An American Airlines Boeing 737-800 – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren | JDLMultimedia
Recently, I had the chance to fly pretty similar flights from Seattle to Puerto Rico and back on Delta Air Lines and then American Airlines.
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!
A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz
Every month, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) releases a load of airline statistics ranging from on-time performance rankings to lost bag rates and simple info requests. Within the monthly data dump sits the number of complaints the DOT received about airlines for that particular month. You’ve probably seen the new headlines like “airline complaints spike in 2014,” or something like that. That data comes from the DOT releases.
Buried in the 47-page monthly DOT report, the word “compliment” is mentioned twice
Buried in a recent release, I noticed that the DOT also reported airline compliments in addition to complaints. While complaints sometimes tally over 2,000 per month (2,205 in August 2015), the number of compliments ranges anywhere from none at all to maybe one or two. In the August 2015 release, a whopping three airline compliments were received, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they said. I simply had to know more.
Our Air France A380 parked at SFO. Photo: John Nguyen | AirlineReporter
Thanks to Delta, I found a smashing deal to fly an Airbus A380 for the first time, and not in economy! My wife and I were married late last year, but postponed our honeymoon because we wanted to visit Europe during the warmer months.
We lucked out and found a very low fare valid for this past September, from San Francisco to Istanbul, in the Premium Economy section of Delta partner Air France. This would be our first time flying the A380, as well as the first time in decades flying on Air France. I was cautiously optimistic about what flying Premium Economy would be like, and I subscribed to the mantra of, “anything’s better than coach,” or even my flight on a CRJ-200 the day before.
Would I be severely disappointed?
Delta’s first 747-100, N9896 “Ship 101” as it looked on her delivery in 1970 – Image: JP Santiago
On 9 September 2015, the very first Boeing 747-400 built, N661US, touched down at Atlanta from Honolulu as Delta Flight 836 for the last time in revenue passenger service. Ship 6301 was the Boeing 747-400 prototype, which was delivered to launch customer Northwest Airlines on 8 December 1989 and came over to Delta with the 2008 merger. There are twelve remaining 747-400s flying with Delta, all of which came over from Northwest. Current fleet planning will have these 747s retired in 2017.
Delta did however, for a brief time, operate the first variant of the 747 family, the 747-100, from September 1970 to April 1977. Only five aircraft were taken on strength with Delta and while the 747-100 was but a short historical footnote in Delta’s history, its legacy looms large to this day with the airline.
In order to understand what the 747 was for Delta at the time, one has to consider that as the 1960s were drawing to a close, Delta was in the midst of transition on several fronts. The first change came with the Southern Transcontinental Route Case of 1961. Prior to deregulation, airlines usually had to make a case for the opening of new services and routes to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). Often these cases consisted of years of deliberation, and politics played a central role in airlines winning favorable rulings from the CAB. In the 1950s, the CAB favored interchange services as a means for airlines to open up new markets without saturating a given route with an excess of seats, harming profitability.
A Delta Boeing 747-100 (reg: N9897) taken in Miami in 1974 – Photo: Bob Garrard
Having a predominantly southeastern U.S.-anchored network, Delta linked up with several other airlines to offer interchange services which allowed it to fly as far west as California. As traffic grew on the interchange services to the west coast, Delta petitioned the CAB to operate the west coast services on its own, and in one of the more historic decisions made by the CAB, both Delta and National Airlines were given route authorities to California from the southeast in what was called the Southern Transcontinental Route Case.