DL/CZ: CLT-ATL-LAX-CAN-KUL 23 Feb 2013 by Bruce

International Arrivals and China Immigration Hallway at Guangzhou, China airport

International Arrivals and China Immigration Hallway at Guangzhou, China airport

On Thursday, I was given the go ahead to travel to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and to be in the office on Tuesday. The customer specified that the travel budget including hotel was $4000. This left me rather short – searches on Delta, Air France and KLM were running over $5000. But a mixed itinerary brought it down to $2500: CLT-ATL-LAX on Delta, LAX-CAN-KUL on China Southern (CZ), KUL-PVG-JFK on China Eastern (MU) and JFK-CLT on Delta. Cheaper flights on Emirates or other carriers that are neither SkyTeam or  Star Alliance were closer to $2000. [It’s worth noting that I was having trouble finding this itinerary on my own, so I hired a Travel Messiah (TM) who was tremendously helpful.]

Friday afternoon, I was unable to check in on delta.com and nor was the TM. A call to Delta was similarly unhelpful – I was told that due to the number of segments, I had to check in at the airport. I was also unable to change my seat assignments for the CZ segments.

I arrived CLT on Saturday at 12:00, dropping my car at the Business Valet ($10/day instead of $7/day for long term lot). At the Delta ticket counter, the ticket agent (TA) had a few challenges getting me checked in, but managed to figure it out. A bag tag with four segments was printed and a Priority tag attached. My passport was reviewed. Four boarding passes (BPs) were printed as well, including an upgrade for the first short segment.

Boarding for CLT-ATL was called at 13:15 and I took seat 3D in F on this 737. Pre-departure drinks were offered and I took advantage of a gin and tonic. In the air, another drink service and the snack basket which had peanuts, pretzels and Biscoffs. Each passenger in F was thanked for their business by the flight attendant (FA). With my Gold status and an international itinerary, I was able to access the Delta Sky Club in ATL where I grabbed some snacks and power.

No upgrade on ATL-LAX, I had 10G on a 767. Bulkhead row. One drink service cart with buy-on-board was offered. Gogo In-flight Internet was not operational, several satellite channels on the in-flight entertainment (IFE) were not working and there was no power at the seat. I did not hear an apology or announcement. The flight had significant turbulence almost the entire time. Arrival at LAX was still 10 minutes early.

I was warned that the walk to the international terminal was a headache, but it’s really not so bad. From T4, you walk past T5 (American) to the terminal. It took a while to find the ticket counter for CZ, but there was no one waiting in the Sky Priority lane when I arrived. My BPs were reprinted and I was able to slightly change my seat assignment from 79D (the last row, aisle) to 74A. I was also given a VIP Pass for the lounge.

The CZ lounge was pretty decent with sandwiches, serve yourself drinks and free wireless. A shower was also available. I stayed for about an hour before heading to the flight.

At the gate, several rope lines were set up for passengers based on seat and deck. No status other than business and first had separate queues. Boarding for the 22:00 departure commenced at 20:30. Yes, 90 minutes to board the plane and we pushed back on time. From there, a 30-minute taxi around the airport and past runway 7R to take off on 25L. I could see a wingtip escort car for most of the taxi and while it’s hard to judge distances, I am sure that we missed one light post and one hangar by less than six feet.

The upper deck on this CZ A380 configuration is 2-4-2 with storage bins between the window seat and the window. A pillow, an amenity kit (toothpaste, eye mask, etc.) and a thick blanket was on the seat. There was a 7-inch IFE in the seatback with no power outlet. While the extra storage was nice, it meant that there was nothing to lean against. And with all but five or six of the seats taken, there was no opportunity to switch to an open row. 79D would have been an AWFUL seat – it’s the last row and not only has limited recline, it is immediately next to the galley and lavatory area so there is constant foot traffic.

Until this flight, my longest had been 11 hours on AMS-IAH. LAX-CAN is 15 hours. Extreme! With my Bose QC15s, it was at least quiet but I was still not able to sleep. After pushback, they dimmed the lights for a half hour. And then turned them back up for dinner service, leaving the lights on for about two hours. Then the lights were dimmed until two hours prior to arrival.

Two meal services (Dinner: tuna salad appetizer, steamed cod with white rice and sliced fruit. Breakfast: quiche with tater tots and a slice of ham, a croissant and sliced fruit) and a few water services, but mostly the FAs were hiding. Since I couldn’t sleep, I watched three or four movies, a few sitcoms and tried to read. An hour before departure, it was time for final cleanup and seatbacks restored to upright. A few videos describing the China immigration and transit process were shown and then a 10-minute “flight exercises” video. And then 40 minutes of… nothing. Boring as hell.

China immigration was pleasant and quick as I was a transit passenger. A quick review of my passport and onward boarding pass, I got a stamp and was directed to the China Southern lounge in Guangzhou where I entered at about 05:30 AM. There were a couple of cold snacks that looked stale and a self-service fridge of drinks. Hot food started to arrive at around 06:30 which included meat buns, some sort of chicken in sauce and beef with wheat noodles. Aside from the time anachronism, it was pretty good. I left the lounge at 07:45 and made my way to the KUL departure gate.

The gate is a “commuter airline” set up with a large common area that smelled of cigarette smoke and eight gates. Boarding announcement in Chinese only, but I got the gist of it and had my “Economy Plus” boarding pass ready. A standing-room only bus took us to the hard stand where we made our way up the stairs into the three-class 737.

I saw no one in first class and of the 24 seats in Economy Plus, only three were occupied. A pillow and blanket were waiting and then the FA distributed small water bottles to us and then closed the curtains between the three sections. I had all three seats to myself and on the four-hour flight, I managed to sleep for an hour or so. Meal service was a chicken in sauce concoction with white rice and some sliced fruit. I wanted a drink at this point, and while the FA said they had gin, she did not have tonic. I stuck with water.

We arrived KUL on time. Baggage claim took about 15 minutes, but my Priority tagged suitcase was one of the first out for the Guangzhou flight. Immigration and Customs were extremely quick, even for foreign passport holders – ten minutes in queue and no visa is required for stays less than 90 days. Images of index fingerprints were taken.

Summary: From leaving home at 11:30 AM ET on Saturday to arriving at the hotel at 14:00 Malaysia time (13 hours ahead) on Monday (I lost Sunday crossing the International Date Line) makes for a very long trip, especially when you can’t sleep on the plane. Delta: Only a B due to the very high fare they offered and the broken IFE. China Southern: A- for nice lounges and on-board meals plus I appreciated the E+ upgrade.

Effective 1 March 2013, Delta has changed redemption for most economy fare classes on most partner airlines. Even though I’m flying 21309 miles, I will only earn 16709 MQM’s. Some fare classes earn zero! Serious bummer.

I’m sorry for the extended length of the TR, but this is the first time that I have ever flown a four-segment/three-country itinerary! The return on Wednesday, March 6 will be KUL-PVG-JFK-CLT and I will write upon my return.

Total Trip Cost: $ 2,529.40
Actual Airfare: $ 1,933.00
Actual Miles Flown: 21309 (http://www.gcmap.com/mapui?P=CLT-ATL-LAX-CAN-KUL-PVG-JFK-CLT&MS=wls&MP=r&DU=mi)
Yield: $ 0.091 per mile (0.116 per MQM)
Taxes & Fees: $ 596.40, 23.58% of ticket price

Advertisements

Delta versus United: A new Delta frequent flyer’s perspective by Bruce

I have flown fourteen segments on Delta in the last four weeks since I requested that they match my United Gold elite status to Delta’s Gold Medallion. In that time, I have experienced Delta in economy as a non-elite flyer (the status match request took three weeks to be processed) and in the first class cabin (50% upgrades so far). I have also seen how they handle irregular operations.

First of all, economy is about the same on Delta as on every other carrier: zone 4 or 5 boarding, no room in the overhead bins by the time you’re on the plane, small seat pitch, and your checked bags are not the first onto the carousel. That said, Delta’s aircraft (at least the Boeing 757/767, Airbus 319 and MD-88’s) are clean and functional. Longer flights have a beverage service with a choice of peanuts, Biscoff cookies or pretzels. On seven of my eight forty-minute flights between Charlotte and Atlanta, we did not have a beverage service “due to the short duration” and on the eighth, the flight attendants passed out mini bottles of Dasani.

Once my status match was processed, I was upgraded on two of my four segments. On the others, I have received Sky Priority boarding, which is ahead of Zone 1, and when I checked bags, they were yellow Priority tagged and were in the first few to arrive on the carousel.

On one of my trips, there was a ground traffic problem that caused our push-back to be delayed by 45 minutes. During that time, the Captain made announcements every 10 minutes with the status and he apologized for the delay. Arriving late in Atlanta, I missed my connection, which was the last flight to San Diego. Delta gave me a hotel voucher (the agent allowed me select the hotel), $22 in food vouchers, and a small amenity kit of personal care items. I understand that non-elite travelers receive a bit less.

For the replacement flight, Delta booked me in first class (I might have been upgraded, not sure). First class is top notch. On the long Atlanta to San Diego segment, we were served a full breakfast –cheese omelet with sausages and potatoes, a bowl of fruit, a toasted bagel and decent coffee. On a Charlotte-Detroit flight segment in first class, I was offered a pre-departure beverage (I chose a gin & tonic, which came with a squeezed lime), another one in flight (I was offered a third) and the snack basket.

Almost all of my flights had in-flight entertainment. In economy, the movies and TV shows are not free – usually a dollar for a half-hour show or $4 for a full length movie. When I got bored with my book, I watched the free satellite stations  – CNN, ESPN, TNT – and the broadcast networks.

Where is Delta better than United?

Delta’s flights have WiFi, which for many is a big deal but has not been for me. My work does not require that level of connectivity and I can’t justify $15 to surf for entertainment (though Delta’s website is free and they have also had free access to eBay). There are satellite stations on the in-flight TVs. Delta Sky Clubs have better snacks and drinks than United. I am truly sick of the three choices of wrapped cheese and the Walker’s shortbread cookies. (US Airways is an alliance partner of United and their snacks are awful!)

Where is United better than Delta?

I have had a few bumps with Delta’s app for Android where it gets confused with viewing my itineraries. United’s app has more features: you can actually book a flight on it and do basic searches for award bookings. Delta’s app has also gotten stuck a couple of times on loading itineraries and never completing the request. Both have flight status searches, airport maps, and searches for clubs. Searching for flights by schedule and by price is easier on United.com. Delta has hidden the price when I searched by schedule. Channel 9 allows you to listen to in-flight communications with ground control. Delta does not offer this.

So for now, I’m a happy Delta flyer. I would much rather connect in Houston or even Chicago rather than Atlanta. I find Atlanta a difficult airport to change concourses. I found that I needed at least 45 minutes, especially if you’re not in the front of the aircraft. However, Atlanta’s One Flew South restaurant is excellent if you have the time.

One Flew South: My Favorite Airport Restaurant/Bar

The Concourse E Burger at One Flew South

Since I am an elite flyer, I usually frequent airline pubs, er, clubs, for free libations. However, I make an exception in Atlanta. I don’t even mind being delayed in Atlanta because of this place. My favorite airport bar/pub/restaurant hands-down is One Flew South, even if I only want a drink and not food. They have by far the best cocktail and wine list of any airport bar, and if you do wish to eat, they also have an amazing menu of made-to-order appetizers and meals, as well as a sushi bar. What is even more surprising is that although it is described as an “upscale dining experience,” you are served very quickly. My last two visits have been about 45 minutes, from arrival to departure. If you inquire about how long it will take to receive your food and drink, the servers can answer with a preparation time for each item on the menu. If you do decide to eat, my personal favorites are the Chicken Noodle Soup, Concourse E Burger 1/2 pound Kobe, and Breast of Duck. Since I am a wino, I always go for a selection from their extensive wine list.

2009 Marc Brédif Chinon at One Flew South

If you’d like real-time information, please follow One Flew South on Facebook and Twitter.

Day 11: Dear Delta

Dear Delta,

I am a frequent flyer of 14 years and I love to travel, but travel days like August 15 are exhausting, stressful, and exasperating. May I say that I am glad to have a month off from air travel?

On a positive note, I would like to offer my praise to the pilots and flight attendants of the flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta. They performed above and beyond under conditions beyond their control. I especially appreciated the lead flight attendant who came to each first class row and thanked us for our loyalty, business, and patience. Sincere appreciation can do a world of good.

However, that being said, my travel day with you was very frustrating.  Our inbound plane at LaGuardia arrived late, so we boarded and pushed back late. The weather in the area was not good, so we spent an hour or so on the tarmac waiting to depart. Just as we had been given clearance to depart, the pilots discovered an electrical problem with the navigation system, so we lost our place in line and had to return the gate. We spent almost two hours on the plane waiting for maintenance to determine the problem, locate the part, and replace the part. We pushed back again and spent another hour waiting to depart due to weather and air traffic control. In total, we spent almost four hours aboard the plane and never got anywhere. That was followed by a two-hour flight with the usual inflight service: beverages, lunch (well, it was almost dinnertime!), on-demand inflight entertainment, and optional Gogo Inflight Internet.

During the mechanical delay, we were told that agents were working on rebooking us. I must advise that your personnel should only say that if it is true. I always proceed with caution and check for myself. I discovered that my itinerary hadn’t been touched, so I contacted my boyfriend prior to departure and asked him to have Delta back me up on my connecting flight. By the time we reached Atlanta, I had missed two possible connections, was on standby for another, and was confirmed on the last flight of the day. I must request from you to never subject me to a six-hour LGA-ATL flight again, OK?

Our plane arrived at concourse E and it was a sign to spend time at One Flew South, where I enjoyed their amazing chicken noodle soup and a glass of 2010 Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc.

I headed to the gate of the standby flight and luckily, I was cleared to board. Amazingly, this flight went off without a hitch, nor a wait on the runway, and we arrived at Tri-Cities (TRI) early. Even my bag made it.

In closing, I’d like to say thank you for the crew on the first flight and the good connecting flight. I am still exhausted, but perhaps a bit less exasperated today.

Sincerely,
Beth

There’s something in the water at Delta, and I like it!

There’s something in the water at Delta and I like it.

I flew four segments this weekend on Delta and Delta Connection and not only were the flights early, but the customer service was impressive.  And by service, I just don’t mean what the employees did, but how they did it and what they said. Every employee I encountered was genuinely friendly and customer-centered.  I was addressed by name on board and in the Delta Sky Clubs.  In fact, on my last flight, the flight attendant came to my seat, asked me if I was Ms. Smith, and personally thanked me for being Delta Gold Medallion.

On my flight from LaGuardia to Atlanta, the lead flight attendant was dressed in the pink uniform, to honor mothers on Mother’s Day.  She received applause from the passengers, and she continued to tell us that she had four grown children and had opted to work so that mothers with young children could enjoy the holiday.  Then she proceeded to tell us that if we had ever mentored a child, then we, too, were like mothers.  Wow.

At the end of the flight, she, too, thanked all Delta Medallion passengers for their loyalty.

On both flights today, the flight attendant introduced the crew by first and last name, and told us where they were based.

On Friday’s flight from Atlanta, the flight attendant recognized the military passengers and thanked them for their service.

On all flights, the pilots and flight attendants thanked passengers one by one for flying Delta as they were deplaning.

I am not sure if it’s the bottled Dasani or what, but I am loving the kindness that Delta employees are offering to passengers.  Kindness and respect are infectious, so I hope it continues.

Dear Delta Air Lines Customer Care

August 8, 2010

Dear Delta Air Lines Customer Care,

On August 4, 2010, I was scheduled to fly from Tri-Cities, through Atlanta, to Daytona Beach. I arrived at 10:00 am for my 11:17 am flight, DL 5462. I passed through security and 15 minutes later, I received an e-mail and telephone update that my flight was delayed and I had been re-accommodated. There was no gate agent past security to assist me and the other customers, so I had to call Delta to obtain a seat assignment, and my boyfriend waiting for me in Atlanta had to “re-check me in,” so that the system would put me in the upgrade queue. I also contacted @DeltaAssist via Twitter for re-confirmation of my new flight and to find out that the delay was mechanical. For nearly two hours, Delta-Mesaba did not provide a gate agent, nor were any announcements made about the delay until 11:53 am, 36 minutes AFTER the original departure time, when a gate agent arrived to deplane and board a flight from/to Detroit. At that time, she announced that the inbound plane from Atlanta was due in at 12:10 pm. That was it. At the time she arrived, she was not immediately busy, so I asked her if she would print my new connecting flight boarding pass and she refused, saying, “It would mess up my itinerary.”

I thought that not providing timely announcements, nor the reason for the delay, nor a gate agent to assist, was in violation of Delta’s Contract of Carriage.  The mechanical delay did result in me misconnecting in Atlanta and arriving in Daytona Beach three hours after my originally scheduled arrival. I was very disappointed in the lack of information, assistance, and the poor attitude of the gate agent, once she did arrive the gate area.  I hope that Delta will retrain the personnel at Tri-Cities, so that they perform in a more proactive, customer-friendly manner, in accordance with Delta’s Contract of Carriage.