Before I start out with another series of trip reports, I am happy to inform you all that there is a new pilot in the house! It has been quite a long & intensive training program, but I have finally completed my stage flight, and I am a private pilot. Now I begin a long road to ATPL, but one’s gotta start somewhere!
WINTER 2017 - WHAT DO WE DO? WHERE DO WE GO NOW?
There were plenty of options on the table for what we were to do for winter break 2017. A three week window. My mother really wanted to do a trip to Vietnam & Cambodia. What helped was the fact that our ex-neighbors would be in Cambodia during that time. I looked up itineraries for me and this was by far my best opportunity to log an A350 flight with China Airlines. Roll on a few weeks back home - I came up with a brilliant idea - how about my mum came to the USA and we’d travel around in the south where it would be warmer than the frigid north. We went as far as booking a Kolkata - Chicago - Kolkata itinerary, before the Air India website coughed up a little bit: the credit card payment did not go through, unfortunately.
Well, we decided to hold it off a little bit. Once I came back to the USA in June I was told that it would make more sense for me if I were to go back to India again, and we’d travel around in the north - places I haven’t been to. Well, it was on to the usual rounds of finding best & cheapest ticket prices for me. In the end, it worked out that JFK would once again be my international flight departure and arrival point. However, how about I keep this introduction short & relevant, and talk about the selection of airlines in the next trip report. :)
WINTERS IN THE MIDWEST….
As I have mentioned in past reports, winters are a bad bad time up here. Usually works out to be okay but when it gets bad it gets really freaking bad. With that being said the international flights were on a different itinerary. This meant that if my domestic flights were delayed, I needed time to make sure it all worked out. That factor in mind, the international flights were booked for Sunday December 17th.
My only option was a Friday evening (15th December) departure out of Grand Forks. Fargo, Bemidji, Winnipeg were out of the question because of them being comparable fares on GFK-JFK (hah, again!) and the extra hassle of driving. I also had an exam that morning (8am exams should be outlawed). The 1715 departure worked well, with the last departure out of Minneapolis to New York JFK departing at 2010 hours.
While I had plenty of time on the way back, I needed the GFK-MSP flight to arrive on time. Although, there have been much shorter connections that I have been able to make. Furthermore, the fact that I had pretty much 2 days before the crucial international flights, I knew that I would have had my back saved in the event of weather.
Keeping an eye out during the fall in to winter: even if Grand Forks had visibility of above that of CAT 2 ILS minima, the flights would get delayed. I was hoping for the best, but I knew I was more prepared than last time.
Finals week was a fun one. As exams came through, I had to stat packing. Snow was around - and it was expected to pick up right about when I was to depart. Perfect. However, it was going to be light snow, not so much a full blown blizzard. I was preparing for the worst.
Departure day, and instantly in a spot of bother. The plane, N463SW, was delayed by a whole 2 hours departing out of Detroit to Madison. Be me, some one who panics easily, started to freak out pretty quick. In addition, a bit of a wobbly exam at 8am. Ugh. I spent the rest of the day napping & packing, in no particular order. I kept an eye on the different weather sources: the snow shower coming in would be light, so I was pretty confident of heading out on schedule, de-icing time included. Furthermore, given padded schedules the CRJ continuously made up time during the day’s rotation: MSP-GFK would depart about 15 minutes late, and everything back on track, on time.
Left for the airport a little early. With absolutely nothing to see at airport (given that UND was No Fly..) I was in for a bit of a long wait starting at 1540 hours CST. As predicted, the snow picked up a little bit, but nothing too significant. IFR conditions were in effect, visibility of 2SM. Normal.
‘Here we go again’ I said to myself as I attempted to fly GFK-JFK for the second time, the last time going a little of the rails as MSP-JFK was delayed by over 4 hours, my date with a MD-88 coming to naught. Checked in, everything looked well in order.
N463SW was expected to make a before-time arrival. Everything looked so well. Headed to security at 1606 hours, but I waited just a little bit. Once this was done, it all started turn on it head….
….a text, an email. At the same time. I had some flashbacks to a few months ago when DL411 kept getting delayed. And sure enough, it was from Delta: DL4751 was now delayed by 1hr40min, the plane still heading to Grand Forks. Soon enough my worst fears were confirmed: the snow wasn’t intense, but it was enough to deem the runways unusable.
The trucks were out doing their best to get it all cleared up, but it meant the CRJ had to divert back to Minneapolis. The announcement also made sure to let us know that they’d be working out rebooking passengers depending on connection times. 1hr40min connection for me, but they told me I was still safe.
Skeptical, a little concerned, but stronger than the previous two times - I waited and worked out my options. I had built in an extra day to tour around New York, but I guess I would have to give that. My friends would be driving down to Minneapolis for an afternoon departure on Saturday December 16th. The refreshments cart rolled up as another delay was announced, this time confirming that I won’t make DL2214 from MSP to JFK that night. Walked up to the podium and asked them for my options - I knew I was not going to spend an entire night at MSP airport. I was inclining more towards a morning GFK departure, or an afternoon departure.
They offered me a GFK-MSP-JFK option the next day, but I wanted to be on the MSP-JFK leg only. A wasted flight, essentially. But one can’t trust the smaller airports that are quite prone to such delays, unfortunately. I wasn’t going to take any chances with another storm that was expected to hit GFK, and I requested to be put on the 1502 hours out of MSP. It was a bit of a struggle while they booked me DL444 the next day.
ANOTHER NIGHT IN GRAND FORKS…
With that sorted, I left the airport and drove back to a friend’s place before the girlfriend got off work. Always nice to chill out with a dog…
DL4751 was now delayed by over 3 hours, but it had finally departed MSP heading up to GFK, following the late night flight which was remarkably on schedule. It was at this point I realized that I was still technically booked on DL4751, with a 16hour layover at MSP. Hmm, am I a now show then?!
Remember when I told you about BvL? He works for Delta at GFK. He recommended me to call up reservations - but of course there was a 2hour wait. While there was not much he could do, he gave me some tips and tricks to help make sure I could work this out the most efficient way. It was a race against time - I had to make sure that I wasn’t a no-show for the first part of this itinerary, else it throws the entire trip out. A hurried drive back to the airport as I saw the two CRJs pulled in - I was still able to pass through security & to the gate and make sure if I was still OK to not be a no show - a hesitant confirmation followed by ‘please contact our call center’ threw me in some real deep water. I was hoping for the best as I got home & called up Delta - but this time I was able to ‘hold’ my position & they’d call up.
All said and done - it was a pretty nice evening chilling with the girlfriend after a rough week of finals. Being in & out of sleep - my phone rang - it was Delta! It took me some time to try and explain the situation, not helped by the fact that the lady on the phone said to me ‘well you missed your first connection, so there is nothing much to be done’. Turns out, team GFK actually did mess up my itinerary. They did put me on DL4751, for which I was a no show. Eventually, in my email was the itinerary with the revised date & flights. It now read: DL444 MSP JFK 1502 1845 16DEC17 A319 DL461 JFK MSP 0710 0944 07JAN18 B717-200 Seat 26A (3hr26min layover) DL3896 MSP GFK 1310 1441 07JAN18 CRJ-200 Seat 5D (opby Endeavor Air)
DEPARTURE DAY: ATTEMPT 2!
A good night’s sleep followed before the drive down to MSP: we departed promptly at 0824 hours CST. The storm was a few hours way, we’d beat it easily. A good long 4.5 hour drive on the cold & slippery roads - I was at MSP Airport T1 at 1326 hours, 1.5 hours before departure.
Of course, kiosk check in did not work because of the mess my new ticket was in: the agent took her time at the desk, and I nervously asked if everything is OK: ‘oh its just fine - whoever made the changes did a really good job and I’m just confirming everything’. Fantastic! Everything was back in order, nice and well! Boarding toilet paper pass showed that my seat would be assigned at the gate.
Security took just under 15 minutes which was not bad at all. No issues. DL444 would departed from Concourse D - the first time I’d be departing or arriving at this one! With that, I have been to every concourse of MSP T1 - T2 G&H remain….
ONWARDS TO CONCOURSE D
At gate D4 sate N323NB, an ex-Northwest Airbus A319-114, a 16.8 year old bird. This one spent the night at Edmonton before flying to Minneapolis as DL2247, and spent the entire day at D4. Usually a B717 flight, the day’s DL444 was unfortunately on an A319. DL444 would continue to Rome on N832MH, a B767-400ER. A request for window seat was honored - it would be seat 24A for me, at the back, but I’ll take any window, any day!
Headed up to the observation deck, as always: it was calm before the late afternoon storm. No, not the snow storm (Dear God no!!), but the flurry of Delta departures starting at 1445 all the way to 1630. It was nice to see the odd Sun Country amongst the Deltas. I had to hit up McDonalds for brunch…at 1415, yes. 45 minutes before departure.
And just on cue - 1434 hours, 28 minutes before departure, boarding was called. This also included a request to passengers to keep to their seat assignments as the weight balance had been optimized for best performance. Interesting. Some child would not stay still - he proceeded to run down, almost to the jet bride to the horror of Delta staff asking him to ‘stop stop stop!’ I got this hilarious encounter on camera, so I shamelessly ask you to check out the video trip report :)
My boarding group was one of the first, so I was in line as soon as boarding was called. Everything was looking really good. A screen at the door showed how long to departure - a countdown. T-21m44s as I boarded the plane.
A true testament to Delta’s dedication to customer satisfaction I was very impressed to see a mood-lit cabin in addition to some very comfortable & modern seats. The crew were around with the odd smile, and guiding passengers. Typical, nothing extraordinary.
I took my seat 24F: the last of the cabbage was being loaded up, and I had a decent view of the activity as the baggage hold door was right below me. Yes, it got very loud as the door was being secured.
This was my first ever flight on a Delta Airbus: the IFE was the exact same as on the B767 from just under 2 years ago (from the date of this flight). Captain briefed us about the flight: New York was reporting mostly clear skies, good visibility, winds from the west, 37F - before proceeding to explaining the barking sounds of the airplane, most common on Airbus. Interesting!!
Legroom @ 31 inches
We pushed back at 1501 hours - a minute before departure time. The CFM56-5A5 engine was promptly fired up as we taxied to 12L. That’s when the second one was fired up, and that’s when we were welcomed onboard, haha. It was a busy busy start for the crew on this flight.
Had some traffic in front in the form a B717, but we took off towards the SouthEast within 12 minutes of pushback. Everything was looking really good for a before-time arrival in to JFK. A smooth take off with minimal bumps - nice and easy before we surfaced above the clouds.
The sun slowly started to set - I tucked in to the IFE for this flight. Suffice to say there was more than enough to keep folks entertained for more than 8 hours even. However, as with most short haul flights I stuck to checking out the moving map. Climbed up to 35000 feet. For the most part this flight was quite uneventful until….
….the tailwinds happened. Eastbound, in the middle of winder: we reached an altitude high enough to take advantage of a tail wind that was clocked in at 181km/h (114mph)! Not surprisingly, our groundspeed read 985kmh (612mph)! Well on course to complete this flight in exactly 2 hours. Insane!
Flight info: on screen & wifi
The seat pocket contents on Delta were aplenty, while at the same time most of these could be found on the IFE screen as well. Interesting. The magazine had lovely information of Delta’s now historic Boeing 747 - I remember a friend’s Snapchat that read ‘this right here kids - is history’ as the Delta B747 taxied to the runway one last time in Atlanta.
In addition to the IFE there was free instant messaging on Delta’s WiFi. This is by far the biggest step forward in terms of liberalizing WiFi for customers by American airlines. Awesome stuff. I was able to stay in touch with Grand Forks, and update Kolkata on my progress as I began the first leg of the long journey on a high after the initial wobble. WiFi options:
I settled to watch the Simpsons for a little bit - constantly switching between that & the flight info page to see if the tailwinds were any higher.
Service started at a sedate rate - the crew were in no rush. I appreciate Delta’s ‘variety’ in snacks on these flights: the almonds and granola bar were a welcome change compared to the usual peanuts and pretzels (I have written about this previously, as well), but nothing quite beats the fare on an Indian airline, but that’s just the way it is. Got an apple juice with this 50 minutes in to the flight. We were half way there (livin’ on a prayer… :P ) Food options:
Last of the sunlight diesappread which was the cue for the crew to turn off all of the lights as the winds blew us over further east: we peak a tailwind of 248km/h(155mph) and a groundspeed of 1074km/h(665mph). I honestly cannot think of anything faster that I’ve experienced, and this was awesome! Drifted in and out of sleep as we approached the closing stages of the flight.
Less than half an hour before touchdown, pitch down, power reduced, spoilers deployed: we were on our way down towards New York - and finally my arrival in to JFK after the two hiccups! It was 1740 hours EST - over an hour before the scheduled time of arrival. Unfortunately a lot of tailwind advantage was negated by the circling pattern close to New York - this however did not delay us much whatsoever. A 45 minute advantage reduced to a 30 minute advantage.
Descended through the clouds as we made a smooth touchdown at 1815 hours, 2hr03min in flight, 30 minutes before time.
TAILWIND 0 - 1 NEW YORK JFK
But of course, we didn't enjoy the advantage of an early arrival. New York JFK had other plans. Once we taxied off the runway, unfortunately, things took a turn for the slow road. JFK’s terminals & parking bays were packed. We had to hold on several taxiways before taxiing to gate C64. We spent 41 minutes taxiing! I didn’t mind - the total delay was a mere 11 minutes, I was in NYC, my trip was well on track. Quite a few great planes to see: including Etihad A380, several Delta B767-400s, Aeroflot, Air France, etc. Loved being at JFK again!
Darkened while taxiing
There was a B737 at our gate that got delayed a little bit - so had to wait for the crew to marshall out that one before getting us in. The culprit…
This plane would head to Orlando as DL2786 with a delay of 2 hours. Bags were offloaded as soon as the engines were cut - all passengers had to negotiate their way through a busy Concourse C in T2. Winter time!
Suitcase took some time to come. The entire arrival at JFK was a bit of a damper compared to what had been a pretty respectable flight and ground operations on Delta. Not bad at all.
Best I could manage of the iconic T5 - woe is me….
Hint for the next report: it is right in this picture :) :) :)
I reunited with my cousins in Manhattan - a quick walk in the concrete jungle followed by an amazing BBQ dinner followed. My holiday was officially underway, and things only got bigger from here! Grand Tour ads everywhere!
Formula One fans: remember when this was a thing? Or for better (or worse?) remember when they won championships? Yeah….
Delta Air Lines
Minneapolis - MSP
New York - JFK
Honestly, there is not much to criticize Delta (and their regional partners) about. Other than the mistake in the booking which was way too much anxiety due to a case of simple human error, and the slightly slow procedures at JFK (but I will make a consideration given winters are busy), this was one of the better flights with Delta that I have experienced. Booking taken care of well with the call center in action, efficient in MSP, fantastic redesign of the cabin, excellent IFE and snacks those are a little different - I was left a happy camper at the end of it all. Top job, Delta!
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