I Flew Delta Air Lines One Way and United Airlines Back. There Was 1 Huge Surprise

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

I tried to be fair.

I booked flights at more or less the same time, in the same class.

In the case of Delta Air Lines, it was its Delta One Class. In United’s case, it was Business Class.

How similar would they be? Would Delta confirm its reputation as the best and most comfortable of the big airlines? Would United take one look at me and decide I was an undesirable?

The route was San Francisco to New York and back again.

Delta One Means You’re All Alone.

I began with Delta and an early-morning flight.

Delta suffers in San Francisco from having to endure a dingy, desperate Terminal 1. It’s the terminal that time didn’t merely forget, but never liked at all.

At the first coffee place I stopped at, they serve only black coffee. They claimed not to even have milk.

I noticed also that the cabin crew seemed to arrive very shortly before passengers began boarding. Where had they been? Would they have time to prepare themselves?

Yet when I boarded the flight, I had a very pleasant surprise. 

My seat was by a window and there was no one seated next to me. Because there was no seat next to me.

In this Boeing 767 configuration, window seats are lone seats with a substantial area to the side for placing your laptop, books, magazines, knitting, emotional support squirrel or whatever you happen to enjoy on a plane.

This is, of course, wonderful if you’re flying alone, as I was. It’s less wonderful if you’re traveling with someone, as neither of you will be able to have a window seat. 

You’ll have to sit in the middle.

I’d pre-ordered breakfast, which was a simple, pleasant, cold affair with generous helpings of cheese and fruit.

The service, though, was efficient rather than warm. 

The entertainment system offered a large screen and the lie-flat bed was, well, who doesn’t want a lie-flat bed on a cross-country flight? This one was perfectly comfortable.

The flight, though, had one little drawback. 

There was a family of three. Dad was right behind me. Mom and highly entitled child were in the middle seats in his row.

Their form of communication involved shouting to each other across the aisle. Yes, they were from New York.

It’s easy to forget that the behavior of just one passenger can affect your flight. The only thing that saved me here was putting on my headphones and watching episode after episode of a wonderfully improbable and suitablly dramatic BBC series called The Split.

The flight was on time. Delta stuck to its promise of getting the bags out quickly. The whole thing was really quite pleasant.

United Airlines. Wait, What Just Happened?

There’d been a little hiccup the day before my flight back home.

United had emailed me to tell me my flight might be delayed by up to 30 hours. The email arrived the night before the flight.

So my biggest concern was whether the flight would be on time. 

Arriving at Newark at an ungodly hour, I was met by an extremely pleasant United Airlines check-in agent. Far more friendly, indeed, than the one I’d encountered at Delta. 

Yes, she said, the flight was on time. 

It did, indeed, board on schedule. Moreover, United’s terminal at Newark is curiously bright and airy place. I confess I rather liked being there. 

Yet United’s Business Class isn’t quite Delta One. On this Boeing 777, there were eight seats across the plane.

I was seated next to someone who, if he hadn’t been a decent human, might easily have taken over the whole armrest we shared.

He was a decently large human, you see and the armrest wasn’t too wide. 

The proximity was jarring when compared with Delta. 

The biggest surprise, though, was the service. The attitude of the Flight Attendants — one woman in particular — was a marked contrast to Delta’s slightly chilly efficiency. 

United’s Flight Attendants offered a rare warmth. It was as if they’d just come out of remedial training and had been infused with the need to project humanity. 

For first thing in the morning, their attitude came across as genuine. 

At one point, the female Flight Attendant saw that I was finished with my New York Times and said, with wit infused: “You haven’t done the crosswords, have you?”

Crosswords? Me? Lord, no. I have enough words in my regular life.

She was relieved, as she was one of those crossword people and really needed my paper. 

This was my biggest and most pleasant surprise.

From check-in to in-flight, United’s personnel exuded far greater warmth than Delta’s. It made the experience just that little bit more pleasant.

In customer service, it’s always the little things.

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