Battle of the Airlines: Why I think Delta Air Lines is the best

Sep 10, 2019

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Editor’s note: It’s no surprise that TPG writers and editors have favorite airlines. So we decided to do a battle that covers the top four U.S. carriers. Check out the Sept. 9 episode of the “Miles Away” podcast to hear us defend our airlines. And click on the links below to read which airlines we chose and why.

Further reading: Podcast: TPG staffers debate their favorite airlines

Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think American Airlines is the best

Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

Further reading: Battle of the Airlines: Why I think United Airlines is the best


TPG Executive Editorial Director Scott Mayerowitz is a Delta Air Lines fan because its on-time record delivers for him and his family.

Related: TPG Special Report: The 2019 List of Best and Worst U.S. Airlines


(Photo by Shutterstock.com)
(Photo by Shutterstock.com)

The airline is an on-time machine, consistently getting people to their homes or meetings when they need to be there. During the first four months of this year (the latest government statistics available), nearly 83% of Delta flights arrived at the gate within 15 minutes of their scheduled time. That’s better than every other airline except sunny-weather Hawaiian.

How did the other “big four” airlines do? American landed 78% of its flights on time, Southwest 79%, and United 75% on time. Put another way, one out of every four United flights was late.

I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter at home, and travel is hard on me and my family. When I promise to be home for Friday night dinner, Delta helps me keep my word.

The Wi-Fi is usually working — and is getting faster and faster. There are TVs on all but the smallest planes. And the gate agents, flight attendants and pilots are typically very friendly. There are little things like frequent drink service, even for those in the back of the plane, that make a difference to me.

Flexibility

It sounds like a cheesy line from the airline’s public-relations team, but Delta staff is creative in fixing problems and go out of their way for passengers.

I was won over a few years ago when there was a problem with my flight from San Diego (SAN) to New York. The pilots for my Boeing 737-900 were stuck in L.A. that morning because of fog. One gate over, a Delta 737-900 heading to Atlanta (ATL) was delayed because of a mechanical issue.

The two pilots from the Atlanta flight left the broken jet and decided to fly us to New York. By the time our original pilots arrived, the other plane’s mechanical problems were fixed.

It meant four pilots ended up in the wrong cities that afternoon, but half of the passengers got to their destination with minimal delay.

Related: Best Credit Cards for Delta Flyers

Flight options

As a New Yorker, Delta just makes sense to me. It dominates the region, and size and frequency matter. I’ve taken 30 flights so far this year — not one trip has been a connecting one.

More than 40% of LaGuardia flyers were on Delta last year, and nearly 28% of those out of New York-JFK. United only edges out Delta when you include Newark (EWR) and even then, only for international traffic. Delta is New York’s domestic king.

Charge your way to status

As somebody who doesn’t fly quite as much as I used to, it is nice that Delta lets me earn elite qualifying miles — called Medallion Qualification Miles, or MQMs, at Delta — through credit card spending.

I have the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve® for Business Credit Card and the personal Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express. If I were to charge a combined $170,000 to those cards, I would earn 80,000 miles toward status.

Frequent-flyer downside

SkyMiles is the program that treats its elite members well but whose miles are often ridiculed for their lack of value. I’ve gotten some good short-haul domestic-coach redemptions out of the program, and the pay-with-miles option for American Express cardholders is a good last resort to squeeze at least 1 cent of value out of the miles. But I’ve never found a good business-class redemption to Europe or Asia using my SkyMiles.

Delta is the stingiest airline when it comes to using Global Upgrade Certificates. It used to be that any companion would have to be on your reservation. Now, at least, they just need to be on the same jet (this is helpful when my wife’s company buys her ticket and I buy my own to tag along).

American and United allow elite members to give their certificates to anybody, including family or friends who are not traveling with you. That’s nice.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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