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It finally happened: I was upgraded on a route of more than 1,500 miles. Previously, I’ve only flown domestic first class on United and American on a handful of occasions. My daughter and I were upgraded on an A319 between Phoenix and San Antonio, and my son and I on one segment of our trip to Atlanta, but other than a few more United E175 upgrades (SEE: 3 reasons why the ERJ-175 is my favorite non-wide-body jet), that’s the extent of my domestic first class travel. Until this trip where I finally got to experience Delta domestic first class!

The work trip started off flying main cabin, a giant list of other Delta elites ahead of me on the Monday-morning flight out of Sacramento (SEE: Delta 737-900 economy review). Credit card spend augmented my work and personal flying to land me at Platinum Medallion for 2019, but I knew my chances of flying up front were probably still pretty slim. Even if the upgrades are scarce, I’m not complaining. I’ll choose Delta every chance I can due to their in-flight entertainment screens and ability to actually get me to Virginia on time, unlike United. Multiple trips as Gold and Platinum came and went, and I never ended up forward of Comfort+.

But Delta finally came through for me on my return flight a few months ago. I was upgraded right around T-72 hours for the 5-hour flight from Atlanta to Sacramento. This was my first time flying Delta domestic first class at all, not to mention on a Boeing 737-900 across the country.

The block time for the flight is 5:15. Total flight time was 4:45, significantly more than my eastbound flight several days before. Thank you 100-mph headwind.

Arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson

I connected to my ATL-SMF flight from Greensboro, NC after spending the week in southwest Virginia. Typically, I would head to The Club at ATL, but with a 50-minute connection, I was hard pressed to just get to my gate in time for boarding. This is the tightest connection I’ve ever booked through Hartsfield-Jackson, but I still made it with plenty of time. The wake up at 4:00 a.m. in Greensboro was brutal, but I like to take the first flight out if I can, and it would have me back in California by 11:00 a.m.

Delta recently changed their boarding process a bit (SEE: What you need to know about Delta’s new boarding process). The new Group 1 is for their Delta One product, which obviously isn’t installed on the 737-900ER we were flying. Delta domestic first class is now technically Group 2, which was the first group for our flight. Boarding started a bit late, but we still pushed back and took off on time.

Seat and hard product

I was seated in 2A, a window seat (I swapped from 4D). My modus operandi for flights over about 3 hours is to pick an aisle, but all the aisle seats were taken by the time I checked my assignment after getting the upgrade email. At least I’d only be inconveniencing one person when I needed to get up.

There was a blanket and pillow at each seat. I guess on a flight of 5 hours, napping might be in order. Given that it was an early daytime flight, though, I didn’t plan to. I stuffed them into the seat back pocket, where they stayed the whole flight. Providing these in first class on a cross-country flight makes sense. What doesn’t make sense to me is providing blankets and pillows on the hour-long hop from Greensboro to Atlanta! Must be some grumpy fliers that early in the morning who need to catch a few Zs before their connection.

The Delta domestic first class seat on the 737 offers 37 inches of pitch, which is about 7 more than regular economy and 3 more than Comfort+. The seats are also 21 inches wide, compared to the 17-inch seats in economy. I opted to keep my backpack with me instead of stowing it, and even with it under the seat, I still had plenty of room.

There are also power outlets between the seats for keeping your devices charged. The IFE screens also offer a USB port as well that you can use to charge your phone. The tray table slides out of the armrest, which is wide and allows both people to use it unlike economy arm rests. My only complaint with the tray table is that it isn’t as stable as an economy seat-back table since it is only supported on one side.

Overall, the hard product was pretty much what I expected: a great step up from Main Cabin and a comfortable way to cross the country.

Entertainment and WiFi

The in-flight entertainment screens are the same design as those in Main Cabin, just slightly larger. Delta’s seat-back IFE is one of the reasons I prefer to fly the carrier domestically over other airlines. American and United have moved more to the bring-your-own-device model, which annoys me. I really don’t like watching a movie on my phone and prefer to be able to easily text and check email if I need to at the same time. For comparison, a United 737-900 typically would not have seat-back IFE in domestic first class.

The entertainment selection is generally very good with Delta, and this flight was no exception. They typically have some of the latest releases, a few Marvel movies, and a range of other titles from old classics to more modern films. I’d planned to work during this flight, though.

I’d purchased a Gogo WiFi day pass for $19.95 on my last flight which I continued to use on this one. In general, I’ve found Delta’s WiFi connectivity and speed to be decent on my flights across the country, allowing me to respond to email and surf the web without significant speed issues. We had a few blips this trip, and I had to log out of Gogo and back in each time to get it to work again. This is the first time I’ve experienced this.

I’m split on whether I’m looking forward to Delta offering free WiFi. With no payment barrier, the number of people using it will skyrocket, which probably means everyone will suffer a worse experience, unless Delta can increase the speed significantly. However, I also don’t typically pay for WiFi, given the cost, unless I have some specific tasks that need to get done and work can foot the bill.

Delta domestic first class meal service

Our flight attendant’s name was Daniel, and he got things started with pre-departure drinks. He addressed every one of the first class passengers by name, which was a nice gesture and not one I have experienced outside of a couple long-haul business class trips. I can attest that the friendliness and attentiveness on this flight was far better than either American Airlines long-haul business class flight that I flew more recently.

Apparently the meal selection during this trip was brand new to Delta domestic first class flights. Delta has offered this as part of their international service, and it was actually rolled out for flights starting this week. I’d requested the granola instead of the omelet. There was a code for each meal, and the crew had some confusion regarding which was which. I was the lucky one who got asked which I’d ordered.

delta domestic first class breakfast

As far as the food goes, it was totally fine. Par for the course. I didn’t expect to be wowed by Delta domestic first class, and I certainly wasn’t. You really can’t go wrong with prepackaged things like bagels and yogurt, and the granola wasn’t bad at all.

Snacks were served maybe an hour after lunch, and then the flight attendants disappeared for a while in the back of the plane. They reappeared only when we were about 90 minutes out from Sacramento when the final drink service was conducted, and then the flight attendants readied the cabin for arrival. The vast bulk of the service experience was at the beginning of the flight, and I was actually surprised how long of a hiatus they took. But unless you needed anything, it wasn’t a big deal, and the Delta flight attendants were very friendly and professional, as is typical.

Conclusion

Delta domestic first class on a 737-900 is a great way to cross the country. Nonetheless, I’m perfectly content in Main Cabin, so unless the upgrade price was less than about $50, I doubt I’d ever pay for it. The Delta app tried to sell me the upgrade for $505 one-way five days prior to the flight, which dropped to $375 within three days of departure. I’m not sure on the rhyme or reason of paid upgrades after booking, but Delta generally seems to price them very high. Contrast this with the $35 upgrade price I was recently offered on my LAX-STS hop with Alaska Airlines (for the record, I turned that one down).

It is sure nice to fly it for free, though, as a Delta elite. There is actually room for your elbows, and I don’t have to worry about someone reclining and smashing my laptop. I got more work done than typical on this flight, which I partly attribute to having more space.

Here’s hoping my next work trip will also be in Delta domestic first class!


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