The return Delta flights were unsurprisingly an easy one, given that they were largely on the more expensive side anyway. I decided to take the earliest departure out to Minneapolis that wasn’t on an Airbus A320 or Boeing 737: this turned out to be easy - the first departure at 0730 hours was indeed on a Boeing 717, a plane I have been on only once. In addition, there were three layover options at Minneapolis: 1hr15min, 3hr45min, or 6hr. I went for the middle way, because of a personal minimums buffer, and that spending a quarter of a day in an airport, especially in Delta land, was going to be pretty pointless. A B717, followed by the lovely amazing gift to mankind that we commonly know as the CRJ-200ER.Little did I know this turned out to be quite the masterclass of a decision.
THE DAY OF… JANUARY 7TH 2018
On to the day of, or the day before: having settled in the AirBnB I made the first mistake of recovering from jet lag - going to sleep at 6pm before waking up at 10pm, hungry. A rip off of a Domino’s pizza it was for supper, and I set my sights continuing on with my nap, with no success. Well, I guess it was on to more plane stuff! For breakfast, I had a Jaffa Cake, courtesy of British Airways' appealing catering:
With the storm gone by, and having reached New York, I was still not completely free of the perils of uncertainty. Will Delta 461 to Minneapolis depart just fine? The omens looked good: the 2 days JFK was closed due to the storm DL461 did not operate, but for the following 3 days the plane reached MSP more than on time, upwards of 25 minutes before time. With that being said, it was N948DN slated to operated the JFK-MSP leg and had operated the following: DL1350 ATL - JFK 1205 1423 DL2827 JFK - MSY 1505 1749 DL2576 MSY - JFK 1832 2232 the latter 2 flights being about 45 minutes late due to JFK’s issues. I was confident of making the final 2 flights without a hitch. Hah, what a bold statement.
Delta uses both Terminal 2 & 4 at JFK, so I had to wait for a confirmation as to which gate DL461 would be departing from. This was promptly confirmed as Gate B20 - Terminal 4. With nothing better to do I set about preparing for the day nice & early at 0330 in the morning. I banked on an early arrival @ T4 because of the potential lines. The taxi drive was nice & quick through the large mounds of snow. I was interested in seeing what Delta’s check in area was going to look like, given that JFK is one of Delta’s bases and people were still being rebooked on to flights out of JFK.
THE LINES, THE HORROR…?
And so it unravelled: lines were long & snaking, moving really slow. After having printed the boarding pass mall receipt thing, I joined the line before figuring out I was wasting my time there.
Well, with a temperature of 6F, -14C and a wind chill, it made perfect sense to head back outside in to the cold for curbside check in - where it is a tipped service however you get to skip the line, drop off your luggage quick and deal with the cold. Well, this made things so much quicker! Bypassing the mess of people awaiting their fate, I gingerly headed towards security.
Boarding pass, once back in the warm:
UNNECESSARY SECURITY SASS…
Now you’ve probably heard of the horror stories TSA being absolutely horrible. It has been a long time since I had such an instance, so this day the streak was about to break. If anything, the TSA area was quite relaxed, several lines open and passengers flowing smoothly. I was sent to one of the several lines where the ID checking person was there but the body scanners & stuff were closed. Wondering what happened here I asked the TSA lady whether or not the lines were open: ‘Do you see me fixing my hair? Please be patient’. Jeez, all I asked for a clarification and there was no need to be such an asshole about it - respect us the same way we respect you, but I suppose that’s too much too ask. The scanning and stuff went just fine. It was 0425 hours, a whole 2hr45min before departure, and 2hr before boarding. The early arrival backfired, I guess.
I find this ad to be quite ironic, especially given that McLaren had split away from Honda well before 2018 rolled over, and that the 2nd round of the partnership never really got going, at all…
SPOTTING, I GUESS?
Remembering that concourse A is in fact the international part, I headed there to see the mess left over by the storm.
And such a mess it was: gates with uncertain flight status, boarding complete for long international hauls but with nowhere to go, passengers strewn across the gate area, asleep and tired, but with blankets that you’d usually find onboard the plane, ground staff no where to be seen. JFK T4 actually looked a lot like hell on earth. Some of the delayed planes, including 3 A380s from the middle east: 2 Emirates, one Etihad.
MS986, 9 hours late.
EK204, 18 hours late
Etihad and Avianca, the former also 17 hours late
Avianca to Bogota, the 10pm departure, going nowhere….
Walking back to Concourse B which was certainly more active & happening - there were some departures heading out and all of them on time. Well, JFK was just starting out with the many morning Delta departures, but the airport wasn’t in full functionality due to the storm. Factually however, I knew my flight would depart just fine & on time. In the background, political news all the way around which made for things pretty damn annoying.
Taking pictures were difficult, given that many people were against the wall, and on the floor, asleep. I did not want to bother that especially because they had rather uncertain plans of heading to their respective destinations. I did get this Delta B717, with a Japan Air Lines B777-300ER in the background. Delayed, of course:
This lovely Boeing 767-400ER, a pretty rare one if anything. Honolulu bound, and it was on time…
The mess that was JFK… inside & outside
Started heading back towards the gate B20 about an hour before departure, 0610 hours.
The gate area looked like a full flight heading to Minneapolis. A well behaved puppy was placed in its soft kennel thing - and once again here I was missing Dobby. Pre-boarding announcements were 55 minutes before departure as the crew boarded to get thing’s going. At least I knew this time that we were looking good to depart - unlike an ERJ-145 from just over a year ago at Fargo, then again we were at an airline hub….
Boarding was called at 0630 hours, 40 minutes before departure. Everything looked just fine for an uneventful flight all the way back to Grand Forks. Unfortunately I was not able to get a decent picture of N948AT, the 18.1 years old B717 on lease from Southwest.
I was onboard within the next 10 minutes, took my seat 26A. I missed taking this seat on my previous B717 flight (SFO-LAX August 2015) which was on 24A. 2-3 config on the B717. Favorite config on a narrow body for sure.
Conveniently located power ports - 1 for the 2 seaters, 2 for the 3 seats
I was looking forward to the amazing engine view, and eventually the awesome sounds of the BMW RR BR715 engines.
The plane filled up quickly, with most of them on to connecting flights. There’s no other way to describe my seat mate, other than your typical mid-west mom, you know the very caring types who’d love to have the odd conversations about things, before carrying on with their own things. She was heading to Rochester, but escaping the crutches of a CRJ-200 on MSP-ROC, driving southeast instead.
A flying time of 2hr32min was announced by the crew, in addition to the usual baggage stowage & safety policy/procedures announcements by the cabin crew.
AND THE PENNY DROPPED: DELAYS ROLLED IN…. NERVES KICK IN…. CLOUD ROLLS OVER!
The first sign of a delay: 10 minutes to departure, 0700 hours: Captain comes around and welcomes us onboard. We were still waiting to get refueled for the flight, without which we couldn’t depart, obviously. The fuel company were aware of this - and attempting to send a truck over as quickly as possible. Wait what - New York JFK does not have underground fuel storage for each individual gates? Curios.
18 minutes later, 0718 hours, 8 minutes past departure time, another update: and this update gave us a bit more info, and the return of a cloud of uncertainty that I thought I left back in London Heathrow. There weren’t as many fuel trucks since most/all of them were still frozen over, but we were number 2 in line for receiving fuel, but the time frame was quite uncertain. Everyone was disgruntled as they were worried about missing connections - hey speaking of which remember when I mentioned I went for a 3.5 hour layover?! Yeah….. The sun's out, and we're still on the ground, hooray….
Another half an hour passed by and there was still no good news. Trucks were still frozen, passengers were getting angsty, and moving around. Many were in the threat of missing connections. I had another 2 hours to play with before I, too, would start getting angsty. People had shorter connections, about 20 people I counted heading to Tokyo Haneda from MSP, and about 10 Winnipeg. With nothing to do, and only so much YouTube to watch, I started to get a little restless but with not much to do. I headed to the restroom while we waited, and lo behold it was quite messy. I got a feeling that it probably wasn’t cleaned up from last day….
1hr06min in to the delay: still nothing. They fuel company, too, were in the dark of when they’d be able to dispatch trucks. Interestingly Captain mentioned that they were a third party vendor which was significant for whatever reason I guess. An uncertain wait, that’s all we were in for.
FINALLY! GIMME FUEL, GIMME FIRE, GIMME THAT WHICH I DESIRE!
Totally not in reference to Metallica's popular song, there was finally some good news. It wasn’t another 20 minutes, 1hr28min, till we FINALLY had a fuel truck getting us refuelled, so another 15-20 minutes before we got going. However, several other hurdles of delays remained, such as missing our time slot significantly, and onboard where several passengers were losing their calm. Delta ground staff, however, promised that they were in touch with MSP, and that the connections will be held despite the delay. 1.5 hours delay & counting: oh boy was I glad that I went for the middle way option!
It wasn’t until another half an hour (a total delay of 2 hours) were the cones finally picked up & moved away - indicating we were actually the closest we had been to actually departing… Yes, yes yes!
And so we did! 2hr05min late, 0915 hours N948AT was pushed back to the left, before being pulled towards the front & right…. complicated pushback stuff for the very-end-of-concourse gate I guess. I had a decent view of the stuff over at T2, I guess:
Pushback, yes yes yes!
More & more planes
Air China, anyone?
Engine’s weren’t started until the next 4 minutes at least. And once they did start, the BR715s took their own sweet time - left out in the cold, I suppose! Once they eventually kicked in a huge plume of smoke - frozen oil being burned off blocked the window view for a little bit.
B22 - probably had it's own underground refueling, which was nice….
Unfortunately, it was not the end of delays for us: in front of us was G-VBUG that had been pushed back for flight VS26 back to London Heathrow, but the Airbus A340-600 developed a fault and delayed everything behind (aka - us). Captain announced that JFK ground informed of further possible delays of planes taxiing around. While waiting I noticed that every gate from B22 onwards HAD AN UNDERGROUND FUEL STORAGE! True bad luck departing from B20 I guess - this sucked! I wasn’t too concerned, I was at least on course to make my connection, but some others saw their hopes erode…. Eventually G-VBUG started taxiing away.
The A340-600 pushed back, delaying us more…
757 @ B24 - underground fueling for this one.
JFK ground was dealing with departure delays ranging from 30 minutes to 9 hours - it was quite the shit show, but we still had movement, and I for one was convinced we were indeed heading for the departure runway. Finally heading out with the numerous delays, phew! The 2nd engine was fired up as well. Some traffic around:
The culprit of our latest delay(s)
2 Airbus biggies, one Etihad…
Another Etihad, amongst the Deltas of the land…
This one waited on 4L/22R for the longest time…
Taxied on to Runway 31L at 0950 hours, the delay now being at 2hr40min. I wasn’t concerned at all - I knew an hour would be more than enough to transfer over at Minneapolis. Lined up, felt what more like a short field take off: brakes on, power on full, before launching away down the runway. Took to the skies at 0952 hours with the lovely sounds of the BR715 engines whirring in the cold skies over New York: a frozen city, still recovering from the storm. Banked towards the left before setting a west/northwest course for Minneapolis.
JFK in the distance, and EY's A380 still on the runway:
If there was anything good about this flight - it was the Captain’s timely updates & reassurances. Not that there was much to reassure, half the plane were about to miss connections, but they made sure there was adequate communication apologies, but if anything saved Delta’s face in the situation. With the ground staff no longer in control and giving fake promises, and the cabin crew pretty much in a ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude, the Captain made sure Delta had had some sanity in this situation, after all. We would be in MSP for 1130 hours central.
Empire state of Frozen Big City!
Snacks came around, you know the usual Delta fare with cookies, pretzels, almonds, and a KIND bar, in addition to Starbucks coffee or Coke stuff, I went for a KIND bar, cookies and ginger ale. It was 1035 hours Eastern, so about 44 minutes in to the flight. As they went around I second time I requested for some almonds, and got 2 from it.
The rest of the flight was quite uneventful, and it was quite smooth along the way, barring the Winnipeg bound gang being quite anxious - one of them had to make the earliest flight possible for whatever reason. This would be crucial later on. I spent the time looking at the seat pocket stuff: Delta’s magazine contained an infographic for the A330-300: oh boy was I kicking myself for not picking up the 747 magazine!!! This 717 did not have WiFi enabled free texting, however, something I was quite excited to see on the A319.
WiFi entertainment - the delay threw everything out of whack so they couldn't calculate how long there is remaining…
Amazing movie this one: still gives me goosebumps to this day!
Cabin crew did their thing, cleaning up trash from the passengers around, while also ensuring setbacks were upright, tray tables were locked away, etc, while they blatantly announced that all connections were probably missed (going against the promise made by the ground staff at JFK), and that they won’t be able to help out people because they had no information to access (which was despite the fact that there was WiFi onboard hmmm…)
While descending over downtown Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Canadians hatched an exit plan: they switched seats so that the young ones would run and hold the plane if at all possible. That was quite…bizarre, if anything.
TCF Bank stadium for the Gophers -
Anyway, a smooth touchdown on Runway 12L, at 1126 hours after a flying time of 2hr35min, we were late by 1hr42min at the end of it all. The 934th airlift wing
Pretty uneventful and quick taxi back to gate C5, the crew being unsympathetic as ever. Confirming that all connections would probably be missed, it was a breach of promise on Delta’s part which I guess isn’t nice. Docked at gate C5 just fine at 1129 hours, with a total delay of (a mere) 1hr45min. I still had about 2 hours, so if anything the middle way option made perfect sense with a reasonable layover at MSP, at the cost of a long & uncertain delay. The Canadians however, were livid. They had missed their connection, and the one lady was quite pissed because she had to make the plane to Winnipeg come what may, but I guess good luck to them, or whatever it is their fate was…
I thanked the Captain for his timely updates, and headed back off the plane, remembering C5 had a decent view of a plane, I guess I got a nice picture of the plane that got me in to MSP. N948AT was scheduled to head to Philadelphia as DL1960 after this flight, but with a 3.5 hour ground time there would be no delay for the subsequent flights. McDonalds would be a short walk away from me, and so it would be my brunch for the day.
Delta Air Lines
New York - JFK
Minneapolis - MSP
And with that, came to end another episode of bad luck - weather hindering me for the third time this trip. If it was a bit too much to ask for an uneventful 45 min hop to Grand Forks, well, stay tuned to find out! I realized I was long overdue some good luck, a bad streak starting ever since Winter 2015. It was a matter of time, I hoped. Just sheer bad luck being parked at the one gate which did not have an underground fuel storage. I appreciate the Captain’s constant updates, but other than that it was a standard USA domestic (delayed) flight: clouds of uncertainty, but eventually getting there. A quick hop, uneventful, is all I hoped for….
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