Delta’s 'new' Airbus A350s are going to be a big downgrade
After Delta retired its Boeing 777 fleet during the pandemic, it dubbed the Airbus A350 its flagship aircraft.
After all, the airline’s Airbus A350-900s sport Delta’s fanciest cabins, including an all-suite business-class along with Premium Select recliners. The biz pods each have sliding doors and direct aisle access, while the premium economy recliners offer more space than coach with upgraded service and amenities.
Delta deploys its A350s on high-profile long-haul routes, such as Atlanta (ATL) to Seoul (ICN) and to Johannesburg (JNB).
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Right now, the airline has 19 A350s in its fleet, but that number is about to grow — but unfortunately that's not going to come with the onboard experience customers have come to expect on Delta's other A350s.
Last summer, Delta announced that it was purchasing several used Airbus A350-900 aircraft from LATAM, after the South American mega-carrier, which is currently in bankruptcy protection, said it would retire its A350 fleet. Delta, which announced it was buying a stake in LATAM in 2019, will take nine used A350s from the carrier.
While the additional A350s will enable Delta to grow its long-haul network (especially without the 777s), the carrier has opted to keep the legacy LATAM cabins once they begin flying for Delta, a carrier spokesperson confirmed exclusively to TPG.
Delta’s existing four-cabin A350s have 32 signature Delta One Suites, 48 premium economy recliners, 36 Comfort+ extra-legroom seats and 190 standard coach seats.
But these “new” A350s that the carrier is picking up from LATAM will feature an outdated business-class product that’s arranged in a far inferior 2-2-2 configuration.
These A350s will become the airline’s only wide-body business-class cabin without direct aisle access for each passenger, a big drawback for solo travelers.
Plus, these forward-facing lie-flats have limited storage and offer minimal privacy for passengers.
Related: Every Delta Air Lines premium seat ranked best to worst
Additionally, the A350s coming from LATAM won’t offer a premium economy cabin, which has proven to be quite popular with travelers looking to upgrade their travel experience without splurging for a biz fare.
The A350s joining the fleet will keep the LATAM configuration, with a total of 339 seats spread across 30 business-class pods, 63 extra-legroom coach seats and 246 standard coach ones. The one possible upside for passengers is that these planes will have nearly twice as many Comfort+ seats as compared to Delta’s other A350s.
While Delta isn’t changing the product on these new A350s, it will repaint the jets in Delta livery, and add its logo and other branding elements, including Delta seat covers and inflight entertainment systems, throughout the planes, a carrier spokesperson confirmed to TPG.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Delta would add Wi-Fi to these jets. (They didn’t offer internet access when they flew for LATAM.)
Delta told TPG that it’ll ultimately retrofit these jets with Delta’s signature cabins, but there’s no timeline available for when that conversion process might begin.
"This summer, Delta will incorporate the first three of nine pre-owned Airbus A350 aircraft into our global network," the carrier said in a statement to TPG. "The aircraft feature a temporary seating configuration pending further modification to one consistent with the A350 aircraft currently in our fleet. The integration of these aircraft into our fleet will allow for an important increase to our flying capacity to help get our customers where they want to go this summer and beyond."
For now, the airline will keep the new A350s assigned to specific routes, which should help flyers differentiate between the experiences during the booking process.
Beginning on July 1, the Atlanta (ATL) to Santiago, Chile (SCL), route will be operated by an ex-LATAM A350, while the ATL to Dublin, Ireland (DUB), route will meet the same fate starting on Aug. 1.
As the airline takes additional deliveries of these jets, I’d expect to see them popping up on more long-haul routes, and even possibly subbed in at the last minute should operational issues require a replacement aircraft.
Hopefully, Delta will keep them dedicated to certain routes to avoid needing to downgrade its premium economy flyers, and to level-set expectations.
If you’d like to avoid these A350s, be sure to check the aircraft type and seat map when making a booking.
For now, the airline isn’t differentiating between the aircraft type in the search results.
Moreover, when searching for business-class fares, tickets on these ex-LATAM jets are marketed as “Delta One Suites” despite being a night-and-day difference from the private pods on the other A35s.
So, you’ll need to do some manual research to identify routes operated by these jets.
If you see an A350 listed on a route, and the airline isn’t selling premium economy, odds are that it’ll be operated by one of the ex-LATAM A350s. To double-check, take a look at the seat map and see what it shows for business class.
If it shows a 2-2-2 configuration, then the flight will be operated by one of these “new” planes.
Hopefully, Delta will get around to retrofitting these cabins sooner rather than later.
Until then, not every A350 in the Delta fleet should be considered a “flagship” aircraft — and hopefully, Delta will make that clear going forward.