Cha-Cha-Changes: Flying The Refreshed Delta BusinessElite
Tags: Boeing 747-400, Boeing 767-300ER, business class, Delta Air Lines, Delta BusinessElite, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), IFE, Osaka-Kansai International Airport (KIX), reviews, Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Sky Club, spotlight, Tokyo-Narita International Airport (NRT)
Perhaps nowhere in the network has this been more apparent, so far, than in Seattle. The formerly quiet Delta focus city has been receiving some serious attention: Delta’s flagship airplane—the 747—will begin serving the city in 2013 to Tokyo; new routes to Asia via Tokyo Haneda and Shanghai will begin in the spring and summer; a new SkyClub lounge for travelers opened up several weeks ago; and Seattle has been lucky enough to receive consistent service from those all new interior airplanes.
Naturally, the best way to fully appreciate these changes was to take a trip out of Seattle. We wanted to try out the new lounge, and of course the best way to get in was to try out the new BusinessElite cabin on both of the newly refurbished airplane types, the Boeing 767-300 and 747-400. So that is what we did, flying Seattle to Osaka Kansai and Tokyo Narita to Detroit.
Before we begin, a quick disclaimer: Delta was nice enough to offer NYCAviation the entire itinerary at no cost to us, though we’ll add that our opinions are our own.
Frequent Delta flyer? Got a BusinessElite or first class ticket? Or, more simply, $50? Then you, our friend, are in luck: You’ve got what it takes to visit one of the Delta Sky Club (DCS) lounges located in thirty-five cities worldwide. Like many airline lounges DSC’s feature a place to hide away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal with a WiFi connection and a comfort-cocktail in hand. A number of the lounges, including those located at NY LaGuardia and longtime hub Atlanta, have been upgraded or replaced over the past year. Lucky for us, our departure city—Seattle—also happened to be one of them.
We have often wondered, on our frequent trips via Seattle, what was atop the mysterious elevator marked with a Sky Club sign in the south satellite terminal. Today though, we would find out. It was immediately obvious that the lounge was not just refreshed, but new. Fresh, open, and clean seating, sparkling bar, and a crisp work area outfitted with gleaming Apple products: this wasn’t DSC JFK terminal two.
We found a nice seat off in a corner, dropped our things, and went over to the bar for a glass of OJ. We noticed a number of flyers scattered about for the newly unveiled DSC Luxury Bar, which offers several premium wines and cocktails for a modest fee in select locations. While tempting, picking up a “Baby It’s Cold Outside” full of hard liquor just did not seem to fit the early morning vibe. We passed, hoping to pick one up on the return through Detroit, though it turned out the luxury bar was not available there—at least not for now.
The snack bar was satisfying but not awe-inspiring. We were the most excited about the warm oatmeal; we added a bunch of golden raisins, cinnamon, and some slightly hardened sugar thus creating a satisfying breakfast treat. Bagels, mini-muffins, and a few other items dotted the counter along with an espresso/coffee machine.
The other two lounges we visited on our trip were located in Tokyo Narita and Detroit. Both lounges, probably by virtue of being regional hubs, were clearly flagships of the Sky Club network. Both were spacious, well decorated, clean, and outfitted with good selections of both food and beverages. We preferred the layout of DTW over Narita, with its homey room-style configuration complete with working fireplaces. But the robotic beer machine in Narita is hard to look past. Either way, while neither received a facelift or replacement in 2012, both are a big win.
Delta expects to continue updating select Sky Clubs over the course of 2013. In the meantime, experiences vary by Club. Your best bet for the top experience will still be at the big hub and spoke city lounges, though changes could be coming soon to a Club near you.
The Red Carpet Beckons
A magic red carpet lay semi-gleaming on the floor leading to gate S3. Normally we only see this status-oozing carpet in passing—as in passing by in the coach lane. Not on this trip! For this trip we held tickets for Delta’s premium international product: BusinessElite (BizE).
Tickets clutched in hand, we walked over the red carpet and through the jetway, taking our seat up front. A flight attendant came by to offer us a selection of beverages and an assortment of newspapers. Once airborne, a four course meal featuring appetizer and soup, salad with warm bread, a main dish, and desert were served through the cabin. We particularly enjoyed the soups—cream of onion and cream of vegetable—on both flights, along with the grilled beef tenderloin in peppercorn sauce with mashed sweet potatoes
and sautéed spinach, and customizable ice cream sundae for desert.
Once the meal service had been completed it was time to settle in for the remaining ten or so hours aloft. This gave us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the airplane and the refreshed product. Our first flight featured the Boeing 767-300ER. The large twin-aisle, single deck airplane is popular with Delta, which operates 75 of them.
The type began receiving complete refurbishments in late 2011 at a slow yet steady pace. Once again lucky for us, we enjoyed the twelve hour flight to Osaka Kansai aboard one of the refurbished planes. We first noticed an overhaul of the overhead bins. The new arrangement expanded capacity significantly: bags we struggled to fit into bins on another (non-refurbished) Delta 767 flight earlier this year now slipped in no problem.
The next big upgrade was right below our noses: the seats. Having previously used a cradle-style seat, the carrier dumped them in favor of new fully lie-flat seats. The new Zodiac Aerospace Vantage seat also features adjustable lumbar support, 10.6-in screen, improved work space, direct access to an aisle thanks to the 1-2-1 configuration (previously 2-2-2), and power ports.
The short of it: we liked it. The screen size is appropriate, the lumbar support a welcome addition, and the direct aisle access eliminates that awkward request of your seatmate to move. And of course we liked the full-flat bed; while our sleep schedule didn’t allow us to sleep for most of the flight, the five or so hours we did log in were solid. We did note that the seat works best with shoes off since the available space tapers in toward the feet, and that it may not work well for taller folk. If we had to list a few detractors, we’d mention that the work space and on-seat storage did not especially impress. Neither did the lack of remote for the entertainment system, leaving us having to get up and reach forward every time we wanted to change to something new.
Our second 12-hour flight—Tokyo to Detroit—featured the iconic Boeing 747-400. The very large, twin aisle, deliciously double decked airplanes—Delta owns sixteen—also received a complete tip to tail refurbishment.
Of all the changes, the BusinessElite cabin easily comes out on top. The new seats—Zodiac Aerospace Cirrus—feature lie-flat beds, direct aisle access, an enormous 15.4 in screen, universal power ports, and a palatial work space. A reverse herringbone arrangement allows for a 1-2-1 set up on the lower deck (36 total), and a very cozy 1-1 configuration (14 total) on the exclusive upper deck.
While we definitely liked the new BizE product on the 767, we loved the upgrade on the 747. The bed is slightly more comfortable than that of the 767, primarily because it is slightly longer. Once again our sleep schedule only allowed for four to five hours, but it was indeed a solid stretch of sleep. The tethered remote for the entertainment system was a welcome addition. Perhaps most impressive was the enormous amount of work space. We balanced dinner, drinks, two DSLR cameras, a 17-in laptop, and chargers all in the same space and had room left over. Forgive us for gushing a bit, but dang…it was nice.
Experiences on both flights realigned once again in the remaining ninety-minutes with a follow-up meal service. Though not as intense as the four course extravaganza from earlier, each choice was quite tasty. We sampled stir fry noodles with pork on our flight to Detroit, and a hearty sweet onion quiche en route to Osaka Kansai. Before landing we had a chance to admire both the very nice amenity kit and the upgraded restrooms.
While new products impress, it is the crew who tends to shape long-term impressions of a flight, and we were not left wanting in this respect. On both flights aboard BusinessElite our cabin crew complimented the new product wonderfully. Attentive, caring, happy to be at work, chatty—but only if you wanted it—and always available. One crew member in particular thoroughly impressed us on our first flight, once again confirming that people often make the difference between good and great flights.
So, are you sold yet? We sure were, so if this is the start of a refreshed Delta–sign us up. The new lounge in Seattle was impressive and left us confident that replacements and refurbishments done elsewhere in the DSC network will be as well. The new BusinessElite cabins significantly improve the airline’s international product, giving them a fighting chance against some tough international competition. In particular we enjoyed the new 747 cabin so much that we would go out of our way to fly on board one again.
At least for the near future though, finding an airplane with the upgrades could be a challenge. While the 747 refurbishment program is finished across the fleet, the far more common 767-300 is not so lucky. Though Delta tells NYCAviation they’ll be at 100% by early 2014, only 32% of the 763s have been completed so far. Those travelling on trans-Pacific routes or international routes out of Seattle will have the best odds, though travelers bound for Europe and Africa will see more and more completed 763s coming online and to a route near you through 2013. The domestic fleet will be receiving some upgrades too, but that’s another article for another day.