Getting the Kinks Out: Premium Select on Delta's Newly Retrofitted 777
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Delta’s long-haul fleet is in the process of getting a major upgrade. In October 2017, Delta debuted enclosed Delta One suites and an all new premium-economy product with the entry of its A350s. Of course, we've long known that Delta would be reconfiguring its existing fleet of Boeing 777s with the new Premium Select seats as well.
Well, Delta's first retrofitted 777-200ER just rolled out of the shop, so in true TPG fashion, reviews editor Nick Ellis and I set off to be on its first scheduled passenger flight from Detroit to Beijing — with Nick in Delta One and me in Premium Select. Here’s how it went.
My one-way Premium Select ticket from LaGuardia (LGA) to Beijing (PEK) via Detroit (DTW) cost $1,611 — pretty reasonable considering we were booking this a week from departure and Delta One was going for over $4,000. We used the Platinum Card® from American Express to purchase this flight, which yielded a total of 8,055 Membership Rewards points, equivalent to about $153, according to TPG’s latest valuations.
I could have also used SkyMiles to book my ticket, but it would have cost a whopping 165,000 miles one-way — not a good deal at all. One nice perk that sets Delta's premium-economy product apart from American’s is that if you book Premium Select on your long-haul flight using cash or miles, you’ll be booked into first class on your domestic connecting flight.
As a SkyMiles member with no elite status, I earned a total of 7,890 redeemable miles (worth approximately $95, according to TPG’s latest valuations). In addition, I got 10,700 Medallion Qualifying Miles, since discounted Premium Select fares earned a 50% MQM bonus and $1,578 Medallion Qualifying Dollars.
In mid-May, we learned that the retrofitted aircraft would fly between Detroit and Beijing from July 2 through July 20, trading off with Delta’s new Airbus A350 on alternating days, and daily between Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney (SYD) from March 31, 2019, onward. Delta hasn't yet announced what routes the plane will be used for after July 20, or when it expects to take delivery of its next retrofitted 777, but there are a few ways to find out if your flight will have the new seats.
First, Delta's site lists the retrofitted aircraft as "Boeing 777-200/200ER" as opposed to just "Boeing 777." Likewise, if you have the Google Chrome extension Legrooms, the retrofitted aircraft will show up as "772" as opposed to "777." Another option is to check the flight's seat map. Like the A350, the retrofitted 777s do not have any Comfort+ seating; instead, extra legroom seats are labeled “preferred” and can be purchased or accessed free of charge by elites. Delta will never sell Premium Select tickets for flights without the true premium-economy product, but be wary when booking through online travel agencies, as they sometimes list Comfort+ as premium economy.
Check-in and Lounge
Checking in at LGA was a breeze, thanks to the Sky Priority access that came with my ticket. I was only flying with a carry-on, but as a Premium Select passenger, I could have checked two bags at no charge.
Once I landed at DTW, I headed straight for the Sky Club, which Nick was able to get me into as a guest thanks to his Platinum status with Delta. Premium Select doesn’t come with access to the airline’s lounges (not uncommon for premium-economy tickets), and I'm not an American Express Platinum cardholder.
The lounge left much to be desired, especially considering that this was the lounge international business-class passengers had access to and DTW is one of Delta's largest hubs, but you can read more about it in Nick's review of Delta One.
Unlike the party Delta threw for passengers on the A350 inaugural flight, this launch was met with no fanfare. We both boarded early so that we could photograph a (mostly) empty cabin, but usually Premium Select passengers would board in the premium boarding zone at the same time as Delta One and Diamond Medallion passengers — a win for Premium Select passengers but that means longer lines for those flying Delta One.
The 777-200ER, an extended-range model, was registered N863DA. Although the retrofit gave it that new-plane smell, the plane first flew in December 1999 and has been operated by Delta since.
Cabin and Seat
Like the A350s, Delta’s retrofitted 777 features three distinct cabins: Delta One (business class), Premium Select (premium economy) and economy. Up front, there are 28 suites arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration.
Directly behind Delta One is Premium Select, which has a total of 48 seats arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration.
And after that lies the main cabin, which has a total of 220 seats arranged in a 3-3-3 pattern.
While the seats maintain the usual 31 to 32 inches of pitch, this was a comfortable configuration nonetheless, considering that it's practically become the industry norm to squeeze a fourth seat in the middle section of 777s.
Back in Premium Select, each seat is 19 inches wide — roomier than what you'll find on the A350.
Each offers 38 inches of pitch. For comparison’s sake, these seats offer the same measurements as premium economy aboard American Airlines' 777s.
The biggest thing that sets these seats apart from their counterparts in Delta's domestic first class is that each one comes with a retractable legrest and footrest. The legrest definitely added to the overall comfort of the seat, but at 5 feet, 11 inches, I was more comfortable without unfolding the footrest. While nowhere near lie-flat, the additional recline was certainly welcome, too.
I was glad that I wasn't seated in Row 24, since the seats there only had one window on each side as opposed to two.
Waiting at each seat was a fluffy lumbar pillow, a Westin Heavenly-branded blanket, a set of LSTN noise-canceling headphones (the same ones found in Delta One) and a Tumi amenity kit. Usually there would also be a pair of slippers, but catering forgot to stock those for our flight.
Inside the amenity kit were essentials like a toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, an eye mask and Malin+Goetz body lotion. While the contents were fairly standard, I thought the bag itself was one of the better premium-economy ones out there and could easily be reused.
With a library of hundreds of movies, TV shows, songs, podcasts and games, Delta Studio, the airline's entertainment system, never fails to impress. I especially liked the flight information, which had the plane's registration number (a nod to all the #AvGeeks out there) and an interactive flight map. It definitely helped that the IFE screen is 13.3 inches wide — and extremely crisp.
A remote control is tucked into the side of the armrest, but the seat's thick cushion made it extremely difficult to actually pull it out. Fortunately, the touchscreen was responsive enough that I didn't actually need it. Each seat also had its own universal power outlet and USB port beneath the seat in front.
Unlike Delta's A350s, equipped with Gogo’s latest 2Ku Wi-Fi technology, Delta hadn't upgraded the 777 from its original Gogo Ku installation. That said, the Wi-Fi worked pretty well for most of the flight, and I was even able to stream HD videos. As is standard with Delta Gogo-equipped planes, free messaging was available to all passengers, as was as an hour of free Wi-Fi just for T-Mobile customers.
There are two lavatories at the front of the Premium Select cabin, which main cabin passengers could use as well. The only thing that set these apart was that they were stocked with Malin+Goetz body lotion.
Food and Beverage
Soon after settling into my seat, I was offered a pre-departure beverage: water. The flight attendant said that they'd usually also serve sparkling wine as a welcome drink, but couldn't because of (another) catering slip-up.
I was then presented with an impressive menu that didn't just include the food and beverage offerings but also information on timing for each service. I'm the type of person who loves to know as much about the in-flight experience as possible, so I appreciated the detailed timeline of events.
As listed on the menu, shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants came through the cabin to distribute hot towels, place tablecloths and serve the first round of drinks. While the tablecloth (a rarity in premium economy) made the meal service feel more premium, the drinks in plastic cups did not. In Premium Select aboard Delta's A350, Nick was served drinks in proper glasses, so I assumed this was yet another catering fluke.
For my main course, I went with the lemon caramelle pasta from the Western menu, which was served with a Little Gem lettuce salad, poached shrimp and a minuscule cheesecake. The meal as a whole wasn't necessarily bad, per se, but it wasn't memorable. What did stand out was how similar Premium Select's meals were to Delta One's. Sitting up front, Nick was served the same salad and shrimp starter and had all of the Premium Select mains on his menu.
About four hours later, we were served a snack consisting of a ricotta bruschetta and a chocolate and vanilla ice cream bar. I enjoyed the bruschetta so much so that I asked for a second one.
About an hour and a half before landing, we were served brunch. The choices were once again practically identical to what was being served in Delta One: a Southwestern frittata with warm pico de gallo and chicken apple sausage or black-bean chicken with steamed rice and mixed vegetables. I went with the frittata, which was unfortunately bland. Oddly, there was an extra plate on my tray, presumably for bread, but there was no bread — perhaps another catering issue? Nick ordered the same thing up front and was served the same meal, but on bigger dishes and with bread.
Delta's new Premium Select product is a big step up from what you’d get in economy, and I'd definitely fly it again, especially now that it's available on more aircraft types. The seats were comfortable, the cabin looked chic, and the crew was phenomenal. The service was a lot more personalized than that in the main cabin, and details like the Tumi amenity kit and printed menu made it feel a lot more premium.
That being said, Delta still has quirks it needs to figure out as it continues to roll out this new product. For instance, none of the overhead lights in the Premium Select and main cabin worked at all during the flight, and the crew was unable to resolve the issue. Additionally, I practically lost track of all of the mishaps that occurred with the in-flight service that were blamed on the catering company.
Nevertheless, if you're looking for an upgrade from economy but don't want to shell out for Delta One, Premium Select is worth a shot!