Delta’s New West Coast Shuttle Reviewed

By Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren
Photos by author
September 6, 2013

Earlier this week Delta launched their first west coast shuttle service between Los Angeles and San Francisco, spawning a fresh battle over the lucrative business-traveler-heavy market. We’ve already taken a look at some of the statics, and analysis of what’s working in the background behind this new route. But today we take a look at the service itself. We flew aboard the very first shuttle from LA-San Francisco on Tuesday, September 3rd – the first day the service began. We’ve got a full review followed by a nice breakdown. So sit back, relax, and get ready to shuttle.

The Flight

DL ShuttleIt was an early morning following a late night, and I was tired. Coming from the hotel I called out “Delta Shuttle” to the drive, though it was clear the gentlemen had no idea what I was talking about. No matter, as when the mini-bus came to stop in front on DL’s LAX residence—terminal five—I could see a large sign for the new shuttle through the sliding glass doors.

Coming up to the check-in counters I tried to go through the line devoted exclusively to shuttle customers, but was thwarted by a well-meaning agent who directed me to self-serve kiosks. A swipe of my passport and thirty seconds later my ticket for seat 2A was in hand. Security was quick, though helped along by my first class priority status. My gate, 51A, was literally a stone’s throw away from the security staging area. The entire process, curb to gate, took a blistering ten minutes.

DL Shuttle-6Boarding began on time and by virtue of being in first class, I was one of the first on board. I haven’t been on an Embraer 175 in years—never on any of Compass’ (DBA Delta)—and I forgot how much I enjoyed the feel of these jets. The 1-2 configuration for the twelve seated in first is super roomy. Given my seat in 2A, I had the added benefit of both window & aisle (swanky, right?). The rest of the cabin is configured 2-2 for both the twelve economy comfort and fifty-two regular economy seats (the whole plane only seats 76).

Being a regional jet, however, overhead storage was a bit tough: while the starboard side handles regular bags just fine, the port side cannot fit standard roll-ons. As one of the later folks to take my seat in the F cabin my roll-on didn’t have any room left, and I had to go several rows back to find some space (cry me a river, I know). Once seated a very pleasant flight attendant offered a selection of pre-flight drinks; I chose my standard orange juice. Despite the flight being roughly two-thirds full we pull out of the gate ten minutes late (minor deal), and trek north to San Francisco.

DL Shuttle-3Not long after we’re safely in the air another drink service is performed, followed by a snack service. Delta offers wonderful prepackaged snacks from high end catering LYFE Kitchen. Our snack package consisted of fresh fruit and sunflower butter along with a tasty—albeit slightly dry—multigrain muffin.  The flights do offer several choices of snack package, mostly varying on the type of fruit, and comes free to everyone on board. A small selection of alcohol, including Sierra Nevada, is complimentary through the cabin as well. Being just past 7am, I pass. We also passed on the GoGo inflight WiFi, mostly because the price didn’t seem worth the short flight.

For the remainder on the flight I got some work done on my laptop, easy enough to do with the generous 38in of pitch and 20in of width. Only downside is the lack of in-seat power, but those who’ve followed me over the years know my laptop isn’t your normal laptop: it would in fact suck the sun dry if it had the chance (probably better that they didn’t have any…).

Before I know it, the fifty-five minute flight has come to an end and we pull up to the gate in San Francisco. Before deplaning the lead flight attendant handed out hand-written Embraer 175 specification post cards with a handwritten thank-you note on them. I thought it was a nice, personal touch to finish out a nice enjoyable flight.

The Breakdown

Obviously, we enjoyed the flight. So let’s just dig right in:

The aircraft choice is, in my opinion – the perfect choice.  No middle seats – anywhere, for anyone: ‘nuff said. That alone would make me choose Delta over main route competitor United in the future.

The LYFE snacks were a great decision; easily some of the best on board food I’ve had – ever. The fruit was fresh—mine had several apple slices and they weren’t even the slightest bit brown—and the sunflower seed butter was real, not super sugary and cheap. I also applaud the decision to go with a company that appears to take sustainability in their food and packaging seriously. Airlines could do a lot more here, but I digress. Point being; great choice with LYFE on a few levels.

Hello there, newspapers.

I did notice a lack of newspapers, something that Delta touts on their site. I chalk it up to first day follies, but I would’ve loved nothing more than the fun of finding all the various newsprint fingerprints scattered across my shirt and pants later in the day (snark aside, I was looking forward to it). Adding to my opinion that this was likely a now long-since-rectified oversight, I saw a stack of papers and fresh coffee at the gate in San Franciso after arriving. And a few Delta sources confirmed that it’d be taken care of.

Delta also touts the inflight WiFi. They made such a big deal of it that I thought it was free for the flight. It was not; something DL does note. The price was in line with GoGo’s generally high prices. If you absolutely can’t survive fifty-five minutes without being connected, it’s there and it won’t burst your wallet. But otherwise, you’re flying in a chair five miles up in the sky. Look out the window and enjoy the view.

Finally, DL heavily pushes the convenience of expedited security and gate proximity, never mind being able to show up only thirty minutes before departure. I really wanted to test the thirty minute challenge, but ultimately chose not to and appeared about an hour early. While I chalked up the expedited security to being in first at the time, forgetting that I would’ve gotten it anyways, I think it speaks for itself that the whole process—curb to gate—took ten minutes. In LAX. During the morning rush. I think that says enough.

DL Shuttle-5If 95% of the perks are equal it does beg the question of why pay for an upgrade when you can save money on a very short flight by buying economy.  And it all comes down to how valuable you find seat pitch and booze. Go with first if you want the most legroom on board (+6in over econ),  the widest seat (+1.75in over econ), the possibility of snagging the coveted ‘A’ seat in the row, and unfettered access to the airplane’s supply of booze. Choose economy comfort if you want a little less legroom (+3in over econ), and economy if you just want a ride. Everything else is equal.

To wrap this one up I’d fly it again in a heartbeat, and I’d recommend my friends do the same.

DL Shuttle-8

(full disclosure, Airchive paid for the travel in full)

Check back next week for Airchive Senior Business Correspondent Vinay Bhaskara‘s deep dive into the world of the west coast shuttle wars.

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