Trip Report: Flying Delta Air Lines During COVID-19

On a recent trip on Delta Air Lines, Simple Flying got to review the airline’s modified experience. From start to finish, the travel experience has changed with a focus on health and safety. With the required face coverings and scaled back inflight services, passengers should prepare themselves for the different experience.

Delta Atlanta
Delta aircraft at an empty Atlanta airport this June. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Airport security

TSA has recently made some changes to its airport security protocol. Firstly, everyone at the screening area was wearing a face mask. Flying out of San Antonio International in the morning, the traffic was light, and security was a breeze– not the normal rush of passengers looking to catch the 07:00-08:00 round of departures. The TSA agent did not ask me to scan my boarding pass; instead, she confirmed my ID on the system and that I was ticketed to fly.

Social distancing was a bit of a problem here. First and foremost, the airport security area is quite small, and there is not a lot of room to move around. Fortunately, most people were wearing masks and many airports remain quite empty.

Atlanta terminal
A shockingly empty Atlanta terminal. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Getting onboard the flight

Delta has modified its boarding procedure. The airline previously boarded people based on cabin class and elite status. Now, however, the airline boards the aircraft from back to front. Although, First Class, Comfort+, and top-tier elites may board at any time during the process.

Social distancing is the norm and Delta has fully embraced the concept, presenting itself as the leading airline offering customers more space. In the gate area by the boarding door, Delta has set up little stickers giving people visual cues of where to stand. Meanwhile, within Delta-owned jetbridges, passengers will see signs requesting them to give their fellow travelers some more space. Also, gate agents made several announcements encouraging people to give space to other passengers from behind plexiglass safety barriers.

Social distancing sticker
Social distancing stickers in the jetways. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

At the boarding door, flight attendants still greeted passengers, handed out a sanitizing wipe, and offered masks to those who needed them. Complimentary hygiene packs were available at the gate if you did not bring your own mask. Although I came prepared with my own cloth mask, after wearing one for over six hours, I asked if it was possible to get another face mask onboard. A very friendly flight attendant provided me a couple of disposable masks.

Flight attendants provided masks on request. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Changes to inflight service

The most significant change to the travel experience was the reduction in service. Flight attendants passed out goody bags that contained a couple of prepackaged snacks, a bottle of water, a napkin, and a small packet of hand sanitizer. Snack options do vary based on availability. Some typical snacks include almonds, a Kind brand snack bar, and Cheez-Its. The bag itself also serves as a self-contained trash container to minimize touchpoints.

Goody bag
The full contents of Delta’s goody bag. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

The airline is still offering a full array of films, television shows, and more on-demand through seatback screens in all cabins on 90% of the mainline fleet. However, just before the safety video starts, Delta is running a quick informational video on how to stay healthy while onboard the aircraft.

Delta healthy video
A short, staying healthy inflight presentation preceded the safety video. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Social distancing onboard

The airline is blocking middle seats through the fall and limiting the number of seats it sells in all cabins to give passengers more space. While onboard, I did not feel that the empty middle seat was terribly beneficial. However, it was nice to have a little extra space.

The interior of the planes did not have much of a noticeable difference from pre-COVID travel. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

My outbound journey was in Comfort+ while I flew back in the First Class cabin. In First Class, with the 2-2 configuration on narrowbody jets, Delta is leaving open two seats per row between strangers. Here, I felt like I had plenty of additional room, although having people both in front of and behind me meant that I could not stay as far away as health agency guidelines suggest. However, social distancing on a plane is not an easy task. 

Flying while wearing a mask

Delta requires all passengers to wear a mask while onboard the aircraft. The only exception is if you are eating or drinking. On the four flights I took, compliance was not an issue as all passengers wore masks.

Wearing a mask for a flight longer than an hour is definitely not the most comfortable thing in the world. However, health agencies around the globe have advised that wearing masks will help reduce the spread of viral illnesses, and the science backs it up.

If you have the ability, I would recommend traveling with a couple of masks so you can change them during your journey. This will be especially handy if you have a layover.

The lounge experience

Since I was flying Delta, I (unsurprisingly) had to connect in Atlanta. At the airline’s largest hub, the ghost-town-feel was quite jarring. Amid significantly reduced travel demand, Delta has consolidated Sky Club services. During my layover in Atlanta, I stopped at the Sky Club located in the gate A17/A18/A19 area.

sky club sanitizing
The entrance of the Sky Club had a sanitizing station. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Masks are required in the Sky Club except when consuming food or beverages. Agents at the lounge were enforcing this policy. Other changes include scaled-back food and beverage options. Delta is still offering many drinks on demand. However, the food in the lounge has gone down in quality.

Trip Report: Flying Delta Air Lines During COVID-19
The ham and cheese slider was not exactly high quality. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

During my trip, I was able to catch breakfast, lunch, and dinner service. Breakfast service included small packaged items like yogurt and muffins. Meanwhile, for lunch and dinner, food options included a ham and cheese slider and a packaged salad. Fruits and vegetables were available during all three meals.

The lounge food options were incredibly disappointing. While the airline is engaging in cost-cutting and trying to minimize opportunities for people to get sick, Delta should strongly consider offering a more substantial sandwich than a small (single) slice of ham and a small (single) slice of cheese between two pieces of bread. For reference, the entire sandwich was smaller than a snack packet handed out onboard aircraft.

Delta small sandwich
For a decent meal, you’ll want to go elsewhere. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Aircraft cleanliness

Delta is taking its aircraft cleaning-procedures very seriously. Before every flight, the plane is thoroughly sanitized. On one of my flights, the airline delayed boarding and departure to give cleaners more time to wipe down high-touch surfaces and fog the cabin with a disinfectant.

Onboard, passengers can still wipe down their areas using a sanitizing wipe. However, passengers should be careful with the leather since, sometimes, the dye can rub off onto your clothing.

At the end of the day, I made it to my destination safely. Although, I was quite hungry and exhausted by the time I arrived– more so than usual as a frequent flyer. If you are scheduled to fly with Delta, plan ahead and pack a few extra snacks or plan to skip the Sky Club and grab something to eat in the terminal, where several restaurants and fast food places remain open.

Have you flown Delta during the pandemic? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!