Window in the bathroom and more bin space: Delta's brand-new A220 planes finally take off

Key Points
  • Delta's first commercial A220 flights take off from New York's LaGuardia to Boston and Dallas.
  • The planes are more fuel-efficient than previous models and offer wider seats.
  • Delta first purchased the jets in April 2016 and they had been held up by a trade dispute and government shutdown.
Delta’s brand-new A220 planes finally take off
Delta’s brand-new A220 planes finally take off

Delta Air Lines' new Airbus A220 jets have finally taken off, the carrier's latest offensive in the battle for business travelers. Delta is the first U.S. operator to offer the roomier, fuel-efficient planes.

The first flights of the single-aisle, twin-engine planes took off Tuesday morning from New York's LaGuardia Airport with one flight to Boston and another to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

"We're looking forward to a modern regional jet," said Clayton Wagar, a 47-year-old software salesman based in Atlanta who flew to New York just to fly on the plane's first flight to Boston. He said he and other aviation enthusiasts dubbed some of the smaller, older and more cramped regional jets "Satan's chariot."

Delta A220 interior
Source: Delta

Delta and its competitors have aggressively gone after high-paying corporate travelers in a bid to drum up revenue, offering some of its newest planes more perks on board like seats that recline into a small flat bed. In December, Delta said its share of revenue in premium cabins like business class had doubled during the past six years, while the share of revenue from coach class declined. United, for example, recently rolled out its biggest Dreamliner, the Boeing 787-10, for cross-country flights and this week announced plans to increase premium seats across its fleet.

Outfitted with new Pratt and Whitney geared turbofan engines, the A220s have higher fuel efficiency compared with other models, a key selling point for carriers whose second-largest expense after labor is fuel. The planes also feature passenger perks like spacious overhead bins, big windows — even in the bathroom — as well as wider seats. In the A220s coach cabin, the seats are 18.6 inches wide, a 0.1 inch wider than on Delta's second-widest seats, which are on its Boeing 777s.

"It's less claustrophobic" compared with small regional planes, said David Krause, a 58-year-old travel manager for singer Dionne Warwick. He added that he likes the shape of the windshield because the aircraft "looks like a little raccoon."

It's been a winding and long road to market for the A220-100.

The bathroom window on Delta Air Lines' new Airbus A220 on Feb. 7, 2019.
Leslie Josephs/CNBC

Delta ordered 75 of the planes from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier in April 2016. The jets were mired in a trade dispute with Boeing shortly afterward, as the Chicago-based maker of planes like the eponymous 737, alleged Bombardier sold the planes below cost to Delta and illegally received government subsidies for the program. Boeing lost that trade case in January 2018.

Had it won, the planes could have been subjected to a 300 percent tariff if they were imported from Canada. Boeing's chief competitor Airbus took a majority stake in the Bombardier program last summer and renamed the plane, originally known as the C Series, the A220.

Delta intended to debut the A220 on Jan. 31 but said the partial government shutdown, which left Federal Aviation Administration safety inspectors furloughed, delayed its final approvals from the government.

One of the plane's main selling points is its range: nearly 3,400 miles.

"Compared to everything else in its size class it's unprecedented," said Richard Aboulafia, an aircraft analyst and vice president at the Teal Group.

Delta Air Lines' Airbus A220 inaugural flight from New York's La Guardia Airport to Boston on Feb. 7, 2019.
Leslie Josephs/CNBC

In addition to Boston and Dallas, Delta is planning to serve Houston, Minneapolis, Detroit and Salt Lake City on the A220. Delta last month increased its order for the planes and added some of the larger model, the A220-300, for a total of 90 A220 jets.

The planes have 109 seats, with 12 in first class, 15 in Delta's extra-legroom seats, Comfort+, and 82 in standard economy, with a 3-2 configuration.

The once slow-selling plane this year won orders from JetBlue Airways as well as JetBlue's founder and former CEO David Neeleman, who is in the process of starting a new airline. Spirit Airlines is considering adding the jets to its fleet. Delta partner Korean Air already flies the Airbus A220-300, and it is also flown by Swiss and Air Baltic.

Correction: This story was revised to correct the day of the inaugural flights.