Thanks to a last-minute booking, I recently flew to Bangkok, Thailand on one airline, and returned to New York City on another. It gave me the chance to experience business class with two very different airlines.
My flight east was with Emirates, the state-owned Dubai company that was recently ranked the fifth-best airline in the world. And I flew west on Delta, the publicly traded, Atlanta-based airline that came in 49th in the same ranking. (It’s the third-best airline in North America, according to Skytrax.)
Delta doesn’t offer a pure business class on its intercontinental routes. Instead, it offers a first class/business class hybrid called Delta One. Until last year, Delta One was known as Delta Business Elite. However, many of the planes aircraft in the airline’s fleet, including the ones operating my flight, have not yet received the upgrade to the shiny new Delta One interior.
Delta may have a reputation for dated, no-frills planes on its domestic routes. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my flights across the world in both directions — not just on much-lauded Emirates.
Thanks to a last-minute booking, I flew to Bangkok on Emirates (via Dubai), and back to New York on Delta (via Tokyo). For comparison's sake, I'll compare the longer legs of both trips in business class.
First, the planes. I was psyched for my first flight on an Airbus A380, the double-decker jumbo jet. The airliner was so large that passenger boarded through four different doors across the two levels.
Delta is known for carefully maintaining its aging fleet, and the Boeing 777 I flew home on certainly felt more dated than the jazzy Emirates airliner.
Emirates had a large selection of newspapers available for business class travellers on the jet bridge.
Delta also had a great selection, delivered by a flight attendant once we were seated. One less thing to carry onto the plane -- thumbs up!
Emirates' A380 was shiny and new, with lacquered surfaces and funky mood lighting. The seats were four across, with two in the center aisle and one by each window.
The seats in Delta's Business Class were more worn in -- and no fancy lights here. But I liked the herringbone layout, which made each seat feel more private.
How cool is the Emirates setup, though? The 18.5-inch seat turned into a lie-flat bed, and there was a big space beside it to store stuff. The seat had electrical outlets and two remote control options: a handheld remote AND an iPad.
Delta's setup was pretty similar. The seat was the same size as Emirates', although the overall space was smaller. This seat also converted into a lie-flat bed.
Lots of foot space on Emirates! This little cubby turned into the bottom of my bed once I reclined my seat. And we'll get to the TV shortly, but it was huge.
No foot cubby on Delta, but there was still room to stretch out. And I was pretty psyched to have Delta slippers so I didn't have to tie my sneakers when I used the lavatory. The striped socks were from Delta, too. Emirates' socks were plain black, and no slippers. (The little perks get me every time.)
Emirates gave out these pretty Bulgari amenity kits, filled with necessities like a toothbrush and toothpaste, moisturizer, and mouthwash. There were different kits for male and female passengers.
They held nearly identical toiletries, but I liked Delta's Malin + Goetz skincare items and the fact that the Delta kit came with a pen, convenient for filling out customs forms.
Comfy, noise-cancelling headphones from Emirates. They almost blocked out the baby who screamed for most of the flight, but not quite.
Comfy, noise-cancelling headphones from Delta. Fortunately I couldn't give them the crying baby test, but they were great for the long haul.
When it came to entertainment systems, Emirates was the winner for sheer screen size. Airline review site Skytrax recently ranked Emirates the best airline for in-flight entertainment, and I was impressed with its selection of movies and TV shows.
Delta's screen was tiny and low-definition in comparison. But the entertainment selection was just as good.
Now for the big one -- the food! This was the 'snack' I ate right after boarding my Delta flight. That's a 'chicken galantine with olive tapenade, cured salmon with wasabi, avocado and roasted pistachio nuts.' It was probably the fanciest food I've ever seen served on an aeroplane, and it was just OK.
The rest of Delta's fare was better. And the wine selection was great -- the flight attendant even had a pairing recommendation for my chicken entree.
This was my breakfast aboard Delta. I really liked the cheese omelet. But overall, Emirates food won out. It was so good that I scarfed down all of my meals before I remembered to take a picture.
But I didn't forget to take a picture of the absolute coolest thing about the Emirates flight -- the lounge! I've been dying to see the A380's bar area for years, and it was even better than I'd imagined. There was a big selection of wine, champagne, and spirits, and flight attendants constantly refreshed the trays of hot and cold snacks in the lounge area. Passengers made small talk around the circular bar and sat on little couches. If felt like a throwback to the golden days of air travel, except most people were in sweatpants and socks.
Bedtime! Both business classes had pillows and blankets that were WAY better than anything I've ever seen in coach. On Emirates, flight attendants came around with mattress pads and helped passengers make up their beds.
No extra help on Delta, and no duvet to soften the seat. But the blanket was big, and each passenger got two pillows, one big and one small.
Both seats turned into beds at the push of a button, and adjusted to all different levels for eating and watching TV. Emirates' control panel was pretty straightforward.
Delta's control panel left me totally confused. I had no idea what half the buttons meant, and wound up pressing them all before I finally found a comfortable position. But see that button on the bottom right? It turned on a seat massager!
I had high expectations from Emirates, and it did not disappoint. The food was great, the aircraft was sleek and new, and I got to hang out at a bar 40,000 feet in the air.
After such a pleasant inbound flight, I was kind of dreading flying back across the world on a domestic airline. But I was seriously surprised by how much I enjoyed Delta's business class. Instead of a bare bones experience, I found myself in a seat that was just as spacious, with endless movie and TV options and excellent service. The food was nearly as good as it was on Emirates, as was the wine selection. And there wasn't a bar, but there were ice cream sundaes.
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