Delta Goes Fully Flat… in Business Class… on Widebodies… on Overseas Flights

Last June, when United announced it had installed flat beds on all of its long haul flights, I published a little guide so people could figure out which seats they would actually get when they flew. That went over well, so I’m doing it again, but this time it’s for Delta which has just made the same pronouncement.

Delta now says it has fully flat beds with direct aisle access in business class on all widebodies on overseas flights. Sounds like a lot of caveats, once again. In this case, however, Delta makes it easier to find what you’re getting. That’s good, because it has multiple different seats depending upon the aircraft type.

Let’s start with what this means overall. Like United it means Delta has fully flat beds in business class on all long haul, or as they say “overseas” flights. Unlike United, Delta guarantees direct aisle access for every seat. United doesn’t have that on any airplane it flies so that is a real differentiator.

Delta’s claim applies to all widebodies flying overseas. That includes the 767-300/400, 777-200, A330-200/300, and the 747-400. But on those aircraft, there are three different seat types. Let’s start with the easiest and work backwards.

777 – Herringbone
Delta 777 Flat Bed

The 777s were the first to get the flat beds and they received herringbone seats. You know, those are the ones that angle in toward the aisle. The design was pioneered by Virgin Atlantic and a bunch of airlines ripped it off. Delta thought it was different enough, but it wasn’t. Virgin kept up the pressure in court and eventually, from what I remember, Delta and Virgin agreed that Delta could install the beds on all 777s in the Delta fleet but nothing else. This is all kind of funny now that Delta owns a big chunk of Virgin Atlantic, but what’s done is done.

747-400 and A330-200/300 – Reverse Herringbone
Delta A330 and 747 Flat Bed

When the time came to replace the old Northwest World Business Class angled bed of torture, Delta opted to go with the reverse herringbone design that’s become very popular. This one has the seats angling away from the aisle. That means the person in the window actually gets to look out the window. It’s generally more private and considered one of the best beds on the market.

767-300/400 – Staggered
Delta 767 Flat Bed

You would think that Delta would have gone with a similar seat on its large fleet of 767s, but you’d be wrong. The problem with the 767 is that it’s not that wide of an airplane. The density suffers dramatically when you install something like a herringbone seat. For example, on a 777, you can do 4 in each row, but on a 767 you can only fit 3. That’s a big hit, and Delta knew it. So the airline decided to focus on providing flat beds and direct aisle access and it went searching for a new seat that fit better on the 767.

The result was one of those staggered configurations you see on airlines like Austrian and Swiss. On this airplane it’s 1-2-1 across where your legs tuck in underneath the armrest in front of you. So sometimes the seats are closer to the window, sometimes closer to the aisle. Regardless, all have direct aisle access with nobody to step over. The biggest complaint I hear about these seats is that there isn’t enough room for your feet to get comfy.

767-300 Domestic
Delta Domestic First Class

That’s it. Easy, right? Hold your horses there, cowboy. Just because you’re on a 767 doesn’t mean you’ll get these flat beds. Delta has a subfleet of 767s that are dedicated to the domestic market and these just have regular old domestic-style First Class seats. These aircraft are almost entirely dedicated to flying between big cities in the US and that includes some long flights like Salt Lake to Honolulu. The good news, however, is that Delta makes it easy to know if that’s what you’re getting because it uses a different aircraft type code.

The domestic ones use the 763 code while the international ones use 76W. (If you’re on a 767-400, that’s 764 and those all have flat beds.) If you have access to the info in a reservation system, you can see that pretty easily. If you book on Delta.com, they show you what kind of seats you’ll have. And on a site like Kayak, it will show it being a 767-300 or a 767-300 (winglets). The latter has the flat beds. Most third party online travel agents, however, suck, and don’t really show you the difference. So make sure you’re double checking if you’re flying domestically.

What About the 757?
Delta 757 Flat Beds

Delta has been doing a lot with its 757 fleet lately, but as a narrowbody, it isn’t included in this announcement. What’s up with that?

The 757 does fly some overseas routes, including JFK to Dublin, for example. By next summer, that should have flat beds as well. (It’s the same airplane that’s being used for transcon flying.) But these airplanes will not have direct aisle access. Again, it’s a function of the space at hand. It’s just not dense enough to give direct aisle access on a narrowbody like that, so it’ll be 2-2 across. At least it’ll be flat.

There you have it. Even though there are several different seat types, the basic promise is easy to understand. Delta has done a good job with the real estate it has.

[Delta 777 seat photo taken by me. All other Delta seat photos via Delta. Original armchair photo via Shutterstock.]


20 Responses to Delta Goes Fully Flat… in Business Class… on Widebodies… on Overseas Flights

  1. Neil S. says:

    Having just completed a real-world test, I can tell you the 777 seat – while flat and with aisle access – is very narrow and not very private. The 747 product is WAY better.

    Just did JFK-SIN, via NRT last week. Both of the longer legs were on 747s, and the flights to SIN were to be on the 777. You have no idea how excited I was that the plane was swapped on the SIN-NRT leg home to a 747.

    I don’t know if it is, but the seat on the 747 seems roomier at shoulder level. And the walls are higher – it’s definitely more private. The 777 seat also seems much narrower at the foot.

    I’ve only been on the 767 in BusinessElire from LAX-JFK – I don’t know how awesome that seat would be for sleeping.

    • Sanjeev M says:

      The 777 seats on Cathay are known as the coffin seats and that’s why Cathay went to the reverse herringbone for the new J class. Virgin did a good job with the design on the herringbone so that their’s doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

      Direct aisle access is a nice feature, so glad that its consistent across the DL widebodies.

  2. Dave says:

    Thanks for the explanations of the seat configurations. Up until now I never really knew the difference between herringbone vs reverse herringbone etc.

  3. Ron says:

    A seating configuration is patentable?!

  4. Southeasterner says:

    Interesting timing.

    The New Yorker just did a great article on the history of the business class seat and the herringbone configuration. It appears that all business class seat designs can be traced back to J.P.A.

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/04/21/140421fa_fact_owen?currentPage=all

  5. JM says:

    If only my life were so glamorous!

    I guess this means I should continue to refrain from lying flat in the aisles of their MD-88, MD-90, or ex-NW 752 ride from ATL to most domestic destinations. Even on the rare upgrade to DL First, right?

    JM

  6. Erik B says:

    Brett, I know you have many fans of your artistic skills and I put myself in that category, but you’ve outdone yourself today. The 767-300 Domestic photo is just absolutely awesome. As I scrolled down, I laughed out loud for a good 10 seconds. Even when I scroll back up now to look at it, I laugh again.

    How you found that image in the first place I don’t know, but to find one that exactly matches Delta’s colors (or at least what they look like when left out in the sun for a while). Very nicely done.

    • CF says:

      Erik B – Well, you can thank Shutterstock.com. They’ve allowed me access to their library and you’d be amazed at how many random chair pictures they have.

  7. JayB says:

    Wonderful job. Thanks.

  8. A says:

    Just more proof of the huge canyon between the front and back of the bus. It’s a big deal for me to get an upgrade to domestic F where I get a bigger seat with a foot rest…I mean old leather lounge chair with ripped upholstery.

  9. Ogi says:

    i flew the flat bed SEA-JFK recently and I frankly didn’t care for it. i much more enjoyed the large, cushiony angled seat. It’s a short flight (just over 4 hrs) and lie-flat at any cost is overrated – even if it’s a red-eye.

    • haolenate says:

      I noticed that Brett said the EK business seats are angled-lie flat, and I flew on the 777 and A380 for a project here (I’m a correspondent and concierge) – story – http://crankyflier.com/2011/11/09/flying-up-front-on-emirates-to-dubai-trip-report/

      As a frequent flier, I didn’t really notice the angle as a huge differentiator in the 777 vs A380, and I recently just flew Swiss in the A340 and A330 in business to Zurich. I had comfortable sleep on all *4* of my flights – and when you really want to sleep, you WILL. Now it could be that your body is planning on being exhausted, considering most flights to Dubai from the US clock in at 13 to 16 hours each, and you just “pass out”.

      I think that as long as the seat is SOMEWHAT flat (and you aren’t sliding down, like in an old recliner seat), your body should be able to get REM cycles and enjoy some quality sleep. I think its the airlines that like to “brag” about how some are ACTUAL lay-flat seats vs “almost flat”.

      And the Swiss seats are simply amazing.. the staggered layout includes a “throne” seat on the A side (even) that gives you just an amazing amount of room. The only thing that could have made my sleep better on Swiss was the sleeping pads that Emirates gives out.

  10. David SF eastbay says:

    Actually the 767 domestic looks the most comfortable of them all.

    That 777-Herringbone just looks like an aweful seat and location, at least to me it does.

    • CF says:

      David SF – To be fair, the 777 pic is one that I took when I flew it. The other two are stock photos from Delta so they’re bound to make it look better. I found the 777 seat to be comfortable but I only flew LAX to Atlanta.

      • Erik B says:

        I flew the 777 Herringbone to and from Australia and it was pretty good. I agree that it doesn’t look like much. It’s almost certainly been surpassed by other seats out there, but it gets the job done.

  11. RAW says:

    “fully flat beds in business class on all long haul, or as they say ‘overseas’ flights” – HI to me is long haul, whereas ‘overseas’ in the contemporary understanding of the word means ‘in or to a foreign country’. I didn’t think their press release needed correction.

  12. dotti cahill says:

    777 herringbones do not look comfy

  13. Tim says:

    I fly on the 763/764 in Business class quite a bit to Europe. I’m a huge fan of those seats. I’m a decent sized guy, 6’2, 185, broad shoulders and I have no issues with the width or the leg room.

    I will choose those seats any day of the week over the angle flats on Lufthansa or AirFrance or the weird backwards seating thing that BA does.

    I’ve flown the 777 herringbone and I really enjoyed the seat. It’s odd that you’re facing the aisle, but it doesn’t bother me.

    I’ve only been on the A330 in the new configuration once, to AMS. If I’m flying single, I definitely want the A or D seat. If I’m flying with the gf, I may still want the A or D seat, depending on whether she’s pissed at me for something.

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