—Written by Enrique Perrella and Eric Dunetz
ATLANTA — The imminent retirement of Boeing 747-400 at Delta Air Lines is the start of something new. The Atlanta-based carrier unveiled its new, most modern long-haul wide-body aircraft—the Airbus A350-900—to a group of world media in an event that ended with a surprising three-hour demo flight around the Southeastern United States.
Gil West, COO at Delta Air Lines, proclaimed the aircraft as “The new Flagship of the Delta fleet.”
The new plane not only intends to change the product profile the airline strives to offer its customers but also aims to improve the long-haul travel experience for passengers in all cabins of service.
Delta is the first carrier in North America to put the new Airbus wide-body into service. The inaugural flight is set to depart Detroit (DTW) on October 30, arriving the next day into Tokyo-Narita (NRT).
Passengers flying the new jet will experience a new set up that is unique in the western hemisphere. The 306-seat aircraft features two all-new Delta products: 32 DeltaOne Suites, and the 48 Delta Premium Select seats.
In addition to these new onboard perks, Delta seems keen to keep its customers at the center of decisions. The upgraded Delta experience aims to be reliable and innovative from the moment the customer checks-in, all the way to the final destination.
Additional benefits include automatic check-in with the newly updated Fly Delta App, checking luggage with an all-new biometric-based self-service system, and more food options in all cabins.
According to several Diamond Medallion travelers—the airline’s highest frequent flyer tier—the new automatic check-in is a very welcomed feature. “This is an excellent addition to the already prolific Delta App,” said William Evans, a Delta Million Miler. “It saves you some time, and it also gives you a more realistic forecast on upgrade lists.”
Lastly, Delta announced that an all-new pre-ordering meal service would begin in 2018 for premium cabins only. The airline expects to eventually offer it throughout all three cabins of service by the end of 2018.
Delta One Suites in the Spotlight
However, what seems to be the most impressive add-on to Delta’s product portfolio are the closed-door suites located on the front-end of the Airbus A350.
These modern, trendy seats not only convert into full-flat, memory foam beds; they also come with a sliding door that inherently enhances privacy and comfort. A large footwell with plenty of leg room and storage space is also available in the spaciously confined seat.
Each suite is also equipped with a large, 18-inch monitor, fitted with the airline’s latest IFE. It is the largest screen offered by any U.S. carrier.
Delta claims there is enough IFE content onboard that you can make 90 round trips from Atlanta to London without watching something twice.
In-suite perks include customizable ambient lighting, a “Do not disturb button,” and for those traveling with a companion, all center suites come with a sliding privacy divider which can open up to share more space.
According to the airline’s COO, the A350 “will set a whole new standard for our flying experience.”
Premium Economy is Premium Select
Moving down the aircraft’s aisles, the all-new Delta Premium Select replaces the current Delta Comfort+ seats that simply offer a little more legroom for coach passengers.
The new Premium Select cabin it is a step below DeltaOne. It caters those passengers who cannot afford the jump from Economy Class to the Suites, but still, offers numerous perks that make traveling long-haul more bearable.
The new cabin was often compared to a ‘Mini Business Class’ by a few observers. Each seat offers increased leg pitch, width, extended recline, and more personal space with adjustable leg and headrests. Passengers flying in this class of service also enjoy Sky Priority status, pre-departure beverage service, amenity kits provided by Tumi, and noise-canceling headsets.
The seats are noticeably wider. We figure that flying long-haul would be very comfortable and roomy, which is a major step-up from the airline’s current Comfort+product.
All Delta Premium Select customers will also enjoy additional perks like onboard Amenity Kits and priority check-in, at the airport.
According to the airline, the new DeltaOne suites and Premium Select will debut on the A350. Other aircraft in the fleet—such as the Boeing 777-200(LR)—will be retrofitted during the next three years.
Following the airline’s introduction of its newest hard product, it was time to test all three cabins first hand.
Flying Delta’s Airbus A350-900
The first thing most passengers notice as the brand-new plane accelerates down the runway is how quiet the A350 is. The two ultra-efficient Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines are powerfully silent. No rumble, no whine but a low hum can be heard as it gracefully climbs to cruising altitude.
The demo journey took us north at cruising altitude of 39,000ft through North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and finally back to Atlanta.
Airways was initially assigned to test DeltaOne Suite 2C for most of the journey. As the flight progressed, we examined the all-new Premium Select and, at last, the main cabin.
Even though the overall feeling at DeltaOne is that of spaciousness and privacy, Airline Analyst Henry Harteveldt noted how the seat “is good, though some may find it narrow.”
Delta advertises the new DeltaOne suites with a bed width of 22/24-in and a length of 76/81-in.
Harteveldt gathers that even though the seat is comfortable and private, the in-seat stowage is inadequate. “Carry-on bags—except tiny items like a purse—must be stowed in an overhead bin for take-off and landing,” he says. “There is no place to stow a laptop during take-off/landing, either.”
Carefully examining the surrounding suites, we noticed most do have a small storage area for shoes. However, seats that are placed against the windows do not.
The DeltaOne cabin is configured in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration. Only three rows (3, 5, and 7) are close enough to the wall to enjoy outside views through the massive A350 panes; whereas the other rows (2, 4, 6, and 8) are closer to the aisle and further from the window.
Concerning cabin ambiance, we noticed that the cabin’s mood lighting has numerous levels of colors and brightness making the cabin very attractive and comforting.
Moving back to Delta Premium Select, the increased 38-in pitch makes the 48 seats comparable to the airline’s current domestic First Class product.
We tested the seat recline and leg rest and were very pleased with the comfort and spaciousness provided by the increased 18.5-in width.
At last, the Main Cabin is fitted with 226 seats, configured in a 3-3-3 layout. Each spot offers 18-in of width and 32-in of leg pitch, adjustable headrests, memory foam cushions, seat-back screens and power outlets. Delta will also provide each Main Cabin customer with earbuds and eye masks.
Each Airbus A350 comes fitted with Delta’s new 2Ku-band internet connectivity. Speeds seemed to be very good during out media demo.
Delta’s Systemwide Product, Service Upgrades
With the A350 days short of launching its inaugural flight to Tokyo-Narita on October 30, Delta will consolidate as the US carrier with the best Long Haul Service hard product.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the crew’s handling will balance the passenger experience as a whole, all-new level of service.
Up until today, Delta has shown a consistent trend of innovation and customer-oriented evolution. The airline has invested in non-flying perks that passengers have come to appreciate, such as radio frequency ID for luggage tracking, and a continuously upgraded mobile app.
The overall perception is that the Atlanta-based carrier has improved their brand by listening to its customers.
Currently, Delta has loaded its schedules loaded with A350 flights between DTW and Tokyo-Narita (NRT), Seoul-Incheon (ICN), and Beijing (PEK), beginning on October 30 with the trip to NRT.
Delta also unveiled that the A350 will fly to its first European destination from Detroit (DTW) to Amsterdam (AMS) starting from March 31, 2018. Likewise, the plane will be deployed on the DTW – Shanghai-Pudong (PVG) route 20 days later, on April 19, 2018.
New Plane, New Uniforms
Even though the A350 will fly its inaugural journey soon, Delta announced that its new Flight Attendant uniforms will take flight on May 29, 2018.
Over 60,000 employees will receive the newly-designed uniforms, crafted by New York fashion designer Zac Posen. According to Delta, “Posen worked with Delta employees to create the exclusive uniform collection which was unveiled one year ago.”
To avoid any mishaps, the airline has carried out a strong wear testing campaign on more than 1,000 Delta people. “This has led to more than 165 changes, including darkening the groundspeed graphite color of the men’s suit, re-examining the women’s blouse design and restructuring the cargo pockets,” said Delta in a statement.
New uniforms will match the airline’s new level of service on its air and ground services. Remains to be seen how the in-flight crew perform on the brand-new DeltaOne and Premium Select cabins.