- Delta Air Lines ended its seat-blocking policy on May 1, and it’s elite status holders are among the ultimate winners.
- More open seats on Delta flights means better chances for upgrades to premium cabins.
- I flew Delta on the first day that seats were opened up and received more than $500 in upgrades.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Delta’s most frequent flyers enjoy special privileges, chief among them are complimentary first class upgrades. But they’ve been harder to come by during the pandemic.
The airline’s seat-blocking policy also applied to first class seats on narrow-body where the configuration is 2-2. A 16-seat first class cabin, for example, became an eight-seat cabin.
It made getting an upgrade especially hard for Silver Medallions like myself, the term for members on the lowest rung of Delta’s Medallion elite status program.
The seat-blocking policy ended on May 1, however, opening up all seats on Delta’s aircraft, including those in first class.
I flew Delta on the first day that seats were filled. Here’s what it was like as an elite status holder.
Flying home from Phoenix to New York, I picked my flights very carefully to have the best chance of an upgrade while spending as little money as possible.
I chose a flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis on a Boeing 767-400ER wide-body aircraft connecting to a New York flight on an Airbus A320. Both had first class cabins that were pretty empty when I booked, so I was confident I’d get an upgrade on at least one flight.
Delta has been deploying more wide-body aircraft like the Boeing 767 on domestic routes, and they offer the best chance of an upgrade.
With the flights booked, all I could do was wait. Silver Medallions don’t get upgraded until the flight is within 24 hours from departure.
Fast forward to the departure day, I checked into the first flight and was number four of five on the upgrade list with five seats available. It was looking good that I’d get one of the coveted seats but Delta wasn’t going to give it up that easily.
I was almost immediately upgraded into Delta Comfort+, an extra legroom section of the plane that also comes with complimentary alcohol. Delta was selling seats in the cabin for $84.93, so the value of my trip had instantly increased with the upgrade.
A Comfort+ upgrade would’ve been fine on its own as Delta uses larger recliner seats in the cabin on its retrofitted Boeing 767-400ER planes. It’s basically the equivalent of a first class seat on a smaller plane, and the cabin is arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration.
The flight from Minneapolis was also looking surprisingly good for an upgrade as the cabin hadn’t filled up. Minneapolis-New York is a business traveler-heavy route and this was a Saturday night, so I had a better shot.
I arrived at the airport the next morning with no confirmed upgrade for the first flight, even though I was still in good standing on the upgrade list. This didn’t affect my airport experience much, though, as elite status holders still have access to many of the same airport perks as first class flyers.
Not even the gate agent could tell me if my upgrade had cleared when I inquired before boarding. It was clear that it was going to come down to the famous boarding-time upgrade for which Delta is known.
Lo-and-behold, I scanned my boarding pass and out came a little slip of paper with my new seat number, 9D.
Just like that, I turned left into the aircraft and the entire flight changed for me. The value of my trip shot up to more than what I paid for my economy ticket.
Delta wanted $385.93 for this upgrade just a few days before departure, which is more than what I paid for my economy seat. The new value of my $221.80 ticket was now $607.73.
And in terms of upgrades, this was like hitting the jackpot. The Boeing 767-400ERs are intended for long-haul international flights and as such, its first class cabins feature Delta’s newest seats.
The seat had fully lie-flat capabilities, no seat neighbor, and a direct line of sight to the window. It was my own personal cocoon for the three-hour flight to Minneapolis.
If it wasn’t for the passenger across from me, it would have felt like I was the only one on the plane. That’s how private these seats are.
But flying first class during a pandemic is a far cry from normal times. Delta, for example, has cut services like the pre-departure hot towel and beverage. Purell wipes are given instead.
The in-flight service soon started after we got airborne. Flight attendants took orders individually for the drink and snack service.
This flight would’ve normally yielded a hot meal but only snack boxes were on offer, as part of Delta’s modified service.
A larger selection of drinks was available, however, including soft drinks, coffee, tea, beer, wine, spirits, and mixed drinks.
A choice of two snack boxes was available and I ordered both, for the purposes of this story.
First up was the bistro snack box. It was packed with goodies like gummy bears, potato chips, a meat stick, Tic Tacs, a cheese spread, Oreo cookies, a Kind bar, and crackers.
The market snack box then included popped chips, almonds, beef jerky, a protein bar, a Ghirardelli chocolate,
Both had some great items but didn’t impress me much. Similar snack boxes were sold in economy for around $10 before the pandemic.
The seat itself did most of the work on this flight, and I used the lie-flat capability to its fullest. After finishing the meal, I reclined all the way flat and got some well-needed rest.
The Twin Cities shortly came into view after an incredible relaxing flight, and my time with the seat soon came to an end.
After a four-hour layover spent in the Delta Sky Club, I headed to my next gate. Minneapolis airport was incredibly quiet, and that had tracked with my flight being empty.
A total of 79 seats went empty, with 10 empty seats in first class alone.
My upgrade had cleared at pretty much the 24-hour mark before my flight, and I had my pick of seats.
These seats were nothing like the modern lie-flat seats on the Boeing 767, but they were as comfortable as they looked.
Delta wanted $192.43 for this upgrade meaning the value of my $221.80 ticket was now $800.16.
After an hour-long delay, we took off into the Minnesota sky. There was no pre-departure service, just like the previous flight, but the service started quickly after takeoff.
The cabin was less than half full so it didn’t take long for the flight attendant to reach me. I ordered an old fashioned and both snack boxes.
The mixed drink came first and this time, it was pre-poured but still in a plastic cup. I really enjoyed it.
Ordering both snack boxes again, I got to pick and choose from each which snacks to eat. If Delta is reading and decides to add this hybrid snack box to the menu, please call it “Tom’s snack box.”
The rest of the flight continued uneventfully as we progressed towards New York. I was the epitome of relaxed as I enjoyed the in-flight entertainment from the comfort of my oversized recliner.
But the flight soon came to an end, and the experience was over.
In total, the value of my $221.80 ticket ultimately shot up to $800.16, and I didn’t have to do a thing.