Delta’s got a new business class seat coming and it wants everyone to know about it, even though it won’t take flight for a year. The new “Delta One Suite” will offer direct aisle access for all passengers and, in what the carrier is proudly calling a first for any airline, doors for all passengers, making them “suites” rather than just seats. The new Delta One Suite will debut on the A350-900 set to fly in mid-2017.
The seat is based on the Thompson Vantage XL+ product line, a staggered, fully flat offering that generally gets very good reviews from passengers. The stagger allows carriers to choose a door option, something JetBlue did when it introduced its Mint product in 2014. And that makes it a suite rather than just a seat. Delta is upping the ante by putting that door in for every passenger, something it can manage with the seating layout because it will only install the product on its twin-aisle aircraft. It calls the door “full-height” but the renderings show it stopping at the top of the headrest; the Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines suite doors all extend higher than that.
The new product will first fly on the A350s and will then be retrofit into the 777 fleet. That’s a total of 43 aircraft expected to see the new product; the A330, 767 and 757 international aircraft are not scheduled for retrofit and the 747s are being retired from the fleet. Given the seat width (something Delta declined to specify, citing competitive concerns) it is unlikely that the new product could fit as well in the narrower fuselage that the A330 or 767s offer, though the Vantage XL does work for some airlines on those aircraft types but without direct aisle access for all passengers, something Delta is keen to keep. Delta’s 767s have the narrower Vantage seat, not the XL model.
Other benefits of the new product include larger IFE screens (18″) and multi-level horizontal surfaces for putting snacks, drinks and other “stuff” during the flight. The rendering also shows an open storage area for the headphones which is surprising to me; typically that would be a latched cabinet.
My excitement for the new product is tempered by the fact that it will only be installed on a small part of the fleet. There’s also the part where the total number of business class seats on the A350 is dropping relative to the 747s it will be replacing (32 v 48), though the main cabin seating capacity is also dropping. Still, the ratio suggests securing the seats will be harder as an award or upgrade. And while the company is saying the new “suites” come at no extra cost the reduced total premium capacity on these routes likely translates to higher fares along the way. At least there will also be a premium economy offering for passengers who want a little more but cannot spring for business class all the time. I’m also slightly annoyed at the way the stagger is set up for the middle pairs, making it harder to fly with someone else and sit next to them, though I understand that’s a minority of the premium cabin traveling public.
Overall, this is a nice hard product upgrade from a US carrier, reflecting a willingness to reinvest some of the recent massive profits into improving the on-board experience rather than just buying back more shares to placate Wall Street. Of course, if the 777 rollout also comes with a 3-4-3 economy cabin (most of the competition is already there) I might sing a different tune, but we don’t know that detail yet.
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