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New, clean aircraft with plenty of power and entertainment; and a friendly and attentive crew.
Crowded gate area at LGA, space-saving bathrooms and no opportunity to purchase a meal.
The bulk of my journeys are domestic flights of around three hours. There’s not much glamour here. Once you have flown international first class — I’m still savoring the memories of sushi and wagyu beef from my Japan Airlines flight in October — there’s not much on a domestic trip that can wow you.
For me, especially when in coach, it comes down to good service, clean jets, arriving on time, fast Wi-Fi and a few comforts like a nice seat, lots of power and good seatback TVs. My short Delta hop from New York LaGuardia (LGA) to Orlando (MCO) excelled in all of those categories.
There is no shortage of nonstop flights between New York and Orlando. That makes sense given that it is home to Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter and — outside of the theme parks — more than 2.5 million people. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines all serve the route.
Delta’s times worked best for my schedule, the price was right and I’ve got Platinum Medallion elite status. My first-class upgrade didn’t clear either way for the quick Wednesday-Thursday trip, but I did get a free Comfort+ upgrade shortly after booking for both legs and was able to pick a window seat.
The round-trip ticket was $288.60, and I put it on the Platinum Card® from American Express to take advantage of the card’s 5x bonus on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel. We earned a total of 1,443 Membership Rewards points, worth about $29, according to TPG’s current valuations. Once you take out taxes, my base fare was $242. As Platinum member, I get 9 miles for every dollar spent, so the trip earned me 2,178 Delta SkyMiles, worth $26. None of that is going to earn me enough miles for a dream vacation, but every little bit counts. Plus, I earned 1,900 Medallion Qualifying Miles toward my 2020 elite status. Again, every little bit helps.
There are beautiful airports that inspire. And then there is LaGuardia.
Delta’s two terminals are at least the nicest legacy parts of the complex, and the entire airport is a massive construction zone that promises to raise the ground experience for all once the renovations are completed.
I normally avoid checking a bag, but this trip involved a video shoot, and there was lots of gear to put in the belly of the plane. There were two people ahead of me at the SkyPriority counter, and a few moments later, my bag was on its way. The friendly agent asked me if I needed my boarding pass reprinted. I declined, sticking with just a mobile pass.
As one of the first members of TSA PreCheck, I held out for years on getting CLEAR. I just did not see the need. But as CLEAR has expanded to more airports and as lines have grown for PreCheck, it has been one of the best investments I’ve made. It helps that Delta, which owns part of the company, gives discounts to its elite members. And if you have an eligible Delta credit card, then you can get CLEAR for just $79 per year.
Both of Delta’s terminals at LaGuardia have CLEAR. I was surprised to see four people ahead of me in that line, especially on a typically slow Wednesday morning. But I was quickly through the checkpoint and on my way to the Sky Club.
I went to one of the two Sky Clubs in Terminal C. I choose the smaller one, next to Gate C28, which used to be American’s Admirals Club. It was empty, and I wanted space and quiet more than amenities.
That meant giving up the hot eggs and other offerings that are usually — but not always — available over the connected bridge in Terminal D. My co-worker was in that club and confirmed that there were eggs and turkey sausage patties that day.
Oh well. My limited offerings were fine for this trip.
Some fruit and oatmeal and the free newspapers (thanks, Delta, for bringing those back for those of us who still like print and ink) did the trick. Plus, I had plenty of sunlight, empty seats and a place to work. I did find it odd that there wasn’t a pot of hot oatmeal but instead a bunch of instant oatmeal packets. Maybe it is less wasteful?
It was a quick walk to Gate C21, where I saw an intimidating crowd squeezed into the aging terminal. Almost all of the seats were occupied and there was little room to spread out. Lounge access has never seemed so valuable for such a short time at the airport.
A flight to Cleveland was boarding one gate over, and there were a few minutes of dueling announcements.
As I got closer to the front, the crowd became pretty orderly. Delta had its new boarding pillars here, and folks were lining up behind the proper boarding group. There will probably always be some confusion about where to stand — or folks who are just jockeying for a better position than they are entitled to — but the process worked well for this flight.
Delta recently overhauled its boarding process. Passengers in Comfort+ now board before those with SkyPriority. It has cleaned up the gate mess slightly and probably creates an incentive for some travelers to buy up to Comfort+ if the price is right.
I had a free upgrade to Comfort+ and was on the plane minutes after boarding started.
Cabin and Seat
The plane was initially very warm but cooled down before the door closed. Boarding was efficient — well, as efficient as passengers on a single-aisle jet heading to America’s theme-park capital could be. Boarding had started at 9:10am for a 9:45am scheduled departure. Almost all of the 192 seats on the jet were filled, and by 9:37am, the flight attendants appeared more anxious, trying to speed folks up. With four minutes to spare, the door was closed, and we were on our way. A quick taxi over to Runway 13, and we were airborne by 10:10am.
There are generally two types of pilots: those who you hear from once or twice a flight and those chatty ones who want to tell you every little detail about the flight. You know, the ones, who say, “We will be flying over waypoint RAMEX on our way to MICKX and then NOBBS before landing on Runway 35R.”
This pilot was the perfect mix. He gave the passenger a nice introduction and described the route with just enough landmarks to make it interesting for aviation fans. He wasn’t too technical and let us all relax for most of the two-hour flight to Florida.
The plane was clean. Period. Sure it was only a year old, but it felt even newer. The standard Delta Comfort+ seats had enough padding, plenty of legroom for my 5-feet, 4-inch frame and adjustable headrests. There were no rips or stains.
Was it the most comfy seat ever? Hardly. But for a 2019 coach cabin, it had everything a passenger could reasonably expect.
The plane had two bathrooms in the back, one in the middle of the economy cabin and one in first class.
As airlines cram more seats into planes, the width of the bathrooms suffer. There are space-saving sinks and better designs, but let’s face it: Nothing makes up for the lack of shoulder room and, on the edge of the plane, headroom.
So, within those parameters, the bathroom was nice. Well, clean. And at the end of a flight, that’s an accomplishment. No fresh flowers here — not that there would be room for them on bathroom the sink — but again, my round-trip ticket was less than $300.
Amenities and IFE
The TV screen was scratch-free but did have a few smudges. Delta offered me more than 300 movies and an extra 150-plus TV shows and live satellite TV with news, sports and entertainment. There was no shortage of things to watch on this two-hour journey.
A quick side note to those airlines abandoning seatback TVs: I’m not a fan. I’m not going to take out my tablet while also working on my laptop. But on this flight, I was typing away with the TV on as background noise. Yes, boss, I swear I was working and not watching old episodes of “Saved by the Bell.”
A USB charger and earphone jack were built in under the screen.
There were two plugs for the three seats on the floor, allowing at least two passengers to power their laptops in addition to something via the USB port.
There was also another USB port under the outlet. Needless to say, folks in these seats weren’t running out of juice. I recently flew first class on an American Airlines A321, inherited from the US Airways fleet, and there was no power in my row. That made me more appreciative of this Delta jet.
The Wi-Fi was fast. Maybe there were tons of folks on vacation, but I saw many laptops open and folks surfing away. I was able to get lots of work done and not drift away into 1990s TV-sitcom memories.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
One of the nice touches of Comfort+ is that the flight attendants come by with a snack basket before they start snack and drink service for the rest of the plane. I grabbed some peanuts and snack mix, both which I saved for my toddler at home.
My 950-mile flight fell short of Delta’s 1,300-mile threshold for Flight Fuel meals for purchase. That was fine, since the Sky Club breakfast was plenty. Plus, I’m trying to eat less on the road.
What really impressed me was that shortly after picking up trash from the initial beverage service, the flight attendants came through the cabin with a tray of water. If that weren’t enough, they came through Comfort+ only 10 minutes later and offered another round of drinks and carried a bunch of snacks down the aisle.
For those keeping count, that’s three opportunities to hydrate on a two-hour flight.
The flight attendants made three passes through the cabin for beverage service, which is above and beyond what I'd expect on a two-hour flight.
Beyond those drink services and the friendly greetings and goodbyes, there wasn’t exactly any opportunity for other service. But 20 minutes before landing, the pilot told those of the left side of the plane to open our windows for a great view of the Kennedy Space Center.
He clearly enjoyed his job and might moonlight on the side as a tour guide. Passengers were pointing out the Vehicle Assembly Building, a launch pad and the Shuttle Landing Facility, a nearly 3-mile-long runway.
We arrived in Orlando early, and the Delta crew had us connected to the gate within minutes.
I walked to the tram and headed straight to baggage claim. All of the suitcases had already arrived and were neatly stacked next to the carousel. (Remember when flying Delta domestically: If your bags don’t arrive within 20 minutes of the plane arriving at the gate, you’re eligible for 2,500 bonus SkyMiles.)
Looking back on this flight, I would say it had all the essentials: cleanliness, a friendly flight crew, seatback TVs, lots of power options and an on-time arrival. Without sounding like a commercial for Delta, I can say the flight was perfect, if not forgettable. And maybe that’s the point that we are now at with economy flying in America. A good flight gets us from Point A to Point B safely, on time and with a little comfort.
An amazing international flight entertains passengers with spectacular food, fantastic service and an outrageous seat.
Today, an amazing domestic coach flight is perfectly forgettable.
All images by the author.
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