boards, military, families, etc., and usually starts that process at the posted boarding time. So the time listed for boarding your flight will bear little to no relation to the actual boarding time for you. The boarding notifications from the app are also based on aspirations, not reality, which seems like an adjustment that could be made. I’ve found that in bigger airports with all flights on time, “Premium” boarding can start 7-12 minutes after the published boarding time.

Both airlines could be more accurate with their boarding times, or at least their notifications. Time spent milling around the gate is the least productive time in an airport, and can lead to a chaotic boarding process, so keeping passengers updated is better for everyone. But boarding early doesn’t seem to help matters at all.

Winner: Delta

Overhead bin space

Unless you’re traveling with small children or otherwise need extra time, it seems the only reason folks board right away is to secure bin space.

Delta proactively and aggressively blocks first class bins for first class passengers. Some American flight attendants will take it upon themselves to do the same, but it’s definitely not consistent.

I’ve also found that Delta agents are much more insistent during the pre-boarding announcements that unneeded carry-on bags should be checked. Like, multiple announcements, even on flights that aren’t full.

And it seems to work, because I have never seen a Delta employee directing people to the carry-on sizer as they try to board. Meanwhile almost every American flight I take features someone regulating carry-on bags like their bonus depends on it, further complicating the already messy boarding process. I also see many more instances of people walking their bags to the front of the plane to be gate-checked on American than on Delta.

Winner: Delta 

Mobile apps

This one is easy — I had no idea how atrocious and poorly designed the American app was until I didn’t have to use it every week. Maybe the iPhone version is amazing, but the Android app is terrible.

Delta’s app is much better, and they use it to far greater effect. There’s more information in offline mode, the boarding passes are easier to scan, and the interface is generally more intuitive. My only complaint is that in the Android version the app is called “Fly Delta” which makes it annoying to find in the alphabetized app tray.

Winner: Delta

Outlets and onboard power

I flew through Phoenix on Wednesday, which reminded me that American’s power situation is absolutely and completely unacceptable.

Many of the pre-merger US Airways planes don’t have in-seat outlets. Still. In 2018. And I know there are always people who say “flights are supposed to be for relaxing, not everyone has to work, charge your devices before you leave,” and whatever else. The majority of the flying public (particularly in first class where people are more often traveling for work) wants in-seat power. With the increasing reliance on airline apps for flight information (and entertainment), being able to charge devices is mandatory.

Neither of my American flights on Wednesday had outlets, and on both flights other passengers in first class were visibly looking for them. The inconsistency with on-board charging opportunities is compounded by the lack of available charging options on the ground. The renovated Admirals Clubs have improved their outlet situation, but most gate areas are still lacking in outlets.

Delta, meanwhile, has outlets, or at a minimum USB ports on nearly all mainline aircraft. The app lists whether or not a given flight will have in-seat power. And there are power-up stations that allow multiple passengers to charge devices at almost all gates.

Winner: Delta

Connections

Steph mentioned this briefly in her intro piece, but if you don’t live in a hub city, and thus need to connect regardless, Delta has a stronger presence in better airports.

Salt Lake City and Seattle are much better than Phoenix. Minneapolis and Detroit blow Chicago O’Hare out of the water. LAX and JFK are equally horrible for everyone, but even Atlanta is easier to connect in than DFW or MIA.

For many of us, schedules and timing have a greater influence on our airline choice than anything else, and outside of weather concerns probably don’t look too closely at comparative connections. But it’s been an absolute delight connecting in the well-managed SLC and MSP airports as opposed to the PHX and DFW connections of my American years.

Winner: Delta

Lounges

American’s Flagship lounges and dining are vastly better than anything Delta has to offer, but most people, most of the time, are just going to be using the standard SkyClubs and Admirals Clubs.

The caliber of the lounges varies dramatically with both airlines. Some, like the Seattle SkyClub, are either newly constructed or recently refurbished, with bright spaces and updated furniture.


SkyClub Seattle

Others are more like the Detroit SkyClub, which feels a bit dark and dated.


SkyClub Detroit

On balance, American has more recently-refreshed Admirals Clubs, which have abundant outlets and are generally not horribly crowded.


Admirals Club Toronto

Obviously it will vary based on airport and time of day, but in general Delta lounges seem to be more heavily utilized. More people have access to SkyClubs than Admirals Clubs, given that many people have one of several cards that offer SkyClub access, like The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN, Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card, etc., or choose a SkyClub Membership as their Diamond Medallion Choice benefit.

American doesn’t offer a pathway to Admirals Club membership through elite status, so the best way to gain access is through the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®.

While American has been adding some speciality items to their lounge catering, with things like avocado toast and guacamole at certain lounges during certain time windows, for the most part the lounge offerings are limited and unimpressive.

The larger lounges will have things like prepared salads, soups, hummus, and olives at certain times of day, but outside those windows (or in satellite lounges), the selection primarily consists of cubed cheese, snap-less peas, and snack towers of sadness.


Admirals Club LAX snacks

Delta isn’t going to win Michelin stars for their SkyClub menu either, but I think the selection is much better. The main and larger SkyClubs have prepared items by local chefs, with a substantial mix of hot and cold items.

And even the smaller clubs and satellite lounges have a “SkyBowl” concept that accommodates a lot of dietary restrictions. On a connection in Salt Lake last week, for example, the salad bar had grilled chicken, three kinds of lettuce including a massaged kale, and several types of vegetables. The proteins vary, and sometimes one of the lettuces is replaced by a seasoned rice, but there’s always a good mix. Soup or a macaroni and cheese dish is usually available as well.

Ultimately, I think, it depends on what you value, and the airports you’ll be utilizing most often.

Winner: Tie

Onboard catering

Ben has said plenty about American’s abysmal domestic catering, so I won’t belabor the point. The one bright spot is that they now allow you to order special meals on domestic flights, though those can still be hit or miss.

Delta’s catering is of a higher quality, with better presentation. Even breakfast flights will often have a choice of hot or cold items (though there are some aircraft that don’t have ovens, and only have cold meals regardless of the time of day).

Both carriers have quite a few “snack basket” routes now, though Delta has fewer. The contents of said snack baskets are mostly junk, though Delta seems to have slightly more options on the “healthy” end of the scale.

Winner: Delta

Onboard amenities

If you’re flying first class on Delta, you’ll board to find a small bottle of water, a packaged blanket, and a pillow at your seat. Even on a regional jet.

Unless you’re flying a premium transcon route, American doesn’t stock pillows, but each seat will have a blanket.

Both airlines advertise pre-departure beverages, but American flight attendants don’t like to serve them. My Delta crews have been great about offering drinks during boarding, and will generally take “once we’re in the air” orders ahead of time as well.

Delta has been refreshing their fleet, and the interiors are stunning, with more spacious bins, mood lighting, and built-in IFE. There are, of course, still many un-refurbished planes, but the revamped aircraft are really pleasant.

Delta has been improving their wifi coverage and speed, and when it works, it’s amazing. On about 25% of my flights, however, the system is inactive for whatever reason. That’s massively frustrating, and derails my productivity for the day (and sometimes the following day as I catch up).

American’s wifi speeds aren’t always great, but it’s been a few years since I’ve been on a flight where it doesn’t work at all, and I personally value consistency more than anything.

Winner: American (only because I care more about consistent wifi than any other amenity, for most people Delta probably wins out)

Bottom line

Even separating out the respective elite programs, and the value of the miles earned, and looking exclusively at the domestic flight experience, there are quite a few differences between American and Delta.

Overall, I think Delta offers a superior domestic experience, particularly in first class. Combined with the operational reliability and happier crew members, flying Delta has been much more pleasant than flying American recently.

Has anyone had a different experience? What do you value most for domestic flights in the U.S.?

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Comments

  1. What about legroom? I think Delta’s FC legroom is much less than AA’s.

    I agree RE: ap. I usually fly American, but have had the occasional Delta flight, I’m blown away by the functionality in their ap.

  2. Interesting post! Would love to see something similar including United… and also comparative posts for other countries/regions. ANA vs. JAL for Japan, Etihad/Emirates/Qatar for the ME-3, Korean vs. Asiana etc.

  3. I completely agree that the sole reason I board early is to secure overhead space. If, for some reason, I don’t have something to go in the overhead, I am perfectly happy to be the last person on the plane.

    There is also something to be said about “claiming” the armrests as well, and I do admit when I fly Southwest I go out of my way to try and “look big” so nobody will sit in the middle seat. Can only do that if you’re on-board early.

  4. This mirrors my experience consistently. With the exception of a handful of ex-NW battle axes (including my own aunt), DL flight attendants seem to be genuinely invested in the success of the airline. AA has great people, but you never know when or where you’ll find them.

  5. i can definitely vouch for the uselessness of the AA iPhone app, but both pales compared to the litany of features and info the UA app gives you.

    The DL app is smart from DL’s perspective because it’s splattered with up-sell and cross-sell features, but that is also my biggest gripe about it because it really gets in the way of accessing basic reservation info.

    The southwest app matches the airline’s reservation system and mindset – still stuck in the 70s.

  6. Perhaps this article was edited, but curious that it doesn’t compare the three areas where DL surpasses both other legacies, (1) operational performance, (2) service quality (whether by phone, at the airport, or on board), and (3) baggage delivery (DL is unbelievably fast). For domestic flying DL is IMO the clear winner. For international, DL flies too many of the crappy 767s and its partners generally suck.

  7. @Sam – it seems the review was fairly fact-driven. I didn’t find any significant bias or emotional commentary. If anything, I was surprised AA won the “Onboard Amenities” category instead of it being a Tie – though my inherent bias tells me DL should have won that one too 😉

  8. Have to say the gripes I see that you have for AA certainly don’t ring true for me. Based on maybe 100 AA FC flights in the last few years:
    Boarding – on maybe 10% of flights I see boarding begin before the stated time.
    Overhead bins – I see more and more FAs closing the bins for FC during the Y class boarding phase. I don’t see many Y passengers throwing bags into the FC bins unless they’re the final stragglers for boarding and they’re looking for anywhere, with the FA’s help. DL’s overpolicing of OHB is frankly annoying. I had one flight where the GA said there was no OHB bin space left and every bag was given a valet tag. I was skeptical as I was arriving around the time of the second boarding group. Alas once onboard (this was a 757 boarding through 2L) you could see half the bins were completely empty!
    Pre-departure drinks – I’d say about 95% of my flights get full bar, this includes LUS and LAA crews.
    Lounges – AA Flagship Lounges blow the Skyclubs away and I find the newer Admirals Clubs far nicer. Only benefit is being able to blow a few Skymiles on premium champagne!
    Interiors – Look at the number of AA 737s that now have the Boeing Sky Interior, I have a very high hit rate on these out of pure luck

    At least AA’s fleet is a little more consistent. DL have so many configurations of 757 alone (some of which are dreadful for premium passengers!) that I can’t keep up!

    I’ll concede that the lack of outlets on some LUS aircraft is annoying and the AA app is far from great.

  9. Connections are about getting somewhere. Delta keeps a strangle hold on Atlanta (which is such a horrible airport, I’d rather go to Walmart on Christmas Eve) and Detroit. So you get to stop in one of those places whether you need to or not and you can’t use the cheap Delta flights to their hubs to connect to other airlines. In Dallas I can actually get a SW flight or many international flights. In Atlanta I can fly Delta. Or a Delta codeshare. American also doesn’t charge a ton to fly to its lesser hubs like JFK or LAX, which while both horrible airports, are incredibly useful for getting to Europe and Asia with reasonable award availability and pricing.

  10. One thing I don’t get, people on these sites are always complaining that they never get pre departure beverages in first class on American. I have have been in first class on American a good number of times in the last few years and I have never not gotten a pre departure beverage. Have I just gotten lucky or is this some kind of online travel myth?

  11. This is a great breakdown! Two things though that, at least in my experience, also make flying delta a more enjoyable experience:

    1.) On your overhead bin section, I think the differentiation in Delta’s basic economy rules also are an added plus. This might not matter, especially for those with status or the right cards, but I often see DL basic economy priced similar to UA or AA in my markets. Conditional on scheduling, DL is almost always the better choice for luggage reasons.

    2.) I take your point on consistency in inflight wifi as an advantage to AA – some might say it’s an AAdvantage – but I wonder how much this is conditional on where you are flying. I’m based in an Northeastern city with a medium sized airport and its seems to me that AA’s (and UA’s) regional carriers rely more on CRJ-200, ERJ-140/145, or the Dash to get you to their hub. Alternatively, it is very rare that I am stuck on a CRJ-200 Delta Connection flight. Whether you need wifi for work or like some form of IFE for yourself or your kids to keep them occupied, DL seems to offer a more consistent product across its fleet than AA.

  12. I couldn’t disagree more. As an AA EXP I recently flew Delta cross country in first (not a transcon) connecting through ATL to give it a try since people rave about DL. Yes, the plane interiors are nice but the inflight service from the crew and meal quality were no better (or worse) than AA. Delta will have to work harder to win my business away from AA.

  13. The Delta app sends a push message when boarding begins. A huge plus in my book when trying to gauge when to leave the SC.

  14. As an AA flyer, I found most of this to be accurately representative of the AA experience.

    That said, I’ve rarely seen AA flights start boarding before the boarding time. And I’ve actually come to appreciate the new boarding process, as it seems much clearer than hoping people can follow many announcements – though I have seen the ‘special ones’ who are in Group 8 but try to board with Group 2 get a hall pass and be allowed to board from gate agents way too many times.

    I’ve read lots of different takes on the pre-departure beverages, here’s my take as a lowly Platinum: Most times I’m sitting up front, I’ve seen the FA offer the pre-departure beverage, but quite often, they’ll limit it to something like only water or water and juice.

  15. @Former Chase Banker : their IRROPS behavior shows otherwise. At DFW they were continuously announcing 15 mins rolling delays AFTER the boarding time, which is insufficient to go anywhere or do anything except congregate at the gate like lice.

    I flew about 80 segments in 2016 across all airlines and my single worst delay was DL DFW-LGA.

  16. @ Fraser — All valid points! May I ask where you’re based that you’re not seeing early boarding, and are receiving consistent PDBs?

  17. @ GuestA — I think it really depends on the crew. AA has great people, but a large percentage is highly disgruntled, and doesn’t like to do much pre-departure as they’re technically not getting paid when the door is open.

  18. @ WidgetsOfTheSkies — You’re right, and it probably is more of a tie. I’ll add a caveat that American is only winning that for me because while the wifi may be slow, it is consistently present.

  19. @ Kacee — Well, I can’t speak to many operational challenges on either carrier, to my great fortune, and I don’t check bags often enough to compare. Delta’s service is absolutely better, you’re right. Possibly because with most other things going well, it’s probably a better place to work!

  20. @ Brian — It really depends on the aircraft, so is tough to compare. Both carriers have regional flights operated by Compass Air, for example, which use identical equipment. Most aircraft in both fleets have a pitch between 36″ and 38″, and then American’s 738s have 40″-42″ pitch, but a narrower seat than Delta uses on that aircraft.

  21. Million miler with AA here but since MSP became my hub 12 years ago I switched to NWA and then Delta. Delta has been a great domestic airline for me. First, it has over 160 non-stop flights daily out of MSP. Second, most of their planes are refreshed inside and looks modern and clean. Third, flights are always on time. Last, as a DM I am treated very well and easily get on standby for many flights if for example a meeting ended earlier and I got to the airport and there was an earlier flight. Getting home earlier means a lot.

  22. DL is in cost cutting mode under the veil of “efficiency”…..DL1 domestic is now worse….and overall their domestic meals are meager (an antipasto plate for Lunch ATL-SFO?). Their WiFi performance is awful because the 2KU bubbles are so much more fragile and having to fix them with Gogo. Where are the warmed nuts domestically? I often get my first drink in-flight plopped down on my meal tray and have plenty of flights where the FA’s shout out to the FC cabin that they are not doing a PDB service….very classy.

    AA is not perfect and they are behind because of merger years, but they are IMO a better domestic experience and getting better……lounges now have real food being rolled out and the soups are way better than DL’s boring chicken noodle everywhere I go.

  23. Here is another take on things….I live in a Tourist Trap city in the NW corner of Florida thanks to the Air Force. Delta, being like Coca Cola in the deep South, is a big player. Lots of frequency, but mostly the old Super 80 planes out of my home airport, VPS, and some 757 service to Pensacola.

    American, having digested USAir, has gradually increased service over the last three years….replacing CRJ-200 and E-145 flying sardine cans with CRJ700,900s, now some Envoy 175s, and even the flying Coors Light can Super 80 to DFW. I even fly on the new AA 319 (TVs) from Dallas to Pensacola once. Tons of departures to Charlotte and Dallas, once a day to Washington Reagan, and if I make the 1hr15 drive to Pensacola, three-a-day to Miami. Pensacola is even picking up one or twice daily service to Philadelphia.

    For me, this ends the equation. Why live and die by Atlanta, no matter where you’re going? Instead, I fly through Charlotte when heading to New York, through Miami when heading to South America, and really anywhere when I want to position myself for an international flight.

    I think this little example shows that inflight service, wifi, etc etc can really be overwhelmed by the individual traveler’s home airport, destinations/connections available, and the flexibility that offers.

    Btw – can we expect a review of the Ramada Hotel at the Spokane Airport? They have an INDOOR WATER PARK!!!!!

  24. I don’t fly Delta often due to being Chicago based, but when I do, I am consistently impressed in comparison to American how efficiently everything is run. Their ops are lightyears ahead of the competition.

    American used to be a great airline. I think they are doing well in part because United sucks so much, but once United gets their act together, if they ever do, I – along with others I’m sure – whose loyalty to American the new management has no less than totally squandered, will be ready to jump ship.

    Delta (Alaska too), send more planes to Chicago!!

  25. @ Mark F. — Hah, it’s definitely a thing. I’m sure someone else can explain better, but for whatever reason kale can be very tough and bitter when raw unless you let it marinate for a bit. There’s a big difference between “massaging” the oil/vinegar into the leaves versus pouring it on.

  26. Also in Spokane…..you’re basically comparing DL to US Airways since LAA never flew to Spokane and they still haven’t merged crews and planes. If you live in NYC or LAX or SFO….the experience is very different.

  27. I agree about the electrical outlets. It’s horrible that AA still uses some old planes on Transcons that have no outlets or IFE. Went through this yesterday and a few weeks ago on flights from PHL to SAN. Hopefully the order of new 737s will fix this soon.

    I don’t agree about the boarding process and overhead bin policing in First Class – I have seen numerous AA FAs policing economy customers trying to stow bags in F and frankly, most F passengers are boarded long before space becomes any kind of issue. My boarding of four flights in the past two weeks has taken place right on schedule – 30 minutes prior to departure. And yes, it seems to take forever for some reason but I don’t know that Delta has a better system. And one hears about AA directing passengers to the sizer but I’ve never seen it. And I always get a pre departure drink.

    As for the food in F, I agree with Lucky that it’s generally bad on AA but this year it seems to be getting better on domestic flights. The food in J on international flights remains subpar, with no noticeable improvement.

    I admit I’ve never used the DL app but I use the AA app regularly and don’t have a problem with it. My boarding passes load onto Apple Wallet and scan just fine – never an issue, even in International Airports. I get delay notifications and gate changes along with incoming aircraft delays, etc. They have made it much better in the past year.

    The AA lounges seem far better than DL but I haven’t been in a Delta lounge since 2016 so maybe they’re much nicer now.

    The DL international arrival area at JFK was a trainwreck (absolute worse anywhere) back in the days I was flying with them (up until 2011), perhaps they have improved it since then. As for AA at JFK, I use them only in the winter months but I’ve no complaints.

  28. @Tiffany, agree with you on this article. Delta does have a lot of advantages when it comes to the whole experience. Also, how they treat their elites give them an edge too. I fly delta basically without question (call me dumb or whatever) but I don’t want to put my money elsewhere for a sub-par experience domestically. Internationally, there’s definitely room for improvement, but being able to fly Sky Team on KLM, China Airlines (among others) makes for options across the oceans. I know KLM is no Lufthansa, but that’s okay 🙂

  29. Very practical article.

    TAAG is great entertainment! This article is useful to me. Both are good.

  30. @ RJM — Well, I think the 1x DFW flight is LAA, but I’m not talking just ex-GEG routes. My experiences out of Spokane on American match what I saw out of San Diego as well.

    But of course, if you live in/are traveling between the premium transcon markets, the experiences on all carriers are going to be vastly different.

  31. If you think SLC is a joy to connect in today (and it really is, especially how old it is) just wait for the new building to be completed. I love that my local airport is not just adding a flashy new concourse but is starting completely over. Once it’s done it’ll be MUCH easier to connect, even onto different airlines. And even with the construction the only hassle is local auto traffic, and that’s even managed well. With the TRAX line extended to the terminals currently it’s good, and it’s all going to be great when all done.

    As I said, I’m SLC based. I fly often to DFW so my non-stop options are AA and DL. I prefer AA only for the Terminal 1 SLC experience (fewer people, fewer gates) and for one very early morning flight. Otherwise AA is awful. Everyone I interact with is harsh and clearly not happy to be at work. The planes AA flies on the route are fine, nothing remarkably good or bad with them. DL, on the other hand, is fantastic. Usually I’ll fly AA going and DL coming home.

  32. “Meanwhile almost every American flight I take features someone regulating carry-on bags like their bonus depends on it, further complicating the already messy boarding process.”

    boarding DFW-MSY a few years back for a trade show and a colleague was embarrassingly berated for somehow breaking the carry-on and personal item rule with a laptop bag and purse and maybe a book in her hands. Really, she had to put her purse in her laptop bag? I felt terrible for her.

    I alternate DL and AA for IND-LAX a few times a year. Would give DL a slight edge but AA closed the gap a lot in my mind just by bringing back Woodford Reserve!!!!!!

  33. You are def lucky if you haven’t had enough delays to compare them. I’ve seen DL turn over delayed arrivals in under 20 minutes for an on-time departure of the next flight, complete with full catering and the little bottle of water at each seat up front. I can’t imagine this ever happening on any AA flight. I’ve spent more hours pacing DFW waiting for delayed flights than I care to think about.

  34. I couldn’t agree more. Especially with DTW as my homebase, I enjoy DL airports far more than any of the other hubs AA and some UA hubs.

    The crew on every DL flight in the recent years have been amazing and still amazing. DL, no matter economy or premium, will smile and talk to you with respect. Of course i have had a few just okay FAs, but definitely most make my day.

  35. For AA at JFK, the boarding announcements are so loud you hear it at the next gate over. People dont pay full attention so a boarding call will mean people at adjacent gates also line up to board and then are confused when they find out it wasnt for them.

    I also dont get why AA needs 9 boarding groups and takes a half hour or more to board a 737. I flew JAL’s 787 and ANA’s 77W recently and boarding was complete in 20-30 minutes.

  36. As a former AA EXP who gave up on them and became a Delta heavy free agent, Tiffany is right about every aspect she covered. Amazing to me that people still think AA is a good way to travel, it’s like the travelers version of Stockholm Syndrome.

  37. I disagree on most points…boarding is always on time or at most 5 minutes early. They do occasionally start a couple minutes early, but I’ve never seen a flight half boarded 5 minutes before boarding time. I fly all over the US, but most frequently Austin, Philadelphia, and Kansas City.

    Delta is TERRIBLE about overhead bin space. They force people to gate check in the first three groups (same observation as Fraser) sometimes and I often see empty overhead bin space. Meanwhile I’ve never seen American direct anyone to the sizer (never really see that on any airline actually). American was directing airport staff in Philadelphia to check bag sizes prior to security for a while last year but they knocked that off.

    Delta’s planes are better. I’m constantly irritated with how much overhead bin space and underseat space is consumed by boxes and equipment on American’s new planes. Somehow Delta’s new planes don’t suffer from this problem…not sure why, maybe just more thoughtful design. And as you mention the power situation is inconsistent but for that reason i guess I rarely use them.

    I have always been served a pre departure beverage on American. I’m sure some grouchy crews don’t do it but that hasn’t been my experience (5-6 first class flights a year, so not too often for me).

    I subscribed to a monthly gogo plan on American for 4 months last year and found the majority of the time it was completely non-functional and when it was functional it usually was capable only of handling email. Absolutely nothing in the browser worked except on a rare few flights. I stopped buying it.

    I don’t see why Atlanta is better than DFW, both are fine for giant hubs. I was routinely paying over $900 for Austin to Atlanta flights last year on Delta, they must have been very happy with that route. If I could delete one airport it would be Miami, but at least I only have to deal with it for connections to south america.

    American’s app is serviceable and works just fine offline, but I agree that Delta’s is a bit better in terms of providing info about the amenities on your plane. And of course showing the upgrade list more than 4 hours in advance is nice.

  38. Good post. You and I see eye to eye on Delta. Recently I’ve been on flights (in Economy Comfort) and found myself thinking “this crew must be based in Minneapolis or something…they’re so nice and helpful and gracious…” It’s most noticeable during boarding–helping people with their luggage, moving things around to fit this and that, in a couple instances offering to store peoples weirdly shaped/breakable things for them, moving people around the cabin so everyone could have more space… THE CREWS WERE FROM LA AND NEW YORK. I almost died lol

  39. (and it doesn’t bother me that they don’t have a different, more premium experience for long-haul business…I try not to fly American carriers outside of North America)

  40. I travel the cheapest ticket – so I have no (or little) bias – but I have to say that this article feels full of it. You clearly don’t like American.
    I’ve experienced all the issues mentioned above on all the airlines.
    It really is down to the route your flying and any given day.
    The true answer to the questions is AA or Delta better is ‘it depends’.

  41. Power outlets are a huge issue, so I always avoid those AA flights. It’s been many years since I’ve been on a DL flight that didn’t have power of some sort, I think it may have been STL-MSP?

    My travel is probably different from many readers though, since I spend the majority of my time TPAC or TATL, very rarely having a final destination in flyover country.

  42. …and one last thing: I can’t be the only one who notices how hard those Skyclub employees work. They always friendly, and they HUSTLE. Even in the ugly, old clubs.

  43. @Tiffany – JFK based. My most popular routes are to CLT and MCO but have also been to AUS, PHX and RIC several times this year. Not all my crews are LUS but ex-CLT I am 100% for PDBs. JFK is very prompt for boarding at posted times, CLT too IME.

  44. Thanks for this article, Tiffany! I fly Delta out of JFK the past 3-4 years now and definitely prefer it over AA and UA. For me, it’s the service and on-time arrival stats that keep me flying DL. So I’ll admit that DL tends to avoid cancelling a flight (which is great) but at the same time it also means it most likely does a rolling delay when they have to in the name of safety (which can be a pro and a con depending on one’s perspective.)
    Anyway, I agree with you that the app is great! Even if the flight is delayed officially by 5 mins, I can rebook my flight for free using the app using any available routing that shows up on there.

  45. None of my many experiences with AA boarding and carry-on policing remotely resemble what you describe. I’ve never had a plane start boarding before the stated boarding time. And I find having groups 1-9 to be much more sensible than groups 1-4, but half of the plane boards before ever getting to group 1 because of various categories of in-numbered boarding groups. It’s also easier to quickly inform people who just showed up where the boarding process is. I think I’ve only seen the bag size checker used once, when a passenger with a giant bag tried to claim her carryon fit… It wasn’t even close.

    On all other accounts, I’d say this is pretty spot-on.

  46. How much did Delta pay you to write this article? You spend the entire first paragraph talking about how “your relationship with American was deteriorating, but then casually mention that American only has 3 flights per day. Then try to convince us that that piece of information settled it. When it reality that would be the main factor for any frequent flyer’s decision with the other pieces helping to make that decision.

  47. @ Sellouts — I don’t think I said that I switched because of factors I observed after switching? Though a time machine would be super handy!

    I was considering switching my airline loyalty (or becoming a free agent) before we moved. Once AA management decided they didn’t want to compete on loyalty or product, other carriers became much more compelling, and Delta’s presence in San Diego is similar to what AA offers.

  48. I’m just doing bwi/phx mostly and boarding doesn’t start early. And PHX is a good airport. The power thing is amusing. And people often are looking for it.

  49. @Tiffany, do you credit your earned miles to Delta or to another airline? I’m soon moving from an AA-heavy city to one where Delta is a more convenient option.

  50. Oh c’mon:

    “Moving to Washington State last year was pretty much the end of my loyalty to American Airlines. The relationship was already deteriorating — the elite benefits stopped being as competitive, and there was nothing to justify the higher fares versus other carriers — but American has very little presence in Spokane with just three daily flights, which was pretty much a deal breaker.

    Instead, I’ve moved my domestic flying to Delta, which over-serves Spokane as they continue their attack on Alaska cities. This is great in the short term, as it means flights are plentiful, inexpensive, and there are direct Delta flights to four of their hubs.”

    As a business traveler, capacity out of your home airport is going to be the #1 factor every time. Instead you tried to slant the article towards your bias against the american product. I am not saying that you can’t have a favorite or preferences, but to imply that AAdvantage forced your switch and not a lack of capacity is insulting.

  51. Deltas first class meals on flights under 1500 miles are disgusting. Sometimes a ham sandwich you would get from a bad lunchable. Delta first clas has no leg room and poor recline.

    Both airlines are pretty bad overall. I give American the edge on their less bad FF program and I have NO CLUE what your talking about with schedules. Delta’s schedules east to west SUCK so bad. Try going SMF or RNO to FLL. On AA/UA I get tons of choice. On DL—- it’s red eye or 2 stops. Delta has the worst East-West networks in the country since none of their hubs except Atlanta have truly robust schedules and Atlanta doesn’t hit the smaller western cities.

  52. Wow that was a long rant but this made me laugh, “Delta has a stronger presence in better airports”.

  53. My take on Delta vs American

    Network out of Austin, my home airport: American is superior here – a quick hop to DFW to connect to most of its network. I find Delta’s closest hubs (ATL, SLC, MSP) to be less convenient for many trips.
    Connections: I find American has a better setup at LAX as long as connecting does not involve an American Eagle flight. I’ll take connecting in DFW over MSP or ATL. I consider PHX and SLC equal. I try to avoid connecting in ORD and JFK.
    Domestic first meals: hit or miss on both
    Onboard amenities: Delta wins hands down. When I fly Delta I have great chance of power outlets and PTV.
    Website and app: Delta’s and United’s website and app put American’s to shame
    Extra legroom economy: Delta has it on all its planes; American still doesn’t have it on the pmUS planes (get on the ball, Doug Parker).

  54. Also enjoy the Delta UPG lists of 50+ people…..on ALMOST EVERY BUSINESS FLIGHT. AA – you have to pay 500 MI UPGS which weeds out all the free loaders.

  55. American in Phoenix has new charging stations at every gate for over a year, even in Bejing and Shanghai. They also have charging ports under the seats in most every airport. I find the boarding process very smooth. Also, they now require people in boarding sections 5 and above to gate check carryons as they know they won’t fit on the plane. This person def has a grudge against American for some unknown reason.

  56. The CITI AAdvantage Executive Mastercard allows me to bring multiple guests into the Admirals Club whether or not I am flying with American. My spouse and his sister are secondary card holders and can also visit Admirals Clubs when traveling without me. And they can also bring in multiple guests. And even with these crazy generous benefits, it seems to me that Sky Clubs are almost always overcrowded compared to Admirals Clubs. I base this on Admirals Clubs in PHX, ORD, RDU, CLT, TPA, DFW, LAX, AUS, BOS. Sky Clubs in ATL and DTW. Admittedly I have few visits to Sky Club, but the ones I have experienced so far have been underwhelming. I prefer Delta ATL food to any club I have visited regardless of airline. But DL DTW food was not very impressive.

    I would also add that the greeters at the Sky Clubs in DTW and ATL Concourse F really need some customer service training. I have *never* encountered a cold or rude Admirals Club receptionist. Not even close. Even in Chicago they are beacons of light in a hopelessly rude madhouse of an airport.

    The snack towers of sadness are now less sad. White chocolate covered pretzels cure an amazing number of shortcomings. Also the Admirals Club cookies are excellent.

    I live near the bottom of the feeding chart when it comes to status. I never/never/never/never/never come within a mile of being upgraded on Delta as a Silver Medallion. That privilege seems to be open only to Diamonds. On American (as a gold status) I am upgraded about 30% of the time. For someone with such low status, that seems like a pretty good percentage. If I really care about sitting in first class, I generally just buy first class tickets on Delta rather than even trying to upgrade, as their first class fares tend to be more reasonable than those of any other airline.

    I think the Delta gate agents are far-and-away the best in the business. Although recently they seem to be somewhat short staffed at times. Delta also wins on the consistency of the product from end to end. If I didn’t live in an American hub I would travel with Delta and visit the Admiral’s club where possible.

  57. Also, there appears to be a very pro-delta approach to this article; are there any disclosures–professional, familial, personal, etc…want to ensure objectivity and reduced bias. thank you

  58. Domestically, every year I fly UA, AA, AS, DL, and B6 out of the various northern/central CA coast airports at SFO, OAK, SJC, and MRY. I maintain low level status in several airlines, including low-level lifetime status; possess lifetime membership in the lounges of AA,UA, and DL; and use Centurion, The Club, and Priority Pass, e.g Alaska, lounges based on credit card-provided privileges. My airline/flight choices are based on schedule and cost trade-offs for either me or my employer. I’ve been playing this game for over 35 years, so relatively little excites me anymore. My most important criteria is legroom because I am 6’5”. I respect and am intrigued by all of the opinions and comments provided here.

    My current impressions: All airlines are running very full, so schedules, planes, and crew tend to be under stress; DL has been running the best operation overall for several years now; AS crews tend to be the friendliest, but all airlines have outstanding, average, and mediocre crew members; airline lounges of all USA airlines continue to improve in quality, driven at least in part by the Centurion lounges; packed planes and cheap fares have led to new lows in overall passenger behavior; elite recognition and frequent flyer programs have all headed downhill over the past few years – I currently prefer AS for its international partners and award chart, while I give B6 and DL credit for never-expiring miles. As noted above, though, leg room is a key criteria for me and despite modest status, I tend to be routinely disappointed by UA and AA and survive the others.

    I know the best solution to my perceived needs will come along soon enough when the business cycle finally turns south, seats and lounges empty, and airlines once again strive harder to earn my business. Until then, best wishes to all of us Air warriors filling the skies.

  59. @ Thomas — On both my flights on Wednesday people were walking back up from the rear of the plane to gate check their bags. No grudge, just observations.

  60. Agree 100% with this article on comparing Delta VS American in domestic F.

    It would be interesting to compare coach. I usually fly F lately driven by price and surprisingly I am flying Delta mostly in F as AA has been about $50 or more expensive. Three flights in 2017, F was too expensive or was sold out and I flew 1 AA flight and 2 Delta flights in coach. My AA flight was 45 minutes late departing and the passengers were cranky including myself so not a good comparison. But I would value your opinion on flying in coach too. But maybe like me you don’t have enough data on coach experience. lol

    Great post.

  61. Ive never flown Delta but I love American, rarely have problems with them. Since you were Exec Plat I trust you even though it seems like you haaate AA haha. Excited to try Delta one day.

  62. A very nice, objective review. You stated facts, no more, no less.
    If your sitting in the back, back of the plane, DL’s gate checked bags are there before you are.
    But i usually check my bag if i have a connection and for all intl flights, as my bag is always waiting for me, unless I flew AFKLM.

  63. How much did Delta pay the author?
    Just wanting to know the market rate for selling one’s utterly biased opinion.

  64. @ Amrut — $0, but what about this do you find factually incorrect? There’s a race to the bottom amongst the US3, and American isn’t losing.

  65. The Delta app is terrible! I flew about 40 Delta flights last year and 30 American and the American app worked about 75% of the time and the Delta app worked less than 50% of the time. The biggest problem with the Delta app was that the QR code wouldn’t load a majority of the time and often the connecting flight wouldn’t load after the first flight completed.

    This was on a Google Pixel device running the latest version of Android.

  66. Clearly you love Delta for some reason… I live in MIA will pick AA over Delta unless flying to China… those Q suites are hard to beat… but seriously AA has better routes too… I’m also an AA guy like you are a Delta guy… next time you compare airlines make sure to note which one is paying for your opinion

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