Flight Report: Winter Weather With Delta from NYC to Chicago
After flying my last few domestic trips on United, I ended up back on Delta for my trip this past weekend's trip to Chicago — and thanks to how well Delta handles weather issues and delays, I'm really glad we chose that flight!
While other carriers, including United and American have multiple flights a day between New York and Chicago, Delta operates the route as part of their Northeast Shuttle service – flights are frequent and depart from the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia, heading to Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. We booked the round-trip using a combination of cash, some leftover miles on an old Bank of America travel card (which can be applied as a statement credit for purchases coded as travel), and a voucher Reni got due to a delayed flight during Delta's summer meltdown.
Our outbound flight was scheduled for around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, with a return on Sunday. The day before the outbound flight, all of the airlines started to issue travel waivers for Friday through Sunday due to a winter storm forecast to affect the Great Lakes region.
Compared to the experience I had on the United EWR-BOS service, where United waited to announce delays even though the storm was forecast well in advance, Delta was proactive about warning us about anticipated delays. We got an e-mail and text the evening before saying that delays were expected, allowing us to reschedule within the next few days without penalty, and sharing a link to check flight status. While weather is obviously outside of the airlines' control, it's nice to be able to rebook or manage the delays easily.
I set my FlightAware alerts and checked the status periodically the morning of the flight, watching our plane pick delays throughout the day. We left for the airport at the normal time anyway, hoping to get on an earlier flight. While en route, we used the Delta app to snag two of the last seats on the flight scheduled for an hour before ours. Because it was also delayed, we ended up landing right around when we were scheduled to arrive on our original flight.
While the Delta Shuttle service is great, unfortunately it flies out of LaGuardia, an airport I generally avoid because of how hard it is to get to — even before the new construction-related mess. While none of New York's airports are particularly easy to get to using mass transit (Newark being the exception, if you're in Manhattan), LaGuardia is the worst, requiring a mishmash of trains and buses. It's often easier to take a cab, although the current traffic situation makes that less efficient. This weekend, we jumped on a Queens-bound N train to Astoria, and then planned to transfer to the M60 Select Bus. We switched to the earlier flight while waiting for the bus, and decided to be safe and hail a cab the rest of the way instead of waiting.
I haven't been to the Marine Air Terminal since I was in high school, so my memory was a bit hazy. It's a bizarre but really pleasant terminal. When you drive up to the entrance it has a vintage "jet age" feel. The terminal is actually the only surviving airport terminal from the first generation of commercial passenger air travel, according to LaGuardia's website. There's only one security line, which leads down a narrow corridor, past a newsstand, to the main waiting area. There was no one in line in front of us, so we walked right through. There isn't a separate entrance to the queue for PreCheck — rather, the TSA agent checking our boarding passes gave us two "tickets" for PreCheck, which told the checkpoint agents that we could keep our shoes on and walk through the metal detector instead of the body scanner.
The terminal itself feels totally different than any other major airport terminal. There are only six gates, and it feels almost like a huge lounge, rather than a small terminal. It's nice, much better than a congested terminal. There are plenty of plush, comfortable seats with charging stations, as well as a dining area, work stations, and even a meeting room. We found a pair of large cushy chairs and sat down to do some work before boarding.
Despite the delays, we were on board pretty quickly. Our plane was an Embraer E175, with a lopsided 1-2 configuration in first class and a more traditional 2-2 in economy, with a few rows of Comfort+ in the front of the cabin. Since the overhead storage on these regional jets are rather small, and the flight was totally full, the gate agent requested volunteers to check their bags. We boarded with group 1 thanks to my Delta Gold American Express card, and settled in for the flight.
The seats are surprisingly comfortable. Even though we were on a small regional jet, it felt more comfortable than Delta's 737s — while economy seats in both planes have the same amount of pitch, the seats in the E175 are an inch wider and have only two seats per row on each side of the aisle. There are no seatback screens, but you can stream in-flight entertainment directly to your device over the plane's wifi network. The selection isn't huge, but it's plenty for a short flight. You can also access the flight show on your phone, tablet, or laptop.
The one thing that I don't like about the plane is that the seats are staggered strangely with the windows, meaning that if you're in a window seat, you might just be next to windowless bulkhead. When picking your seat, be warned that it can be hit-or-miss, so check SeatGuru and see if anyone has left a review. The one upside to the windowless seats that is that you can rest your head against the bulkhead comfortably.
The flight was overall comfortable and unremarkable, except for one thing. As is standard, there were free snacks (cookies, peanuts, or pretzels) and soft drinks. However, the flight attendants weren't charging anyone in economy for alcoholic drinks, either. That was a nice surprise — it's not the first time I've seen that in domestic coach, though it's been inconsistent. Is there an unofficial policy to give free drinks on flights that are delayed?
The flight back was uneventful, so I'm not going to do a full writeup. Instead of the Delta Shuttle we took a standard regional flight from ORD-JFK on a CRJ-900. We were delayed a few minutes because the flight was overweight and they had to remove several standby passengers who had gotten seats, but we were wheels up quickly. Thanks to Netflix's new downloadable feature, I watched the first episode of The OA, which was just long enough to last until our descent.
Although comfort doesn't matter that much on a regional flight, it's still nice to be able to stretch out, do some work, and enjoy a drink during a short haul trip. The fact that Delta makes rebooking a delayed flight so easy was really appreciated here — we're just lucky that we were on a route which is serviced hourly, instead of only once or twice a day.