It’s long been said that American carriers simply can’t compete with their foreign counterparts when it comes to an international premium product (or a domestic premium product. Or a coach product. But those are posts for another day.). And, at the very highest end, they can’t. Their shareholders demand returns on investments, and small palaces in the sky just don’t deliver the value. But after years of record profits, the US airlines are spending some money and slowly started to work their way back into the game. They’ve got a long way to go but, based on my experience on Delta’s A-350, which offers the new Delta One suite, they’re off to a good start.
Starting The Journey Right
If you fly on Delta’s international business class, called Delta One (D1), you’ll have same-day access to their SkyClubs. I was flying to Tokyo out of Detroit, which doesn’t have a dedicated international lounge, but it was certainly a nice place to wait for a few hours.
To me, the hard product (that which you can see, touch, eat, etc.) is the most important part of the flight. On this plane, the D1 premium cabin has 32 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, meaning that there is a single seat by each of the windows and two in the middle. If you want a seat with an air vent, be sure to choose one of the singles by the windows; the ones in the middle don’t have them.
“Seat,” of course, isn’t the right word for your space. Delta refers to them as suites, although I think that “pod” may be the best term.
Seats stretch out into beds, with the legs tucking into the under-seat storage area in front of you. Because of the slanted floor by your feet, it’s tough to keep a bag there without it sliding down, which is inconvenient at take-off and landing, when you’ll be forced to store it overhead. The seats are comfortable, though, and at 22-24″ wide, give you plenty of room when you like down. The length ranges from 6.5-7 feet, so all but the tallest people should be able to lie down on the seat completely. Want some extra privacy? The door to the entrance slides closed. It’s set high enough that you get at least some privacy. There’s plenty of room to stretch out, though, and how often do you get to stand up at your airline seat?
The airline provides you with a small assortment of goodies, although nothing like what the international carriers offer. You’ll get a nice, hard-sided Tumi kit and a pair of socks, although no sets of pajamas like you’ll find on many other carriers.
There is a small cabinet behind your shoulder which gives you a place to store items like a bottle of water or headphones.
One thing about D1 is that you won’t go hungry. Of course, it also depends on what you like to eat, as they aren’t exactly heavy on fresh foods.
I ended up choosing the lamb from the western meal. As is always the case, the appetizers are the best part, with a particularly interesting grilled apricot dish, followed by a decent-sized salad. Even the soup wasn’t bad, and fortunately, the flight wasn’t too bumpy.
I’ll give the airline credit: It’s hard to cook a good entree on an airplane, but they at least made an effort to make the lamb interesting. It was very heavy on the crust and a bit overcooked, but definitely better than the Chicken Caprese that I had on my return flight.
I was in the third row but, by the time they had made it to my seat to take my request, they were out of salmon. I would have been annoyed if that had been my choice and they were out of it in such an expensive seat. The flight attendant told me that they run out of it on every flight and that I should write to Delta at their website.
For breakfast, or whatever meal it was that they served before landing, I had the chicken and egg dish. It was actually pretty good, although it did feel somewhat wrong to have eggs and chicken in the same bowl (Cue Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion.”). If you got hungry in the middle of the flight, you could get up at any time and help yourself to the snack bowl, which was mostly salty foods and chocolate. I guess they go with what travels well, and hey, at least the chocolate was Ghirardelli.
In-flight entertainment (IFE) on the airplane was one of the strong points. The seat had rechargers and USB plugs in easy to reach areas, and the headphones plugged in on the side, rather than attached to the seat-back screen in front of you. I did not try out the internet, so I can’t vouch for its quality.
The entertainment itself included music, a bunch of shows and over 100 movies to choose from. Added bonus: Since it was a new plane, the remote control and touch screen actually worked. But here’s my question: How can I have a choice of 100-200 movies and still have nothing to watch? I guess I’m just going to blame that one on the movie producers.
I had heard mixed reviews of the service on the A350, but I found it to be very good. It was laid back and more of a “call us if you need us” type of product, rather than being overly proactive. That’s fine with me, as I prefer to be left alone on a trip.
Service at the airport was also strong. There were no lines at check-in and the lounges at Boston (my originating city) and Detroit were very good. I’ve long considered both of Boston’s SkyClubs to have the best service in the system.
Despite being tagged as priority, my bag wasn’t among the first to show up at the carousel. Rather, it was in the middle.
Overall, Delta One was one of the best US international products that I have experienced. There was plenty of room to spread out, the food was generous and the entertainment options were good. While some of the international carriers do offer an even more upscale product, nobody is going to feel uncomfortable on the new A-350.
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