FIRST IMPRESSIONS I arrived at Terminal 4 London Heathrow at 1120 for the 1305 departure for Atlanta on Delta Airlines, slightly late (a minimum of two hours before flight is recommended for check-in). Terminal 4 has changed a lot since I last flew from it, having a sort of extension on the front, although you don’t see this when you are taking the lift up from the underground. The main check-in area for Delta is “F” and for business class passengers (BusinessElite in Delta) and top tier members of Skyteam’s frequent flyer programme Skymiles there is a separate screen-off area “(H”) with more self-service check-in machines and several desks for Delta as well as KLM, Aeroflot, Air France and Alitalia. There was no queue at check-in and I was quickly dealt with. There was no queue at security, which was remarkably hassle-free (the busy time here at T4  is earlier in the morning).

THE LOUNGE Delta uses the Skyteam lounge airside at Terminal 4 which is over two floors. It opened last year, and see our news piece about it, as well as many photos, click here.

Although the lounge was not crowded on the lower level, it was deserted on the upper level, with only a couple of people in the whole space (it might not always be this way – the kid’s area is up here as well). Upstairs also has some sleep cabins, which can be booked,  a private room, and a VIP area with separate service which is used by Korean Air First Class passengers, as well as VIP parties and can also be booked).  I was impressed with the lounge: there’s a spa in one corner with massage chairs and an oxygen bar (admittedly, not working the morning of my visit), as well as computers, play stations, a good selection of newspapers and magazines and TVs all around the area as well as screens showing the flights. The lounge serves food throughout the day, with four meal cycles: breakfast (0500-100), lunch (1100-1500); tea (1500-1700) and dinner (1700-2215).

Delta currently flies five times daily from London Heathrow serving Detroit, Atlanta, Minneapolis and two flights to New York (there is another Atlanta flight from London Gatwick). Until the attempted terrorist bomb on Christmas Day 2009, Delta’s flights went from gates 7-9 almost opposite the Skyteam Lounge, but as a result of extra security checks, the gates have been moved over to the Victor Pier (Gates 22-25) which is a longer walk. In January these extra checks were for 100 per cent of passengers, causing long delays, but have now been scaled back to 55% and with eight extra security personnel, are completed relatively quickly helped by calling the flight early.

At around 1210 I walked down to the gate, was one of the 45% not to have my bag searched, and turned left on board to find the window seat 3A close t the front of the single business class cabin. My jacket was quickly taken and I was offered a glass of water, orange juice or champagne.

THE SEAT The B767-400ER has Delta’s new fully flat BusinessElite seat. The configuration is 1-2-1 (A-BC-D) with seats being upholstered in blue, and being staggered so that your legs run alongside the person in front of you, albeit boxed by the surround of the seat. It’s an ingenious solution, and means you don’t sit close to anyone and have plenty of space around the seat as well as direct access to the aisle.   Click here to see the seatplan as well as Delta’s video of how the seat works. I liked the slanting footrest build into the seat in front which was comfortable, and also the magazine pockets (two of these) and the bottle of water and amenity pack already waiting at the seat (this has a good pair of flight socks with grips on the underneath).

The seat is simple to use with clear pre-set positions as well as buttons to alter the recline of the seat and lumbar support. There is power, both USB and for US-Style plugs, and this was invaluable on a day flight such as this meaning I could work for most of the journey. The tray table slips out of the side arm, but does so in a unique and slightly alarming manner, flicking out when you press the release button and threatening to slice you in half before stopping just in time. This table has caused Delta a lot of headaches since the roll out began, and I had heard that there were specific instructions being left on some seats to prevent customers from having problems with it (or damaging it). In fact, I waited for the flight attendant to show me how it worked, including the slight downward pressure needed to put it away and also to get it into the right position so it could be unfolded. Once out, it was firm and strong, quite capable of supporting the laptop and good for the meal service as well.

The controls for the in-flight entertainment (IFE) are in the arm of the seat, though the small IFE screen is close enough to touch when you’re sitting up (and is a touch screen). Obviously again there have been problems with this, and a note in the in-flight Delta Sky magazine cautions “Please be considerate of the passenger in front of you and touch the screen gently – a light tap of your fingernail works best.” The IFE is audio and video on demand (AVOD) and there was a good choice of films as well as HBO programming. Also on the IFE control is the button for the overhead light and there is also an over-shoulder spotlight.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The flight attendants encouraged the business class passengers to use the rear washrooms, and so there is slightly less footfall around the front few rows as a result, though the meals are served from here. Although it was a daylight flight, most people put down their blinds to watch the IFE and it was quiet in the cabin for most of the journey. I would avoid Row 1 which is slightly exposed to the galley, and the back row, 10. On this flight, 9A was curtained off for the pilot to sleep. I would choose A or D if travelling alone, and since I like looking out of the window and having some protection from the aisle, I would choose seat A in rows 3,5 or 7. Seat D on the other side offers similar advantages in those rows and would work best if left handed since then the room afforded by the large box is on that side.

THE FLIGHT Although we had pushed back from the stand at 1305, we then taxied slowly to the runway and then didn’t seem to move for nearly half an hour. There were no flight announcements during this time, and the silence was broken only a few minutes before take off when the pilot came on and said we’d finally got to close to the head of the queue and were third in line for the runway.

Once in the air we were offered drinks and a dish of nuts before the food service began. The menus detailed Andrea Robinson as the Delta BusinesElite Master Sommelier and Michelle Bernstein as the International Chef.

Choices for the first course were Serrano Ham, served with celery remoulade; cream of cauliflower soup and caprese salad with mozzerella, tomato and basil. I assumed these were choices but was offered all three, refusing only the soup. The main courses were roasted chicken breast garnished with olives and tomatoes, accompanied by sweet couscous and sugar snap peas; tender fillet of beef enhanced by horseradish sauce, served with lyonnaise potatoes and grilled asparagus; spiral pasta tossed with roasted garden vegetables, tomato sauce and herbed ricotta cheese and roast beef and grilled shrimp with a devilled egg, grilled asparagus and roma tomato served chilled. Desert was a selection of cheese or an all natural vanilla ice cream sundae with a choice of sauces, whipped cream and chopped nuts, garnished with a pirouline cookie. The starter and main were perfectly fine, but a little uninspired, particularly the first course. The pasta main was a little underwhelming, but perhaps I chose badly.
The meal service was professionally done, with a choice of breads being offered several times, a white table cloth being spread out and a choice of drinks. I also noticed that the crew brought out the food on trays rather than serving us from trolleys, though a trolley appeared for the tea and coffee service. The wines were Champagne Piper-Heidsieck, with a choice of two whites: Dry Creek Fume Blanc, Sonoma, California, 2007; Finca La Celia Torrontes, Mendoza, Argentina, 200. The whites, Chateau Bois Pertuis, Bordeaux, Franc 2006 or Montgras Carmenere Reserva, Colchagua, Chile 2008. Dessert wines were Den de Bortoli, Vat 5  Botrytis Semillon Riverina, Australia 2007 or Penflds Club Port, Australia, NV.

As it was a day flight I wasn’t drinking, and so instead had tea, of which there were four choices, all by Tazo Teas: earl grey, refresh, passion and wild sweet orange. These came with a large tea cup and saucer and a small metal tea pot allowing the tea to brew nicely on the large side arm/ table so I could drink it while working.
The pre-arrival light meal was a choice of roasted chicken breast sandwich topped with pesto sauce and provolone cheese served with marinated vegetable salad or a cold salad plate featuring smoked salmon slices, potato cucumber salad and tomato, accompanied by breadsticks and fresh fruit, and a chocolate.

Prior to arrival an announcement was made that there would now be shown an arrival video on the IFE explaining Atlanta Hartsford airport but it turned out this had not been loaded onto the aircraft. At the time I thought nothing of it – until I got to Atlanta and understood just how unique the arrival process is at this airport, one of the largest in the world. When it came to stowing my tray table I found that I didn’t understand the mechanism half as well as I had thought, and neither did the flight attendant who struggled with it. In the end four of them came to put it away, and one of them humorously started the joke “How many flight attendants does it take to fold a tray table…” which I thought was very amusing and self-deprecating.

ARRIVAL We arrived early at 1740 and were quickly on the stand. From here we walked to immigration, were there was a 20 minute queue, and the waited for our luggage, which was another 10 minutes. There was then a short queue for customs, but then, instead of walking out of the airport, we were required to give away our checked baggage once again, go through a full security check (shows and belts off, all cabin luggage x-rayed, before going down some escalators and waiting for a shuttle train which took us from E, through D,C, B, A and T before getting off at the last stop for our baggage reclaim. We then waited again by our second carousel. The wait was alleviated slightly by a researcher asking my opinions of this and whether, when things were improved at the airport, I would prefer to bring my own luggage with me on the shuttle train or have someone else do it for me, and how much would I be prepared to pay for that shuttle train. I told him I wouldn’t be prepared to pay anything and that the experience of using the airport had been bewildering. An hour after landing I finally made it out of the airport, and then waited a further 20 minutes for a shared hotel link shuttle bus to take me Downtown ($16.50)

VERDICT The seat is extremely comfortable and well thought out for daytime travel, with lots of storage and work space, and good in-seat power. The IFE is easy to use and the programming showed a good, if not world-beating choice.



Tom Otley

To read a review of the return flight, click here.