What it was like onboard Delta’s first A321neo — on a unique ferry flight
Delta Flight 9979 on Wednesday, May 18, was unlike the rest of the carrier's roughly 4,400 daily flights.
The flight wasn’t available for sale, nor could you redeem miles for the 946-mile hop from the Delta mega-hub in Atlanta (ATL) to Boston (BOS).
Instead, the flight was designated as a special ferry to bring the airline’s newest jet, the Airbus A321neo, to its new home in Boston.
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Delta will inaugurate service on the A321neo on Friday, May 20, with the first commercial flight to San Francisco taking off at 8:29 a.m. local time.
In advance of the inaugural, Delta needed to get the jet in position in Boston, after it spent some time in Atlanta undergoing entry-to-service work.
While the airline could’ve flown the plane empty, Delta wanted to do something different to celebrate the jet that’s poised to usher in a new era for Delta domestic travel. So, the company invited a handful of media to join for a special ferry flight to Boston.
When I received the invitation, I knew this would be one I couldn’t miss, and I'm thrilled to have had the opportunity to tag along.
While the flight itself was certainly unique, my travel journey began quite normally.
I received a standard confirmation email from Delta the day before the flight, and it included the departure details and a six-digit confirmation number.
The check-in process was no different than any other domestic flight I’ve taken, and I had my boarding pass (sans TSA Precheck) issued digitally within minutes.
I was even listed as number one on the upgrade list, thanks to an American Express Medallion status trial that I’m participating in.
While the moments leading up to the flight might’ve felt “ordinary,” the fun really began when I arrived in Atlanta (just minutes before the ferry was scheduled to depart due to a delayed inbound flight).
I arrived at Gate T6, and the first thing I noticed outside the window was the A321neo’s “raccoon eyes,” which are remarkably similar to those on the much larger Airbus A350.
I was the last member of the media to arrive in Atlanta. I got a brief introduction to Mahendra Nair, Delta senior vice president of fleet, and Mauricio Parise, Delta vice president of brand experience, and then we were on our way.
While the gate was staffed by an agent, it took the 15 passengers (including myself) just minutes to board.
The A321neo is the first jet to feature Delta’s futuristic new first-class recliners. Though the plane sports a handful of nose-to-tail enhancements, Delta arranged for each of the journalists to sit in first class to experience the flagship innovation.
The rest of the Delta posse sat in rows 19 through 23 near the plane’s wings for weight and balance reasons given the light load.
While everyone boarded quickly, no one rushed to take their seats. I heard multiple oohs and aahs as folks caught their first glimpse of the snazzy cabin.
Journalists were busy snapping pictures and videos, and the Delta team regaled each other with stories about the new jet and the improvements.
After a few minutes, the flight attendant, Felipe, got on the PA to welcome us onboard and direct our attention to the safety demonstration video.
While the seat-back screens feature an updated inflight entertainment system produced by the airline's Delta Flight Products start-up, the safety video that was screened was Delta’s pandemic-era version featuring masked flight attendants and actors.
Although we were flying on a non-commercial ferry flight, the airline was obliged to follow FAA guidelines, including screening the safety video, and staff flight attendants (and two pilots), all of whom were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about the new jet.
It seemed clear that the crew was hand-picked to operate this unique flight.
Our push-back was delayed by about 20 minutes, and our taxi took a bit longer than normal — some launch-day hiccups if you will.
We ended up parking in the “penalty box” near the end of runway 26L, while the pilots diagnosed some maintenance lights that were flashing in the cockpit.
It took about 30 minutes to fix the issue, and those of us behind the armored cockpit door (who didn't have tight connections in Boston) were happy to spend a bit more time on the A321neo.
We were eventually wheels up at 1:22 p.m. local time with a fast-as-lightning takeoff roll that blasted us out of Atlanta at what felt like record speed.
With just 15 passengers onboard, we all felt the power of the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G engines.
Once in the air, I immediately connected to the Viasat Wi-Fi network, which delivered download speeds of over 100 Mbps and upload speeds of roughly 2 Mbps — some of the fastest connectivity I’ve ever seen on a jet.
Delta is in the process of rolling out fleet-wide Viasat Wi-Fi, and all A321neos will feature the new system from the outset. Streaming access is available for $5 per device, and messaging is free.
As we passed through 10,000 feet, the lead flight attendant, Felipe, came through the cabin to take meal orders; Delta specially catered some of its most popular new first-class meals for us to try.
The options included an Impossible Burger, chicken breast with rice or a vegetable plate. The Impossible Burger proved to be most popular, with three of the five journalists (myself included) ordering this vegetarian option.
While we’ll soon have a more detailed comparison of U.S. airline inflight burgers at TPG, I especially enjoyed my meal.
The manchego cheese added a nice kick to the patty. I was disappointed, however, to find that Delta only provisions just one ketchup and one mustard packet per burger.
In terms of the meal, the only thing that didn’t reheat well was the brioche bun, which tasted a bit overcooked.
Perhaps it was just a fluke with the ferry flight, as the flight attendant showed me that the jet features a new oven model with multiple different present options for different types of food.
The side of butternut squash salad was tasty and refreshing, and I enjoyed a decadent slice of blueberry white chocolate cheesecake for dessert.
I figured I should taste Delta’s new onboard cocktails, and while the can of Tip Top Cocktails Margarita may look quite small, the drink itself packed an (alcoholic) punch.
After the meals were cleared, I spent some time walking around the plane and testing the new first-class recliner.
While I’ve already posted a comprehensive first look at the A321neo, I was thrilled that some of my initial observations held true once in the air.
The privacy that the first-class seats offer is simply unrivaled in the domestic market. The wings that jut out from each seat make a noticeable difference in creating a sense of personal space.
I was also impressed by the number of storage compartments, including the side pocket for my iPhone, the water bottle holder for my drink and the laptop/purse storage underneath the seats.
The A321neo also features the Airspace XL overhead bins, which should provide plenty of space for everyone’s rollaboards. The media flight wasn’t a great test case for these bins, however, since most passengers were doing a day trip with a briefcase or backpack.
One downside to the new first-class recliner that I found was the tight under-seat storage, especially with the entertainment box and seat-support column that restrict your free space.
Another area that’s tight is the lavatory. Other than the one at the front of the first-class cabin, I found the other three bathrooms on the A321neo to be small, but thankfully not nearly as cramped as the tiny bathrooms on the American or United Boeing 737 MAX.
With just 45 minutes remaining in the flight, Mauricio Parise came to the front of the first-class cabin to deliver some remarks.
He spoke about the A321neo and the passenger experience improvements it brings, and he also teased some exciting developments.
As the airline adds more A321neos to its fleet, these jets will be deployed on "longer haul domestic routes" and they'll rotate through multiple hubs, including "L.A., Minneapolis, Detroit, Atlanta, New York and Boston" he said.
A "minority" of the 155 A321neos on order will be configured with lie-flat business-class pods, Parise confirmed. "We have some plans in the future to fly these planes on premium transcon routes. There is a plan to take a small subset of this fleet and configure it with flat-bed pods," he added.
Parise still doesn't have any timing or routes to share, but his comments confirm previously leaked documents that show that Delta will add lie-flats to some of its new A321neos.
Once he wrapped up, the captain asked the flight attendants to prepare for landing. Everyone quickly took their seats, and I glanced out the window for the remainder of the flight.
I caught a glimpse of the beaches in Winthrop, Massachusetts, just seconds before we touched down on Boston Logan’s runway 27.
Though no one clapped once we landed, things were a bit different at our arrival gate, A19.
A handful of Boston-based Delta employees greeted us as walked off the jet bridge, and they were clapping and cheering as we walked off the plane.
Once all the passengers deplaned, it was the crew’s turn to deboard. Everyone lined up once again, passengers included, and clapped for the four flight attendants and two pilots.
Once the revelry wrapped up, the pilot, Steve Warrior, turned to the first officer, Dimitri Smirenski, and exclaimed “the plane flew great... just as planned.”
While it may have been a run-of-the-mill domestic flight for the pilots, it was certainly a trip to remember for those onboard.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the Delta A321neo in the coming days!