I flew in one of Delta's swankiest business class seats from LA to NYC and it wasn't anywhere near worth the $800 price tag during the pandemic

  • I flew Delta Air Lines from Los Angeles to New York and was upgraded into the exclusive “Delta One” cabin.
  • The brand-new cabin was highly impressive with stylish touches, relaxing mood lighting, and private seats.
  • Delta gutted the in-flight service, however, taking most of the luxury out of business class.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Flying business class between the East Coast and West Coast is normally among the most extravagant flying experiences in the US. The transcontinental flights attract no shortage of well-to-do flyers from businesspeople to celebrities, and airlines go all out to make the experience as luxurious as possible for those that pay extra to sit in the premium cabins.

Flying home from Los Angeles to New York in February, Delta was offering upgrades into its transcontinental first class cabin, known as “Delta One,” for a whopping $799. It was too rich for my blood but I got lucky and scored a complimentary upgrade into the cabin as a Delta elite status holder. 

Delta had assigned one of its largest jets, the Boeing 767-400, to the route due to the pandemic. And that meant flying in a top-tier business class cabin normally reserved for intercontinental long-haul flying to Hawaii, Europe, and South America, all for the price of a coach ticket in my case. 

Read more: 5 charts reveal how badly the loss of business travel is hurting America’s biggest airlines — and why a COVID-19 vaccine won’t ease the pain

Here’s what it was like. 

I was booked in coach for the cross-country flight from Los Angeles to New York but was surprised with an into Delta One just minutes before boarding.

The Boeing 767-400 taking me home had just been upgraded to include the airline's new business class seats and I was more than excited to try them out.

The advantages of flying Delta One begin in the terminal with access to priority check-in facilities and the exclusive Delta Sky Club.

Then when it's time to jet, Delta One passengers can board at any time during the boarding process after pre-boarding, despite Delta's back-to-front boarding policy.

I was among the first on the plane and turned left into what seemed like a different world.

And I wasn't alone as nearly every Delta elite on the flight was upgraded. All 34 seats in the cabin were filled.

I was given seat 8D, a window seat towards the back of the cabin.

I could tell just by looking at the stylish seat that this was going to be a good flight.

I sought out the window seat as it offers additional privacy away from the aisle. And placed on the seat was a pillow and comforter kit, in case I wanted to sleep during the flight.

The first thing I noticed after sitting down was the massive 18.5-inch in-flight entertainment screen.

It came installed with the updated entertainment system from Delta Flight Products, and offered the standard selection of movies, television shows, music, and more.

Other seat amenities including a personal lamp…

Foldable tray table…

Tethered remote to control the screen…

Noise-cancelling headphones…

110v AC power outlet, and USB charging port.

There's even a small mirror that flyers could use to freshen up after a long flight.

This control panel controlled all of the functionality from the seat angle to the "do not disturb" light.

And there was a second panel that could be more easily reached while in lie-flat mode.

Let's head to New York!

A typical business class flight starts with an offer of pre-departure drinks including water, champagne (or prosecco), or juice. But this wasn't offered due to pandemic, along with the hot towel service.

It was immediately clear that this was going to be a more bare-bones flight.

We blasted off from Los Angeles and already the five-hour flight was progressing too quickly. I had just gotten comfortable and already the clock was ticking down to landing.

Fans of looking out of the window, like myself, should opt for one of the even seats along the cabin wall.

Mine offered incredible views of the beautiful California shoreline as we departed westbound before turning back to the east.

Flight attendants began the in-flight service shortly after takeoff. Hot meals were replaced with Delta's new pandemic-era snack and drink bags.

Inside was a bottle of water, salted almonds, a Cliff bar, and a single-use packet of Purell. Needless to say, this wasn't was I was expecting from first class but we are in a pandemic.

But luckily, that wasn't the only option as snack boxes were also offered to Delta One flyers free of charge. These cost around $8-$10 on normal flights.

I chose the meat option that came with a selection of goodies including salami, crackers, cheddar cheese, Wheat Thins, wafer rolls, Goldfish, Skittles, and mint Tic Tacs.

It was far from a normal business class meal but wanting to make the best of out it, I neatly arranged it on my tray table as, after all, this was still business class.

I believe the French call this "charcuterie."

Drinks were limited to bottled water or alcohol, specifically beer and wine. I found it odd that I could order a Miller Lite but not a Coke or seltzer.

The flight was going by way too quickly, I wanted to ask the pilot to slow down just a bit so I could enjoy this more.

The in-flight entertainment screen provided a crystal clear viewing experience. First up was Ben Affleck's Argo followed by Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.

I didn't immediately go lie-flat as I was a big fan of the 45-degree angle setting.

But I did want to test it out so I gradually lowered myself into the setting. It was a bit difficult to get comfortable at first since the space is quite narrow but I ultimately settled in just fine.

I could definitely see myself getting a good night's sleep here on an overnight flight to Europe or South America.

The only complaint was that it was a bit more difficult to watch the movie as the screen doesn't tilt down.

One of the cooler features of the cabin was the mood lighting.

A purple glow filled the cabin for most of the late afternoon into the evening.

It changed a few times as we got closer to New York and made for a more relaxing experience compared to the normal darkness of these evening flights.

The cabin even went red at one point.

I got peckish again over Iowa and flight attendants were more than willing to provide another snack box, so I opted for the Mediterranean option. I believe the Spanish call it "tapas."

The seats aren't fully enclosed suites but it was impossible to tell that there were other people in the cabin thanks to the high walls and dividers.

We neared Chicago after around three hours and I had to make peace with the fact that this flight would soon be over.

It was truly coming to a close when the mood lights ended their show and began illuminating the cabin for landing.

This was my first and likely last time flying in the cabin and I savored every moment. Even flight attendants that frequent this route said that an upgrade is normally impossible for lowly elites like myself.

But even after an extraordinary flight, I would not have paid anything close to $800 for the upgrade, at least during the pandemic. The seat is always one part of the product as the service really does make business class, well, business class.

It’s unclear when Delta’s first class and business class cabins will return to their pre-pandemic levels of service but the airline is lagging behind rivals American Airlines and United Airlines. But once Delta does restore the cabin to its former glory, flyers will not be disappointed if they choose to upgrade to Delta One on this aircraft.

During the pandemic, however, it didn’t feel anything like business class should beyond the spectacular seat. 

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