Hello, and welcome to another quick trip to Asia with your humble flight-reporter. This time, I’m off to Beijing in Delta One. This trip was inspired by a very low YYZ-PEK business class fare that Delta offered for much of the first six months of this year. As it happens, this is a week before my birthday, so happy (early) birthday to me.
As a reminder, here’s the rundown of our agenda:
DL4062 YYZ-DTW - 7/3/2017 - Find it here! DL583 DTW-PVG - 7/3/2017 - Find it here! MU5105 SHA-PEK - 7/5/2017 - Find it here! DL188 PEK-DTW - 7/6/2017 - You are here DL6217 DTW-YYZ - 7/6/2017 - Coming soon(?)
I spent a rather lazy day and night at the Langham Place hotel near PEK, making good use of their lounge, catching up with a little bit of work as best one can behind the Great Firewall, and generally taking it easy.
I caught a 1:00 pm shuttle buss back to Beijing’s Terminal 2, from which I’d be departing. Outside, it was about 25 Celsius, about 9,000 per cent humidity, and raining quite heavily. Heavily enough that I wonder how likely we are to get out of Beijing on anything approaching schedule, given how quickly things can go sideways at this airport even with good weather. As of now, the story is that we’re on time. But I guess we’ll see. At least I knew my plane was here, having arrived from Detroit the night prior.
The bus dropped me off on the arrivals level of Beijing’s rather dated Terminal 2, but at least it wasn’t packed. I quickly decide I’ve had enough of the heat and humidity, head inside, and head upstairs, once my bag is swabbed for explosives at the door, of course.
In the international part of the departures level, it is quite busy. The second layer of security is here, before check-in, where all baggage is put through x-ray machines. There are about four lanes of inward passengers being fed onto one x-ray belt, so needless to say, given typical Chinese mannerisms around queuing, it’s pretty much anarchy. Nevertheless, I manage to get through in about ten minutes with all my stuff and my sanity intact.
Delta’s check-in is pretty easy to find just beyond the security check, and there’s no lineup for Sky Priority. I quickly have my boarding passes home to Toronto, and directions on how to find the new SkyTeam lounge here.
Customs is quick, but security takes about ten minutes, and is very thorough. My bag, which is chock-full of electronics, is basically disassembled and checked item by item, and run through the scanner three separate times. The wand-down after I go through the x-ray machine was extraordinarily thorough, yet doesn’t feel intrusive. All in all, not too bad.
The inside of the terminal is rather dark, and one is spit out into a hallway lined with retail. Of course.
I follow signage, and take the designated elevator up to the mezzanine level, where upon exiting the elevator, I find myself in the entrance of the new SkyTeam Lounge here. My boarding pass is checked and scanned, and I’m quickly welcomed inside.
The lounge is small compared to the Hong Kong version SkyTeam has recently opened, but very similar otherwise, with light-coloured wood dividers and accents, and little coffee tables with lots of power outlets found throughout the lounge.
A quick look out the rather large windows show that it has not become any nicer as I’ve made my way through the airport. In fact, it’s pouring so hard that it’s hard to tell there’s a tarmac out there.
In a few places, it’s obvious they’re having some leaks in here.
Aside from the main lounge space, there’s also a small media room, washrooms and showers.
There’s not much of a business centre, but there are a couple of computers and a printer, next to the signature “living wall” accent SkyTeam seems to use its alliance-run lounges.
The flight information display, which I’ll be watching like a hawk.
Looking back at the entrance area, where I came in from the elevator.
Some newspapers and magazines on offer, rather tastefully displayed.
The bar is decently stocked – but not pics. Ooops.
Some seating around the buffet area, which we saw upon arrival into the lounge.
Inside the buffet area, a drinks station with coffee, hot water, and juice.
Starting our way around the buffet, there’s some cookies and chips.
Fruit, preserves, and other accoutrements.
A few bakery items.
It appears there’s a made-to-order noodles offering. I know I’ll be checking that out.
Simple white rice.
Little potato gratins.
Some braised vegetables.
And finally, a couple of types of dim sum.
As instructed by the sign, I ask an attendant for the noodles. She tells me they’ll be about five minutes.
There’s no dedicated WiFi for the lounge, just the “regular” PEK free WiFi is available. In both Shanghai airports, I was able to log in by getting a code to my phone number by text. Here, the functionality is there, but it refuses to accept the code I receive. So I head over to the passport machine to get the code I need, and that works like a charm. WiFi is decent, by (admittedly low) Chinese standards. Corporate shot time!
As I’m done with the WFi, my noodles arrive. Not quite as good as the delicious MU PVG lounge noodles, but still pretty satisfying.
I also sample some of the other items. Everything is pretty good, although nothing’s outstanding.
As I enjoy my snack, I notice that outside, the rain has slowed down almost enough that it looks like we’re at an airport, not standing under a waterfall. So I guess that’s a good sign.
About 3:00, my Delta app pings me, and I think “Oh, here we go.” Fortunately, it’s not yet telling me we’re delayed. Instead, it’s just letting me know that there’s a gate change, from 17 to 8. At least, that’s the story at this moment. Oddly enough, though, while it’s still showing the correct flight number (DL188), it’s now showing the destination as Boston. I hope that’s a typo — or perhaps recognition that DL188 is actually a PEK-DTW-BOS flight, all told, although PEK-DTW and DTW-BOS are operated by different aircraft.
I haven’t heard otherwise, so I presume boarding is going to start on time, so I make my way out of the lounge at about 3:30, and take the short walk down to gate 8, where we’re departing from. When I get there, there are Delta flight attendants still sitting in the waiting area, while the flight crew are hanging out just past the gate.
It’s impossible to get a good view of our plane from here, although these is an interesting fleet of China Southern narrowbody Airbuses (Airbii?) at a nearby remote stand.
Over the next 20 minutes or so, things start to evolve. The flight crew goes aboard, followed by the flight attendants. There’s the non-stop noise of a dot-matrix printer, which is always a good sign. And an agent sets up the Sky Priority lane. A passenger in a wheelchair is even brought forward to the gate area.
But then, about 4:00 — 25 minutes after boarding was supposed to start — they announce that because of air traffic control, boarding will not begin until about 4:40, although we’re instructed to stay close to the gate.
About 5:00, boarding is finally called. Perhaps because it’s so delayed, there’s basically no queue formed — I just happened to be coming back from the trip to the washroom, and saw the couple of people standing by the Sky Priority lane start to hand over boarding passes, so I joined them, and was quickly on my way aboard. Of course, this being China, both my bags and myself had to be given a quick once-over. Y’know, in case the previous couple of layers of security hadn’t caught anything that may be catchable.
Finally, a look at our ride back to North America.
Flight: DL188 From: Beijing Capital (PEK) To: Detroit Wayne (DTW) Date: 7/6/2017 Aircraft: Airbus A330-200 Registration: N851NW Seat: 2A ATD (STD): 19:10 (16:30) ATA (STA): 19:23 (18:03)
For this flight, I’m in seat 2A, the forward-most port window seat on this A330-200. The seat is at once very similar to my 747 upper deck seat on the way over, and very different. It is equipped with the same Westin Heavenly bedding set up — a nice duvet, a small back support pillow, and a nice big main pillow. I really like DL’s bedding.
Along the outside wall of the pod, the amenity kit, slippers, a bottle of Evian water, and — offered to me before I can even sit down — a glass of champagne. That’s a nice welcome aboard. The service director, who offers the champagne, also welcomes me aboard by name as soon as it’s obvious which seat into which I’m about to take residence. She must have some trick for remembering all her pax names by seat assignment?
This wall also has all the ports — headphone jack, USB port, and AC power, lined up. The alignment is a bit different from the 747, though. Missing is the storage cubby up here, and the ports are aligned differently. The “table space” to the outside of the pod is decidedly narrower than on the 747, and the whole pod is decidedly closer to the window than on the Queen, all no doubt concessions needed to fit four across on the narrower frame of the 330.
Delta’s standard noise-cancelling headphones are over the flip-out reading light. They’re neither stellar nor bad, but they’re comfortable and sound good enough that I feel no urge to replace them with my own Bose set.
Legroom shot, and a look into the foot well — it feels a litle bit more narrow than on the 747.
There’s a cubby with literature on the front inside wall on the aisle, and another (not pictured) on the outside wall.
Another difference — while the outside armrest is stowed for takeoff, it’s a narrower total space, and lacks the stowage space found on the 747, which is just about perfect for storing bottles of water.
A look across the cabin as boarding is ongoing — the forward J cabin would end up about 80 per cent full on this particular day.
The champagne is of served-n-the-ground quality, but at least it’s good and cold, and a refill is promptly offered when I finish my first glass. So that’s good.
Continuing the tour of the pod, the forward wall houses the seat controls, the flip-out button for the IFE screen, and the IFE wired remoted, very similar to the 747 configuration.
The screen is the same, and just like elsewhere on the Delta fleet, we’re stuck in commercials during boarding.
Again, the disadvantage of port-side seats at the gate as that the view is not terribly exciting.
The amenity kit, deconstructed. The contents are the same as the hardsided case offered outbound, but this is a slightly different material for the softsided case. Again, my favourite things here are the socks and the little Tumi-branded pen.
The purser offers the menu, so let’s take a look.
She comes back moments later to take orders and I try to ask her if the beef is any good ex-PEK, and she replies that she knows the chicken is good “but really, it’s whatever you like.” She was okay, but didn’t really impress, unlike a couple of her subordinates, a pair of slightly older women who were both excellence in service.
Finally, at about 5:45, just over an hour behind schedule, we push back. It’s still a lovely day outside.
We quickly taxi past Terminal 2, anchored by this (delayed) flight to France. But that’s about all we do quickly. We end up in line, and moving very slowly, if at all.
About 25 minutes later, the captain finally comes on, and says there are six or seven planes in front of us for takeoff, and he estimates we’ll be somewhere between ten minutes and half an hour. Right. So I might as well get comfortable. Fortunately, unlike my outbound flight, this flight has new movies for July loaded, so I choose one I haven’t seen that seems interesting. It’s quite good, although not very uplifting.
Twenty minutes later, we’re crossing the airport and heading out for the runway on the far side of T3, taking us through Air China territory.
This is all taking quite some time, and it’s about 7:10 pm by the time we finally take our turn at the end of the runway. I’m starting to wonder if my scheduled 2:35 layover time in Detroit is going to be long enough. I sure hope it is, as I’m on the last scheduled DTW-YYZ flight of the day. But the way this trip is going, I have my doubts.
Without any (additional) delay, we’re on our way into the smoggy, cloudy, rainy, and generally delightful skies over Beijing.
I flip over to the moving map, and notice there’s something…. very different…. about this particular implementation. Like, namely, most of the map. I wondered if this was a commentary on the omni-present smog/fog in Beijing, but it would stay this way throughout the flight.
It takes a few minutes before we’re cleared to leave our seats, and when I do, I join the queue for the lav, both because I have to use it, and because I wish to change into the provided pajamas. I meant to get a picture, but failed to do so because with a bunch of people waiting behind me, I didn’t want to take any extra time.
There are two J-class lavs at the very front of the cabin — one of them is always available to pax, but the second one is located immediately aft of the flight deck, and behind a barricade door that flight crew can put in place, effectively making it the exclusive territory of the flight deck. On one hand, it means they don’t need to have a flight attendant blocking off the whole front of the plane when the flight deck wants out to have a stretch or a bathroom break. On the other hand, as in this case, it means that second forward lav is off-limits until someone gets around to unlocking it.
Back at my seat, a standard Delta hot towel is offered.
Service begins with warm nuts (not quite as good as on the outbound for some reason) and the drinks cart. I choose a Bloody Mary. I’m finally getting used to the lack of clams in this drink, although I have to admit, I do miss it. Americans really need to discover the joys of the Caesar.
Soup, salad, and appetizer are quickly offered, all on one tray.
I’m glad I decided to get to the soup first, because it’s not exactly piping hot. But it is quite good, with a soft, pleasant taste and a nice smooth texture, added to by the slight crunch of the dried chives.
Up next, the starter, which was a bit off, if quite enjoyable. The chicken and the scallops were quite good, with the chicken having a nice peppery presence to it. The prawn was just so-so.
The salad was quite an interesting mix of things. I appreciate that Delta tends to offer salads that aren’t all exactly the same, having become rather bored of the nearly identical salads always offered on Air Canada.
And, of course, one can never go wrong with a pretzel roll, can one?
As I finish the appetizers, my main is quickly brought out. It’d call it a mixed bag. The vegetables were rather boring and bland. The mashed potatoes were pretty good. And the steak was a bit overcooked, but not bad. Not as enjoyable as the steak on the outbound, though.
The dessert cart is circulating as I’m still eating my main, and the crew seems to be very on top of things — although it’s a bit aggressive if you happen to like a bit of breathing room between courses. When offered, I choose a cheese plate, and the coconut tart.
The cheeses are quite good — always an enjoyable after-dinner treat.
And the coconut tart was surprisingly good. I expected to like it, but I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.
Coffee was offered, but I declined, as I’d been up for quite a while now, so I’m looking forward to some shut-eye.
As my movie comes to an end, we’re proceeding northbound through China. We’re showing a likely arrival time of around 7:30, meaning I’ll have an hour to make my flight to Toronto. I’m not sure if I feel like that’s doable, or out of the range of possibility.
I try to check how things are looking on delta.com, but unfortunately WiFi isn’t working at this moment, so I put my notebook away. That’s one problem of the narrower shelf on the A330 version of this seat — my 13” MacBook Air barely fits on this shelf, hanging over the seat a bit. It fits tightly but comfortably on the 747.
With my intentions to go to sleep, I put on a movie I really have no interest in seeing, but seems likely to be calming enough to put me to sleep easily. My assumptions are correct. I’m asleep before we’re even introduced to the pandas.
The plan works! I wake up as we’re crossing the border between the Yukon and Northwest Territories, the movie long since over, and feeling pretty refreshed. We’re about five hours out of Detroit at this point.
A very friendly flight attendant passes by, and after noticing I’m awake, asks if I want anything. I request a Coke Zero and the dim sum mid-flight snack, both of which are quickly brought to me. The dim sum is pretty good, although a fairly small serving. It’s accompanied by some pretty good fruit, and a little square of chocolate.
As I eat, I select my next movie. Time for some fairly mindless action? You betcha. Kong Skull Island doesn’t exactly impress, but it’s entertaining, so I’m happy with it as an airplane movie.
As I finish my meal, the same flight attendant clearing my dishes asks if I want anything else. I request to try the Macallan, which is a nice little single malt and is new on-board since the last time I’ve flown Delta One. So new, in fact, the flight attendant isn’t sure what I’m talking about. But goes back to find it anyway. She comes back with the bottle, proclaiming “This is new! I haven’t seen it before!” Presented neat, it’s a very nice movie-time treat.
Mid-movie, it’s time to visit the lav, so I figure I’ll actually get some pics this time — this is the “immediately behind the flight deck” lav. It’s pretty basic, but it’ll do.
My Macallan is refilled as my movie comes to an end, and we’re about two and a half hours of Detroit, over northern Saskatchewan.
Next up, a movie with which I was not familiar, but sounds entertaining enough.
I check on WiFi as the movie starts, and it’s working again. It appears Delta shares my assessment of my chances of connection, and has gone ahead and protected me on the next-available DTW-YYZ flight, which is the next morning. Yep, that’s how this trip is going alright. But hopefully with Global Entry and Pre Check, it won’t come to that. If we get on the ground on-time, and don’t have to taxi for too long, I think I’ve got a half-decent shot.
But I guess we’ll find out in a few hours.
Meanwhile, I put my seat back in lounge position, and enjoy my movie and my scotch. No sense in stressing too much over something well out of my control.
Just over an hour before arrival — surprisingly late in the flight, actually — the lights come back on full, and hot towels are handed out. It’s breakfast time… albeit in the middle of the night, or the middle of the afternoon, depending on your perspectives on time zones.
Shortly, the table is set. A black coffee and orange juice to drink for this meal.
The pre-arrival meal is presented all at once. A flight attendant has two of the three available — the egg pie and the cereal — with her. No mention is made of the noodle dish. Perhaps with orders being taken back-to-front, they were out by the time they reached me.
The main course here was extraordinarily meh. Overall, very bland. The pie itself wasn’t bad, but lacked in flavour. The sausage was good. The pumpkin was boring, unseasoned, and mushy. But the biggest disappointment was the black bean and corn “salad.” The corn tasted, and had the consistency, of very old feed corn for cattle. Tough, dry, unchewable, tasteless. Not a good main course, and the biggest miss I’ve experienced in Delta One catering. I guess at least part of the blame should be laid at the feet of catering ex-PEK.
But hey, at least the fruit was fine.
The croissant was pretty good, with a little bit of butter and jam.
We’re about 40 minutes out of Detroit at this point, so let’s fine something else to watch. We may not get done, but at least it will be somewhat interesting.
As I eat, more breads are offered, including croissants and what are presented as danishes, but in reality turn out to be something more akin to pain au chocolate. It is delicious, and is decidedly the best part of this meal. I’m glad I went against form and had another item in this case.
The crew left it pretty much to the last minute to serve the pre-arrival meal. So much so, that although they quickly clear my table, and I spring up to get my clothes the second they do so, I’m greeted by the seat belt sign coming on just as I do. We’re at the top of our descent, and of course, that means the belts need to be on.
I’m usually pretty darned good about keeping my belt on when instructed to do so, but since things are pretty steady, and I’m pretty determined not to have to clear U.S. customs in my jammies, I head to the forward lavs and get changed. I’m not alone, and I’m not the last to do so.
Back at my seat, the service director pops by, and presents a pre-arrival Ferrero Rocher, thanking me for flying with them today. This crew was mostly very good, and the service director seemed fine, but was a little bit off-putting with a very over-the-top forced happiness to her. It’s a hard thing to nit-pick on, but if she could just tone it down to a warm friendliness, she’d have been great.
As we get closer, she pops by again to peer out my window, and comments that based on how it looks like we’re lining, it should be a short taxi. Yeah, I really hope so. Why would this, of all days, be the one time in the recent past that my connecting flight back to Toronto is flying out of the B/C concourse?
Shortly, we’re on final approach, and racing our shadow towards the ground.
It is, indeed, a short taxi, and this journey comes to a rest next to a stretch-75. As we’re waiting to disembark, the service director is chatting with a few of us about how her handheld device, which is supposed to be usable to look up connection information, etc. — something that would have been valuable on this flight, given it’s arriving quite late — is non-functional, and expresses some frustration leading me to believe it’s not quite the first time. Isn’t technology fun?!
But soon enough, the doors are open, and there’s no time to chat, or ruminate on service. I’ve got a plane to catch. Or do I?
I’ll pick it up from here, with my efforts to make it on my scheduled connecting flight and not end up stranded in DTW overnight, as well as the short hop home… whenever that may be. Anyone want to place their bets?
Thanks for joining me for this TPAC flight!
Delta Air Lines
Beijing - PEK
Detroit - DTW
A pretty good flight with a pretty good crew, despite the weather-induced delays and resultant stress. My only quibbles: The A330 D1 seat is good, but features a bunch of small downgrades from the 747 version o the same seat; and, the catering was a bit disappointing compared to what I’ve had on previous Delta One flights.
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