Advertiser Disclosure

delta one business class

Despite ‘Premium’ Brand (& Prices), Most Delta Biz Class Seats Are Relics

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. For more information check out our Advertising Disclosure.

Delta fancies itself America's premium airline … and says so repeatedly. Yet more than half of Delta's widebody planes flying abroad are outfitted with business class seats designed and installed more than a decade ago – positively ancient compared to the competition.

While Delta has set itself apart among U.S. airlines with stellar on-time performance and a reputation for better service, it lags those same competitors when it comes to premium business class cabins. That reality leaves Delta's top-paying customers with a crapshoot: Will they luck out with a flight in newer Delta One Suites … or wind up in a narrow and outdated seat with tiny, low-resolution screens?

That's a daunting coin flip for passengers paying thousands of dollars (or forking over hundreds of thousands of SkyMiles) for a business class fare with Delta. And those outdated seats for top-paying customers stand in stark contrast to Delta's premium mantra – even as its competitors at home and abroad have invested heavily in hardware.

  • Nearly 60% of Delta's long-haul fleet is equipped with outdated business class seats from 2013 or even earlier, according to our analysis of its fleet
  • While its fleet of newer jets with state-of-the-art Delta One Suites onboard is growing, those older Boeing 767-300s and Airbus A330s with outdated seats remain the workhorse – especially flying to Europe and back
  • Delta retrofitted those older planes to install Premium Select cabins and update economy seats over the last few years, yet it left business class cabins and seats largely untouched – aside from some cosmetic touches like fresh upholstery
  • Competitors like American and United offer a consistent (if not identical) experience in business class no matter which plane you're on, but Delta currently has a whopping seven different business class seat configurations flying internationally


delta one business class on the a330
Delta One business class seats on the A330 are more than 10 years old


Complaining about any lie-flat business seat may seem entitled or even spoiled, and it probably should. And no matter what plane you're on, Delta gets the basics right: You'll always have a seat that reclines all the way into a bed. All but a few Delta planes feature direct aisle access – no need to step over a neighbor to stretch your legs or use the lavatory.

But while that was a selling point a decade ago, the rest of the airline industry has caught up … and then some, with far more modern cabins, greater privacy, and newer technology onboard. Whether they're paying top dollar or redeeming credit card points, flyers have choices.


How Delta One Stacks Up

You don't need to look far to see that the grass might, in fact, be greener with another carrier.

While its catering gets low marks, United's entire long-haul fleet is now outfitted with the same new Polaris business class seats after a years-long retrofit project. American Airlines has just a few different business class configurations, most of which are nearly identical – and a new business class suite is on the way.

united polaris seat
United's entire long-haul fleet has been outfitted with these Polaris seats


In a statement, a Delta spokesperson defended its business class offerings and said it “regularly looks to update and modernize our aircraft” – though no additional plans to overhaul existing planes have been announced.

“Beginning more than a decade ago, Delta has led U.S. global carriers in the premium business class space with lie flat seats on every widebody aircraft and elevated Delta One service from Delta flight attendants,” the Delta spokesperson said.

To be clear, it's not all bad flying up front with Delta – far from it. The Delta One Suites you see in Delta ads and onboard the airline's Airbus A350s and Airbus A330-900neos are arguably the best flying for U.S. carriers today, complete with closing doors for extra privacy.

But those flagship jets currently comprise just over a quarter of the airline's long-haul fleet today. And you'll almost exclusively find them flying the airline's longest routes to Asia, Australia, and South Africa, along with a few ultra-popular transatlantic routes to hubs like Amsterdam (AMS) and Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG).

delta one suite 

That setup will become more and more common over time, as Delta has another nearly 50 Airbus widebodies on order between the A350s and A330-900neos. But deliveries of those planes will likely extend through the end of the 2020s.

And while those business class suites were revolutionary when they first hit the skies back in 2017, times have changed: In 2024, a business class seat with a door is practically the standard.

Overseas, even Delta's partner airlines Air France and KLM are rapidly retrofitting existing planes with fresh new business class cabins. Airlines like ANA, Japan Airlines, and Qatar Airways have pushed the envelope with fancy new suites. From Lufthansa to Qantas to even Qatar, new first and business class cabins with even more features and privacy are on the way.

All the while, Delta has continued leaning on planes with business class cabins that seem generations older in comparison.


Inside Delta's Fleet & Puzzling Decisions

There's more to flying business class than just the seat. Travelers want good service, a nice meal, a decent wine selection, and amenities, too. And Delta regularly does much better there, in my experience.

But when it comes down to it, business class passengers are paying for the seat that turns into a bed. And in that regard, the majority of Delta's long-haul fleet falls far short of much of the industry.

Frequent flyers tend to loathe flying business class on Delta's oldest Boeing 767-300s, whose seats are derided for their “coffin-like” width and low-resolution screens that measure just 10 inches across. For comparison, the seatback screen in Delta One on its newest A330-900neo is crisp and large, at over 18 inches.

While Delta has touched up the interiors with fresher colors and re-upholstered the cushions, the bones of the seats themselves date back to 2011, if not earlier. That's an eon ago in the fast-moving airline industry.

delta one 767-300er 

Delta One business class on its older Airbus A330-200s and A330-300s at least sports a much wider seat. And the cabin is laid out in a reverse herringbone pattern, with seats angled away from the aisle for more privacy – the same configuration used by many top-rated airlines today.

But they're from 2013 … and they look it, with equally ancient entertainment systems and finishes that look wildly out of date.

Delta One business class 

Delta pulled both plane types out of service for improvements as travel demand climbed back from the depths of the pandemic – largely to install new Delta Premium Select seats, the airline's name for premium economy. But the airline stopped far short of replacing the business class cabins, despite retrofitting all its Boeing 767-400s with a new business class seat over the last five years.

Delta is expected to keep flying those Boeing 767-300s until at least the end of the decade – and even longer on the older Airbus A330s.

delta one 767-400
Delta installed newer, modern seats on its 767-400s but not on its other, older planes


Other airlines used the great travel disruption of 2020 to get in line with the times, ditching their oldest and most out-of-date planes.

American Airlines, for example, retired all of its old Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s, both which had outdated business class cabins that didn't fit with the rest of its fleet. Today, you'll find similar (though not identical) business class seats on all its Boeing 777s and 787 Dreamliners.

american airlines 777 business class
Even American's least-popular business class seats look and feel space age compared to much of Delta's fleet


Delta took the opposite approach.

As COVID-19 first roared and travel screeched to a halt, Delta dropped its entire, 18-plane fleet of Boeing 777s in the name of efficiency and cost savings. Not only do the massive Boeing jets guzzle more fuel than newer planes, but a relatively small subfleet like that can be a headache for scheduling and maintenance. It was an easy cut at a time when Delta needed far fewer widebody jets.

But that decision also cost Delta 18 planes equipped with Delta One suites, after a multi-million-dollar retrofit project just a few years earlier.

Delta One Suites review cabin
Delta's decision to retire its 777s in the pandemic exacerbated its business class situation


To Delta, the costs of keeping those 777s in the air outweighed the price of the renovation … let alone what flyers with their eyes on a business class fare might have preferred.


Bottom Line

A lie-flat seat is a luxury, period. But whether they're paying cash or redeeming miles for that luxury, flyers have choices.

Delta's competitors have invested to ensure top-paying customers find a modern business class seat onboard, no matter what plane they wind up on. Delta hasn't.

Don't get me wrong, Delta does a lot well. But consistency and uniformity at the front of the plane isn't on that list.

It's an odd choice that doesn't square with Delta's brand as a premium airline. And it shouldn't sit well with travelers forking over 300,000 SkyMiles or more for a business class fare only to sit down in something that looks like it's from more than a decade ago … because it is.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

18 Responses

  • Important article! Thanks for posting. TPG and other paid sites fail to mention this important fact, and I find that a lot of the Delta brand (and most companies for that matter) is deceptive marketing. Having flown in these older seats many times the last couple of years, it really is disappointing for the price paid. I’ve moved to foreign carriers (Air France) or United for European travel.

  • I fly BOS to LHR once or twice a year and recently in order to avoid these older planes I’ve been booking Virgin Atlantic who are offering their latest business product on that route for the same price as deltas near decade old product – make it make sense!?!?

  • Couldn’t agree more. Just returned from a round trip to Europe (ATL-FCO_ATL) and the sheer engineering of the Delta One seats was old, odd, and inconvenient. And my travel companion had to climb over me to get to the aisle. Service, food, amenities, of course, were great, but the seating left much to be desired for the price.

  • After flying with Delta for 30+ years, reaching 2.2M miles and having 3+M frequent flyer miles in my account (which I’ve been saving for my retirement years), I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am with how many miles I need to burn for a Delta One ticket to say New Zealand. Almost 700k on a an A350 acquired from LATAM that doesn’t even have suite seating. If my wife and I take that trip, I will burn almost 50% of the miles that I’ve saved for many years on one trip. I have been 100% loyal to Delta, but that appears to not be reciprocated on their part. In addition to my Amex Reserve Card, I have an Amex Gold card that has about 90k points available. Normally, I would transfer those to Delta, but I’m now thinking of opening a KLM / Air France or Virgin Atlantic account and posting them there – at least they will have some meaningful value.

  • Hello Kyle,
    Glad I stumbled across this site. (I welcome your insights in addition to the other 3 sites I subscribe to.) Question: Would it be possible to get this article to Ed Bastian with the responses intact? (Not that he would do anything about it….) but at least it would be placed before him to ponder.
    I have flown Delta One 5 times in the last 22 months and each trip is 475,000 to 600k points! (I’m not exaggerating) and as you/others have pointed out, these seats are “RELICS” compared to some other carriers; plus the service has been less than stellar. The flight attendants (some, not all) disappear quickly, so they can huddle over their phones, instead of checking on passengers! I am really fed up and as soon as my 4 million miles are depleted, I am going to switch to a better carrier for my long haul vacations! Thanks for publishing this relevant article. Shame Shame Shame on DELTA Airlines!

  • Flew Delta CPH JFK business last year for the first time and it will probably be my last. The 767 was so outdated, my entertainment did not work and the seat would not lay flat. On the return flight it was the same again. That said, the service and flight attendants were amazing.

    • You got that right. Too many times non revs get D1 upgrades over paying customers using RUC/GUC. My coworker just experienced it SLC-HNL. Checked in, 13 D1 seats open, gets to STL airport and there are 0. Can’t tell me 13 people bought D1 seats the night before

      • My guess is they offered to sell those seats to their Gold customers for $250. Gold travelers don’t get the regional or global upgrades so if you can extract money rather than upgrade people it’s more money in the bank for Delta! Non Revs rarely get those seats to Hawaii, way too many people willing to pay for them.

      • You are completely off base on that. I can tell you with certainty that it is incredibly rare for a non-rev employee to get a D1 seat on any Hawaii route. It used to be that Delta treated upgrades on those flights the same as international, where simple status did not put you on the upgrade list. Some time ago however Delta changed that to exactly the same as domestic flights, i.e. standard upgrade lists a mile long. There are rare occassions where minutes before departure, with a D1 seat unoccupied due to a no-show, the agent will clear a non-rev who has not boarded yet into that seat versus going onboard and finding the next revenue pax on the upgrade list who is far back in coach. Shouldn’t happen that way but at that point it is a time issue and almost nothing matters more to the agent than getting the door closed on time.

  • Agree totally. Delta’s claim to be a premium experience is getting more threadbare by the year. The only Delta-booked business class flights I’ll take are on Air France’s A350’s. The service and food are superior, in addition to the seats.

  • Absolutely accurate. Flew STL to PHX. Could not wait to get off that plane. WiFi inoperable and the most uncomfortable, tired seat for four hours. Ugh! Never again. Now focusing on flying AA given the change in earning status and tired aircraft. Do better Delta!

  • Delta’s prices can be insane. I can fly UA FC for less than Delta’s MC pricing. Then Delta and their horrible catering excuses…

  • I scored a pair of cheap 1st. class tickets from RST to HNL and both my wife and I were severely disappointed with the experience. Only the LA/HNL flight had lie flat seats, food and particularly the snacks were underwhelming. But my biggest disappointment was no access to the lounge.
    l can only compare it to my AA business class experience when the food and drink were excellent and I got access to the lounge.

  • Delta fares are too overpriced .
    They need to reduce fares when using the flimsy and old 767-300 and -400 otherwise best to fly KLM and Air France despite connecting .

  • ‘Relics‘ – LoL!…this is so true and describes Delta in one word! Who is in charge of there award flights? Because they sure have Obliterated the award flights, to say the least!

    Also, it’s insane how so many people are actually paying the full price for these international ‘Relics’!

  • Not only are they ancient but they are dirty! Twice I have flown Delta One from the U.S. to Europe and the seats are overflowing with crumbs. The first one was sticky even. It seems as though they just don’t have the same quality of care as before.

  • It is a crapshoot as to what plane one will board I guess. Paying extravagant pricing for premium should not be a means of making the shareholders richer without investment in the very product that is sold. We just can’t get airline travel right in this country anymore. The US used to be the innovator and service leader in the industry. Now, the profit comes before the customer experience. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Free Flight Alerts

Cheap international and domestic flight deal email alerts

Get Cheap Flight Alerts