Delta Air Lines’ first Airbus A350-900 aircraft was unveiled in the airline’s livery earlier this week in Toulouse, France, where Airbus has its main assembly line for its aircraft. The aircraft will be undergoing flight testing in Toulouse for another month or more, before being delivered, according to the airline, sometime during mid-summer 2017.
Delta has been touting the aircraft for some months as its new flagship international aircraft, and the Airbus A350-900 fleet is expected to replace all of the Boeing 747-400s in Delta’s fleet within the next few years, mainly on transpacific routes. The introduction of the aircraft will usher in a new era for Delta, not only in terms of a new fleet type, but also in terms of its product, as its Airbus A350-900s will be the first to be equipped with its Delta One suite product, and Delta Premium Select, Delta’s own take on a Premium Economy product, other than its current Delta Comfort+ product. Delta’s Airbus A350s will have 32 Delta One suites, 48 Premium Select seats and 226 Economy Class seats.
The Delta One suite is one-upping the newest business class products in the U.S. market, including Polaris by United, and American’s newest business class product on its Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 787 aircraft. “After setting the standard with the introduction of full flat-bed seats with direct aisle access in 2008, Delta is again elevating the international business class experience,” said Tim Mapes, Delta’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. According to the airline, each suite will offer “each customer a private space accessed by a sliding door with thoughtfully designed personal stowage areas, an advanced in-flight entertainment system and premium trim,” with the suite designed to promote comfort and privacy. Delta’s A350 will be the first to get the product, while its Boeing 777 fleet will be updated with the product starting in late 2017 or early 2018.
Meanwhile, Delta’s Premium Select is competing with the Premium Economy products found for years on international routes, first pioneered by EVA Air of Taiwan in 1991. The seats will be akin to Delta’s domestic first class product, offering 38 inches of pitch, a 19 inch wide seat and seven inches of recline. The cabin will offer upgraded amenities to passengers, including wider IFE screens, new seasonal menu selections, amenity kits and Delta Sky Priority service. As with the Delta One suite, Premium Select will debut on the A350, before being introduced on Delta’s Boeing 777s in 2018.
With the first of twenty-five to arrive this summer, Delta is expected to take delivery of the aircraft and place it on domestic routes temporarily, to allow crews to familiarize themselves with the aircraft, before being placed on Delta’s transpacific route network. The plane will debut on Delta’s Detroit-Tokyo Narita service starting on October 30th, before starting service to Seoul, South Korea on November 18th, and to Beijing, China on January 17th, 2018. It is expected that Delta’s Boeing 747-400 fleet will be retired sometime around the end of December, 2017, when Delta’s service to Seoul switches to all-A350 operation. However, with flights from Honolulu to Osaka and Tokyo being operated by Boeing 747-400 aircraft, the official schedule is still up in the air.
Delta will take delivery of five Airbus A350-900s in 2017. Delta will be the first U.S. airline to take delivery of the Airbus A350, ahead of United, which is schedule to take delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft in 2018. However, with the addition of the Boeing 777-300ER to its fleet, it is uncertain if United will take its Airbus A350s at all.