The airline with the best average rating is Delta Air Lines with 7.3/10.
The average flight time is 12 hours and 17 minutes.More information
In late 2018, China Southern announced its intentions to bid farewell to its then-current alliance mates in SkyTeam. While I had booked some rewards with China Southern over the last couple of years, I’d always ended up cancelling before departure for one reason or another.
But with the countdown on for the airline’s departure from SkyTeam, the clock was ticking on trying their premium products using Delta SkyMiles. And thus, this series of flight-reports, which will chronicle a quick impromptu trip to China and back to be able to “check off” China Southern on my list of experiences before its heading off for greener grass on the other side of the airline alliances fence.
Having found my way to Beijing on SkyMiles, I figured I should probably book a way home. The only problem was that my between this and a few other adventures I have planned, my SkyMiles stack had been all but depleted. Certainly too exhausted to manage a flight on Delta metal in a premium cabin, for which Delta typically asks for an insane number of miles.
Fortunately, I quickly found a reasonable (sub-$500) one-way fare in economy on the Delta A350 to Detroit, and then on to Toronto. It would have to do. I'm able to grab seat 41, a window seat by the door, so I'll have tons of legroom.
… he had just returned to the Cordis from his flight to Guangzhou and back, completing the China Southern First trifecta.
I’m pretty exhausted by the time I make it back to the hotel, but before I turn in for the night, I give Delta a call. You see, with the dawn of a new Medallion calendar year at the start of February, I have access to four new Global Upgrade Certificates.
I had been torn on the idea of upgrading this flight. On the one hand, if it succeeds, it leaves me with an odd number of upgrades. That can be a challenge, or a benefit, depending on how the year plays out. And selecting global upgrades immediately puts them “on the clock” — otherwise, I could delay starting the one-year window for these GUCs by a couple of years. But I’m likely to end up needing more this year at some point. So I decide to make the call.
When I call in, the upgrade is not immediately available, and the agent advises me that there are three seats available. The Delta app says seven, and ExpertFlyer says three. I’m not sure what leads to the discrepancy. The upgrade is waitlisted in no time at all — I’m not sure if the system has changed, or if this agent is just super-efficient, but usually even waitlisting a GUC takes at least a couple of minutes’ work on the agent’s part. This takes about 30 seconds.
Fortunately, my phone buzzes at about 6:00 am Beijing Time, and it’s a message from Delta with a new flight receipt for my trip from Beijing to Toronto. This likely means it’s re-ticketed, which likely means the upgrade has cleared. I had expected it to go to the gate as we were within the 24-hour pre-flight window. I'm pleasantly surprised.
The benefit of the upgrade clearing before the gate is that I don’t have to just go with the seat I’m assigned, so I log into the Delta website and grab seat 7D, the only available “true” window seat on the plane.
I also notice that I have more notes from Delta about the anticipated weather conditions for my trip. Apparently, both Detroit and Toronto are in the path of a nasty-looking ice storm, so this trip could go sideways pretty fast. I’m pretty optimistic that I’ll be able to get to Detroit since N505DN is currently on her way to Beijing.
But I’m less confident than my DTW-YYZ flight will work out as planned. Such are the joys of winter travel in the north half of North America.
I end up getting a decent sleep from about 9:00 to 3:30, and then wake up for a while, get some work and some writing done, and putter on the Internet.
Coming up to 10 in the morning, I decide I’m starting to feel pretty sleepy again, so I decide to see if I can get in a brief nap. I’m awakened at about 2:00 when front desk calls to ask if I have any intention of getting the hell out of their room anytime soon. Oops.
I quickly pack and check out, and grab the 2:30 shuttle back to Terminal 2 of Beijing Capital Airport.
As usual in China, there’s an explosives swab before you’re allowed to enter the terminal where the bus drops me off on the arrivals level.
I head upstairs and take a look at the check-in desks for Delta, but as it’s about four hours before departure, the counters aren’t open yet. Online check-in is allowed ex-PEK with Delta, but apparently, e-boarding passes or mobile passes aren’t.
So I head back downstairs. It’s been about 21 hours since I last ate, on my flight up from CAN, so I’m pretty hungry. And remembering the SkyTeam Lounge catering as not all that interesting, I decide to grab something to eat now. The options are pretty dire, but I ultimately decide on KFC. It’s hard to get fried chicken wrong.
The highlight of the meal is a very precocious kid; I’d guess between six and eight, who has clearly been learning English at school and is excited as can be to get a chance to try it out in real life. We chat a little bit about where I’m from and where I’m going. He and his dad are from Beijing, and they’re picking up his mom who’s coming back home. The kid even provides translation services between the KFC cashier and me. This conversation alone is well worth the price of admission for lunch.
The security check for the check-in area has no line, and I’m quickly through once my bags are put through a scanner.
There are lines formed up for check-in, but the desks aren’t open yet. So I join the short Sky Priority line.
Agents show up about 3:15, and I get the standard heading-to-the-U.S. security questions while in line.
Check-in opens about 3:30, and it takes about ten minutes to get to the front of the line — then about a minute to get my boarding passes through to Toronto. I’m also given a lounge invite to the BGS Premier Lounge, to my considerable surprise. What about the SkyTeam Lounge?
Immigration and security are quiet at this time, I guess before the evening international rush, and I’m through in no time, even with the typically thorough Chinese patdown.
I’m tempted to just go the SkyTeam Lounge anyway, so I turn towards the elevators up to….
Oh. Well then.
Off to the BGS Premier Lounge it is.
This lounge is a contract lounge in the worst — and loosest — sense of the phrase. It’s not very exciting, there isn’t much in the way of catering, and there’s not much to do. There’s a small “business area” with a couple of computers. It’s a big, wide open space that’s not much of an upgrade from waiting by the gate.
About the biggest plus is that they provide a username and password necessary to access the WiFi. That and there aren’t many people here.
I don’t have much to say about this lounge, other than if you’re on a SkyTeam flight departing T2 international, don’t plan to arrive too early. It’s just not worth the time to visit.
About an hour before boarding is slated to being, I decide to head out and make sure my plane has arrived. The lounge is that uninspiring.
Spoiler alert: my plane IS here, N505DN had arrived about an hour ago from Detroit, and was already being kitted up to head back to Motown as I arrived.
I grabbed a WiFi code from a self-serve kiosk and sat down, plugging away at a combination of work and flight-reporting for a while, and then turned my attention to other matters when I got a text from Delta informing me that my DTW-YYZ flight had been cancelled and that I would be rebooked.
As I was on the last-scheduled DTW-YYZ of the day, I already knew what that meant, but confirmation came just a few minutes later when I received a second text, with my rebooking on DL4515, 10:00 the next morning. This was all because of the ice storm in the Great Lakes area, so that meant the grim choices of finding an airport hotel, or sleeping in the terminal. I decided to punt on making that decision until I arrived in Detroit.
A minute or two before 6:00, they called boarding.
There were only a few other people in the Sky Priority line, so it didn’t take me long to get my boarding pass scanned and on my way home. Or at least to Detroit
From: Beijing Capital (PEK)
To: Detroit Wayne (DTW)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
ATD (STD): 19:01 (18:55)
ATA ( STA): 18:07 (18:47)
While there were long lineups formed for the economy zone, there was no one in the Sky Priority lane, so when they called Business Class and Diamond Medallions, I made my way forward. No secondary security search — or at least not one to which I was subjected — this time leaving Beijing.
Boarding was through door 1L only, so everyone gets to trek through business class on their way back. I crossed over at the front galley, and made my way towards the back of the cabin, for seat 7D for just my second trip on Delta’s new business class product.
The seat as equipped — amenity kit, two pillows (take note, China Southern and KLM J!), and a big cozy comforter are in the seat when I arrive.
Before I can even settle into my seat, I’m approached by Eugene, a very friendly Asian flight attendant who I would guess to be in mid-fifties. He led service on the C/D aisle for the flight and was excellent. Warm, courteous, friendly, proactive. I have no complaints. I would also have interactions with a couple of other flight attendants, a bald male and the female purser, both of whom were also very good, and likely relatively high up on the seniority list. While some mock North American airlines and others where unions are strong enough to prevent sacking any flight attendant on their 29th birthday, this team seem to take pride in their work and enjoy what they were doing and showed that a team that skews a little older can still deliver reliable service. But I digress.
Eugene stopped by to offer a pre-departure beverage, and I chose the sparkling wine. It was okay, although not as nice as the Piper-Heidsieck on China Southern. So there you go, CZ. You’re not in the basement of the sparkling wine race anymore!
Legroom shot, and a look into the footwell. It looks small, but I didn’t find it restrictive for my 5’11” frame. As is often the case, taller passengers might have a different opinion.
The IFE screen on the A350 is quite large and offers good resolution. Today, it was activated gate-to-gate and wasn’t just playing the loop of Delta commercials upon boarding. I hope this is the new policy, as I rather dislike that Delta often doesn’t offer access to IFE until after the safety video. The screen is big, but it’s so close to you when you’re in a sitting position that it feels even bigger than it is. That may be a plus or a minus, depending on your perspective.
Seat controls are in the side of the armrest, and on the tabletop between the seat and the aisle. The location isn’t as problematic as in some cases, but I still question the wisdom of touch controls for seats.
Reading light with hideaway wall sconce.
A look across the aisle as boarding continues. Privacy is pretty solid, between the doors and the slightly offset positioning of the middle pairs with the window seats.
The alley between your seat and the seat in front is pretty narrow, although I didn’t find this as much of a challenge I did on the China Southern 777 kicking off this series.
There’s a small raised storage service, covering up the power port, USB, and headphone jacks immediately aft of the touch controls for the seat.
Immediately above that, there’s a storage cubby that hides the LSTN headphones.
The headphones in all their glory. They aren’t bad, but they don’t feature active noise cancellation, which is a pretty significant oversight in my estimation. I took this shot of them for posterity, then immediately stowed them in favour of my Bose QC35s.
Delta hasn’t changed up their amenity kit much in a while. It’s pretty standard. I appreciate the toothpaste that’s more than single-use, and for some reason, I really like Delta’s socks. Go figure.
The IFE is pretty well stocked. As one would expect, a better selection of North American films than China Southern. With the February movies on board, that also means some new flicks available, like Bohemian Rhapsody.
But I’ve already seen that, so I settle on this as my first movie of the flight. It’s better than I expected, and it features Hong Kong, so it can’t be all bad.
A look out the window as boarding continues. There’s a very pretty Azerbaijan 767 parked next to us.
When Eugene collects my empty wine glass, I ask if I can get a glass of water. He points out that a bottle of water is already stowed in in the storage area with the headphone holder. I hadn’t noticed it at all and had forgotten it was there since I last flew in one of these seats. So keep an eye out for it.
The service director makes her way around, offering a look at the menu. Fortunately, these won’t be stolen away so I can reference them throughout the flight. Such luxury! Meal orders are taken shortly afterwards, and I end up going with the beef.
Wired IFE control (and a mirror) are under a cover in the armrest. Given how close the monitor is to the user in most seating positions, the IFE remote is less critical than in a lot of seats. I’m sure that’s why they didn’t opt to go with a touchscreen, and it wasn’t a cost-saving decision in any way at all. Oh no.
Overhead bins are on the sides, but not in the middle. This makes the business class cabin feel quite tall. I remedied myself of that belief by smashing my head into the overheads as I stood up at the end of the flight.
Pushback into the Beijing night.
The Delta safety video is new, a cartoon, that “takes you inside” an animated safety card, since that’s “the safest world there is!” It’s rather cute, and a change from Delta’s usual slightly dry safety presentation of late.
After the video rolls, the service director announces that several screens aren’t working, so the system will have to be reset, a process that will take about ten minutes. Then everything goes black. On the plus side, if I squint real hard, in this lighting I can pretend I’m on Qatar!
We end up taxiing for less than ten minutes of taxi time and get a rather direct route to the runway. I’ll take that as a win coming out of the mess that can be Beijing, and we’re in the air shortly after 7:00 pm.
A couple of minutes after takeoff, there are signs of life in the Delta One cabin, as the lights all come back on.
Service quickly starts with a hot towel as expected.
Drinks from the drink cart are up next — I have a glass of the Lanson and a Pellegrino. The Lanson is just okay as far as champagnes go in my books. The accompanying mix nuts are a nice variety, but wow, are these ones salty.
My movie is chugging along, and it’s about 30 minutes before I get my tray of starters. Eugene offers a couple of top-ups of both drinks in the meantime.
The onion soup isn’t terribly exciting, but it’s creamy and pleasant in a very mild fashion.
The starter’s a bit of an odd combination. All of the individual pieces are just fine, but it doesn’t really come together.
The salad is too much simple greenery, but at least the couple of strawberries and the cheese add some variety, while the not-at-all-crispy croutons added some texture.
Time to select a new movie. I think I heard of this when it came out, but forgot the nature of the “more than simple military operation” storyline was what it was. It was sort of a weird combination, even given the Nazis’ well-known penchants towards the occult and supernatural.
The tray is lifted out as drinks are refilled again — with a glass of the New Zealand Pinot Noir replacing the champagne for the main course. I enjoyed it very much. With red wine in place, it’s time to have some beef, so bring on the main course. The steak is a little overdone, and could use some more pepper to it in my opinion, but is reasonably tasty.
Dishes are promptly collected, and the dessert cart makes its rounds. Would I like the tart (called a cheesecake, but it’s not), the cheese, or the ice cream? I’m a glutton for punishment, not to mention an actual glutton. So why don’t we go with all of it?
I always enjoy Delta’s cheese plates, and this is no exception. Although it is quite unusual for it not to include a bleu cheese. Perhaps it’s an ex-PEK thing.
The pistachio tart is simple but quite tasty and presented with just a dash of the strawberry sauce from the sundae fixings. I presume this was offered because of the case of mistaken identity for this dish.
And finally, the ice cream sundae with a bit of everything. It’s hard to get this wrong, so there’s no surprise that it’s quite good.
When dinner’s over, I’m quite full. It’s time to check out the lav before getting to sleep. There are two at the front of the J cabin, one on either side of the aircraft against the outside wall. There’s nothing premium or even particularly interesting about them.
Back at my seat, I get comfy and close the door for privacy. I know they don’t close all the way, but I thought they closed more than this. If these things are already having problems, that doesn’t bode well for the longevity of these doors.
When the movie comes to an end, I decide it’s time for some shuteye. I put the seat down in bed mode, put my favourite go-to-sleep podcast on my phone, and settle in. The bed is quite comfortable, although it could benefit from a mattress pad.
I manage a little over four hours of uninterrupted sleep, which is pretty good for me sleeping on a plane. By the time I wake up, we’re over Canadian airspace.
I head up to the lav to freshen up, and the bald flight attendant asks if he can get me anything to eat. Score! I’d wondered if I’d slept through the mid-flight snack service. I request the roast beef panini, and it’s delivered about ten minutes later.
Again, it’s tough to screw up heated roast beef, cheese and onions on bread, so this is quite enjoyable. Because it’s so thoroughly warmed, it tasted more like a steak sandwich than simple deli roast beef. The potato salad isn’t bad either. The tray is quickly collected.
While this crew didn’t do many drink rolls, presumably to keep noise in the cabin down, they were right on top of their water bottle game. It seemed like no sooner would I finish a bottle of Evian than one of the crew would take it away and plunk down a new one. I went through five bottles of water throughout the flight.
After my snack, I decide to have a little bit more sleepytime. I nap for a while, then wake up about two and a half hours out of Detroit.
Time to choose a new film. Dark and heavy, and not exactly uplifting, but some pretty good performances.
Halfway through the movie, the lights start to come up, and I suspect it’s just about pre-arrival meal time. Hot towel service suggests my suspicions are correct.
Enter text here…
We’re really leaving this service to pretty much the last minute, which is good for those sleeping for much of the flight.
Whatever the weather may be below these clouds over Michigan, it’s lovely up here.
Breakfast is served, and I end up choosing the quiche. It’s a good choice as the quiche itself is quite tasty, and even the pastry is pretty good. The potatoes are also enjoyable, and I like the “tomato relish” that adds a lot of flavour, but the chicken sausages are a miss. I wasn’t in the mood for apple, so the fruit pretty much came down to grape and kiwi, both of which were okay. The croissant was too dry, but the pain au chocolate was delicious. Probably the best thing in the breakfast.
With the meal being so last-minute, dishes are collected rather quickly, and I get busy packing up my stuff for arrival. Before they button things down, the service director pops by to offer a Ferrero Rocher chocolate and her thanks for flying with them.
With complete low-altitude cloud cover, we’re almost on the ground before we get a look at conditions outside. It looked much nicer from above.
Touchdown just a couple of minutes past 6 pm.
It takes us less than five minutes to taxi over to the McNamara Terminal, where we park next to our plane’s little Airbus sister.
Once we pull into the terminal, we’re off to the races through the long internal corridors that lead to US CBP in Detroit. I’m through in almost no time with the help of Global Entry. Of course, I probably would have been through in almost no time even without Global Entry, as I think we were the only international arrival into DTW at this hour.
Once landside, I try to figure out accommodations for the night before I fly back to Toronto in the morning. The Westin at the airport is, as expected during any kind of weather-related irrops, in full gouging mode, but I manage to find a decently-priced remote at the airport-area Delta. So off I go to the shuttle pickup area.
I’ll pick things up there in the morning for my return to Toronto — presuming the weather doesn’t once again play foul with me.
Thanks for joining me for this leg of this adventure, and I hope you’ll check out the brief last segment of the epic 214-mile stretch between Detroit and Toronto. Cheers!
It’s nice to be back on the A350, another plane that I missed out on during 2018. While the DeltaOne Suite is not the revolution that Delta marketing wants to claim it is, it’s a fine business class seat by my reckoning.
The food was better than expected out of Beijing, and the crew was excellent. But then I’ve generally had pretty good luck on Delta international business class flights in that regard.