Delta Vs American Airlines – Flying Domestic Economy Class

Two of the largest airlines in the United States are Delta and American. The two airlines are in fierce competition with each other in several cities. And, across the country on a number of routes, the two airlines compete heavily for economy passengers. So, which airline, Delta or American, is better in economy?

American and Delta Planes at LAX
Which airline is better in economy Delta or American? Photo: Getty Images

For a comparison of Delta Air Lines and American Airlines in domestic First Class, check out this post!

The onboard product

Economy class products are not as diverse as business class products. Across both Delta and American’s mainline fleet, economy class on narrowbody Airbus A320 family aircraft, Boeing 737 family aircraft, and Boeing 757s are in a 3-3 configuration. The only exception is Delta’s Airbus A220 which is in a 2-3 configuration in coach.

Delta A220 interior
The 2-3 layout in coach on Delta’s Airbus A220. Photo: Delta Air Lines

However, on both Delta and American, the 3-3 configuration is far more common.

American interior
Economy class on American Airlines. Photo: American Airlines

Seat pitch is pretty standard at about 30 inches on both American and Delta. Do note, however, that some economy class seats that are in the exit rows have more legroom. Although, both American and Delta usually reserve these seats for elite members or else charge extra to reserve such seats.

Economy class legroom
The legroom on an American Airlines Boeing 737. Photo: Simple Flying
Economy class legroom
Legroom in economy class on a Delta MD-90. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Legroom is a bit tight on both American and Delta in coach. I’m 5’8″ and I found that it was a bit constricted with my backpack under the seat in front of me. However, there are some other aspects of the seat that instantly push me toward Delta Air Lines.

Economy class comfort on both American and Delta

While some avid Simple Flying readers will remember my jaunts in Lufthansa First Class or Vietnam Airlines Business Class, or even Air New Zealand Premium Economy, most of my flying ends up being in economy on both long and short hops. And, as many frequent fliers will note, not every economy seat has the same level of comfort. 

I had the opportunity to fly on a reconfigured AA ‘Oasis’ 737 from DCA to JFK en route to testing out American’s new food and Flagship First Dining Experience. Needless to say, this is one area where American could really improve. The seat on this aircraft was very lightly padded and, toward the end of this short flight, started to become quite uncomfortable. On a longer flight (especially a red-eye) this could be an issue.

American Airlines Oasis economy
Oasis economy seat. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Delta wins hands down here, with additional seat padding over this configuration.

Main Cabin 757
Delta’s economy seats as seen on a Boeing 757. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Entertainment in economy

Delta is well-renowned for having seatback screens on most mainline aircraft. The only ones that do not are the MD-series and the Boeing 717. The good news for passengers is that the MD-series aircraft are on their way out of Delta’s fleet.

delta main cabin
Most of Delta’s Main Cabin seats have access to on-demand personal seatback television. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Meanwhile, the view on American’s retrofitted aircraft looks like this:

Main Cabin American
American lacks seatback entertainment on retrofitted aircraft. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

American instead encourages passengers to bring their own device onboard and connect to American’s WiFi for free streaming entertainment. Passengers can also plug their devices into the USB outlet located near the tablet holder. While not the best option, it is better than having nothing. Although, it should be noted that some of American’s aircraft still have seatback screens:

American economy seatback
Some of American’s aircraft still have seatback screens in economy. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Both American and Delta also have power outlets in economy.

Economy class power
Power in American Airlines economy. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Overall: American vs Delta in economy

One variable in coach is meal service. On both Delta and American, most main cabin routes feature free snacks and soft drinks. However, on some premium routes, both airlines also offer some upgraded complimentary meal options– for example between JFK and LAX.

At the end of the day, Delta does edge out American in economy with inflight entertainment and more a more comfortable, widespread product. American is continuing to retrofit aircraft with uncomfortable seats that lack seatback screens, although the airline is still keeping the option of on-demand entertainment for passengers.

Do you prefer American or Delta in domestic economy? Let us know your preference in the comments!