Traveling to Australia has long been a dream of mine and, after a number of planned trips were canceled (including one due to an unexpected hospitalization in Singapore), I finally made the journey this year. Flights from the United States to Australia are long ones at upwards of 14 hours, so I used the trip as an opportunity to test out Delta’s flagship business class product, the Delta One Suite, on its Airbus A350 aircraft. Here are some basic flight details to get started with the review:
Airline/Flight: Delta Air Lines, DL41
Route: LAX-SYD — Los Angeles, California to Sydney, Australia
Flight Date: January 25, 2023
Scheduled Departure: 10:50 p.m. PT / 8:35 a.m., January 27, 2023
Scheduled Flight Length: 14 hours, 45 minutes
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Delta refers to its international business class product as “Delta One,” but not all long-haul aircraft feature the Delta One Suite. The size of the Delta One Suite seat varies according to aircraft type, so this review is specific to the wheelchair accessibility of the Delta One Suite on the Airbus A350.
How I booked the flight
This flight was the final leg of a larger itinerary that took me from Mexico City to Sydney, with connections in New York and Los Angeles. I purchased the ticket with Delta Air Lines frequent flyer miles (“Skymiles”) — The total cost was 95,000 Skymiles plus about $112 in taxes and fees.
Although my original itinerary (pictured above) had a connection in Houston instead of New York City, there was a schedule change prior to the trip which forced a new routing. This is not uncommon when booking flights more than 6 months in advance, as was the case here.
To learn more about how I booked this incredible trip, read my expanded article, How I Booked Business Class Flights to Australia with Airline Miles. If you’re new to the points and miles game, it’s a great place to start to understand the incredible opportunities available through award travel.
Delta Airbus A350 Seating Layout
Delta has two versions of the Airbus A350-900 currently flying — the “flagship” A350, which is reviewed here, features 32 Delta One Suites, 48 premium economy seats arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, and 226 economy class seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. Within economy class, there are 36 extra-legroom (Comfort+) seats.
The alternate “35L” Airbus A350 was recently acquired from LATAM Airlines and does not feature the Delta One Suite — the aircraft is configured with two classes, business and economy, with its 30 business class seats arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration and its 309 economy class seats arranged 3-3-3.
The Delta One Suite, Business Class Seat with Sliding Door on the Airbus A350
Delta Air Lines was the first carrier in the world to announce an all-suites business class, which debuted on its first Airbus A350-900 aircraft. The Delta One Suite is a customized version of Thompson’s Vantage XL seat, a seating product similar to what had previously been installed on Delta’s Boeing 767 aircraft.
After boarding the aircraft, I was offered a choice of sparkling wine or orange juice as a pre-departure beverage (I took both). The lights in the cabin were darkened due to the evening departure, and I found the environment to be comfortable soothing. In full light, the Delta One cabin is not particularly luxurious compared to other business class suite products on the market, but it was nonetheless a big upgrade from economy and premium economy.
The seat features a lap and shoulder securement belt, with the shoulder belt required for takeoffs and landings. It can be removed during flight, or used throughout if you value the additional safety.
After takeoff, passengers are able to adjust their seats into various positions, including flat bed mode — the 180 degree flat bed seat is fantastic for sleeping on long-haul flights like this one. The provided pillow and blanket is comfortable, and allowed me to gain a solid night’s rest during the flight of nearly 15 hours.
A console to the left of the seat served as an armrest, while also containing a number of storage compartments and features. A touch-screen panel gave me full control over seat positioning, with the ability to adjust the seat’s backrest, bottom cushion and leg rest. While I was awake, I was able to recline into a comfortable lounge position, then lay the sat fully flat for sleep. Just behind the seat control panel, passengers will find a Universal AC power socket, together with a USB-A charging port.
Delta provides business class passengers with an amenity kit that contains an eye shade, toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion and more. Slippers are also provided, though they were of no use to this triple amputee. 😛 Noise-canceling headphones are stored in a cubby next to the seat, though they are of low-quality.
An 18″ touch screen display provides passengers with access to a large entertainment library with movies and TV shows and a moving map to track flight progress. Sadly, Delta skipped a fairly standard feature found on many Airbus A350 aircraft operated by other carriers — a tail camera feed.
During the flight, I focused on working from my laptop (it was Wednesday/Thursday, after all!), but I did catch one movie — The Swearing Jar, which turned out to be a pretty cute film. The rest of the flight, my entertainment screen was set to the airshow map.
A couple other tidbits regarding seat and cabin features:
- Overhead lighting can be controlled using the IFE menu.
- Adjustable air nozzles are only available at the window seats — avoid the center seats if you like to adjust the temperature.
- There is no under-seat storage, so all carry-on baggage must be stored in the overhead bin during taxi, take-off and landing.
- A small storage cubby large enough to fit a sweater does exist in the left console near the floor — I’m keenly aware because I left my favorite sweater behind for the next passenger. 😭
Wheelchair Accessibility of the Delta One Suite (Airbus A350 version)
To date, I have put two other all-suite business class products to the test, and have reviewed them here: British Airways Club Suite Wheelchair Accessibility and Qatar Airways QSuite Wheelchair Accessibility. The Delta One Suite (on the Airbus A350) is more accessible than those competing business class products, and there’s a big reason why.
The forward-facing business class seats are staggered — with some closer to the window or aisle than others. Seats deemed “accessible” are those closest to the aisle, specifically even-numbered A, B and D seats, and odd-numbered C seats. On this flight, I was seated in 4A, a window seat on the left (port) side of the aircraft.
Like the Qatar QSuite and BA Club Suite, the Delta One Suite’s enclosure (specifically, the wall panel that encases a retracted sliding door), blocks access to a majority of the seat’s surface area. Walled enclosures restrict the ability for disabled passengers to make lateral transfers from the onboard aisle wheelchair and substantially increase the risk of injury.
But here’s the thing: Delta’s suite features a hidden accessibility feature that competing suites do not — so hidden, in fact, that it wasn’t presented as an option to me by the assistance staff and I had to train the cabin crew on its operation.
In addition to the sliding door, the wall enclosure is on a track of its own — the aisle-facing wall can be released and moved backwards, revealing more of the seat surface (though not all of it). Two release mechanisms must be “unlocked” to permit this temporary adjustment:
- Upper release: Located at the top of the aisle-facing side of the enclosure, near where it conjoins with the rear partition to form a right angle.
- Lower release: Located underneath the forward end of the aisle-facing partition, this lever can be released by an assistance staff member or flight attendant using his/her foot.
After both connection points have been released, the wall slides backward a few inches. This makes transfers to and from the aisle chair safer and easier to accomplish. It’s a critical accessibility feature that is so far unique to Delta Air Lines and not found on competing premium cabin seats like the BA Club Suite or Qatar QSuite.
What’s concerning is the fact that the assistance staff and cabin crew were not aware of the feature, nor was it proactively offered. Had I not known about the feature, I’d have faced a much more difficult and risky transfer into the seat. Airlines have a responsibility to make information about aircraft accessibility features widely available — but, as far as I know, this is the first information about Delta One Suite accessibility posted online… More than 5 years after the seat entered service. That’s unacceptable.
The seat itself was comfortable enough — the cushion was hard, but I managed to relieve pressure by adjusting and reclining the seat at various points throughout the flight.
Food & Beverage Service in Delta One Business Class
My beverage of choice, Woodford Reserve bourbon on the rocks, was served with a ramekin of nuts. The meal was served on a single tray and consisted of a Baby Gem Lettuce Salad with grated parmesan, garlic breadcrumbs, and Calabrian Caesar dressing, a bowl of Five Spice Sweet Potato Soup, Rosemary Red Onion Focaccia bread with Banner Butter and a choice of three entrees:
- Jon & Vinny’s Marinara Braised Meatballs with Bianco DiNapoli tomato, garlic bread and Gioia ricotta
- Chicken Piccata with lemon caper sauce, braised kale, and garbanzo beans
- Baked Mushroom Rigatoni with mushroom Bolognese and grated parmesan
I was eager for dessert, and two options were available:
- Chocolate Peppermint Cake
- Ice Cream Sundae with market berry sauce, crunchy chocolate pearls, and mini snickerdoodle cookies
While the cake sounded nice, my favorite cookie is the snickerdoodle and there’s something special about eating ice cream up in the air, so I chose the sundae. With two full scoops of vanilla ice cream, it did not disappoint!
About halfway through the flight, the flight attendant asked if I fancied a mid-flight snack — I wasn’t very hungry, but wanted to check it out. The snack was a French Bread Pizza with mushrooms served with a baby gem lettuce salad with Sungold tomatoes, shaved red onions, croutons, and ranch dressing. The pizza was forgettable, but the salad was fresh and tasty.
Prior to landing in Sydney, two breakfast choices were offered:
- Cheddar Scrambled Eggs with chicken date sausage and hash brown casserole
- Overnight Oats with maple syrup, granola, and raspberries
I selected the scrambled eggs and, in addition to what was listed on the menu, a bowl of grapes was provided, as well as a selection of breads — I chose a croissant.
Accessible Lavatory on the Delta Airbus A350
The designated “accessible” lavatory for passengers using the aisle chair on Delta’s Airbus A350 is located at the center of the economy class cabin, behind row 39. A slightly larger lavatory behind boarding door 2L and row 9 is available, but it isn’t large enough to close the door with the aisle chair inside.
Unfortunately, we went down the left aisle only to discover that the accessible entrance was from the right aisle — forcing us to traverse the entire length of the plane and double back. Lavatories should be located near a boarding door — not far in the back of the aircraft.
Accessible lavatories come in a number of shapes and sizes, and some are much more accessible than others. If I were to rank the various styles, this one would be at the bottom of the list. Two standard lavatories are effectively combined into one, by opening the wall between the two. Although this does provide additional space for the aisle chair and a companion or care assistant, accessibility features are lacking. The aisle chair must be parked perpendicular to the toilet and transfers are awkward.
Traveling in an aisle chair from my seat in row 4 all the way to the back of the aircraft wasn’t a positive experience. I bumped into nearly every passenger along the way, passing through both the premium economy and economy class cabins. The lavatory was 20 seating rows away from the nearest boarding door — much too far and a failure in accessible design.
Pro-tip: When a flight attendant is assisting you to the lavatory using an aisle chair, advise them to pull you backwards — it’s safer, much easier to maneuver and will prevent your knees from bumping into seats.
For more information on getting to and using the bathroom on the airplane as a wheelchair user, read the article on wheelchair accessible airplane lavatories, which contains photos and descriptions of the various lavatory styles.
Bottom Line: Is the Delta One Suite Accessible?
With its sliding enclosure wall, the Delta One Suite proved to be quite a bit more accessible than I imagined. Nonetheless, it’s still less accessible than forward-facing seats without a privacy wall or door. While many compromises have to be made in the aircraft cabin environment, accessibility shouldn’t be one of them.
As airlines continue to install privacy doors in business and first class, they should be mindful to include features to mitigate potential negative impacts on accessibility. Although the Delta One Suite is not my favorite business class product, it’s a solid offering — accessible enough for me, but perhaps not for travelers who are unable to transfer independently. The purpose of reviews like this s to provide a level of insight that airlines do not and, if you find this seating product will meet your accessibility needs, I wish you a fantastic journey!