The A330neo: An unlikely passenger experience trailblazer

by John Walton
October 05, 2019
Photo: Chris Rank/ Rank Studios

You might not think that the A330neo — the re-engined, re-winglet version of Airbus’ 1990 A330ceo twinjet — would be the kind of aircraft that would be breaking passenger experience ground.

Surely, you’d say, that sort of honor belongs to the first of a new type of aircraft: the 747, the A380, and so on.

But in the context of a passenger experience supplier industry that has been plagued with production rate and quality issues, and where much of the movement in recent years has been around incremental improvements, the A330neo has been showing its versatility.

(This may well come as something of an irony to those of us who remember the somewhat tumultuous period where Airbus created the A350 to be something very similar to the A330neo, then turned its “plastic fantastic” into the completely new A350 XWB while keeping the older aircraft. The neo didn’t sell like hotcakes to start with, but it’s now been ordered by a surprising range of airlines from AirAsia X to Virgin Atlantic, passing by such a diverse customer base Aircalin, Air Mauritius, Delta, TAP Air Portugal and others.)

Look at the Delta ONE Suites, the highly branded version of the Thompson Vantage XL+ doored suite that a number of other airlines are using now.

The work Airbus has done on the A330neo cabin has been well received. Photo: Chris Rank/ Rank StudiosAs airlines and the rest of the industry struggle to figure out what the real answer to the privacy question is — and it may not, at the end of the day, be doors — one of the key issues was how to fit the extra few inches needed for doors onto the narrower widebody cabins like the A330 and 787.

This may seem, of course, to be the very definition of a first-class problem, or at least a business class one.

READ: United seeks to recruit 10,000 pilots over the next decade.

But business class remains the lifeblood of many routes, particularly the lucrative ones where the twenty-nine Delta ONE passengers will be traveling.

Airlines are competing against each other on the basis of passenger experience in the pointy end like never before, particularly as airline loyalty evolves.

Delta and Thompson have done some smart work here, thinning out the aisle-side door structure from the version introduced to the Boeing 777 to an impressive extent.

It does not, however, look integrated: the way the doors seemingly attach to the side of the curving seat shroud is a little strange and gives the “stuck on” look that plagues many early door models.

A330 neo Delta
Delta One seating in the new A330neo. Photo: Chris Rank/ Rank Studios

Within and around each seat, Delta has also lightened up the space to make the most of the latest-generation mood lighting for cabin design and decoration.

Interestingly, though, the bright red Delta accents in the storage space have disappeared, although this rejigs of how the space available to passengers seems to be planned.

“Each suite features a fully flat-bed seat with direct aisle access, as well as more stowage for personal items, larger in-flight entertainment screens and memory foam enhanced comfort cushions,” says the airline, noting that “using customer feedback, the Delta One suites on the A330-900neo have been redesigned to allow for a larger workspace and more stowage.”

The product looks great and is likely to be a product of choice for many passengers on the transpacific (largely US-East Asia) routes where it is being deployed: Seoul and Tokyo Narita join Shanghai as destinations from the airline’s Seattle hub this month.

And I can’t help thinking that this is particularly noteworthy for the industry.

A year ago, Thompson managed to slim down Vantage XL for the slightly wider Boeing 787 fuselage, for Shanghai Airlines.

That it can now do the same for the A330 — the narrowest of the widebodies in current production, which of course excludes the Boeing 767 as that aircraft approaches the sunset of its operational lifespan — is truly impressive.

Crucially, it rather throws down the gauntlet to other seatmakers and their airline customers. Can your seat do privacy on an A330? If not, are you buying the right seat?