King of Regional Flying: A Review of Delta’s Airbus A220-100 in First Class From Dallas to New York
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At long last, the first North American carrier has started passenger service with the Airbus A220. There’s no other way to say it: The A220 is a big deal for aviation.
Not only is it the most fuel-efficient and quietest aircraft in the Delta fleet, it also features the widest main-cabin seating across all of Delta’s birds. (Given the first-class focus on this review, it’s also worth mentioning the massive 13.3-inch IFE panels in the forward cabin, which are also a first.) Delta claims that the A220 offers wide-body amenities in a narrow-body jet, and after flying it for an entire workday, I have to concur.
The inaugural A220 flights shuttled passengers between New York’s LaGuardia (LGA), Boston (BOS) and Dallas–Fort Worth (DFW). It was originally scheduled to happen on Jan. 31, but the government shutdown delayed Delta’s approvals. Thus, Feb. 7 became the new inaugural day.
For the AvGeeks in attendance: You’ll be pleased to know that “CS100” is still emblazoned under the nose cone. “C Series” is the name the A220 had before Airbus bought the product line from Canada’s Bombardier. The CS100 became the A220-100, and the bigger CS300 is now the A220-300.
Delta’s future A220 fleet will consist of 40 A220-100 series aircraft, and the remaining 50 will be the A220-300 variant. Delta anticipates taking its first delivery of the A220-300 in 2020, and more A220-100s will enter service in the months to come. A full list of confirmed routes is here, and you’ll notice that most are medium-haul routes, around 900 miles or so, frequented by business travelers. These happen to be routes commonly served now by CRJ700, CRJ900 and Embraer 175 regional jets. Passengers used to sitting on one of today’s RJs are in for a major treat with the new jet.
I booked the longer of the two round-trips available on the aircraft’s first day of flying. The brief hop between New York LaGuardia and Boston felt too short to review, so I purchased a mixed-class ticket between LaGuardia (LGA) and American Airlines’ mothership in Dallas–Fort Worth.
Tickets for A220 flights went on sale on Oct. 13, 2018, at Delta.com, which allows mixed-class itineraries. It was much less expensive to fly LGA-DFW in coach and DFW-LGA in first, so that’s the route I went. I also wanted to enjoy lunch service in the forward cabin, as lunch and dinner tend to be a bit more eclectic than breakfast.
You can book this route using Delta SkyMiles, but it’s not always the best deal. In my case, it would’ve cost around 50,000 to 60,000 SkyMiles to fly this itinerary. According to TPG’s current valuations, that was worth $600 or more, making the cash option more alluring. Cash bookings earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars and Medallion Qualifying Miles toward Delta elite status, so I earned 355 MQDs (only the base fare counts toward MQDs) and 3,470 MQMs (based on distance flown). In addition, I earned 3,095 miles as a Diamond Medallion member, which I’ll be able to use toward a future flight. Those redeemable miles were worth approximately $47.
Once it became clear that Delta would need to push the inaugural A220 flights, a Delta customer-service representative phoned and asked if I’d like to be rebooked on the new inaugural A220 flight day at no charge, which I accepted. Delta confirmed to me that it reached out to customers on a case-by-case basis, offering to rebook them for free if their primary reason for booking their Jan. 31, 2019 flight was to be aboard the A220.
This was no ordinary early-morning boarding experience. Executives from Delta as well as LaGuardia Airport were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, as well as a brief presentation on the A220. Given that the festivities began at around 5:15am, a surprising number of cheery passengers came out to enjoy the breakfast spread and swap AvGeek stories.
Passengers from the first A220 flight out of LGA — a 6am departure to Boston — mingled with those who arrived early for their 7:45am departure to Dallas–Fort Worth on Delta’s newest A220, registration N104DU, delivered on Dec. 31, 2018.
Given the early boarding, I stayed nearby at the new Ibis Styles New York LaGuardia Airport (an Accor property), less than a mile from LGA. Still, ongoing construction at the airport created a 24-minute shuttle ride with brief stops at terminals A and D before arriving at Terminal C.
I did not check a bag. However, Delta had an abundance of check-in desks at LGA, and there was very little activity when I arrived around 4:55am. Thanks to my Delta Diamond Medallion status, I get CLEAR membership for free — a major perk. I zipped through the CLEAR+TSA PreCheck lane in under three minutes and made a beeline to Gate C38.
Once the LGA-BOS flight departed, I made my way to the Terminal C Sky Club to grab a coffee. I used one of my Delta Choice Benefits to gain Sky Club access, but you could also enter with the Platinum Card® from American Express. One latte and a few Instagram posts later, I received a push notification from the Fly Delta iPhone app that my A220 was boarding.
Given that I deplaned at DFW and reboarded minutes later, I did not have time to explore the airport or peek inside any of its lounges.
Cabin and Seat
This particular A220, was the newest passenger aircraft I’d ever boarded. It was delivered on New Year’s Eve, roughly six weeks before its first commercial trip. (I’d toured the very first A220-100 delivered to Delta’s headquarters, registered N101DU, back in December.) As soon as I crossed into the plane, the aroma of newness infiltrated my nostrils, and the captain invited me to grab a photo of the cockpit while others were boarding.
Delta has just a handful of A220-100s in operation at launch but plans to operate 40 once all deliveries are in. These will replace the CRJ700s and CRJ900s, saving Delta coin while improving the medium-haul flight experience for passengers.
There’s truly nothing quite like flying a brand-new aircraft. There are no scuff marks, no fraying carpet, no worn upholstery, no defaced tray tables and no scratched IFE screens. As you’d expect, this A220 was fresh out of the wrapper and as clean as a whistle.
Delta’s A220-100 configuration has 12 first-class seats (three rows in a 2-2 layout), 15 Comfort+ seats (three rows in a 3-2 layout) and 82 standard economy seats in rows of 3-2. Each seat in Comfort+ and the main cabin offers the most width in Delta’s entire fleet, at 18.6 inches.
In some ways, the A220’s better-than-average seat width and pitch (34-inch legroom for Comfort+ and between 30 inches and 32 inches for the rest of coach) make its first-class cabin less of a must. First-class seats are definitely wider at 20.5 inches, and the 37-inch pitch is great if you’re trying to lean back and catch a wink of sleep, but the step up doesn’t feel quite as drastic as moving from a 17-or-so-inch-wide seat. Still, the first-class seats on the A220 are half an inch wider than those found on the Boeing 717, CRJ900 and Embraer E-175.
Unlike Comfort+ and the main cabin, first-class seats on my flight came graced with padded black armrests on both sides, which were quite supple. The aisle armrest had a new switch that lowered it to be entirely flush with the bottom seat cushion. Each seat had access to a 110-volt power outlet and USB ports (fixed to the IFE display). Row 1, the bulkhead row, had its power ports neatly tucked just beneath the inner armrest.
Below the inner armrest was a fabulous storage nook. More storage is never a bad thing. There was plenty of room here for a binder, paperwork, a few magazines and phone or tablet.
Responding to feedback from flight attendants who have historically been unable to find a great place for water bottles given to first-class passengers, Delta made sure each A220 seat had its very own bottle holder neatly tucked between the seat cushions. But the upper section of the armrest, which featured a recess designed to barely hold two glasses, could have been improved with a grippier surface. And there was room for a pullout drink holder. Perhaps this was just the American in me, who considers the eight-plus cup holders in my Ford F-150 to be one of its biggest perks.
Under-seat storage in first class felt scarce. The positioning of the braces prevented either side from being particularly spacious, and the bottom of the armrests hung quite low, further impeding what you could shove under there.
Two bathrooms were in the aft, with the port-side lavatory being the one that a passenger would most likely consider taking a selfie in. That was because it was home to a window. Not just a porthole, but a full-sized, genuine, bona fide window. Sadly, this fact was well-known among the AvGeek crowd on board, and within an hour the sink was clogged.
The forward lavatory and the windowed lavatory were both surprisingly roomy. The starboard aft lavatory was a tighter fit but still serviceable. All three did a solid job of using the curvature of the aircraft to their advantage, and the mood lighting was a welcome touch.
Amenities and IFE
The A220-100 is home to Delta’s first awkwardly named “wireless IFE.” It’s powered by Gogo Vision Touch, and the wireless part refers to this system’s ability to host all content — movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, games, etc. — on a central system and stream to each seatback tablet.
Delta installed 13.3-inch touchscreens in the first-class cabin and 10.1-inch touchscreens (pictured in the next few photos below) in Comfort+ and the main cabin. Given how few regional jets have a modern IFE system, this is a huge upgrade for the routes that the A220 will service.
The real news, however, is what you can’t see. The new architecture enables Delta to upgrade these entertainment systems with far more agility. We could theoretically see advancements in responsiveness, icon sizing and layout implemented very fast. Now that we’re working with tablets based on code that doesn’t have to stay the same for eons, Delta can adapt to customer feedback and viewing trends without bearing the cost of ripping out and replacing hardware.
On my flight, the user interface looked just like the one I saw on an Airbus A319 the day prior, but there was plenty of newness behind the panel. The screen was extremely responsive to touch, and offered hundreds of free movies and TV shows, along with a new crop of podcasts.
I was duly impressed with the flight tracker (Airshow by Collins Aerospace), though there was no live camera view. Parents would have appreciated the Sky Kids tab, which displayed a limited selection of kid-friendly films, TV shows, music and games. It was heartening to see the flight tracker remain on the Sky Kids page — that’s how AvGeeks are formed!
The search function was particularly impressive. I did, however, miss the live TV from Dish that I’ve grown used to on other Delta planes. I enjoyed the tilt function on the first-class IFEs. Note that IFEs in Comfort+ and the main cabin are fixed and do not pivot up and down.
Another useful tab was for food and drink, which showed available beverages, complimentary snacks and the entire Flight Fuel menu. If people figure out to look here, it’ll prevent those long conversations that begin with, “So, what food do you have for sale?”
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Around 30 minutes after takeoff, our first-class flight attendant came around to ask for our drink orders. Once those were delivered, I was treated to a snack basket that contained peanuts, bananas, Oreo cookies, Kind bars and a snack mix.
At the 90-minute mark, dinner was served. The day I flew happened to be the very first day that Delta enabled preselect first-class meals for flights without Delta One business class. I’d selected a grilled chicken salad three days earlier, after receiving an email about it from Delta.
Nevertheless, I was asked to pick between two meals. Thankfully, the grilled chicken salad was still in stock, so all was well. The lead flight attendant noted that, though the paperwork for passengers’ preselect meal choices had been given to him for the outbound LGA–DFW flight, the selections weren’t provided for the DFW–LGA return. I’m chalking it up to Day One hiccups.
The salad itself was fresh, scrumptious and appropriately sized, as was the cookie that accompanied it. Once I wrapped up dinner, I was asked three more times before landing if I wanted a refill or any other snacks. I kept my club soda topped off, though I resisted grabbing a stash of Oreos for later.
It may sound peculiar, but retrieving the tray table on the A220 was fun for all involved. You simply lifted up the armrest and flipped a switch, and up slid your table. No more hunting for a hook to grab. James Bond would have been proud.
Delta’s first-class service was attentive but not overbearing, with charming personalities to boot.
The service on my flight was excellent. Our first-class flight attendant, Frankie, had a glowing personality. Jovial and attentive, he was genuinely interested in making our time on the A220 memorable. He chatted with the entire cabin and seemed to love hearing what brought us onto an inaugural flight. He flies the LGA–DFW route often, so there’s a good chance you’ll see him if you book a ticket soon.
Besides during the meal services mentioned, Frankie was never out of eyesight. This made it simple to flag him down and request refills and additional snacks. I appreciated his willingness to serve, and not once did he seem put out by any member of the first-class cabin raising a hand with a request.
Delta has a competitive advantage by being the first North American carrier to fly the Airbus A220. I spoke with several professionals who travel weekly for work and wound up on the inaugural A220 by happenstance. They were impressed with the size of the overhead bins (which you can see here in our detailed photo guide of the plane), the speedy Gogo 2Ku Wi-Fi, the spaciousness of all cabins, the size of the first-class bathroom and the quietness of the ride.
One gentleman said that when he flies Delta between New York’s LaGuardia and Dallas, typically “a scene from ‘Lord of the Flies’” breaks out as passengers try to search for available overhead bins. The A220 resolved that with giant bins more often seen on wide-bodies.
“While it may seem silly, when you fly as much as I do, there are certain planes I won’t fly, and there are others I make a point to fly — and I’ll be making a point to fly this one,” another passenger said.
There’s really no comparison. When matched against the A220, the CRJ700, CRJ900 and Embraer 175 all come up short. This plane is the new de facto king of regional flying, providing a roomy, modern environment with a best-in-class seatback entertainment system to serve medium-haul routes in the 900-to-1,400-mile range.
The captain informed passengers aboard the inaugural LGA–DFW A220 flight that “this aircraft is capable of making trips to the West Coast and, once there, making trips to Hawaii.” While he was simply using those examples to trumpet the plane’s capabilities, it definitely piqued my interest. There’s probably no solid business case to fly a 220 to the 808, but you can bet I’d be first in line if that ever materialized.
As a Diamond Medallion who relishes a complimentary upgrade, I’d prefer one more row of first-class seating and a more substantial nook for holding glassware. Otherwise, there’s little I’d change. If you’re flying one of Delta’s upcoming confirmed A220 routes, do yourself a favor and make sure you pick the one operated by its newest jet. Regardless of what cabin you’re in, you’ll notice the upgrade.
Featured imagine courtesy of Delta Air Lines. All other images courtesy of the author.
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