Airline review: Delta Air Lines Boeing 737-900, economy class, New York to Cancun

THE ROUTE

Flight DL644 New York (JFK) to Cancun, Mexico

THE AIRCRAFT

Boeing 737-900, the 180-seat narrow-bodied aircraft Delta assigns to domestic US flights and short-haul international flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Delta SkyMiles is the loyalty program. Miles don't expire and there are no blackout dates. It consistently ranks as one of the best travel rewards programs in the world. Delta is part of the SkyTeam alliance and points can also be earned with partner Virgin Australia (until June 13, when Virgin switches its US partnership to United Airlines).

This flight is codeshared with Aeromexico.

CLASS

Economy, seat 25A (window).

DURATION

Four hours and 15 minutes, non-stop.

FREQUENCY

Delta flies direct from New York JFK to Cancun twice daily (9am and 11.20am).

CARBON EMISSIONS

0.45 tonne for one economy passenger. In March 2020, Delta announced a commitment to be the first carbon-neutral airline globally. To achieve this ambitious goal, they are pledging a billion dollars over the next 10 years to developing clean air travel technologies and reducing carbon emissions and waste. Delta has publicly stated a goal to replace 10 per cent of its conventional jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by the end of 2030.

HEALTH

Mexico-bound travellers aren't required to show proof of vaccination or negative COVID test results. Prior to a return flight to the US, travellers are required to show vaccination records and a negative result from a PCR or rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of departure.

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Delta's FlyReady tools include an interactive Discover Map on delta.com that is handy for researching up-to-date potential entry requirements in all destinations where the airline flies. There's also an option to upload travel documents and medical records ahead of time for digital verification.

In June 2020 the Delta CareStandard was introduced, a comprehensive cleanliness and safety protocol that includes enhanced HEPA air filtration, high-grade disinfecting and a dedicated team of Clean Ambassadors. Purell sanitising wipes are handed out to passengers as they board.

Masks must be worn at JFK International Airport, Cancun International Airport and during the flight, except when actively eating and drinking. Flight attendants are masked at all times.

CHECKING IN

Major snowfall is forecast on the morning of my scheduled departure. I receive storm update text messages from Delta the day before, with the option to change the date of my flight for free or cancel for a full refund. I choose to cross my fingers and press on to the clear skies and 29 degrees of Cancun. It's the right decision. The airport is mostly deserted due to hundreds of cancelled flights, but mine is all systems go.

Delta recommends arriving 4 hours prior to international departure; check-in must be completed one hour before scheduled take-off. I arrive two hours before take-off and it's ample time. There's no line at the check-in area or at TSA security (a first for me at JFK).

THE SEAT

There are 139 seats in the main cabin in a one-aisle, 3-3 configuration. I'm in 25A, a window seat, with a couple sitting beside me. The blue leather seats are 17.3 inches (44 centimetres) wide with a 31-inch (79 centimetres) pitch. No complaints at all; it's as comfortable as cattle class gets and I have plenty of leg room. The amenity of USB in-seat power and an in-seat power outlet means I can charge up both my iPhone and computer at the same time.

BAGGAGE

The first checked bag (up to 50 pounds/23 kilograms) is normally $US30 ($A42). As a Delta SkyMiles American Express cardholder, my first checked bag on Delta flights is always free, even if I don't pay for the flight on the Amex card. Cabin allowance is one carry-on bag (such as a small wheeled suitcase) and one handbag or backpack that fits under the seat in front.

ENTERTAINMENT

So many options (more than 1000 hours of entertainment), but so little time on this four-hour flight. Delta Studio in-flight entertainment features recent film releases, live satellite channels and TV shows from studios including Disney, HBO, Hulu and Netflix. There's also a treasure trove of playlists and podcasts. In an aviation first, Delta partnered with Peloton to produce five wellness videos on stretching and meditation. Content can be viewed on the seatback touchscreens or on personal devices via the inflight Wi-Fi network, regardless of whether you've purchased Wi-Fi. Also free for all is the option to use messaging services (Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp) on personal devices during the flight.

SERVICE

One of Delta's key strengths is the quality of its front-line people. In numerous interviews, the airline's chief executive Ed Bastian says that if an airline looks after its people, the people will look after the customers. It's working. Flight attendants I interact with on this flight carry out their duties with empathy, efficiency and common sense. Dressed in Zac Posen-designed uniforms with a plum/grey/red palette, they look stylish and confident.

FOOD

On this morning flight, economy passengers are offered a choice of complimentary drinks including mini-cans of soft drink, juice, tea and coffee. One sweet (Biscoff cookies) and one salty snack (nuts.com almonds) is given free of charge. Alcoholic drinks are available to purchase.

ONE MORE THING

It's predicted that when widespread confidence in overseas travel returns, Australians heading off will stay longer and explore further. Mexico is a fantastic destination and easy to reach via direct flights from the US mainland, making it a solid choice for a 'two countries/one trip' holiday.

VERDICT

Delta is more than my favourite US airline, it's a brand I love and choose to fly often. It is consistently awarded top marks for service and customer loyalty — most recently, ranked the No.1 airline in the 2021 Business Travel News Airline Survey for the 11th year in a row, Delta stands out for its care, responsiveness and flexibility. I have never had a problem or request they didn't completely resolve to my satisfaction. On this flight, I paid a bargain price ($US225 [$A313] return trip) for a premium experience.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★

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The writer travelled at her own expense. See delta.com

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