Love at first flight: Why I’m a fan of Delta’s Airbus A220

Oct 3, 2019

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For my first flight on the Airbus A220, I had come in with some skepticism. In his review of the newest member of Delta’s domestic fleet earlier this year, my colleague Darren Murph had called it “the king of regional flying.” He gave it high marks and praised its comfort. I wasn’t convinced; at 6 feet, 2 inches, I tend not to be a big fan of regional jets, kings or not. Then again, while the A220 is flying routes traditionally served by regional jets, it’s a mainline aircraft, with Delta crews, unlike regionals flown by affiliates.

In any case, when I boarded a flight from New York – La Guardia to Dallas-Fort Worth in late August, I was prepared for the aviation-geek fun of flying on a new bird, but I was not expecting an especially memorable experience.

I was wrong. After my first flight, the A220 immediately shot to the top of the list of Delta planes that I will go out of my way to fly on. Here’s why you will like it, too.

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First, you may notice when boarding a curious inscription on the floor: “C Series.” That is not a weird reference to the third round of venture capital funding at a startup company. It’s what the A220 used to be when it was still a product of Canada’s Bombardier, which called it the CS100 and CS300, in order of size — or C Series, collectively. Then the program hit trouble, with the Montreal-based company unable to deliver on time and on budget and even needing a government bailout. Enter Airbus, which bought the beleaguered program in 2018 and renamed it according to its convention. The 109-seat CS100 is now the A220-100, and the longer, 130-seat model is the A220-300.

I was looking at a cool bit of aviation history, right as I entered the plane.

Delta has ordered 95 A220s, including both versions, and already flies 20 of them on routes popular with business flyers that typically used to be flown with regional jets — the relatively cramped, sub-100-seat airliners that no frequent passenger loves. The idea is that the bigger, more modern A220s will help win the loyalty of people who spend a lot on flights.

The planes certainly are new: the one operating my flight had left the Montreal factory in April, and the oldest A220 in the Delta fleet is just one year old. On average, two new ones are joining every month.

That newness can be a problem, though. Modern airliners are collections of very complex systems, and they often have teething problems that affect passengers. On my flight, we had to leave the takeoff queue and wait by the side of the runway while the crew worked on a technical issue. In an intercom message, the captain attributed the wait to “a fault message with avionics,” a catchall phrase that could have meant anything. “Avionics” is an industry term for the electronics on the flight deck, and like all of today’s commercial jets, the A220 has a ton of them.

But he also promised that the airline’s tech team in Atlanta would sort it out within “10 to 15 minutes,” and that’s what happened. Just five minutes later we lined up on the runway and took off, not only on schedule but also in amazing silence. I could barely hear the two engines spool up to takeoff power, and I was seated just in front of one of them.

I was already beginning to love the A220, but where it really won me over was in the inflight entertainment (IFE) and Wi-Fi department. In seat 1D, with a bulkhead in front of me, I had a wall-mounted touchscreen. It was super crisp and responsive, and besides the usual choices found on all Delta planes with inflight entertainment, it offered the latest version of the Rockwell Collins Airshow moving map. It was nothing short of a joy to use. In the U.S. domestic market, where the trend is towards removing seatback monitors in favor of streaming to personal devices, that is rare.

As for the Wi-Fi, it was fast and had no hiccups (best of all, as a T-Mobile customer, it was free for me for an hour.)

First-class seats on a Delta A220 (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)
First-class seats on a Delta A220 (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

No less important for entertainment, the A220’s windows are big and ideally situated. Looking at the world outside is easier than on the planes it replaces, whose windows are smaller. And there’s even a window in the bathroom! (Only in the one at the back of coach class on the left side, though. The other two lavatories are windowless.)

Granted, I had been upgraded to first — which happens often on domestic flights as a Delta Platinum Medallion who also holds the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express. The latter acts as tie-breaker for upgrades among flyers with the same elite level and fare class. But even in coach, I would have been happy: the main cabin and Comfort+ seats offer pretty standard legroom, but at 18.6 inches across, they are the widest coach seats in the airline’s entire fleet.

The first class I experienced is on par, for space and amenities, with bigger mainline jets used on domestic flights. It’s a whole lot better than first on regional jets. It’s also vastly superior to first on Delta’s mainline Boeing 717s of similar size, which have no IFE yet often cover segments above two hours. And there is just no comparison with the MD-88s and MD-90s that Delta will keep flying until 2022.

Bottom line: The latest product of Canada’s illustrious aircraft industry is a beauty. It’s amazingly quiet. It looks and feels very 21st-century. It’s a huge improvement over any regional jets flying in the U.S. today, and arguably offers a better passenger experience than even some bigger jets. The future is here, and I’m looking forward to flying on this bird for a long time.

All photos by the author except where noted.

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