Inaugurating Delta’s newest long-haul route in business-class suites
Delta Air Lines is betting on Boston in a very big way.
The carrier is making good on its pre-pandemic promise to turn its newest hub into a secondary transatlantic gateway with the launch of two new long-haul routes this summer.
First announced back in October, Delta’s new nonstop service from Boston to both Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) and Athens International Airport (ATH) is finally taking off, just in time to capitalize on what’s predicted to be one of the busiest summer travel seasons in recent memory.
While the carrier might’ve been swayed to add service to these two markets in a competitive response to the Northeast Alliance tie-up between American and JetBlue, Delta is clearly ready to defend its turf with a big Boston expansion.
Delta is poised to become the region’s number one airline, and to help achieve this goal, the airline has now launched two flagship long-haul routes (that also happen to be the airline’s two longest flights from Boston, with Athens at 4,755 miles and Tel Aviv at 5,491 miles).
Here at TPG, we don’t just write about new routes — we also experience them firsthand. What better way to experience Delta’s big Boston expansion than to fly the inaugural to Tel Aviv.
Personally, Delta’s new flight to Israel has even more meaning for me than just the aviation angle. I’m Jewish, I’ve lived in Israel, and I still have family and close friends who reside there.
So, when Delta first put the new route on sale late last year, I knew this would be an inaugural I couldn’t miss. I’m so glad I was there because it was an unforgettable experience.
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Celebrations to start
Inaugurals are always a fun time, no matter if you’re an aviation enthusiast or a casual traveler just catching a flight. Delta’s Boston team really rolled out the red carpet for this one.
I flew up to Boston early in the day from New York City (on a casual run-of-the-mill shuttle flight), and once I made my way to Terminal E (with a swanky Porsche tarmac transfer — Delta knew I was coming), the gate celebrations were just getting underway.
It was nearly impossible to miss the gate for the Tel Aviv flight. The entrance to Gate E8 was adorned with a semi-circular blue and white balloon arrangement, specifically designed in the colors of the Israeli flag.
You had to walk under the arch to reach the center of the celebration where there was a bountiful buffet of Israeli treats, staffed with Delta employees.
The delicacies included cheese bourekas, chocolate babka and some pastries that looked (and tasted) like a blintz.
Given that the flight was headed to Israel, Delta catered from a Kosher bakery. The bakery, Bakey Pastry Shop, just opened in Boston in September, and the Israeli chef, Uri Scheft, shared that he has outposts in his homeland called "lehamim" (Hebrew for "breads.")
Before partaking in the spread, the 10 flight attendants and the passengers were invited to sign the inaugural poster.
I noticed plenty of pride in the Boston operation from Delta’s employees. Several messages written by the crew and ground staff talked about how exciting this flight was for the airline's Boston expansion.
Flyers wrote many different notes, but the most popular message was “Mazel Tov” (Hebrew for congratulations).
There was a noticeable buzz in the gate area leading up to boarding. (The excitement was so palpable that I didn’t even bother trekking to the subpar Air France lounge before the flight.)
With backlit Delta letters on a table next to the gate, the Tel Aviv flight caught the attention of many passersby. One quipped that this was the “most excitement I’ve ever seen before boarding a 10-hour flight.“
Indeed, the excitement continued, as Ambassador Meron Reuben, Consul General of Israel to New England, delivered brief remarks about the significance of the flight.
Israel’s flag carrier, El Al, already serves Boston, but this Delta service will open up Tel Aviv (and Israel) to more travelers based in New England and beyond, he said.
To conclude the celebration, several Delta executives, along with Ambassador Reuben, cut the ceremonial ribbon (that was missing the letter “L” when I photographed it).
Delta invited Joseph Sheffi, an invite-only 360° status member to lead the ribbon-cutting. Sheffi ended up sitting just three rows in front of me on the flight, and he shared that this was a momentous occasion for him, given his ties to Israel, Boston and Delta (he has earned over 9 million SkyMiles in his lifetime).
The party continues on board
While boarding a long-haul flight is almost always hectic, the process for this flight was especially so.
Israeli authorities require a secondary security screening before getting on the plane. Because of this, Delta needed to use the smaller Gate E8, which has an area for security personnel to process passengers after scanning boarding passes.
The airline usually uses the larger Gate E7 for inaugurals, such as Friday’s Athens launch, according to Delta's managing director of Northeast airport operations Ravi Dadhich. However, because of the security requirement, all 281 passengers were corralled into one small gate area.
That said, boarding began on time, and flyers received a goodie bag once on the jet bridge.
I was selected for a secondary security search, which was surprisingly painless and efficient, especially compared to some of my previous experiences traveling to Israel. I was checked by a portable metal detector, and my bags were visually inspected.
Within minutes, it was time to enter the two-year-old Airbus A330-900neo, registered N402DX, that would be taking us to Tel Aviv.
While this route was an inaugural for Delta, it was also a “double inaugural” for me, as it marked my first time flying transatlantic in Delta’s top-notch business-class suites.
TPG paid $1,896.20 for the one-way ticket, booked with the Business Centurion Card from American Express to take advantage of the 50% rebate on points redeemed directly with Amex Travel.
One of the two Hebrew-speaking flight attendants excitedly greeted me at the boarding door and directed me toward my window suite, 6J.
(Delta will staff a third Hebrew-speaking flight attendant on this flight beginning in July. The airline doesn’t staff an Arabic-speaking crew member on this flight.)
Delta’s fanciest cabin for the new route
Delta One Suites, as they’re called, are essentially modified versions of the Thompson Vantage XL seat, with an added sliding door for additional privacy.
The 29 suites are arranged in a staggered configuration in one cabin of seven rows.
Solo travelers should select one of the even-numbered rows, as these suites are adjacent to the window and have an exposed storage table between the seat and aisle.
The odd-numbered window suites are adjacent to the aisle, which means that they aren’t as private.
Couples would likely prefer the center seats. (Note: Passengers can raise and lower the full-length privacy divider depending on whether they want to see their neighbor.)
The leather seat itself was quite comfortable, and I especially appreciated the stylish zig-zag pattern and subtle Delta branding on the headrest. Delta clearly realized that details matter.
The seat measures 21 inches wide, roughly average for a business-class product.
Interestingly, the window armrest didn’t lower, meaning that the width was essentially fixed at 21 inches (whereas some seats allow you to spread out once the armrest is lowered).
Perhaps my biggest gripe with the suite was the lack of enclosed storage.
The large side table measure 15 inches wide and 25 inches long, which was the perfect place to leave some loose items. Also, the literature pocket doubled as a storage area for books and other narrow and skinny items, like laptops or iPads.
That said, I still would’ve preferred a small closet or shelf for my wallet and other valuables.
The intuitive seat controls were located next to the literature pocket. There were four preset positions (upright, relax, lounge and bed), though you could customize your preferred position using the fine-tune controls.
Several newer business-class products, including Delta One Suites, feature a “do-not-disturb” setting, though I often find that flight attendants don’t notice when it’s illuminated.
On this flight, however, the crew was careful not to disturb any passengers when it was illuminated.
Next to the seat controls was a the universal power outlet, as well as two USB-A charging ports.
With the rise in popularity of USB-C, I wish there was an easy way for Delta to upgrade the connectivity to the latest standards.
I spent the first part of the flight working, which was easy thanks to the 20-inch long by 11-inch wide tray table that slid out from underneath the side table.
I slept soundly for the remainder of the flight. The seat quickly converted into lie-flat mode, and I found the bed comfortable enough to catch about five hours of sleep.
It measured 78 inches long, which was long enough for my nearly six-foot frame, but the footwell area was quite small for my size 11 feet, especially when resting on my side.
That said, the door, which rose 45 inches from the floor, really helped add a sense of personal space and privacy — I opted to keep it closed through the flight.
When it was time to wake up for landing, I used the conveniently placed side buttons to bring the seat back into the upright position.
There were two standard-size lavatories dedicated to business-class passengers, one at the front and one in the galley behind the cabin.
Amenities and goodies
Once I settled in, I immediately took stock of all the amenities waiting for me.
The first thing that caught my eye was the purple and blue linen Someone Somewhere amenity kit.
In January, Delta unveiled a revamped onboard amenity program focused on local and sustainable products. My Someone Somewhere kit was made by Mario in Michoacán, Mexico, according to the label printed inside the bag.
The kit was stocked with all the usual goodies, including a linen eye mask, a bamboo toothbrush, earplugs, a pen and Grown Alchemist lip balm and hand cream.
Some long-time flyers might miss Delta’s Tumi amenity kits, but this one did the trick for me.
Also waiting at my seat was Delta’s new recycled bedding, with a pillow and duvet packaged in a linen bag (no more single-use plastic).
While I had no trouble sleeping, the bedding wasn’t as comfortable as the Westin Heavenly bedding that Delta used to offer.
Delta also provided a pair of branded slippers, which were waiting on my seat during boarding.
They were a bit flimsy and definitely not as comfortable as the fleece-lined ones that United Airlines offers on its longest Polaris flights.
Notably, Delta doesn’t provide pajamas, an item you’ll also find in Polaris on United’s longest flights.
The highlight for many passengers, especially those in coach, was the special teal-colored goodie bag each flyer received during boarding.
It was filled with an inaugural flight certificate digitally signed by Delta CEO Ed Bastian, a commemorative pin and an embossed luggage tag.
In terms of entertainment, each suite has an 18-inch HD touchscreen monitor loaded with Delta Flight Products' proprietary inflight entertainment software.
The system was loaded with 317 movies and 569 TV show series, but it offered just nine new releases, such as "Fatherhood" and "Moonfall." I stuck to the moving map for most of the flight (because I wrote this story while I was awake).
There was a remote (and small mirror) hidden in the armrest if you prefer physical control buttons.
My two biggest gripes with the entertainment system: The highly reflective screen makes it hard to watch when the windows were open during daylight, and the screen doesn't tilt for a more comfortable viewing angle when in lie-flat mode.
Delta provided unbranded noise-isolating headphones, which were of average quality. Unfortunately, this jet doesn’t yet support Bluetooth audio, and the physical headphone jack had two prongs, so my wired Bose headphones didn’t work without an adapter.
Delta’s A330neo and A350 fleet is equipped with Gogo 2Ku Wi-Fi, which was available gate-to-gate for just $9.95 for the entire flight — a great deal considering American Airlines charges $35 and United charges $22.99 for routes from New York to Israel.
I couldn’t successfully load a Speedtest, but my connection was stable throughout the flight, and I had no trouble loading data-intensive apps such as Slack or Instagram.
Howeve, streaming wasn’t supported on the Gogo network.
For many of the 10 Boston-based flight attendants, this trip marked their first to Israel — and the excitement was palpable.
I overheard several crew members asking passengers for recommendations on things to do in Tel Aviv, while others were just reveling in the fact that Boston was getting more long-haul routes.
I typically find Delta crew to be a notch friendlier than those on American or United, and this flight was no exception. It was clear these flight attendants clearly wanted to be flying and were happy about the opportunity to work an inaugural.
After settling in, George, the purser, came through the cabin distributing Delta’s new one-page menu card, which simply listed the entree options.
Appetizer, dessert and drink choices were recited verbally (and posted online by taking a picture of the QR code on the printed menu).
Once everyone settled in, Valerie, the gregarious flight attendant serving my aisle, came through with a tray of pre-poured pre-departure beverages.
She encouraged us to enjoy a mimosa to celebrate the inaugural.
George then came through again to confirm entree orders. Delta does a great job of collecting orders before the flight, to help accurately cater the appropriate mix of meals and avoid any disappointment should items run out on board.
I noticed that nearly everyone had pre-ordered their entree. When I received the order request email from Delta five days before departure with my entree choices, I didn’t see anything that worked well with my dietary restrictions (pescatarian).
So, I opted to pre-order an Asian vegetarian special meal, my go-to on long-haul flights when the standard offering doesn’t work for me.
I always find that these meals have a good amount of spice and flavor that keep well at altitude.
Service began once we crossed through 25,000 feet with Valeria rolling the beverage cart through the aisle.
To continue the celebration, I enjoyed a glass of bubbly (Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve Champagne); it came with a small amuse-bouche of what was described as (and tasted like) a polenta bite with some mushrooms.
The appetizer cart came through next, and I received a delicious and refreshing cucumber and tomato salad, along with a piece of ancient grain bread (no pretzel rolls, sadly).
I also enjoyed the morel mushroom soup, which came piping hot with some cheese crostinis.
I received my special meal entree after I finished the appetizer; it was the only item during the entire service that was delivered by hand, not by cart. I enjoyed the two different types of curry, along with the fragrant basmati rice and tofu cubes. It also came with a piece of bread that appeared to be a hybrid between naan and pita bread.
My go-to special meal didn’t disappoint. While I would’ve preferred if Delta had catered a fish as a standard entree choice, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavors of my Asian vegetarian meal.
Dinner service concluded roughly 90 minutes after departure with a choice of ice cream sundae or lemon tart. I opted for the former, which was plated in the galley with cookie crumble, fresh raspberries and caramel sauce.
I miss the days of the over-the-top dessert cart, but the sundae definitely hit the spot as I started dozing off for the night.
There was a small snack basket available for those still hungry after the dinner service.
Staff served breakfast roughly 90 minutes before landing in Tel Aviv, and passengers could choose between a chia seed bowl or an omelet. I opted for neither — as I rarely find airplane breakfast satisfying — but I did grab a shot of the tray setup for those interested.
Even though I ordered a special meal, I was once again impressed with Delta’s catering. Both Delta and American have made noteworthy strides in bringing back pre-pandemic levels of service, while United is still a bit behind.
Perhaps the most noticeable missing item was hot towels.
Welcome to Israel!
"Ladies and gentlemen there are 30 minutes left of the flight," the PA announced as we approached Israeli airspace. At that time, all passengers needed to be seated for the duration of the flight, per Israeli law.
Once the Tel Aviv coastline came into view, I heard a few oohs and ahs from my fellow passengers.
We landed 20 minutes early on runway 12 to a plane full of clapping passengers. I noticed a "follow me" car waiting to escort our plane to the gate.
The plane made an abrupt stop along the way to the gate — I wondered if something was wrong.
Instead, I looked out the window and saw a firetruck waiting on the side. No, something wasn't wrong. Instead, the Ben Gurion Airport authorities arranged a traditional water cannon salute for our arrival.
After enjoying a nearly minute-long water spray, we pulled up to the gate. When the door opened, there were a handful of local media waiting to take photos of our arrival.
Before bidding everyone farewell, Valerie walked to the front of the business-class cabin and thanked everyone for flying with Delta on the inaugural flight.
"We made it," she said. "I'm finally in Israel for the first time!"
The 29 business-class passengers clapped once again and then made a dash for the exit — no one wanted to wait behind a long line at customs.