Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Delta One (formerly BusinessElite)

I flew Delta’s BusinessElite (now newly branded Delta One) JFK-SFO last April and had the opportunity to fly them twice the previous year. I flew on the 757 (the only aircraft type to SFO), but Delta flies both 757’s and 767’s to LAX, the only carrier to do so.

delta logo

Delta recently rebranded their BusinessElite Service as Delta One

  • Introduction: Scoring and Considerations
  • United Airlines p.s. (757)
  • Delta One (757)
  • AA Business Class (A321T)
  • AA Flagship First (A321T)
  • JetBlue Mint (A321T)
  • Virgin America (A320)
  • Results and Summary

Hard Product

Delta has been putting lie-flat seats on all of its transcon aircraft, though the configuration and seat type are different between the 757s and 767s. The 757s have four rows arranged in 2-2 configuration for 16 seats, meaning some do not have aisle access. The 767s have a staggered configuration of 1-2-1 for 36 seats, all with aisle access.

Delta transcon business class

Delta has just finished outfitting all of their transcon aircraft with new lie-flat seats. The seats on the 757s are nearly identical to those used by American and United. Image: Delta Air Lines

The seats on the 767s are the vantage style seats that Delta uses on their international business class flights, quite spacious and plenty of storage. However, most of the trips are offered by Delta’s retrofitted 757s, with only four rows of shell seats that will still require some climbing over seat mates and have risk of losing cell phones that is shared by United. The interiors of both cabins are quite fresh, but the bright blue leather that Delta uses for the 767 seats gives them a slightly cheap look even though they are very comfortable.

This is a matter of personal preference, but I do think Delta’s options are in the competitive ballpark of American and JetBlue. These carriers have put a little more thought into the finishes, materials and even small touches like storage and lighting. They also have newer aircraft and more opportunities to learn and test the market.

Soft Product

While the seats are middle-of-the-road, Delta truly shines in their food, beverage, and service. The lamb I had was beautifully presented and was probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had in the sky. (We’re talking Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific first class level of execution.) The sides were fresh and flavorful, the wines were air tested, and it’s clear that whoever chooses the booze actually shops somewhere nicer than a grocery store.

Delta Amenity Kit

Still one of the best-designed amenity kits I’ve ever gotten on a flight.

Delta Amenity Kit - open

Socks, eye mask, toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer, lip balm, shoehorn, shoeshine, tissue, and a pen. Quite a punch for a domestic amenity kit.

Delta also excels in some of the areas that other carriers overlook or see as perfunctory. The amenity kits they pass out are still one of the most well thought out I’ve seen on any carrier (even better than Lufthansa first class, EVA business class, and certainly any of the domestic carriers) — though JetBlue comes close. The Westin Heavenly bedding goes beyond just a nod to “brand partnerships” and is actually more comfortable than almost all bedding in the sky, so comfortable I nearly took the duvet off the plane.

Add to these the considerably more pleasant crews than those on United and American (across roughly 50 flights on each), and a nice selection of newspapers and magazines. (While this is standard abroad in business class, it’s always surprising that most US carriers neglect to offer any reading material.) Delta is really doing a good job here. Maybe upgrade the snack basket to offer more gourmet and healthful options and they’ll have a lock on the in-flight experience.

Ground Experience

Although your experience onboard will be really comfortable, Delta could improve it’s ground operations. The terminal at SFO is cramped and decrepit and the lounge is outside security (though this is changing soon), LAX has an awkward underground corridor connecting operations, but at least it and the new terminal in JFK have relatively new Sky Clubs with upgraded (and healthy!) food options.

DL SFO Terminal

Delta’s SFO experience is pretty dismal. Few food options and construction, but there are renovations in the works.

JFK Terminal 4 is pretty nice, though there is a considerable amount of walking to reach the far gates and security was a bit of a zoo even with relatively few passengers. But a ticket on Delta’s transcon service will get you expedited screening, a free checked bag, lounge access and priority boarding - pretty much in line with everyone else. If Delta decides to make their “bags in 20 minutes” guarantee permanent, that might tip the balance in their favor for people wanting to minimize waiting in the airport. Though as I mentioned in the last installment, most airlines score very similar on lost bags (less than 1%).


Delta also performs quite well on in-flight connectivity. WiFi works well, though is on the slower end since most passengers are also logged in due to Delta’s longer commitment to fleet-wide WiFi. JetBlue definitely outperformed here, but Delta was better than United and marginally faster than American.

The most recent refresh of onboard inflight entertainment has noticeably more options and “fresher” content than United or American, very easy controls and even has On-Demand HBO and bring-your-own device options, which is probably more passenger friendly than United’s strategy to leapfrog and forego a screen altogether in coach on some of its aircraft. It is worth noting that Delta’s 757s do have smaller screens (10.6”) than nearly every other carrier, save for Virgin America. However, they do provide Billboard-branded earbuds that were pretty comfortable and delivered decent sound (though I’d still prefer AA or JetBlue).

Fleet and Operations

Delta has quite a bit of lift to both SFO and LAX from JFK, second out of all the carriers (only American has more), so finding a seat and optimal departure time shouldn’t be too hard if you’re paying cash. Award availability is dismal unless you want to pay extraordinarily high mileage prices starting at 32.5k miles each way vs. the industry standard of 25k (though even this is becoming more variable because Delta removed its award chart, so now “it costs what it costs”). Given that like United, Delta doesn’t offer complimentary upgrades to their elites on these premium routes, there’s definitely a feeling that they may not be managing their inventory as efficiently as possible, letting seats go out empty to “protect the product.”

Delta does have a pretty good on-time arrival track record, tied for highest with Virgin America with a blended average at 80% on these routes.

Overall Impressions

Delta has a very comfortable onboard experience and excels in connectivity and on-time arrivals. The food, beverage and service are great, though the airline could work on its ground experience and inventory management, but Delta is doing a lot of things right and offers a very solid choice to get across the country.

10 Responses to “Transcon Premium Cabin Throwdown: Delta One (formerly BusinessElite)”

  1. Can anyone comment on the differences between the 757 and 767 (aside from the seat?) - Is the delta on Delta (!) worth seeking out a guest post?

    • No significant product differences, although I do find Delta did a really good job on the cabin refits on the flat-bed 757s — it is by far the classiest-looking cabin in the Delta fleet, and manages to avoid the “cheap” look which I agree is a problem on the 767s. The 757s also have a bright red seat belt which is a great touch.

      Agree that the lack of low-level awards on these routes is annoying, but it is worth noting that Delta has an unpublished but official policy of giving space-available upgrades to Diamond Medallions (only) on the trans-con routes.


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