Delta Adds a Door to Business Class, Calls It a Suite


Flat beds in business class? That’s so 2016. Delta has decided to kick off the 2017 season with the newest, coolest trend in the pointy-end of the airplane: a door. The airline will now be installing suites on its longest-haul aircraft in Delta One business class. Each seat, er, suite, will have that uber-cool door on it. Of course it’s more than just a door, and while this looks tremendous, I do wonder if having a door is going to matter.

Delta One Suite 1

While complete details haven’t been released, we do know a fair bit about this. Runway Girl Network confirmed that this is some version of the Thompson Vantage XL seat (possibly the XL+). In other words, it’s like Delta took the seats it has on its 767s, sent them to the Russian Olympics team for a little workout, and then brought them back.

It’s true that the Delta 767 seats are inferior to other flat beds. They’re somewhat cramped, especially in the foot-well, and they’re narrow. But the XL is a very different seat. It’s a couple inches wider with bigger and better storage areas. It also can handle bigger screens. You can see the difference between the Vantage and the Vantage XL pretty clearly. The new Delta seat builds on this, and I have little doubt it’s going to be fantastic.

I’m sure the interior finishes will all be well-thought through, but the most notable difference will be that door to each suite on the airplane. These aren’t floor-to-ceiling, so don’t get too excited. It looks like it’ll block gymanasts or other vertically-challenged people from peering in but not much more than that. But still. It’s a door. JetBlue was the first to do this in business class when it put a door on alternating rows in Mint, but Delta is the first to do it for long haul travel, I believe. (First Class is a different story.)

This will first be installed on the new-delivery A350s next year, so you won’t see it for some time. Then only the 777s will be retrofitted. This will be in a 1-2-1 configuration, so that means it’ll have the staggered configuration where some seats will be “true” windows while others will be oriented more on the aisle. They have to alternate since feet rest under the table next to the seat in front.

The one thing that bothered me initially was that these individual suites could mean that couples really have no option to travel together. But that’s not right. The groups of seats in the center sections actually have a lowering divider so you can have a large private suite. It’s not the double bed I had on Singapore Airlines in Suites Class, but then again, this is business class.

Delta One Suite 2

The overall product, including finishes, looks good from the pictures Delta put out (which may or may not closely match what actually gets installed in a year). There’s no question about that. But can Delta really justify this? We do know that Delta is making a play for higher yield. The A350s will have only 32 of these onboard. That’s a third fewer than the 48 seats on the 747s that the A350s will replace. So it’s a lot less capacity up front and that should mean higher average fares.

It is also only going on to a part of the fleet. That sounds like annoying inconsistency, but there is clearly method to the madness. The 767s aren’t really all that long for this world. They’re also very narrow so this product would be a non-starter. But there are a whole lot of A330s and A330neos that aren’t expected to get this product. (To be clear, I don’t think Delta has said they won’t, but the airline has only announced that the A350s and 777s will get it at this point.)

Remember, Delta is looking at its A330s and A330neos to do shorter long-haul flights. They’ll be used for a lot of West Coast – Asia and East Coast – Europe flying. Think of the A330 as primarily a sub-10 hour flying machine. For that length of haul, Delta seems to think that the traditional doorless-flat bed with direct aisle access will be fine. But when it starts looking at deeper Asia flying, Australia, Tel Aviv, etc… then it’s a much longer haul. And that’s where these 777s and A350s will fit in. So Delta is making the bet that on ultra long haul flights, people will be willing to pay for the door.

What we don’t know is just how much more this is going to cost Delta. Certainly the one-time development costs weren’t cheap, but that’s the case for any new seat. The bigger question is one of density. I’m not sure how many more of the existing A330 seats would fit into the same space as 32 suites. Is Delta giving up density to make this happen? If so, then the airline is betting it can make it up with more revenue in each seat that remains. (I’m sure that’ll be helped by the elites not having room to upgrade anymore.)

Either way, it’s likely that Delta couldn’t make this decision with spreadsheets alone. (“Spreadsheets alone,” besides being a great band name, is also how United ended up with 8-abreast in business on a 777.) It can do research but it also has to rely on a real understanding of what travelers want. And if travelers want more privacy, then they’re going to get it. And Delta is going to lead the charge.

It certainly is a slap in United’s face since it has spent so much time on its Polaris roll-out. Is a door a game-changer? Maybe not, but it is a unique feature that will give the perception of Delta having a better product. This kind of thing, like mood-lighting at Virgin America, may not matter all that much but it’s something that helps build a brand.

Will it pay for itself? It’s hard to say. When you’re a company trying to lead, all you can do is make your best guess and hope it’s right. What say you?

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24 comments on “Delta Adds a Door to Business Class, Calls It a Suite

  1. Get out of the way while women travelers and some couples rush to the biz seats! This semi privacy should be a huge hit with them unless DL prices it out of reach. Although some women business travelers may demand employers pay the extra expense on log haul flights.

  2. Having flown Emirates, Etihad, and Asiana in First, I have to say I really like the enclosed suite concept. I just feel more comfortable sleeping with a bit of privacy rather than having my bottom hanging out for all the world to see.

    I’m surprised more airlines haven’t done something like this already. It would be pretty cheap and easy to implement using curtains instead of doors. That’s what Air France is doing on their new 777s in First.

    1. I remember when some widebody jets such as the L1011 had curtains to separate the various passenger sections. Delta did that & I think Eastern did as well.

    2. but at least on Emirates you couldn’t tell when people walk by with the door closed. I believe the EK First door is 5 feet high.

  3. My first thought was put a door on these litte boxy areas and it just makes people walking by want to look over the top or toss trash inside….LOL.

    But the first air crash that shows someone died because they couldn’t open the door or climb over it and airlines will have to removed them since no one will want to sit in those areas.

  4. Not sold on the doors. Privacy? Give me a break. There’s nothing private about those doors…not when the average human walking down the aisle is taller. Yes, it does prevent others sitting down from seeing what’s going on but who’s been on a flight where the passenger across the aisle is looking around to see what they can see others are doing? Probability is low.

    And you just know that because there’s less seats on these that Delta will jack the fares and put a stranglehold on award availability to keep revenues up.

    So which would you really prefer: A decent lie flat seat with no door that’s more affordable and easier to upgrade to/get award space for like Polaris? Or one that’s more expensive, harder to upgrade to, and good luck on finding award availability?

    The only reason I would pause when choosing Polaris over this is the density difference. If Delta’s implementation is too light on the seating capacity, Polaris is the…ahem…polar opposite. It’s the sardine can equivalent of business class.

    1. Doug, have you flown in an enclosed suite? I have, and it makes a big difference.

      I’m not convinced this will result in a major drop in business class availability. The 747 has more seats than the A350, yes, but it’s also a much bigger plane (376 vs. ~315 total passengers). That means the J:Y ratio only drops from 13% to 10%.

      At the same time, these seats will probably take up less space than the herringbone seats on the 777 they’re replacing. That means there could actually be an increase in business capacity on some planes.

      Of course, if your primary concern is upgrades and awards, you really shouldn’t be flying Delta in the first place!

  5. I suspect the business class seat count is no different from what it would be with any other seat. The Vantage XL offers passengers a similar amount of personal space as most reverse herringbone configurations, so you can probably fit about the same quantity of them in the same space. And as noted, adding the door makes no difference to the product footprint.

    The seat count is lower than on some older aircraft, but that seems to be the trend in general — Delta also ripped a few rows of J out of their 777s not too long ago; they seem to be targeting a better match between customer willingness to pay and seat availability in general. Not to mention that they may be expecting the introduction of true Premium Economy will take away some current business class fliers as well.

    In general it’s great to see a US carrier being the first in the world to offer a new premium product standard … that is quite a change from the recent past! Will be interesting to see if this sets a trend other carriers feel they need to match, as happened with flat beds and direct aisle access.

  6. “The bigger question is one of density. I’m not sure how many more of the existing A330 seats would fit into the same space as 32 suites. Is Delta giving up density to make this happen?”

    To get an idea of density, if we look at Finnair’s J class seat on the A350, its much as the same as the Delta One A330 seat.
    Finnair fits 32 of this seat on its 350, so a planned 32 seat cabin of this new seat seems to not sacrifice density by the looks of it

    1. Declan – What we don’t know is how much real estate this will take up on the Delta A350s though. It may not fall into the same cabin size as the Finnair one. It seems like it should be fairly efficient, but you never know how Delta will modify the seat.

      1. I had thought of that, looking at the renderings though it seems that there is a different cabin beyond L2/R2 doors so that’s why I assumed 32 seats contained within one cabin. Time will tell though!

    2. Both Qantas and Delta fit 22 seats in the forward cabin of their A330-200s, Qantas using the Vantage XL and Delta a reverse herringbone (Zodiac Cirrus, I believe). That tells me the density of the two products is roughly equivalent.

  7. I am sure some people will pay more for a “door,” but I am not one of them. Polaris looks fine. I would never pay for a suite–it’s not cost effective for me–but I do like Singapore Airlines business class on long haul; you get a lot of privacy for the money.

    Cranky, by “They’ll be used for a lot of West Coast – Asia and East Coast – Europe flying,” you meant Japan and South Korea? Hard to get there in 10 hours though.

    1. Marissa – Yeah. It’s not a hard limit but yes, things like Seattle and LA to Seoul and Tokyo. Those are less than 10 hours eastbound (flying time, usually) and a little more west.

  8. Very interesting indeed….I flew Emirates biz class on a 777-200 and they had the up down divider at all the seats since it’s 2x2x2…..I sat away from my parents so I used it the whole time….ive flown AA biz and UA biz, both cramped as they were on 787’s….the 777 being wider, I had a ton of space even with the divider up, i didnt feel cramped….on AA I was on the one side and of course UA is 2x2x2….
    If the picture is true to form, looks like there is more space then the other US carrier’s which is a plus to me….I like room and privacy….ive only flown on Emirates 777-200 and A-340-500’s…. A-340-500’s didnt have the divider….the divider is a minor detail but love the privacy, felt like a suite to me, a door will be very interesting to see and try….don’t like people watching me sleep when they walk by…..
    AA and UA don’t really have true window seats to look out as they are set back, if you really want to look out,it’s a struggle to get to the window….Emirates was easy to look out…..there is a lot you can do with a small place, it’s how you set it up and what and where you put the stuff that will be in that space…..

  9. On the A330s -the plane is narrower and you simply cannot sit the same number of seats across (think 8 seats in economy on the 330 vs 9-10 on the 777. Its probably doable with the non XL seat but the cirrus seats are a better option. Nice idea to add the door

  10. Small correction, the divider between the two center seats doesn’t lower, it actually slides forward to open.

  11. If this is supposed to “battle” UA’s Polaris, I can see why DL would go early on the announcement – and why they’d aim it at the ultra-long haul aircraft only.

    That said, you can tell the announcement is early – the details are sparse. And unlike Polaris, they aren’t attempting to “rebrand an entire experience” – which they don’t have to as DL’s current premium experience isn’t the worst in the market like UA’s currently is.

    As a long term DL biz flier, my big question is whether they’re including a mattress pad or not? The press release mentions “Memory foam-enhanced comfort cushion” which sounds like the seat padding is memory foam, but no mattress pad for sleeping, which I have loved on non-US carriers who have them.

    Still kudos, the first US carrier with every-seat horizontal lie-flat business class with every-seat aisle access is taking another step to stay ahead of their major competition.

  12. Couldn’t help but chuckle out loud at this post :) While the door may not provide privacy from people peering in as they walk past, I do like the idea of feeling cocooned and warm with no draught. It may be a bit gimmicky and who knows if it will pay for itself, but the pictures do look great!

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