Flight Review: Delta A350-900 N501DN Detroit-Amsterdam 18-19 May 2018


While I chose to live the high life in Delta One, which is nice but not spectacular and the food was less than awe inspiring, down the back in Economy, seat 38H in the window was my colleague Will Ruffin – and he took the time again, to review what it’s like on Delta’s flagship…

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View from the gate – that dotted glass isn’t a spotters friend!

Before that, we agreed there are a few things that Delta have chosen through the aircraft that all three of us thought were really quite disappointing.

  1. Unlike the Dreamliner, the A350’s don’t have electro-chromic windows, jut standard pull-down blinds, even though the windows are much larger.
  2. The toilets/bathrooms were especially cramped and small, even in Delta One the bathrooms were small, in economy they were “almost unusable”. Will is 5ft 11, so 182cm. He couldn’t stand up without hitting his head on the ceiling.
  3. Having nipped down the cabin (much to the annoyance of Delta crew I might add), to have a look I have to agree the seats and power supply, trays were not ideal, poorly designed.

So over to Will:

So from check in – I was able to check in on the Delta app, but unlike every other airline in Europe these days, much to my surprise they don’t seem to use iPhone compatible e-cards so nothing for my collection!  The KLM end of the flight from Amsterdam to BHX did, under the DL number, but not the Delta flight itself.Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 16.27.41.png

Detroit airport signage. what can I say? There are lots of it but still manages to make navigating around the airport hard, as the signs only show what is directly ahead with no alternative signs to what’s to the side or in the direction you came from if you have to turn around.

The Delta staff being used to this, have to frequently call out what flight their section is for and direct people to the correct area. Check-in and bag drop is completely electronic and there are no staff on hand directly to help.  If you have an issue you need to go upstairs and speak to either the international or domestic teams at opposite ends of the terminal building.

Security again is a bit confusing due to lack of signage, and not the most organised. The staff there do not issue instructions as they hand you the box (computer out, phone out, x or y out, all else stays in for example), but instead point out at the last-minute what you should have done earlier, which is not the same as you’d do in Europe. The expectation that it’s up to you to know, not for them to tell you, is unhelpful.  It still surprises me you have to take your shoes off in the US where everywhere else this has stopped.

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Delta’s version of Premium Economy looked quite appealing, but less space than Virgin Atlantic or BA

Boarding ostensibly, is separated into zones but this is not enforced, which was handy in my case as I managed to get in early and settled in my seat before the surrounding passengers arrived. It just makes more sense in my mind to fill from the back instead of the front. I was glad I got in first as my seat was window, and my co-passengers were two very large American ladies. As an aside, this makes a mockery of the rigid embarkation procedure on the way out from Amsterdam which contributed to late departure. Lack of a consistent approach, Delta is no Lufthansa (or BA, or Virgin, or even Air France).

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My Delta “main cabin” economy window seat 38H

Seats are roomy in Economy for the average sized person but might be a little snug if you are on the larger side. I saw this in plenty, as neither of the large women could even get their trays to fold out in full, being able to use only the closed half.

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view across the cabin; it’s a 3-3-3 arrangement

The blue leather is currently clean and sharp but I do wonder what it will be like after thousands of uses. The windows follow tradition with blinds instead of more modern fits where the amount of light is controlled by varying the tint. There is also an international plug socket and USB charger between the seats in front, but just far too low down. Fine if you are the first one in the row, but a bit awkward when the row is full. You simply cannot bend down and use it when someone big is sat in the next seat.

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yes it’s a blurred mess, but that just shows you how hard it was to lean down and access it, terrible design and bad ergonomics

The screens on the inflight entertainment maximise the available space and are clear although window seats can suffer from glare. As in my previous review the entertainment menu is not intuitive, and it takes a few clicks to view the full movie selection instead of just the showcase.

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Great screens, but having the headphone socket in the frame means it drags in your food. Who designs these things? Have they been on an aircraft before?

I also have to point out that the entertainment system refers to movie selections from the previous month and does not match the listings on Delta’s website. I was rather looking forward to watching Black Panther, but it wasn’t available.

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There is another USB charger in the screen frame,  but the downside is the headphone jack in the screen as it drapes into your food! Another poor design issue.

There is an option to stream movies to your own device but the full selection isn’t available on the inflight system and requires you to download an additional app before departure. In all honesty, not worth it.

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I could hear passengers moaning about the seats against the wall under the Delta sign – they don’t tilt and have less room at the knee, and the smell of the toilets isn’t a thrill. The flight was completely full.

Thankfully the stewards on this flight were far more friendly and polite than on my outbound flight. “Anything to discard?” is far more preferable than having “Trash!?” barked at you.

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The food was surprisingly good for US caterers. (editors note: LSG SkyChefs). The chicken was a little over cooked and dry but the meal as a whole was decidedly better than food I’ve had in premium economy on BA from the US to UK.

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That USB power slot at my left knee was impossible to get at when the big ladies were sat in the seat next to me. It was hard enough when they weren’t.
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The half fold out tray takes up a lot of space

It is a little cramped to eat and you do have to do a little human origami to avoid interactions with your fulsome neighbour. The ridge in the middle of the tray does help to keep your food secure but also makes manoeuvring the different elements a bit more awkward, but overall more help than hindrance.

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The marketing style fabulous sounding menu didn’t live up to the exuberant and flowery description

The toilets are more compact, in fact downright small, than on my outgoing flight on the A330, and with the galley space the minimum physically possible, it is extremely difficult to use the facilities on the other side of the aircraft if the ones your side are in use.

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The lady in the middle struggled to open her tray, the one on the aisle end couldn’t, there just isn’t enough space, the trays are not well designed or very imaginative in terms of deployment solutions. It all seems like Delta chose the cheapest seats they could find.
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Looks a lot nicer than it tastes, but it was better than some BA food in Premium Economy on the return leg. US catering isn’t up to European standards.

Breakfast was disappointing, the bagel was stale – seriously stale, and the orange juice arrived frozen. Biggest let down was the coffee, which was disgusting. I’ve had nicer Nescafé out of a jar and this was supposed to be Starbucks Premium.

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frozen orange juice
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You wouldn’t get blatant advertising like that on a Virgin or BA napkin! Very RyanAir.

The ambience of the cabin was not as special, or as pleasing as on the 787’s I’ve flown in. Jon, stashed away in Delta One was ambivalent about it. When we chatted about it during the Amsterdam layover and on the flight back to BHX, all three of us agreed it really wasn’t a patch on BA or Virgin Atlantic 787’s.  It was quiet, the pressure was nicer, just as they were, but as an overall product, Delta is a step down from any of the European airlines.

Frankly if this is their flagship experience, it’ll be the last time I bother.

…Thank’s Will!

I have to concur with Will’s conclusions – really there’s no way I’d waste my time on Delta long haul again. I chose it this time because last time Virgin Atlantic flew here on A330’s, and we needed to get there without too much hassle. However, next time its Virgin Atlantic to New York then a much shorter Delta domestic business class flight to Detroit! 

Overall for your general passenger in economy, there’s better. There just might not be better on that route. Detroit is poorly served from the UK – a daily fossilized Delta 767 is on offer or nothing. This was for all of us, our first time in an A350 too…and I’m shocked to report, in Delta spec, it isn’t a patch on a BA or Virgin 787-9.

If this is what Delta plans to use to challenge the ME3, it’s got a nasty surprise looming.