On October 31, 2017, Delta began flying its vaunted Delta One Suite. (Delta One is Delta’s term for business class that seems to be intended to fool customers into equating it with first class.) Delta’s brand new A350-900 was the launch platform for this seat. After dumping the last of the 747-400s Delta acquired in the merger with Northwest, this seat and the A350 are now Delta’s flagship aircraft and hard product. I’ve flown them on several trips to/from Asia. I reviewed this product Here the first week it was in service.
The Fare Was A Great Deal
Earlier this year, I purchased round-trip tickets in Premium Select, Delta’s term for premium economy, for my self and my son from Raleigh – Durham, NC to Beijing for $636 each and requested upgrades on the outbound flights with two Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs). (Note: GUCs can also upgrade an economy ticket to business class. I could have purchased one way to PEK in economy and applied the GUC, but in this case there was not much difference in price between economy and premium economy and getting upgraded to Delta One from Premium Select was almost guaranteed.)
Delta’s A350-900 has 48 premium economy seats. Premium economy cabins on other airlines often have less than 25. To fill this large cabin, the laws of supply and demand suggest that Delta might need to charge lower prices. Supply and demand may or may not have been the reason, but earlier this year Delta was offering incredibly cheap premium economy fares to Asia from several U. S. cities. I jumped on it.
Raleigh – Durham (RDU) to Detroit (DTW)
Our trip began with a two-hour drive from Charlotte to RDU. I don’t mind driving for an hour or two from my home airport, CLT, to take advantage of great fares. After a brief stay in the recently expanded RDU Delta SkyClub, we boarded the flight to DTW.
The 717 was developed as the MD-95. After McDonnell-Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997, the model was designated as the 717. In 2013, Delta acquired 88 717s from AirTran when it merged with Southwest. Delta prefers buying used airframes as a business strategy. Delta probably got a good deal when Southwest unloaded the 717s that didn’t fit in with its all 737 fleet.
Thompson Vantage XL Business-Class Seat
The A350-900 is an exception to Delta’s buy-old-buy-cheap strategy. All of these planes were new when purchased. Delta outfits them with a modified Thompson Vantage XL business seat.
Delta took this modern but fairly standard business-class seat, basically just slapped a door on it, and voila it becomes a suite. No argument, this seat is the best business-class seat in Delta’s fleet. However, the term “suite” implies something larger than standard. The Delta One suite fails that test.
Delta One Suite And Cabin
Walking onto the plane it is immediately apparent that this is not your ordinary Delta business class. And it is not just the seat.
The absence of overhead bins gives the 32-seat business cabin a roomy look. Not to worry, the bins on each side are large enough to accommodate all carry ons.
Alex and I had window seats on the starboard side. For solo travelers, window seats are a no-brainer because the 1-2-1 configuration means all seats have direct aisle access. Even with a travelling companion, I still think window seats for both is the best way to go unless holding hands is important.
A350 windows lack the amazing electronically dimming capability of 787 windows, but their larger than normal size affords great views for those with an interest in checking out the action on the ground or in the air.
I didn’t measure, but it looked like the two seats at the front and back of the cabin have greater pitch. Seats in the center section that gave the seat by the aisle appear to have a little less width than others.
The window seats in the even rows have the console by the window and the seat is next to the aisle. In the odd numbered rows, this arrangement is reversed. Having the console by the aisle is preferable. That provides separation from aisle traffic and positions the seat next to the window for good views.
Seat Features And Controls
A handy pamphlet describes the many seat features and controls.
Each window seat has individually controlled overhead ventilation outlets. If seats in the center section have vents, they would be hard to reach on the ceiling.
On long-haul flights like this one, Delta is generous with amenities.
Delta also provides LSTN noise-cancelling headsets and bottled water. The headsets are the same as the headsets in Premium Select. They have poor fidelity and noise-cancellation. FAs don’t collect them before or after landing. That’s good because some airlines collect business-class headsets while still in cruise. On the other hand, not collecting the headsets indicates that they are inexpensive.
The amenities are great, but there is no place to put them. I managed to stuff the duvet into the shoe storage compartment under the console. Then my shoes were in the way on the floor. Not all seats in Delta One have a shoe storage compartment.
Delta equips its A350s with Gogo WiFi. On this flight the WiFi was not working.
The captain came by to welcome passengers and to tell us the expected travel time to PEK was 12 hours and 21 minutes. The service manager also stopped by for introductions. The FAs followed with a tray of beverages. I had champagne.
Light snow was falling as we pushed back and taxied to the departure runway. The captain stopped at a pad near the runway to have the plane sprayed with anti-icing/de-icing fluid. Ice accumulation on the wings and control surfaces disrupts air flow which severely decreases lift and increases drag. Airplanes also have equipment on board to prevent or deal with ice build up in flight. Icing has caused numerous airplane crashes including commercial airliners.
Anti-icing/de-icing fluids are usually effective for 20 to 30 minutes max. I’ve been on flights that required multiple anti-icing/de-icing treatments while awaiting takeoff. In this case, once de-icing was complete, we were No. 1 for takeoff.
The flight projected great-circle route to PEK was 6,585 miles.
Specs for the A350 are displayed on the video system.
Menus change every three months. These menus were for Spring 2018.
While Delta has yet to get its act together on pre-ordering Delta One western meals, passengers can pre-order Chinese meals. In fact, that is strongly suggested to ensure the desired meal is available.
Liquor and other beverages:
First Meal Service
Service began 40 minutes after takeoff with nuts and a choice of beverage. I had The Macallan.
The appetizer, soup and salad followed served at the same time.
I’m glad that Delta got rid of the faux wood trays that it used for serving. Now courses are served on clear plastic trays or directly on the tablecloth.
I selected the pistachio crusted Australian rack of lamb rack entree.
The salmon entree with asparagus and potato salad looked particularly delicious. According to Alex, it was.
Delta deserts are always good.
I tried the Chateau du Cros Loupiac with dessert instead of a port. It was a good change of pace and went well with the butterscotch.
After the meal I changed into pajamas. The lavatories in business class are small. At least they were clean on this flight. Normally, I’ll try to find a bathroom with disability access. They are larger and it is easier to change clothes.
The internet was not working so I spent the flight sleeping, eating, watching movies and just chilling.
The large video screen with a sharp and bright picture is the best thing about the D1 suite.
About halfway through the flight, FAs offered the mid-flight meal.
The FAs did not wake Alex for the meal as requested. When he woke up he sampled some of the snacks in the galley.
The arrival meal was served a good hour and 40 minutes before landing. Although served a bit too early in my view, at least the options were appropriate for the time of arrival and not just standard breakfast fare.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. We parked at the terminal at PEK at 14:57 local time.
My take on the Delta One Suite
Based on this flight and three others, these are my thoughts.
Delta touts increased privacy as the primary benefit of putting a door on a business-class seat. In fact, the suite does add to one’s feeling of privacy. The door benefits suites that have the seat positioned smack against the aisle the most. Strangely, the increased privacy comes primarily from the wall that the door retracts into more so than the door itself. The wall is located next to your head. Privacy is enhanced when others cannot see your face and you can’t see theirs. The door, being by the lower body in seat or sleep mode, is more of a traffic separator than a privacy enhancer, if that makes sense.
While the suite enhances privacy, it is a step backward in terms of comfort. There just isn’t a lot of room. The seats face straight ahead. In business class, that means your feet and lower legs must be inserted into a cubbyhole under the console of the seat in front.
With the seat wedged between a wall and the console, these seats feel tight. Plus the lack of storage makes things even more crowded. Even though it has less privacy, I would choose an older seat like one on a remodeled Singapore Airlines 777-200 this over the D1 suite because the SQ seat is so much more comfortable.
The D1 suite and A350 are new products. New technology, including the video monitor, lower cabin pressure altitude, slightly larger windows, and large overhead bins, contribute to an improved experience more than the door does.
The D1 suite is the best seat in Delta’s fleet. The increased privacy and benefits of new technology, however, do not offset the failure of the suite to provide the level of comfort that should be expected in business class.