If you’re taking a 90-minute flight for a two-day trip to Reno, being scrunched up in economy is something you can easily shake off. But if you’re taking a 14-hour flight for a two-day trip to China, that’s a special form of travel torture. During such a long journey for a short visit, an upgraded flying experience is crucial if you want to be refreshed enough to hit the ground running and make the most of your stay.
I recently flew to Shanghai from Los Angeles for such quick, 48-hour trip. Fortunately, for this trip I got to try out Delta Air Lines’ Delta One class (aka BusinessElite) on its new route LAX to Shanghai Pudong International Airport.
From making check-in a breeze to upgrading its cabins and food offerings, Delta has gone to great lengths in hopes that its rebranded Delta One service to Shanghai will appeal to West Coast-based business travelers who fly frequently to China’s largest city.
So, is Delta One the “one” class you should pick?
The elegant entrance to Delta One’s check-in area. Notice the lack of lines, crowds and ropes. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
An added perk for Delta One passengers flying out of LAX is a premium (and private) check-in service. As you arrive at the airport, you go straight from the curb through a pair of glass doors that take you into Delta One’s private check-in area, which is refreshingly free of the long lines, ropes, large crowds and loud noises you’ll find in the terminal’s main check-in area. Here, a helpful Delta receptionist — sitting at a spiffy desk fashioned from a retired DC-9 — quickly checks you in.
This desk at the Delta One check-in area used to be part of an airplane. Good to see Delta’s commitment to recycling. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
From there, you can go around the corner to a seating area decorated with pop art and sleek 1960s-era furniture that makes it look like the reception area for Sterling Cooper Draper Price.
From there, a helpful Delta guide takes you up an elevator and down an empty corridor to the expedited security line. For me, the entire process — from the curb, to check-in, to security, to the gate — took less than ten minutes.
From the security line, you can head to ANOTHER lounge, Delta’s cavernous LAX Sky Club (traveling in Delta One on an international Delta flight gets you a pass here, but you can’t bring a guest — unless, of course, he/she is eligible for Sky Club access on their own). It’s a bright, well-designed lounge; even on a crowded Friday travel day, there was ample space for people to eat, drink, work and sleep.
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Downside: the food offerings were largely limited to self-serve soup and sandwiches.
The Delta One seat: comfy, roomy and right next to the aisle. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
My flight to Shanghai was aboard a Boeing 777-200LR, which boasts 37 lie-flat seats in Delta One. The best part about this particular plane’s Delta One section is that each seat comes with direct aisle access, so no stepping over sleeping seatmates to get to the bathroom. The blue seats are spacious and comfortable; even at 6'2" I had ample room to stretch out.
The seating area includes a monitor, a charging station for your phone and computer, and a seven-setting panel where you can adjust your seating position. It took me a while to come up with the optimum position for sitting and sleeping. But that’s the benefit of a 14-hour flight: spending an entire hour experimenting with different seating/sleeping configurations is actually a good time investment.
As part of a partnership with Westin Hotels, Delta One features bedding from the hotel chain’s famous Heavenly line. It’s really little more than a specially-made comforter and pillow but it’s still very comfy. I didn’t lie completely flat during the flight (I have issues with that on all planes), but I was able to adjust to a suitable reclining position for a nice sleep.
All you need to freshen up during a long flight. But Delta waited until after I was off the plane to introduce yet one more perk. (Photo: Delta)
Delta One passengers get TUMI amenity kits, both hard and soft-sided (you get one on your trip there and the other on your trip back; the hard-sided one has great re-use potential for your electronic gear). It comes with toothpaste and toothbrush, ear plugs, a pen and eyeshades, plus lip moisturizer, body lotion and mouthwash from Malin+Goetz. An added plus: a cozy pair of socks and slippers, perfect for trudging around the cabin in comfort (especially if you’re one of those people whose feet swell in long flights).
Of course, just days after my Shanghai trip, Delta started offering Delta One passengers on their LA-Shanghai and LA-Sydney routes comfy in-flight pajamas (next year, Delta says it’ll roll out the new PJs to ALL flights between the U.S. and China). Am I wishing I’d delayed my China trip a couple of days so I could’ve gotten a new set of Delta PJs? Maybe a little…
General Tso’s pork. Spicy and tasty (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
In keeping with the national trend of fresh, locally sourced restaurant fare, Delta recently announced that Delta One menus will feature seasonally rotating choices. I could taste the difference: the food on Delta One is restaurant quality. There are different menus for the flights to and from Shanghai and, as with many international flights, they all but throw food at you every couple of hours. No one complained.
On the flight to Shanghai, I opted for General Tso’s pork with steamed rice and broccoli (“Are you sure?” the flight attendant asked. “It’s pretty spicy.” Bonus points for Delta because General Tso’s pork is supposed to be pretty spicy). You get two choices each of whites and reds.
For the flight back to Los Angeles, I went with a tasty black cod with herb butter sauce. About an hour before landing, I enjoyed a cheese omelet with sautéed bacon strips.
One more meal before landing (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
There were also a limited number of Chinese meals on board too.
From warning me about the General Tso’s pork to constantly restocking my bottles of Dasani water, the cabin crew was friendly, fun and attentive.
What I liked
The food just kept coming. (Photo: Sid Lipsey)
14 hours is a long time to spend on a plane, but I would have gladly added another three or four hours had it meant the chance for another meal on the plane. Plus, the Delta One seats are comfortable and nicely laid out.
What I didn’t like
Other Delta One flights have Wi-Fi; the LA-Shanghai route does not. (Photo: Delta)
Though spacious and well-decorated, LAX’s Sky Club could stand to improve and expand its food offerings. With the innovative fare airlines like Virgin Atlantic (which happens to be one of Delta’s airline partners) offer in their Clubhouses, Delta’s self-serve soups and tiny sandwiches suffer by comparison.
As for the Delta One cabin, there’s no Wi-Fi on this route.
Another quibble: Delta has no dedicated lounge in Shanghai’s Pudong airport, so it makes do with a dingy, closed-off area with buggy Wi-Fi, unappealing food offerings and an overall decor that’s out-classed by the average U.S. bus station. Fortunately, Delta recognizes this shortcoming: upon boarding, each Delta One passenger was handed a note from the airline apologizing for the lounge and promising improvements. They can’t come soon enough.
If you can swing the $4,000-plus fare, Delta One from LAX-to-Shanghai is a more-than-worthy investment toward a relaxing and comfortable flight to China.
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