First impressions Delta is the only US carrier operating a service to Russia, flying daily non-stop to Sheremetyevo International Airport from New York’s JF K (it also flies daily to Moscow from its base at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson airport). Delta operates a Boeing 767-300ER aircraft, which carries up to 204 passengers in a two-class configuration and features the Business Elite service. The only other direct option from JFK is offered by Delta’s Skyteam partner Aeroflot.
Delta’s website advises international travellers from the US to check in and be at the gate at least 45 minutes before departure and, if checking bags, at least 60 minutes. There are exceptions for travel to certain cities, however, and Moscow is one of them. Here it is recommended to arrive three hours before departure. Travellers are also recommended to add a further security check time to the overall period allowed, which can be calculated from the TSA website (I didn’t do this).
Arriving at Terminal 3 at 1530 for my 1730 departure, I could not see any signs for Delta’s Business Elite check-in, but after asking someone I quickly found it (it was a simple case of turning left). There was no queue, staff were helpful and security was quickly negotiated (laptops out of bags, shoes and sweaters off).
Lounge Delta has a choice of two Crown Rooms at JFK, one of which was close to gate 5 (on the concourse level, inside security before gate 2; open daily 0430-2200), which was my departure gate. At the time of the review (November 2005) there were no workstations in the lounge because they were shortly due to be installed, but T-Mobile Hotspots allowed quick access ($6/£3.50 per hour). A bar service offered a selection of drinks and snacks.
Boarding I left the lounge before the flight was called and was quickly on board. A choice of orange juice, water or champagne was offered, and the chance to order dinner, then we were in the queue for take-off and departed 20 minutes behind schedule. Shortly after departure a lengthy announcement told us that the flight was operated by a US carrier, was subject to US laws and that if we had any duty free with us we should not drink it but should wait until we arrived in Moscow. Luckily we had an attentive flight attendant who kept us supplied.
The seat As this was a night-time service, my main concern was getting some sleep and the Business Elite seat, contrary to my expectations, was perfect for this. The seat configuration was 2-2-2 with a seat pitch of 152cm and reclining to 160 degrees. Despite it being a relatively old-fashioned style of seat and not “lie-flat”, I found it extremely comfortable, not least because unlike many lie-flat-style (ie not horizontal) seats, there was no danger of sliding down the seat and having to wake up to push myself back up again.
The choice of films was small compared with most international carriers, but an initial problem with the system was solved when it was rebooted, and all programmes became available. The meal service was excellent, as was the choices of wines.
The flight I woke about 90 minutes before arrival, just in time for breakfast of orange juice, tea or coffee and muesli (a cooked option was also available). At the time of writing there was a shortage of immigration cards for Russia, so I had to fill in a Russian language version of the visa, not knowing which section was which. Fortunately a member of the cabin crew dictated the instructions to us, which was an admirable way of dealing with a potentially difficult situation, and one which the staff handled extremely professionally.
We landed early and were quickly through immigration. I had only carry-on luggage and so was out into the airport before the official landing time of 1110.
Verdict An excellent service: comfortable, convenient and a useful link between New York and Moscow.
Price A return in business class from JFK to Moscow costs $2,570 (£1,494) excluding taxes.