I love Hong Kong. I’m not sure what it is that attracts me to this city among all the other destinations in the world, but I find it the perfect escape. A place to be delightfully alone with millions of other people. I kind of feel like something is missing if I don’t get to spend a day or two in Hong Kong in a year.
And in early 2019, it had been almost a year since I last spent some time in Hong Kong. Sure, I’d spent the better part of a day lounge hopping on a First Class Cathay ticket last September, but that didn’t really count. Not the way I needed it to count.
So when I planned out my early-2019 adventures, my first priority — although it would be the last of the three to occur — was spending some time with the land of skyscrapers and that intoxicating blend of Chinese and English cultures.
DL5536 - First - Toronto → New York - Bombardier CRJ-900You are here
CI11 - Business - New York→ Taipei - Boeing 777-300ERComing soon
CI903 - Business - Taipei → Hong Kong - Boeing 747-400Coming soon
KE608 - Business - Hong Kong→ Seoul - Boeing 787-9Coming soon
KE81 - Business - Seoul→ New York - Airbus A380-800Coming soon
DL5541 - First - New York→ Toronto - Bombardier CRJ-900Coming soon
This should have been straightforward to book. But, this is Delta.com we’re talking about. So of course, it wasn’t.
I suspect redemptions with China Airlines are a very under-utilized opportunity for getting good value out of SkyMiles. And that’s because of one simple “glitch” that’s been the case for years now. Delta.com almost always refuses to let you connect in Taipei.
I’m not sure what it’s got against Taipei, but it’s one of those situations where I can easily see YYZ-TPE and TPE-HKG when searched, with connection times that are legal and even logical. But ask Delta.com to put together YYZ-HKG, and it will never come up with Taipei as a connection.
The only exception to this no-Taipei rule that I’ve discovered occurred, oddly enough, when looking for PEK-CAN flights for my previous adventure. In that situation, it was happy to offer me CAN-TPE-PEK or vice versa for 60,000 SkyMiles one-way. That’s twice the one-way cost for direct CAN-PEK flights.
You’ve gotta love Delta.com.
Other than that not-particularly-interesting use of SkyMiles thought, the only way to get China Airlines connections is to call in and hope you get an agent who knows what they’re doing and how to go beyond their “first line” booking interface, which I gather is pretty much just using the website with the same limitation.
For this trip, I was sure I wanted to fly China Airlines into Hong Kong. And there was availability on both YYZ-TPE and TPE-HKG on the dates I wanted. As a bonus, I could get TPE-HKG on the 747. I know the hard product isn’t great, but it’s probably my only chance to fly the Taiwanese Queen. And there was availability on the Korean A380 on the way back. (We’ll talk much more about that in a bit.)
So I was set. Now it was just a matter of making the phone call and hoping to get an agent who could make it all work. And this time, I got lucky on the first try. The agent I called into tried to make it happen “the normal way,” but it didn’t come up with anything, so I gave her the itinerary flight by flight, she assembled it, and it all priced out as expected.
With my thanks, she booked the one-way from Toronto to Hong Kong via New York and Taipei for 85,000 SkyMiles and USD 62.95. She was immediately able to give me my China Airlines PNR, and we parted after once again offering my thanks and the pre-requisite “5” rating in the post-call one-question survey.
With the PNRs, I was able to make my seat selections. For the short Delta flight, I got my preferred seat, 2A. On China Airlines, I was able to get any business class seat I wanted on the longhaul 777-300ER. But CI seems to “block” both the old First Class seats it now sells as business class and the upper-deck business class cabin, so I had to select a main-level business class seat, and hope I’d be able to “upgrade” into either the old First seats or the upper deck closer to check-in time.
The return trip was booked on a separate one-way award trip. I’ll cover the booking of that in significantly less detail when I start making my way home.
There’s always a twist
Before heading off to the airport on Sunday afternoon, I did something I tend to do — check in on my inbound longhaul flight. I do this to see if it’s on time, investigate if I got a special livery, etc.
But when I get to Flightradar24, I’m struck with the fact that the TPE-JFK flight scheduled for today has been cancelled, as have been the TPE-JFK flights for the last few days. Well, that’s curious.
So I hop on to China Airlines’ website to make sure everything’s cool, and they drop the bomb on me.
Booking Part Two: Airline Boogaloo
As I hop into my car to drive to the commuter train into the city and then out to Pearson, I call the Delta DM line and fill them in on my findings thus far.
The agent I get says he’s still showing JFK-TPE as a go, but he checks in with someone else — presumably the partner desk. When he comes back to me, he confirms that yes, JFK-TPE has been cancelled by China Airlines.
The only option he can come up with to get me there would be to fly YYZ-ATL-ICN-HKG, leaving just a few minutes before my scheduled YYZ-JFK flight. I reply that’s fine with me, and he puts me on hold to see if they can book it for me.
When he comes back to me a few minutes later, he’s got bad news. He can’t get business class availability on that with Korean. He suggests I should call in to China Airlines, and they’ll have to rebook me by buying me a business class ticket YYZ-HKG. I think I know how that’s going to go, but I thank him for his effort after he gives me the number for CI, and confirms my China Airlines PNR.
With that, I call China Airlines. The agent I get quickly confirms that JFK-TPE is cancelled due to a pilot strike, but the rest of the call goes as I expect. She says they can’t touch the ticket because it’s on Delta stock, so I should call Delta and they’ll rebook me. I reply that I’ve just done that, and they told me to call her, and I can pretty much hear her “that sucks; don’t care” shrug on the other end of the line.
So back to Delta I go. My hope at this point is that they’ll call CI on my behalf because they aren’t likely to get the same “treat him like he’s a dumb passenger and he’ll go away” treatment that I’ve just received. I explain the saga so far to the female agent I get, and she gets to work looking for alternatives.
She quickly confirms the YYZ-ATL-ICN flights mentioned before as about the only option she can find leaving today but says she can’t figure out ICN-HKG because there’s no award availability on Korean. But she’s working on it.
Meanwhile, I decide that if they can’t figure out HKG, I’ll accept YYZ-ATL-ICN, and figure out ICN-HKG on my own if need be — there are reasonably priced economy tickets on Hong Kong Airlines if need be.
But about 15 minutes into the call, she comes back to me and confirms she can get me YYZ-ATL-ICN-HKG, and I’ll end up getting into Hong Kong only about two hours later than I would have with China Airlines. The only hitch is that she’s only able to get me ICN-HKG in Economy.
Considering my alternative plan at this point, I think that will work. I’m not overly happy with it, but I think Delta did as good a job of service recovery as they could consider it was China Airlines’ problem to begin with.
She retickets it, and grabs me seat 3D on YYZ-ATL and 5B on ATL-ICN, so no window seat for me. She says she ’s booked me 32A on ICN-HKG, but the Delta app isn’t showing that and I’m not able to check in online to confirm, so we’ll see what happens when I reach Pearson.
Just about a minute after the rebooking is complete, my train into the city pulls up, and I’m off to Pearson, hoping this is the last drama on this trip.
So ignore all that stuff above about booking with China Airlines. We’ll revisit that on another day. I’m very disappointed to not get to flight-report China Airlines, or fly them for that matter, but I’m quite happy that Delta managed to save this trip given circumstances.
The Rundown Part Deux
DL1892 - First - Toronto → Atlanta - MD-88You are here
DL27 - Business - Atlanta → Seoul - Airbus A350-900Coming soon
KE603 - Economy - Seoul → Hong Kong - Boeing 777-300ERComing soon
KE608 - Business - Hong Kong→ Seoul - Boeing 787-9Coming soon
KE81 - Business - Seoul→ New York - Airbus A380-800Coming soon
DL5541 - First - New York→ Toronto - Bombardier CRJ-900Coming soon
Check-in and security
We kick this thing off the same way we kicked off and ended the last series, arriving by inter-terminal train into T3 having taken another train up from downtown.
From here, it’s just a few feet to the Delta check-in area, where there’s no lineup for Sky Priority.
There are no problems with check-in, and I inquire about a window seat for ATL-ICN. She tells me there’s one window seat unbooked, but it’s currently blocked. This may be because it’s inoperable, or for some special request. So she suggests I ask in Atlanta. When my ICN-HKG boarding pass comes back with 32G, an aisle seat, I ask about changing to a window, and seconds later she’s able to get me 34A. The boarding pass prints out, so I should be good. She says she’s never been able to see a Korean seat map before, much less confirm a seat. Maybe it’s a new thing due to the joint venture.
With my Nexus card, security and U.S. CBP are both very quick, and less than 15 minutes after my arrival into Pearson, I’m airside for a quick walk through duty-free.
From there, I head upstairs to grab a snack at the only lounge accessible to me, available courtesy American Express.
Plaza Premium Lounge T3 Transborder
The Plaza Premium Lounge is a pretty small affair. I’d imagine they’d have liked a bigger space, but T3 just isn’t conducive to such things. It can get pretty packed at prime hours, but things aren’t too bad this Sunday evening. These pictures capture almost the whole space, and the few reading materials available.
The buffet isn’t very impressive, but I’m hungry and facing a 700-plus mile flight with just the dreaded snack basket ahead of me, so eat I will. The “highlight” of the food is the chef, who prepares a couple of pasta options, grilled cheese and mini hot dogs.
I request a mini-dog and a grilled cheese, and meanwhile, grab a little bit of the pork and some green beans to tide me over. I try to pour just a glass of water, but end up pressing a bit on the iced tea lever behind the water nozzle, so end up getting slightly iced tea-infused water. Not bad, if I must say so myself.
The hot dog and the grilled cheese come up a few minutes later. Not a bad snack, but not exciting either.
WiFi is locked down to Plaza Premium users, but doesn’t seem much different than the free airport-wide WiFi which is equally available here, so why bother? Corporate shot time!
With about 40 minutes to go before our scheduled departure and my snack finished, my watch buzzes at me that boarding is beginning for my flight. So I pack up my iPad and head out towards Gate A14 where my Mad Dog should be awaiting me.
By the time I make it down to A14, boarding is well underway, with Main Cabin 2 just being called.
There’s no one in the Sky Priority lane, so I make my way to the front of it, get a quick scan, and away I go.
Hello, you old Mad Dog you!
There’s a short lineup in the jetway, but soon enough, I’m aboard.
Flight: DL1892 From: Toronto Pearson (YYZ) To: Atlanta Hartsfield (ATL) Date: 2/17/2019 Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas MD-88 Registration: N902DE Seat: 3D ATD (STD): 18:09 (17:59) ATA ( STA): 20:26 (20:36)
For this flight, I’m in 3D, the starboard window seat in the third of four rows in the First Class cabin. The seat is equipped as one would expect Delta First — a thin blanket, a pillow that makes good enough lumbar support but is otherwise lacklustre, and a small bottle of Dasani.
Although I’m late to board in First, there’s enough room for my suitcase just across the aisle from me. This turns out to be a good thing, as the flight attendants make repeated announcements that the flight is payload-optimized, and they can’t put any additional bags below. As usual, my backpack goes under the seat in front of me, both out of courtesy and for easy access in-flight.
The legroom is decent.
The Mad Dogs and their little sisters the 717s are the only Delta mainline planes left without seatback IFE, so it’ll be nature’s IFE (and BYOD WiFi service) for this flight down to Atlanta.
Next door to us, a good-looking Air Transat A330. I don’t really want ever to fly them, but their livery is very nice.
According to the captain, we can expect some chop climbing out of Toronto based on what they experienced on the way in from Atlanta, but it should otherwise be a smooth night.
After resorting to insinuating that people will miss their connections if they don’t sit down and buckle up soon, the crew finally gets everyone and their gear settled in, and we’re ready to go. With no seatback screens, we’re treated to a manual safety demonstration.
We push back right at our scheduled departure time of 5:58 pm.
About ten minutes later, we’re lined up, and away we go into the rapidly-darkening skies over Toronto. For a while, we’re lined up to get a great shot of the downtown core out of my window, but we make a turn towards the west and end up crossing the northern shore of Lake Ontario travelling southwest, just a bit west of downtown. Oh well.
We break through the skies a few minutes later, just as the sun is setting.
A look at the old-school passenger service units as we climb. In some ways, it will be sad to see the ol’ Mad Dogs leave the fleet. They’re a pleasant ride up front, and 2-3 in the back is always better than 3-3.
My entertainment at this hour is a podcast hosted by, among others, a couple of Delta (sorry, I mean “Acme”) Mad Dog captains. I was listening during the captain’s announcements earlier, and sadly, the voice from the flight deck was not familiar. I don’t catch a ride on a Mad Dog very often, but I keep hoping I’ll get Captain Jeff or Captain Dana one of these times.
The flight attendant leading service in First offers the snack basket, and it’s in sorry shape, even by snack basket standards. There’s the usual economy snacks — peanuts, Kind bars, and snack mix — pita chips and bananas. And that’s all. It’s ridiculous enough that Delta offers only a snack basket on this 700-plus mile flight, but it’s really disappointing not to get offered very much over what would be provided in the back. I grab some peanuts and a Kind bar and am glad I got a decent snack in the lounge. Delta really needs to come up with some sort of decent snack option for flights in the 500-800 mile range, especially when it’s mainline.
The WiFi-based IFE system works pretty well, and there’s a decent selection of content. So while the seatback is missed, at least there are useful options. I fire up Almost Famous just to verify that it works. I’m left asking myself though if you haven’t downloaded the required Gogo Entertainment app to your device pre-flight, do you have to pay for WiFi internet service to download it?
When it’s my turn to order a drink, I go with my current Delta domestic standard, tequila and Bloody Mary mix, a concept introduced to me by a seatmate about a year ago. It’s delicious as usual, and so much better than the more traditional vodka-based option. The drink needs more spice though. Preferably a healthy shot of Worcestershire. And I wish Americans would learn of the wonders of Clamato, which is in a whole other realm of tasty compared to plain old tomato juice or Bloody Mary mix.
I spend a lot of time on the flight working on this flight-report. I managed to get my computer back from sick bay before heading out on this trip, but not in time to get it restored, so I ended up leaving it behind, and I’ll be doing my flight-reporting exclusively on my little iPad Pro. So far, I’m finding it easy enough to do everything I need to go, and the tradeoffs all seem to be about screen size and not the limitations of iOS. It surprises me how much “real work” one can do on this little device once you get used to how it works.
I appreciate that even if there’s not a seatback screen that some semblance of a moving map is available in the onboard WiFi portal. It certainly helps to stay aware of how the flight is progressing.
Drink refills are promptly offered by the rather friendly young woman serving the front cabin. More of the same for me, please.
It seems an appropriate time for the prerequisite lav shots, so I head forward to the single lav behind the forward galley. But it’s occupied. So I wait a while, and naturally, because I’m standing, we have to hit some light turbulence, but enough to warrant the seat belt signs being lit.
Here’s a look of the cabin mid-flight from the front galleys while I wait.
Eventually, the male flight attendant who’d been doing the drink run down the back brings his trolley back up front and says he needs right into the space where I’m standing. I move out of his way, and he squeezes by. I apologize for being in the way.
“No problem,” he replies. “Sorry for having such a small plane.”
He then launches into a brief diatribe about how things would be different if he designed aircraft.
If you’ve ever wondered where Apple sells all of its watches, I’m pretty sure at least half of the Delta flight attendants I’ve seen in the last year are wearing one, including both FAs working out of the forward galley on this flight.
I wait a few minutes more, and he taps me on the shoulder.
“I don’t know what’s taking so long in there, but now that I’m out of the way, both of the toilets in the back are open,” he suggests.
So I make my way to the very rear of the cabin for the starboard lav at the back. Yep, it looks like an old-timey airplane lav for sure.
Since I’ve made it all the way back here, let’s follow up on that view from the front galley with a view from the very back of the cabin. All this just to get a couple of mandatory lav pictures!
Back at my seat, another drink is offered, but I’m good for now.
By this time, we’re just 20 minutes out Atlanta. The captain comes on to give us our pre-arrival briefing, and we begin to descend into the hometown superhub.
As we descend, I’m thorough entertained by this week’s “Plane Tales,” a short documentary feature recorded by one of the show’s hosts. This one is telling the somewhat harrowing tale of arriving and departing the old Kai Tek. It provides a colourful setup for my journey to Hong Kong and makes me almost sorry I only started flying to HKG after it had relocated to the current facility, which sadly requires no threading the needle between skyscrapers. It certainly sounds like an awe-inspiring experience being able to planespot from the heart of Kowloon.
I keep waiting for us to break through the clouds on our descent, but when I hear the telltale sounds of the gears extending when we’re still enveloped, it becomes pretty apparent that it’s a bit foggy in Atlanta tonight.
And sure enough, we’re still at least partly in the fog when we touch down.
After about ten minutes of taxiing, we find our way to the D-gates, where our journey ends next to our fellow Mad Dog.
Arrival into ATL
Goodbye, old bird.
I make my way down the packed halls of Terminal D and head downstairs to begin the walk over to Terminal F, from which my flight to Seoul tonight will be departing.
I’ll leave it at that for this flight-report, and pick things up when I get over to F. Thanks for joining me for the unexpected twists and turns on this tale, and I hope you’ll join me for the (hopefully more predictable) story of my flight across the Pacific from Atlanta.
Delta Air Lines
Plaza Premium Lounge - 3
Toronto - YYZ
Atlanta - ATL
The big impression I’ll take away from this flight is Delta recovering the trip for me before I even left Toronto. Things get messy when partners start pointing fingers at each other, especially when each has an at least semi-valid basis for their argument. Fortunately, the second Delta agent I spoke to put an end to the game of blame-the-other-guy and got things fixed up, even if it does mean an unfortunate sector in economy on ICN-HKG.
The flight itself was perfectly adequate, with a decent seat and friendly service from the Atlanta-based crew. My only quibble is with the “catering.” A snack basket that aspires to mediocrity is not a “First Class” offering on a nearly 800-mile flight. Delta, mostly rightly, often commands a premium fare as a premium airline, and that includes more selling the front cabin and fewer upgrades for elites. Surely, that “premium” should include at least some sort of plated snack on a flight of this length.
But in the meantime, even a decently-stocked snack basket would be a nice improvement.
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Looks like a standard flight in domestic F on a short hop like this. Looking forward to your next report - sorry to hear about all your re-route!
Hi 757 — Yeah, pretty much what it was. And thanks for the condolences. I’m disappointed not to have been able to fly China Airlines again, and to flight-report it for the first time. Oh well. It gives me something to do for another series later this year, I hope. Cheers!
Hey HometoYYZ! I always found it weird that DL only did a snack basket on these long-ish transborder flights. For a similar length flight, AA would have some sort of plated snack or small meal. Other than that it's friendly DL domestic service as usual, and it's great how they were able to recover from what could have been a nightmare. As you point out, IRROPS in codeshare and interline situations can be a huge pain with lots of finger pointing and no one taking ownership, so way to go DL!
“I always found it weird that DL only did a snack basket on these long-ish transborder flights. For a similar length flight, AA would have some sort of plated snack or small meal.”
- Yeah, it’s an odd choice. Hell, AC can manage a plated snack on an Embraer flight from YYZ to ORD or VV. Now, that’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, becuase AC does a lot more than even DL to protect the sanctity (ie: profitability) of the forward cabin. But given Delta’s efforts to monetize as much as possible and minimize free upgrades, perhaps a revisit is in order.
“Other than that it's friendly DL domestic service as usual, and it's great how they were able to recover from what could have been a nightmare. As you point out, IRROPS in codeshare and interline situations can be a huge pain with lots of finger pointing and no one taking ownership, so way to go DL!”
- I completely agree. When I called back, I (at least) half-expected to get the same “This one’s on CI” story from the second Delta agent. Instead, they opened up F and D1 space on YYZ-ATL-ICN, and I guess got KE to open economy award space on ICN-HKG. I think they might have had more options had I been willing to wait until Monday to depart, but it’s already a very short visit, so I really wanted to maximize my time on the ground in Hong Kong. I’m not sure if they did all this because of my status with them, but it really makes me feel like my loyalty is at least not completely one-sided, and probably actually means something. Well done, Delta.
And yet another nice trip report ahead of us. I could imagine it being a downer for your initial trip to be canceled, but did China Airlines itself never reach out to you due to their cancellation to give you an updated itinerary?
Yeah, it was disappointing for the CI flights to be cancelled, because I was really looking forward to flying them again, since I’ve only flown them once before and didn’t end up flight-reporting that. To answer your question, no, there was no outreach on CI’s part. I’m not what would have happened had I tried to check in at YYZ for YYZ-JFK-TPE-HKG, given that Delta didn’t seem to know the flight was cancelled at that point. My guess is I would have made it to JFK, and then had to see CI’s people there to try to recover something, and who knows when or with whom that would have been. Of course, the way it worked out, I was quickly reticketed by DL, so at that point I was officially off CI’s books, so it’s not a surprise I didn’t hear from them. But yes, some proactive service for a cancellation that was clearly known about well in advance would have been appropriate. Perhaps that’s something else they can’t do because it the ticket was on Delta stock. ?
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