Long-haul flights aren't many people's cup of tea: sitting down for hours on end and scooching past strangers to go to the bathroom can make it one of the least appealing aspects of any trip.
However, the Delta One option makes the 12-hour journey from Auckland to Los Angeles a holiday highlight.
Recently I experienced the business class service along with other invited media from New Zealand, and with champagne in hand and regular offers of cocktails and snacks, it was a level of luxury I had previously only dreamed of. With the lie-flat seats, actual dreaming on-board was very much a reality.
The daily route is Delta Air Line's first-ever operation out of New Zealand and launched on October 30. It means Kiwis looking to take flight to the City of Angels now have the choice of not one but three airlines, as Delta and United both launched on the same day as competitors to Air New Zealand. American Airlines will become a fourth airline flying the route from December 22.
The Delta One experience
My Delta One experience began before boarding the plane with an express lane for check-in and access to Auckland Airport's Strata Lounge. There we were treated to a VIP room with access to sleep pods, a bar, and showers, which are all bookable.
Returning to Auckland from LA, however, was truly a unique experience. Delta One customers departing from LAX have access to their own separate check-in area, with champagne upon arrival, light snacks and hot towelettes. From there, I was escorted through an express security pre-check and straight into the Delta Sky Club.
The Sky Club not only boasts buffets and taco stations but also spacious, stylish shower rooms and the premium club bar which extends to the Sky Deck, where customers can enjoy complimentary or paid drinks on an outdoor patio overlooking the tarmac.
Our group was then treated to an extra-special experience not bookable or requestable by guests. We skipped the gates and went straight to the tarmac before being escorted via Porsche SUVs right to the plane's stairs, in what felt like a truly VIP experience.
Now, onto the main course - the flight.
From the moment I sat down the great service kicked in, with the option of champagne, a mimosa or sparkling water as a beverage. The drinks didn't end there as friendly attendants regularly offered refreshments seemingly right when I needed them.
The Delta One cabin features three rows of two seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. This means even after buying a pricey business class airfare, you may still be awkwardly seated with a stranger whom you have to climb over to get to the toilet. Luckily for me, I was riding solo in seat 3A, the perfect middle spot just far enough away from both the bathroom and the staff cupboards on the far end.
Currently, travellers on the route will be flying in a former LATAM A350-900. A newer A350 aircraft is expected to be introduced around April-May 2024, bringing with it the more private option of suites with doors as well as a premium economy cabin.
The Delta One amenities pack is a treat to travellers by way of Someone Somewhere, a sustainable Mexican initiative that combines traditionally handcrafted items with modern products.
Items include a bamboo toothbrush and toothpaste from The Humble Co, a Delta Air Lines pen, earplugs, and Grown Alchemist lip balm and hand lotion - both of which were put to good use during and post-flight. The package came in a handmade pouch and matching eye mask; mine made thanks to José M, from Oaxaca.
Guests are also treated to a heavenly soft pillow, slippers, a light duvet and high-quality, comfortable headphones.
Seating and entertainment
As expected, the Delta One seats aren't lacking in either comfort or legroom, common complaints in economy seating. The key attraction though has to be the 'lie-flat' option, making it much easier to rest and tactically adjust to the 21-hour time difference. Lying flat, the seats were the perfect length for my 164cm frame; but sleep still did not come easy with the heat in the cabin keeping me awake, and admittedly a bit sweaty.
On the return leg, however, I slept like a baby for about four or five hours, which is something I have never achieved on any plane before in my life.
The seating also offers an easy-to-use control panel to adjust the level of recline, a USB charging port and a remote for the entertainment centre, although there is also touchscreen capability.
Entertainment-wise, Delta One guests are treated to 1000-plus hours of films, TV shows, Spotify and more. Movie-wise there was somethingfor everyone, from recent festival darlings like Past Lives and Asteroid City to cult classics like Rocky and Ghostbusters.
When it comes to TV shows, there isn't anything to call home about. Though the options were fewer and more obscure, passengers still have some great picks such as the White Lotus, Cheers, Friends and specifically, season six of The Office.
Free messaging was also available for messaging apps such as Whatsapp and iMessage, with free Wi-Fi for Delta SkyMiles customers to be rolled out by the end of 2024. Those craving a social media hit are forced to detox until landing, at least for now.
As a first-timer to any kind of business class experience, the food was something I was really looking forward to, and it did not disappoint.
The dinner menu kicked off with a serving of a delicious, creamy potato soup. I opted for the red wine braised beef with garlic chive mashed potato, blistered cherry tomatoes and chargrilled broccolini for my main. It was served with red wine from California's own Jordan Vineyard & Winery, and the beef was so juicy and tender it fell away with the fork. The quality was what you often get in restaurants - I didn't think plane food could be this good.
On the topic of restaurant quality, the return leg featured a menu by chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, known for their restaurants such as Jon & Vinny's in LA where I had eaten a day or so prior. I went with the Braised Meatballs served with Bianco DiNapoli marinara, garlic bread and Gioia ricotta. While the meatballs were just as delicious as they were in the restaurant, the bread it was served with quickly became a soggy victim of the marinara.
Passionfruit cheesecake and pumpkin cake were my desserts of choice. While the flight attendant doubted the cheesecake would be better than the one on offer on the Sydney to LA route, I can attest it was still flavourful and creamy.
Flying Delta One certainly offers a taste of the high life with express check-ins, private lounges and great food. Most of all the ability to lie down has ruined all other economy flights in my future, but at around $9000 return (subject to change), I'm definitely headed back to that much more affordable cabin.
But while I kiss goodbye to the business class experience, I can't help but think of the tiny details, like the heating and the 2-2-2 seating configuration, that leave room for improvement.
With Delta's service being new to New Zealand and improvements still rolling out, I'm sure it will only get better in time.
Newshub travelled to Los Angeles courtesy of Delta Air Lines and was hosted by Loews Hotels.