The biggest change to come with Delta’s introduction of the A350 is not the new Delta One “suites” with the door that closes. That’s cute, but introducing Delta Premium Select – a real premium economy cabin – is a far more significant change for the carrier. The product is new to passengers as of 30 October 2017 but it grew through thousands of man-hours or design, planning, and testing across years. Now that it is in service does it live up to the hype?
The short answer is a resounding yes, though there are some areas that will likely be tweaked in the coming months as the company finalizes the overall offering.
The Seat & Personal Space
When a passenger pays up for the cabin upgrade it is nearly all about the seat and space on board. Delta mostly delivers on that promise. The 48 seats in the Premium Select cabin are arranged in a 2-4-2 layout across 6 rows. The aisles felt slightly narrow as a result but keeping more space for the passengers is more valuable overall. The bulkhead was not limited from a legroom perspective; stretching out to sleep was as reasonable there as in the rest of the rows.
The seat includes a leg rest that swings out from the base. I tried it. I’m not at all convinced of the value. I am tall enough that I generally don’t need the leg rest unless I’m reclining beyond what the Premium Select seat offers so I suppose I’m not the target customer for calf support here. I didn’t see any in use on my flight, though I also didn’t look that hard. Fortunately its presence doesn’t otherwise affect things much.
Controls for the seat (and IFE) are all manual and located on the inside edge of the seat. Nothing all that special with either of those. Push in on the buttons to move the seat around, as one expects from buttons. The ergonomics of it aren’t perfect – awkward twisting to find the correct button and apply sufficient pressure to activate it – but it mostly works.
The other notable limitation was a lack of space for personal “stuff” storage in or on the seat. There is a slot that can hold a phone while it is charging (each passenger gets a 110V and USB charge port) and the lower magazine pocket. The latter it much tighter than an old school seat pocket and is of limited utility. The bottle of water we were given after the meal service was wanting for a place to stay other than in my lap. The headphones similarly had no where to rest if not on your head. Need to put a laptop away during a meal service? Good luck with that.
Ultimately the seat space is still generous – more pitch that domestic first but also slightly narrower, as expected – but the lack of storage can be challenging. Doubly so for a window or middle seat passenger who wants to “unpack” into their seat and not disturb the aisle passenger. I ended up hanging the headphones bag from the coat hook and using that as extra storage space in my seat. Still not enough to hold a laptop, though.
Meals & Amenities
The overall Premium Select soft product experience sits nicely between the Delta One business class cabin and the main cabin offerings. Both Premium Select and Main Cabin have three options for the main course (two meat, one veggie) but the Premium Select meals are closer to business class. Things like a linen napkin, metal cutlery and ceramic plates are much closer to business class than coach. Even the chop sticks are upgraded in Premium Select.
Similarly, the headset offered is like the business class option (though not noise cancelling, so of limited real value). The Tumi-branded amenity kit has lotion, toothpaste and socks in addition to the eye mask and earplugs that economy class passengers get. And the bag is marked as reusable but it isn’t quite as nice as what Delta One gets. The pillow is a mini version of the Delta One Heavenly option while the blanket is the nicer of the domestic first versions. The slippers were similar to the Delta One option (minus the branding) and they are SPECTACULAR. Were it not for a weight limit on my bags due to further LCC flights on this trip I probably would’ve kept them.
The large in-seat IFE screen is pretty much spectacular. The controller is awkwardly located next to the recline buttons as shown above. And by awkward I mean I was worried about breaking something when trying to get it out from the holder. I ended up pulling it out the once while still on the ground just to make sure I could and then just using the very responsive touch screen for the rest of the trip.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) November 3, 2017
The A350 also includes Gogo‘s new 2Ku inflight connectivity solution. It performed well early in the flight then succumbed to the load of 200+ devices trying to upload videos and otherwise stream content on to and off of the plane. That was compounded when we left the satellite coverage area a few hours into the trip and further compounded by an onboard system reset (that I was partially responsible for).
The system was back online for the final third of the trip and reasonably stable, though slower overall for my personal experience than the first third, prior to the outage, delivered.
One general inconsistency in the premium economy market is how airlines deal with onward connections where the premium economy cabin is not on offer. Delta’s initial decision was to give passengers Comfort+, the fake version of premium economy it sells. A few months back the company switched that to be a short-haul connection in first class instead. No doubt that mucks with the revenue management side of things but it creates a much more premium overall experience for passengers.
Tweaks & Changes
One takeaway I had from the trip is that what I experienced on board is probably not what the product will be like in six months or a year’s time. The crew I chatted with noted challenges, particularly around the meal service, and suggested that conversations with the inflight management team would be ongoing to iron out some of the kinks. Meal service from the cart is managed pretty well by the two flight attendants in the aisles (one on each side) plus a “runner” from the galley to help restock as selections are served. It worked, but not without some challenges along the way. We also ran out of some catering items (mostly booze) pretty early in the trip. Hard to say if that’s attributable to the fact that this was a party flight or if things were truly under stocked.
Those might be resolved as the crew gets familiar with the process (we were double staffed which helped) or adjustments are made to the service plan.
This was my 15th Premium Economy segment across 7 airlines (TK, AF, BA, TZ, FI, NZ & DL) giving me a decent base for comparison. I think Delta sits very well in the market overall, with some winning points and some where it trails. It is not the most spacious nor the most luxurious seat in the market, but the soft product touches such as the improved meal and the IFE system are significant, besting many of the others I’ve flown.
Delta’s Premium Select is a solid play and, depending on the fare charged, potentially worthwhile for the upgrade from regular economy. And when your corporate travel policy changes to only allow premium economy for long haul flights the loss of a real bed will sting, but I managed to snooze a few hours on board, even amidst the excitement of being on the inaugural flight.
With thanks to Airways/Airchive for getting me on board this inaugural trip.
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