Greetings Flight Report community and thanks for stopping by. I plan to share a series of flights that ticked off a couple of boxes on my airline nerd wish list. The first objective was to visit the second United Polaris Lounge to open, this time in SFO. Was United able to capture the excellent qualities of the ORD lounge in their second offering? The second objective was to experience The new Delta A350-900 and specifically the Delta One Suite product. Is a suite in J class a gimmick or substantive. With the goals in place let's have a quick discussion on how to accomplish them.
My trip on the Delta A350 would be of the NRSA variety so availability would dictate my route. At the time of this trip you could experience the A350 on DTW-NRT-DTW, DTW-ICN-DTW, DTW-PVG_DTW, DTW-PEK-DTW, and ATL-ICN-ATL. I honed in on the PEK route spotting good availability for a Saturday PEK departure. With this flight in mind I set about on getting to PEK, preferably on a Star carrier via SFO. The Polaris Lounge is available to United Business and First Class customers as well as those of Star Alliance members. As much as I enjoy a good lounge the idea of a TPAC flight in UA J was not a desirable one so I turned to the Star Alliance partners for help. I had United Miles to invest in this leg of the trip so I limited the scope of my search to J class as I don't find the UA F mileage redemption to be as good of a value. Of the Star carriers I would rank BR as my preferred J carrier with SQ and ANA coming in just behind. I located the BR space I needed to PEK but could only find it via LAX (although it was the Kitty flight so i was tempted). I set Expert flyer to watch the early morning SFO departures and 3 days before departure the email arrived that space was available on BR27. I quickly booked via united.com and prepared a whirlwind trip.
Carrier, route, equipment, class, lounge, and procurement method:
The bus ride from T3 to T2 was only about 10 minutes and the stop is just across the street from the terminal.
Terminal 2 at Bejing Capital Airport is quite a contrast to Terminal 3. T2 is much older in appearance and not nearly as inviting. There is a document check before you are able to proceed to the check in counters.
I arrived at 14:45, just over 2 hours before our scheduled departure time of 16:50. Flying NRSA (Non-Revenue Space Available) is a little different then a ticket on miles for cash. I presented my self at the check in counter and was checked in by the friendly agent. As an aside the agents appeared to be Delta employees rather than a contract or MU staff. I was told to return to a specific counter position at 15:50 to see if a seat would be available. Roger Wilco. This extra time allows them to sell the extra seats or cargo and even accommodate passengers from IROPS of other carriers. The thinking is that at T-60 they have a good idea of the number of passengers flying and the weight and balance of the airplane so if they assign a seat to me and send me through immigration and customs and security I have a high likelihood of flying on that flight. As a measure of comfort I am able to monitor the passenger load on the flight in real time via a company travel portal so I have a general idea of my chances. On this day there were at least 10 seats open in each cabin and I was the only NRSA waiting for a seat. These data points give me the impression that travel today on DL188 is likely.
I pass the hour dozing in a chair around the corner from the counter. I set an alarm on my phone in case I am asleep. I return to the specified counter at the agreed time and I'm asked to wait while the agent taps on the computer and makes a phone call. Eventually I am presented a boarding pass for 2C in Delta One. I am relieved and at the same time rushed as now there is only 50 minutes until stated departure time and I have yet to pass through immigration or security.
Much to my surprise I am through in only about 20 minutes and have time to pop into the Air China First and Business class lounge (Via Priority Pass) to use the toilet and drink some cold water. I'm sorry but I don't appear to have taken any pictures of the experience.
I make my way to gate 10 at 35 minutes before stated departure to find large queues of passengers and It's apparent that there will not be a 16:50 departure. I take a place in the Sky Priority line wait for boarding to commence. The line stretched all the way around the corner from the gate down the concourse.
I wasn't able to hear if announcements were being made in the gate area as to the delay. After about 15 minutes I was approached by a Delta staff and asked if I was Mr Socalnow. I identified myself by saying yes and she asked if I could come with her to the podium. Uh - Oh. This is always bad news for the NRSA flyer. I have a few sayings about NRSA travel and one is "beware the hand" as in it can pluck you right out of your comfortable seat at any time. It is only when the door is closed and the jet bridge is pulled away that an non-rev can relax and feel confident that they are traveling as planned. I felt the (figurative) hand tugging on my shirt collar with this interaction.
For some reason the entire NRSA process raises my heart rate and fills me with extra adrenaline. I'm not sure why. It's not a negative exhilaration rather just a heightened sensation. Anyhow, I'm feeling this now as I walk with the sweet young woman around the corner to the gate 10 podium area where I am introduced to another Delta staff, a young man this time. Perhaps we went to him as he was a strong English speaker. Anyhow he presented me with the news that several HVCs (High Value Custmers) upgraded at the last minute and there was now a shortage of Delta One meals so I could not travel in Delta One. I told him I understand completely and I require no meal service. Unfortunately this is against policy, for understandable reasons, the airline wants the same experience for all passengers in the premium cabin. I responded that I wasn't aware of that but I completely understand and I would like to re-enter China and come back tomorrow and try again. (I mean I came all this way to fly Delta One on the A350 so I could wait another day. I didn't offer this bit of information but that was my thinking.) I think he was surprised by my calmness and ease of letting go of the flight and he left me to make arrangements. I took a seat near the podium and waited. He returned after talking to some colleagues and making a phone call and offered a new plan. He said he would talk to the purser on the flight and if she agreed to carry me in spite of the meal counts that I could go. He also mentioned he had been talking to the catering company but they just could not get meals here fast enough. I re-iterated that I was very appreciative of his efforts but please do not take any extra steps on my account I can wait for the flight to depart and then work on my re-entry. He was so above and beyond the call of duty in his efforts and kindness I was blown away.
While I was waiting I was able to get a couple of pictures of the aircraft and fellow ST A350 from VN departing.
Well, the entire crew was walking by to board (hence the delay) shortly after our conversation. I could see him engage the Purser, explain the situation, point to me, some conversation and then smiles from both of them. He returned to me and informed me that I would be traveling and everything was sorted out. I thanked him profusely and expressed my sincere gratitude for all of his efforts even though I was somewhat mortified that I took up his time but it was solely at his discretion. Delta really has a superstar of a staff member here, in fact all of my interactions were extremely pleasant and professional and my lack of Mandarin speaking didn't seem to impair the situation as much as it could have.
I boarded at the end of the Sky Priority group through door L1. I was greeted at the door by a friendly and smiling flight attendant and directed to cross the galley and make a right turn for seat 6C. The cabin was bustling with excitement for the folks that were seeing the suites for the first time. There also appeared to be several groups of folks traveling together so there was more conversation and a festive air among the passengers. As a result of boarding late I had to take some of my pictures of the seat at arrival.
The seat and cabin in general are quite smart looking. I was in a middle seat and seat 6B was vacant. I think if you have to have a non-window seat the seats with the table to your right, providing a buffer between you and the aisle, are preferred, like 6C.
Here's seat 6B positioned with all of the amenities that were on my seat as well.
There is a sliding divider between 6B and 6C.
The suite has some nice lighting features including some indirect ambient lighting and a wall sconce that doubles as a reading light.
The side table is handy to place a phone on the top shelf and a table or notebook below. Another side table is also available for a drink or snack, more where your hands would naturally fall when seated. The ambient lighting is carried over here too.
Various seat and IFE controls.
The IFE screen itself has good resolution and is nicely proportioned. No tail camera. ;(
The suite has a coat hook and Delta One branding in the headrest.
There is a cubby for storing your headphones and water bottle. The red color contrast is a nice feature.
The seat was provisioned with a Westin Heavenly Bed duvet, two pillows, slippers, and amenity kit.
I do see that if the suite next to me was occupied there would be an issue storing all of this bedding as there are not overhead bins over the center seats. As it was I just placed everything next door until I needed it.
The purser was making rounds introducing herself and taking meal orders. When she got to my seat I let he know that I was standby and any or no meal would be fantastic. She asked for my preference (the Chinese set was already spoken for) and assured me that the meal was a non-issue and "we will take very good care of you." I took a quick look at the menu and indicated the salmon sounded lovely. She had presented me a menu earlier but I hadn't looked as I didn't think i would need to. The pruser turned out to be a fun and witty person with an amazing voice for PA announcements.
Here's that menu.
The view from the seat with the door open.
Eventually we pushed back and joined the line for takeoff. There was some weather over the field so there was a ground stop for 20 - 30 minutes. The flight deck made frequent announcements letting us know the status. Eventually they announced that the airport was reversing ops and that we had to taxi to the other end of the runway but that we were next for departure. All in all we took off about 2 hours after stated departure time, having left the gate about 1:15 past departure time. I am certain that flight times are padded in anticipation of Chinese ATC issues and today was no exception.
Once airborne the service started with a bar service from a cart along with the offer of heated mixed nuts. I requested a Delta Sunrise and a glass of San Pellegrino.
The next pass of the cart yielded the base tray with appetizer, soup, and salad. There is a lot of food presented here. The highlights for me were the passion fruit salad dressing and creamy soup. Bread was passed separately and I can never turn down a pretzel roll.
I also enjoyed a glass of the Spanish Garnacha Carinena. It seems a good choice for drinking at altitude in the bold fruit flavors.
The salmon main was served next and was cooked perfectly The macadamia nut topping was rich and flavorful. The eggplant and lentils didn't do much for me and the garlic ginger green beans lacked a snap that I would like from a green bean.
The dessert cart made an appearance next and for some reason i opted for some cheese even though i was quite sated. I think it's a reflex.
I took a shot of the seats behind me and the lav on one of my visits. The lav is nothing special, really, but was kept very clean throughout the flight.
At one point after dinner our aircraft strayed off course and was approaching Nigeria but our position was quickly corrected.
I enjoyed a generous pour of Woodford before turning in for the night. I felt the sleeping space was ample and as spacious or more than any other Delta one equipment.
The suite with the door closed are really quite private. The bed sinks lower to the floor when deployed so you are way down from the top of the suite walls.
I napped off and on for several hours. My sleep clock was fairly scrambled turing to another TPAC right after arriving in Asia. I was offered a snack at some point and chose the Chinese assortment with a cold noodle salad, siew mai and pan fried dumpling. I was just curious to see it really. I took a taste of everything and found it to be a great mid-flight snack offering.
Again I slept, awaking just before breakfast service commenced somewhere over Ontario, Canada. It's nice they still let us fly over.
Hot towels to start.
Drinks were offered and I went with a bloody and San Pellegrino.
The meals are a one tray affair and I was offered my choice. I selected the eggs. I really didn't read the menu well as I should have selected the pita bread soaked in lamb soup just to see what that is. The rolls were pre plated and not passed separately. Not a very pretty pate but the components all tasted fine.
After breakfast we landed uneventfully at Detroit Metro Wayne County and taxied to our gate only a few minutes tardy.
Delta Air Lines
Beijing - PEK
Detroit - DTW
The Ground Service: Flying stand-by is not a true representation of the experience but I was completely stunned by the kindness, professionalism, and English language skills of everyone I encountered. The meal shortage, that was somehow resolved, gave me additional interactions with the staff and I can't say enough about how caring and thorough they performed.
The Lounge: It didn't look like much. There was a row of windows with good tarmac views and natural light. I didn't try any of the food and beverage other than water. The toilet was clean.
The Cabin: I was skeptical about how much value this "suite" concept would add to a good seat but to my surprise I think it does add value. The additional privacy and lack of distraction when there is activity in the aisle does lend to better rest, for me. Many times in J I've been trying to sleep and the position of another passenger's reading light makes it really bright directly on me. This isn't possible now and my light or TV flickering cannot bother or distract others. The low position of the bed does make the walls of the suite seem higher. The seat is challenged for storage, especially all of the bedding. I think the lighting is great and varied. Unfortunately the middle seats don't have individual air vents.
The Crew: I thought the crew sis an excellent job executing the service. The purser was excellent and the service was well paced with many passes to offer top ups on beverages or an extra roll, etc. Also, the lavatories were kept very clean.
The Food and Beverage: There were no flops but there were also no superstars. I don't expect a memorable dining experience in J, for the record. I felt the food was thoughtful and attempted to be interesting. Asparagus and feta in a salad, ginger and garlic green beans, a soup course, these are all welcome touches. The wines are on the cheap but Lanson makes drinkable Champagne.
Overall: The A350 in Delta One is the best way to travel in J on Delta for me. I'm looking forward to trying the 777s.
Thank you for reading and happy flying.
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