Delta calms the curmudgeon

A curmudgeon? Me? I’ve resisted wearing that term for years when complaining about errant travel services, especially those provided by the airlines, because my complaints were and are justified.  Airline service does suck most of the time, and it has for decades. Lately, though, Delta has soothed my disgruntlement, at least in the airline’s operational execution.

Familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and it is correct.  Since I’ve spent more time in Delta cabins than other carriers (over five million miles and counting), Delta Airlines has been a frequent target of my rants against poor service. In years past, Delta has failed me time and again in connections, schedule-keeping, seat comfort, in-flight niceties, upgrade promises, the shell game of loyalty program awards, and sometimes cleanliness. (Never in safety, else I wouldn’t be here to write this.)

In terms of frequent flyer awards, the SkyMiles program is now a pathetic husk of earlier, more honest manifestations, but I’ll to stick to commenting on revenue flying today. Five recent Delta flights to Vancouver from Raleigh and return have soothed the savage beast in me. How shall I praise, rather than condemn, Delta? Let me count the ways:

Number 1. At the RDU Airport Sky Club, Delta personnel greeted me like an old friend.  Well, we are friends.  After many decades of flying Delta, I do know lots of staff, at least those who haven’t retired.

I noted the place was spotless and looked brand new.  The club had just the previous week been expanded, nearly doubling in size—the extra room overdue, as the Club is often bursting with members. New restrooms, too. Nice.

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Just the expansion of the Delta RDU Sky Club

Enjoying a bagel and glass of orange juice by the bar, I discovered the Sky Club is now offering glasses of Dom Perignon for $39 or 1,950 miles ($0.02/mile). Or patrons can buy an entire bottle for $200 or 10,000 SkyMiles.  That may be a better value than trying to use SkyMiles for flights. SkyMiles in exchange for one of man’s finest elixirs?  Hmm. I didn’t bite, but it’s classy, and I liked it.  Sends the right message, I thought.

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Number 2.  Delta upgraded me on two of the flight legs to Vancouver (RDU/ATL and SEA/YVR), then offered me the opportunity to pay $282 to upgrade on the ATL/SEA flight, which is 5.5 hours.  Bonus offer was to upgrade my wife at no extra charge ATL/SEA and SEA/YVR, thanks to my Platinum benefits.  Thus, for $282 we both were in First Class, though my wife was in Comfort+ for the 55-minute flight RDU/ATL.  I thought that was a fair price for 5 First Class seat legs.  .

Number 3.  The Atlanta to Seattle flight was a 757, and every seat was full.  The airplane fairly groaned under the weight on takeoff.  Delta veteran Flight Leader Kimberley Southerland (or Sutherland) ensured every one of us in First Class enjoyed several drinks, a large breakfast, and snacks, all the while treating us like royalty.  Kimberley’s individual touches based on personal preferences were more like the attendant service up front aboard Emirates or Qatar. It felt like an international business class service rather than a cheek-by-jowl 757 milk run across the country.

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The incomparable Delta Flight Leader Kimberley Southerland leans in to care for one of her First Class charges on the 757 Atlanta to Seattle

Number 4.  Between planes at Sea-Tac, I was delighted to find the Seattle SkyClub spacious, elegant, and gushing with good food on offer. The clam chowder was tantamount to fine dining in a waterfront restaurant—and I wasn’t even hungry after the transcon flight.

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The Seattle Sky Club is so large that I couldn’t get a photo of it all.

The club was quiet with plenty of seating, and smiling staff were constantly picking up and spiffing up the place, too.  All very professional, the way it should be.  I could have used the AmEx Centurion Lounge or one of three Priority Club lounges, but the Delta SkyClub was so comfortable that my wife and I never left.

Number 5. Returning on a Wednesday, I was not upgraded to First Class, nor could I have even purchased seats up front, as the flights were fully booked.  But I had secured complimentary Comfort+ seats and was happy to have them.

My flight connection in Seattle looked dicey due to rain both in Vancouver and SEA, prompting me to ask Delta if I could stand by for different flights to RDU through MSP rather than through SEA.  My request was immediately granted, and I was upgraded from Main Cabin to Comfort+ on both flights—a miracle, considering that both YVR/MSP and MSP/RDU were showing overbooked.  The Delta agent at the gate in Vancouver whispered that my five million miles had been a factor in obtaining better seats.  Both seats were aisles, too; no middles.

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The familiar view of endless rows on my Delta 717 (MD-80) between Minneapolis and Raleigh. My seat was 10B, an aisle right behind First Class.

Only glitch was clearing U.S. Immigration at YVR.  Though I am Global Entry, Canada requires American citizens to bring the physical Global Entry card or else be stuck in a long queue of peons.  When I argued that no other country on earth requires the card, that my Global Entry status is electronically part of my passport, the agent merely smiled and pointed to the long line.  Sulking, I made it through after 20 minutes only to be shown to Global Entry kiosks, half of which were out of service. I still have no idea why I was made to wait.

But none of that was on Delta.  That was my ignorance of the peculiar Canadian practice. I haven’t traveled up there for many years and just didn’t know.

At least for that itinerary, my karma was not compromised by Delta. Things went very smoothly, and I arrived at both ends of the journey relaxed.  If only this was an everyday experience.  And don’t get me started about how Delta has gutted SkyMiles awards.

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2 thoughts on “Delta calms the curmudgeon

  1. Will, enjoyed your article and happy that Delta is pleasing you again. Regarding having to have the physical Global Entry card with you, I think both Australia and New Zealand still require it to speed entry and both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale cruise terminals require it for entry to the GE line. William

  2. Will: My wife’s and my last entry into the U.S. was from LH 462 FRA-MIA. We merely said “Global Entry” to the young person directing traffic, and went to the working kiosks. The kiosk didn’t even ask for passport insertion. It used facial recognition and fingerprints to speed my wife and I through immigration and customs in less time than it took us to walk from the plane to the kiosk.

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