New Point Me To The Plane Contributor Sarah Johnson reviews Delta’s new premium economy class.
Just a few days after Delta Air Lines started flying its latest and greatest jet — the Airbus A350 — between Detroit and Amsterdam, I had the chance to hop on board in an entirely new class of service, Delta Premium Select.
The new cabin brings Delta into the fold of airlines that now offer a fourth class of service on long-haul routes, “premium economy.” With increasingly lavish bed and suite products taking root in business class, premium economy offers a mid-range experience reminiscent of what business class was many years ago.
This is not another “economy plus” seat. Premium Select, like other premium economy cabins, promises passengers priority boarding, wider seats, better entertainment screens, upgraded noise-cancelling headphones and better meal service, served on actual plates and flatware.
I fly many thousands of miles each year on Delta, and it’s the airline many of my traveling clients choose as well, so I was excited to experience both the brand new next generation airplane, and the entirely new cabin service.
Delta launched its Airbus A350 service back in October 2017. This modern wide-body jet replaced the airline’s 20-plus year old fleet of Boeing 747s – the famous Queen of the Skies. With a generally spacious seat layout, experienced flight attendants and pilots, and only a few routes to Asia, plus the once daily Detroit to Amsterdam service, the A350 is expected to be the new Queen.
As I was plotting a route to Portugal, I knew I wanted to experience the Premium Select cabin, which became available on A350 flights from Detroit metropolitan Airport (DTW) to Amsterdam Schipol Airport (AMS) in March.
I have to start off by saying that the booking process was pretty difficult but it turns out it was due to a glitch in their online booking system.
The staff at Largay Travel booked my flight, but we had to go back and forth trying to secure the Premium Select seats. I could see them on delta.com, but the travel agents couldn’t book them. At one point I booked an economy ticket because when I called Delta, they told me I could upgrade later. It turned out that wasn’t the case so one of our agents, Lori, and I went back to Delta to figure it out.
Because I booked the ticket through Largay, I couldn’t make any changes to the booking myself. After a few calls, Lori figured it out. As I was booking a round-trip, the Premium Select seats would only appear when the cabin was available on both legs. Since my outbound flight was on an older airplane, without Premium Select seats, the cabin did not appear.
A confused representative told us that Premium Select and Comfort+ were “interchangeable,” but this was not exactly true.
Delta eventually acknowledged the glitch and got me my Premium Select seat after paying a $400 fare difference. I would be in economy on my return A330 flight. The total round-trip fare, for premium select one-way and economy the other, was $1995.11.
Personally, I like flying through Detroit’s airport. It’s bright and airy, and also typically quiet. The gate wasn’t too busy, but they didn’t board on time either. As a Premium Select passenger, I enjoyed Sky Priority services at the airport, but was not granted Sky Club access.
Delta’s new Airbus began its career on the Detroit to Tokyo route. My plane came from Tokyo, so they had some cleaning and restocking to do. Finally, the crew boarded and after about thirty minutes they began the process.
It seems like Delta hasn’t quite figured out where Premium Economy passengers should board yet. While my boarding pass read PREM, the same as first class or Delta One passengers, they asked passengers in Delta One to stand in one line, and those of us in Premium Select to stand under the gate sign.
While I do love the new McNamara Terminal at DTW, there is limited space to stand to board without being in the way of people walking through the concourse. On my return to DTW, I was constantly walking through people waiting to board.
The A350 is big. Not once did I feel like I had to duck to walk around, get in my seat, or even brush my teeth! I immediately noticed the lighting, which is toned down ambient light, which really made me feel calm. There was a bit of holdup as we boarded due to the split jetbridge. The Delta One cabin boarded on a private jetbridge, while premium select and main cabin boarded through the second door. Passengers often misread the signs I finally made it to my seat, 21J, a window seat in the second row of the Premium Select cabin, on the far side from the boarding door.
Amenities and Cabin
At my seat I found a blanket, noise-cancelling headphones, slippers, and a TUMI amenity kit.
The blankets were plush woven ones, not the usual thin knit or grubby fleece ones. The slippers were pretty flimsy, and I just slipped my Sperry’s back on when I wanted to walk about. I also did not use the headphones as I prefer my ear buds, but they looked comfy on my neighbours. The overhead bins are huge, and we had our own flight attendants and lavatories.
My seat had non-moveable armrests (the tray tables are inside), a footrest and 38 inches of pitch behind the seat in front of me (the same as most domestic first class seats). The seat is published at 18.5 inces wide, but the armrests create extra space. Once I sat down, I had almost two inches on both sides of my legs. Since the armrests don’t move, a larger person might have issues.
The seat reclines further than any other seat in the Delta fleet, except lie-flat Delta One business class seats. It also has a leg rest that comes up to a 45-degree angle.
The flight turned out to be about half full, which was great. My only problem with that is that since the armrests don’t move, I couldn’t fully take advantage of not having a neighbour. As the rest of the plane boarded, flight attendants served us sparkling wine.
Takeoff was super smooth. Nothing rattled in the plane, the engines were quiet, and it seemed like we just glided into the air. It was one of the smoothest takeoffs I’ve ever experienced. I’ve read a few other reviews which all said the same thing. It was fabulous.
After takeoff, flight attendants came through with real hot towels — not a paper towel drenched in steaming water. The wi-fi began working immediately – it’s still the usual gogo inflight wireless but it’s updated and seems faster.
Meal service was very quick. My flight attendant draped my tray in a white cloth napkin and offered me a choice of chicken Milanese or pasta with ragu. I went for the chicken, which came in white ceramic dishes on a non-slip tray, the same used in domestic first class. I enjoyed real silverware and a cloth napkin with an Alessi napkin ring. The wine choices – red or white – were both decent wines (I’m a wine snob) and served in glassware.
Flight attendants handed out medium-sized bottles of water whenever anyone asked.
The moment I was done, they whisked my tray away and topped up my wine.
With about two hours left in the flight, breakfast was served. Once again, it came on a tray with real flatware. I definitely prefer drinking my orange juice out of a real glass as well – it just feels more civilised!
Entertainment and In-Flight
As we flew east and the sun fell away behind us, I settled in for some Big Bang Theory and some idle work. Halfway through the flight, I decided to brush my teeth and take out my contacts. There are two lavatories between the Delta One and Premium cabins, and they’re large. I was able to stand up and brush my teeth without touching anything I didn’t want to touch. The mirrors have lights in them and the water tap is motion activated.
Wi-Fi was available as soon as we climbed out of Detroit. It was offered by GoGo, but was much faster than the slow GoGo Wi-Fi I’m used to on Delta’s long-haul fleet. Delta is installing GoGo’s new 2KU satellite Wi-Fi on its A350s, and while there have reports of some reliability problems, the internet on my flight was fast and steady throughout.
The only technological on this flight issue came when I went to plug in my phone and the USB jacks were broken. It turns out though, that almost everyone on the plane was having that problem. They ended up shutting the system down for a minute and restarting, and the USB ports worked fine after that.
We landed in Amsterdam early. Like takeoff, landing was incredibly smooth. We ended up having to wait for ground crew to come to the gate. A shift change happened just as we landed, so there was a slight delay.
Once we arrived at the gate, the disembarkation process was swift. Delta One disembarked first, Premium Select followed. They used only the second exit door for the process, so the Delta One passengers exited at the rear of their cabin, while everyone waits. There were a few people who ran up to leave first – maybe to catch tight connections due to our slight ground delay.
On the way off the plane, I stopped to talk with the flight attendants. It sounds like there are still kinks to work out with service onboard the A350. They also admitted that while it’s very passenger friendly the cabin is not flight attendant friendly.
They said the galleys are small and there are few trash bins. As someone who has been crew (on a boat) I relate to a workspace not being user-friendly for the people who use it the most. I can imagine that on the very full flights, the galleys and lavatories can get messy quickly with no good space to put rubbish.
As a frequent traveller and Delta Medallion elite member, I love the new A350. It was spacious, clean, practically silent, and incredibly smooth. The food was good, the service was great, and my seat was comfortable.
I really like having a way to (sort of) put my feet up while flying. Of course, next time I hope to be in the Delta One suites. I would love to fly this plane regularly. I must say, my return flight on the Airbus A330-300 was nowhere near as nice!
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