I Toured Delta's Brand New Airbus A220 — Here's What to Expect
If you're just now learning of the A220-100, here's the skinny: it was designed to fly routes presently run by Delta Connection carriers — routes like Boston (BOS) to New York (LGA), Dallas (DFW) to New York (LGA) and Houston (IAH) to Detroit (DTW). The A220-100 is a workhorse, replacing other aging workhorses like the CRJ700/CRJ900 and Embraer E-175. In other words, it'll be on plenty of routes, as Delta already has a firm order for 75 units in place.
Delta took the standard Airbus plans for the interior and largely tossed them aside. Instead of the 135 possible seats, there are 109 in a more spacious 2-3 configuration. And rather than perpetuating the race to the bottom when it comes to economy seat pitch and width, Delta installed the widest Main Cabin seats in its entire fleet. Instead of forcing you to bring your own entertainment, there are 10.1-inch IFE screens in coach and 13.3-inch panels in first class. I'll be onboard two A220 flights on its first day of passenger service, Jan. 31, 2019, to bring you a comprehensive review.
In the meantime, I was granted access to tour Delta's very first A220 aircraft while tucked away in its Atlanta headquarters — an impressive facility I toured a few months prior. This is ship N101DU, delivered to Delta just a few weeks back. Let's take a look around, shall we?
Two things grabbed my attention when making my way to the captain's chair. The first was "SO. MANY. SCREENS!" Comparing this to an MD-88, for example, was hilarious. So many switches and knobs had been replaced with displays. There was even a grip with a trackball to navigate software libraries.
The second was the view. Especially for a narrow-body plane, pilots of the A220 will be blessed with outrageous views from the generous windows installed. One could easily imagine the joy a pilot would experience gazing down on the Grand Canyon from the massive window to his or her left.
Beyond the seats reserved for the captain and first officer, there was a nifty slide-out jump seat that blocks entry into the cockpit when in use.
There were a dozen first class seats on Delta's A220, with three rows configured as 2-2. I was greeted with a C Series welcome as soon as I stepped onboard — a move I expect more plane manufacturers to make in a bid to make AvGeeks of us all. (C Series is the name the Airbus A220 had before Airbus bought the product line from Canada's Bombardier. The CS100 became the A220-100, and the CS300 is now the A200-300.)
Of course, I'd prefer a fourth row of first class seats, as the 12:109 ratio lags behind the 12:76 ratio on the CRJ900 and Embraer E-175. Those on the hunt for a complimentary Medallion upgrade will find them harder to come by on this aircraft than the regional jets it will replace given the larger overall passenger count vying for said upgrades.
The A220 will have roughly the same upgrade chances as the 110-seat Boeing 717, but better chances than the 124-seat Boeing 737-700.
Each seat was 20.5 inches wide, which is exactly the same width as first class seats on Delta's 737-700 and half an inch wider than those found on the Boeing 717, CRJ900 and Embraer E-175.
Unlike Comfort+ and Main Cabin, first class seats were graced with padded black armrests on both sides, which were quite supple.
Each seat had access to a 110v power port and USB ports (fixed to the IFE display). Row 1, the bulkhead row, had its power ports neatly tucked just beneath the inner armrest. A very nice touch.
The aisle armrest had a new switch that lowered it entirely flush with the bottom seat cushion. Delta reckons that larger passengers who want a bit more breathing room will opt for these seats.
Below the inner armrest was a fabulous storage nook. More storage is never a bad thing. There was plenty of room here for a binder, paperwork, a few magazines and phone or tablet. My only concern here was that objects would be left behind. I'm pretty well used to shuffling through the seatback pocket for my belongings prior to deplaning, but I'd need to form a new memory muscle to also check beneath my inner armrest. The inner armrest flipped vertically for easier access to the storage beneath.
The outer armrest (the larger of the two) was home to a double-flip tray table. As proof of Delta's attention to detail, there was no more "fish for the hook and pull up."
Instead, there was a pull tab that gently pushed the tray table upward for easy grabbing. In what would become a theme for this plane's interior, it's the little things that add up, and triggering that table was quite satisfying.
Even the recline button had been modernized. Rather than a nondescript round button, there was a clearly labeled toggle that was, in my opinion, located in a far superior place compared to most other planes.
The windows were positively enormous, and each first class row was well positioned for window sitters to get a great view of the world below.
Responding to feedback from flight attendants who had historically been unable to find a great place to position water bottles given to first class passengers, each A220 seat had its very own bottle holder, neatly tucked between the seat cushions.
The overhead featured the usual twist-to-close air vent, but the reading light was a hyper-bright LED. The flight attendant call button left no question about its purpose.
The overhead bins were gigantic — again, responding to society's increasing adoration of mondo carry-on bags — and were supported on the way down with a soft-open mechanism.
Legroom wasn't an issue, the seatback pocket stretched way back (enough to cram a large Yeti in there) and there was even a bit of storage just beneath the IFE display.
There were 15 total seats in Comfort+, Delta's "in between" seat product. These seats were identical to economy seats in terms of width and layout, but offered a few more inches of legroom as well as complimentary alcohol and upgraded snacks.
Seats were arranged in a 2-3 layout, with the A/B port side having a slightly shallower overhead bin than the C/D/E starboard side. Each seat was 18.6 inches wide, which is the widest economy seat on any Delta plane. Believe me, you could feel it. Comfort+ was a perfectly fine place to hang out on the A220, especially on the 2-2 side. Those coming from the 17.3-inch seats found on the Boeing 737 and 757 won't believe how roomy these feel.
Row 10, the first row of Comfort+, was a mixed bag. I personally loved this row, as there was no hard bulkhead divider between the last row of first class and the first row of Comfort+.
This translated into an almost comical amount of legroom, yet there was still underseat storage to be had to slide a purse or backpack underneath the last row of first class.
The downsides to Row 10? Fixed armrest dividers, which couples and families may not dig, as well as IFE screens that flipped up from between the armrest on a pivoting arm.
In my opinion, the pros outweighed the cons on Row 10, and I'd recommend booking this row if you love legroom and place a high value on not being reclined into. Yes, you'd need to stow your IFE screen for takeoff and landing, but it was the same sized unit (10.1 inches) as found elsewhere in Comfort+ and the Main Cabin.
Another nifty part about the bulkhead row? There was a built-in monitor in the top corner, near the air vents and reading lights, where safety videos played for those in Row 10.
There was no memory foam here, as we're eagerly awaiting on Delta's A330-900neo, but padding was robust, all things considered. The armrests were plastic, however, and gently arced so I couldn't keep my elbow there for too terribly long.
Each seat had access to an underseat power port (which, frankly, wasn't super easy to find when the row was full) and a standard USB charging port beneath the IFE panel. Windows were the same size as those in first: huge.
Standard economy seating began at Row 13, terminating at Row 28 on the port side and Row 29 on the starboard side. The 2-3 configuration continued all the way back, save for the exit row.
From front to back, each Comfort+ and Main Cabin seat had a comparably massive 10.1-inch IFE display. Each panel had a USB charging port and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack (which are vanishing from new smartphones, so time will tell how that plays out).
Main Cabin windows were delightful, and the seatback pockets were very expandable. Great for stuffing water bottles and knicknacks.
Legroom was a bit tight in economy, as you'd expect, but the roomy 18.6 inches of width definitely helped ease the claustrophobia.
Let's touch on the exit row. Row 15 was unique, as it was the only non-first class row with a 2-2 configuration. These seats did indeed have added legroom compared to other economy seats, but passengers would have to deal with a hard armrest divider. Unlike Row 10, however, Row 15 had seatback IFE screens rather than articulating arm screens.
Seat 16E will also be highly coveted. It was the window seat on the starboard side just behind the exit row, which meant there was no seat in front.
That gave this passenger several feet of unobstructed legroom.
I appreciated that the required emergency gear, which is stored in the bulkhead row of first class far too often, was repositioned to the very last overhead bin — above Row 29. If ever you've been upgraded to a bulkhead seat in first class, you'll understand the emotion. You're stoked that you've been moved to first, but you're distraught that you probably won't have any room for your bags. Folks who have been there will dig this move very much.
Main Cabin overhead bins were just as large as those up front, which was a welcome change from regional jets that have smaller/larger bins in first/economy.
Seats on the port side end at Row 28, though room was left for these passengers to recline (and sans guilt from encroaching, no less).
Inflight Entertainment (IFE) and Wi-Fi
On the A220, first class passengers were treated to 13.3-inch touch panels, while the rest of the aircraft was outfitted with 10.1-inch units. Each screen had a standard USB charging port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Given that ship N101DU was still two months out from flying paying passengers, the final software wasn't loaded. So, what you see here was just a snippet on what you can expect. While games and movies were loaded, screens like audio and maps would be ready by Jan. 31, 2019.
In my tour, all touch functions were snappy and playback was crisp. What will have to wait for the full review, however, was the secret sauce underneath. In September of 2017, Delta touted a "modular in-flight entertainment (IFE) system for its upcoming C-Series aircraft deliveries."
At first blush, nothing looked radically different about the IFE units I saw on the A220, but clearly something was different. Delta representatives weren't ready to divulge any new details, but one could expect a deeper understanding by the time passenger flights began.
Given that this aircraft was in a TechOps hangar, the Gogo 2Ku Wi-Fi wasn't active. Suffice to say, business travelers would have plenty of bandwidth to look forward to if current 2Ku performance on other aircraft could be used as a baseline.
The A220 was equipped with three lavatories. One was reserved for first class customers and was also home to the one and only changing table. It was also wheelchair accessible.
Believe it or not, the FAA still requires that new commercial jets have a cigarette disposal bin on lavatory doors. At the forward lavatory, there was one on the inside and one on the exterior. Bizarre on every level. That said, the door handle was pretty suave.
Two bathrooms were located in the aft, with the port side lavatory being the one that a passenger would most likely consider taking a selfie in. That was because it was home to a window. Not just a port hole; a full-sized, genuine, bona fide window.
As a huge fan of natural light, this quirky inclusion went a long way toward making that lavatory feel bigger than it was. I could actually catch an excellent view of the wing from the throne.
The forward lavatory and the windowed lavatory were both surprisingly roomy. The starboard aft lavatory was a tighter fit, but still serviceable.
All three did a solid job of using the curvature of the aircraft to their advantage, and mood lighting was a welcome touch.
Given that this bird hadn't spent too much time in the sky, she was gleaming in the hangar.
There would be no doubt as to which airline is operating N101DU, as planespotters would see the Delta name and logo painted on its belly.
If you were watching it pull it up to your gate from the terminal, you'd see CS100 underneath the nose cone — a nod to its original moniker.
Powered by Pratt & Whitney’s latest geared turbofan PW1500G engine, the A220 took advantage of advanced technology and composite materials designed to “deliver an expected 20 percent improvement in fuel efficiency over similar-sized aircraft when it enters service with Delta.”
This was not a typical airplane. In fact, almost nothing about the Airbus A220 was conventional. Even its name had a backstory, as evidenced by the "CS100" emblazoned beneath the nose cone and "C SERIES" imprinted in the entryway — both reminders that this project began as the Bombardier C Series. It's rare that we're made giddy by a new narrow-body plane, but Delta's spin on the A220 gives those who aren't planning any far-flung adventures on the A350 or retrofitted 777 a chance to still fly in something special.
While I'd prefer a few more first class seats, it was difficult to categorize this as anything other than a passenger win given the aircraft it would replace on medium-haul routes. Wide economy seats, IFE screens throughout, Gogo's speediest satellite-based Wi-Fi, LED lighting, a bathroom with a window in it, enlarged overhead bins, a 2-3 coach seating configuration, water bottle holders and even more visibility for the captain and first officer. All were very good things, indeed.
I look forward to flying two legs on opening day between New York (LGA) and Dallas (DFW), where I'll get a better feel for service, meals, Wi-Fi performance and overall comfort when the aircraft is loaded with other passengers.
All images by the author.