Delta to Portland: Big Bins and Great Service (Trip Report)

Delta, Trip Reports

Just a couple months after my last trip to Portland, it was time to return. And just like last time, I had a bunch of flight issues before travel.

We were actually heading up for a family wedding in the Willamette Valley an hour outside Portland, and after we booked… the wedding date changed. So we lost those bookings (though got lucky when an Alaska schedule change let us get at least one way refunded), and we rebooked for the week earlier on Southwest up with Delta taking us back… until Southwest canceled our flight up due to MAX issues. Once that was refunded, we bought a ticket on Delta going up and we were finally set.

For people who fly Delta regularly, this won’t be anything overly exciting. For those who don’t, take notice It was just another nearly-flawless Delta performance

We left home early to get up to LAX during rush hour, park at Quikpark, and then shuttle into the terminals. On the bus, our gate changed from the miserable Terminal 3 over to the much nicer Terminal 2. That was good news since we had time to kill. My daughter insisted on wearing a “happy birthday” headband even though her birthday was a couple months ago. That means we had all kinds of people wishing her happy birthday. The line minder at security even sang to her. We were through in no time.

We found our gate in the back corner of the concourse and grabbed a seat. There was enough seating, but man, was it busy in there. That place is a madhouse. Once we grabbed our seats, a gate agent named Kevin came up to me and said, “Are you the Cranky Flier?” I cautiously said yes, but I was concerned that Delta was flagging me and that’s how he knew. That wasn’t the case. He said he’d been reading the blog for years and just recognized me. I quickly warmed up, and we talked until it was time to board.

We were in Main3 for our boarding group, and I was surprised to see no crowding in the gate area at all. It was just a nice orderly process. By the time they called Main3, the last group before Basic, I was afraid there wouldn’t be room for bags. Oh, was I wrong.

September 13, 2019
Delta 473 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 916a Arr Portland (PDX) 1134a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 26A, Runway 24L, Depart 3m Early
Portland (PDX): Gate D3, Runway 10R, Arrive 5m Late
N315NB, Airbus A319-114, Standard Delta colors, ~95% Full
Seat 19B, Coach
Flight Time 2h6m

The retrofitted A319 is a glorious bird. The bins are just so big, and there was no problem finding space for everyone’s bags.

The cabin looks modern. We sat down in our seats to find a big monitor staring back at us. My tray table was dirty on the front but otherwise the plane looked immaculate.

Adding to the star power of the airplane itself was… a celebrity. Oscar Nuñez (Oscar from The Office) was sitting in First Class.

Once in the air, I was surprised to hear the flight attendants say that service wouldn’t begin until we had reached our cruising altitude. It took a little while to get there, but the carts came out promptly once we leveled out. I had started flipping through TV options and saw they had Shrill from Hulu, something I had heard about but hadn’t seen since I don’t have a Hulu subscription. I watched three episodes and that made the time pass quickly.

Seeing the flight attendants coming, I opened my tray table to find a wet, sticky, and disgusting mess.

What kind of person leaves a table like this?! I asked the flight attendant for a napkin, and she gave me one. But when she turned, her eyes got big and she asked if it was like that when I got on. She looked horrified, and wet some napkins to help clean it up.

With that fixed, we were given our choice of nuts, Cheez-Its, Biscoff, and Kind bars. My son and I both chose Biscoff… one for him and one for his cousin who was flying Southwest up to meet us and wouldn’t be so lucky otherwise.

I could log on for an hour of free wifi thanks to T-Mobile, so I did that while I was watching TV. It’s times like these that remind me how much I do appreciate having those separate screens.

We flew up the coast and then turned inland around Monterey. That means we were strategically positioned for an expansive view of the San Francisco Bay Area on a clear day.

It wasn’t long before we were descending into Portland. There were some low, scattered clouds that made for a scenic approach. We had to go way west and hold our altitude under 3,000 feet for several minutes, dodging and cutting through the clouds before we turned back to land.

The wedding was a success and the weather stayed clear for it. I do have to say a couple things about this place. First, the Evergreen Aviation Museum. What a great spot. Go. And bring a bathing suit because of the water park that has a 747 on top of it where all the slides start. (I didn’t go in because I didn’t have a swimsuit. Next time…)

Second, I have to give a shout-out to the Atticus Hotel. It’s not often that I have an experience at a hotel that sticks with me, but this place… words just can’t describe it. They made us feel like family from the moment we arrived. We asked the front desk agent when we arrived that first night where we should go for dinner. She said she had a great idea but wanted to make sure they could fit our group of 10. When they didn’t answer the phone, she said it was just a block away so she RAN OVER THERE. It was just so good the entire time. They remembered what we were doing and asked us how the wedding was when we returned. And the rooms… the rooms were beautiful. We had a Luxury Balcony Suite. It wasn’t cheap, but it was worth the price. That’s not something I say often.

When we woke up on Sunday for the return, it had turned gloomy, and not just because we were leaving this glorious hotel. A storm front had moved in, and the rain was pouring down. It was also much chillier. We hopped in the car and drove the hour back to the airport. After dropping off the rental, we walked back into the terminal through the underground tunnel. Security was a breeze, and we were back at the same gate at which we had arrived two days earlier.

The flight before ours was boarding, so newly-vacated seats were easy to find. We sat and waited it out until boarding began. Boarding was a repeat of the way up. People weren’t crowding at all, and it was all nice and orderly.

September 15, 2019
Delta 473 Lv Portland (PDX) 1215p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 231p
Portland (PDX): Gate D3, Runway 10R, Depart 2m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 37A, Runway 24L, Arrive 12m Late
N371NB, Airbus A319-114, Standard Delta colors, ~99% Full
Seat 18B, Coach
Flight Time 2h00m

We had pretty much the same experience going back with huge bins and friendly flight attendants… and celebrities. This time, Camryn Manheim was in First Class. I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise since she’s in the new series Stumptown which is filmed in Portland. My wife said there was another guy she recognized but couldn’t place him. Apparently Delta is the airline of the stars, at least on this route.

Taxi-out was long probably because only one runway is open right now. This was good for me, because we I wanted to watch the movie Long Shot. It is 2h6m and the flight was 1h56m. The race was on.

We took off into the murk and climbed through it for awhile until peeking our heads above it at cruise. The flight attendants came through as usual, and I became a power user. I had my daughter’s TV tuned to the Rams game since she was glued to her tablet. My TV was on Long Shot. Then I broke my computer out to write this up.

Every few minutes, the flight attendants came through with water. They were a constant and welcome presence. At one point, I had to take my son to the lav. If the airplane has one flaw, it’s those rear space-saver lavs. They are so damn tiny.

We did the usual approach from the north, swung around downtown LA and landed on the north runways. This time we parked in Terminal 3. What a mess that place is. I took this photo of the hordes waiting to board after we arrived.

Sure, it looks much better than it did in the Virgin America days. There is a new coat of paint, new eateries, and a more professional look. But it’s a construction zone as they work to finally replace this thing. For now, the neck of the terminal is completely cut-off. Travelers have to go through security on the lower level and walk through the old baggage claim tunnel to get to the gates. This is a return to its roots as a true satellite building.

We navigated our way out, sat in traffic while the Quikpark shuttle crept around the horseshoe, and finally headed home. I couldn’t help but think about how much more pleasant it was to fly Delta than many other airlines I’ve flown recently. And did I mention the bins?

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31 comments on “Delta to Portland: Big Bins and Great Service (Trip Report)

  1. Shoot, the only celeb we ever see on our CVG-TPA jaunt is Jerry Springer. Big Delta fans in our household though.

    1. The cast of “the Office” must get around because I saw “Meredith” at a Centurion Lounge at PHL earlier this year. :) That said, my celebrity sightings are definitely down over the years. One reason is that I fly less to LA and, honestly, your chances of running into a celebrity on an LAX route is probably 5x that of anywhere else. But I think the other reason is the growth of private jets. Almost all my celebrity sightings in recent years have been from the B list (or lower). I haven’t seen any A-listers in quite some time!

  2. Given how fees encourage carry-ons, the “space bins” are a very useful innovation. When I first saw them years ago, I thought they looked a little clunky and made the cabin feel smaller. That’s still true, but the good (luggage space for everyone) definitely outweighs the bad (mildly worse aesthetics). I think all the US airlines are ordering them on their new planes/retrofits. Based on my random experience of flying all the US airlines, it seems like Alaska is still the only aIrline with a large percentage of their fleet with the bins. Sadly, the grounding of the MAX — which I believe has the bins on all the US airlines — is slowing the rollout of this innovation across the industry. It’s probably worse at AA, because they also had to slowdown the retrofit of some older aircraft to include the bins due to having the MAXes out of service.

  3. Not much to comment on when the trip is flawless. Kudos to Delta. They’ve certainly treated me well over the years. Only hiccup recently wasn’t even their fault as IAH was closed due to flooding. As a result I missed my trip on the new A220. That bummed me out but DL got me home via alternate options and saved my weekend! I’ll give them a well earned plug for that.

  4. Be happy you didn’t need to sit down in Terminal 3 at LAX. The seats have armrests are packed in, making the seats extremely narrow and are so poorly designed that my partner who has wide hips couldn’t sit down in any of them. The terminal seating was worse than once we got on the plane.

  5. What was the restaurant? I’m a frequent McMinnville guest (along with most other parts of the valley). The new Red Hills kitchen attached the hotel is a great offshoot of the original Ref Hills Market in Dundee.

    1. Matt – Great question. The restaurant couldn’t accommodate us, so we never went. I don’t remember what the restaurant was, but it was Italian.

  6. Sir Crankalot:

    I like big bins and I cannot lie

    You frequent flyers can’t deny

    When a rollerboard bag doesn’t fit overhead bin it makes me sick!

  7. I flew Delta to/from Boston for the first time in years last week. The trip was unremarkable, which was quite nice, given my last few trips with American. And, far superior to relatives who flew United (one flight cancelled and no re-booking until the next day, which was then delayed six hours) and Hawaiian (three hour delays). The Delta A-321 was clean and quiet, and the crew friendly and helpful. Again, very different than my recent American flights.

    If there was one disappointment, it was Logan Airport’s Terminal “A”. The strange separation of one group of gates is somewhat confusing. But the lack of places to get a decent meal, or snack, is disappointing for an airport like Logan. While Terminal A does boast a Legal Seafoods, half the gates are 15-20 minutes away via an under-the-tarmac walkway. Out there in no-man’s land, the choice was a Dunkin’ Donuts or a stale newsstand croissant.

    Delta’s luggage delivery was also a pleasant surprise. In both Boston and Orlando, my suitcase was waiting for me by the time I reached baggage claim. That’s a customer convenience that I’ll remember far longer than the in-flight snack choices.

    1. DL has a 20 min bag return guarantee. If they mess up and you tell them, they’ll credit you some number of miles. So they’ve put themselves on the hook for fast bag return.

  8. Your experience highlights why Delta has been able to grow so successfully in so many highly competitive markets in the US. Not long ago, Delta was a distant #3 in LA; as they focused on NYC, Delta in California and the west coast was on autopilot. Now, they have moved into major west coast markets like LAX to SEA and PDX and DL is the solid #2 at the largest airports but also gets higher average fares than AS in their top markets.

    Delta’s seatback IFE strategy shows its strength in markets like LAX where they have a higher quality product than other large west coast powers – AA, AS, UA, and WN. Delta still has streaming IFE for those who want to use their own devices – but 2/3 or more of passengers use the Delta seatback IFE from my observations – even if only for the moving map.

    Yes, DL’s terminals at LAX are packed and DL made a huge bet moving from terminal 5 to rehab LAX’ worst terminal (3) but Angelenos, like New Yorkers, have guaranteed that airlines will succeed in their hometown markets just because of the limited airport capacity for growth. Airlines that have secured a strong presence in the major markets and also offer good service throughout the US will sit pretty for years to come.

    1. We will see about the value of IFE in the next few years. I think DL’s domestic IFE strategy will prove to be a waste of money. We will near 100% adoption of using your own devices on-board airplanes. Sure, people will take an extra screen if you give it to them (most happily, as long as the person behind you is not constant poking your seat). But will you actually buy a ticket on DL because they give you a screen? That seems improbable for the vast majority of customers, especially the ones who actually pay “real money” for their tickets. It seems to me the money is much better spent on in-flight wifi. EVERYONE will want that, preferably free.

      1. Correct in that we shall see.It will depend on if/when Delta markets it more than on their website. In my most recent DL experiences approx 70% of the people were using the seat back IFE, and most were movies/tv (C+ and F).

        If they can market it right, and keep their prices on par with the rest, it may sway a small number of travelers and that may be all it needs.

        Maybe I am getting to old (46), but I tried device based entertainment on my last DL and WN flights, and I hated it. Screen to small, having to hold it, always looking down. I much prefer looking straight ahead. Not having to reach under the seat for power is also nice, again may be due to age.

        I am glad they are at least trying to keep seat back IFE.

        1. I also prefer an IFE screen. I’m pretty sure that the majority of people do, because it’s just easier. That said, a growing number of folks (including my wife) prefers to load her own entertainment on their own device. There’s so much digital content out there — and there are so few “new” movie releases that most folks want to watch — that I suspect this trend will continue. I still think free wifi would crush any need for a built in screen. I would think 80% of folks would prefer that!

          1. @iahphx
            Since Delta is moving toward free wifi and also expanding seatback IFE (putting it on the 717s), the question is not either/or for DL or its passengers.
            They apparently still do not believe that there is the capacity to support free wifi and appear not to be willing to offer something they can’t deliver well.
            At the same time, development of their own in-house tablet based seatback IFE system which is just showing what is available to stream says they want to be able to offer “all of the above” and give passengers a choice.

            Given that more than 2/3 of passengers already use DL’s seatback IFE even on short/medium domestic flights based just on comments here, I doubt if free Wifi is going to change that.

            and @oliver
            My wife has an early generation Ipad and it keeps working so she carries it on trips rather than her laptop.
            I have to use my laptop for some things that a tablet cannot do and my laptop is a convertible, touch screen model so it can be my tablet reader or movie screen and still meet my work needs.
            Phones are becoming more and more capable but tablets still can’t replace laptops for many functions; there are some business people that carry a tablet, phone, and laptop but overall declining sales of tablets say that people who need more than a phone choose a laptop more often than a tablet. Phones can only get so much larger and still fit in your pocket.

            I do occasionally stream an onboard movie to my laptop instead of the seatback screen just because of the larger screen size. and, obviously, if I have my own content, I use my own device – which might be my laptop or phone.

            again, choice. If Delta and JetBlue can figure out how to offer both at manageable costs, they clearly become a more attractive option than an airline that says you must stream to your own device – or you have no entertainment.

          2. I tend to use both the IFE screen to watch mindless entertainment and my computer to do work or just goofing off. I like having two screens. It’s kind of like being home except the seat isn’t comfortable.

            When I fly AS to Hawaii, I actually do really miss the screen and find it cheap that one is not installed.

      2. If you are an airline other than B6 or DL, you certainly want to believe your theory is right – but B6 and DL are both investing plenty in new generation seatback IFE and expanding it to more aircraft, so it is clearly a case of 2 against the industry. I cannot imagine the basis for believing that preference for access to seatback IFE (as evidenced by the percent of people who use it) will go down given that the number and size of screens in the world is increasing. Unless I pull out my laptop and stream content, any seatback screen is bigger than my phone – or those of most people. I’m not carrying a tablet, laptop and phone – and tablet sales verify that trend.

        The real point of seatback IFE is choice – you can use your own personal device if you want – and that seatback IFE is a part of a larger package of service that you don’t pay extra for. For Delta, it includes higher on-time, fewer cancellations, faster baggage delivery and fewer mishandlings, a larger network, and more product consistency across its global network.

        No, I don’t believe that people will individually choose an airline based on seatback IFE but based on a package of services which includes the above plus small stuff like more and higher value snack choices and Delta’s willingness to give you more (two of them if you ask!), it all adds up to a higher quality product.
        When other airlines argue that you don’t need seatback IFE while B6 and DL say that “we will give you the choice and you don’t pay extra either way,” lots of passengers do respond favorably. It is no different than with airlines that will only give you a cup of drink instead of the can.

        The fact that Delta is now #2 in revenue based on DOT data in SEA, PDX, SFO, LAX, and LAS and #2 in ASMs and revenue to/from/within the highly competitive west coast– something unheard of just a few years ago – Delta’s product strategy including IFE has to be considered part of the reason for its success.

        1. > and tablet sales verify that trend

          I have had iPads since the day they launched. I am now on an iPad Air 2 that I got in late 2014, and I have little reason to upgrade it. The declining battery life will eventually force this, but Apple is still providing software updates (it’s currently nagging me to upgrade to the latest iPadOS).

          Newer generations of iPads have few features that entice me to upgrade. That might explain sales numbers. The devices are just good enough and have a long life. And people don’t drop them in the toilet, like phones. Or feel the need to impress their friends or strangers with the latest iPhone even though the older models still work just fine.

          Nowadays I usually travel with iPad and Pixel3 phone. The laptop stays home. I don’t recall the last time I put a laptop on an airplane tray table. Must have been a decade or so ago. I usually read on planes, but if I watch a movie, the iPad works fine. I will admit that I use the moving map if available on IFE. Would I pay extra or choose an airline because of IFE screens on a domestic flight? Nope, not a deciding factors. In fact, on evening/early morning flights I might book away from those airlines that have built-in screens. I had having to see all those flickering screens when the cabin is dark. Many people leave them on even when they aren’t watching, perhaps because it isn’t intuitive to turn them off.

  9. No comments on the world famous carpet at PDX? That carpeting alone warrants a few paragraphs of ink. At least for your hipster audience.

    Glad you had such an enjoyable trip. I’ve heard great things about the Evergreen Museum.

    1. The museum is great! On a side note, the 747 Cranky mentions made its last landing across the road at the McMinnvile Airport (MMV) on a ~5400ft. Runway. You can find a clip on YouTube if interested.

      1. MMV is weird. They have the regional FSS where pilots file flight plans, but no ability to observe weather, as there is no tower there or windows in the briefing room. I once filed MMV as my alternate, and asked them the current weather, and my briefer said “well, it was sunny as I drove in to work”. :) Apparently, it’s the only FSS that isn’t associated with a tower.

    2. The main reason to go to that museum is the Spruce Goose. That’s the standout exhibit because it’s obvious such a one of a kind.

  10. Just a comment to say I do read your posts and thoroughly enjoy them. Thank you for all the great information. Happy travels. Jeff.

    Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

  11. I may have to start flying LAX-PDX for the celebrity spotting…Cobie Smulders stars in “Stumptown” and I’ve had a crush on her for many years…

    Half of my (admittedly rather limited) flying in the last two years has been on Delta and other than a bit of a check-in faff at JFK all of my flights have been great.

    (Except for the damn lavs – are the ones on the A319 as bad as the 737s? You have to be a bloody contortionist to fit in those!)

  12. I wonder how often I have sat next to or walked by a “celebrity” in F and not known. In this case, I don’t think I know either of the two mentioned in the story.

  13. Dear Cranky, Nice report on the trip and on Delta.  Sorry I forgot your name.  We corresponded a bit some time ago about LAX.  I’ve missed two dorkfests, alas, but must rectify that.  Totally innocently I was a dork participant myself for a long time, buying fries at In-‘ n-Out and standing out on the grass to watch evening landings and watch others dancing to the biggies.   I saw the first A380 land here.  I even included the dork landing experience in a published novel (but I’m not self-promoting here, just trying to be friendly.) I’m glad you found an Oregon hotel with acceptable mini-rooms.  It’s a great idea, but can be horrendous.  You might enjoy this review of a NY four-star mini-room I left on Yelp.
    Keep up the good work.  I’m following.


  14. I have to add, if you have problems, DL’s customer service is definitely better than the other guys, too. They at least pretend like they care and try to be helpful, which is more than I can say for most airlines. I’m an infrequent DL flyer, but they’ve waived the change fee for me a couple of times without asking, when they were under no obligation to do so. Too bad the DFW mini-hub isn’t coming back, or I’d gladly give them all of my business over the dumpster fire that is AA.

  15. I REALLY dislike airlines without IFE. I’ve flown on AS hundreds of times the past few years, but it does not get less old over time. I seem to always have a lack of power, either outlet is broke or a cord forgotten. (or on AS, only 2 outlets for 3 people in row 6!) It is SO nice to just have a super bright screen at the right spot to watch and not be getting my phone hot and drained from trying to be bright enough. I think DL committing to IFE was a bright move to battle AS for SEA and PDX. Add much much better IROPs handling on DL than AS and it really makes for a great product overall. Live TV is also a great move forward. I flew DL’s 757s to SJU last year and shortly after AS to OGG and 6+ hours in F on AS with no screens, no Internet, it is really hard to see that as F other than a drinks and legroom.

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