Atlanta Stories and Tips

Delta? That's a more generous rate than I'd give them

I’ve never had a very high opinion of American-owned airlines and this has been mostly based on the dreadful service I’ve had on multiple flights with American Airlines. After witnessing their policy of massive overbooking (which they laughingly claim is for the BENEFIT of their customers) and having a flight cancelled out from under me (despite being booked in business class and having confirmed it) I vowed to stay away and stick with European carriers for flights to the USA. Unfortunately when I needed to go to Atlanta recently there was no sensible alternative to flying with Delta. I didn’t expect them to be brilliant but even my lowest possible imaginings didn’t prepare me for just how bad they were. My company paid a ridiculous price of over £1600 each for my return ticket but if the flight had cost £300 I would have considered it to still be poor value.

I checked in online the day before my flights and on each occasion the online check in gave me precisely zero option to change my seat. Surely that’s the point of online check in – log on early enough and you can change your seat. But in this case you get what you are given and take it or leave it.

My flights were in the last week of March from Manchester to Atlanta returning later the same week. In each case the flights were absolutely full to bursting which surprised me at what should have been rather an off-peak time. I hadn’t realised of course that most of the people on the plane probably weren’t actually going to Atlanta but were transiting on and using the airport as a hub.

Lowering my expectations before we flew I told myself not to expect too much. Quite possibly they wouldn’t have on demand video on the seat back TVs. I might be advised to pick up a sandwich just in case they had no vegetarian food, and I thought I might be a bit cramped. I didn’t bargain on a plane smaller than those that European airlines would use for flights no more than 3 or 4 hours in duration which looked like it had been in service since before the moon landings. My seat back TV concerns were blown out of the water by discovering that on demand video (which I do take for granted on flights to what most people consider the less developed parts of the world) would be two steps ahead of what Delta were offering – i.e. no seat back screens at all. If you wanted to watch a film there was no choice at all and the screens were far enough away to make viewing difficult and uncomfortable.

With 2-3-2 configuration only one seventh of the economy passengers is going to get stuck without a window or aisle seat. On the way out I had a window with no view because I was over the wing. I gave up looking out of the windows a long time ago so it was no issue for me. I was also lucky to get a very nice lady next to me to share magazines with and indulge in some ‘Would you believe how primitive this airline is’ moaning. The seat was only of short-haul width and short-haul leg room but I wasn’t majorly uncomfortable. Sadly the same couldn’t be said for the return flight where I had the bad luck of being on the aisle in the row behind the bulk head.
The guy in front in his military fatigues had plenty of leg room, a nice deep recline right into my lap and was fawned over by crew and fellow passengers the whole way. I was crammed in a seat with less leg room than I’d get on Ryanair (I’m not exaggerating – I checked) and no space to read, use my laptop or eat my dinner. With nowhere to put my legs my left knee crept into the aisle where the flight attendant (I like to call them stewardesses because they really hate that) aimed for it each time she went up the plane with her trolley. She tried to tell me off for my errant body part. I asked her where she suggested I put in bearing in mind I had one of America’s finest in my lap and no leg space at all. She told me she "could care less but don’t put it in my aisle". Maybe I should turn round and cramp the space of the poor guy in the middle seat who got hoodwinked into giving up his aisle seat by a bossy old bag who promised him a better seat further up then forced him to go back and move to the middle. He told me any further acts of self-sacrifice that he undertook would be strictly indulged in on solid ground and not on a Delta aircraft.

The plane was cold in both directions and the blanket supplied was thin and inadequate. You don’t get any kind of amenity pack on the overnight flight and that was a real surprise. I expected a toothbrush, an eyeshade, maybe a plastic pen for filling out my paperwork. I don’t think this was an unreasonable expectation since every other airline I’ve ever done an overnight flight with provides such things. Delta don’t appear to want to give you the time of day let alone a ten cent pen and a titchy tube of toothpaste.

To be fair not everything about the two flights was completely crappy. Almost everything but not quite. The crew on the Manchester to Atlanta leg were the sweetest, cheeriest and jolliest flight attendants I’ve ever had the good fortune to travel with. The food was not awful and they had plenty of vegetarian dishes since the choice was "chicken or pasta" both ways. The did some fun things like handing out pizza and ice-cream on the way over to Atlanta but the food on the way back was less interesting. Unfortunately there’s not enough pizza and ice-cream in the universe to make up for no legroom, inadequate entertainment and stroppy stewardesses. We joke about flying cattle class but I suspect that farm animals get better treatment and more space than Delta’s economy passengers stuffed into an elderly Boeing 767. I normally ooze jealousy when I have to go long haul in economy but the facilities in business class weren’t much better. When did BA and Virgin introduce flat beds in business? It must be 10 years ago or more. Delta are still using old reclining chairs and even they are crammed too closely together.

Hell really will freeze over before I book another Delta flight. I now know why BA claim to be ‘The World’s Favourite Airline’ – it’s because jokers like Delta are their competition. I’m sure their name is meant to reflect their geographic headquarters and not the grade that their customers would give them. In my case, based on these two flights they’d not even scrape a D-grade – they’d be strictly ‘unclassified’.

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