Delta Introducing Innovative New First Class Seat

Filed Under: Delta

Ultimately we haven’t seen that much innovation or creativity when it comes to the quality of first-class seats within the US over the years. Heck, American Airlines is actively removing TVs from their domestic first-class cabins, and introducing less comfortable seats.

While it’s perhaps not a game-changer, Delta will soon be introducing a new first-class seat that’s unlike anything else we’ve seen.

Delta’s new A321neo first-class seat

Delta has 100 Airbus A321neos on order, which they’ll start taking delivery of later in 2020. These will join the 125+ A321s that Delta ordered, about three-quarters of which are already in service. The A321neo is the more fuel-efficient and slightly longer-range version of the A321 (though it’s not as long-range as the A321LR or A321XLR).

Well, reports that Delta will be introducing a new first-class seat on the A321neo. This next-generation first-class seat is designed by RECARO and FactoryDesign.

We can expect these seats to enter service later this year, though it’s not yet known if other planes will be retrofitted with these seats.

What makes Delta’s new first-class seats special?

As of now details are limited, though based on the pictures there are some things I really like, and some things that I think could be problematic.

On the plus side, the seats feature significantly more privacy thanks to the shields along the sides of the seats. Those not only increase privacy, but they could also be nice in terms of having somewhere to rest your head if you’re trying to nap.

The seats also have more storage (at the front center of the seats), along with conveniently placed power outlets.

My major concern is that these seats look really “thin.” That’s never great in terms of padding and comfort, but then again, it’s certainly the trend in the airline industry, as airlines look for more space-efficient and light seats for aircraft.

In many ways these new seats look similar to the rumored new Emirates premium economy seats, which are also expected to debut later this year.

Bottom line

Delta is by far the most innovative of the “big three” US carriers, so I’m not surprised to see them make some fairly significant changes to their first-class seats.

These seats will no doubt help Delta accomplish their goal of having an efficient configuration while also having a product that customers will like. Ultimately I don’t think this seat will redefine domestic first class, or anything, though I do think they listened to customer feedback in some important ways.

What do you make of Delta’s new first-class seats?

  1. While the changes are relatively minor, I think the visual appeal it’s greatly increased by these seats. That should help their wow factor and make more people want to fly them.

  2. I can’t tell from the picture is that a fixed shell or does it still tilt back to recline? How much privacy do you need on a domestic first class flight? If you actually do want to have a conversation with your seat mate, you are going to have to lean forward to do so.

  3. I’ll take any of the recliners from the early 2000s and even 90s over all the garbage shell seats. How is Delta popular ? Have you ever sat in their pretty much non reclining , no legroom first class where they serve pretty disgusting food on most flights. Please help me out here. Why is DL innovative ? Very product they launch pretty much stinks more than the next. Just flew in a UA 737 with the legacy CO seats. Super comfortable. Then you go on DL and realize First has no legroom and no recline.

  4. All I want is room to open a 14″ laptop in first class when the DYKWIA goes full recline. Is that really too much to ask Delta?

  5. Given that, at full recline, many domestic F seats practically put the head of the passenger in front of you in your lap, I’m excited to see a fixed shell (if that’s what this is). I’m virtually never trying to sleep on domestic flights, since even the longest domestic flights from where I am are under 4 hours, so a limited recline seat with a defined space would be better than pretty much anything currently on offer (other than premium transcontinental products I never have occasion to fly). I only wish I had more DL nonstops from DEN.

  6. For me, this would actually be worth paying for. Privacy and storage make a flight more enjoyable. I’m generally fine with a firm seat. The older cushion seats are pretty gross and some are kind of lumpy. Perhaps these will age better.

  7. pitch and padding look terrible and who wants to rest their head on a surface that will never be cleaned?

  8. These will be great on super-competitive routes like SEA-BOS/JFK where Delta is currently getting hit hard with Jet Blue Mint. I’m very surprised more airlines aren’t trying to improve domestic F and give away less seats to free upgrades.

  9. The privacy looks great for solo travelers. Looks like it even has a sliding partition. Not so great for people traveling together.

    Seat design seems to take a lot of influence from European train seats.

  10. Interestingly Deutsche Bahn (state owned German railway company) introduced similar looking seats on their long distance trains recently and got super bad customer feedback.
    First for lacking padding, second for fixed shell seat (very little recline), and third, that tall passengers do not fit between the headrest / privacy shield with their shoulders. Same applies to people of size.

  11. I like that the reading light comes in the headrest and not from overhead. I like to read on planes while others like to sleep or watch TV, so I feel bad being the sole person in first class with my light on, which floods the rest of the cabin.

  12. @Lucky: Do you think the name „First Class“ for these seats that are more like long haul premium economy seats will ever disappear?

    From an international perspective it sounds ridiculous to continue calling this ‚First Class’, especially when when you have „Delta One“ on some domestic routes.

  13. I never understood why they just don’t call it business class. There is nothing first class about domestic first…

  14. As one of the many Delta customers that fly 1st class all the time, I am thinking these seats would have me switching airlines fast. Anyone over about 6’3 is likely to find these very painful to fly in when our shoulders hit the little privacy wings.

  15. It might be the angle of the photo but legroom looks horrible. Also, I do not know how people can sleep sitting up. What is missing is a headband restraint to keep your head from falling down if you do fall asleep. Now that would be an innovation.

  16. There looks to be ZERO padding on the armrests. These look like the Air France premium economy seats in that they DO NOT recline but slide forward. I hope to God Delta actually tests these seats because if they are as bad as they look they will be horrible. Sometimes I wonder if the idiots who design planes and seats have ever flown on a plane.

  17. I find that it’s more likely that couples travel in domestic first class. These seats make it difficult to have a convo with one another.

  18. always enjoy Ben’s articles and my choice is usually DL cuz I pay for 1st class and its reasonable

  19. I’m thrilled, my biggest complaint about domestic first has long been lack of privacy, call me silly but I really don’t like making physical contact with strangers and domestic FC seats are usually designed so that elbows will touch, or else only an inch or so separates arms–I go out of my way to fly delta Embraers for their 1-2 FC configuration. The privacy divider solves this problem. This looks like the biggest improvement to domestic US first class in a long time.

  20. @ Ben — What Ryan said. I bet they have even less pitch and less padding than the ridiculous F seats now.

  21. As a very large person (6’8″/203 cm and 350 lbs/158 kg) that flies Delta first class, I hate the head blinders. I also hate the current head rests as all they do is push my shoulders forward as my head is above seat height. And I wish the seats were higher off the ground.

    I know I’m in the minority, but pretty much any domestic first experience is rough for me.

  22. Not sure how this is an improvement over something like what Alaska offers? Legroom looks minuscule

  23. I think DL should put their Premium Select (premium economy) seats in their domestic fleet and call the seats first class. The Premium Select seats are quite roomy and comfortable (but with a tiny footrest) and are far better than any domestic first class seat.

  24. I’m actually a big fan of shell style premium economy seats (i.e. what domestic first really is) when done right, like for JAL. However this concept seems to have terrible legroom, padding, and recline. The privacy partition also looks to be just big enough to interfere with conversations but too small to actually provide real privacy.

  25. Lucky, give it a rest with that idea about Emirates’ premium economy seat….it is 100% NOT the HAECO seat

  26. Please show me a domestic seat “innovation” from the last decade that’s any sort of upgrade on comfort or space.

    The manufacturers spend all day looking to squeeze more revenue for buyers because these are volume routes on narrow body planes. They don’t spend time looking to create comfort.

  27. Literally not one, single peep about the fixed shell? It’s an ergonomical hazard and nobody should fly these. I mean that quite seriously; it’s a lawsuit waiting to happen to offer such an unsafe seat to customers.

  28. ‘by far’ the most innovative among the big 3 is a stretch

    UA led the way with Polaris lounges, pluspoints, priority boarding for top tier ahead of first class, confirmed elite change 24 hours +/- rather than just same day

    That said this seat is the biggest visual change to a 2 cabin domestic first seat since the 1970s Braniff leather seats that set the stage for what we’ve seen since

    Not sure I like the move to minimizing conversation with neighbors on short haul – had viewed privacy as more something to look for when sleeping – this gets to antisocial

    But it differentiates the appearance vs the economy cabin – for a few years we had seen first seats look more like economy with narrower seatback width

    The key will be is it more comfortable – any sacrifice there isn’t worth it

  29. I just hope these headrests / partitions are up high enough for tall folks. These nothing worse than a head rest pushing into my back and shoulder blades.

    These remind me of the premium cabin seating on high speed trains you might see in Western Europe and East Asia.

    I dig the “blinders” not for privacy, but for a place to support the head when sleeping. Two years ago, I was frequently taking red eyes between LAX and DTW. It was miserable on those domestic first seats on the 757s, 737-900ER, and A321. One of my biggest issues sleeping was that there was no place to support my head. I’m predominantly a side-sleeper. Anyways, eventually, I began taking the first flight out LAX the next day.

  30. I suspect that the pitch will get closer, at least that is the way it looks in the picture. I dislike the light in the side panel, with glasses, lights in that location tend to shine on the inside of my glasses. Losing the pocket for a water bottle or a phone in the seat back is a pain. I tend to charge my phone in the air and put it in the seat back pocket. I have large shoulders, so worry that the “wings” will end up being a problem if I sit up straight. Add the thin padding and this is not going to be a seat i want to fly Detroit to LA or Detroit to Miami in.

    After 3 million miles on Delta (and NWA), I think I am glad I am flying less.

  31. Fixed shell seats are disasters for tall people. I have tried a number of them and they are extremely uncomfortable when “reclined” or rather “when the seat slides down in the shell.” I would take the old first class, reclining seat any day.

  32. Where does it say that this is a fixed shell design? It actually appears that there’s a thumb control for recline on the inside right hand armrest. I, for one, love the design and wish more details were included in the article, such as the fact that the seats are made with memory-foam padding, similar to the seats on the A339neo (Other write-ups about this seat have confirmed this). In other words, they’re probably going to be a lot more comfortable than people think.

  33. @Nils, maybe that’s the reason why Greta was sitting on the floor when traveling by train in Germany 🙂

  34. Recaro seats are thin, unpadded and uncomfortable. These look something like what UA already has in place for its pathetic F class.

    The US3’s push to prioritize discomfort as a norm is disturbing. Very sloppy planning and there’s no imagination or regard for customer comfort anymore.

  35. This is what I don’t like about domestic 1st class. They are about equal to and in many cases less than premium economy international flights. But the cost is 3-4 times higher! And why do I keep paying for 1st class? Lol

  36. RECARO made the seats fpr Air Berlin. They were sexy looking, too and as Ben worries, very thin.

    From the pix I worry about leg room. I will try very hard to find a plane so outfitted to try it.

  37. Bad padding planned for a brand new seat? Really? I have resorted to bringing my own gel seat cushion, about $40 online. Better padding, even just on the horizontal part of the seat, I presume, would be a lower per seat cost, were the airline to opt for that.

  38. By 2025, most of the industry will have fixed shell seats and reverse herring bone business class, and anyone over 5’4″ will no longer fly…

    I just love the feel of sitting on the ground on a plane, and visiting a chiropractor after my flight.

  39. The floor storage between the seats in front of you restrict the actual space to move around your feet as well as put a small bag down there. I see this as a real nightmare for them. Storage and feet/legroom are some of the reasons people pay for first class. I think it will be a race to get the exit rows in the back instead of first if these come out.

  40. Privacy? What kind of idiot thinks there’s any privacy gain here? You can gain exactly the same increase in “privacy” by just closing your eyes (or mimicking an ostrich and sticking your head in a hole).

    Hint: Hey Einstein…if you put on blinders that doesn’t mean other people can’t see you.

  41. I’m wondering if this is going to complicate ingress/egress. Especially if you’re carrying a backpack/briefcase. Seems like the kind of thing an ass or whatever could get caught on.

  42. “Delta Announces a New Seat Design—Sardine Cans Have Never Looked So Good!”

    Atlanta, GA—Delta Air Likes has announced a new seat to the great joy of many passengers, with those who self-identify as sardines being the most jubilant. The seat has chic lines and a futuristic look, and as an added bonus, carbon emissions are reduced through the removal of all padding.

    Delta says that passengers appreciate the new seat shell, though they’ve had to reduce seat pitch to 25.5 inches per first class passenger in order to accommodate the new design and increased profits.

    Passengers above 4’10” will be asked to gate check their legs, but will be allowed to pick them up free of charge at their final destination.

  43. I’m an economy traveler. Flew first class for the first time last year. I paid cash. OKC to DBA on MD88’s. Wow! What a difference! All these complaints on this news is hilarious! If you want the perfect seat/service, buy your own plane. I read all kinds of travel blogs, and I don’t see anyone complaining about European “business class”! What a joke! Not even a different seat, just an empty middle seat! At least in the US we get a bigger seat and more leg room. Be thankful for what you can get! Please stop with all the complaining about that which you can’t afford if they would provide!

  44. @Phillip Abbott the MD88 on Delta at least, because you don’t mention the airline, has a great first class seat. Much more leg room than the A321 or B757 or 737-900. I used to hate flying that jet, but it now has the best first class seats. As someone who buys first class for a number of reasons, you begin to discern between the variations and naturally compare. It is understandable for someone who flies economy all the time to be very happy with the change to first class. Be mindful that for those people that do fly first class ALL the time, that becomes the bar to compare everything else to, just like your bar is economy. The same goes for any product someone is used to, they compare all variants in that range.

  45. What are the dimensions of these seats? They look as narrow as economy seats. That would have been useful info to include in this piece.

  46. A sliding shell is not reclining. It is slumping, not reclining. Flew recently on Air France and was really disappointed to find out I couldn’t recline all the way to Paris in Premium economy. Yes, they have buttons, but it only slumps you, not recline. Terrible to see this coming to Delta domestic first.

  47. Folks, let’s not forget to compare this to what the Europeans offer in the front domestic cabin.

    I think it looks great, with the privacy dividers and IFE. Yes, slim, but still great.

  48. I don’t understand why you claim these seats offer you privacy. You can’t see who is watching you, but everyone around sees you! Absurd.

  49. If anything those seats will be more confortable. Delta has already introduced memory foam seats in the A350 and the refurbished 777. I’ve had the pleasure of flying in Delta Premium Select on the 15 hours flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg recently and those seats were amazing. My butt didn’t hurt at all (which does on a regular seat in an 8 hours flight) and I was very comfortable.

  50. and every time the passenger behind you taps the video screen icons, your seat will shake and wake you up from your nap.

  51. I was a platinum Delta loyalist for many years and I only fly business class. I do so because I’m 6’5″ tall and probably a bit too wide. Although Delta One is fine, most of their first and business class seats are an absolute embarrassment. Astoundingly on one of their planes my knees were actually up against the seat in front of me.

    I left years ago and by the looks of things they are only showing more contempt to their best paying customers. Looking at those new seats, I can honestly say there’s no chance I will ever choose Delta again if other options are available.

  52. So, if you’re traveling with someone and you actually want to talk with them during the flight, you can’t? Unless you both lean way forward? Seems stupid.

  53. “…anyone over 6’3″…”

    99th percentile height for men in the US is, um, 6’3-1/2″. 99th percentile height for women is 5’9-3/4″.

    So. I recognize that’s cold comfort if you *are* that tall, but you’re asking Delta to design for 1% of their customers.

  54. Nice to see even the so called first class citizens are also getting screwed these days.
    Look awfully “Close to one another also”

    Service is dead in America

  55. I have a dream. One day I will board a BA Club Europe or Lufty intra-Europe business class cabin and find seats like these in place of blanked-off economy rows.

    Some chance.

    The real reason for your pet hate in Europe, Ben, is that airlines can quickly expand/contract business cabins according to demand by moving the ‘bulkhead’ and removing/replacing centre seat blank tables as needed.

    Fit better seats like these and the reconfig process is a major job.

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