Review: What's it like to fly Delta One across the country during the pandemic?
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Editor’s note: This is the final part in a series of premium transcontinental flights during the pandemic. The JetBlue Mint review, United Polaris review and American Flagship First review have already published.
In early September, I left the Northeast for the first time since before the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the United States.
To get to Southern California and back, I flew with two different airlines that compete in the hotly contested premium transcontinental market.
From New York, I sat in Flagship First on American and was impressed by the overall experience. The flight was notable for retaining much of the service elements present before COVID.
My return flight from Los Angeles had me traveling on Delta One, onboard a venerable (but ancient) Boeing 767. How did the experience compare to American? And, how did the experience differ from the same flight from before the pandemic?
Let's find out. Here are 14 of my observations from Delta One, LAX to JFK, in the midst of the pandemic.
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Flight: Los Angeles (LAX) — New York (JFK)
Airline: Delta Air Lines
Cabin: Delta One
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER
Delta One check-in remains a breeze
Delta is in the midst of a massive rebuild of its LAX operations, which currently consists of Terminals 2 and 3. During the pandemic, Delta is operating check-in counters and its Sky Club lounge only in Terminal 2.
I was flying midday on a Tuesday and upon arriving at Terminal 2, I found the check-in areas to be fairly empty. However, it wasn't quite as desolate as the American terminal at JFK when I flew to LAX a few days earlier.
The dedicated check-in area for Delta One passengers has remained open and is distinct from the Sky Priority check-in that is in the adjacent space.
There was only one other person ahead of me and my request for a printed boarding pass was quickly fulfilled. The friendly agent explained where the Sky Club was and even offered to take my photo. (I gladly said yes.)
Next to the Delta One check-in desks, there were a few individually packaged snacks and canned drinks that were on offer as well. I was impressed to still see these refreshments available.
As I left the Delta One check-in area, I found hand sanitizer was plentiful anywhere you looked prior to getting to security.
I also spotted many of these LAX-branded signs with reminders on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Before I reached the security checkpoint, I walked passed the economy check-in lines with just a few people scattered about.
The terminal and gates were busy
Considering the empty landside area, color me surprised that once I passed security to go airside, I found a bustling terminal. In fact, it was very busy.
Most of the retailers and restaurants were closed due to COVID-19. That meant one of the few remaining eateries had a line of people that obstructed the main walkway through the terminal.
Most of the gates were occupied and seating areas were also fairly full.
After wandering through the terminal for a few minutes, I made a beeline for the Delta Sky Club. I had access by virtue of flying Delta One. (I also could enter the club with my Platinum Card® from American Express and a same-day Delta ticket.)
Related: Why the Amex Platinum might be the best card for Delta flyers
The Sky Club was a calm oasis
Thankfully, the Sky Club was quiet with only a handful of people occupying the entire lounge. The LAX Terminal 2 Sky Club is located on the mezzanine level and has some decent views of the construction-filled tarmac below.
Each Sky Club across the Delta system has differing levels of service due to city regulations, but I found the food and beverage offering at LAX to be more than sufficient.
Related: 7 customer-friendly innovations at Delta’s newest and largest Sky Club that could become the norm
However, I did question the self-service nature of the buffet, considering the Admirals Club had a dedicated lounge attendant bring everything to your table.
Related: A review of the Delta Sky Club LAX during the pandemic
Delta is still flying 767s exclusively...
On the premium transcontinental route between JFK and LAX, Delta has continued to commit to flying wide-body Boeing 767s.
With up to five flights per day, that's a good amount of capacity considering the diminished demand for travel during the pandemic. When I got to the boarding gate, however, you could immediately tell this was not a full flight -- or even close to it.
Boarding was a civilized affair, with military personnel and those needing extra assistance boarding first. Delta One and Medallion members could board after -- and at any time during the boarding process. Meanwhile, passengers in economy boarded from back to front.
The gate agent repeatedly asked passengers to keep the boarding area clear and to maintain distancing in line when possible.
Related: How coronavirus may change the airplane boarding process forever
...for better or worse
The Delta 767-300ER is an old plane but Delta has done a decent job of maintaining and refurbishing the interiors.
767s are fantastic for the passenger experience in economy with easier aisle access in a 2-3-2 cabin configuration. Up front in Delta One, however, these are lie-flat seats that definitely show their age.
Still, these are fairly comfortable seats with deep (but not wide) footwells. If privacy is more your thing, it pays to get a window seat that is flush with the aircraft wall, separated from the aisle by the cocktail table.
Yes, the screens are tiny and the buttons for the seat are completely worn out (and not very responsive) but it's a lie-flat seat after all and this was a flight during the pandemic -- so I'll take what I can get.
Passengers were spaced out on board
Unlike American and United, Delta is not selling most middle seats. The airline announced it will continue to block middle seats through the beginning of 2021. However, all Delta One seats will be available for purchase on wide-body planes as of October 1.
Starting in October, that means the 767 that I was flying on could have its entire premium cabin filled to capacity. With a 1-2-1 seating configuration though, that's not the end of the world.
The great news was that very few people were on board this flight. I'd estimate perhaps 20% of the flight was full with plenty of empty seats in all three cabins.
This meant every passenger could spread out to their heart's desire, within their assigned cabin, of course.
The plane was spotless
During the pandemic, an older plane is perfectly fine -- as long as it's clean. Delta has touted its cleaning initiatives as a way to stand out amongst the competition.
Delta says it cleans planes between every flight and overnight. The process starts after deplaning when workers with electrostatic sprayers clean every tray table and open every overhead bin.
Related: TPG's inside look at how Delta is cleaning their planes
I found the plane to be remarkably clean. No crumbs, tissues or coffee stains could be found. I even tested out cleaning the tray table and cocktail table -- nothing appeared on the wipe that I used.
I was also given a Purell hand-sanitizing wipe upon boarding, although I brought my own too.
Goodbye, amenity kits and welcome drinks
You'll notice the in-flight experience is different the second you take your seat.
Delta is currently not offering amenity kits for premium transcontinental flights nor are pre-departure beverages being served on any Delta flight. You do get a small bottle of water as part of the snack kit, though.
Headphones were still available and wrapped in plastic. I chose to use my own Bose noise-canceling headset which was far superior in terms of audio quality.
Don't board hungry
Here's the worst part of the in-flight experience -- Delta's premium transcontinental catering.
Unlike American, United or JetBlue, all of which are offering hot meals between Los Angeles and San Francisco and New York, Delta hasn't brought this important element back yet.
As mentioned, you'll get a snack bag with a small Dasani water, Biscoff cookies and Cheez-it crackers. This was available to everyone onboard.
Delta One passengers also get their pick of a Flight Fuel snack box, either a "Crave Box" or "Tapas Box." I chose the option that had a protein, although the snacks were all definitely a sodium bomb.
I was disappointed that Delta hasn't reinstated hot meals -- which at this point seems like primarily a cost-cutting measure. However, if you do need another snack box, flight attendants gladly gave out another. (This might not be possible on fuller flights.)
Limited drink service, too
It's not just meals that have been cut from transcontinental flights.
Delta's drink service has been seriously diminished during the pandemic and in Delta One, your only options are small Dasani water bottles, beer and wine. Yes, that's it.
That means no soft drinks, no coffee or tea and no hard liquor available. I mistakenly assumed that I could have a cup of coffee onboard (and get some work done) but unfortunately, I didn't get my afternoon dose of caffeine.
Related: Here's what food and drinks major U.S. airlines are serving
Westin bedding remains, thankfully
Thankfully, Delta's comfortable Westin bedding remains. On the bright side, without the coffee, I was able to get a couple of hours of shut-eye.
I'm glad to see one soft product still available but in terms of onboard service and amenities, Delta One is certainly a shell of its former self.
The best view? Still out the window
At the end of the day, the best view is not the screen ahead but the window beside. I caught a beautiful sunset as the 767 raced towards JFK.
However, if you do plan on watching Delta One Studio, there's still a robust selection of hundreds of TV shows and movies -- and yes, the moving map, too (and reminders to wash your hands).
Related: The best Delta card offers of 2020
Deplaning was fairly organized
Upon deplaning, the passengers in Delta One remained somewhat organized, leaving a bit of space between each other as everyone exited the plane into JFK's Terminal 4.
However, as TPG's Zach Griff has noted, deplaning is a social-distancing challenge and is entirely dependent on how compliant other passengers ahead of you -- and behind you -- are.
Nobody collected quarantine paperwork at JFK
As of this writing, New York no longer lists California on the list of states where you'd need to quarantine if you just arrived.
However, earlier this month, I was required to fill out paperwork upon landing about my travels -- but to my surprise, no one at JFK bothered to collect it, even though California was on the list of quarantine-required states at the time.
From a cleanliness and personal-safety perspective, Delta deserves kudos for making the inflight experience top-notch.
There was hand sanitizer at every step along the journey, mask compliance was good and the plane was clean. Therefore, the required elements for flying in 2020 were present.
However, Delta is very clearly behind the other airlines when it comes to service and catering on these premium transcontinental flights. This difference was even starker since I had just flown on American -- with nearly full service and catering -- just a few days earlier.
If you're flying on Delta One across the country, make sure you know what to expect.
All photos by the author.