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Delta has a confusing mix of different Business class seats, in part due to its mix of different plane types and in part due to absorbing Northwest Airlines.

But with an ambitious upgrade/enhancement program, it seems that all planes will soon be equipped with excellent and comfortable business class cabins and seating.

 
 
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Delta Air Lines Business Elite Class review

Part 1 : The 767-400 and general Business Elite service experience
 

Delta's nearly new 767 business class seats are staggered so that each seat is aligned with the console space alongside the seat in front, giving more leg room and better space utilization.

They are comfortable and functional.

Part 1 of 2 parts on Delta's Business Elite class.  Please also visit :

1.  767-400 and general service
2. 
Other planes, meals and more

 

 

Delta Air Lines, now merged with Northwest Airlines, has become the world's largest airline.  Biggest isn't necessarily best, but with its Business Elite class cabin and service, Delta definitely offers one of the very best business class experiences of any airline, closely approaching the first class offered by three and four class airlines.

Many people have decried US carriers as providing inferior service, compared to foreign carriers, on international routes.  Based on the consistent high quality experience I enjoyed on my two recent flights, that is not the case with Delta.  I unhesitatingly recommend Delta for your next business class international flying.

This review is based on two business class flights with Delta in February 2010, flying from Detroit to London (Heathrow) and back from London (Heathrow) to Atlanta, both times on 767-400 planes.

Before Flight Experiences

Checking in for the flights was easy, with priority access checkin lanes and no need to use self checkin terminals.  There were no lines to wait for a checkin agent, and the prescreening security officer at Heathrow was polite and deferential.  Going through airport security was also expedited with priority lanes.

In these days of paying to check luggage, it was a positive experience to see that Delta allows international Business Elite passengers to check three suitcases, each weighing up to 70lbs.  Suitcases are tagged with priority tags, but, as is so often the case, the priority tags only sometimes result in one's bags actually appearing on the carousel any sooner than regular bags.

Because my international flights were in the middle of a four leg journey, with flights to/from Seattle to the international gateway cities before/after the international flights, I got to visit four of Delta's lounges - in Seattle, Detroit, London Heathrow (Terminal 4) and Atlanta (Terminal T).  These were formerly known as Crown Rooms, and have been renamed after DL's merger with NW to SkyClub lounges.

All four lounges were comfortable and relaxing.  The Seattle and Detroit lounges had the best facilities for working on a laptop with plenty of workstation spaces, with the other two lounges having considerably less workstation space.  All the lounges offer free Wi-Fi service, without the need for any secret password or anything, so if, ahem, you're close to the lounge outside and pick up their signal, well......

The Heathrow lounge also had a generous amount of hot and cold food and drink on offer.

Boarding for all flights - domestic and international - had separate lanes for Business Elite passengers, allowing boarding to take place quickly and easily.

Welcome Onboard

These days many cabin crew seem to start off with a wary caution when it comes to greeting passengers, half expecting to end up in a confrontational situation with them, and the Delta cabin crew on all my four flights were no exception to this.

Happily, however, once they've identified you as a pleasant positive person who is willing to play the game by their rules, their attitudes usually change and they become more pleasant and positive in turn.  The cabin crew on the DTW-LHR flight in particular were tremendously pleasant, and I noticed subtle little things like the jewelry and accessories the women wore that showed their own pride in their work and desire to present themselves in the same high standard as the Delta Business Elite cabin and service.

Coats were quickly whisked away and drinks quickly proffered.  There was no wait for headphones or amenities kits, and one quickly felt settled and comfortable.

As an aside, Delta's amenity kits are vastly better than other recent amenity kits I've received.  The pouch/bag itself has a fold over flap with magnetic fasteners.  Opening the flap reveals a zip top, and when one unzips that, there are lots of goodies inside, including another, removable, smaller clear mesh zippable bag.

Inside this inner bag is a toothbrush and toothpaste, a breath mint, a tube of moisturizing face cream apparently made from real yoghurt and a stick of shea butter lip balm.

Also in the main pouch is a pair of socks with rubberized buttons on the bottom so you can walk around the cabin in them, an eye mask (which I found a bit small/tight/confining/claustrophobic), a small pack of tissues, a pair of ear plugs, and - nice touch - a souvenir triangular Delta pen.

A range of newspapers were offered at the start of the flight.

We were given two hot towels to freshen up with - one near the beginning of the journey and one near the end.

The magic double chime

One of my pet peeves with most airlines is the arbitrary way in which the cabin crew require you to turn off your electronic items on the descent phase of a flight.  Sometimes you're told you've got to get your seat back upright, etc, and all electronic items switched off when the plane first begins its descent from 35,000+ ft, or at some other random seeming point, often ridiculously sooner than necessary - as much as 30 minutes prior to landing.  If you're using noise cancelling headphones, listening/watching to an iPod, reading an eBook, or simply lying back in your reclined seat, this is an inconvenience for no good reason.

Delta have quality controlled this process in a manner that is fair and understandable/acceptable for all concerned.  When the plane climbs through 10,000 ft on its initial ascent, the pilot sounds a double chime throughout the cabin, which signifies you can turn on your electronics.  When the plane descends through 10,000 ft on the final part of the journey, another double chime announces that transition and that is the cue to turn all electronics off and do the seat upright stuff.

The cabin crew make announcements to explain this process and also when the double chimes sound to remind us of their significance.

This is an understood and acceptable formula that is much better than the capricious nature of the impositions semi-randomly foisted on us as passengers by other airlines.

PA system

You've got to wonder about the competence of a pilot when he is unable to make himself heard while making an announcement over the PA system.  There he is, entrusted with a plane worth tens of millions of dollars, and with hundreds of passengers on board, but, notwithstanding the state of the art equipment that surrounds him and his years of training, he can't make himself heard over the PA.

Shame on the pilots, shame on the airlines, and shame also on the cabin crews for not telling him he is inaudible and requiring him to repeat his announcement properly (as has occasionally/rarely happened).

Both the international flights featured inaudible announcements by the pilots - they couldn't even be heard if I stood up and positioned myself immediately under a speaker in the ceiling.

Ridiculous seat belt fastening

As is consistently the case with other American carriers, and as is equally consistently never the case with foreign carriers, the pilots will turn on the fasten seat belt sign at the slightest hint of any turbulence at all, and then, as often as not, forget about it and leave the sign illuminated for 30 minutes or more after we've passed through the couple of seconds of minor turbulence.

This happened on the Delta flights, the same as with other US carriers.  What timid fools they all are, sacrificing our freedom and comfort without care or concern.

Delta's 767-400 Business Elite Cabin

Delta upgraded some of its 767-400 planes in 2009 so as to ensure that all flights between the US and Heathrow offered their latest/greatest seating configuration with so-called 'lie-flat' sleeper bed seats.  (Note that in January 2010 Delta announced a $1+ billion dollar program to outfit most of the rest of its fleet with new improved business class cabins too - see part two of this article).

The cabin has ten rows of seats, arranged 1 - 2 - 1 with two aisles, meaning that all seats are aisle seats and you are never blocked from getting up.  Half the seats are simultaneously aisle and window seats, which are great if you're traveling by yourself, and if you're traveling with someone else, you can take the center double seat block and still both have an aisle.

This is a great layout, much better than some other airlines such as BA which traps half its business class fliers with inner seats that are blocked by the outer/aisle seats making getting in and out during a flight a non-trivial task.

The 40 seats (passengers) have two bathrooms at the rear of the cabin - a 1:20 ratio which is adequate but not brilliant.  Galley space is at the front, and the crew don't seem to pull any privacy/shade curtains to block out the light from the galley at night, which makes seat 1A (where I was) not quite so desirable as a night seat for sleeping.

There are exits both at the front and rear of this cabin; typically passengers get on and off the plane via the exit at the rear of the cabin, but upon arrival in Heathrow the jetway first moved to the rear exit, but then, after reaching there, changed its mind and moved instead to open the forward exit.  Yay - that meant I was first off the plane - a small victory but appreciated nonetheless.

The headphones provided are full around the ear type, and offer some rudimentary noise cancelling capabilities.  Note that Delta uses the older style double prong type headphone jack, so if you are traveling with your own headphones, be sure to bring a double prong converter.

Overhead space for carry-ons was only just sufficient when the cabin was full, this being more a reflection on Delta turning a blind eye to their carry-on policies and allowing business class passengers to bring way more on board with them than in theory they should.

Individually adjustable air vents were present for all seats, and the cabin temperature was consistently comfortable, never too hot as can often be the case with some airlines.  Noise levels from engines and airflow was typical, neither particularly more nor less than with other planes.

Delta's Business Elite Sleeper Seat

These new seats (installed during 2009) are cleverly designed to make best use of the cabin space - in particular, the width of the cabin.

Here's a view of the rear of the seats (see the top of this page for a view of the front).  Although not brilliantly clear, hopefully you can see how the seats alternate between seat and console space between seats, so that each seat has leg room underneath the console space belonging to the offset seat in front.

You can also see the widescreen individual video monitors, and the shoe storage areas.  The shoe storage areas were actually a bit on the small side - with regular shoes it was a tight squeeze fitting them into the little cubby hole.  Shoes with boots or heels on them might be more difficult to fit in this area.

There were two mesh pockets to store other items - one was already mainly full with inflight magazines, menus, duty free catalogs, and the like, and neither of them were particularly spacious.

All seats have 110V mains power, with an international 'one size fits all' socket into which you can plug just about any type of power plug.  They also have ethernet connectors, but no data service of any type was offered.  I was told this was due to it being an international flight, but wondered why the data service wasn't at least available for the several hours the plane spent flying over the US.

A USB connector was also available, presumably to allow you to browse images (or video?) on any USB memory sticks you might have with you, and also to provide a USB power source to charge any other gadgets that can be charged that way.

The seats have two lights.  One is a variable brightness LED light on a swivel stalk behind one's shoulder, and the other is a traditional overhead light.

Interestingly, the seat belts were fitted with air bags.  You can recognize the airbag if the seat belt has a padded pouch sort of thing on one of its straps.  It is good of Delta to add that extra level of passenger safety to its seats, for the 'just in case' scenarios we all try not to think about.

The seats are described as 'lie flat' but it is important to understand that this does not mean the same as 'lie horizontal'.  They will stretch out to create a flat slab for sleeping purposes, but they are on an angle sloping down, such that there was always a bit of pressure on the bottom of my feet against the end of the seat/bed to stop me slipping any further down.

Happily, if forced to choose, I prefer to have my head higher than my feet rather than vice versa.  A fully horizontal (with respect to the floor) seat ends up with one's feet higher than one's head, due to the plane flying through the air in a slightly pitched up angle.  So a slight angle is fine, although these seats were about as strongly angled as one would wish them to be.

The seats were quite narrow - but wider than many other business class sleeper seats.  Lying down on the seat in the recline position, it was a squeeze to be on my back with my arms at my sides.  Seatguru claims the seats are 21.5" wide.

While they seemed a bit narrow, they were perfectly long enough (I'm 6').  Seatguru says they are 6'6" long, other sources say 6'5".  Remember that you need a longer bed than you are tall, however, because the pillow probably takes up some of the top of the bed, and if your feet are relaxed, they extend your length compared to when you're standing and they are at right angles to your legs.

The 21.5" of width and 6'5" - 6'6" of length compares most favorably to BA, with only 20" of width and a definitely insufficient 6'1" of length in their business class seats.

Talking about pillows, the medium sized pillow was comfortable, and the quilt-stitched blanket was perfect.  It could have benefitted from a couple more inches in length to truly go from covering one's feet all the way up to fitting snuggly around one's shoulders, but it was the ideal combination of weight and warmth (at least for me) and felt nice and clean.

One thing I didn't much like was that if one just wished to recline the seat but not go all the way to a flat state, the middle part (which one sits on) started to angle too so that one would slide off the seat.  Some seats will actually tilt the middle part of a seat back in the opposite direction when the seat is reclining, or at least keep it horizontal, but these seats caused the middle part to also recline.

This meant one could have a comfortable small amount of recline, or one could wind the seat all the way back, but a nice middling amount of recline so you could sit back comfortably and maybe read a book, watch a movie or listen to music was not possible.

The footrest part of the seat tapered to a moderately narrow point at its far end.  This was not a good thing, because it was not easy for both my feet to be stretched out on the footrest - one or both of them tended to slide off the narrow end.

Part 1 of 2 parts on Delta's Business Elite class.  Please also visit :

1.  767-400 and general service
2. 
Other planes, meals and more

FTC Mandatory Disclosure : I was not given a free or in any way discounted/upgraded ticket by Delta (I used frequent flier miles from my Alaska Airlines account for this ticket). I have not been paid money to write this article.

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 12 Feb 2010, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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