Boarding started around 18:15 and there was already a long queue at the Sky Priority boarding area by the gate. Due to the crowds, I just decided to board at the end and went to take some photos of the A350 from the gate. Personally, I found it to be the most graceful plane in operation today and I manage to spot an unusual Garuda Indonesia Boeing 777-300ER at Beijing today which is in contrast the A330 that I arrived in the city a day earlier.
DL188 Beijing Capitol PEK – Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County DTW
Airbus A350-900 N-506DN
Gate 12 Seat 8D
After getting my shots, I proceeded to the end of the line just as the Sky Priority boarding was about to be concluded. With high expectations for my first experience of the new ‘suites’ in Business Class, I was pleased when I stepped inside the cabin.
A lack of overhead bins in the centre portion gave the Business class cabin a sense of space. New furnishings on a new plane combined with the smart fittings on the chair creates for a pleasant look. In particular the dark upholstery on the seats with the red Delta chevrons makes for good branding.
On my seat there was 2 pillows, a bulky comforter and an amenity kit. All these stuff did mean that passengers had to move them elsewhere before they could be seated, so it fortunate that the new Business class seats have large consoles on either sides of the seat.
Headphones could be found in the compartment on my left hand side when seated with a bottle of water at the side. More splashes of red can be found in this storage compartment that has a hook for the headphones and it makes the whole suite a bit more distinctive. The only thing missing from all these amenities are the pyjamas that Delta used to provide in Business Class since they do not operate First Class internationally anymore.
The staggered seating configuration in the cabin meant not all the seats by the window are true window seats and having purchased my ticket just a week prior to departure, I did not manage to secure the suites next to a window. Instead I had one of the seats closer to the aisle. Odd numbered seats would be closer to the windows for better views while even numbered seats are closer to the aisle for easier entry and exit.
In the middle section, the staggered arrangement is slightly different from the usual ones I see as all the seats have a spacing from the console between them. This meant that even couples seated in the middle section would not get a side-by-side seating. In fact, I actually recommend couples to try and get seats 2A & 2B, 4A & 4B or 6A & 6B if they would like to chat and be closer to each other.
On the left of the seat there was an ambient light with covers that could slide down to reveal a reading light. Below it was the latch to open the doors that makes this Business class seat a mini-suite. The suite doors requires a bit of force to operate though and I am not sure if it is because the setup is new or just inherent in its design. Even with the doors open, the cabin is still very private as guests are shielded from the partition on the left. In the middle seats, there are partitions in the middle that could be raised.
Another thing that makes the seat pleasant was the large console on my right. The section that rests beneath your hands are lined with faux leather for comfort while there is a partial cover with more ambient lighting. It is impressive that the design of the suite incorporated plenty of lights as they truly make for a more pleasant space. A small panel by the console allows passengers to control the seat positions and lighting including a dimmer function.
It was not the only button to control the seat and lights as there are a couple of buttons to convert the seat to a full lie-flat bed and to dim the lights below the ledge where the tray table comes out from.
The steward serving my aisle offered to hang my jacket which I had hung on the side, while champagne or juice was offered as the welcome drinks. While I like the amenity kit provided by Tumi, the champagne or sparkling wine is not really pleasant. Note to self to just get water or juices instead.
Door closed at 1834. Meal orders were taken by the lead stewardess as we completed boarding. Delta Airlines offers a choice of Western or Chinese set menu for flights between China and the United States. Within each choice, there was a starter, a soup, a main course and a dessert. Choices are available for the main course. Starting from the A side it meant I was one of the last to be asked though fortunately I managed to get the last western beef main course.
The menu for the flight was as follow:
Passenger announcements made in English and Chinese. Lead stewardess mentioned we were flying in a ‘Boeing’ A350 and that invited some laughter in the cabin. A flight time of 12 hours and 4 minutes was mentioned. There are a total of 3 crews who spoke Chinese on this flight. Welcome and safety video is then played.
The monitor in front was large and if there was one thing I must note, the screen felt a bit close to your face due to the staggered configuration. This is perhaps the biggest differentiation to a true First Class suite. Ambient lighting with the blue strip at the top of the monitor was another nice touch though showing how much thought the designers put in when designing this cabin.
Cabin lights were then dimmed as we taxi to the runway. Captain announced we would arrive earlier than expected as we were third in line for take-off. A busy landing time with all 3 runways occupied meant there was a slight delay even with the quick boarding. About 10 minutes later after the announcement, we were primed to be next for take-off but had to wait a further 5 minutes as plenty of aircraft were lined up to land. In the end by the time we took off, the skies were already dark since it was winter time.
Once the seat belts signs were turned off I head for one of the lavatories in front. There are a total of 4 lavatories for Business class passengers, with 2 in front and 2 in the back by the galley. The clean and modern lavatories was smaller than in the 777 but it was a pleasant space. Malin + Goetz hand wash and lotion was provided by the sink but I was surprised to find the sink filled with ice. I am not sure as to why but it was the first time I see this. Another difference was the posting of Chinese instructions by the trash bin and the flush button.
A neat feature inside the lavatory was the presence of an air nozzle as that would prevent the build up of odors and it made it fresher for a long journey.
Hot towels distributed once we were airborne. At this time, I started watching a new Chinese ‘Wong Fei Hong’ movie with the title ‘Unity of Heroes’. Delta sure has an impressive selection of onboard movies and TV shows catering to passengers where they fly to.
Warm nuts and beverage service was conducted before the proper dining service and I had some cranberry juice which Delta stocks for their signature drink. They were fitting to go with the HD entertainment. In addition, Delta really went the full length with the trolley and assorted wines for the beverage service.
As part of their onboard product, there was 2 Sky inflight magazines, one in English and another in Japanese. It definitely shows the legacy routes they inherited from Northwest.
Found alongside the inflight magazines and duty free catalog, there was a manual showing the features of the suite, a brochure with instructions to login to the paid wifi service and the safety manuals on the A350 aircraft.
Dinner served about an hour and 20 minutes after take off. I had enquired about having the Chinese appetizer while having the Western main course and the stewardess mentioned she needed to check first. When she presented me the first course, I noted I was able to get the Chinese starter plate and soup. Laoganma sauce was provided on the Chinese tray which was a nice touch.
Appetizer has 2 kinds of mushrooms but instead of a spicy pomelo salad there was shredded chicken with coconut. The steward actually saw the empty bread plate and went back to bring out the basket for me. Sadly the bread was cold and not appetizing. I do think the staggered seating arrangement can sometimes confuse the crews and result in them skipping parts of the meal service for guests especially if they get distracted.
Along with the starters, there was a bowl of soup which was the reason for me to order the Chinese starters. The soup was average though as it lacked the richness of a double-boiled soup.
Next up was the main course of beef tenderloin. The main dish itself was overcooked and dry making this dish sub-par even though the sauce was tasty. The green beans was mushy as well though the polenta and carrots were at least edible.
Dessert was choice of cheesecake or vanilla ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and nuts. While the rest of the meal was not on par with the Asian airlines, the North American airlines gets ice cream sundaes right. And it was the highlight of the meal service.
Cheese and grape was offered too from the trolley and dessert wine was available to passengers too. They definitely made for a nice ending to the meal service.
After the meal service, it was time to refresh myself using the amenities provided. Delta has one of the best amenity kit contents for Business class with items such as an eyeshade, socks, a dental kit with a useful tube of toothpaste, a pack of tissue, mouthwash, ear plugs, a small pen and Kiehl’s lip balm.
At the galley up front, the crew has placed some packaged snacks and drinks on the trolley. This makes it easier for passengers who are still hungry and minimizes the need for passengers to call for the crew on these long flights as they do need some rest as well. On the way back to my seat, I asked for more bottles of Evian as it is important to keep yourself hydrated on long-haul flights.
Back on my seat, I made the bedding for a nap by turning the seat to a lie-flat position and laying the comforter over it. It is worth noting that the seats themselves go down lower to be in line with the legrest in the cubby hole beneath the monitor.
With the seat as a bed, I managed a couple of hours of sleep before waking up over the Northern coast of Alaska, with 5 more hours of flight time to go.
One of the stewardess saw me awake and offered the mid flight snack which was between the sandwich or the dim sum. Since I was hungry, I ordered the latter and the dim sum platter consists of 3 items. The bun and dumpling was tasty especially with the chilli sauce but the pancakes was a bit thick and lacks the scallion flavour I was looking for. The snack was also served with a fruit bowl on the side containing pear, apple and grapes and a small piece of chocolate.
Feeling satisfied after the snack, I returned back to sleep.This time I woke up to a magnificent sunrise as we crossed into Canada. It was nice having a seat with enclosed doors as opening my windows a little bit would not light up the whole cabin instantly. After all who does not like waking up to this view?
With still 3 hours to go, I changed out of my pyjamas since I do not expect to sleep anymore. Along the way I also checked out the galley for more snacks. Snacks are always enjoyable when watching movies and this time I picked the movie ’15:17 to Paris’ as I lounged in the seat while it was still in a lie flat bed mode. I found the mini suite to be comfortable to lounge in at the full flat mode due to the cushion of the Westin-branded Heavenly bedding.
For passengers curious about the flight information, the monitor displays data like the plane type and even the tail number. This is an added bonus for aviation geeks worldwide and you can tell Delta is an airline run by someone with a passion for aviation.
Hot towels served about 80 minutes before arrival as the pre-arrival meal was served an hour before landing. Beverages was served first from the trolley before another stewardess asked for my choice of meal.
Second fixed meal for the flight are brought out from the galley individually, and I had the Chinese option of beef noodle soup. The noodles was excellent with plenty of beef slices inside and served with the same chilli sauce served in the dim sum snack earlier. The flavour was tasty and I enjoyed this meal the most out of the three I had during this flight.
In-between the meal service the crew made sure everyone got their drinks and offered croissants or raisin danish since the Western meal was akin to breakfast.
With the flight nearing its conclusion, the cabin was a hive of activity as passengers prepared for landing. Ferrero Rocher chocolates are offered to thank passengers at the end after the crew cleared the headphones prior to landing.
It was a beautiful sunset during our descent into snowy Michigan with fields covered up in snow. Since it was my first flight into Detroit and the state of Michigan for that matter, I was glued to the window view throughout the descent.
Good visibility and fine weather made for a smooth landing into DTW with a quick taxi to the terminal since the terminal was not large compared to JFK, LAX or ORD.
The door was opened quickly as the plane seemed to be racing the Air France that just landed. Left the plane at around 18:30 local time and the baggage was out already even though I was second on the immigration queue. Quick entry and retrieval of luggage meant I was able to recheck my luggage and get to the Sky Club by 7:10pm for my onward connection. For my first time clearing immigration and customs in Detroit, I found it to be a much more pleasant experience than flying into other larger U.S. airports.
To wrap up this review, I think Delta Airlines might just have one of the best Business Class products among North American airliners. Being the only North American airlines to operate the wonderful A350s meant it provides a sleek new cabin and package to premium travellers that competes on even ground even with the premium Asian airlines. Onboard, the service provided by Delta’s crew are excellent and the ones I encountered on this flight was wonderful as they made the journey seamless and smooth. On this matter, I think service on all the Delta’s flight I have taken compares well to some of the best airlines in the world, and that is fine praise indeed!
If Delta continues to price their tickets competitively and maintains their level of service with continuous upgrades to their overall fleet, I would continue to look for them to fly with for Trans-Pacific flights.