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

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LGA-CVG-TRI on Delta 20 July 2009

DL 1211 LGA-CVG 6:05 AM-8:07 AM 737-800 Seat 1A
DL 6519 CVG-TRI 11:05 AM-12:10 PM CRJ Seat 8B Exit

If a day of flying could be called perfect, then today would have been that day, except for the part about having to get up at 3:00 am, that is!

I arrived at LaGuardia expecting quite a wait at the security checkpoint, but the first class/elite line has been reopened since Clear went out of business, and it was not too bad.  I passed through in about 10 minutes and had some spare time to spend in the Delta Sky Club.

When I arrived at the gate, boarding had already started.  As I got in line to board, I noticed a TSA agent randomly double-checking IDs and boarding passes and I was selected for the second check.

The only complaint I had during boarding was that the flight attendant apparently did not notice I was newly boarded, so I was never offered a pre-departure beverage like others in first class were.  We pushed back a couple of minutes early and were airborne by 6:21 am.  The flight attendant offered a full beverage and snack basket service and I made up for not having a pre-departure drink, as the flight attendant served me two very strong Bloody Marys.  We landed a few minutes late at 8:11 am, but that was not an issue for me as I had nearly three hours in Cincinnati.  I spent those hours in the Concourse A Delta Sky Club enjoying the complimentary Internet and snacks.

I arrived at the gate of my connecting flight and boarding began shortly thereafter.  We boarded quickly and the flight was full.  We pushed back on time and were airborne at 11:15 am.  I was expecting to hear the “due to the short duration, there is no beverage or snack service scheduled for this flight” excuse for no in-flight service, but the flight attendant instead offered a full beverage and snack service and gave every customer both the peanuts and the Biscoffs.  During a flight that was 40 minutes from take off to touch down, she was able to provide the full, in-flight service to everyone who wanted it.  Kudos to her for doing her job and doing it well!  We landed at 11:55 am, 15 minutes early.

LGA-ATL-TRI on Delta 10 May 2009

DL 427 LGA-ATL 1255A-327P 757-200 4B First Class
DL 5086 ATL-TRI 415P-519P CRJ-200 Seat 8B exit changed to DL 5762 ATL-TRI 5:18P-6:45P Saab 340 Seat 6C Exit

This was another relatively uneventful trip on Delta.  I’ve been really impressed with Delta’s consistency and upgraded service in first class.

We departed the gate on time at LGA, but took an ATC delay departing LGA into ATL.  We took off around 1:30 pm. Service in first class consisted of a pre-departure beverage, hot towels before the meal, and a meal choice of a turkey sandwich or a chef’s salad.  I selected the salad and it was accompanied by a bowl of fresh fruit, breadsticks, and a brownie.  I skipped the brownie.  This was an older 752 with overhead IFE, so I did not watch any of the television-like programming.  Although we departed later than expected, we still arrived on time.

I deplaned and hurried to my connection.  We boarded, then the crew discovered a maintenance issue.  We sat on the plane at the gate about 45 minutes before they allowed us to deplane.  At that point, I figured I needed a backup plan just in case the flight canceled, so I proceeded to the nearest Delta Sky Club for assistance.  The club agent didn’t just back me up, but immediately put me on the next flight to TRI in seat 2A, which was listed as on time.  I hurried to that gate and discovered that the aircraft was a Northwest/Mesaba Saab 340 operating as a Delta Connection flight, my least favorite aircraft of any I have flown.  We boarded and when my boarding pass was scanned, I had been reassigned an exit row seat, which was a pleasant surprise.  Once we were aboard, I noticed that this Saab seemed to be in much better condition and more comfortable than the two previous Saabs I had flown, so I was slightly relieved.  We took off a few minutes past scheduled departure around 5:30 pm and the flight was one hour en route.  The flight attendant provided a full beverage service with Pepsi beverages as per Northwest’s contract, but Delta snacks, peanuts or Biscoffs.  The plastic drink cups were also Delta/Coca-Cola branded.  The flight turned out to be much better than I expected and we landed about 15 minutes early, around 6:30 pm and earlier than my original flight.

TRI-CVG-LGA on Delta 24 April 2009

DL 6027 TRI-CVG 615P-720P seat 12A EMB-145
DL 1218 CVG-LGA 800P-1005P seat 3B First Class 737-800

This trip was flawless.  I arrived at TRI about an hour before my flight, reprinted my boarding pass at the kiosk, and passed quickly through security.  I spent about 15 minutes in the TRI Business Center, aka our lounge, except without food.  Apparently most of the power outlets in there are not operational anymore, as I tried three cubicles, no go.

We boarded quickly, pushed back about 10 minutes early, and were airborne about five minutes early.  In-flight service was by request only.  We landed at 7:01 pm, 19 minutes earlier than scheduled, which gave me a quick 15 minutes in the Delta Sky Club in Concourse B at CVG.  My snacks included a glass of Chardonnay, chicken salad, chickpea salad with yogurt drizzle, and mixed nuts.

When I arrived at my gate, the plane was already boarding.  When I arrived at my seat, there was a pillow, blanket, and mini bottle of Dasani.  The flight attendant took my pre-departure drink order and I had an Amstel Light.

We pushed back early and departed about 10 minutes past scheduled departure.  In-flight services consisted of a full beverage and snack basket service and Delta television, which included “How I Met Your Mother,” “Big Bang Theory,” and “Delta Destinations.”  The snack basket contained Twix® bars, Biscoff cookies, Pretzel Crisps®, and peanuts. I had two of Delta’s signature margaritas made with tequila and Rande Gerber Midnight Bar Collection MixWe landed at 9:37 pm, 28 minutes early, which might be a record into LaGuardia!

12 Days of Travel: Days 4-7

April 4, 2009

Not much to write about here!  Spent a lazy day in Yonkers, NY, at my fiancé’s apartment while he had to work from home!

April 5, 2009

US 4175 LGA-ROA 1:40 PM-3:58 PM  Seat 4C Exit Dash 8 -100

We boarded and departed the gate early.  Our actual takeoff was at 2:02 pm and we landed at 3:52 pm.  We had a full in flight beverage service and I bought a Bloody Mary for $7.  I tried to buy a Power Nap Sack just to see what it looked like, but when the flight attendant went to get me one, she discovered they had not given her any to sell.  Note to US Airways:  You can’t sell them if you don’t have them to sell!

I after arriving in Roanoke, I had to pick up some items at Macy’s and fill my gar with gas before heading to the Hampton Inn.  I stayed in and ordered Domino’s.  I also had an awful case of insomnia and could not sleep.

April 6, 2009

US 4465 ROA-CLT 5:35 AM-6:37 AM Seat 11 C Exit Dash 8-300
US 307 CLT-PHX 7:30 AM-9:06 AM Seat 2C First Class A321

It took me only 20 minutes to drive five miles, reprint my boarding passes at the kiosk (as my faxed ones were messed up), and pass through security!  I had plenty of computer time in Roanoke.  We boarded quickly at 5:20 am and the door was shut at 5:29 am. We pushed back at 5:35 am and took off 5:41 am.  There was no in flight service.  We landed five minutes late at 6:42 am and arrived the gate at 6:50 am.

I made my connection to PHX, but the flight was already boarding, as I had to hike from gate E32B to B5! The aircraft was a new A321 and was completely booked in both classes (volunteers were sought). Because I arrived later in the boarding process, I had to put both of my bags under the seat because no overhead space remained. There was no offer of a pre-departure drink for me. We backed away from gate on time and took a departure delay. We took off at 7:53 am.

It was very bumpy the first 15 minutes.  I had to ask the flight attendant for a free blanket stashed over 1D/F as they were not provided in each seat as the pillows were.  When I pulled out the new tray table at my seat, I noticed it was narrower and curvier than the tray tables I was used to.  The new seats were two-tone royal blue/gray, firmer, narrower, with headrests.  Before the meal, we received a hot towel service.  Our breakfast was served on a plastic, paper-lined tray that was wider but shorter than new tray table.  I chose the omelette (lactose intolerant friends–cheese inside, be warned!) with diced green/red peppers on the top, potatoes, one link sausage (it looked more like kielbasa or italian but small), a croissant, and a bowl of grapes/strawberries on real dishes.  The funniest first class moment for me was when I discovered that the cutlery was silvertone plastic, not metal.  The food was edible, but very ordinary. US Airways is still behind Delta, Continental, etc., in both presentation and food quality.  I received a second drink, but after that, the flight attendants spent most of the time chatting in the galley as I dozed for about an hour and a half.  I was not asked if I wanted anything else until my seatmate got the flight attendant’s attention by waving at her about 35 minutes before landing, nor did the she pick up my empty cup and trash until that time.  She was quite surly and matronly and did not seem to enjoy her job.  We landed at 9:10 am, only four minutes past scheduled arrival.

In the afternoon, I had lunch with five FlyerTalk forum participants at Sam’s Café, a wonderful Southwestern grill restaurant in Biltmore Fashion Park in Phoenix.  I had the tuna and it was incredible!  In the evening, I attended the opening session of my conference and finally got to sleep!

April 7, 2009

Today was my conference, so I was in and out of sessions all day.  I must say the food at the Doubletree Paradise Valley Resort  is wonderful, as are the hotel grounds.  Scottsdale/Phoenix are beautiful this time of year!

12 Days of Travel: Day 3

Day 3 began very uneventfully, with breakfast and the final concurrent sessions of my conference at The Hotel Roanoke.  I did win a one-night stay with breakfast for two at the closing session, which was cool. I had lunch at the hotel before departing for the airport, peanut soup and a salmon Caesar salad. Yum!

3 Apr 2009
US 4158 ROA-LGA 4:48-6:45 PM Seat 4C Exit Dash 8-100

The wind in Roanoke had become quite blustery, with wind gusts up to 60 mph, and the weather in New York quite stormy, so I was anticipating some trouble.  And I was right, unfortunately.  The flight was originally delayed until midnight, then gradually easied back to 10:30 pm, 9:10 pm, then finally 8:50 pm.  I completely understood the weather and Air Traffic Control issues before me, but what bothered me was that the original gate agent in Roanoke was very uninformative.  For about three hours, she never made a general announcement in the boarding area, and people kept having to get up and ask her what was going on.  I personally got my updates from flightstats.com, usairways.com, and friends and family who checked other sources of information for me.  Finally another agent arrived and announced that he would update us every 30 minutes and/or if there was a change in the departure time.  Finally!

During my lengthly gate wait, I was thankful I had purchased food and had my computer, because it was a long sit. The Roanoke airport does not have anything past security except restrooms, gates, and a very small café, which closed around 7:30 pm.  The guy working in the café was nice enough to shout out a last call to us before he closed!

We finally boarded around 8:25 pm and after all was said and done, the plane was about half full.  I think some had left to try again tomorrow and some had managed to find other options.  However, US Airways did not transfer any tickets to other carriers when I was there.  All I heard the agent offer were flight options on US Airways the following day.

The wind was so strong when we boarded that the little Dash 8 was rocking at the gate.  We pushed back and were airborne by 6:44 pm, and was the climb out ever rocky!  That was probably one of the most turbulent takeoffs I’ve ever experienced.  Finally we got above the weather where it smoothed out considerably.

The in flight service was surprisingly good for an Express flight.  The flight attendant served us a full, complimentary beverage service, and gave us each three packages of Biscoffs.  I thought US Airways/US Airways Express discontinued free snacks, but apparently there was a stash of Biscoffs on board.  She also gave us each the entire can of our beverage of choice.

Our approach and landing into LaGuardia was also very turbulent and it seemed like the wind was still carrying us as we landed.  But we landed at 10:27 pm, making the total flight time one hour 43 minutes.  All-in-all, not a bad experience.  A nearly four-hour delay was certainly better than what could have been.

Airport Experience/Information Provided to Customers = D
In Flight Experience = A

March 7: TRI-ATL-SFO

DL 5130 TRI-ATL 4:25 pm – 5:31 pm 8B Exit

I arrived at TRI early to no line and no waiting for either check in or security.  It’s at these times that I love a small airport!  I went to the TRI Business Center to make a couple of phone calls.  For some reason, I was unable to get online with TRI’s free Wi-Fi, so I had to settle for BlackBerry only access.

We boarded early and quickly and we pushed back very early at 4:12 pm.  I had no seatmate!  We departed five minutes early at 4:20 pm and arrived at 4:56 pm, about 35 minutes before published arrival.  There was no in-flight service “due to the short duration,” but the flight attendant did pass through the cabin with cups of ice water.

Interim at the Delta SkyClub (formerly the Crown Room Club)

I met John at the B25 SkyClub location since our flight was scheduled to depart from B26.  We found a place with power outlets and enjoyed about an hour and a half of relaxation.  I had two of my own and half of John’s Atlanta Sweetwater microbrew beer.  Snacks included crackers, individually packaged white cheddar cheese, hummus in a baby food jar (LOL), olives, and Biscoffs.  I love their snacks, but they really need some plastic knives, forks, sporks, or something!  Eating olives with my fingers and dipping crackers into a jar seems so gauche, n’est-ce pas?

DL 47 ATL-SFO 7:10 pm – 9:39 pm 4C and 4D First Class 757-200 Transcontinental Configuration

While I was in the club, I realized that I left my cash at home and I was going to hit an ATM, but John said he had enough cash with him, so we went directly to the gate. When we arrived at the gate, the flight was already boarding.  I gave Breezeway boarding a whirl and it worked, the gate agent scanned my boarding pass ahead of most of the line, but John decided to wait in the long line.  When we got on board, he asked me if I felt rude using Breezeway boarding and I said no, I earned it!

When we arrived at our seats, we had a mini bottle of Dasani, a pillow, and blanket.  We received a full departure beverage service.  I had Amstel Light and John had Heineken.

We pushed back on time at 7:10 pm and were airborne by 7:28 pm.  The pilot announced our flight would be four hours 51 minutes en route with an early arrival.

Shortly after the bell rang signaling we were above 10,000 feet, a flight attendant came around and took our dinner order.  Our choices were penne pasta with tomato sauce or short ribs and mashed potatoes.  I had posted a thread on FlyerTalk a couple of days ago asking about current meals and someone had recommended the ribs, so we both selected that.  After the dinner order, another flight attendant came with hot towel service and when I say hot, I mean those towels were HOT.  We almost dropped them they were so hot.  After the hot towel service, a flight attendant came and took our drink orders and we both opted for Amstel Light this time.

Dinner arrived very soon after the drink order and I believe we selected the best option. The meal consisted of about six ounces of rib meat with sauce/gravy, a side of mashed potatoes, a side of mixed yellow squash and zucchini, a roll, a salad with creamy Italian dressing, and chocolate mousse cake.  I have to say that in my limited airplane meal experiences, this was the best airplane meal I have ever had.  The rib meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and juicy and the side of sauce/gravy was delicious.

We did not want for drinks at all during the flight.  The flight attendants were attentive and offered us refills about every 20 minutes or so.  John and I sampled the white wine selection and neither of us liked it very much, so he went back to beer and I tasted a glass of red wine.  I actually preferred the red to the white, which is rare for airplane wine.

For in-flight entertainment, I opted for DirectTV instead of a movie and I actually remembered my Bose headphones (I never bring them for short flights.)  I watched CNN until 8:00 pm, and then switched to NBC where they were replaying the opening episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” from 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm ET.  I have never seen an episode of this series.  However, I don’t think I have laughed that hard in a long time.  The challenge was baking and selling cupcakes on the streets of NYC for charity.  The men raised $49,449 and the women raised $62,257 (courtesy of winning a $15,000 taste test.)  The women’s team was comprised of celebrities like Joan Rivers (comedian), Melissa Rivers (always with Joan, TV host), Brandi Roderick (Playboy model), Annie Duke (poker champ), Khloe Kardashian (reality star), Claudia Jordan (model, “Deal or No Deal”), and T-Boz (from the musical group TLC.)  The men’s team, consisting of celebrities such as Brian McKnight (R&B singer), Jesse James (from “Monster Truck”), Tom Green (comedian), Dennis Rodman (basketball player), Scott Hamilton (figure skater), Clint Black (country singer), Herschel Walker (football player), and Andrew Dice Clay (comedian), had me laughing the entire time.  Andrew Dice Clay was by far the most egotistical, obnoxious, and funny character of the entire bunch, while Dennis Rodman was just plain arrogant.  I never watch reality TV, but I might watch this again, because I have never seen anything so dysfunctional.  However, Andrew Dice Clay was fired, so the next episode might not be as funny.

At 10:00 pm, I watched “Law and Order,” a very powerful episode about child slavery, and at 11:00 pm, I watched NBC NY local news.  I took off my headphones after the news so my ears could “breathe.”

I was also able to write this trip report during the flight, because this bird has real 110v power ports, no adaptors required.

Despite a fierce headwind the first half of our flight, we arrived SFO 23 minutes early at 9:16 pm.

If assigning a grade, I would give this flight experience an A+.  It exceeded my expectations.