What to Know Before Flying Delta Air Lines, According to Passenger Reviews
Since its humble beginnings as a crop-dusting outfit founded in Macon, Georgia in 1925, Delta has grown into one of the largest airlines on the planet. In a typical year, the carrier flies as many as 200 million passengers to 300 destinations in over 50 countries around the globe on its fleet of nearly 800 aircraft.
Delta also partners with other international carriers like Air France-KLM, Korean Air, and Virgin Atlantic. The airline has major hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, Salt Lake City, and Seattle, so chances are you might be flying with Delta sometime soon. If so, here's everything you need to know about Delta Air Lines before booking, including feedback based on passenger reviews.
Related: More Delta Air Lines news
Like many other airlines, Delta offers a variety of fare classes, which can get confusing.
Starting at the bottom, Basic Economy, or "E" fares, are the cheapest. Seat assignments can only be made after check-in, and you cannot change or refund your ticket beyond 24 hours from booking. Whether you have Medallion elite status or not, tickets are not eligible for:
- Paid or complimentary upgrades
- Paid, complimentary, or discounted Delta Comfort (extra legroom) seats
- Paid or complimentary Preferred seats (window or aisle seats towards the front)
- Same-day confirmed or standby changes
Despite those drawbacks, many fliers feel like the savings are worth it, especially if you check in as soon as you're able to and can snag a seat. That's what Tripadvisor commenter Solo Traveler did, saying, "I was able to select the same seat at check-in that I would normally have chosen, and saved myself a substantial sum (about $125)."
If you book a Main Cabin, or regular economy, fare, you will be able to select some seats for free starting at booking, and have access to purchase Preferred (aisle and window) and Comfort (extra legroom) seats as well as paid upgrades, or complimentary ones depending on your elite status. Aside from very expensive fully-refundable tickets, passengers who purchase fares in Main Cabin and higher will be able to cancel or change tickets subject to certain restrictions (we'll get into that below), and may receive credits to apply to a future flight.
Delta Comfort is the airline's moniker for extra legroom economy, but this fare class also includes dedicated overhead space, priority boarding, and extra snacks and amenities compared to Main Cabin. Sure, you pay more for these places, but according to Tripadvisor commenter Nelson, "I really thought the Comfort option was worth the price. Excellent leg room, great movie screens, premium snacks and ear buds, great luggage compartments, preferred boarding, etc., were worth the additional cost!"
Folks in this cabin also receive Sky Priority service at the airport with expedited check-in, security, and baggage services as well as priority boarding. These cabins are only available on the airline's Airbus A330-900neos and A350s, and certain Boeing 757-200s and 767-400s.
Interestingly, Delta First is not the airline's most premium product. Rather, it's just first class on domestic and regional flights, and it pretty much resembles Premium Select. That said, you'll get a higher baggage allowance plus better food and drinks than economy passengers, and be among the first to board.
Finally, the airline's flagship cabin is Delta One, which includes pod-like lie-flat seats and those fancy suites the airline unveiled back in 2016 on both long-haul international routes as well as premium transcontinental services like between New York and Los Angeles.
Delta One passengers receive Sky Priority treatment at the airport and can access Delta Sky Clubs when flying internationally, and they're among the first on the plane.
Flight Change and Cancellation Policies
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Delta altered its once stringent (and costly) ticket change and cancellation policies and fees. According to the most recent update, there are no change fees on tickets in the following fare classes on flights originating in North America:
- Main Cabin
- First Class
- Delta Premium Select
- Delta One
For now, the airline is continuing to waive change fees on Delta tickets originating outside of North America, except for Basic Economy fares.
If you want to change your ticket to a new flight, you will have to pay any difference in fare if the price is higher. If you cancel your ticket, or your new fare is lower, you will receive a credit toward future travel. These credits are typically valid for one year from the original purchase date.
Although that leaves a lot of flexibility for travelers still anxious to fly, as Tripadvisor board user Joe C discovered, future flight credits have their limits. "Booked a [flight] last year only to be told that my trip was canceled and I'd receive a 'credit' for future travel," he wrote. "Tried to book a new reservation in 2021 only to be told the [price] had quintupled! Gee, thanks Delta…. Bait and switch post-COVID…now I know why they gave a travel credit instead of a refund!"
Standing by for a more convenient flight will cost $75 unless you're a Delta Gold Medallion elite or higher.
Baggage Policies and Fees
Whether or not you can check a bag for free will depend on the ticket you buy and whether you have Medallion elite status or a Delta credit card. You can calculate your baggage fees with the airline's useful calculator.
If you're in Basic Economy with no elite status nor an airline credit card, you can bring a carry-on bag, but will have to pay for checked luggage pretty much wherever you fly. Prices range from $30 for the first bag within the U.S. to $60 internationally.
Main Cabin and Delta Comfort customers on flights within the U.S. pay $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for the second. Some prices are higher if flying to Mexico, but other international itineraries, such as Europe or Asia, include a free first checked bag.
Folks in First Class, Premium Select, and Delta One generally get two checked bags for free.
If you have a Delta American Express credit card, or Medallion elite status, you will get one or two checked bags free no matter what fare you book, depending on your specific combination of benefits.
Boarding procedures have changed amid the pandemic, but normal boarding procedures follow this order:
- Preboarding of unaccompanied minors and passengers needing extra time
- High-level elites and those in Delta One
- Delta Premium Select, First Class, and high-level elites
- Early boarding for families with small children
- Delta Comfort
- Sky Priority, including Delta's own elites and those of some partner airlines
- Low-level elites and Delta credit cardholders
- Folks in the Main Cabin
- Basic Economy
That's a lot of groups, as Yelper Nancy M. wrote. "It starts with an indecipherable boarding process that 'pre-boards' half the aircraft." Other fliers have noticed that if you are not among the first few groups to board, you're likely to be asked to gate check your carry on.
Seats and Legroom
Delta has a plethora of planes, so the exact dimensions of your seat will depend on the aircraft type and class of service. In general, though, expect the following range of sizes.
Economy seats are between 16-18.6 inches wide, with 30-33 inches of pitch (the distance from seatback to seatback), and two or three inches of recline. Depending on the type of plane you're on, they can be laid out in anything from a 2 – 2 pattern to one that is 2 – 4 – 2 or 3 – 3 – 3.
Most fliers seem to find the seats themselves serviceable, if tight for longer rides. SkyTrax commenter N Harkov said of his economy experience on an A330, "Seat was quite comfortable, but legroom was not so great (I am six feet tall)….Overall, it isn't bad, but I was definitely happy to stretch my legs after 10 hours aboard."
Comfort seats have the same width and recline, but offer up to 34 inches of pitch.
Domestic first class seats tend to be 20-21 inches wide with 35-39 inches of pitch, laid out in a 2 – 2 pattern.
Folks in Premium Select are seated in a 2 – 3 – 2 or 2 – 4 – 2 configuration and can expect chairs that are 18.5 inches wide with 38 inches of pitch and up to seven inches of recline.
According to Charles1019 on Tripadvisor, who flew Premium Select in March 2020, "These seats are like the original first class seats used internationally years ago by Delta, with some upgrades. You can fully recline your seat without the possibility of making the passenger behind you mad. Lots of space. They have retractable leg rests, and the television screen is much bigger than the largest domestic versions. Super comfortable flight all around!"
Finally, folks in Delta One sit in a 1 – 2 – 1 pattern so everyone has direct aisle access. Seats are 21-22.5 inches wide and recline to flat beds that are 71-80 inches long. If you're on the A350 or A330-900neo, your pod will also have its own closing door for privacy.
That feature seemed to blow Tripadvisor commenter The Travel Squad away on a January 2020 flight: "Great experience flying business in the new Delta One Suites. The best business class experience so far, full privacy in the suite, great food and service."
Amenities and Entertainment
Delta made major cuts to in-flight food and beverage service during the brunt of the pandemic, but has brought back many of its offerings. Check the airline's dedicated page for current information before your flight.
Food and Beverage
Shorter domestic flights will serve a selection of packaged snacks, coffee, tea, and bottled water in economy, while passengers in higher classes might receive complimentary wine, beer, soft drinks, and juices (Main Cabin customers can purchase these on longer domestic flights).
According to recent short-haul Main Cabin flier The_Wanderer1992 on Tripadvisor, "They had a limited snack offering with a small bottle of water, peanuts and cookies."
On some Hawaii flights and international routes, folks in Main Cabin and Comfort receive one meal service including a choice of entrée and dessert plus a full selection of beverage options including complimentary beer, wine, and spirits. Tripadvisor commenter ESPASSOC, who flew from Atlanta to Honolulu non-stop in February, described the food as "tasty for the main meal and served with both complimentary soft drinks and/or alcoholic beverage."
Those in Delta Premium Select receive a larger meal that includes salad and bread, while the lucky few in Delta One get pre-departure bottled water, more gourmet menus by partners like Chef Linton Hopkins or Union Square Hospitality Group served with the airline's bespoke Alessi flatware, and a full selection of beverages.
According to Tripadvisor reviewer brmusicman, the Delta One meal on his flight from Sydney to Los Angeles was "elegantly presented and tasty. A tray of appetizers including marinated shrimps, an arugula salad with tomatoes and mozzarella, and a tasty soup. The main course was a well-prepared fish. Ice cream and cheese for desert hit the spot. The wine selection was not excellent, but was suitable."
On long-haul flights, Main Cabin and Comfort passengers get pillows and blankets, and they receive basic amenity kits containing toothbrushes and toothpaste, eyeshades, earplugs, and a cleansing towelette. There are TUMI pouches with all that plus Malin Goetz lip balm and socks in Premium Select, while Delta One passengers receive TUMI kits with LE LABO products and socks.
Delta provides Wi-Fi for purchase on nearly all its flights and offers free mobile messaging on iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp via its onboard network, which many passengers seem to appreciate in their Yelp and Tripadvisor comments.
Wi-Fi is not always guaranteed, though. Tripadvisor user wanderinstyle – who flew from New York to Tokyo via Los Angeles, and back – mentioned, "I had Wi-Fi all the way from LAX to Tokyo and from New York to Los Angeles. On the way to New York from Los Angeles there was no internet, it was down," punctuating the disappointment with a frowning emoji. While that seems to be rare, make sure you've loaded any websites you'll need to access in flight, just in case.
Entertainment and Outlets
The airline also features over 1,000 hours of free entertainment including movies and TV series via its Delta Studio system, which passengers can view on seatback touchscreens on most of its mainline aircraft.
Yelper Kim V. said, "The in-flight individual entertainment was just awesome…. The screens were big and the colors vibrant…. They also had a USB port for cell phone charging."
Speaking of which, most planes have in-seat power and USB ports installed for keeping devices charged in flight, though some older aircraft, including Boeing 757s and 737s, do not have power plugs in large portions of their economy cabins. Be sure to check the availability of power ports on your specific flight by looking through the amenities key on Delta's booking page.
Delta Credit Cards
Depending on how many miles you hope to rack up, how often you fly Delta, and what perks you're looking for, you might want to consider one of these three credit cards.
The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card typically offers anywhere from 40,000-70,000 bonus miles after eligible spending on purchases. It earns two miles per dollar on Delta purchases, on dining, and at U.S. supermarkets; and one on everything else. Cardholders get a first checked bag for free, priority boarding, and 20% back on in-flight purchases of food. Its $99 annual fee is waived the first year.
One step up, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card usually offers between 50,000-90,000 bonus miles (plus 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles toward elite status in some cases) after eligible spending on purchases. It earns three miles per dollar on purchases from Delta and at hotels, and two miles per dollar on dining and at U.S. supermarkets, then one mile per dollar on everything else. Cardholders receive a domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year after renewing their card and paying the $250 annual fee.
Finally, the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card tends to include anywhere from 50,000-80,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after eligible spending. It earns three miles per dollar on Delta purchases and one mile per dollar on everything else. Its main perks are access to Delta Sky Clubs and Amex Centurion Lounges when flying Delta and a companion certificate each year after renewing and paying the $550 annual fee, good for a domestic round-trip ticket in Main Cabin, Comfort, or First Class, which can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.