Hello, and welcome to another trans-Pacific flight-report from yours truly — this time, it will be an as-quick-as-possible jaunt with Delta from Toronto to Seoul, Korea, in a mix of business and premium economy. I’ll explain this somewhat-odd trip in a minute, but first, let’s do….
DL6285 - YYZ-DTW - 11/20/2017 - Bombardier CRJ-900 - F - Check it out here DL159 - DTW-ICN - 11/20/2017 - Airbus A350-900 - J - You are here DL158 - ICN-DTW - 11/22/2017 - Airbus A350-900 - PE - Coming soon DL6197 - DTW-YYZ - 11/22/2017 - Bombardier CRJ-900 - F - Quick review with above FR
This is a flight I’ve looked forward to since Delta announced the new “Suites” business class product on the A350. There’s been a lot of opinion on it, both pros and cons, and I look forward to testing it out for myself.
I found these flights at a reasonable price for outbound in Delta One, then returning in the new Premium Select premium economy offering, on the day the first Delta A350 routes were announced, at a reasonable price, and before Delta shortly instituted a “Suites” surcharge on booking J on the A350. I wonder if that will continue to be a thing, and I wonder if it will extend to the 777s once they get retrofitted next year?
This will be just my second flight on an A350, and by far the longest, about 3x my previous A350 flights with CI. This is also the second-ever A350 DTW-ICN flight — until it goes all-A350 next month, this flight is alternating between The Queen and The New Flagship, with the first A350 flight having gone out the Saturday before this Monday departure.
Arriving in Detroit
When I arrived into Wayne (see link to that short flight-report above), I was greeted with an odd bit of coincidence. Who should be hanging out directly across the hall from my CRJ-900 from Toronto? Why, if it’s not Her Majesty Herself!
Nice to get one more gate action shot of the icon 747-400 here at Wayne. And just a few gates over, who should be waiting but The Queen’s heir.
This would be my ride across the Pacific today. N503DN is Delta’s third A350, and talk about new plane smell! This plane was delivered to Delta at the beginning of the month, then spent just over two weeks getting Gogo 2KU WiFi installed in Minneapolis (why isn’t this done pre-delivery?), and just entered into service on Saturday, when it flew DTW-NRT-DTW, getting back Sunday night.
In fact, here’s the entire history for N503DN to date. Brand. New.
The gate area is very quiet, what with it being four hours before departure. On a related note, I kinda wish Delta had a mid-morning YYZ-DTW option, instead of just the 6:15 flight and then a bunch in the afternoon and evening.
After hanging out basking in some time with the new bird, I decide it’s head to the lounge for a while. This gate definitely doesn’t look like it will be busy for quite some time.
But first, a quick stop at the beautiful jumping fountain here in the middle of DTW, which has been given a Christmas upgrade, ahead of U.S. Thanksgiving later this week.
Delta SkyClub DTW Gate A38
It’s a short walk to the central of three SkyClubs in the main McNamara terminal at DTW, and once I’m inside, my boarding pass is scanned, and I’m given the briefing — leaving on time, from Gate A34, announcements will be made in the lounge (although I’ll likely be on walkabout long before that point.)
I’ve covered this lounge a number of time, so I’ll just comment that I was surprised on how empty it was for 8:00 in the morning on a Monday. The week of Thanksgiving. I guess the “early morning” crowd was already out of the lounge at this point, and the “late morning and early afternoon” crowd wasn’t here yet, because I have seldom seen this space as empty as it was this morning. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a large, comfortable lounge, but really could use an update in terms of decor to put it in the same “look and feel” as other major Sky Club locations like JFK, LAX, and other.
Still, as mentioned, the seating is comfortable, there are a reasonable number of power outlets for a lounge that hasn’t been updated in some time, and there are a number of different options.
Some reading materials on offer.
Beyond this round “media room” with TV screens throughout is the buffet.
And there it is!
Along the first wall, we have muffins, yogurt and fixings, and jams.
And then a number of breads, as well as some fruit.
Two hot dishes — grits with cheese, and oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins.
Some cereal, milk, and the sole hot dish, hot and cheesy omelets.
And finally, the bar, which is wide open even at this early hour. Take that, Ontario!
As well as the main buffet, there are a number of coffee and drink stations throughout the lounge for those to get a quick coffee or some water.
I set up in one of my favourite types of chair in this lounge, a rather comfy leather-ish seat that overlooks the main entranceway into the McNamara concourse. Omelets with sriracha, and a tequila and Bloody Mary mix to drink, thanks to the suggestion of a seatmate on a flight last week. Quite nice. And a shoutout to the new Hella Spicy (that’s the name, not an assessment) Bloody Mary mix DL has on offer here — I don’t think it’s ridiculously spicy, but it’s full of horseradish and Worcestershire, so it’s really really tasty. Almost makes me forget that it’s missing clam juice. Almost.
The Sky Club WiFi is easy to connect to, and does the job nicely. Not much has changed on ye olde Corporate Shot yet this morning.
After hanging out for about an hour, it’s time to break up my stay by grabbing a quick shower. I ask at the desk, and they’re wide open, so I’m shown right in. The shower suite is simple, but does the job — the water is hot and the pressure is good. I leave feeling quite nicely refreshed, with about two hours left before departure.
Back at my seat, I grab myself a cappuccino, which is quite a nice pick-me-up as well.
As I sat there, working on this flight-report and generally chilling, I was joined by a passenger sitting somewhat nearby with their cat — who was not at all happy with his travel arrangement, and was making his displeasure with the situation quite clear. I certainly hope the poor kitty wasn’t going TPAC or TATL in its carrier. That would suck.
With about 45 minutes before the scheduled boarding time, I decided it was time to get some leg-stretching in before the long flight — and a walk around the McNamara seems like a good way to accomplish that.
Spotting on Walkabout
First up, at the gate next to my A350 to Seoul, is its older sibling, an A330 — this one bound for Beijing in a while (before this route, too, is taken over by the A350 in a few months.)
At gate A34, things are a bit more animated than before. But let’s continue to explore a bit, shall we?
N503DN and N501DN (on its way to Narita in a few hours) beautiful wingtip to beautiful wingtip. Two thirds of Delta’s current A350 fleet in one shot.
Once again, it’s all Delta all the time at the McNamara. We’ve got a DL 757-200.
A 737-800 with a 757-300 passing behind it.
A Delta Connection Embraer 170 or 175.
A Boeing 717-200.
And finally, an arriving Mad Dog just getting hooked up.
Having explored about half the McNamara, I head back to Gate A34 where the crowd is starting to gather. Just as I’m approaching, the crew is going aboard — the regular complement of uniformed flight attendants, and some additional folks with shirts with “A350 Launch Crew” on it — I presume these were FAs who’ve been trained on the new bird, to help manage the flight while the crew gets used to peculiarities of the new aircraft.
They start making announcements at about 11:30, and about 11:40, boarding starts. In a bit of departure from the usual Delta boarding procedure, they’re very clear that they’re boarding Delta One first, ahead of the rest of the Premium Zone. This is probably because the rather large Premium Select cabin also gets Premium Zone boarding, along with Diamond Medallions regardless of cabin, so I guess Premium could be quite crowded.
Despite the early access, there’s a bit of lineup to get aboard — all boarding at DTW is done through door two, despite the gate being equipped for two jetways and Delta being used to using two jetways for 747 operations.
The Flight Report
Flight: DL159 From: Detroit Wayne (DTW) To: Seoul Incheon (ICN) Date: 11/20/2017 Aircraft: Airbus A350-900 Registration: N503DN Seat: 3A ATD (STD): 12:54 (12:24) ATA (STA): 16:15 (16:30+1)
For this flight, I’m seated in seat 3A, the second window seat from the front, and the first closer-to-the-window window seat in the cabin, with the console on the aisle-side. The seat has a shoulder belt, the first time I’ve seen such on a Delta plane.
One of the things one notices right away is that the aisle in Delta One is quite narrow, probably owing to the extra width of each suite, even on the “extra-wide body” of the A350. Passing another person is difficult, and the service carts just barely fit during meal runs.
The seat is equipped with the standard Delta One haul stacked on the seat — slippers, the hard-sided Delta One amenity kit, a pillow pack including a smaller lumbar support pillow and a larger “main” pillow, and then a large Westin Heavenly-branded blanket. Oh, and there’s a bit of garbage leftover from a previous flight, how nice. This is especially good for plane with exactly two revenue flights on its résumé.
Legroom shot, and a look into the foot well. It doesn’t feel like its size should be a problem, but we’ll put that to the test in a little while.
As always, it’s a very exciting view on the port side between doors one and two.
The screen is very large at 18 inches. Unfortunately, it was not available gate-to-gate, and I got to look at this Delta Studio screen throughout boarding. The seat is notably very close to the passenger. Not close enough that it feels uncomfortable to watch, but still, quite close compared to most business class configurations.
A look at the side console and storage area. We’ll tour this more extensively in just a minute.
At the back is this little cubby, home to Delta’s new LSTN headsets and a bottle of water hidden away in there.
Under the little shelf on the console are your ports — a combination power and USB outlet, as well as a two-prong headphone set. Two prongs tells you about all you need to know about the provided headsets — no active noise-cancelling.
Seat controls are touch-screen, which typically means some problems with responsiveness. These are no exceptions, although not too bad. Perhaps it’s not even a responsiveness issue — there’s just a very small difference between “activated” and “not activated” for the switches, so its sometimes hard to tell when they’re actively pressed. At least with the way they are positioned, I didn't find myself adjusting my seat unexpectedly, a problem I've had with some other touch seat controls.
In the aisle-side armrest, there’s a flip-up panel which hides (for some reason) a mirror, as well as a wired remote control, which I guess is nice to have, although in seat/relax/lounge modes, the screen is so close and so responsive that there doesn’t seem much need for the remote.
This little wall sconce light slides down to double as a reading light.
Menus are distributed — I’m surprised by how similar (identical with the exception of the Korean options) to my DTW-PVG and DTW-LHR flights earlier this fall, and even my DTW-NRT flight last fall.
Next up, as boarding continues, pre-departure beverage service. A choice of sparkling wine (correctly represented as such by the flight attendants), orange juice, or Heineken. Sparkling wine for me, please.
Meal orders were also taken at about this time. I’ve had — and enjoyed — the lamb dish and the ravioli, and I’ve read bad things about the seafood lasagna, so I go for chicken this time. The purser seems like a friendly guy, but there’s no greeting by name or anything like that.
Another look at the aisle-side console and assorted storage areas. It felt like there’s enough between the larger console and the smaller shelf above, but not overwhelming.
The overhead passenger service units — reading lights, as well as air nozzles.
Everyone seemed very keen to explore their seats, and there were a lot more cameras out than usual. This was everyone’s first Delta A350 flight, I believe — including the flight attendants, who said as much. There was some commotion towards the end of boarding, as the woman in 1C apparently lost an electronic device into the workings of the seat, prompting a number of flight attendants to gather round for what was probably their first real-life dissection of the new seat.
But soon enough, it was pushback time — about 10 minutes behind schedule. My screen goes black for the safety video. So does 2A’s, and probably some others as well. So we get a partial manual demonstration as well.
That pretty, pretty winglet.
This little guy has a lot of nerve passing us.
As soon as the safety demo is over, my screen comes to life. It’s the same as the familiar Delta IFE experience, very responsive, and seems to be loaded with the latest available selections.
I select my first movie, an odd film with Brian Cranston, but keeps me occupied. There is, however, a significant problem with the IFE that seems to be impacting a bunch of us — the screen and audio intermittently turn off during playback. It quickly turns back on when the display is touched, but it’s quite irritating to have the system go black (and playback to continue while it’s black) every five to ten minutes or so. This would be a problem throughout the flight, and it was obvious others were complaining of it too.
As we taxi, a look at the ceiling in the business class cabin. Ooooo, cathedral ceilings. It means there’s no overhead bins for the middle seats, but that doesn’t seem a problem — my rollaboard and backpack and the rollaboard and bakpack of the gentleman in 3B both fit in the bin over my seat. It’s pretty full, but it’s doable.
After a short taxi past, the pilot lets us know “we’re just about number one for takeoff.” I’m not sure if that means we’re number one but not at the runway yet, or if there are others before us. But we should be off the ground soon.
Sure enough, we’re lining up.
And we’re outta here. I’m impressed by how quiet the A350 is even during its takeoff run. Notice a couple of 747s still in action as we lift off in its replacement.
Once again, that beautiful winglet as we climb out.
When we pass 10,000 feet, the seatbelt sign stays on — we’re warned there’s going to be some turbulence for the first half-hour or so. But service starts off promptly with a (very) hot towel.
Then customs form are distributed. I do always appreciate it when they’re handed out so early in the flight.
So, while we continue to climb, let’s check out some of the accoutrements of Delta One. Starting with the slippers — they’re pretty standard airline slippers. Not really worth keeping, and a bit small for my feet, but they’re better than wearing shoes for the whole flight, that’s for sure.
The new hardside Tumi amenity kit broken down. There’s a little patch that you can get monogrammed at a Tumi store should you be so inclined. Pretty standard amenity kit stuff, although I’m still a bit bummed about them killing off the rubbery-surfaced Tumi-branded mini-pen and replacing it with a very generic and not nearly as cool Delta mini-pen. Oh well.
The LSTN headset now offered in business class. It was fine until we got to altitude and I could get my Bose QCs out. They’re comfortable enough, but they lack active noise-cancellation. Mind you, it’s much less noticeable on the A350 — again, it’s very quiet.
This plane is equipped with Gogo’s latest WiFi service, and the purser advised us that Internet connectivity would be lost for a while over the polar route, but it never appeared to work on this flight. At any point I tried to connect, mostly just to use Delta’s advertised free iMessage/WhatsApp services, it would offer to let me stream content on Delta Studio to my device, but there was no active option to purchase or use Internet connectivity.
The meal service starts with drinks from the beverage cart — in my case, a glass of champagne and some sparkling water — accompanied by hot mixed nuts. The table itself is a good size, without a break for a fold, and a pretty ergonomic design. The mechanism is a pretty simple slide-out, so hopefully it will be a pretty reliable set-up.
Before dinner, a quick trip to the lav to change into my Delta One pajamas — from a previous flight. Korea isn’t included in the Delta One destinations that get pajamas, just China (HKG, PEK, PVG) and SYD. And maybe JNB. I’m not sure about that last one. The lav is modern and clean, but it’s very small — tight enough that it’s a bit of a challenge to change.
Back at my seat and comfortable in my jammies, I get set up and ready for lunch. The meal service begins with the appetizer tray — soup, starter, salad, and bread, with a choice of whole wheat, sourdough, or pretzel. Pretzel for me, please.
The soup is quite good — a bit sweet and a bit spicy, but not really served hot enough. Understandable, I guess… but it would be better a bit warmer.
The starter is an interesting combination, combining whipped ricotta and nutty bread with some more butternut squash mixture that tastes rather like pumpkin pie. I enjoy it… a change from the usual seafood-centric starters.
I like the presentation (and taste) of the simple little Caesar salad.
Pretzel bread is always good.
When my starters are done, the flight attendant leading service on my aisle returns, collecting the tray and dishes from the appetizer, leaving me just the bread and butter plate, and only that because I requested some more bread with my main course. Apparently, it’s a new plating thing Delta is doing. My main course is then delivered, along with new utensils.
The main isn’t great — the chicken is a little dry, and it’s decidedly learning more on the sweet than the smoky. But the green beans are perfectly prepared, and the garlic mashed potatoes are very good. So mixed marks on the main.
I have some sourdough bread along with the main. Very nice.
As I’m finishing dinner, my movie also finishes. And it’s time to check in on our progress. We’re just crossing over the southern edge of Hudson’s Bay at the moment.
Up next, a complete change of pace in terms of movies. Nothing great, but again, it entertains me.
My dishes are quickly cleared away, and the dessert tray comes by. I take a cheese plate and the apple butter cake with some ice cream, because why not.
The cheese course is very good, as usual.
And the apple butter cake is quite enjoyable as well. The ice cream is nice and soft.
With that, dinner is over… but not before I get another bottle of water to last me through the… err… night? Afternoon? Whatever it may be at this point. While I decline coffee or anything like that, I do happily accept a Macallan on the rocks.
As my movie nears completion, the purser stops by with a little innaugural gift of Malin and Goetz lotions in an A350 commemorative box. A nice little touch.
Mood lighting in full effect.
With the meal over, it’s time to explore the possibility of maybe a little bit of sleep. But first, let’s check out the revolutionary feature, the very feature that makes this a suite in Delta’s marketing parlance. Let’s check out the door. Here it is, swung into action.
As you can see, it’s not quite “closed,” although this is as closed as it gets. I’m not sure if that’s a technical thing, or a legal requirement, or what. But it is what it is. I will say that this seat is quite comfortable in bed mode, and the privacy is excellent, and it’s only enhanced by the door. While the nit-picker in me says it doesn’t close all the way, the reality is that it may as well — from either a seated or flat position, you have to position yourself “just right” to see the space between to door and the front wall of the suite.
I find the seat and bedding quite comfortable, although once again, I would not object to Delta offering a mattress pad or something like that. The cabin is comfortably cool, and I drift off to sleep pretty quickly as we’re over the middle of Nunavut.
Alas, I’m awakened less than hour later by that announcement that nobody ever wants to hear mid-flight — “If there’s a doctor on the aircraft, would you please make your way to row 40 on the right-hand side of the plane.”
It’s followed shortly by the house lights quickly coming up to full intensity. And it’s accompanied by that little bit of adrenaline that comes with the realization that something may have gone quite wrong for somebody on this flight, and the hope that both they’re okay, and that we’re not about to make a diversion to… I dunno… Yellowknife? Where would one divert to when you’re flying in this neck of the woods?
Fortunately, the lights go out again shortly afterwards, and the flight attendants are soon making their rounds, checking peoples’ drink situations and chatting about the new aircraft. So I assume everything’s okay. But with the little bit of a nap I got in, and the startling wake-up call, I’m not so interested in sleep anymore.
That’s probably just as well, as it’s 7:40 in the morning in Seoul, and I’d really like to be tired enough to sleep when I get into my Airbnb in Incheon where I’ll be overnighting before heading home — it strikes me at this moment how insane I am to do this. Maybe another little nap later in the flight, should the mood strike. But for now, I’ve got to find something to do for the next little while.
Fortunately, I quickly find an interesting option under the TV series portion of the IFE system. Sure, I may be a Canadian. But I will watch a Ken Burns documentary about most anything, and this series is something I’ve meant to watch since I first heard about it. They have the first two episodes, so let’s get into it.
The show is interrupted twice by medical calls — once for a doctor to the galleys at door two, during the first episode. And then during the second hour, it was back to row 40. Whatever the situations were, they remained under control enough that we continued along our way. The shows were also interrupted a number of times by the screen going black. That’s really annoying. I hope they get it fixed soon.
When the movies are over, it’s two hours later, and we’re up northeast of the eastern tip of Siberia. I head up to the forward galley in search of a snack, and find there are a couple of snack baskets set up. The purser and the flight attendant who’s primarily working the forward galley are discussing how to set things up — clearly, another way that folks are still learning the A350 as it flies. I grab a bag of chips, and the purser offers a drink, and I accept, requesting a Bloody Mary. It’s quickly delivered to my seat.
I surf through the films available to select my next viewing, and end up deciding on Beatriz at Dinner — it seems interesting but like it should be fairly easy to watch.
About ten minutes in, the purser appears again, offering the midflight snack. It’s light, but decent. It was all served cold, but was tasty enough, and helped fill the hole. My only real complaint is that I didn’t care of the oranges in the fruit. But such is life.
With my snack over, and my drink downed, and about 5:45 out of Seoul, I decide to lay down for a while more and see if I can get another quick nap in — hopefully enough to get me through the afternoon and evening in Incheon, but not to royally screw up my sleep schedule. I pause the move, turn down my suite lights, close the door, recline the bed, and get comfortable.
There are also some simple controls in the side of the console for use while in bed mode.
Well, I overshot my short nap by a little bit. Oh well. Awake again, I pop my seat back up to lounge mode, and resume my movie, which still has about 40 minutes to go.
As the move is reaching its climax, the house lights come up — must be just about breakfast… errr… lunch… errrr…. pre-arrival meal time. Yep, just about 90 minutes from Seoul.
The purser stops by with hot towel service — warning everybody that it’s “very hot.” Yes, it is.
Here’s a look across the aisle on a closed-door suite. Yes, there’s a gap there… but it does look like it’s closed for all intents and purposes. Now, when it comes to height, nobody’s going to mistake it for the new Emirates F suite.
Time to find something to watch for the duration of the flight. This looks interesting, but nothing I’d be too troubled by leaving behind if it’s not over when the flight ends. Sold!
And then it’s time for the pre-arrival meal, an odd combination of the Korean dish accompanied by coffee and orange juice, because we can’t get THAT far from the breakfast motif, can we? I quite enjoyed this dish, the apple and cucumber kimchi was an interesting taking on the classic dish, and the main was pretty tasty. The rice itself was prepared nicely, and plenty tasty enough with the addition of my old friend gochujang.
With the house lights up, and meal service underway, it’s time to open a window and see how life looks from FL400. Looks pretty good to me.
After the light meal, the purser stops by to say thanks, and offers a tasty little chocolate mint to finish the service.
Here’s a look back in the cabin as we start our descent. For most people, the walls are high enough to provide decent privacy. Note how narrow the aisles are, though. From brief exchanges with the flight attendants, I gather they’re not too thrilled with the narrow aisles or the smaller galley areas. The lavs are also pretty small as well. Funny how all of the things that don’t make money keep getting smaller, isn’t it?
Shortly after the meal is over, the Dasani-o-meter confirms we’re into our descent, and it’s time to start cleaning up the suite and getting ready for arrival.
A look out the window as we descend.
The Dasani-o-meter confirms we’re getting closer.
Then finally it’s into the clouds…
… and on to final descent into Incheon.
One more time… let’s take a look at that winglet as we get closer to the airport.
Nice views on approach.
And soon enough, we’re racing our shadow to the runway. It seems to end in a tie as we touch down.
For Incheon, it’s a pretty short taxi, first past the Hometown Terminal — I look forward to checking out the new terminal that opens next year.
We taxi past this guy. I wonder where he’s heading?
And finally, we pull in at the Foreigners Concourse. We disembark through both doors — door 1 was opened first, so that’s how I head out.
But first, a look at the nose of this beautiful new aircraft.
Then from the terminal, one more look. See you tomorrow morning, N803DN.
Arrival, Immigrations, etc.
Arriving into the Foreigners Concourse means a short train ride back to the main terminal building to process through immigration.
There’s a significant lineup for foreign passports at customs, but it moves quickly, and it’s nowhere near the schmoz I experienced upon arrival the last time I actually entered Korea at Incheon, last year.
A quick walk through the baggage hall, and I’m landside in the very busy arrivals hall at ICN. From here, it’s just a short walk over to the movie theatre in the shops connected to the airport, where I’ll meet the host of the Airbnb where I’ll spend the night before coming back to the airport in the morning and going home.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines Sky Club (Gate A38)
Detroit - DTW
Seoul - ICN
A pretty good Delta One flight. Service was about the standard for D1 — nothing that will prove very memorable, either for the good or for the bad. Food was about the standard for D1 — some good, some not so good, mostly inoffensive but unremarkable.
But of course, this flight was all about the “suite.” I found the seat surprisingly spacious, both the seat itself and the space allotted the passenger. There was plenty of storage. Privacy was excellent. The seat itself was quite comfortable in all positions, and I thought it was a good bed for sleeping in. The screen and IFE are beautiful. I get the need for consistency amongst products at the carrier, but I can’t help but be a little bit disappointed that big beautiful screen didn’t at least get some updated moving map functionality over previous-generation Delta aircraft.
After one flight, I’d say that overall, the new product is worthy of its “new flagship” status, and a better hard product experience than anything else in the current Delta fleet. The seat itself is decidedly Delta’s best-ever business class seat. But does it match up to the overall experience of upper deck 1-1 Delta One on the 747? No. But there aren’t many business class products that do.
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