Flying Delta's 1st 'new' Airbus A350, with unique business-class cabins
If you were an airline CEO, what would you do if international travel demand came roaring back and you had already retired a chunk of your long-haul fleet?
That was the problem Delta faced last year.
The Atlanta-based carrier determined that it needed more wide-body jets. And it needed them quickly — in time for the 2022 summer season, which is predicted to be one of the busiest on record.
After all, Delta retired its Boeing 777 fleet in the early days of the pandemic, leaving the airline with 18 fewer widebodies.
To fly its full international schedule, Delta needed to get creative. It couldn’t just place a new order for more planes, as the lead time for deliveries can stretch multiple years.
So, Delta came up with a solution: it would acquire some used Airbus A350s (a move that it’s done in the past with other aircraft).
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Basics of Delta's 'new' Airbus A350s
Delta agreed to take nine A350-900s from LATAM, after the bankrupt South American mega-carrier, which is partially owned by Delta, said it would retire these planes.
For Delta, adding more A350s makes sense.
For one, the airline likely got a great deal, given the influx of used aircraft on the market when global travel collapsed in 2020. Plus, the airline already operates a fleet of 17 A350s, so there are synergies to keeping a unified fleet.
But perhaps most importantly, the airline could get the A350s quickly.
While the used A350s may look like Delta jets on the outside, there’s a big difference on the inside: the carrier opted to keep the legacy LATAM cabins, in a bid to get these planes flying as soon as possible.
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 feature an older-style business-class product that’s arranged in a far inferior 2-2-2 configuration. Plus, they don’t feature a Premium Select cabin, which has grown in popularity in recent years as travelers look for a reasonably-priced upgrade from coach.
Suffice to say, these ex-LATAM A350s aren’t up to Delta’s latest cabin standards. Delta will ultimately retrofit these planes, but it doesn’t have a timeline available for when the upgrades might be completed.
Until then, you’ll find Delta’s most unique business-class product on these planes, which are internally referred to as the "35L."
To see if your flight is operated by a 35L, be sure to check the seat map. If you see a 2-2-2 configuration in Delta One and a missing Premium Select cabin, then your flight will be operated by the ex-LATAM A350.
For now, Delta is exclusively flying the “new” A350 on flights between Atlanta and Santiago (SCL), with service to Dublin (DUB) and Seattle (SEA) commencing in the coming weeks.
Of course, at TPG, we wanted to put this jet to the test once it started flying. The first ex-LATAM A350, registered N575DZ, entered revenue service for Delta on June 13 — and TPG was on board one week later giving the “new” cabin a try.
Ground experience in Atlanta
My time with Delta began at New York’s LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
It was my first time flying from Delta’s new Terminal C, and I was just as impressed as when I visited during the media preview a few weeks ago.
(Just be sure to wear your walking shoes — it’s a trek from curb to gate.)
After an uneventful flight to Atlanta, I made my way to Concourse E, where my A350 flight to Santiago would be departing from.
Instead of riding the Plane Train, I decided to walk all the way from our arrival gate in Concourse T, adding even more steps to my daily count.
When I arrived at Concourse E, I went straight to the Sky Club, which was at capacity when I arrived.
Even though there was a sign for the new priority access lane, I was instructed to wait in the ten-person-long standby queue.
It took no longer than ten minutes to be admitted into the lounge, though it was definitely at capacity once I got inside. (Perhaps Delta's new restrictive access rules aren't working as well as the carrier had hoped.)
Nearly every seat was taken, and the roaming servers were having trouble keeping up with stocking the buffet and cleaning the tables.
I ultimately found a seat by the window, which afforded me great plane views as I caught up on some work.
Though the Sky Club buffet is much more extensive (and tasty) than anything you’d find an Admirals Club or United Club, I decided to save my appetite for Delta’s onboard service.
Of course, Delta doesn’t (yet) operate business-class-only lounges, but when it does, I expect the food and drink selection to be even better (and more in line with what you’d find in the Flagship Lounge or Polaris Lounge).
Before long, I made my way to the departure gate, E12, for my flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).
I caught a glimpse of the Airbus A350 being towed to the gate when I arrived, and I then made my way to the podium to inquire about pre-boarding.
My request was granted, and after a quick facial scan at the gate, I was one of the first passengers onboard Delta’s first ex-LATAM Airbus A350.
Delta One cabin on the 'new' Airbus A350-900
After entering the jet through door 2L, I immediately turned left into the business-class cabin.
The first thing I noticed was how spacious the cabin felt — with wide aisles and no privacy walls, the single 30-seat cabin was quite airy.
Of course, that comes at the expense of privacy, but it was a noticeable difference compared to boarding an A350 (or A330neo) with Delta One Suites.
Unlike Delta’s original batch of A350s, these ex-LATAM jets have overhead bins running along the center of the fuselage (along with the two sides), though the cabin still felt quite spacious.
Another pleasant surprise was how fresh the cabin smelled. Even though this jet isn’t coming right off the assembly line, it still had the “new plane” smell, likely thanks to the fresh leather and new carpets that Delta installed.
Unlike some of Delta’s other widebodies, you won’t find any snazzy entrance area or Delta branding near the galley.
The 30 lie-flats are arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, spread across five rows.
If you’ve flown with LATAM before, these pods should look familiar. The “bones” of the seat haven’t changed, though Delta did a fantastic job refitting each seat and the cabin finishes to make it look as though it was always a Delta product.
The seats themselves were extremely comfortable. Delta’s signature zig-zag leather pattern sat on top of a very plush cushion, which made it easy to relax.
Plus, at 25 inches wide, these seats are noticeably more spacious than Delta One Suites, which some people say can feel claustrophobic in the seat’s fixed shell that offers 21 inches of width.
The intuitive seat controls are located on the armrest, and each button worked without an issue.
While there’s a button to extend the leg rest, the ottoman is fixed in place (unlike Lufthansa first class where the ottoman can move forward and backward).
That wasn’t an issue for my 5-foot, 10-inch frame, though someone shorter (especially a child) may not be able to reach their feet all the way to the ottoman.
That said, I found the open ottoman considerably more comfortable than the small footwells you find in Delta One Suites (as well as Delta One on the Boeing 767-300 and -400 aircraft). I didn’t need to worry about hitting my feet when I was sleeping on my side.
The ottoman measures 24 inches wide and 11.5 inches long.
Speaking of sleeping, each seat converts into a 74-inch-long bed at the push of a button.
Sleeping in this product felt much more like a bed at home than the bed in Delta One Suites thanks to the additional width and unrestricted ottoman area.
The headrest even has wings to keep your head in place when sleeping or relaxing.
Of course, the two big drawbacks of this product are the lack of privacy and direct aisle access.
Even without a seatmate, the airy configuration meant that I had a direct line of sight to my neighbors across the aisle.
For couples and families traveling together, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but it’s nonetheless a night-and-day difference compared to the privacy offered in Delta One Suites (and the other Delta One products on the Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s).
There is a small privacy shield that can be extended between each pair of seats, though it’s not really all that helpful if you’re seated next to a stranger.
It’s a far cry from the sliding door that each passenger enjoys in Delta One Suites.
Though I’m normally a window seat flyer, solo travelers should definitely choose a seat in the center section for direct aisle access.
Otherwise, you’d need to climb over a stranger (or have a stranger climb over you) — and possibly disturb you — in the middle of the night.
In terms of storage, you’ll find a small side pocket in the center armrest, where you can tuck a small book or hold a wallet.
For anything larger, you can use the enclosed storage compartment underneath the ottoman.
A lever opens this enclosed storage compartment, and I found it to be the perfect place to store my shoes and laptop during the flight.
You’ll also find a literature pocket located between the ottomans, which could be a great place to hold an iPad or magazine.
There’s no large side table like you’d find in other Delta One cabins — the small tray separating each seat measures just 6 inches wide.
When it’s time to work or eat, the tray table extends out of the center armrest.
The table isn’t particularly large (it measures 15 inches wide and 13.5 inches long) nor is it especially durable — it kept shaking with even the most minor turbulence.
However, it does move forward and backward, making it easy to get up in the middle of a meal.
There’s no single “best” seat on this plane. There are no missing windows throughout the cabin, and each seat has the same size storage and ottoman area.
That said, there are two lavatories located in the galley area at the front of the business-class cabin. Each is standard-sized, with a brightly-lit vanity mirror giving it a luxurious touch.
Between the foot traffic from the bathroom and from the galley, I’d avoid row 1 if possible.
Unfortunately, the jet doesn’t feature individual air nozzles in business class.
The one mystery that I still haven't solved is the purpose of the red tabs on each seat. I asked multiple flight attendants, but none could figure it out (this was the first time for most of them flying this aircraft).
Amenities and IFE
The Delta One pods on this jet feature large 19-inch HD touchscreen entertainment systems.
While you could theoretically use your finger to control the content, the screens are so far away from the seat that it would be too unwieldy — there are nearly 80 inches between the back of the seat and the screen.
Instead, a small remote pops out of the armrest, which was easy to use and very responsive.
The screens don’t tilt or swivel, which makes for an awkward viewing angle if you’re trying to watch TV while lying in bed.
During the nose-to-tail refurbishment, Delta installed its proprietary entertainment software on these jets.
Anyone who’s used a TV on Delta should have no issue navigating the system and finding something to watch.
After all, the system is loaded with over 335 movies and more than 100 TV shows. While there’s no tail camera, I enjoyed tuning in to the live flight map to monitor our progress.
Delta’s standard noise-isolating headphones were distributed during boarding. Note that the entertainment system uses two-prong audio jacks, so be sure to pack an adapter if you’re planning to use your own headphones.
Each seat has a universal AC outlet, as well as two USB-A ports — one located next to the television and another in the armrest storage compartment.
Unfortunately, the position of the AC outlet isn’t ideal as large power bricks likely won’t fit without interfering with the plastic edge of the storage compartment.
My Apple-branded 63-watt power adapter is likely the largest you could fit without needing to rotate the brick 180 degrees.
When these planes flew for LATAM, they didn’t offer Wi-Fi. But, that’s since changed once Delta took over.
The airline installed Gogo’s 2Ku satellite Wi-Fi during the refurbishment process, which cost a whopping $40 for a full flight stream session for a single device. (That's the most I’ve paid for a single Wi-Fi session since I flew with Singapore Airlines in 2019.)
Hopefully, Delta will lower that pricing in the coming months, just like it’s doing domestically with its Viasat installations.
With download speeds that measured up to 65 Mbps and upload speeds up to 3 Mbps, I had no trouble staying connected throughout the flight.
In terms of amenities, I received Delta’s new Someone Somewhere amenity kit.
In January, Delta unveiled a revamped onboard amenity program focused on local and sustainable products. My Someone Somewhere kit was made by Melissa in Oaxaca, Mexico, according to the label printed inside the bag.
The kit was stocked with all the usual goodies, including a linen eye mask, a bamboo toothbrush, earplugs, a pen and Grown Alchemist lip balm and hand cream.
Some long-time flyers might miss Delta’s Tumi amenity kits, but this one did the trick for me.
Also waiting at my seat was Delta’s new recycled bedding, with a pillow and duvet packaged in a linen bag (no more single-use plastic).
While I had no trouble sleeping, the bedding wasn’t as comfortable as the Westin Heavenly bedding that Delta used to offer.
Delta also provided a pair of branded slippers. They were a bit flimsy and not nearly as comfortable as the fleece-lined ones that United Airlines offers on its longest Polaris flights.
Impressive onboard service
I recently experienced Delta’s revamped long-haul service flow on the airline’s inaugural flight from Boston to Tel Aviv, and I’m glad that things haven’t changed since then.
I was welcomed onboard with a choice of pre-poured orange juice or Champagne, though I opted to just drink the water that was waiting at my seat.
During boarding, many passengers were laughing with each other and chit-chatting about the “interesting” and “different” business-class product.
My seatmate was one of the nine Delta employees who cleared a last-minute standby upgrade into business class, and she was excited to be trying the new product. (When two passengers no-showed, she moved to an empty pair of seats.)
I even met an Instagram follower from Indonesia sitting across the aisle from me. Hendry Van Taufik was on a birthday trip with his mom, and he was also excited to be trying Delta’s latest A350 product.
Once we crossed through 10,000 feet, service began with the beverage cart rolling down the aisle.
I ordered a glass of bubbly (Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve Champagne) along with still water. It was served with a small amuse-bouche of some cheese cubes, nuts and dried fruits — an innovative take on the traditional warm nuts that most airlines serve in business class.
Then, roughly five minutes later, another flight attendant brought my dinner tray, which was already pre-plated with the soup (roasted tomato bisque), the salad and a cheesy bread roll.
I appreciate that Delta serves soups in business class (a course that's historically been reserved for long-haul first class). Soup both reheats well and keeps its flavor at altitude.
When I received an order request email from Delta five days before departure with my entree choices, I didn’t see anything that worked well with my dietary restrictions (pescatarian).
So, I opted to pre-order an Asian vegetarian special meal, my go-to on long-haul flights when the standard offering doesn’t work for me.
I received my special meal entree after I finished the appetizer. I enjoyed the curry, along with the fragrant basmati rice and tofu cubes. It also came with a piece of bread that appeared to be a hybrid between naan and pita bread. (It was nearly identical to the entree I received three weeks ago on the Tel Aviv flight.)
I always find that these meals pack a good amount of spice and flavor that keeps well at altitude.
Dinner service concluded roughly 60 minutes after departure with a choice of ice cream sundae or hummingbird cake. I opted for the former, which was plated in the galley with cookie crumble, strawberries and chocolate sauce.
Of the Big 3 U.S. carriers, I usually find Delta’s flight attendants to be the friendliest and most personable, and this crew didn’t disappoint.
The crew members introduced themselves to each passenger and made small talk throughout the meal service. I especially enjoyed chatting with Rudy, the New York City-based flight attendant working my aisle. Plus, the team deserves kudos for completing the meal and dimming the cabin lights within one hour of departure.
During the flight, there was a small snack selection available in the galley, which consisted of some chips, granola bars, chocolate squares and bananas.
Roughly 80 minutes before landing, the crew turned on the cabin lights and brought the breakfast cart down the aisle.
Again, the friendly flight attendant inquired about how I slept, whether I'd like breakfast or if there was something else he could do for me.
Despite it being just about five hours since I finished my ice cream sundae, I ordered the coconut and toasted sesame pudding, which was served alongside an everything bagel and a side of honeydew.
I wasn't too hungry, so I just nibbled on the fruit.
About 45 minutes before landing, the flight attendants passed through the cabin with Grown Alchemist-branded packaged hot towels.
While definitely refreshing, it's surprising that Delta has "flipped" the hot towel service flow during the pandemic. Back in the day, the airline would offer a hot towel before each meal service; now, there's just one towel offered right before landing.
Delta’s first used Airbus A350 has officially entered service, and with it comes a new business-class product for Delta.
While I was initially worried that this former LATAM product would be woefully outdated compared to Delta One Suites on the other A350s, I was pleasantly surprised.
Yes, there’s no question that this represents a big downgrade with regards to the privacy and direct aisle access that you enjoy in the pointy end of the airline’s flagship A350s.
But, it’s not nearly as bad as I had feared. The seats and beds are supremely comfortable, and I even lucked out with an empty seat next to me.
Plus, Delta did a great job refurbishing the plane with its signature branding, entertainment systems and speedy Wi-Fi.
While I’ll still be counting down the days until these planes are ultimately retrofitted with Delta’s signature cabins, I’ll no longer go out of my way to avoid this product, especially if I can snag a center seat.
Just be sure to do your research before you fly, so you're not disappointed if you don't find Delta One Suites when you turn left on the A350.