DALLAS & NEW YORK – Nearly three years ago, in a deal that inadvertently changed the trajectory of the industry, Delta ordered 75 examples of what was then known as the Bombardier CSeries CS-100.

New airliners’ entry into service can be an odyssey of slipping timelines and blown budgets. The CSeries tortuous path into the skies has been well documented – in spite of near unanimous agreement on the virtues of the product.

Delta’s milestone 2016 order surely gave the CSeries program credibility, but no one could have imagined the quagmire of delays and drama the manufacturer and its customer would have had to endure: a tariff trade dispute, a near death experience of the program followed by a transfer of majority ownership from Bombardier and the Quebec government to Airbus, and a rebranding of the product to the A220.

Finally, if that weren’t enough – a delay in FAA certification due to the government shutdown. The inaugural scheduled for Jan 31, 2019, was ultimately pushed just a week later to Thursday, February 7th.

Delta never lost faith in the program and indeed affirmed its confidence in the new plane; topping off its order in early January with an additional 15 A220s with the new fleet mix split between 40 A220-100s and 50 larger A220-300s carrying 109 and 130 passengers respectively.

The first -300 will arrive in 2020, likely from Airbus’ new Mobile, Alabama Final Assembly line, with all currently ordered A220s expected to be delivered by 2023.

After receiving its first A220 back in October and its four currently delivered airframes undergoing extensive route proving and familiarization as they were delivered, it’s appropriate that Delta would waste no time in pressing into service what they consider “the most comfortable narrow body airliner in their fleet that brings wide body comfort to single aisle aircraft.”

On this very early morning at 6AM at New York LaGuardia, the A220 era begins at Delta with flight 744 (ironically numbered) to Boston. While most airlines tend to introduce a completely new clean-sheet new type airliner into service with limited flights and one aircraft,

Delta is going big from the get-go. On the inaugural day, Delta will operate some 16 flights: five round-trips between Boston and New York LaGuardia on the Delta Shuttle and three round-trips between New York LaGuardia and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Delta becomes the first A220 operator in North America and fifth overall, following Swiss, airBaltic, Korean, and Air Tanzania. As a sidebar, Delta has recently been known as a conservative, risk averse operator when it comes to fleet, but that wasn’t always the case.

Delta was the first airline to fly the DC-8 and DC-9 in 1959 and 1965. Years later, in just a short two-year span beginning last year, Delta will have inducted three new aircraft types into its fleet, but also the first in the Americas with the A350, A220, and by mid year the A330neo.

Delta’s A220s are replacing a mix of A319s, A320s, and 717s on today’s initial routes. As the A220 reach critical mass, they will ultimately replace retiring mainline MD-80s and Delta Connection CRJ-700, CRJ-900s, and ERJ-175s which will be deployed to markets replacing inefficient CRJ-200s.

Delta’s A220s are replacing a mix of A319s, A320s, and 717s on today’s initial routes. As the A220 reach critical mass, they will ultimately replace retiring mainline MD-80s and Delta Connect CRJ-700 and CRJ-900s which will be deployed to markets replacing inefficient CRJ-200s.

With a range of over 3,700 miles & coming FAA / EASA ETOPS 180 certification, the A220 can open up many new long and thin markets and city pairs. Something the A220 has already done for airlines such as Air Baltic who flies their A220-300 on the Riga-Abu Dhabi route of 6 ½ hours. Delta has this strategy in mind.

For example, one could envision Delta’s Los Angeles focus city connected to destinations like Hartford, Raleigh, or Jacksonville. The A220 would be an ideal aircraft for burgeoning Delta focus cities such as Boston or the often rumored Austin, Texas. The next two U.S. operators: JetBlue and tentatively titled Moxy forsee using the A220 in this way, too, and perhaps over the Atlantic with ETOPS.

Delta has not announced any new city-pairs or markets yet that will be pioneered by the A220.

Future A220 Hubs

The next Delta A220 markets include concentration around Delta’s hubs, though excluding, for now, its Atlanta hometown fortress hub which will not receive the A220 for the initial schedules.

As additional A220s are delivered and come online, they will quickly ramp up with high frequency on city-pairs: Detroit-Dallas Fort Worth in March, LaGuardia-Houston in April, Salt Lake City-Dallas Fort Worth in May, Minneapolis-Dallas Fort Worth in June, Houston-Detroit & Minneapolis and Houston-Salt Lake City in July, New York JFK-Dallas Fort Worth in August.

To support this growth, the airline will receive a total of 28 A220-100s by the end of 2019 including two more units in February, three in March, and four in April.

There are currently 26 line check pilots trained and 80 line pilots who have not only been training in the sims but in actual aircraft on the 1,200 hours of proving runs the airline has conducted.

As efficient and environmentally friendly as the Pratt & Whitney GTF-1500G powered aircraft is with its reduced full burn, noise footprint, and emissions; the Canadian jet was clearly designed with an upgraded passenger experience in mind. Something that can’t be said about most of its competitors.

Delta has been trumpeting the passenger appeal of the A220 for quite some time now. Passenger expectan has been high from previous operators.

I know this first hand, as I had the fortune of covering the program from its initial rollout as the CSeries in March 2013 to its press debut flights at Farnborough in July 2016, and culminating with reporting from onboard the Swiss CS-100 inaugural round-trip between Zurich and Paris a few days later.

My colleague Enrique Perrella, Airways publisher, has also sampled the larger CS300 (A220-300) variant on airBaltic, and he was equally wowed.

A look at the plane from within

Delta has opted for a less dense configuration of 109 seats, including 12 in First Class, 15 in Delta Comfort+ and 82 in Main Cabin.

The 18.6″-wide main cabin seats are the widest economy seats in Delta’s fleet. Arranged in a two-by-three layout, they have 30-32” pitch in Economy Class and 35” in Delta Comfort+.

My five CS/A200 exposure has been limited to short-haul, thus I have chosen DL 2952 LGA-DFW, the second inaugural of the day, but one with a block time of nearly four hours.

Each economy seat has personal power ports and 10.1” setback IFE’s. A unique selling point of the A220 is the wider middle economy seat option, but only Air Tanzania has taken this option.

The layout means fewer middle seats than other airplanes in its class, something appreciated by MD80, MD90, and 717 passengers.

The A220 is unique in that it exudes a wide-body feel in a narrow body configuration.

The cabin is 129” wide/3.28 m wide and 83” / 2.11 m high. The massive overhead bins, wide cabin for a jet it’s size, high ceilings, and windows some 50% larger than A320’s really enhancing the passenger experience.

Like the 787, these large portals allow extra light into the cabin and virtually every seat is a window seat.

Bucking the trend toward smaller lavatories like Space-Flex on new platforms, Delta has opted for three traditional sized lavs that are not only well appointed, but one in the aft even sports a full-sized window.

The widest in class aisle allows improved inflight service flow but allows passengers to pass the catering trolley in the aisle, to access the lavatory for example.

Delta is thus far the first A220 operator with a true Premium Cabin, versus Euro-Business configurations taken by others.

Delta’s A220 First Class cabin features 12 of the now ubiquitous Collins MiQ seats in a two-by-two layout with 36” pitch and 21” width, and features the largest IFE screens of any Delta domestic First Class seat at 13.3”.

Each Delta A220 first class seat is exactly the same width as than on the airline’s 737-700, and half an inch wider than those on the Boeing 717, CRJ900 & Embraer E-175.

My vantage point in seat 2A truly giving me the opportunity to shake out the ergonomics and comfort of  Delta’s new domestic flagship.

And at first glance, it’s a crowd pleaser. There is storage in the padded armrest for my phone and iPad, along with USB power.

Two water bottle holders are located in the front spine of the seat.

Delta has also taken the opportunity of this new aircraft type to introduce its new wireless, tablet-based embedded IFE system that was partially developed in house with Delta Flight Products with wi-fi tech based on Gogo TouchVision and Hitachi tablets as reported by RunwayGirl Network.

This system will eventually migrate to other aircraft such as the forthcoming Airbus A330neo. 

Again, while virtually all of its domestic competitors have chosen to abandon seatback IFE’s on the majority of their domestic fleet, Delta is adding – not subtracting.

Gogo’s high-speed 2Ku Wi-Fi is also present. Both the IFE and Gogo system from routers to dishes are line fit at Airbus’ FAL. A line-fit Gogo for the OEM is a competitive advantage for the A220.

The Inaugural Flights

Delta wasted no time on Day One, pressing its domestic narrowbody flagship into service.

In what must rank among the earliest inaugurals ever, Delta flight 744, scheduled for a 6 AM departure from LaGuardia to Boston, nevertheless attracted a full load of passengers and a large coterie of press in spite of the unholy 5 AM start time of the ceremony.

Delta is operating three of its A220s on the line today with one on stand-by.

The gate ceremony and ribbon cutting were an abbreviated affair. Chuck Imhof, Delta VP of New York and Sales – East commented “This is truly a special narrow-body aircraft,” he said.

“The remarkable engineering and innovation that went into it, is breathtaking. The A220 will deliver a unique experience for our customers. It will serve as the cornerstone of our domestic growth.”

Acknowledging the enthusiasts in the crowd who had come from far and wide, Imhof said “You all have your own special stories and we welcome you to an exclusive club – The Delta First Flyers Club.”

Boarding began promptly at 5:30am resulting in an on-time pushback to Boston. We opted for the LGA-DFW flight 2952 leg in order to experience the longer 4 hour flight-time.

As we boarded, passengers in the know and the regular customers were immediately impressed with the blue LED bathed cabin.

Delta placed First Flight pins at each seat to commemorate the occasion. I quickly became comfortably ensconced in seat 2A.

Shortly before pushback, our clearly excited Captain, Richard Kaynor, a former A320 pilot, addressed the cabin on the PA describing the significance of this day and the aircraft he called “the best in the fleet.” He pointed out our ship, 102DU was delivered on December 31, 2018, and is “the newest A220 in the fleet”.

Befitting Delta’s image as the “On-Time Machine”, we pushed back only 2 minutes late at 7:47AM from LaGuardia’s Gate C38. By 8:07AM we completed our quick, quiet 30 second take-off role from LGA’s Runway 13. There was no applause. In fact, the flight felt quite routine. This would set the tone for the rest of the flight.

Though a quiet ride, the A220 was surprisingly noisier in the front cabin than the back.

I measured 92 db and 78 db in the rear. This odd phenomena was confirmed by fellow passengers.

Our three flight attendants quickly took to the aisles, providing an excellent service.

Up in First, I enjoyed the ham and cheese panini with a side of fruit. The translucent tray and plating presentation added up to a lovely dining experience.

Our excellent flight leader, Frankie Cummings, remarked that though they had trained on the A220, this was their first time actually working it and they were “getting used to it.”

Opening day jitters aside, the crew embraced the new A220. Cummings said “I’m most impressed by the over-sized overhead bins and aisle widths. The layout in terms of cabin mix is exceptional. The lavatories are big. The screens are big and high quality. This makes for happy passengers and crews.”

The cabin crew and passengers alike appreciated the wide 21” aisle that allowed passengers to pass while the catering trolley was in the aisle, instead of blocking it which is often the case.

The wide aisle, coupled with the enormous overhead bins, seemed to improve the boarding process as well.

The Delta Flight Products wireless seatback IFE performed as responsively as any other Delta embed system.

There was no latency, and the content library was vast.

You can’t discern that it’s wireless. I counted over 300 movies, in addition to a copious selection of TV shows, music, and the requisite state of the air moving map AirShow.

All this on a short and medium-haul aircraft! Indeed, while other airlines in terms of entertainment, Delta giveth while other airlines taketh away.

The much ballyhooed Gogo2KU performance wasn’t stellar – cutting out multiple times. Our tests revealed 28 mbps download and 1 mbps upload – when it worked.

The Collins MiQ seat, rapidly becoming a mainstay of U.S. operators, are a bit firm.

Even when 6’2” Jason Rabinowitz, an influencer and director of data at RouteHappy sitting in front of me reclined his seat into my space (just for science), I still had plenty of room. Jason felt his bulkhead seat was a bit lacking on legroom saying “Bulkheads are bulkheads.”

With the absence of any sort of IFE box, they provide room for a backpack under each seat, something not all airline’s MIQ’s provide. You hear that American Oasis?

A common gripe of them is with the tray located in the outer armrests, it has to be folded to exit the seat. On the plus side, the center armrests provide extra storage space.

Unlike American and United and the bulkhead seats, USB and AC are located conveniently in front of the passenger on the seatback IFE and center arm-rest respectively, thus no hunting around!C

Overall, Rabinowitz sums up the A220 platform as “consistent like any Delta narrowbody aircraft. It may be smaller, but no one on board will notice that it’s smaller. And that’s a good thing.”

After a on time arrival, I am left with the feeling that the A220s first day of service for Delta was basically a non-event.

Delta’s hard and soft product is already consistently very good to excellent regardless of aircraft type and route. The new A220 simply refines it to the next level.