Flight Review: Delta (A350) Premium Select From Detroit to Tokyo
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The entry of Delta's A350 into commercial service marks a new era for the airline. On one hand, it means that Delta is retiring its fleet of Boeing 747s, which for any AvGeek is sad news. However, the A350 is a huge step forward in terms of technology and onboard product: it's the most advanced jet flying, and features all of the latest technology available, which should provide better comfort for passengers. Plus, Delta has added a true premium economy product to this aircraft, its first, which is a very welcome addition for many. Here's what it was like to fly the airline's new class of service on its brand-new jet.
I booked this ticket in cash — paid rates for my one-way ticket weren't outrageous like those that you'd find if you were booking a ticket in Delta One. In total, my ticket cost $1,166. I paid with The Platinum Card from American Express, meaning I earned a total of 5,830 Membership Rewards points thanks to the 5x bonus category on airfare.
If you want to use SkyMiles to book seats in the Premium Select cabin, get ready to pay for it — seats typically run for at least 65,000 miles plus $5.60 one-way. Note, however, that if you book a Premium Select ticket on your long-haul flight, you’ll be booked into first class on your connecting flight, which is a nice perk that sets it apart from American’s premium economy product.
After my flight, I earned a total of 8,720 redeemable SkyMiles, 10,346 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and $1,090 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs.) In fact, this flight put me over the threshold of MQMs required to reach Platinum status with Delta through January of 2019.
Check-In and Lounge
I had originally booked myself on a Monday-morning flight from New York (LGA) to Detroit (DTW) but bad weather in the NYC area ended up resulting in a cancellation of that flight. So, I was lucky enough to snag a seat on the last flight of the evening from Newark (EWR) to DTW on Sunday night.
I spent Sunday night at the Westin Detroit Metro Airport, which ended up being a fantastic decision. The hotel is connected directly to the terminal and has its own TSA checkpoint which allows you to breeze through security and get right into the terminal. Once I was in the terminal, I headed straight to gate A40 to check out the party Delta was having in honor of the inaugural flight.
After hanging out there for several minutes and having more than one glass of Champagne, I headed for the SkyClub, which is located pretty much right next to the gate we would be departing from.
This lounge is a mixed bag to me — it's large, which is great. But since it's one of only three locations in the enormous A concourse at DTW, it can get crowded. Plus, the decor is outdated and isn't consistent with the airline's new or renovated lounges at other hubs like Atlanta (ATL) or Seattle (SEA).
Delta's seemingly very keen on promoting its relationship with CLEAR, so there's a kiosk within the lounge at which you can sign up. If you're not yet a CLEAR member, you should definitely consider joining, as it's a huge time-saver at the airports that support it.
The food in the lounge was great — there was a build-your-own bowl station with fresh and unique ingredients such as shrimp ceviche along with the usual suspects like soup, cheese cubes, vegetables with hummus and more.
This lounge also features a self-serve bar, which is awesome. I didn't have a chance to fix myself a beverage since I wanted to get back to the party at the gate, but if you're traveling from or through DTW, make sure you take advantage of that.
Cabin and Seat
Delta's A350 features three separate cabins — Delta One, with the brand-new suites, Premium Select (premium economy) and economy. Up front, there are 32 suites arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.
The economy cabin has a total of 226 seats arranged in a 3-3-3 pattern — which is fairly standard for an A350. Each one of these seats is 18 inches wide and most offer 31 inches of pitch.
These seats have the largest economy IFE screens in Delta's fleet. Power is also available at every seat.
The Premium Select cabin lies directly behind Delta One and has a total of 48 seats arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration.
Each seat is relatively narrow at 18.5 inches wide. For comparison's sake, Virgin Atlantic's premium economy seats are each a whopping 21 inches wide.
Pitch, however, is the same as Delta's joint venture partner, at 38 inches. The seats themselves are attractive and feature quilted leather along with contrasting black accents — a theme carried on from the Delta One cabin.
Each seat in the Premium Select cabin also featured a retractable footrest, which, in my opinion, adds greatly to the overall comfort of the seat.
Upon boarding, I found at my seat a decently padded pillow, a Westin Heavenly-branded blanket, a pair of smart-looking slippers, a set of LSTN noise-cancelling headphones, a Tumi amenity kit and a special "First Flyers Club" gift box.
The gift box was likely only intended for the first A350 flight, and it contained several items including an Alessi tea infuser, some chocolates, Westin-branded "sleep balm," a commemorative pen, notebook, chocolates, and a neat pin to remember this history-making flight.
Each seat also had a remote to control the IFE, but I left it in its place the entire flight since the touchscreen was so responsive. Also, there are three seat control buttons — one to deploy the footrest, one to recline the seat, and another one to put the footrest back into position. The seatback in front of me also had an area that was useful for storing my phone, passport and customs/immigration cards. Next to that was a hook meant for a jacket, but I used it to hold the bag that the LSTN headphones came in.
It's worth noting that I felt overwhelmed with the amount of stuff that was waiting for me at my seat, especially since the seats don't have all that much storage. I'm used to shoving several items in the seatback pocket but since this plane is brand-new the pocket hasn't stretched out yet.
Despite the lack of storage, I still very much enjoyed my seat. The wider armrest may seem like a small detail, but make a world of difference — both my neighbor and I could have arms on the armrests without causing a disturbance for the other. This is an important factor in comparison to regular economy on other aircraft.
Food and Beverage
Premium Select passengers are offered a choice of Champagne, orange juice or water, just like Delta One passengers.
During the flight, there was a primary meal served shortly after takeoff. Since we departed just before 2pm ET, it wasn’t really a lunch, but it also wasn’t a dinner. After the main meal, there was a hot snack and ice cream, and then before landing there was another meal service.
Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants came through the cabin to distribute menus for Premium Select passengers as well as serve the first round of drinks. I chose a gin and tonic that was served in a proper glass, which helped differentiate the experience a bit from regular economy.
For my main course, I chose the Japanese entree, which consisted of salmon with rice in a sake sauce with steamed rice. In addition to the salmon, I had a beef appetizer as well as a bowl of soba noodles and vegetables. It was served all at once, which doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I found the food to be very tasty, though I overheard flight attendants explaining to other passengers that they’d run out of the Western chicken dish, which seemed to be the most popular.
The meal was served on Delta's new Alessi serviceware which felt fresh and modern, and suited the brand-new aircraft well.
With about five hours left in the flight, we were served a snack consisting of a mushroom and thyme flatbread pizza as well as a caramel and chocolate ice cream bar. Both items were tasty but the snack as a whole was on the small side. As a matter of fact, it was actually the exact same snack I’d gotten in regular economy when I flew the same route on the 747 just a few weeks ago. I guess I thought that the snack in Premium Select would be larger.
About 1.5 hours before landing, we were served a breakfast. There were two choices — scrambled eggs with chicken sausage and vegetables served with fruit and a croissant or Japanese-style yakisoba noodles with chicken. I chose the eggs, which were a bit dry, but the rest of the meal was tasty.
In-Flight Entertainment and Amenities
Delta installed large IFE screens in its Premium Select cabins — they measure in at 13.3 inches. At a time where other airlines are doing away with a built-in IFE screen, it’s nice to see Delta continue to not only offer one, but make meaningful improvements to it.
The system itself was very responsive to touch input and swiping motions. The graphics were crisp, which made for a more pleasant move (and flight map) watching experience.
There were plenty of movies loaded on the system to keep most occupied on this almost-13-hour flight, but since I flew several long-haul flights on Delta all within the month of October, I’d already watched most of the movies that interested me. And yes, I know these are some serious First World problems, ladies and gents.
On long-haul flights like these, there’s nothing worse than taking off your shoes when you’re relaxing or sleeping and then having to put them back on to use the restroom or to stretch your legs in the aisle, which is why I really appreciated having a set of slippers to put on when I wanted to move about the cabin.
The pillow was certainly better than what you’d find in economy, but not anywhere close to what you’d be getting in business or first class. The Westin Heavenly blanket wasn’t very thick or all that plush, but it did the trick.
I had some issues with the new LSTN headphones, however. For about half the time I used them, they issued a weird and highly-annoying whining sound that made it difficult to hear the movies I was watching. Other passengers around me and TPG himself, who was in Delta One, noticed the same thing, so until the airline fixes that situation it's recommended that you bring your own headphones if you're flying in Premium Select or higher.
While it’s definitely not the awesome-looking new amenity kits up in Delta One, the Tumi-branded kit in Premium Select is adequate. It contained socks, ear plugs, an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste and Malin+Goetz body lotion. I rarely use all the contents in an amenity kit, but I always and find a use for the cases they come in!
Delta’s A350s are equipped with the latest in-air Wi-Fi technology, known as 2ku. When the Wi-Fi was working, it was great. However, it cut out repeatedly and then just stopped working completely about halfway through the flight. This could have been an anomaly, however, since Delta made the Wi-Fi free for everyone on this flight and the bandwidth may have just been overwhelmed.
The service I experienced in-flight was excellent. I could tell that all the flight attendants were just as excited as the passengers to be on board, and they were proud to show off the new aircraft. It's unfortunate that the aisles on this aircraft are so narrow, though — I could tell that it definitely hampered the flow of service for the FAs. Surely, the airline put its best people on this specific flight, but if the service on this route continues as it was on the inaugural, it will be yet another factor that differentiates Delta from its domestic competitors.
Being a part of Delta’s A350 inaugural flight, especially in a brand-new class of service was a treat. While the A350 is smaller and less majestic than the Queen of the Skies it’s replacing, it’s a thoroughly modern plane that will suit Delta well for the future. The Premium Select product is great — though the seats aren’t as wide as some that you’d find on other carriers, it’s considerably more comfortable than regular economy and the more personalized service along with upgraded food options truly make it feel like a different experience.