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Delta A321neo First Class Review

The aviation community was abuzz when Delta Airlines announced the addition of the Airbus A321neo to their fleet. The most exciting part? A brand-new first-class product set to redefine the standards of premium air travel within the United States.

Anyone who’s flown North American domestic first class in the past twenty years is aware of its widespread mediocrity.

For an average of 3-4x the price point of standard economy, one can expect nothing more than a mildly improved seat, extra baggage allowance, free drinks, and a mosquito net to separate yourself from the passengers unlucky enough to have to pay for those amenities separately.

There’s typically no lounge access, no private suite to showcase on Instagram, and no apparent reason for the average traveler to justify the splurge. While it’s a step above intra-Europe business class, the bar isn’t particularly high.

Enter Delta.

The A321neo

With the addition of the A321neo came the only notable change to a first-class recliner seen from a legacy airline this century. I recently had the chance to fly this product on DL630 with service from Minneapolis to Anchorage.

Though other airlines such as American and Hawaiian have taken delivery of the neo, Delta is the only carrier that made any significant alterations to the in-cabin experience.

Delta could have run with the pack, installing their past products, and called it a day. Yet with post-pandemic travel seeing premium cabins being booked more than ever and premium passengers being pickier than ever, it’s important for an airline to look at new ways to stay competitive.

For Delta, this manifested in a serious redesign of the domestic first-class experience, a leap I’m thrilled that they took. 

My introduction to this seat was made simply through luck; as a silver medallion member, I was the last of the frequent flyer group to qualify for a complimentary upgrade, and the odds were seemingly not in my favor. When I started my journey at Houston-Bush Intercontinental, there were two first class seats left on my second leg with three people in line ahead of me.

I boarded the IAH-MSP flight with low expectations and accepted the itinerary I paid for.

Pro Tip

Delta now offers free basic Wi-Fi on most of its domestic flights. When I took this flight, however, that wasn’t the case. I’m a T-Mobile customer so I could have connected for free if I chose, but it was limited to a certain number of flights per year, and I wasn’t about to waste one on a two-hour flight to a connecting airport.Â

My first leg was pleasant and uneventful.

Upon landing, I took my phone off airplane mode, ending my break from the duties of digital citizenship. That’s when I saw the magical notification: I got an upgrade on my next flight. I don’t know how it happened, but I wasn’t in any place to question why the Delta gods put me in their favor. The excitement gave me the push I needed to make my 35-minute connection time. Exploring MSP would have to wait until later; I had to run.

Delta’s A321neo Seat Configuration

I made it to my gate as Comfort+ was boarding and quickly made it down the jet bridge. Delta’s A321neo features twenty first class seats in a 2-2 configuration; my seat assignment was 4B, an aisle seat in the second-to-last row. 

The first thing to strike me about the A321neo was how modern it felt. Even though the aircraft has been in service for some time now, the cabin was free from the noticeable dirt and wear seen on aircraft that have been flying for years.

The mood lighting was set to a pleasant pinkish-red and was accompanied by Taylor Swift’s “Lover” as boarding music. As an aviation geek and a Swiftie, I was thrilled.

First Impressions

The overhead bins had a generous amount of storage, similar to those on a wide-body aircraft. These similarities were a continuing theme, as the A321neo didn’t have the same cramped feeling that some narrow-bodied planes do.

I am 6’2” and I often have to duck when walking through smaller aircraft so my head doesn’t hit the ceiling. On this flight, however, I was able to stand comfortably in the spacious cabin.

Waiting for me at my seat was a Delta One amenity kit, a touch that costs the airline next to nothing but can mean everything to a passenger, especially those who normally wouldn’t fly first class and chose to treat themselves.

The kit was in a small pouch made by sustainable Mexican apparel brand Someone, Somewhere. In it was an eye mask, a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen, ear plugs, and lotion from the brand Grown Alchemist. I still use the pouch today to carry flash drives, and it has held up well since my flight. 

The seat itself was generously padded and felt like those in a Delta One suite. Despite my tardiness, the flight attendant happily hung my coat and served me a pre-departure beverage.

A noteworthy aspect of Delta’s domestic first-class product is that the food and beverage is served with proper table and glassware; this is something that’s often hit-or-miss on other legacy carriers. It’s these smaller details that really drive home the premium experience.

Sipping my ginger ale, I started to become acquainted with my home for the next six hours. There are privacy dividers between each seat, and they’re adorned with winged headrests, helping prevent those awkward shoulder-to-shoulder moments that are often otherwise inescapable.

Another pro of the winged headrests is that aisle seat passengers will have something sturdy to rest their head on when sleeping, a luxury formerly reserved only for those in window seats.

Passengers seated in this configuration also have access to their own personal power outlet and USB port, a small cubby in the armrest that I used to store my phone and air pods, and a slot adjacent to the under-seat storage designed to fit an average sized laptop. The only shared part of this configuration is the cocktail tray attached to the armrest, which still had ample space for both glasses. American Airlines, please take notes.

One of the many perks that comes with flying Delta is that nearly all their narrow-bodied fleet is equipped with seat-back entertainment screens. Though the other legacy carriers have free entertainment that can be streamed using your personal device, in my opinion the seat-back screen drastically improves the flight experience, regardless of cabin class.

A321neo passengers in the front of the plane will be treated to a 13-inch HD touchscreen complete with Delta Studio, an award-winning IFE system.

Side Note:While I will always take seat-back screens over lack thereof, I miss the days when flight attendants gave the safety announcement opposed to a video. I can appreciate the importance of streamlining, especially regarding safety, but it’s a treat when a flight attendant makes the otherwise lackluster safety speech funny and engaging. Though for the sake of modernization, I suppose those days are behind us.

After I got settled in, we pushed back from the gate and the typical pre-takeoff rituals ensued. Our expected flight time was six hours and five minutes gate-to-gate, with a takeoff-to-touchdown time of about five hours and fifteen minutes. A perfect amount of time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the result of Delta’s product development think tank.

It’s fair to say that a new airline seat can only be judged accurately in an airline’s favorite environment: a sold-out flight.

Minus the occasional exception, the prime goal of an aircraft cabin layout is to pack in as many seats as possible, maintaining the delicate balance between profitability and keeping cabin conditions humane (I think the term “comfortable” can be a bit of a stretch these days, particularly in domestic economy). 

Seat Pitch & Legroom

As a tall person, I, albeit ironically, get the short end of the stick in this exchange. Even some first-class seats can be tight for those of us over six feet, but I am pleased to report that I fit not only comfortably in Delta’s new premium seat design, but even with my backpack under the seat in front of me, I had a little bit of legroom to spare.

I’d like to extend my sincerest gratitude to whoever spoke up for us in the meeting where Delta decided on their new seat on seat pitch. 

The one criticism I have thus far is that the new seat appears to be a shell design with a fixed back – it’s not. This means that when the seat reclines, the entire seat back moves, often into the knees of the person seated behind you. A fixed shell seat, on the other hand, will remain stationary and only the cushioned portion of the seat will move. This is becoming more common with long haul premium economy seat designs.

As both a tall and somewhat self-conscious individual, I think this is a missed opportunity on Delta’s part. A fixed shell not only spares you the guilt of diminishing a fellow passenger’s personal space, but it also spares us vertically enhanced people from having our precious pitch taken from us. 

Fun fact: “pitch” refers to the distance between your seat and the back of the seat in front of you. Though not necessarily the same thing as legroom, it’s a good metric to use when flight shopping.

My Delta A321neo Flight Experience

During taxi and takeoff, our flight attendant allowed us to hold on to our pre-departure beverages. I’m not sure if there are government regulations surrounding this, but I’ve been on several flights where they had to be chugged before departure.

Again, it’s the little things like this that really make a travel experience. Shoutout to that flight attendant, unless it’s against regulation, in which case shoutout rescinded.

Once we reached a safe altitude, our flight attendant once again came around, refilled our drinks, and offered a variety of snacks. First class and Comfort+ passengers on Delta are treated to several full size sweet and savory goodies to choose from compared to the usual fare of Biscoff cookies and mini pretzels in economy. Of course, I still had to get a pack of Biscoff; this is Delta, after all.

I’m always impressed with the selection of entertainment options Delta has to offer. They have a tasteful blend of new, not-so-new, and classic movie options along with full seasons of popular network television shows and live DIRECTV. I started with Ocean’s 8, a jewelry heist movie starring Sandra Bullock that had been on my to-watch list. Whatever is on your list, it’s a safe bet that Delta Studio will have a title for you to cross off.

Dining Options

About an hour into the flight, we gave our dinner orders. We had three options: beef short rib with mashed potatoes and roast vegetables, wild mushroom ravioli with grilled vegetables in a garlic-herb butter sauce, and grilled chicken breast over couscous with grilled broccolini.

Each entrée was served with a warm dinner roll and a side salad with raspberry vinaigrette. I had to skip the salad due to an allergy, but they looked fresh. These were served on proper dinner plates with metal cutlery and a cloth napkin not unlike what you’d find in a restaurant.

I opted for the mushroom ravioli paired with a glass of Imagery Prosecco. The meal was fine; not what I would refer to as cuisine, and nothing compared to what airlines such as Qatar are serving up in their premium cabins, but still satisfactory, as a hot meal on a medium range flight is always a welcome luxury.

The Prosecco is a skip. I’m not a sommelier by any means, but even in a proper glass it was still evident by the taste that it came from a can.

Sleeping Arrangements

After dinner and my movie were over, it was time for the sleep test. Now, I want to insert the disclaimer that I typically don’t sleep at all when seated upright, but I gave it a shot as this was an evening flight and I still had a few hours to kill. I was unsuccessful.

Having the winged headrest was nice to lay my head against, and for an airline recliner, this seat has everything going for it and more in terms of being sleeper friendly; my fellow passengers were out cold. 

The Cabin

The upside of my mid-air nocturnal state is it gave me the opportunity to appreciate the newly added, finer details of the A321neo. The ceiling had an intricate geometric design which changed color in accordance with the mood lighting and spanned the entire length of the aircraft.

There was a proper bulkhead and curtain separating first class from the rest of the plane. I don’t particularly care about cabin separation or if economy passengers use the front lavatory, but it was refreshing to see that there was more thought put into the layout beyond a piece of mesh fabric hanging from the ceiling that serves no practical purpose other than reminding those in the back that they are indeed, in the back.

The designers at Airbus were clearly focused on the passenger experience. The “neo” in A321neo stands for “new engine option”, and since the main selling point is a more efficient and faster engine, Airbus could have just stuck new turbines on the existing A321 and called it a day.

Thankfully, they took the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and look at ways to improve what I can only describe as the inflight vibe, the result of which is a more modern and open feeling cabin. I flew Comfort+ on my return flight and maintained this sentiment.

Despite the improved overall experience, the one thing which remains stagnant is the lavatory. Unless you find yourself in an Emirates A380 shower spa, I don’t think there’s an escape from the coffin like environment of an airplane bathroom, especially on a narrow-body. I will overnight ship my credit card to the first airline who finds that workaround.

Additionally, the cabin was notably quiet in comparison to your average, run-of-the-mill narrow-body, and the neo is advertised as the quietest aircraft in its class. This is largely thanks to the Pratt & Whitney PurePower Geared Turbofan engines coupled with a slightly modified fuselage designed to be optimally aerodynamic.

On top of the noise reduction, the aircraft burns 16% less fuel and has lower carbon emissions opposed to its predecessor. This is great news as the aviation industry looks towards long-term sustainability.

Soon enough, the flight tracker showed us nearing Anchorage, and shortly after entering Alaskan airspace, we began our initial descent. The cabin slowly came back to life as flight attendants brought up the lights, queuing the low groans of those abruptly interrupted from their sleep; the pre-performance orchestral tuning of a commercial landing, if you will.

We touched down at roughly 8:00 PM local time, and after a short taxi to the gate, I had to bid farewell (for now) to what was the best first-class recliner I’ve flown in recent memory.

Verdict

Overall, I had a fantastic experience, though I feel that saying Delta out did themselves on this product is somewhat of a reach. The Delta One suite is perhaps the best premium cabin produced by any US airline ever, though it was great to see that their product development team pulled some of the Delta One elements and applied them to this design.

That being said, I don’t believe Delta’s aspirations with the new seat were to upstage themselves, but to upstage their competition; a goal they not only achieved but surpassed, leaving a large gap for other airlines to bridge should they want their domestic first class to remain competitive.

If you’re looking to fly premium within North America, I think this is a great product to seek out. For Delta Skymiles Medallion members who are already loyal to the airline, I would recommend looking for this aircraft in your next flight search.

More first-class seats mean more opportunities for a complimentary upgrade, and the seat itself is far superior to your typical recliner. Leisure travelers looking to splurge can easily deal shop this experience, especially if you wait until the last minute after booking before frequent flyers start getting upgraded.

Helpful hint: if you’re given the chance to bid for an upgrade, do so, but bid $1 above the required minimum amount. Many of these systems are automated and will select your bid over those who went for the minimum. This strategy works on several airlines, and I’ve had about a 60% success rate using it.

If you’re shopping with credit card points that can be transferred to an array of airlines, it’s imperative to keep in mind that not all first-class flights are created equal. The same number of points can get you access to a wide spectrum of experiences, and it’s important that you research the aircraft before booking. All that’s needed is one entry into Google Images with the airline name, aircraft type, and cabin class. In this example, you’d search “Delta A321neo first class”,

Beyond my one criticism that the lack of a fixed shell design was a missed opportunity, this update was both refreshing and needed.

It’s my hope that the other US legacy carriers will soon follow suit and work on updating their domestic first-class, but only time and the market will tell. Until then, I look forward to seeing what is coming next from Delta and the other game changing airlines looking to the future of passenger air travel.

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