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Lie-flat seats to Hawaii made even an eight-plus hour flight with an infant a breeze. Pros: Shared space for families on middle seats, fantastic entertainment selection and service steeped in aloha. Cons: Dated seats, no windows in Row 10 and subpar IFE displays (all of which are set to be replaced in an upcoming refurbishment).
As someone who amassed over a million miles with Delta Air Lines before becoming a dad, I’ve made it a priority to keep right on motoring since my wife and I adopted a newborn a few months back. He started flying at just 5 weeks old, and his calm, peaceful demeanor made a couple of coast-to-coast flights relatively simple.
But how would a 5-month-old handle 3,972 miles over eight hours and 10 minutes in a Boeing 767-400ER? Pretty well, I surmised, given two key realities: One, we’d be landing in Hawaii, where the aloha air cures all ailments. Two, we’d be flying one of the more family-friendly business-class products — one that’ll be going away shortly.
Delta gurus will know that the airline flies lie-flat seats to Hawaii on five domestic routes: to Honolulu (HNL) from Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW), Minneapolis–St. Paul (MSP), Salt Lake City (SLC) and (for two weeks surrounding Christmas) New York-JFK. The airline’s top-tier Platinum and Diamond Medallion members should also know that coveted regional upgrade certificates — only available via Choice Benefits when you hit the aforementioned elite tiers — work on all domestic routes, including those to Hawaii.
In turn, using a RUC on a lie-flat route to Hawaii is the ideal way to maximize that certificate, and that’s precisely what I did. I called the Delta Diamond line with a month of dates to play with and went day by day until I found a seven-day window where upgrade availability was present on both the outbound and return. I paid cash for two economy tickets and applied four RUCs to cover the round-trip for myself and my wife. You can wait-list your certificates for this route, but I wouldn’t advise it. Delta routinely fills its business-class cabins to Hawaii.
The total for each economy ticket (originating in Raleigh–Durham (RDU) and connecting to Honolulu via Minneapolis–St. Paul) was $919, which I paid for using my Chase Sapphire Reserve for its 3x earnings on travel (including airfare) and industry-leading trip-delay insurance. Given that our infant was well under 2 years old, his ride on one of Delta’s longest domestic flights was completely free.
$919 is steep for a round-trip economy ticket from the East Coast to Hawaii, as we frequently see deals in the $400-to-$500 range, but the guaranteed upgrade to Delta One (as well as first class on the RDU-MSP legs) made it worthwhile. The paid fare for Delta One would’ve been around $3,000 per ticket, so I extracted nearly $2,100 in value from my regional upgrade certificates.
I generally do not recommend using SkyMiles for Delta One redemptions, as Delta has a tendency to peg those awards to the cash price, netting you around 1 cent per SkyMile. However, I do see plenty of MSP-HNL availability through Delta.com for 80,000 miles one-way, which is pretty fantastic in terms of what Delta is capable of surfacing (900,000-mile trips to Johannesburg, anyone?).
Virgin Atlantic will sell you this seat via its award-booking portal for 60,000 miles one-way, but finding availability is next to impossible.
Minneapolis is one of my favorite Delta hubs to connect through. The Midwest hospitality is present from check-in to the Sky Club to the gate agents, and the operational efficiency at MSP is laudatory. Given that we were traveling with an infant, we packed a ton. Three suitcases worth of clothes, formula, diapers, wipes, a beach tent and a bit of breathing room for a Dole pineapple, plus a BOB stroller to handle beach escapades.
As a Diamond Medallion, I (along with my companion) was allowed three free bags, though I would’ve received the same just for flying in Delta One. Priority check-in at RDU was a breeze, and my bags were checked through in MSP sans issue.
Delta has a pair of Sky Club locations at MSP, and I visited the larger of the two in the F/G Concourse. Signage just outside the entrance noted that a refurbishment was coming, promising more seating and room for guests.
This Sky Club underwent a refresh a few years back, becoming one of the only with a buffet, and I enjoyed building my own salad. I hope the next refresh adds showers.
As a business traveler, I’ve long appreciated the oasis that is an airline lounge. But now, I adore them even more. With an infant in tow, there’s immense satisfaction in having access to a dedicated quiet space where I can stash my (many) bags as well as a far cleaner family restroom for changing a baby.
On the return, we thoroughly enjoyed the quiet Sky Club in Honolulu. It too had signage promising additional seats and space in the months ahead, though we had no issue finding a private nook.
The food spread was top-shelf, with hot soups, curry and even Maui-style potato chips. Lounge personnel went above and beyond to make our infant feel special, and he happily offered up both cheeks for squeezing.
We’ve written an entire guide detailing how to gain access to Delta’s network of Sky Club airline lounges, and the easiest way is to hold the Platinum Card® from American Express, Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express or the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card.
Had I lacked Sky Club access, both MSP and HNL offer Priority Pass lounges, and a host of credit cards include Priority Pass membership to make connections, early arrivals and flight delays more comfortable.
Cabin and Seat
Both my outbound and the red-eye return were operated by the same 18-year-old Boeing 767-400ER, sporting tail number N839MH. While the cabin is no doubt showing its age, I wanted one last hoorah on this Delta One configuration before the retrofit appears later this year.
I also chose this plane and this route specifically to fly on a Delta One interior that many business passengers lament. While paint chips are present and the lie-flat seats creak and stutter as they fold, the middle seats in the 1-2-1 layout are ideal for couples traveling with an infant in a way that the upcoming interior isn’t.
This Delta One configuration has no privacy divider between the middle two seats. That’s awkward for strangers flying halfway around the world together, but it’s perfect for a couple flying with an infant. The shared middle armrest gave us plenty of room for things like bottles, teething rings and Sophie the giraffe.
The shared space also proved useful for holding my wife’s meals while our son slept on her chest — much more convenient than trying to get a tray table out.
I chose 10B and 10C on the outbound and would’ve done the same for the return had those seats been available. (We wound up in 7B and 7C for the return.) For couples traveling with an infant, 10B and 10C are the ideal seats. That’s the final row of Delta One, which means you can pop out of your seat at any time and walk the galley behind you without disturbing other passengers. You’re also mere feet from two lavatories, both of which have changing tables.
I found it interesting that some attributes I’d cite as flaws if flying this plane as a solo business traveler I saw as perks as a dad. Being close to the lavatory is a bonus for families, for instance, but so is being in a part of the cabin with no nearby windows. For whatever reason, there’s no window at 10A nor 10D. These are the only window seats in Delta One to not have a window. (Fellow solo travelers, let that serve as a note to not book either of those seats!)
However, that meant that the middle seats of that row, 10B and 10C, were incredibly dim. Whether that’s a pro or a con depends on your perspective. For us, it was beneficial, as we never struggled to create darkness for our son to fall asleep.
One may also worry that booking a seat in the rear of the cabin would mean take-it-or-leave-it on meal options. However, Delta’s glorious preselect meal system sent my wife and me an email 48 hours prior to our flight, asking us to select what we’d like to eat. Problem solved.
Another family perk to being 10 rows deep? You can see the carts coming. When flight attendants began making their way down the aisle for drink, meal and dessert services, those in the last row have the most amount of time to get ready. This proved to be a godsend, as it allowed my wife and me to plan. Would I ask for both of our drinks? Should we time a diaper change before or after the cart? What did we both want to drink again?
The seat itself was comfortable enough, and I managed to get about four hours of solid sleep in both directions. (My wife, being the superhero she is, likely got less, as she joyfully kept our son content.) That said, there’s a reason Delta is updating these in the fall. The footwells are tiny, and as someone shorter than 6 feet, I didn’t have much room to wiggle around once I was fully flat.
By far the biggest knock on this iteration of the Delta One seat is the stunning lack of storage space. I counted two netted nooks for each of us (plus a shared one in the middle), which were good for holding a couple of magazines, unwanted plastic wrap from our bedding and … nothing else. You couldn’t even squeeze a water bottle (or baby bottle, for that matter) in there without Hulk-like force.
With no stowage whatsoever, we resorted to putting our son’s diaper-and-bottle bag between our seats on the floor — score another win for no middle divider — and everything else on the shared table between our seats. That works well until you hit turbulence or someone’s arm begins to swing wildly.
While Delta’s retrofitted 764s are still in the shop, early renders appear to show more storage nooks. Delta’s also reducing the amount of Delta One seats from 40 (on my flight) to 34, which hopefully means more breathing room for those passengers. The 767-400ER has a cabin width of 15.49 feet, compared to over 17 feet on the Airbus A350 and more than 19 feet on the Boeing 777-200ER/LR.
That means that even the incoming Delta One seats on the revamped 764 won’t be called “Suites,” as they’ll lack the fully enclosed experience found on the 777, A350 and incoming A330-900neo. While I think families will appreciate the new seat in almost every way, the immovable privacy divider on the middle seats will be a slight drawback.
Amenities and IFE
The inflight-entertainment screen was laughably small, low-res and quite dim. I managed to get through “Vice” on the return (’twas odd watching Batman as Dick Cheney), but even coach passengers aboard Delta’s new A220 have access to superior screens.
For what it’s worth, the touchscreen was quite responsive — surprisingly so, given the age. Plus, there was loads of kid-friendly content in a dedicated section. Our son was too young to appreciate it, but it won’t be long before that changes.
The included LSTN wired headphones were so-so, and didn’t cancel noise in a noticeable way. Delta’s content selection, however, was outstanding. You’d need a lot more than 3,900 miles to put a dent in the expansive library.
Both of our seats had a 110-volt AC power port, which worked well for charging a laptop, as well as a USB charging port.
I’m a huge fan of the Westin Heavenly bedding. We were both presented with adult-sized pillows and comforters, each of which I was fairly sad to let go of upon landing.
On our MSP-HNL leg, we were treated to brand-new hardshell Tumi 19 Degree amenity kits. Impressively, each kit included a voucher to have it monogrammed free of charge. During our week on Oahu’s peaceful North Shore, we braved Downtown Honolulu just long enough to grab a slice of Hula Pie at Duke’s (seriously, to die for) and to pop over to the Waikiki Shopping Plaza’s Tumi store. Store employees knew exactly what I was after as soon as I pulled the kits out, and five minutes later, I was happily making my way back to Turtle Bay.
Within, the kit contained the usual suspects: a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, an eye mask, earplugs, tissues, lip balm, a small Delta pen and socks. Oh, and a 15% off coupon good for one regularly priced item at a Tumi store.
On our return flight from Honolulu back to Minneapolis, however, we received the older, pouch-style Tumi kits. These are soft-sided black kits that do not offer a spot for monogramming. I was pretty disheartened by this, as I monogrammed the first two as gifts and intended on doing likewise with the two I’d collect on the trip home.
Our aircraft featured Gogo’s standard Ku service, which isn’t quite as speedy as the 2Ku service found on Delta’s Airbus A319/A320/A321 and Boeing 737-800/737-900, but at least it works over the ocean. A 30-minute pass was available for $3, while $9.95 would buy access for the entire eight-or-so-hour flight. I fly Delta routinely enough to justify an ongoing Gogo subscription, and I had no troubles logging on and staying connected.
I never did get a speed test to load (I suspect it was being blocked), but the connection was plenty sufficient for basic web browsing and email. I did not attempt to stream video, mostly out of respect for the limited onboard bandwidth shared among my fellow passengers, but also because Delta’s onboard entertainment selection was more than adequate.
Food and Beverage
Delta One menus were awaiting each passenger upon boarding in both directions, though they were of limited utility given that we preselected our entrees in advance. They were useful for scoping out available beverages (wines notwithstanding — you had to ask onboard personnel for those) as well as learning about the second meal that would be served just prior to landing.
Given that we were flying to and from Hawaii, the predeparture beverage tray consisted of prosecco, orange juice and mai tais. Plus, each passenger had a 20-ounce bottle of Dasani water waiting for them at their seat.
Shortly before takeoff, flight attendants thanked us for preselecting our meals and confirmed that they were loaded, then took our drink orders once we were in the air. We received no pushback at all when asking for wine along with sparkling water, and glasses were kept as full as desired for the duration of the long flight.
As soon as it was safe for flight attendants to serve the cabin, the crew hustled out and promptly delivered meals to the Delta One cabin. It was clear that the crew recognized that many on board wanted to maximize their time asleep. My wife and I both had the seared beef tenderloin as our main entree, which was served with jumbo asparagus, garlic herb potatoes and a dessert selection of ice cream or fruit and cheese. The entree was outstanding in every way.
I appreciated that a macadamia-nut ice cream was offered — a pleasant nod to Hawaii. My wife managed to grab the last of those, though she was kind enough to share. It was delectable. My vanilla ice cream, however, was far less tasty. The texture reminded me of ice cream that had melted and then refrozen.
On both long-haul flights, the crew was excellent about offering to bring us one meal at a time, enabling one person to eat while the other was on baby duty. We had our meals delivered simultaneously, using the shared center section as a tray table. This was a major perk of the current Delta One seat, but this won’t be possible with the incoming redesign, due to the immovable divider.
On our return, we both selected the Big Island short ribs, paired with carrots and asparagus. This meal was far less appealing — quite forgettable, in fact. The chocolate-covered macadamia-nut candies that were handed out, along with a warm “Mahalo!” helped make up for it.
I’ll remember these flights for a long time, especially our MSP-HNL leg that initially took us to Hawaii. Our crew of Honolulu-based flight attendants was clearly a cut above, and they worked hard to prove it. June, our lead flight attendant on that flight, went above and beyond to make sure the three of us were comfortable and had whatever we needed. She kept an eye on our little corner of the plane and made sure we were hydrated, while offering to raise and lower whatever bags we needed. She also took great interest in learning about our adoption journey — a personal touch that really meant a lot to us.
The flight crew made a point to serve dinner quickly in both directions and flipped the lights out as promptly as possible so we could all get a bit of shut-eye. They were always available but never in the way, and were happy to keep drinks topped off and snacks rolling. Each crew member appeared as if he or she was sincerely thrilled to be joining us on board, smiling through each request and sharing their aloha throughout the flight.
This is what I’ve come to expect from flying in Delta One. I’ve been fortunate to experience a behind-the-curtains look at Delta’s training facilities and operation hub in Atlanta, and it’s clear that service is more than a basic element. Rather, it’s seen as a core differentiator. My wife and I were very pleased at the welcome we received, even with a little one in tow.
In a way, I’m going to miss the old 764 Delta One cabin. The shared middle seats are ideal for couples with a little one, and it felt as if we had one giant area all for our family rather than two separate domains positioned next to each other.
That aside, it’s clearly time for a refresh, and it won’t be long before Delta loyalists will be combing retrofit update threads on FlyerTalk in an attempt to avoid seats like these. I suspect that the current privacy craze will see divided middle seats become the norm in business-class cabins, though they’re less alluring for families traveling with infants.
Still, I maintain that using regional upgrade certificates to secure nearly 8,000 miles of lie-flat goodness is a redemption worth savoring. The extra room made our infant’s first long-haul flight a breeze, and the top-notch Delta service made it a flight I wish I could relive.
All photos by the author.
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