Oh, to be in First, not Coach

Last weekend I flew to LAX on a Delta frequent flyer award ticket, picked up a Hertz car, and drove south to Oceanside so that I could spend some time with my 87 year old cousin, who is in declining health. She and I have been close since 1964 when she hosted me during my epic cross-country train trip.

I was then 16, and it was my first trip to California. In the ensuing 55 years, I’ve lost count of the scores of times I have flown to California, LAX in particular.

As this was a sudden and unexpected trip, I carefully weighed flying options. Airfares are of course more expensive when you have to go on short notice, and I needed to balance travel dates against other commitments.

San Diego is only 40 miles south of Oceanside, versus 97 miles distant from LAX, but SAN airfares were more expensive by half or more than LAX fares for the dates I needed, as was Long Beach.  Settling on Los Angeles International, I eventually booked a low mileage award on Delta that required a connection through Detroit outbound, but put me on the nonstop LAX/RDU flying home.

My Delta Platinum status allowed me to immediately select seats in Comfort+ on all three flights, and I checked the boxes to stand by for First Class upgrades, though I had little expectation of sitting up front on a low mileage award ticket.

On arrival to RDU Airport at 4:30 AM Saturday for my flight, I was very happily surprised to learn that the Delta system had upgraded me on DL578 RDU/DTW to seat 3B. Very much appreciated, especially with a ruptured disk that was causing great pain in my left leg. I was shocked to see that I was number one on the upgrade list, too.

Limping from the back pain, I boarded earlier than even First Class. The A320(OW) plane appeared to have been fitted with a new cabin.  As usual these days, all the window shades were down, and I quickly opened row 3 shades on both sides before taking my seat.  The huge overhead bins oddly would not stay open without weight (luggage) placed in them. Lacking three hands, I had to fight the constantly re-closing bin door with my elbow in order to lift my bag in.

The view from 3B on the A320(OW) to Detroit with the shades all closed, as usual.

I asked for a Bloody Mary to anesthetize my back pain, but the flight attendant didn’t listen to my request to bring it with no ice. She was awkward and not so nice about replacing it   No limes catered, either, something I always think is basic.

The vodka soon relieved my back pain a bit, as the 1 hour, 19 minute flight left early.  I dozed contentedly and comfortably most the way to Detroit.


Took the DTW Airport train to the A18 SkyClub to await my flight to L.A.  Delta has done a good job most places in considerably upgrading the clubs, though some spaces seem impersonal and out of scale.  That club, however, is just right. Not too big, quiet and relaxing, with understated wood tones, indirect lighting, paintings, and furnishings.  Enjoyed the ambiance and a Coke Zero before walking the short distance to gate A12 for LAX.

The cozy DTW A18 SkyClub.

While waiting to board, I received notice from Delta.com that I had been upgraded again. Maybe it’s my Lifetime Platinum 5.3 million miles that did it. Whatever the Delta capacity control and marketing algorithms did, I sure appreciated the upgrade to a more comfy seat on the nearly five hour flight.  More space to stretch out to abate the relentless leg and hip pain.

On that 737-900ER (739) aircraft to L.A.. The system assigned me 6C in the last row of First, which seatguru.com warned was a limited-recline seat.  I was delighted to find it reclined just fine, and I was able to nap en route.

I mentioned that the upgrade came through automatically on my phone, with no announcement. I guess human discretion by gate agents is no longer required or allowed. Not even an announcement made or a screen to show the lucky few who made the upgrade list.  Just scan the original boarding pass, and a new one is printed, discreetly.  Then, happy trails!

Once again, I was number one on the upgrade list. 5 seats has been open in F on the RDU/DTW flight with a queue of 12, and only 3 seats open in F on DTW/LAX with a queue of 15.

Wonder why this works for me on Delta but never, never, never on AA. Perhaps because I’m Lifetime Platinum on Delta (5.3 mm miles) and only Lifetime Gold on American (1.4 mm miles).

Delta 737-900 First Class cabin with 24 seats and all the shades closed.

Boarding, I again noticed all the window shades closed. I opened them on both sides of row 6, just as I had on the earlier flight. It was a big first class cabin for a 737, with 24 seats.

Delta 737-900 after I opened the window shades to make the cabin feel welcoming. This may be only a domestic flight, but those seats are very comfortable, so much more than any in coach.

We left Detroit dead on time and arrived LAX at 12 noon, 15 minutes early. En route I watched an unexpectedly fascinating documentary called “Scotch, the Golden Dream,” which I highly recommend to aficionados of single malt like me. Meanwhile, the lone FA up front killed all 24 of us with kindness, bringing not only full meals, but repeatedly refilling drinks and water from wheels-up to landing.  I kept thinking how nice it was to be in First Class, even more appreciated since I did not expect or hope for it.

Of course the two flights to Los Angeles were on Saturday, not normally a big travel day for Delta Diamonds who usually crowd the upgrade queues.

Monday’s flight home to Raleigh was a different story. I checked in online for my Delta nonstop LAX/RDU to find no upgrade. In fact I was number 17 on the upgrade list, with just 2 open F seats available.  No chance, I thought.  I was back in peon class with the rest of the great unwashed.

Well, almost.  I snagged an aisle seat in the last row of Comfort+, Delta’s third class in the no man’s land between cattle class and first.  I had a good book to read, though, and my Bose noise-canceling headphones to watch movies across country. I was hoping to sleep some of the way, too.

Travelers in Comfort+ get three inches more pitch (distance between rows), plus free alcohol, and a snack tray is whisked through the cabin a couple of times.  Otherwise, one’s bottom is planted on the same narrow and claustrophobic chair as installed in the rest of economy.  Uncomfortably close to one’s neighbor and not conducive to relaxing.

Having been spoiled by Delta delivering a good domestic F product two days before, sitting in Comfort+ was a big letdown even though on just one flight.  A free drink really doesn’t make up the difference in comfort and privacy.

Enduring the sardine-style packaging of humanity, I began to wonder what the “+” in Comfort+ is meant to represent.  Plus what?  The very term “Comfort” is by itself laughably ironic even without the superfluous, absurd “+” sign added.

Maybe Delta marketing geniuses thought the “+” would distract flyers from the meaningless term “Comfort”.  It is edgily insulting to say “Comfort-PLUS”; it feels like Delta is playing us for fools.  A more honest description would be “NQC” for “Not Quite Coach” section, or perhaps “FDE” for “Free Drinks Economy” section. or maybe “MPBNW” for the “Mo’ Pitch But No Width” section.

I call the hypotheticals “sections” to avoid the pretense of the term “class” for Comfort+.  Not much classy about it, really.

Okay, I’ll shut up.  I will take the product because it is slightly better than the back of the plane.  Just saying somebody got paid handsomely to come up with the phony term “Comfort+” and is probably still employed at Delta.

No matter how much lipstick you put on that swine, though, it can’t compare to the comfort and serenity—thanks to private space side to side as well as front to back—of first class. Thanks, Delta, for the upgrades. Much appreciated.

One thought on “Oh, to be in First, not Coach

  1. If you were in row 6 first class, you were not on a 739 rather on a 753. That, since the latest reconfigurations, is the only narrowbody that DL has remaining with 24 seats in first and is my very favorite ride of all of them.

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