Monday, October 17, 2011

Business Class on Delta Airlines


I left for South Africa on September 7, 2011 and returned home on October 10. My routing was Sarasota-Atlanta-Johannesburg (and reverse). The long-haul segment (15 hours 46 minutes from wheels up to touch down going over and 16 hours 5 minutes coming back) was aboard a glistening new Boeing 777-200LR jet.

For this trip I used miles in my Delta Airlines account and went to South Africa in Business/First Class. The 15 hour 15 minute nonstop I did on Qantas between Los Angeles and Melbourne Australia in October 2004 convinced me that Business Class is the only way to go on long-haul flights.

I regularly complain about and make jokes about Delta Airlines saying, not so incorrectly, that their airline motto should be "Delta - we'll get you there when we get you there." Many times that is the truth. And when you fly First Class domestically on Delta the only real advantage is boarding early and getting a "free" glass of wine. Generally you are so packed in together in First Class on domestic flights that its not worth the effort to go up front.

Business Elite Class on Delta's international flights is an entirely different and enjoyable story.

The Business Elite Section on Delta's 777-200LR series jet from Atlanta to Johannesburg

For international Business Class on the 777, Delta has the seats configured in a herringbone pattern. All seats are aisle seats including the window seats because there are only 4 seats across each row up front. Privacy walls are perched between each of the seats so you don't have to deal with a "seat mate".

This is Seat 1A on Delta's International Business Elite section on the 777-200LR
Even though it is a treat to not have some gabby person seated next to you up front, the best part of Business Elite on the 777-200LR series is the individual seat. I forgot what its name is in the industry but this seat reclines 180 degrees into a completely flat bed. There are more dials and knobs for the movement of the seat than I think there are dials and knobs on the space shuttle. Its a hell of an experience just trying to figure out how to move the seat (which comes complete with a built-in massager for your lumbar region).

Each Business Class seat has a spacious tray table that is easily hidden when not in use. Each seat also has an individual video screen (about 12 inches across) for entertainment including a bounty of movies, and there are individual reading lamps that are built into the wall of the entertainment section. Being completely anal I only used the screen for the "my flight" selection and tracked our position going over and coming back on a moving map of the northern and southern hemisphere.

The food served in Business Elite was superb in both directions and the wines were either French, Napa Valley or Spanish. I was surprised they didn't have South African wines but who am I to complain.

From Atlanta to Johannesburg I slept for about 7 hours (after taking an Ambien) from about Puerto Rico to St. Helena Island in the south Atlantic (the island to which Napoleon was exiled). On the return I stayed awake until we reached the Atlantic coast of Angola and zonked out there until we reached a point north of Puerto Rico. Again this was another 7 hours of good hard sleep. The flat bed was remarkably comfortable as was the oversized pillow.

Had I paid for the trip rather than used frequent flier miles I could have purchased a round trip from Sarasota to Johannesburg for about $5,000 if I had purchased it 10 months before departure. Just a few days before departure the fare had risen to about $9,000 round trip. The nonstop distance from Atlanta to Johannesburg is 8,440 miles each way.

Flying International Business Class on Delta has renewed my hope for the airline. On arrival in Jo'burg I told the lead flight attendant that I had once flown Business Class on Singapore Airlines (regularly voted the best airline in the world) and I could say without equivocation that Delta's Business Elite section and its service was on par with Singapore Airlines. Maybe with some luck they will pass that level of service onto domestic flights even in cattle class. It would be nice to see Delta be an excellent airline again.

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