A Suite Ride to China: Delta One on the Brand-New A330-900neo
[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="84" ground-experience="7" cabin-seat="21" amens-ife="13" food-bev="20" service="23" pros="Comfortable, private suites with a top-shelf, 18.5-inch IFE system. Above-average food, fast (and reliable) Wi-Fi, and exceptional service, paired with a great Sky Club experience in Seattle." cons="Narrow aisles and galleys. Lackluster LSTN headphones, a less-elegant privacy door than on the A350 and tight footwells." /]
We’re big fans of the Delta One Suite at TPG. To date, the suite experience was limited to the Airbus A350 and retrofitted Boeing 777s. Delta's recent launch of Airbus A330-900neo offers flyers a new opportunity to fly in one of Delta’s private business-class cabins.
The 900neo is the latest model of the successful Airbus A330 family. It’s the same size as the A330-300 Delta already flies, but with new, quieter engines that burn less fuel, plus some aerodynamic refinements. As a consequence, the 900neo — also referred to as the A339 or just 339 —flies farther, up to 8,300 miles nonstop, according to Airbus.
With 35 on order to replace the smaller Boeing 767-300ER on many long-haul routes, the A339 began its journey with Delta by shuttling a raucous group between Seattle and Shanghai. Although the A339 experienced a brief delivery delay followed by a quiet, early entry into service, the flight we’re reviewing here was treated as the de facto inaugural flight.
Inaugural flights tend to sell out quickly, so I purchased my round-trip ticket between Seattle and Shanghai the day flights went on sale. My original outbound flight was set for July 1, 2019, but Delta pushed the date a fortnight because of the delay in delivery.
I wanted a multi-cabin experience, with Delta One Suites on the outbound and Premium Select on the return and headed to Delta.com to complete the purchase. The airline wanted 168,000 SkyMiles for the Delta One Suites leg. Based on TPG's valuation of each SkyMile at 1.2 cents, that would’ve amounted to around $2,016 in value.
Because of Delta's lofty SkyMiles pricing, I opted to pay cash for the ticket. The total came to $3,356.53 — including my positioning flights to/from North Carolina — with Delta One Suites for the outbound inaugural and Premium Select on the return a couple of days later.
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Delta’s presence at Seattle-Tacoma Airport, known as Sea-Tac, is undeniable. Now a bona fide hub for the airline, Sea-Tac is home to two Sky Clubs, including a sprawling 21,000-square-foot lounge near Gate A1.
I took a brief tour of the A330-900neo’s interior in the hours before boarding, requiring me to clear security again. I found it odd that only half of the airport’s checkpoints (1 and 4) were equipped to handle TSA PreCheck, while 2 and 3 were not. Checkpoints 1 through 4 offered CLEAR, so travelers with both should be mindful of where they queue up.
Once I had that sorted, my end-to-end security check was under eight minutes at Checkpoint 1. My CLEAR membership is an included perk with Delta Diamond status, and I hold several credit cards which grant me Global Entry (and in turn, TSA PreCheck). That combo saved me at least 20 minutes compared to other lines at Seattle.
I spent most of my time at Delta’s massive Concourse A Sky Club. The upper deck was open during my stay, offering a quiet respite and plenty of comfortable seating and power. Wi-Fi was speedy, the food spread was wonderful and the views are unbeatable. Because the flight departed from Terminal S, I allowed 15 minutes to exit, hop on the train and commute to Gate S1. There’s a smaller Sky Club in Terminal S, and I made a brief visit. Personnel there remarked with excitement that I’d be traveling on a “brand-new plane.”
This flight was treated as the true inaugural for the A339, complete with balloons and a cake at the gate as part of the festivities upon boarding, and it was clear that the crew was jazzed to be working a new aircraft. Oddly, there were no first-flyer pins waiting on seats, as was the case on the A220 inaugural.
I spotted several Delta loyalists, whom I met on the airline’s A220 inaugural flight earlier this year. That reunion energy quickly spread on board, with passengers asking crew members questions about the aircraft.
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The A330-900neo has the same “raccoon eyes” as the A350. It’s the same size as the A330-300 (which Delta also flies), but there are fewer seats overall.
The A339 has 29 seats in Delta One (compared to 34 on the A330-300), 56 seats in Comfort+ (up from 40 on the A330-300) and 168 seats in the main cabin (down from 219 on the A330-300).
The gap is filled by 28 seats in Premium Select, which is a new cabin altogether compared to the A330-300 and A330-200.
The Airbus A350 has a fuselage width of 19 feet and 7 inches. The A330-900neo is only 17 feet and 3 inches wide. Both aircraft have a 1-2-1 seating configuration in Delta One, which means that there’s slightly less space on the A339.
The first place you’ll notice this small difference between the two aircraft is in the aisles. They’re very tight, requiring you to step into someone else’s suite to let another person pass.
My Delta One Suite, designated 3A, lacked some of the distinct trim elements found on the A350, but is an exceptional seat unto itself and a marked upgrade over what’s found on Delta’s A330-200 and -300 aircraft.
Business-class seats on the A339 are 23.3 inches wide and offer 45 inches of pitch and a bed length of 79 to 80 inches. That compares to a published seat width of 22 to 24 inches, pitch of 44 to 45 inches and bed length of up to 77 inches on Delta's Airbus A350.
The first thing most people will notice is the gargantuan 18.5-inch inflight entertainment (IFE) screen and the large sliding door that encloses you for maximum privacy. Since I was fresh off of a trip on a 767-400, the first thing I noticed was the storage. Oh, the storage!
Delta’s designers addressed one of the major complaints about its older Delta One cabins by giving passengers ample nooks to stow their gear. There’s a large cubby to the left of the footwell that’s big enough to hold the (delightful) Westin Heavenly bedding. There’s a place near the feature light for headphones and water bottles, but you can stick your phone, Kindle or other accessories there, as long as you don’t forget them when you leave.
There’s yet another storage space just beneath the slide-out tray table, which I found ideal for holding my passport. There’s copious tray space. I was able to have my 13-inch MacBook Pro out, open and charging on the table to my left while my full meal was occupying the pull-out table over my lap.
I appreciated the padded armrests on both sides, but the one on the right was a bit too narrow for my liking. Interestingly, there was a mirror and an IFE remote underneath the left armrest, along with a placard asking passengers to use the touchscreen while upgrades are made. I assume this means that the remote will function in time, but it did nothing during my journey.
There are two USB (Type A) power outlets and a 110-volt charging port for electronics like laptops, all of which came in handy during our 11-hour, 6-minute flight.
(Photo by Darren Murph/TPG)
The feature light is less prominent than those on United’s new Polaris seats on the Boeing 787-10, but a lovely touch, nonetheless. Two touch-panels provided access to suite lighting (brighter and dimmer), a Do Not Disturb icon and lie-flat bed controls.
Delta added four preconfigured layouts on the bed controls: upright, relax, lounge and bed. The seat converted to a bed easily, quietly and quickly.
I’m a few inches shy of six feet tall and the footwell was too snug for me in the lie-flat mode. Taller passengers will likely feel cramped near their ankles, and restricted in their ability to easily toss from one side to the other while asleep.
Overall, though, the suite is sufficiently roomy and a total pleasure to fly in. It’s plush, comfortable and refined. My only two (minor) complaints are the tight footwell (in lie-flat mode) and the windows. I would’ve loved them to be larger, but that's a design issue with all A330s.
Unlike the A350, which positions its two Delta One lavatories at the front of the aircraft, the A339 has one at the front and one behind the last row (seat 7J). They were well lit and roomy, but the forward lavatory is inaccessible if the crew is there with carts out. Space is tight ahead of first row.
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Delta One passengers are in for an IFE treat. The 18.5-inch touchscreen is not only massive, but it’s also speedy and polished. It’s the first notable IFE to ship from Delta Flight Products, and it’s completely wireless. This removes those weighty and annoying ground-mounted boxes, and it makes future upgrades far less cumbersome.
The Flight Viewer app is exceptional. Be sure to visit the Command Center portal for a split-screen view of your position and numerous statistics that AvGeeks will adore. It even integrates real-time data from the flight deck.
The screen is immovable, but I didn’t find that to be a major drawback.
On my flight, the IFE was loaded with 298 movies, 550 TV shows and 1,550 audio selections. I managed to chip away at "Captain Marvel." The graphic interface wasn't drastically different from what I've seen on other Delta flights, but it seemed more organized. There’s a Sky Kids section as well.
The LSTN headphones were poor in both sound quality and isolation. I was glad I brought my Sony WH-1000XM2 noise-cancelling headphones, and I suggest you bring your own, as well.
Note that you’ll need a two-prong headphone adapter even on this new jet. There is no 3.5mm headphone port.
Delta’s refreshed amenity kit was on board — a soft TUMI pouch with the usual socks, eye mask, toothbrush, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, ear plugs, tissues and small pen. I much prefer the TUMI 19 Degree hard-shell case, but alas.
Gogo's 2Ku satellite-based Wi-Fi system enabled me to connect shortly after takeoff and remain online for the entire flight. I didn't spot a single dropout, with numerous speed tests showing download rates north of 34 Mbps and upload rates around 0.23 Mbps. It's mind-boggling that this seat can be your office for 11 hours while you hop over an ocean.
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I didn’t go hungry on this flight. The first meal was served approximately 50 minutes after takeoff around 4pm local time. Delta One passengers were treated to a beautiful multi-page menu upon boarding.
I used Delta’s pre-select function prior to my flight and opted for the steak entree, which was preceded by a small salad, shrimp and corn chowder.
Chicken, halibut, lasagna or a Chinese main course of scallop, crab and shrimp dumplings were also available.
The appetizers were surprisingly delicious, and although the steak was a little tough, it was satisfactory. The potatoes and beans that accompanied it were exceptional.
Dessert was a combination of grapes and vanilla ice cream — a request the crew was kind to honor. It was absolutely scrumptious, and Delta’s signature heart-shaped spoon was a nice touch.
I slept through the snack basket, but it was available in the galley for those who wanted to sift through it.
Three meal choices were available for breakfast, and were served about 90 minutes prior to landing in Shanghai. I went for the quiche (I was pleased with it), though braised pork dumplings and ziti pasta were available.
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The cabin crew made an already excellent journey even more memorable. Not only was everyone happy to be learning about a new aircraft with a host of congenial passengers, but this crew also went above and beyond.
I spent a solid half-hour in the galley chatting about the new aircraft with a pleasant group of Seattle-based flight attendants. We talked about travel and life, sharing photos and stories, and even strategies for maintaining elite status across several hotel chains.
I saw the flight crew answering questions about the new IFE and operating the sliding Delta One Suite door, and it never felt as if a passenger request was a burden.
The A339 is a significant improvement over the aging 767 that it will replace. It’s astonishingly quiet and one crew member told me that even the galley seemed less noisy.
Everything feels refined. The overhead bins slant gently back to prevent suitcases from launching out of them and the IFE responds like a device that was built in this century. Even the textures on the surface area within the Delta One Suite are pleasing to the touch, with soft corners and grippy table tops.
The memory-foam seating is a delight, and there’s truly nothing quite like having a lie-flat bed in the sky when you’re traveling 11+ hours nonstop. I would’ve preferred a wider footwell and a more impressive set of headphones but otherwise it’s tough to complain.
Short of flying the wider, more spacious suite on the A350, this is as good as business class gets on Delta, and we’re eager to see it launch on more routes as deliveries become more frequent.