Delta Air Lines’ new flagship aircraft will be its extra wide-body Airbus A350 jet, said chief operating officer Gil West.
The airline will begin flying the jet Oct. 30 on its Detroit-Tokyo Narita route and also will use it to fly from Detroit to Seoul and to Beijing starting in November and in January.
From Atlanta, Delta plans to fly the A350 on its route to Seoul starting March 24, 2018. That route, which launched in June, now uses a Boeing 777.
The A350 “will set a whole new standard for our flying experience,” West said. Delta is the first North American airline to fly the A350. The fully outfitted aircraft was displayed to media from around the world at Hartsfield-Jackson on Tuesday.
The 306-seat A350 will debut Delta’s new business class suites and launch a new class of international premium economy seats called premium select.
Inside the Delta One business class suite, each of which will have a sliding door, the seat reclines to a bed. Passengers can push a “Do not disturb” button, watch free movies or TV on an 18-inch screen, and use a power outlet, USB port and storage space for shoes, laptops and headphones.
A spot check of round-trip airfares for Atlanta-Seoul flights on the A350 ranged from around $1,500 for the main cabin to about $5,800 or more for Delta One suites, though fares can vary significantly depending on the date, route and other factors.
The step-up of creature comforts on the A350 is part of the international airline arms race, with carriers competing to offer amenities that can make extra-long flights more bearable for business travelers and other international jet-setters. U.S. carriers in recent years have fallen behind some of the more luxurious offerings from Middle Eastern carriers and Asian carriers on aircraft like the super-jumbo A380 jet.
While Delta’s other aircraft have “Comfort+” seats that are regular economy seats spaced to allow a few inches of extra legroom, the international premium select seats on the A350 are a step above that and a step below business class. The premium select seats come with wider seats, leg rests, pre-departure beverage service, amenity kits and noise-canceling headsets and other perks.
In economy class on the A350, seats will have adjustable headrests, memory foam cushions, seat-back screens and power outlets and will come with earbuds and eye masks.
The A350s will replace Delta’s Boeing 747s, which the airline is retiring from its fleet in December.
“We’ll be sad to see it retire. It’s served us well,” West said. “A lot of us have spent our careers with those aircraft. But we also move on. We’re innovative.”
The A350’s mission, like the 747’s before it, is to serve some of Delta’s longest routes.
“They’re ultra long-haul routes that exceed 12 hours in some cases,” said Robbie Schaefer, Delta’s manager of onboard product.
The sliding door on each business class suite affords an in-flight version of privacy, which some passengers “really want to have, especially when they’re sleeping,” Schaefer. “They want to feel that they’re closed off and have their own personal space.”
The aircraft is also designed for a lower-pressure, higher-humidity cabin environment to reduce the effects of jet lag he said. It will be Delta’s first long-haul aircraft with 2Ku internet connectivity, according to the airline.
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Delta’s 306-seat Airbus A350
32 Delta One suites
48 Premium select seats
226 Main cabin seats
Source: Delta Air Lines