Earlier in the month I flew to LA as a favor to Peter Greenberg, to speak at the Travel Adventure Show. I flew out on a Saturday, back Sunday. I didn’t want to leave too early, since I didn’t actually need to speak until Sunday, and wanted to fly back as quickly as possible after I was done. United, American, Southwest and Delta all operate the Austin – Los Angles route and both ways Delta had the schedule that worked best for me.
I pulled up to the Austin airport around 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, which is about the only time it isn’t busy. The longest backup I had was for the Analogic machine at the main TSA checkpoint. Those machines are getting increasingly tough to avoid, and it doesn’t matter how short the line is, they always take longer than you’d expect even knowing that they take longer than they should.
Delta Sky Club Austin
It’s not a large lounge, but it’s beautifully designed and wasn’t busy at all.
A key feature is the outdoor deck, and it was a beautiful afternoon, but I didn’t go outside on this visit. Instead I wanted to grab something to eat and just stuck to the dining room. I hadn’t eaten lunch, and I was flying coach.
The food was actually good. American ostensibly just upgraded its lounge food, but the offerings are meager. They had Delta as a comparison and have had it for years, yet they don’t come close to matching which is sad. Here there were choices, attractively presented, and the food was quite reasonably. You also eat amidst some decent views.
What really struck me, even more than the food, was the attention to detail that you see on Delta that other airlines skip over. American installed foot grabs on the doors to (some of) their club bathrooms during the pandemic. Delta’s doors are automatic.
Flying Delta Coach To Los Angeles
Since I was just gone for the night, I was traveling only with my laptop bag (even though I brought a suit) so I didn’t need overhead bin space. As a result I boarded about 20 minutes prior to departure. Doors were closed on time 10 minutes out.
The Boeing 737-800, which I’d be flying both directions, is Delta’s least-comfortable interior. I had a ‘Comfort+’ extra legroom aisle seat and lucked into the only empty seat on the aircraft being the middle next to me. So it was fine.
The TVs are old and small, but they handed out free headphones for anyone that needed one and the wifi was free. Expensive ViaSat on American works better, since not as many people are using it. The wifi was actually frustratingly slow.
Maybe most impressive was that the free snacks included biscoff cookies with a layer of cream inside (essentially, a Biscoff Oreo). Though we operated on time, we flew lower and slower than usual due to weather and arrived about 13 minutes late. The lavatories were tiny, they do still have hand sanitizer stations on the plane, and overall I’d say the on board experience on this plane wasn’t much different than with any other carrier.
I thought the most impressive things flying Delta were in its lounge, and that everyone generally smiled.
Marriott Marina del Rey
From the airport I made my way to the Marina del Rey Marriott for the night. The hotel is ‘fine’ but in some ways actually better than the Ritz-Carlton next door. That’s arguably the worst Ritz, a step down even from the Tysons Corner and Pentagon City properties attached to shopping malls.
The one good thing about the Ritz next door is its club lounge, but I wouldn’t have had access to that. The Marriott’s ground floor M Club was actually pretty good, with ample indoor and outdoor seating and plenty of hot and cold options for breakfast.
I checked out of the hotel and headed to the LA Convention Center to speak. It was actually tough to get to with roads shut down around it for the Grammys.
Everyone was lined up for that as I left after the event, and catching an Uber to the airport was challenging (there was also an historic downpour of rain to deal with as well, and I had no umbrella).
Delta Sky Club LAX
There have been tremendous raves for the Delta Sky Club at LAX. It’s nice for a U.S. airline lounge. I prefer the aesthetic of the American Airlines E Concourse lounge at National airport, though of course Delta has (much) better food. I like Delta’s outdoor deck, but prefer the Star Alliance lounge deck at LAX because of the fire pits and of course the United Club has a deck there as well. (The best lounge at the airport, despite having no views to speak of, is the Qantas first class lounge.)
It’s a very good, busy airline lounge but there were no lines to get in and there were seats available. The food options were nice. A few things really stood out.
First of all, the main buffet area featured a taco bar, where a staff member heats your choice of flour or corn tortillas. There were multiple meat options, meats and cheeses sandwiches and desserts. It was a pretty good buffet.
Second, there was more than one buffet, at opposite ends of the lounge. That makes it really convenient because otherwise you’re probably having to find a place to sit, leave your belongings behind unattended for awhile and walk to the other side of the lounge to get food and bring it back. Well done. (No taco bar at the second buffet.)
Third, of course, the deck. And there was a second (tended) bar outside. That made it exceptional.
While I was there guests were asked to go back inside due to the rain, as they were shutting down the outdoor deck. The deck had nice overhead heaters. No rain was getting in while I was there. A lot of thought went into the detail of the lounge.
I noticed the doors to the bathroom opening with a handwave, as I saw at the club in Austin. So much nicer than grabbing at the bottom of the door with your foot.
And I noticed small plates at the buffet, which limits how much each passenger takes on a single trip. That reduces food waste and holds down cost, and of course passengers can come up for as many plates as they wish. However the plates weren’t nearly the postage stamp-sized ones I’ve seen with American.
Overall the Delta Sky Club at LAX isn’t just nicer than the American Airlines Admirals Club at the airport, it’s probably nicer than the Flagship lounge there too.
Flying Delta First Class To Austin
We ran about 15 minutes behind. The inbound aircraft was delayed, but no delay was posted and I didn’t track the inbound closely enough. It would have been nice to wait in the lounge longer rather than at the gate.
For this flight I was in first class, as Delta was selling it pretty cheap on Sunday evening (cheaper than American or United).
I’d again be on the Boeing 737-800. The Delta blue cabin is attractive enough. But it’s not a very comfortable product. That first class seat in the upright position felt more like it was pushing me forward and was uncomfortable on my back. I don’t usually recline, but I definitely did just a little bit once we were up in the air.
The other notable thing about the first class seat, because being uncomfortable on the back, is that it’s mounted to the ground in an awkward way for floor storage – a problem American Airlines had with its new domestic product, but that they retrofitted to fix.
Once again I didn’t need overhead bin space, since I was just traveling with my laptop. The bins on this aircraft are small, and the woman seated next to me brought on a bag that would have fit with a larger bin (but probably wouldn’t fit in a bag sizer, but the gate agent didn’t catch that). She tried to put her bag up in the bin but it just wasn’t happening, and she had to leave the aircraft to gate check her bag.
I hadn’t pre-ordered a meal on the flight, but all three options were available when the flight attendant was taking orders.
I ordered the meatballs just for a taste, and they were ok I guess? I wouldn’t call them good. The strawberry bar was dry and largely tasteless. I skipped the meal after a total of three bites.
Delta, In A Nutshell
Delta comes across as a little bit more professional and polished than other U.S. airlines. Employees seem proud of the product they’re offering. They also don’t seem to cut as many corners (we took a slight delay so that aircraft cleaners could actually clean). People are a little bit friendlier.
Seating is just as tight (tighter than Southwest, of course, in regular coach). The Boeing 737-800 product is worn, and the entertainment screens didn’t feel that premium. Internet was free, and it worked, but not very fast. That will feel premium to many, but not so much to me. The first class food wasn’t good but coach snacks were.
The airline really shined on the ground. American Airlines has built new clubs in a new, much nicer style but they haven’t committed to renovations. American announced upgraded food but the food isn’t very upgraded. You can see attention to cost at Delta, but offering a leading product seems to matter. You can actually eat the food in the lounges, and people do.
I used to wish that Delta had a stronger presence in Austin. I thought I’d earned Diamond status through flying, and the redeemable SkyMiles I’d earn along the way would basically be a throwaway. I’d sacrifice mileage value for a somewhat friendlier, more reliable flying experience. Of course I’d never choose to accumulate SkyMiles over another currency for anything other than flying. (And on this trip, I did not even credit the flights to SkyMiles.) And Delta elites frequently complain to me that first class seats often go out empty with upgrades not processed at the gate.
Unfortunately as they’ve moved towards requiring more to earn status, and pushing the credit card to play an important role, I wouldn’t just need to fly the airline I’d need to spend on their card too for status, and for sufficient access to their lounges as a regular customer. That’s just a bridge too far – giving up way too much value.
So I’ll occasionally fly Delta when it makes sense, credit the miles elsewhere, and use their lounges as an Amex Platinum customer. It’s a good option for trips like this one.