MIAMI — In recent months, the premium transcontinental market has become incredibly hot. Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle have all all been connected to New York with the best of every airlines domestic fleet. United has finished upgrading its p.s. fleet, American has launched its new A321, and JetBlue is poised to introduce Mint. Meanwhile, Delta is preparing to overhaul its fleet of Boeing 757s, while it uses internationally configured 767-300ERs and 757-200s to fly coast to coast.
On Valentines day, I flew from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport to Los Angeles on board one of Delta’s internationally configured 767-300ERs. The 9am flight had been delayed an hour due to icy conditions on the ground, slowing airport operations and retrieval of the aircraft from its overnight parking spot. Once boarding began, I was quickly reminded how much faster the process is on a widebody aircraft; a real treat for a domestic flight.
As I placed my bag into the large overhead bin and settled into my seat, I was excited to see that the aircraft featured a brand new in-flight entertainment system, one that is still relatively difficult to spot in the wild on Delta. The new system is based on Panasonic hardware, offering an impressive selection of new movies, television shows, music, and games. Every passenger, even in economy, also gets a USB charging port.
The IFE system was incredibly snappy, and never presented any signs of stuttering or lag. On the transon routes, Delta provides free movies and television shows for all economy passengers. The free content, combined with gate-to-gate availability, proved useful as my flight did not hit the runway for nearly two hours after boarding due to de-ice delays. I watched the movie Gravity with only ten minutes remaining at takeoff.
Finally in the air, I looked out the window as the massive winglet bounced around in the gusty New York wind. About ten minutes into the flight, the cabin crew distributed special transcon-only menus. While BusinessElite passengers get their special WineMaker Series selections and fancy meals as part of the ticket price, every passenger on these flights has the option to purchase a hot meal. For those passengers in Economy Comfort (a $79 upgrade), one of three Luvo wraps is available free of charge, along with wine and beer.
For regular economy passengers, a large menu with fairly priced items is available on most flights, depending on the time of departure. I opted for the $9.49 “Black Angus Burger,” and I know what you’re thinking. “A cheeseburger served by an American airline on a domestic flight? No thanks!” Much to my surprise, the burger was delicious! To avoid ending up with a mushy mess of bun and cheese, Delta serves the burger in a thoughtful manner, separating the bun and patty from all the other “make you own burger” ingredients. This kept the bun dry, and the lettuce crunchy. Little things like this make all the difference, and I absolutely recommend the burger to anyone on one of these flights.
Throughout the flight, I was happily enjoying free movies while tapping away on my iPad which was connected to Gogo’s in-flight internet. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but Gogo has taken a lot of heat for a sub-par product recently, with many people complaining of terrible connection speeds and poor reliability. I experienced none of that. Download speeds approached 1 Mbps, which is more than enough to do just about anything on the internet, within reason. No, streaming services such as YouTube didn’t work, but I didn’t expect them to. I was rather surprised by the performance, as the 767 loaded with hundreds of passengers shares the same connection that a 70 seat CRJ would have. Either I was one of only a few passengers using the service, or Gogo has upped their game. Either way, I was a happy customer.
About half way through the flight, the cabin crew had a surprise for us. To celebrate valentines day, all passengers were given delicious Ghirardelli chocolates and champagne. Maybe this crew was overjoyed with the love of the holiday, or maybe it was the fact that it was revenue sharing day at Delta, but the cabin crew was excellent from coast to coast, making for an enjoyable flight.
My return transcon flight departed from Seattle, which is a new battleground for Delta. Recently indoctrinated into the premium transcon show, flights from Seattle to JFK are operated by the same internationally configured 757s that also serve flights to LAX. What I found, however, is the premium Seattle service isn’t quite the same as the service to LAX and SFO, at least not yet. While most attributes of the flight home were the same, the seatback entertainment was not provided free of charge. Movies were a whopping $6 each, in stark contrast to my first flight where they were free. Thankfully, every economy seat still has a USB port. The cabin of the 757 was a bit worn, and didn’t provide that “premium” feel of the previous 767. I asked Delta why the IFE on the Seattle route wasn’t free, but they didn’t really seem to have an answer.
All in all, Delta provided fantastic service from coast to coast. With the competition on these busy routes getting hotter each day, they will have to keep this up, or be passed by one of their many competitors.