Tried & Tested

Delta Air Lines B767-400 Business Elite

15 Jan 2010 by AndrewGough

BACKGROUND The 2008 merger between Delta and Northwest is virtually complete with both now operating under the Delta brand. Delta’s London Heathrow to Detroit Metro Wayne service runs once daily, departing at 0940 and arriving at 1335. The return flight leaves at 1815 arriving at 0705 the next day.

CHECK-IN Although I had checked in online, with the recent increased security measures I arrived at Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport three hours before my 1815 flight NW782 to London Heathrow.

As I was unable to print out my boarding pass beforehand but there were no queues at any of the check-in desks. I walked straight to the nearest Delta check-in desk (an Economy one despite travelling Business) alongside security where there was only one person in front of me.

I checked in one bag (Business passengers are allowed three pieces of luggage) and headed through security, which was similarly quiet – when was the last time you had nobody ahead of you in an airport security queue? My shoes, belt and watch came off, my laptop and plastic bag of toiletries were scanned and following a very rapid pat down and a clear scan, I was airside in a frankly unbelievable six minutes from leaving the check-in desk.

THE LOUNGE As you leave security and come down the escalators, Delta’s business lounge is immediately on your left, just past the duty free shop. Two other smaller lounges are also available at either end of the tram service that operates in the T-shaped airport.

Upon checking in at the front desk of the lounge, I was informed that the wifi wasn’t working, but that I could go to the other two smaller lounges where it was OK. From past experience, the smaller lounges at either end of the tram service in the T-shaped terminal are a little dark and cramped, so I chose to stay where I was.

The lounge is large, bright and airy with a glass wall looking out onto the main atrium of the terminal. There are two showers, three conference rooms, a smoking room and 24 workstations. Although there are a number of quiet zones where mobile phone usage is discouraged, the large televisions were on with their sound still on (showing Fox News of all things), so they were far from quiet.

The seating is also worthy of note as there are several armchairs available with university-style rotating side tables, and most had easily accessible plug sockets, ideal for working if you don’t want to sit at a proper desk. It’s clear that someone has thought through what business passengers want.

On the downside, although there was an excellent Douwe Egbert’s coffee machine, the selection of refreshments was fairly limited to Minute Maid canned soft drinks and a small selection of spirits, with very little on offer in the way of nibbles. Pretzels, nuts and single wrapped biscuits were all that was on offer. I’d eaten lunch beforehand, but at mid-afternoon it was clear that several other people hadn’t and were disappointed by the lack of any proper food – especially on a relatively short seven hour and 50 minute flight where you might want to get as much sleep as possible. The only drawback to the open nature of the lounge was that sound travelled easily, an annoying fact with so many people being on their mobile phones – making the quieter workstations tempting.

BOARDING Although boarding had not yet been announced, I left the lounge at 1725 for the five-minute walk to Gate A28. Upon arrival, boarding for business passengers and premium card holders started immediately. Upon arriving at my seat, there was a pillow, blanket and a small bottle of water already on the side of the seat, together with a small amenity kit (socks, eye shades, ear plugs, tissues, lip balm and a pen, but no toiletries such as toothpaste – thankfully I’d bought my own).

I was offered a selection of newspapers (all US, barring the FT), a choice of orange juice or Champagne and the food menu was handed out with main course orders taken before take-off. I was also asked if I wanted to be woken for breakfast before landing.

The doors were shut at 1812 and the plane was pushed off the stand ten minutes later. There was a reasonably lengthy wait before take-off, which came at 1843 – a little later than the official 1810.

THE SEAT The Delta B767-400 was the relatively new 76D formation making the Business Elite class section configured 1-2-1 (A-BC-D) formation – giving everyone aisle access. Finished in blue with a large grey box section alongside, the seats come in a staggered layout that looks a little odd but is very practical on space.

Click here to see the seatplan.

I was in 7A which is positioned with the seat against the side of the plane and the box section closest to the aisle. This is the same for all A and D seats with the difference that in A the box is under your right elbow, and in D under your left elbow.  The reason is that when the seat is extended in the lie flat position your legs effectively go into and under the person ahead’s box section.  This box section also houses the AVOD controls under a panel, the overhead light switch (there’s also an over-shoulder spotlight) and your fold-out tray with a swing-out-and-up action that’s rather awkward. Power, USB and modem sockets are fitted (though the onboard wifi wasn’t operational on this flight) and the AVOD screen is in a fixed position ahead of the seat.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE Given the formation of the ten business class rows, the A and D seats give a little more privacy as you’re guaranteed to be sitting alone. The B and C seats are better for those travelling as a pair. 9A is a designated crew seat.

With the issues mentioned earlier, personally I was happier to be closer to the window in my odd-numbered seat. The lie-flat bed is good (if a little narrow), but being over six-foot tall I had to adopt a slightly angled sleeping position, which may have been bothersome if I’d been closer to the aisle in the seat ahead or behind.

THE FLIGHT After take-off we were quickly offered drinks, a small dish of nuts and then the food service began, with white table cloths placed on the fold-out trays. Even better, the AVOD system was also operational immediately after take-off and although the selection wasn’t great, I watched a film during dinner.

There was a reasonable wine selection on board with a Californian Scharffenberger Brut sparking wine and the other whites consisting of Brampton Sauvignon Blanc 2007 and Hermanos Lurton Rueda 2007. The red options were Gloria Ferrer Carneros Merlot 2005 or Mark West Pinot Noir 2006. There were also two dessert wines – Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Porto 2003 or Jurancon Prestige Cave de Gan Jurancon.

The starter was an all-in-one selection of houmous with caramelised onions and pine nuts, Thai chicken and coriander soup and a spinach salad with goat’s cheese. It was an odd combination and overall rather disappointing. The best was the goat’s cheese salad (hard to get wrong let’s face it) as the soup was lukewarm and the houmous largely tasteless.

For my main, I had crab cakes with lemon aioli, baked spaghetti squash and leeks with red pepper. As with the soup, the crab cakes were lukewarm despite being slightly burnt, the spaghetti sticky and the leeks inedible. For dessert there was a choice of cheeses or a vanilla ice-cream sundae. I chose the ice-cream which was refreshing, but then found a piece of plastic in the bowl. To be fair, we could have eaten in the terminal before the flight, but given the lack of catering in the lounge, for a business class service the food was dreadful overall.

Having finished dinner, I chose to go to sleep though the dimmed cabin lights were still quite bright and a lot of turbulence meant that the seat belt light was repeatedly switched on and off, accompanied by a PA announcement. Given that it was clear most people were sleeping (or trying to), couldn’t they just check the passengers’ seat belts manually and not bother with the PA in business?

Breakfast was served at 0600 – a choice of fresh fruit, pastries or granola cereal with a choice of coffee or orange juice. When I asked for tea I was offered a selection of four different ones (though no English Breakfast, but what do you expect on a US carrier). I was told to be quick with the small milk jug brought to me as they only had two on the flight. Along with dinner, the catering on the whole was a low point.

ARRIVAL After circling in the Heathrow stack for some time – and apparently extremely close to another plane – we landed into a driving snowstorm at 0716 (not long after the official landing time of 0705), pulled onto our stand at 0725 and disembarked via an airbridge a seemingly lengthy eight minutes after that with no priority given to business class passengers. At immigration, I went through the IRIS scanning lane. Despite being second in the queue, I realised afterwards that the standard passport control line would probably have been faster. My priority-tagged baggage was out at 0755 and we were rapidly land-side.

VERDICT There’s two verdicts here really. We did the same Detroit/ London Heathrow the previous year on a Northwest flight which was little short of dire. This Delta flight is a vast improvement, but the catering needs a lot of work and the offer of a pre-flight meal, as on many US East Coast services, would go a long way to solving the issues encountered.

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight in January start from £2420 (exc. taxes).

CONTACT delta.com

Nat Barnes

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