I had not flown on two domestic airlines back-to-back with so much the same, and I found there to be a pretty stark differences.
To San Juan, I took two Delta Boeing 737-900ERs with the newest interior (one was only a few weeks old). I flew from Seattle to Atlanta (shocking), then on to San Juan. On the way home, I took two American 737-800s. One had the Boeing Sky Interior cabin, but still shared entertainment screens. The second was an older 737-800, with no sky interior and also shared screens (but more on that later). I flew out of San Juan, through Miami, and then on to Seattle.
The cost of the tickets were exactly the same: $236 each way. I also earned Alaska Airlines miles for both flights, so I didn’t care about miles on either, nor did I have any status [update: I did not realize that Delta only gave me 50% Alaska miles vs American’s 100%. Still knowing this, it doesn’t change any of my choices or opinions since I am not much of a miles guy]. I was also in window seats and had similar seat-mate setups.
I went into these flights with no expectation of doing a story, but the fact that on similar flights, there was an obvious winner, I became motivated. And yes, you will have to wait until the end to see which airline won — no cheating!
American vs Delta 737: PURCHASING TICKETS
I booked each ticket on the airline’s website. Both were pretty straightforward and I didn’t run into any issues. I actually was booking them at the same time, filling out one, hitting next, moving to the other, doing the same.
Purchase Winner: Tie- I almost fell asleep writing this section, but it is a nice warm up.
American vs Delta 737: iPHONE APPS
When checking in, I couldn’t pick a seat via Delta’s app (or website). I had to go to a kiosk at the airport, and still was told there was no seat assignment, but it did give me a security pass. Not sure why the app couldn’t have just done that. But that was the only failure of the app… otherwise, Delta has one sweet app. You can do pretty much anything on it; buy an upgrade, pay for a lounge day pass, and change your seat (when you have an assignment) up to almost the last second.
American’s app was much less helpful. If you close the app (and you are not logged in — which I was not), then your flight information is lost and you have to input all the data again. To change seats, it is a pain, as it takes you to the website. It gave okay flight updates, but even when I manually tried to refresh the status, it would take up to 30 seconds to update. I just ended up printing my boarding pass and stopped using the app.
App Winner: Delta- Gave me a little annoyance, but American’s was very disappointing
American vs Delta 737: BOARDING
Boarding almost any airline has become a real bother if you don’t have some status or credit card or whatever. Yea, I get it — they are trying to make money and people are willing to pay, so good for them, but I am not paying to board sooner. You can be the first “normal” seat to board and the plane is already 75% full. Oh well, it is what it is.
One thing that really stood out to me is that Delta made an announcement for families with young children to board first. I don’t have kids, so typically don’t pay attention, but since I flew with my friend’s kids and was miffed that American didn’t offer it, I have started noticing. Neither of my American flights gave the announcement.
Both had zone boarding and, hell if I knew what zones mean what anymore. With Delta, I was “Zone 2,” but seemed to be in the last group. With American I was also “Zone 2,” but seemed to be one of the first groups.
On both of my American flights they wanted to measure my bag. Okay, fine. However, the first flight, my bag fit, no biggie. The second flight, my bag also fit (didn’t change a thing), but the gate agent decided that it was still too big. Um what? I confirmed with her, that she can see it fits in the bin, she said, yes but it still needs to be checked. I realized that this gate agent was on a power trip, so instead of fighting it out with her, I opened by bag, took out my camera case (which became my personal item) and then she let me go. Sigh.
Boarding winner: Delta- not by a lot, pre-boarding picked this one, not spite from the bag
American vs Delta 737: IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
Both airlines had GoGo WiFi, and both didn’t work when over the water to/from San Juan, as expected.
Delta has an impressive IFE set up. Every seat has a very nice touchscreen with TV shows, movies, flight map, etc. There is also a USB charger next to the screen and a power outlet easily accessible below it. They also offered headsets to passengers.
American offered a shared screen, that drops down from above. From SJU to MIA, a few NBC shows played, but there were lots of American and NBC ads during the time. Even the shows played were not that great. But maybe that is more of a commentary on TV today.
There is also a sweet music selection of 14 stations in American’s armrest (that is sarcasm… 1992 called and they want their in-armrest-IFE back). Each row of seats had an outlet. I didn’t confirm mine worked — why? The whole reason why these aren’t the best anymore is I don’t want to be reaching around my neighbor’s rearend trying to find the outlet.
On my leg from Miami to Seattle, I saw an older gentleman in my row keep looking under his cushion. Figured he lost something. After standing up and pulling the whole cushion up, he caught the attention of the flight attendant. When asked what he was doing, he said he was told the power outlet was under his seat. Heh.
Currently, all of Delta’s 737-900ERs and 737-700s have in-seat entertainment. About half of their 737-800s have it, and they are actively upgrading the rest.
American does have a 737 configuration with IFE at each seat. However, only about 15% of the 737 fleet has it, and they are not planning to upgrade their other planes, at least for now. American also offers GoGo streaming, but my computer didn’t have updated Flash, so no go-go. I could have used my phone, but I was lazy and maybe a bit of an old man since I don’t often watch movies/shows on my phone.
When my Delta flight was delayed a bit out of Seattle, they made everything free for all of us. Bonus. When our flight on American was even more delayed, I still had the free movie overhead (and unfortunately, it wasn’t one I wanted to watch).
Winner: Delta- this is not even close. I think Delta has the best domestic economy IFE and beats many international products – nice work!
American vs Delta 737: TWITTER \ SOCIAL MEDIA
Before my flight on Delta, I had some issues. I reached out to @DeltaAssist and it took nearly four hours to get the “DM us,” reply. Lame. I did it right away and then it took another few hours, with a resolution. There were no weather issues or increased customer service demand at the time. Oddly, not long after I got a reply, I made a random “pretty airplane” Tweet and @DeltaAssist replied in five minutes.
I didn’t have any issues with my American flight, but @AmericanAir was engaged and interacting with me. I had Tweeted I was afraid I might miss my flight, not even looking for a solution, but they Tweeted back (sounding human) for me to tell them which flight and they checked the status. They even were playful with my Tweets about my flights.
Although I don’t need fun interaction via Twitter, it is nice and makes me feel warm and fuzzy towards a brand. Sure, I get that @Delta has decided not to be warm and fuzzy, but taking so many hours via @DeltaAssist to answer a simple question is not cool.
Winner: American- took them a while to find the right stride, but I think AA has one of the best airline Twitter accounts
American vs Delta 737: OVERALL
Shocking (not shocking) the winner for me is Delta.
You won’t go wrong with American with these products, but I sort of wish I flew them first down to Puerto Rico. I found flying home, I kept wishing I was flying on Delta instead.
Delta’s ability to quickly upgrade their fleet and provide better consistency has quickly spoiled me and has me asking “why doesn’t X airline have that?” Since the merger with Northwest, I have to say that Delta has come a long way. Their product, service, and technology makes them a leader domestically.
I think American is making some great progress too, but their “best” domestic product just isn’t as good as Delta’s right now, and unfortunately they don’t have plans to make their fleet consistent.
I am very excited that US airlines are paying more attention to trancons (and other domestic route quality). It is always interesting (eh, more like annoying), when you fly on a high end product on a seven hour flight, like from New York to London, and then take a not-so-great product on a flight that is almost as long, from New York to Seattle.
I think things are changing for the best and when you have one airline that provides a premium, consistent product, it often causes others to play catch up. That typically ends up being a good thing for consumers.