Flight Review: How does Delta’s Sydney to LAX Service (DL40) compare to partner Virgin Australia?

If you fly regularly to US with Virgin Australia, as I do, chances are you may have ended up on a Delta aircraft on one of your trips; with the two carriers codesharing services across the Pacific, providing ticketed passengers for either the option to fly with the other. I recently did just that, flying with Delta to LA and then returning on a Virgin plane. So, how did the Delta service compare to what we’ve come to expect from Virgin? Here’s how it shaped up on a September 2017 flight.

Airline: Delta Air Lines
Route: Sydney to Los Angeles (LAX) – DL40
Class: Economy
Seat: 40 F – aisle middle of a 3-3-3 layout
Aircraft: B777
Flight Time: 13 Hours – Departed 90 minutes Late, arrived about an hour late

Transferring from Virgin Australia Domestic

For this service, I was transferring from a Virgin Australia domestic service, to the Delta International service at Sydney International Airport. Even though you’re changing carriers, your bag is checked through, so you don’t have to worry about that on arrival. Instead, you jump onto a free transfer bus found in the Domestic terminal, which takes you on a scenic route past plenty of airplanes that may be enjoyable for those who like to go behind-the-scenes, so to speak, of an airport. It takes less than ten minutes to drive between the terminals, and the wait for the bus was about ten minutes. Once you arrive, you go through customs and security as normal, and if you need to pick up your ticket, you can head to the Delta service desk.

Lounge Access at Sydney International

If you’re a Gold or Platinum Frequent Flyer on Virgin’s Velocity program, you’ll get access to the Skyteam Exclusive Lounge, found at Gate 24 – which is on the other side of the terminal to your departure gate. There’s a fantastic assortment of food and drink available, though make sure you keep an eye on the clock, because they don’t make any announcements for your flight. It was a notably busy lounge, with a number of airlines using it, and took a while to find a seat – but I ended up with a bench looking out onto the tarmac I had, earlier, rushed across on the bus.

Thanks to recent upgrades to Sydney International Terminal, there’s more food and drink options throughout the terminal than ever before, so if you don’t have lounge access, you’ll have more than enough options to help pass the time before you board your flight.

Baggage and Boarding

Delta match whatever Virgin would have permitted for your flight, and for most travellers that will be a carry on, plus one checked bag, maximum 23kg. If you’re a more premium status, or flying a higher class, you may be able to take on additional bags. Silver, Gold and Platinum Velocity flyers will be treated to priority baggage, and be able to board first with a “Sky Priority” notation on your ticket. However some staff seem to know more about this than others; I tried to use the Sky Priority boarding line at the gate and they tried to argue against it, even though it said Sky Priority on my ticket. So make sure to check the Velocity website so you know your own rights there.

Comfort and Seat Trimmings

You’ll find a USB charger under the seat, and all seats come with a pillow, blanket, ear buds and eye mask. In this respect, you get exactly the same as what Virgin offer their economy passengers. I think the only difference is on Virgin services you also get a pen! The seat itself isn’t as comfortable as the Virgin counterpart; it’s slightly thinner, though the leg room is the same, and I was able to get more than enough sleep on the service.

In Flight Service

We experienced delays while on the tarmac due to wind. They kept the air con running, however, and added some extra fuel to the flight to compensate. They also handed out water while we waited. Ended up being 90 minutes of delays by the time we got into the air, and we landed about an hour late. They made sure to come around and assist anyone with questions about their delays, however, and rushed anyone through who needed to be on the other end.

The service in this regard, and throughout the entire flight was exceptional. Delta definitely work against the trend of many American carriers (who by and large have been improving in recent years, though still struggle to stack up against other international airlines), and provide friendly, helpful service and are well organised for any delays.

There were some issues I had with the routine service, however. The staff didn’t seem to know much about the meals they were serving – they struggled to answer questions about the dishes and said there were things in them that there weren’t (and vice versa). But in saying this, they didn’t bat an eyelid when I needed to exchange a dish due to dietary requirements. They also wake you mid-flight for a snack, which I really dislike. I think every air carrier should have some form of a system where you can request to be woken or not. Some ask you to keep your tray table down, others provide a sticker to put on your seat. Virgin just don’t wake you up at all, which is appreciated; for the mid-flight service at least.

Food and Drink

They provide their first food and beverage service shortly after takeoff, with Coke beverages and beer wine spirits served as complimentary. They made a point to mention that alcoholic beverages would not be served to endless quantities, but they had no issues when I asked for an extra drink later in the flight.

They serve up a hot towel first, which was surprising, as Virgin don’t in the economy cabin. There were three options for the main meal – a pesto linguine, a Moroccan cold salad chicken or beef short ribs. I had the beef, which came with gnocchi and carrots – though they said it was with “potato mash”, so the staff definitely needed to be briefed better on the meals they were serving. The food though was quite good. Not a huge portion but a bigger one than what Virgin are now serving in economy, and it came with a lot on the plate. An apple crumble for desert, cheese and crackers, a cous cous salad, bread roll and butter, olive oil and balsamic. All in all, the economy food service on Delta is superior to Virgin. They offered a second drink service with the clean up.

They woke me up for a lunch service halfway through the flight, serving a warm vegetarian baguette with a Tim Tam and drink service. Also not unlike Virgin’s service, there were snacks and water self service in the centre of the cabin for the entirety of the flight. You’d find garbage bags there too.

Breakfast was served about an hour or so before they started their descent into Los Angeles. There were three options – eggs with baked beans, spinach and bacon, pancakes or continental. Every option came with fruit as well as a croissant and orange juice. It was a well sized and tasty breakfast.

Entertainment and Internet

The Delta entertainment system can be found on the back of every seat, with a huge selection of films and TV shows available. Many offer Chinese subtitles, but as this is a US carrier, some films are censored, so keep in mind when watching, as you may end up with a heavily edited version of the film you want to watch. It will say at the start of the film if this is the case.

We also had access to wi-fi for the entire flight; a first for me flying over the Pacific. If you’re a T-Mobile customer in the US, you’ll get an hour of free, unlimited wi-fi, and then for the rest of the flight you’ll have free messaging with your T-Mobile device using services like Facebook Messenger, iMessage and WhatsApp. It was surprisingly reliable and I wasn’t as turned off by the idea of having the access as I thought I would be. It also allowed me to play some of my Freemium mobile games that require internet usage. Virgin aren’t far away from offering a similar service, but this is a definite point to Delta – if you can stomach the idea of being accessible during a long haul flight, that is!

Arriving at LAX

The biggest benefit to flying Delta rather than Virgin is that you will usually arrive at Terminal 2, instead of Tom Bradley – which is LAX’s busiest airport. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through border security, customs and baggage as quickly as I did when I arrived at Terminal 2. If you have a tight connection, or just don’t want to wait two hours in queues, Delta may be the way to go…

Delta vs Virgin: The Verdict

Each airline has their pros and cons – Virgin don’t wake you mid-flight and their seats are more comfortable, while Delta offer their economy passengers better and more sizeable food options. Virgin lands you in the heart of LAX madness of Tom Bradley International, while Delta lands at the much quieter Terminal 2 – meaning you’re going to get through customs a hell of a lot quicker. Delta seem to offer more selection in their entertainment – though some come censored as per what must be some now arbitrary US airline regulation.

If you’re a Velocity frequent flyer, you’re definitely going to get more out of a flight with Virgin – such as Economy X upgrades being complimentary for Platinum card holders. But all in all, they’re fairly equatable services. Gun to my head, I’d say Virgin are the superior of the two, but only by a stretch… Delta really have stepped up their game in recent years and they deliver, without question, the best service of the three US carriers that cater the direct Sydney – LAX route. To even be in the same class as Virgin feels like an accomplishment in itself, as many who flew the service even just a few years ago would attest.

For more details about Delta’s service, head to delta.com

The writer flew without any support from Delta Air Lines.