Delta Flight 1642 SEA To JFK Did Not Suck Nearly As Much As I Thought It Would

Delta Airlines. DELTA. Just that word raises my blood pressure. After a decade of below average flying experiences on that airline, the fan really hit the poop in 2010 on flight 1843 from JFK to Hell.

A joyless staff told me I couldn’t bring a very reasonably sized carry on to the plane, citing FAA regulations (that they made up on the spot) (it fit very nicely in the overhead). When I said I was in first class they relented, which is when I understood how bad the service was. What class you’re in has no official bearing on the size of your carry on. That’s all FAA rules, supposedly.

Anyhow, on that flight back they just lost my checked bag (lost everyone in first’s checked bags) and refused to deliver the bags to my home once they figured out where they were. I had to pay them a (large) fee to fedex it a few days later.

All of that, combined with a really low budget, cramped and dirty internal layout that had seen its best days in the late 80s. And the cherry on top – the absolute glee I observed from attendantes and gate crew in making what should have been a pleasant experience a hellish one instead.

I vowed never to fly Delta again, no matter what.

I flew Delta again today.

They were the only carrier with a direct flight to New York out of Seattle that left mid day. It was take that, or fly Virgin with a stop in San Francisco, or wait until the next morning for one of the other airlines. I nearly went with Virgin, but didn’t. I bought a ticket on Delta.

On arrival at the ticket counter I had one employee giving me the “why are you so stupid” routine because I was in the wrong line, but after that things were nice. Easy through security. An efficient boarding procedure and there was my seat, 1B, right at the front of a very nice 767. Unbeknownst to me Delta has ripped the guts out of some of their 767’s and turned them into really nice layouts.

If you’re flying Delta, get on one of these planes. Huge bathrooms I can stand my 6’4 frame up in, and I swear they’re piping perfume or something into them to keep them smelling reasonable. The sitting pod is extremely comfortable and I made good use of the massage feature. Watched two goodish movies. And best of all…gasp…my flight attendant smiled at me and asked if he could get me anything.

I have never seen a Delta employee smile before today. It was a very nice feeling. I bet he would have given me champagne, had I asked, without diverting the airplane to Tampa for an emergency landing.

We were stuck on the tarmac for ages – hitting the three hour limit and then three people asked to deplane, causing a further delay. But we still landed in JFK within about 30 minutes of our original schedule, and everyone seemed to be making their connecting flights. I was all ready to sit down and write a glowing report on my flight since I went so hard on them last time.

Then….baggage claim.

The flight landed at 11:18 pm. The first bags came out 40 minutes later. Mine came out just after midnight, so about 48 minutes after landing. People were pissed off, wondering (correctly) if anyone at all was dealing with the baggage. At one point a small purple bag came out and drifted around unclaimed and disappeared. Nothing else came for at least ten minutes after that.

“They’re totally just fucking with us,” the guy next to me said to my face. “They don’t care at all.”

“Well, it’s Delta,” I said. I mean, my grandpa always told me not to go asking for a beating and then act surprised when it’s promptly delivered.

And that’s how the trip ended. A very nice flight, delayed but not because of Delta, and lovely service in the sky. Then they just crapped on us by making us wait an hour for our bags.

Flight from Hell? Hardly. They were a solid C+ today. And it would have been an A, reserved only for Virgin America flights these days, but for the who gives a heck they’ll get their bags when we’re good and ready at the end.

Thankfully I had Twitter to read while I was waiting for that bag. And Michael Hill sort of said it best. “Delta airlines: “We’re not happy until you’re not happy””

Me and the red faced guy next to me got quite a kick out of that tweet.

32 thoughts on “Delta Flight 1642 SEA To JFK Did Not Suck Nearly As Much As I Thought It Would

  1. RAFrenzy says:

    Are you ready for everyone’s horror stories. I’ve got one, but I’ll spare you the details. The high point was my life passed before my eyes.

    • Michael Arrington says:

      Here’s my personal invitation to tell your story.

      • Mike says:

        Yes please go ahead! I can’t believe we are using this blog for travel stories ! they are a dime a dozen.

        • RAFrenzy says:

          Yep, they’re a dime a dozen, and almost every airline’s got one. Shame about Delta since they used to be the best.

          I will share about my father-in-law who worked 36 years for the FAA. He was one of three guys who designed the back up system to prepare for the ’81 PATCO strike. He alternated trips to D.C. and Edwards about every two weeks for a couple years to get ready for it. He is also a licensed pilot, and today, he will not get on a commercial flight.

          There. That ought to make you feel better about Delta. ; -)

  2. Geoff says:

    Sounds like a #firstworldproblem to me. First Class. Cry me a river. Try coach on Delta or United (still a #firstworldproblem).

  3. William D says:

    Just goes to show – they can leave 3 hours late and still arrive within 30 minutes of original time. Conclusion: The journey times are deliberately “fattened up”.

    Other than that, the rest of this post seems a bit of a “spoiled brat syndrome” post.

    And finally, as for the smile – given how you write I’d like to see how much you smile if you had their job!

    • it’s called tailwind when you fly west to east… planes can catch a great wind and throttle faster… to save fuel they fly slower in the same route because they burn twice as much in east to west flights. President Bush ended airlines “fattening times” and required more accurate delay and arrival times.

      I’d like to see you wait on a Tarmac for 3 hours, wait 1 hour at midnight for your bags and then smile about it! End of the day the flight was still late. The question is what really caused the 3 hour delay? I promise you it wasn’t a passengers fault.

  4. Try flying a plane while in Africa, then you see problems

  5. Ken says:

    Are the airlines themselves even responsible for the luggage delay? I thought that was general airport staff.

    Fly to Japan and you see efficiency when your luggage comes out 15 minutes after landing with an international flight. Amazing every time.

  6. spekworx says:

    I agree Delta is always a bad experience, lost luggage, late planes, staff with attitude and faulty equipment. I always dread Delta.

  7. about the FAA and the Space Tourism …

    can TOURISTS (or scientists) be sent aboard an X-15 (dropped by a B-52) to 62+ miles of altitude???

    clearly they CAN’T since it’s TOO DANGEROUS also for a test pilot!!!

    well, despite the fashionable look of their internal, all the suborbital spacecrafts like the SS2 dropped by a WK2 are EXACTLY the SAME of the experimental and dangerous X-15 dropped by the B-52

    so, the FAA absolutely NEVER CAN APPROVE this kind of experimental and dangerous suborbital vehicles for COMMON TOURISTS … unless … the FAA (as does the Press) will close both eyes about the BIG risks of this new business …

  8. Basil says:


  9. you can’t blame the baggage delivery on them. Try flying into Philadelphia, doesn’t matter what airline, expect 40 minutes minimum.

  10. I got treated like #$%& by Delta after (drum roll) resuscitating one of their flight attendants with the on board AED! Can you imagine?

  11. Jimmy Wales says:

    I fly a lot. More than almost anyone. And of course I have shared your revulsion about Delta.

    But lately I have taken a few trips on Delta from Florida to London via Atlanta. The flights to Heathrow from Atlanta all have new-interior planes. (Caution: the flights to Gatwick are still in their old layout.)

    It was pretty much non-horrible. I’m not sure yet whether it was actually OK, or if my distorted expectations of how horrible it would be just meant that slightly less horrible seemed OK.

  12. Ravi says:

    No airline is consistently bad. While every airline has negatives, each has its positives too. Eg. Delta – Free upgrades to Medallion. AA – One way tickets with miles.

    There is also the reversion to the mean at play. If you are a frequent flyer you will learn to expect x% delays, y% baggage issues etc. For my DL flights, I used to keep tab on how they did every 10 flights, and found them consistent :-), 20 % times delayed flight, etc etc.

  13. Chuan Tsay says:

    This is the best article I’ve read in ages. Hilarious! Thank you Michael Arlington.

  14. Katharine k. Whiting says:

    Well, I like Delta!! I do not fly that much but for the past ten years I fly from Phoenix to Salt Lake City and back in August and have enjoyed my flights on Delta. The staff is courteous and friendly. One year an attendant had us all laughing as he sang a “Delta” rap song. My mind set is positive about them. I wonder how much expectation has to do with our perception….You all are expecting bad so you get it. I expect good and am not let down. Try smiling and being pleasant and see if it is not reciprocated…..

  15. Tom says:

    I just flew recently for the first time in several years, and it really bugged me how hysterical the crew on every plane was about turning off electronic devices. On one flight a crew member even stood next to me until he verified that my device was completely off, airplane mode wasnt enough for him. They act as if we will all die if even one electronic device is on, yet there is very little evidence to support that even cell communications would disrupt any of the planes electronics, much less non transmitting devices such as Kindles or smartphones in a non-transmitting airplane mode.

    I asked the captain why his staff was so hysterical about it on one of the flights, and his response was about the fear of cell transmissions disrupting his communications, which is understandable. When I asked if airplane mode was OK, he said yes but they cant go around verifying that every device is in airplane mode. That would make sense if they werent already going around verifying that every device is off.

  16. I fly over 200k miles a year and hold platinum status on Delta. The sad truth is Delta can’t do anything about its customer service issue. I’ve had ticket counter experiences that have been extremely pleasant and counter experiences from hell. Noting it only takes one jerk to ruin the day of anyone in customer service, I do try to lead with a smile as to set the tone for the conversation. Sometimes we forget to do that. Have a conversation with any delta employee and you will hear the ugly truth. When is the last time you seen a young eager flight attendant on Delta?

    Delta’s problem is its employees have been grandfathered into their positions. On top of that they had to take on the staff from Northwest, a failing airline, and its agents and teach the entire NW crew Delta’s system. Unions have protected Delta from terminating those problematic bad influences in their staff. Period.

    I can understand the 1hour delay in baggage simply because the staff that unloads the flights have a tight schedule to unload and load planes because ground crew is the only crew they could cut budget on. So when your flight came in 30min late that threw your flight into a cue for unload. JFK also sucks for baggage as it is a very old airport that isn’t up to date.

    Nevertheless, your letter to Delta will get you $100 in future credit and don’t settle for anything less. The biggest problem is sitting on a tarmac for 3 hours!

  17. David Meyer says:

    I left Delta after fifteen LOYAL years and moved to Continental. Even my crappiest Continental flight has not matched my best Delta flight. And…so for the United merger has not changed that, but it is still early.

  18. My daughter flew NYC-SFO on Sept. 11, 2001 after being delayed the previous day. Her choices were Delta or United 93. I’m very glad she chose Delta, based on bad experience with United previously.

  19. Laureana says:

    I told you Delta wasn’t so sucky.

    But really, Mike? “The sitting pod is extremely comfortable and I made good use of the massage feature.” You HAD to mentioan a massage feature in a toilet sitting pod (or something)?

    I suppose I’m just glad you didn’t post any photos…

  20. stop whining says:

    i really don’t care about you bitching and whining about air travel. really not sure why i took the time to leave this comment, but wanted to offer you some constructive criticism

  21. John says:

    It’s not just Delta, they are ALL bad.
    I don’t understand how a business can succeed if its sole goal appears to be to make its customers unhappy.

  22. Lee says:

    When it comes to Mr Park, length is not an issue. Make of that what you will! I’m just deighlted it selling so well for you, TP, and it’s not even close to Father’s Day yet! It will walk off the bookselves (especially for the Big W special and with the continued airplay of your TV ad)when people seriously look for Father’s Day gifts.I’m just so sorry that the lion on the cover had to be (pictorially) castrated for sensitive sensibilities. There’s some sort of reverse link between a lion with no family jewels and Father’s Day, but i can’t quite put it together. TP, you’re the writer; you put it togther!

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