Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines is making a major bet on Boston.

With the debut of two new long-haul flights this summer, the airline is making good on its pre-pandemic vow to transform its newest hub into a secondary transatlantic gateway.

Delta’s new nonstop service from Boston to both Ben Gurion Airport (TLV) and Athens International Airport (ATH), first announced in October, is finally getting flight, just in time to capitalize on what is expected to be one of the busiest summer travel seasons in recent memory.

While the carrier may have been influenced to increase service to these two locations as a competitive reaction to American and JetBlue’s Northeast Alliance alliance, Delta is obviously ready to protect its turf with a large Boston expansion.

Delta is on track to become the region’s leading airline, and to that end, the company has established two flagship long-haul routes (which also happen to be the carrier’s two longest flights from Boston, with Athens at 4,755 miles and Tel Aviv at 5,491 miles).

So, when Delta initially announced the new route late last year, I knew it would be an inauguration I couldn’t pass up. I’m delighted I was there since it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Commencement of celebrations

No matter if you’re an aviation buff or a casual visitor merely catching a flight, inaugurals are always a good time. Delta’s Boston crew really went all out on this one.

I arrived in Boston early in the morning on a routine shuttle trip from New York City, and when I arrived at Terminal E (via a luxurious Porsche tarmac transfer – Delta knew I was coming), the gate celebrations were just getting started.

Cheese bourekas, chocolate babka, and pastries that looked (and tasted) like blintz were among the treats.

Before they could partake in the feast, the ten flight attendants and passengers were asked to sign the inaugural poster.

Delta staff showed a lot of pride in their Boston business. Several communications from the crew and ground employees mentioned how exciting this trip was for the airline’s Boston development.

Flyers left a variety of messages, but the most frequent was “Mazel Tov” (Hebrew for congratulations).

There was a strong bustle in the gate area as boarding approached. (I was so excited that I didn’t even bother going to the mediocre Air France lounge before the trip.)

Many onlookers were drawn to the Tel Aviv flight because of the illuminated Delta lettering on a table near to the gate. One passenger joked that it was the “most excitement I’ve ever seen before boarding a 10-hour flight.”

To cap off the festivities, many Delta executives and Ambassador Reuben cut the ceremonial ribbon (which was missing the letter “L” when I snapped it).

Delta asked invite-only 360° status member Joseph Sheffi to lead the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Sheffi ended up sitting three seats ahead of me on the aircraft, and he shared with me that this was a special event for him. Boston and Delta (he has accumulated almost 9 million SkyMiles in his career).

The party is still on board.

While boarding a long-haul aircraft is typically a stressful experience, it was especially so for this journey.

According to Delta’s managing director of Northeast airport operations Ravi Dadhich, the airline normally utilizes the bigger Gate E7 for inaugurals like Friday’s Athens launch. However, because to security concerns, all 281 people were herded into a single narrow gate area.

However, boarding proceeded on time, and once on the jet bridge, everyone got a gift bag.

I was chosen for a secondary security check, which was very painless and efficient, especially in comparison to some of my past travel experiences. A handheld metal detector was used to search me, and my baggage were visually scrutinized.

Within minutes, we were boarding the two-year-old Airbus A330-900neo, N402DX, that would take us to Tel Aviv.

While this route was a first for Delta, it was also a “double inaugural” for me, as it was my first transatlantic flight in Delta’s luxurious business-class suites.

One of the two Hebrew-speaking flight attendants welcomed me enthusiastically at the boarding gate and guided me to my window suite, 6J.

(Beginning in July, Delta will employ a third Hebrew-speaking flight attendant on this route; the airline does not maintain an Arabic-speaking crew member on this flight.)

Delta’s most luxurious cabin for the new route

Delta One Suites, as they’re known, are simply modified Thompson Vantage XL seats with an added sliding door for extra privacy.

The 29 apartments are organized in seven rows in a staggered pattern in one cabin.

Solo passengers should choose an even-numbered row since these suites are close to the window and have an uncovered storage table between the seat and the aisle.

The odd-numbered window suites are next to the aisle and hence less private.

Couples will almost certainly choose the middle seats. (Note: Passengers can raise and lower the full-length privacy partition to see their neighbor or not.)

The leather seat was quite comfy, and I like the trendy zig-zag design and discreet Delta branding on the headrest. Delta fully understood the importance of details.

The seat is 21 inches broad, which is about normal for a business-class product.

Interestingly, the window armrest did not descend, thus the breadth remained practically constant at 21 inches (whereas some chairs allow you to expand out after the armrest is down).

The lack of covered storage was maybe my major complaint about the room.

The huge side table was 15 inches broad and 25 inches long, making it ideal for storing loose goods. The literary pocket also served as a storage space for books and other small and slender goods, such as computers or iPads.

Having said that, I would have appreciated a tiny closet or shelf to store my wallet and other valuables.

The seat controls were conveniently situated next to the literature pocket. There were four default configurations (upright, rest, lounge, and bed), but the fine-tune controls let you to select your own position.

Several newer business-class items, such Delta One Suites, include a “do-not-disturb” setting, however I’ve found that flight attendants often don’t notice when it’s turned on.

However, when it was lighted on this trip, the staff took care not to disturb any passengers.

The universal power outlet, as well as two USB-A charging connections, were located next to the seat controls.

With the growing popularity of USB-C, I wish Delta could easily change the connectivity to the most recent standards.

I spent the first half of the trip working, which was made simple by the 20-inch-long by 11-inch-wide tray table that pulled out from behind the side table.

For the rest of the journey, I slept peacefully. The seat swiftly transitioned to lie-flat mode, and the bed was comfy enough for me to sleep for nearly five hours.

It was 78 inches long, which was plenty for my almost six-foot stature, but the footwell space was extremely little for my size 11 feet, particularly while sleeping on my side.

However, the door, which lifted 45 inches from the floor, added a sense of personal space and solitude, and I chose to leave it closed during the ride.

When it was ready to land, I used the conveniently positioned side controls to return the seat to its upright position.

There were two standard-size restrooms for business-class passengers, one in front and one behind the cabin in the galley.

Amenities and goodies

When I arrived, I quickly took inventory of all the comforts that were waiting for me.

The purple and blue linen Someone Somewhere amenity set was the first thing that drew my attention.

Delta debuted a redesigned onboard amenity program centered on local and sustainable items in January. According to the label written inside the bag, Mario produced my Someone Somewhere kit in Michoacán, Mexico.

The kit included the usual suspects, such as a linen eye mask, a bamboo toothbrush, earplugs, a pen, and Grown Alchemist lip balm and hand lotion.

Some frequent fliers may miss Delta’s Tumi amenity packages, but this one sufficed for me.

Delta’s new recyclable bedding was also ready for me at my seat, with a pillow and duvet packed in a linen bag (no more single-use plastic).

While I had no problem sleeping, the mattress was not as pleasant as Delta’s previous Westin Heavenly bedding.

Delta also sent a pair of branded slippers, which were waiting for me on my seat during the flight.

They were thin and certainly not as pleasant as the fleece-lined ones offered by United Airlines on its longest Polaris trips.

Notably, Delta does not supply pajamas, which are also available in Polaris on United’s longest flights.

The distinctive teal-colored gift bag each flier got before boarding was a delight for many passengers, especially those in coach.

It contained a commemorative pin, an embossed baggage tag, and an initial flight certificate digitally signed by Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

Each suite contains an 18-inch HD touchscreen monitor equipped with Delta Flight Products’ own in-flight entertainment software for enjoyment.

The system included 317 movies and 569 TV program series, although it only had nine new releases, such as “Fatherhood” and “Moonfall.” I spent much of the trip staring at the moving map (since I composed this narrative while awake).

If you prefer physical control buttons, there was a remote (and a little mirror) buried in the armrest.

My two main complaints about the entertainment system are that the very reflective screen makes it difficult to see when the windows are open during the day, and that the screen does not tilt for a more comfortable viewing angle when in lie-flat mode.

Delta offered unbranded noise-cancelling headphones of average quality. Unfortunately, this plane does not yet enable Bluetooth audio, and the actual headphone connector only had two prongs, so my wired Bose headphones were inoperable without an adaptor.

Delta’s A330neo and A350 fleets are outfitted with Gogo 2Ku Wi-Fi, which was accessible gate-to-gate for just $9.95 for the whole journey – a remarkable price when compared to American Airlines’ $35 and United’s $22.99.

Although I couldn’t perform a Speedtest, my connection remained consistent during the flight, and I had no issue opening data-intensive applications like Slack or Instagram.

However, the Gogo network did not support streaming.

Festive service

Several staff members were overheard asking customers for advice on things to do in Tel Aviv, while others were just rejoicing that Boston was getting more long-haul services.

Delta crews are often nicer than those on American or United, and this trip was no exception. These flight attendants certainly wanted to fly and were excited about the opportunity to work an inaugural flight.

Following our arrival, George, the purser, walked around the cabin to distribute Delta’s new one-page menu card, which merely stated the meal selections.

Appetizer, dessert, and drink options were read out (and put online by photographing the QR code on the printed menu).

Valerie, the jovial flight attendant handling my aisle, came along with a tray of pre-poured pre-departure refreshments after everyone had settled down.

She urged us to toast the occasion with a mimosa.

George then called back to confirm entrée orders. Delta does an excellent job of gathering orders before to the trip in order to precisely cater the appropriate mix of meals and minimize disappointment if products run out on board.

I saw that almost everyone had ordered their meal ahead of time. I didn’t notice anything that suited well with my dietary requirements (pescatarian) when I received the purchase request email from Delta five days before travel.

So I pre-ordered an Asian vegetarian special lunch, my go-to on long-haul flights when the normal fare doesn’t cut it.

These dishes always have a fair amount of spice and flavor and stay well at altitude.

Valeria started moving the drinks cart through the aisle as we passed 25,000 feet.

To round out the evening, I sipped a glass of bubbly (Duval-Leroy Brut Reserve Champagne), which came with a little amuse-bouche of what was billed as (and tasted like) a polenta nibble with mushrooms.

The appetizer cart arrived next, and I was served a lovely and refreshing cucumber and tomato salad, as well as a slice of ancient grain bread (unfortunately, no pretzel rolls).

I particularly appreciated the morel mushroom soup, which arrived hot and accompanied with cheese crostinis.

After finishing the appetizer, I received my special meal entree; it was the only thing served by hand, rather than trolley, throughout the whole service. I liked the two varieties of curries, as well as the aromatic basmati rice and tofu cubes. It also came with a loaf of bread that looked like a cross between naan and pita bread.

My go-to special supper did not let me down. While I would have chosen a fish dish as a typical option, I absolutely appreciated the taste of my Asian vegetarian lunch.

Dinner service ended around 90 minutes after departure with the option of an ice cream sundae or lemon tart. I chose the former, which came with cookie crumble, fresh raspberries, and caramel sauce in the galley.

I mourn the days of the extravagant dessert cart, but the sundae touched the spot as I fell asleep for the night.

For those who were still hungry after the dinner service, there was a little snack basket offered.

Breakfast was provided around 90 minutes before arriving in Tel Aviv, with guests able to pick between a chia seed bowl and an omelet. I chose neither, as I rarely find aircraft breakfast satisfactory, but I did photograph the tray arrangement for those who are interested.

Despite the fact that I had requested a special dinner, Delta’s catering once again amazed me. Delta and American have made significant progress in restoring pre-pandemic levels of service, but United lags behind.

Hot towels were maybe the most evident missing item.

I’ve arrived

My fellow passengers oohed and aahed as the Tel Aviv beachfront came into view.

We arrived 20 minutes early on runway 12 to applauding people. I observed a “follow me” automobile ready to take us to the gate.

The jet came to a sudden halt on the way to the gate, and I worried if something was wrong.

Instead, I peeked out the window and noticed a firetruck parked on the side of the road. No, nothing was incorrect. Instead, Ben Gurion Airport officials prepared a traditional water cannon salute for our arrival.

We arrived at the entrance after an almost minute-long water spray. When the door opened, there were a few members of the local media ready to photograph our entrance.

Valerie moved to the front of the business-class cabin before saying everyone farewell and thanked everyone for travelling with Delta on the maiden trip.

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