First look: Inside Delta's newest jet, the Airbus A321neo, with snazzy first-class recliners
Delta Air Lines is upgrading the domestic travel experience with its newest jet, the Airbus A321neo.
In March, the Atlanta-based carrier received its first A321neo, or “new engine option,” from the Airbus production facility in Hamburg, Germany, and the jet, registered N501DA, has since been undergoing entry-to-service work at the airline's Atlanta hub.
Now, the airline is finally ready to put the A321neo on commercial flights; the inaugural is scheduled for Friday, May 20, at 8:29 a.m. local time from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to San Francisco International Airport (SFO).
While the first A321neos will be based at the airline's Boston hub (serving select transcontinental routes), you'll soon see these planes at many more airports across the country. That's because Delta has 155 A321neos on order, after increasing its order with the European plane-maker twice last year.
While the A321neo might look like a standard domestic jet on the outside, it’s loaded with enhancements on the inside, including a brand-new first-class product with extra privacy, the airline’s fastest Wi-Fi connection and power outlets throughout.
In anticipation of the first revenue flight, TPG got a first look on board the Delta A321neo. Here's what you can expect to find inside Delta's latest jet.
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20 new first-class recliners
Perhaps the biggest change is in the pointy end of the plane. The A321neo is the first jet to feature Delta's snazzy new domestic first-class recliners.
For years, the forward cabin on single-aisle planes crisscrossing the country has largely looked the same. Domestic first class is usually outfitted with recliners in a 2-2 configuration, with more space, increased pitch and larger tray tables.
But Delta is changing the status quo with the introduction of a new product that's focused on privacy, comfort and storage space.
On the A321neo, you'll find 20 first-class recliners in a standard 2-2 configuration spread across rows 1 through 5.
The first thing you'll notice about the new seats is the emphasis on privacy. Thanks to the winged shields jutting out from each seat (along with a large privacy divider between each seat), you'll (hopefully) feel like you're in your own cocoon, as compared to a traditional first-class recliner, which offers significantly less privacy.
In addition to the fixed-in-place privacy dividers, Delta staggered the rows on the A321neo. This offset was intentional in order to add even more privacy for each passenger, said Ashley Garris, Delta’s manager of onboard brand experience, during the tour. This way, you'll only see your neighbor's privacy divider, and not their face, during the flight.
The first-class recliners are 21 inches wide and feature 5 inches of recline and 37 inches of pitch. I'll reserve judgment on the seat comfort until I actually get a chance to fly on the jet for a six-hour transcontinental flight.
While the leather seat padding is stitched in Delta's classic zigzag pattern, some flyers might feel that the padding isn't as plush or thick as it is on older jets.
Meanwhile, the headrest can be raised or lowered, and it can be adjusted to create a cradle for your neck, which should help make it easier to sleep during longer domestic flights.
Unlike the airline’s long-haul premium economy product, these seats don’t feature a leg rest or footrest. They do, however, have leather padding at calf level, which provides additional comfort when seated upright.
If there’s one downside to the new seat, it’s the footwell area. That’s because there’s an entertainment and power box that “pancakes” the seat-support column. This cuts into both your underseat storage and space for your feet.
In terms of storage, there are plenty of nooks for all your belongings. You can leave a purse or laptop in the underseat storage unit, store a water bottle in the area under the armrest and tuck your phone into the seat's side pocket.
Plus, you can leave some loose items on the cocktail tray.
Each recliner sports a 13-inch high-definition touchscreen monitor, which is configured with Delta’s latest wireless inflight entertainment system, which was developed by the airline’s in-house Delta Flight Products startup. There are over 500 movies and over 100 TV shows loaded on the entertainment system.
The screen can even be tilted upward to provide a range of viewing angles.
Finally, the bi-fold tray table, which measures 22 inches wide and 10 inches long, is a bit larger than average and comfortably fit my 13-inch MacBook Pro.
42 Comfort+ extra-legroom seats
While the first-class cabin is the showstopper on the A321neo, Delta didn't forget about the majority of passengers who fly in coach.
The seats themselves feature more leather-covered memory-foam padding than you'll find in Delta's older products.
Both the extra-legroom Comfort+ cabin and standard economy cabin are arranged in a 3-3 configuration.
Comfort+ seats sport 34 inches of pitch, compared to 31 inches in standard coach, and all seats measure 18 inches wide.
While the hard product isn't revolutionary, it's great that Delta installed a whopping 42 Comfort+ seats on the A321neo, which represents a net increase of 13 Comfort+ seats compared to the A321ceo, or "current engine option."
With more Medallion elite members taking to the skies than ever, having a larger Comfort+ section means there are more premium seats available for an upgrade.
Tray tables measure 16 1/2 inches wide and 8 1/2 inches long.
132 economy seats
The remainder of the plane is outfitted with 132 coach seats.
With supportive leather-covered memory-foam padding, these seats are quite comfortable.
All coach seats feature a high-definition 10-inch seatback entertainment system, along with other enhancements that you'll find throughout the aircraft, detailed below.
All travelers on the A321neo will enjoy a slew of upgrades that aren't limited to a particular cabin.
Perhaps the most exciting is the introduction of the Airspace XL overhead bins, which can hold 60% more luggage than previous storage compartments. These larger bins should help limit the number of bags that need to be gate-checked.
Another improvement, especially for longer flights, is the introduction of snazzy mood lighting that can be adjusted for various phases of the flight, including meal service, cruise and takeoff/landing.
The A321neo has four lavatories. The forward one is reserved for first-class passengers. You'll find another one right at the front of the coach cabin and two at the rear of the aircraft.
While not as small as the bathrooms on American's Boeing 737 MAX, these lavatories are noticeably more compact than those on older jets.
In terms of connectivity, the A321neo will feature Delta's latest Wi-Fi system: $5-per-device streaming internet access powered by Viasat. I've enjoyed fantastic speeds and reliable connectivity on my recent Delta Viasat flights, and the A321neo should offer the same. Delta also offers a free messaging option for those who don't want to pay for connectivity.
All seats feature two USB-A outlets for powering small mobile devices. Each first-class recliner has a universal power outlet, and there are two power outlets for every three coach seats.
For flight attendants, there are two galleys on the plane — one in front of first class and another at the rear of the aircraft. There's also a jump seat that extends out from the rear galley into the center aisle, which can be moved after taxi, takeoff or landing.
Where to sit on Delta's A321neo
If you're looking to maximize your comfort, it pays to select a prime seat.
When flying in first class, I'd pick either row 2 or 3, since both of these rows have two full windows. I'd also do whatever I can to avoid the bulkhead, as the seatback screens are fixed into the wall, legroom is limited and there's just one window in this row.
You may also want to avoid Row 5, since there's no bulkhead wall behind this row, and it bleeds directly into the coach cabin and nearby lavatory.
In Comfort+, I'd avoid the bulkhead row 12 (ABC) and rows 10 through 12, given the proximity to the lavatory. Otherwise, the remaining extra-legroom seats are all quite similar.
In coach, be sure to steer clear of Row 30, since it is missing windows entirely. Delta designates some other coach seats as "preferred," which can be assigned for an additional charge (or complimentary, depending on your SkyMiles Medallion tier).
There are two exit rows, rows 19 and 20, both of which are considered "preferred" seating. With 39 inches of pitch, I'd definitely consider sitting here, though I'd avoid Row 19 since it has limited recline.
All in all, the A321neo ushers in a new era for domestic travel on Delta.
With a brand-new first-class product, those sitting in the pointy end of the plane will enjoy Delta's latest product innovations. The jet also sports additional Comfort+ seats, making it easier to score an extra-legroom upgrade as a Medallion member.
Perhaps most exciting are the nose-to-tail enhancements. From faster Wi-Fi to power outlets to oversized storage bins, flying on Delta's A321neo should be a nice upgrade for everyone.