Eleven years of flying and I feel like I have seen it all. Monday morning frenzy, Super-efficient TSA (Really?? When?), Hello Kitty bags, overhead bins filled with small luggage items while passengers have to valet their luggage, shrinking seat pitches, super (un)friendly flight attendants, unreasonable airline policies, chicken in my specially ordered vegetarian meal, chronic delays, being the first to NOT get upgraded, that gorgeous view of heavenly skies from 35K feet above and last but not the least and my most favorite; view of loveliest Los Angeles every time I connect through LAX. I would say the last two are the reasons I would do this over and over and over.
My membership to the ever growing community of Road Warriors began in Jun 2005 in Dallas, TX. Of course, I instantly enrolled into AAdvantage and slowly achieved my Million Miler Status over the 10 years of my travel.
Like every relationship we had our challenges. What started as a playful twice a week romantic rendezvous; quickly turned into an experience filled with frequent travel delays, missed connections and less than exhilarating in-flight travel experience. But the last 18 months have been the worst.
This timeline coincides with the merger of AA and US Airways. With the constant dilution of American Airline brand, I decided to give Delta a try. Delta was eager to grab my business and American didn’t seem to care if they lost an Executive Platinum who is looking to make another Million miles. But I am now left to wonder “Which airline do I earn my next Million Miles on?”
To a traveling consultant choosing an airline partner is as important (if not more) as choosing a life partner. ‘Analysis-Paralysis’ time. Sound familiar? I started comparing Delta and American and below is what I came up with. Knowing what I know, I am debating who should I choose to make my next million miles on? What would you do?
For a detailed version, refer to the table below.
|Customer Service||I have seen a constant decline in American airlines customer service since the commencement of merger. It took about 12 complaint emails to AA, registering a complaint with FAA, personal email to AA’s VP to get my $100 voucher reinstated that AA had canceled in Error. Versus it took me 1 phone call with Delta to get a ticket changed and get the change fees waived off.|
|On Time Performance||Delta lives to its advertisement as an ‘On Time Machine’. Usually I arrive about 15 minutes prior to estimated arrival time. There have been 2 delays that were more than 30 minutes in the past 3 months of traveling with Delta.
With American I didn’t have much luck this year. Most flights in the last 2 months of my travel w/ AA was delayed. One of them was by 6 hours due to repeated maintenance issue on their air museum worthy MD-80. Most of these delays this year were related to maintenance issues on the MD-80.
|Technology||American is still operating in 18th century BC while Delta is slowly trying to adopt the 21st century mindset!
Delta’s mobile app is one of the best I have ever seen. Adaptive & Responsive to your every need at the touch of button. With American app, good luck doing anything beyond a boarding pass on the clunky mobile app.
With Delta, it is much easier to retrieve ticket receipts and old boarding passes. Especially handy if you need them for your expense reports.
American is stuck in the age of paper vouchers. Using vouchers with American is cumbersome and Delta makes it a breeze.
Delta portal seems much more user friendly both in desktop & mobile mode. It feels like you can get much more accomplished in fewer clicks on Delta than on American.
When looking for partner awards, Delta portal lets you have a much better insight into partner seat availability than American.
|In-Flight Food Options (Coach)||Care for complimentary chocolates, cookies, bananas, crackers in coach? Try Delta Comfort. I applaud Delta for introducing Delta comfort. On select flights you can also expect healthy Luvo meals. And yes they are delicious! Good luck getting anything edible and complimentary on American.
Two areas where both airlines struggle are providing comparable vegetarian options and good coffee. Coffee provided both on American and Delta taste like cardboard dissolved in hot water. I am not sure why but neither of these airlines provide vegetarian sandwiches or other vegetarian meal options for purchase. I refuse to fill myself with humus and cookies. Give me some real coffee and vegetarian food.
|In-Flight Food Options (First)||There is room for improvement on both sides. Due to my status on Delta I haven’t been upgraded as much, but a few times I have had a chance to try their food; I would say they are more creative than American.
I am disappointed in both airlines as neither of them consistently provide Vegetarian options in First class. Over years of flying I have reached out several times to AA’s corporate office and customer service, to no avail.
American’s idea of a vegetarian meal is cheese, pasta and some more cheese. I feel that the chef’s American uses to design its meal are clueless about vegetarian food. Be it breakfast, lunch or dinner; they do an awful job at crafting a vegetarian meal.
I am not particularly thrilled with either airline’s wine selection.
I do love the warms nuts American provides on select flights in First class.
|Plane features||At a time when average human is growing; both the airlines are doing a good job of shrinking the seats further and making flying a more harrowing experience.
Both the airlines are yet to catch up with the needs of 21st century frequent flyer.
Is it unrealistic to expect working A/C power outlets, USB ports, free in-flight entertainment with quality content, comfortable seats?
American has done a reasonably good job at retrofitting most of its aging fleet with A/C power outlets in both coach and First class cabins. But still a long way to go before we can expect consistent experience across its entire fleet.
|In-Flight Experience (Coach)||Delta comfort, Delta studio, on-time arrivals, friendlier in-flight crew helps Delta in this category. Delta would even give you complimentary blankets and ear phones in coach.
You will be lucky if the in-flight crew would respond to your call button on an American flight. I might be exaggerating here a bit; but American can do much better in helping its in-flight crew understand what ‘friendliness’ means. There have been times when I am freezing to death on a red eye and I won’t be able to get a spare blanket on an American operated flight.
I wish all domestic airlines provided a coach experience like Virgin America. Neither Delta or American are there.
|In-Flight Experience (Business)||Traveling Business/First on both Delta & American is very similar experience. Delta lets you request special meals and that makes it slightly better. Food options on First class in American are very non-exciting. Allowing special meals in First class is a big help to a Vegetarian like me.|
|Airline Lounge||Great hot food options, Complimentary premium beverages, uplifting ambiance – You must be in Delta Sky Club.
Admirals club has some food options but nothing impressive and feels a bit depressing when compared to Delta Sky Club.
Delta also partners with many credit card companies and makes it easier to gain access to Delta Sky Club. With American you have limited options to get membership to Admirals club.
When compared to Centurion lounge and international carrier lounges; both Sky Club & Admirals club have a long way to go.
|Frequent Flyer Program||AAdvantage is a winner in this category mainly because of availability of reward tickets both on American & partner airlines. I have been able to redeem awards on American for last 10 years very easily. I have always found cheapest mile awards even at the last minute on American. With Delta I have not yet seen good availability. Delta partners with Virgin and it is a good opportunity to travel to London without having to pay heavy taxes. With American I always have to avoid British Airways because of heavy carrier taxes & charges.
Skymiles however has more number of partners & destinations you can travel. But their award availability is usually lower than AAdvantage.
|Status Match/Challenge||Delta made it very easy for me to transition from American. All I had to do was enroll in their challenge, send proof of my status on American and there I was Platinum Medallion on Delta.
On the other hand American will charge you up to $250 (depending on level) to do a challenge.
By Rohit Sharma
You have probably seen me on a Monday morning in the security line; trying to make my flight, 15 minutes before the boarding begins. Yup I am one of those. On a plane every Monday at 5 a.m. and taking the last flight out on Thursday. Shuttling between airports, planes and client sites; makes up for 75% of my week. Consultant by the day and an avid traveler when I am not working; I love the fact that I get to travel for work. You thought that traveling once on those cramped planes was horrendous; welcome to my world where I have been doing it, twice a week every week for last 10 years.