A decent but old biz class: Review of Delta One on the 767-300ER from Rio to JFK
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I’m a frequent flyer who’s familiar with Delta Air Lines’ lie-flat seats on the Boeing 767, but I had never tried them outside of the U.S. A recent flight to and from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was my first time in Delta’s international lie-flat business class, and while the service didn’t disappoint, the seat did. I flew both legs in business class, but I’m focusing on the return for the purposes of this review.
Delta’s 767-400ERs are getting new and greatly improved Delta One seats, but the smaller 767-300ERs — still the backbone of the airline’s long-haul fleet —are flying with the older, subpar business class hard product. That’s why the 300ER in this review scored below our 79-point average for long-haul biz class.
This is a seasonal flight on Delta with direct service to and from Rio that operates from mid-December until March. In a press release, Delta said, “The seasonal service to Rio de Janeiro is one of Delta’s most successful routes, along with current service to other top Latin American business and leisure destinations such as Bogota, Cartagena, Quito, Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo.”
I jumped on a screaming deal found by my TPG colleague Victoria Walker: business-class fares from New York International Airport (JFK) to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) for about $1,200.
I booked my flight through the American Express Travel website and used The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x Membership Rewards points. I also could have earned 5x MR points by booking directly with the airline. I ended up spending $1,193 for the round-trip flight, a great deal for a 10-hour flight in business class considering that cash fares go as high as $11,350. If you want to book with miles last minute, it’s a humongous 700,000 Delta miles plus $50.75. The flight is also available via one-stop connections throughout the year with Delta One going for $4,000- $7,000 r/t. (Booking Delta flights using Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club can be a smart tactic to get around Delta’s crazy-high numbers for award seats in Delta One.)
I just completed a status challenge to Delta Platinum, so this flight got me well along toward confirming that status for 2021. I earned 14,362 MQMs and $1,100 in MQDs, plus a total of 9,900 redeemable Delta miles for the flight. I also earned 5,965 Membership Rewards points. That’s worth about $119, according to TPG valuations.
My flight left from Rio’s international Terminal 2. I had a fantastic gate agent at the Delta counter, Anderson, who checked me in quickly and with a smile; there were a total of six agents and the lines were minimal. I left my airport hotel at 6:11a.m. and was done with check-in and through security by 6:30 a.m. That has to be my personal record.
The Gol Premium Lounge in Rio is lovely, at least in its design. It’s one of several large lounges on the third floor of Terminal 2, not far from an American Airlines Admirals Club. I was lucky and got there early enough to avoid crowds. The food was not very impressive but would tide you over if you were hungry. (Think cheeseballs and pasta.)
It also has showers, which I tried out. They are nicely designed, and the water pressure was good. I believe the shower would even have passed the TPG shower test for very tall people like TPG founder and CEO Brian Kelly. My big complaint was the cheap toiletries and towels.
I would note that Delta is separating from its partner Gol, after taking a 20% stake in Gol competitor LATAM in September. It’s unclear how much longer Delta elites and business-class ticket holders will have access to the lounge. LATAM uses the American Airlines lounge for international flights from GIG, so it’s also unclear what lounge Delta flyers will be able to use at the airport once the Gol partnership winds down.
The lounge is fairly spacious, with lots of separate seating areas and great views of the tarmac. One nice touch is the bar, staffed with a bartender from 2 to 10 p.m.
Wi-Fi speeds in the lounge were just OK. The tests I ran showed 4.27 Mbps for downloads and 4.94 for uploads. There are plenty of outlets, though, and the furniture and seats were in good shape. One thing to be aware of is that most of the plugs need Brazilian adapters. There are some seats with USB plugs, but those are not nearly as plentiful.
After a shower and some bites to eat, I headed to the gate area, a long walk past some shops.
Our gate was one of the last at the end of Terminal 2, and afforded a good view of our 767 being loaded. There were a ton of seats available at the gate, with USB as well as Brazilian-style outlets at every third seat. Boarding was efficient. Elderly flyers who needed extra time were given access first, followed by families with small children, then Delta Diamonds and the business-class cabin.
Cabin and Seat
I love the look of Delta’s business-class cabins, though the blue they chose seems a bit pedestrian. Still, it’s nice to walk into a cabin and see the bright colors and the prominent use of the Delta logo along with the Delta One branding. The cabin on this version of the 767 feels intimate, with only 26 biz seats. (Delta’s 767-300ERs also come in two other configurations, both with 36 Delta One seats.)
Delta One seats on the 767-300ER are 20.5 inches wide and, when fully flat in bed mode, range from 77 to 80 inches long. The seat felt narrow to me especially at the hips and in the footwell. I’ll explain more in detail below.
I don’t recommend the bulkhead seats in row 1; the galley and the bathrooms at the front of the cabin meant a not-so-restful sleep for me when I chose seat 1A on the way down to Rio. On the return I was in 4A. Both the lavatories dedicated to the forward cabin are at the front, near the galley. They were kept very clean throughout the flight, but they were pretty basic.
One of those 26 seats has curtains around it and sits empty for parts of the flight. It’s used as a crew-rest seat.
As you can see in the photographs, the seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, giving all passengers direct aisle access.
Waiting for me at my seat was a pair of Delta’s branded over-ear headphones, which worked fine, though they don’t compare to American Airline’s Bang & Olufsen headphones. On the other hand, the flight attendants don’t take them from you up to an hour before landing. There was also a fluffy pillow and blanket branded Westin Heavenly. I hate to nitpick, but there were some stains on my pillowcase on the flight down to Rio. I’m not sure if they were missed after laundering or what happened. They smelled and looked clean otherwise.
I love Delta’s Tumi amenity kits. They had cute socks, a small pen, tissues, earplugs, lip balm and lotion, a dental kit, hand sanitizer and one of those great Tumi eye masks. I find Delta’s amenity kits a big upgrade over most American Airlines kits, for example, which I feel try too hard sometimes to be cool and verge on the unpractical for re-use.
Not all airplanes have individual air vents at every seat; this Delta 767-300ER did.
The cabin was generally clean and well maintained, but the seats were definitely showing their age. There were signs of repeated repairs and lots of general wear and tear.
My biggest complaint about the seat was tightness around the feet, hips and shoulders. I measured about 17 inches of width at the feet, knees and hips. I also didn’t feel like the seat on either leg of my trip ever got fully flat. It looked flat, but I always felt like I was on a slight incline. I didn’t sleep well on the nighttime flight down to Rio and wasn’t able to really nap on the return.
The seats are also, relatively, poorly padded.
The tray table is 9.5 by 11 inches. It slopes slightly and it doesn’t easily move if you want to get out for anything during a meal service. It does angle away from the body, but you need to put it away to easily exit the seat.
The tray is unfolded by pushing a button to open the armrest compartment, where a sign notes that it cannot be used for storage — and storage is in short supply.
Directy behind a partition is the economy cabin, arranged in a 2-3-2 layout. Comfort+ seats, with extra legroom, are at the front of coach class.
Amenities and IFE
The inflight entertainment system was not top-notch. The screen is a tiny 10 inches, and the in-seat IFE had only a small number of movies and TV shows. However, I’m giving this a better score than I normally would have because there is streaming entertainment available via Wi-Fi with an impressive number of movies. Delta says there are more than 300 movies and 550 TV episodes available in streaming, but the catch was that Wi-Fi speeds were not great.
The IFE also had the moving map that’s expected on any good in-seat monitor, although it wasn’t the latest kind allowing pinch-to-zoom.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
My flight from Rio to JFK featured a “cocktail of the moment,” which Delta describes as a “hand-curated Honey Peach Fizz made with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, peach Puree and ginger ale.” (Their caps.) As a starter before breakfast, yogurt and fresh fruit were served. I had banana crepes as my main breakfast course. Overall, the amount of food was pretty insubstantial for business class, though it was all served with a smile. I probably should have gone with the chicken breast or the omelet for a more substantial portion.
Dessert was from a cart. I had a sundae with lots and lots of whipped cream.
They served a cookie about four hours into the nine-hour flight — I’ve only ever gotten cookies toward the end of flights. It was listed as a “mid-flight snack.” There was also a snack basket available, thought it wasn’t easy to find. I went looking for it and did find it in the galley, but I felt like I was in the way of the flight attendants.
About an hour and 15 minutes before landing we had a second meal service, with a choice between a cheeseburger or a crispy chicken salad. I went with the cheeseburger, which was just OK.
Service was very good, and up to Delta’s best standards. My flight attendant, Miriam, was very nice, attentive and responsive. I even heard her thanking lifetime elite members for their many years of flying with Delta. It sparked several lovely conversations.
The captain and purser made lots of announcements and were very clear in communication.
The best part was that the purser played “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra over the PA system when we landed. Nice touch.
Despite the subpar seat, my first international trip on Delta Air Lines in business class didn’t disappoint. I had great service on both legs and Miriam on the flight from Rio to NYC was wonderful, reflecting well on Delta Air Lines as a whole. The food was good, all things considered, and despite wear and tear, the business-class cabins on Delta’s 767-300s still look good. The biggest disappointment was the seat, which felt narrow and wasn’t great for sleeping. The new Delta One suites are far, far superior to this product, which is showing its age. But for the right price, like $1,200 round-trip to Brazil and back, I’d happily fly it again.
All photos by the author.
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