My quick weekend trip to Amsterdam and Belgium began with a flight in coach about Delta’s Airbus A350. Though seemingly an add choice, I really wanted to see if the A350 offered a better experience in the back. The verdict: not really, but still fine overall for coach.
Delta Air Lines (DL) Flight 132
- Saturday, August 11, 2018
- Depart: Detroit Metro – Wayne County Airport (DTW), McNamara Terminal, Gate A34, 16:25, 2m early
- Arrive: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS), Gate E8, 05:49(+1), 6m early
- Duration: 7 hours 24 minutes
- Equipment: Airbus A350-900
- Seat: 39D
I had a nearly 5 1/2 hour layover between my connecting flight from Dallas and this one. Yes, I did that on purpose, mostly because I booked separate tickets and wanted to take no chances. But I had another motive – get out of the airport and go somewhere good for lunch. I settled on Miller’s Bar, a Dearborn institution known for their burgers and been sold on the honor system. The server takes your order, but your ticket then disappears into the ether. It’s up to your own ethics to report what you ordered honestly to the cashier. Anyway, how was the cheeseburger?
Pretty good. Not the best burger I’ve had by a longshot, but it hit the spot considering the coach airplane food yet to come. But really, the attraction here isn’t the food so much as the atmosphere. The place is as old school, blue collar Detroit as you’ll get. A place I wouldn’t be stupid enough to wear my Dallas Stars jersey to, that’s for sure.
Anyway, if you want to give it a try, it’ll take you 20-30 minutes to get there from the airport. While I’ve read horror stories about the lunch line on weekdays, noon on Saturday wasn’t busy at all. Zero wait and plenty of empty tables to choose from.
Check-In and Boarding
I checked in online, and with only a carry-on, headed straight to the gate. It’s too bad that Detroit has no Priority Pass options, either a lounge or a restaurant. But then again, who needs one when you can stare at the gorgeous A350 out the window?
Boarding began about 10 minutes late. I received a scare just before boarding after being paged to the podium. It turned out to be nothing, though. Apparently, flying home from Amsterdam on a separate ticket confused the system, and they needed to verify I wouldn’t overstay the visa-free period. Anyway, the agent cleared that up just in time to join my assigned Group 2 boarding. I headed right towards the coach cabin, and my seat in Row 39.
Delta A350 Main Cabin – Seating and Interior
First impressions – I found it interesting that the seats didn’t have the Delta’s usual “pillow-top triangle” design. The light blue seats looked stylish enough, though.
The seats do contain one fairly unique feature, a headrest that slides up and down on the seatback.
Delta uses a standard 3-3-3 economy class configuration. Main Cabin consists of two sections, a 10-row section immediately behind Premium Select, and a 16-row section from there to the back. The A350’s mood lighting does add a touch of class. Also, when the cabin lights are fully on, it looks especially airy and bright. One wart – I noticed more than one tray table that refused to stay latched. Certainly disappointing to see that on a brand new plane.
I did get a peek at the “Premium Select” premium economy cabin on the way out. Premium Select offers 6 rows of seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. The product looks similar to American’s Premium Economy cabin; I look forward to trying it at some point. Oh, and hey – there’s the pillowtop upholstery!
Seat Guru shows pitch of 31-32″ in the A350 economy class cabin. That felt about right; legroom seemed adequate, if unspectacular. I had plenty of room to stretch my legs under the seat with my carry-on moved out of the way. With seats nearly an inch wider than the arch-rival Dreamliner, they don’t feel nearly as tight as in the 787, either.
On the other hand, underseat storage seemed tighter than normal. It might have just been my overstuffed backpack making it seem smaller. But it sure seemed like the clearance between the floor and seat bottom was less than usual.
Each row also contains two power ports for each set of three seats. The ports feature both a 110V outlet, and a USB plug on top. While I always appreciate USB outlets, the utility of this one is somewhat limited. You need a long cable to plug in a device in the seatback pocket or on the tray table. Or you have to risk keeping it on the floor and remember not to step on it.
Not to worry, though – each seatback screen also contains a USB port (the blue glowing piece second from the left), this one perfectly placed for an iPhone or iPad on a tray table.
Waiting at each seat was a pillow and blanket. You won’t confuse these with premium cabin amenities, but the blanket got the job done. A good thing, too, because the cabin got really cold on this flight. I brought my own neck pillow, though. I finally learned my lesson after too many coach-induced neck cricks to count.
Shortly after boarding, the FAs handed out a basic amenity pouch. It’s not much – just an eyeshade and earplugs – but anything in coach counts as a bonus in my book. In addition, the pouch is resealable; you could reuse it for something like a small tube of toothpaste.
I’d rate overall seat comfort as about average. The seats look really thin, which worried me that saddle sore might set in quickly. Surprisingly, that wasn’t an issue, though I found I preferred the window, since I can lean on the fuselage wall. Of course, having to get past two people for the bathroom is no picnic. As to why I chose this particular seat, I like having the bulkhead right behind me. That way, with nobody behind me, I can recline with impunity. The trade-off, though, is sitting right in front of the lavatories. I’m a very deep sleeper, so that’s a trade-off I’ll accept, though YMMV.
I only slept about two hours, but not because of uncomfortable seating. Rather, the flight timing kicked my butt. A 4:30 pm departure (3:30 in Dallas) on a short eastbound redeye makes trying to sleep brutal. Next time, I’ll pick a later departure just for that reason.
Delta A350 Main Cabin – In-Flight Entertainment
Delta offers an expanded “Delta Studio” selection on international flights. Passengers can use the seatback screens, or stream for free on a personal device. I decided to use the seatback screens; I must say, this is some impressive hardware, with excellent resolution.
Also, I found the entertainment selection quite good. I noted perhaps 100 or so movie selections, ranging from classics to recent hits. Top Gun is a great classic, though I filed away Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for the return trip.
Delta Studio also offers a few dozen series and documentaries, along with the usual selection of in-flight games. I settled in for a couple of “X-Files” reruns before nodding off to sleep.
And yes, Delta equips its A350s with in-flight WiFi. If that’s important to you, Delta prices its WiFi service pretty reasonably. If I recall correctly, a flight pass cost $19. T-Mobile customers receive one hour free, just like on domestic flights. Speeds seemed better than domestic GoGo, though you’ll hardly confuse it with your high-speed internet at home.
Delta A350 Main Cabin – Meals and Service
Main Cabin service on this route includes two meals: dinner after departure, and breakfast prior to landing. Service began about 45 minutes after take-off, with Delta’s traditional offering – Biscoff and a beverage. As a reminder, beer and wine are free on international flights, even in coach.
About 45 minutes after that, the FAs served dinner. Choices on this flight included chicken, pasta, or Indian vegetarian. I went with the chicken.
Overall, dinner was…not great. The cheese and fruit was good, the salad was fine, and the roll was alright for what it was. But the main course left a lot to be desired. The vegetable were overcooked and mushy. The chicken, while cooked reasonably well, severely lacked flavor. It desperately needed a sauce, which I later found congealed underneath the carrots. Good thing I’d wolfed down that burger and onion rings at lunch. By way of comparison, United’s long-haul economy meals look much better.
The other downer to flying in the back? With a large cabin, it takes a long time to get through the service. We were a little over 3 hours into the flight by the time service finally finished. Granted, there’s only so much you can do with 226 passengers to serve. But it makes the combination of an early departure and short redeye that much more brutal.
About an hour and 15 minutes prior to landing, FAs offered a choice of eggs or a breakfast box. I chose the snack box.
I found the box satisfactory. I’m a fan of both Noosa and Tillamook cheese (call them guilty pleasures), so it hit the spot. The peach muffin, on the other hand, didn’t do it for me. I picked at it and left the rest. In addition, Delta serves Starbucks coffee onboard, which tastes like…Starbucks coffee. Since I happen to like Starbucks, it worked out great for me.
As far as service, it was perfectly fine for coach. The FAs offered drink refills a couple of times, and offered a bottle of water at the conclusion of meal service. Both FAs serving my side of the aisle were pleasant, and at least tried to be friendly. That’s about all you can ask for when flying in the back of the bus.
Delta A350 Main Cabin – Other Considerations
One of the advertised advantages of the A350, like the 787, is its lower effective cabin altitude. The aircraft is pressurized to 6,000 feet, rather than the usual 8,000. On the 787, I really can feel the difference. My skin doesn’t feel as dry, but more importantly, my ears don’t pop nearly as much. Descending especially kills my ears on most aircraft, but on the 787, I barely feel it. Truth be told, I didn’t feel the same difference on the A350. My ears bothered me about the same as usual while descending. I don’t know, maybe it was the wine doing the talking.
Delta A350 Main Cabin – Final Thoughts
When traveling on Delta’s A350 in the back of the bus, you get a fresh, new interior and an excellent entertainment system. But beyond that, is there anything particularly premium about the plane Delta advertises as its “New Flagship”? Honestly, not really. Delta offers a perfectly serviceable coach product, but there’s only so much you can do with it, even on a new plane. I wouldn’t go out of my way or pay a premium to fly it, in other words.
I guess in general, I felt a little underwhelmed, though that has to do with the plane rather than Delta. I’ve heard more than one person hype up the A350 for the passenger experience. It’s quiet, and certainly a beautiful bird. But truth be told, I just didn’t think the passenger experience was anything special. If anything, I preferred the 787, despite the narrower seats, given that it really does bug my ears less.