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.
My plans would ultimately end up chaging as the result of a pilot strike at China Airlines, but I got to Hong Kong, and that’s what matters.
… he had just arrived into Terminal D in Atlanta and was making his way over to Terminal F, from which he’d be departing on his way to Seoul, part of the hastily-rebooked itinerary that would take him to Hong Kong. And if you missed that whole drama, go back and read the YYZ-ATL flight-report. This one will still be here when you’re done. Promise.
It doesn’t seem like going from Terminal D to Terminal F should be that long a journey, but it’s actually about a ten-minute walk, with lots of ups and downs on escalators. There’s also a train available to take you there. But where’s the fun in that?
Finally, I made it to the open and airy central atrium of Terminal F, which feels so wide open after the cramped and almost claustrophobic feeling of Terminal D.
Time to check in on my ride. While I’m disappointed not to be flight-reporting on China Airlines on this trip, a neat little consolation prize is that my A350 over to Seoul tonight is a brand spanking new bird. She’s just been delivered to Delta just last month, and entering into service only five days earlier, with a grand total of two return flights between the U.S. and Korea under her belt.
I make my way out to Gate F4, and there she is, in all her new plane glory, having arrived from Seoul just a few hours ago.
I wonder if I’ll get to try out this new system on this flight? I sure hope so.
Okay, enough of that. Let’s go check out the lounge.
The lounge is upstairs off a mezzanine level.
This is Delta’s main international lounge in its world hub, so it should be good, right?
I’m quickly scanned in by an agent who’s having a colourful conversation with the agent next to her about her uniform. Long story short, it’s too hot.
The lounge unfolds off a short hall that features this FIDS screen.
Sadly, my favourite part of the lounge, the upstairs seating and the Sky Deck beyond it, appear to be closed off tonight. Bummer.
To the right of the entrance hall is the main lounge space, which has a variety of seating options including some divided seats in red and some cubicles in an eight-seat “business centre,” and plenty of power outlets.
This side of the lounge also offers good airside views, although things are rather quiet and dark at this hour.
The buffet and bar area is to the left of the entry hallway, and there’s another small room, which feels more like a hallway, beyond it with more seating options.
Let’s check out the buffet. Cold options include a few cookies, salads, bananas, and hummus.
The bar is pretty well stocked, and a bartender is pouring. Most of the time.
There are three hot options at this hour. I suspect we’re on a reduced late-night snack menu.
First up is a roasted plantain hash that doesn’t grab me much.
Then there’s a bowl of macaroni and cheese, always one of my favourite Sky Club treats.
When I approach the orange-ish soup offering, I presume it’s the Thai curry soup I’ve seen at other Sky Clubs. But when I open it, a tangy, spicy aroma wafts up to meet my nose. Oh yes, it’s the Buffalo wing and bleu cheese soup that I fell in love with at the JFK Sky Club last fall. Hello, old friend. Good to see you again.
I retreat to one of the cubicles with a snack of two of my all-time favourite Sky Club snacks, quite pleased with myself. The challenge will be not refilling both multiple times and boarding the flight too stuffed to enjoy the meal after takeoff. Om nom nom nom.
Don’t judge me. I’m a simple creature, and I likes what I likes.
WiFi is fast — actually the password this month would suggest its faster — and does a good job. Hey, look. I wonder what HometoYYZ is doing in Atlanta?
I head back to the bar to sample one of the beers on draft, Sweetwater 420 IPA. It’s a very easy-drinking version of the variety, but quite tasty. Oh, and somehow some more of the soup followed my back to my seat. I’m not sure how that happened.
Just after 11:00, I check in on the status of my flight, and at least FR24 believes that we’re going to be running about a half-hour late. I’ve got a 2:35 layover scheduled in ICN, so I’m not nervous about the connection yet, but I’ll have to keep an eye on any additional schedule slippage.
By 11:30, things are pretty quiet in the lounge. I don’t think there are very many after-midnight departures.
With boarding time and a new day, arriving, I packed up my gear and headed over to F4 to see what’s going on at midnight.
The F-concourse Sky Club at ATL is one of the better clubs in the system, perhaps behind only the main JFK lounge in the lounges I’ve visited, although that lounge can suffer from overcrowding.
Things aren’t much busier outside the lounge, either.
But as I approach the gate for our departure, I find out where all the people who are here are at. The mob has started up.
I can see people boarding, so I find a path through the horde towards the empty Sky Priority lane. I don’t know where we’re at in the boarding process, but just as I step forward, they call Delta One boarding, so I’m right on time.
Sure enough, they do use the facial scan for boarding. I just look at the device, and it authenticates me against my passport on record. While this doesn’t save a lot of time over the usual hand over the boarding pass for those of us who keep our boarding passes and passports ready at boarding time habitually, it does mean that those who don’t have them out won’t slow things down. And those of us who do can put them away. It’s a pretty cool addition to the boarding process. I hope Delta rolls it out much more widely.
From: Atlanta Hartsfield (ATL)
To: Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
ATD (STD): 01:03 (00:53)
ATA ( STA): 05:06+1 (05:45+1)
I’m greeted promptly at door 2L and motioned forward towards 5B, a middle seat off the port aisle. So sadly no window views for me.
As I approach my seat, I’m greeted by name by Joan, who’ll be leading the service for this aisle. Just like my PEK-DTW flight a couple of weeks ago, this crew leans on the older side of the spectrum but shows a great deal of passion and energy for their profession. She thanks me for my loyalty, and we briefly discuss the circumstances that resulted in me being here, with me emphasizing my gratitude that Delta salvaged the trip for me.
The plane still almost has that new plane smell. It’s so unique to be flying with her just a few days into what will hopefully be a long and distinguished career.
The seat is equipped as standard for Delta longhaul, with a big comfy blanket and a pack of two pillows.
Along with a couple of pieces of literature explaining the suite, I’ve got a nice handwritten note from Annmarie, the service leader for this flight. This is the second time I’ve received such a note on a Delta flight, and it’s a nice touch.
The amenity kit and slippers are stored under the little shelf that adds to the reasonable amount of storage in the Delta One Suite.
A recessed storage area provides a home for the LSTN headphones and a bottle of Dasani, although once again if you didn’t know it was there, it would be really easy to miss that bottle of water back there.
This is my first time missing out on a window seat on the A350, so the privacy divider is new to me. It works very well. Throughout the flight, I had no idea anyone was sitting next to me unless I happened to notice the guy in 5C getting into or out of his seat.
Legroom shot, about as expected.
And a look into the footwell.
The screen is large, and once again, seems even more substantial because it’s so close to you because of the staggered layout of the seat. Sadly, my streak of Delta flights with IFE enabled at the gate ends at one. It was nice while it lasted.
Seat controls on top of, and in the side of the tabletop between the seat and the aisle.
The shelf, a wall sconce reading light, and the release for the suite door.
Headphone jack and power and USB ports are under the shelf.
Annmarie stops by to introduce herself and offers a menu. She also seems friendly, and jokingly asked if I received her “love letter.”
The amenity kit unboxed. They Tumi-branded hardside is a little bit on the whiter side of grey compared to the initial version of this case, which leaned more towards silver. The contents are the same, though. I really like Delta’s socks for some strange reason.
Joan stops by with an offer of orange juice, champagne, Heineken, or a mix of the above. I presume she means a mimosa, but I briefly ponder an Orange Champagneken before just taking a glass of sparkling wine.
Rounding out our tour of the suite, the simple remote for the IFE screen (and a mirror) is hidden in the armrest.
Annmarie stops by again, this time to take orders for whatever you call a meal at 2:00 am. I choose the cod, thinking both that it sounds good, and that it should be a slightly lighter main course for the late-night heavy meal.
Joan not only proactively offers a refill, but she also does so before I’m even done my first drink.
The new “safety card” themed video rolls about 12:50 am, and we push back on time, accompanied by the signature A350 whiff of jet fuel in the cabin.
The captain greets and informs us that we’re at “the busiest airport in the world, but there’s only one aircraft in front of us for departure.” We’re airborne by about three minutes after 1 o’clock.
After the safety video rolls, IFE is enabled, so I dive into the content. Not surprisingly, since it’s the same month, the selections are the same as those available on my PEK-DTW flight.
Nevertheless, I find something to watch while I wait for what will once again be dinner well beyond the elite hour.
I change into the Delta-provided socks and slippers and settle in to a more relaxed position in the seat. I notice a unique benefit of the middle seats — there’s a shoe storage space that extends under the tabletop next to my seatmate. That's a real advantage.
Annmarie’s introduction announcements after takeoff inform us that we’re expecting a bit of turbulence for the first two hours of the flight, so “please only get up to use the washroom in case of emergency.”
The lack of overhead bins in the centre really makes a difference in the middle pair of seats. You notice this from the window seats, but sitting here in the middle of the plane, you really feel it. It feels like there’s so wide open, and yet so enclosed in the suite. Aside from the obvious downside of the lack of views, I might almost prefer these offset-from-the-aisle middle seats to window seats.
As we start to hit the promised turbulence, though it’s light, Annmarie makes her way down the aisle with hot towel service. It feels good to refresh at this late hour. I’m not feeling sleepy yet, but I’m definitely not at my peak energy level. Joan makes the rounds shortly after that to collect the towels.
Joan follows that up with a visit from the drink cart. I request my usual — a glass of champagne and a Pellegrino. The sparkling water is immediately offered, with ice and lime as requested, while the champagne has to come from the galley. Joan also sets down the table cloth on her drink run and offers a ramekin of warmed nuts. These ones are just right, a nice change after the ridiculously salty nuts provided on my recent PEK-DTW flight.
Despite the late hour and my Sky Club snacks, I’m feeling quite hungry.
Joan pops by a couple of minutes later with the Lanson. It’s still not my favourite champagne, but it’s an enjoyable beverage nonetheless.
Just a few minutes later, she’s back with the starters tray and breadbasket. I take a pretzel bread and set into the meal.
The shrimp and slaw served chilled, are quite a nice starter, although I don’t really taste anything resembling harissa on it.
I really enjoy the salad, mainly because of a smoky flavour in the dressing.
The pretzel bread is, well, pretzel bread. There’s not much to say about it, other than it’s good.
As soon as I’m done, Joan clears the dishes from the starter, and moments later Annmarie appears with my main course. The presentation is not great, and it’s sadly lacking in the goji berry salsa described in the menu, but it’s a tasty bit of fish, and I quite enjoy it.
As I’m eating, Joan sneaks up on me to offer a refill of my champagne. I had planned to switch to a non-sparkling wine, but at this point, why bother?
When I’m done, she’s back to remove the dishes promptly and asks if I’d like some cheese or ice cream. I request both and accept the offered chocolate sauce on the ice cream.
It takes her a few minutes to return with dessert, and when she comes back, she’s chuckling. She says it’s the first time for many of the crew to fly the A350, and they’re struggling with finding things — in this case, namely crackers, in the small forward galley. Other than the size of the galley, she doesn’t really have any thoughts on working the new Airbus as yet, but she says she thinks it will take her a few flights to get acclimated. “We’re lucky we’re smaller people because there’s not much room up there.”
She offers a drink with dessert, and I request a refill of my Pellegrino, and to try the Sauternes.
Delta’s cheese courses are always quite good, and this one is no exception. Just a delight.
The ice cream is simple, but a satisfying end to this meal. I’m no longer hungry. In fact, I’m quite stuffed.
It takes a few more minutes before Joan brings out the drinks. As she puts them down, she says “Same song, second verse,” then shrugs and adds, “We’re learning.” The Sauternes is quite an excellent dessert wine.
Annmarie makes the rounds offering water, and though the bottle in its holder at my seat is unopened, I accept the offer. I might as well stock up in the quest to stay hydrated.
As I’m finishing my wine, my movie comes to an end. Exactly as I planned it, of course. I take this as a sign that it’s probably just about time to call it a night. That and the fact that I’ve been up for about 21 hours at this point.
I notice as I’m getting ready to head to the lav to freshen up for the night that some passengers are just now ready to have their dessert. The crew does a good job of managing the differing paces of various diners.
I head forward to the lav on the port side immediately behind the forward (tiny) galley. It’s a standard washroom with nothing really outstanding.
Back at my seat, I make up the bed and get ready to settle in for the night.
Time to shut the door, and there’s no doubt that this door, on this new plane, closes a lot more completely than the door on my PEK-DTW A350.
As I settle in for bed, we’re flying over northern Ontario on our way up over the Pole.
There’s no mattress pad, but I find the bed quite comfortable, and quickly drift off to sleep. I manage about four hours of sleep before I find myself waking up. We’re up over the top as I put my seat back up to a lounging position.
Time to find my next film. I settle in on this, thoroughly expecting to be unimpressed. Meh. I hate it when movies like this telegraph the big surprise reveal an hour in advance.
I debate checking out an internet connection, if only for a little while, but the system isn’t cooperating in this northern environment.
Before I can start to sulk about that, Annmarie stops by and asks if I’d like a snack. The rice cake doesn’t sound very interesting to me, so I end up going with the omelet. It is breakfast time according to my body clock. It’s delivered less than two minutes later along with my requested Pellegrino. The omelet is pretty good — nice and cheesy. The asparagus is, of course, overdone.
I’m surprised that I’m hungry just four hours after a rather big meal at the start of the flight, but here we are, and I am.
During the movie, I drain both of the water bottles available to me. No sooner have I finished the second than Joan appears to take them away, and returns to restock me with two new bottles.
By the time the movie’s over, we’ve crossed over into Siberian airspace.
I put the bed down an see if I can get a bit more sleep, but I only manage to get another 45 minutes or so before waking up needing to offload some of that water.
I have to cross over to the starboard lav, and when I come out, Joan is blocking the aisle. A couple of the flight deck crew are milling about in the front galley, so we chat a bit more about her getting accustomed to the A350 until I can return to my seat.
I grab a bag of chips from the snack basket on the way by and settle in to watch my next movie. A very well-told and very emotional story.
By the time it’s over, we’re closing in on Korea, with just under 800 miles between Incheon and us.
With about an hour and a half left in the film, I have to find something short to entertain me the rest of the way, and I find this documentary complete with analysis from the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Jerry Rice quite compelling.
Almost as soon as I start the film, the house lights abruptly come up, so I think it’s going to be breakfast time pretty soon.
Service starts with a hot towel.
And then drinks from the cart served by Joan, while Annmarie brings the breakfast tray from the forward galley. I decide to go with the beef bulgogi, along with my usual orange juice and coffee. The bulgogi is actually pretty good. It may not fit the definition of breakfast I’m most used to, but it’s mid-afternoon as far as my body is concerned anyway. I also enjoy the side dishes.
I end the meal with one more cup of coffee and chat a bit more with Joan. It’s a 36-hour layover for them in Seoul. “I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about getting to the hotel at 6 am, though.”
As I’m finishing my coffee, the captain puts on the seatbelt sign and announces we’ll be starting our descent momentarily. The weather in Seoul is a delightful 30 degrees with light snow, and we’re expected to land a little early, right around 05:00.
I take this opportunity to stow most of the gear I’ve had out for the flight, keeping just my iPad out so I can keep typing until I have to stop.
WiFi never does recover. Too bad, I might have actually taken advantage of it on this flight given the timing back home in North America.
About a half-hour from arrival, we start getting some bumps. Joan makes the rounds making sure the business class passengers have their shoulder harnesses fastened, while Annmarie follows behind her saying goodbye and offering chocolate mints.
The film ends with just ten minutes left in the flight. The moving map is no longer working for whatever reason, but we’re almost there. We touch down at about five minutes after five, and it’s a short taxi to the gate. Deplaning is by door 1L, with Joan and Annmarie offering their farewells as we leave.
We arrive at a gate that’s at something of a splitting point, with Terminal 1 transfers to the left, and Terminal 2 transfers just a few feet to the right. The FIDS informs me I’ll be leaving from Gate 255 of Terminal 2 for my flight to Hong Kong, so I head into the Terminal 2 transfer security line.
It’s still pretty early in the arrival schedule for the day, so the security screening here takes me less than five minutes to get through, and I head up into the brand spanking new Terminal 2. This is my first visit to this facility. I’m just a couple of days ahead of schedule for it.
It immediately makes a strong impression, with this garden or park area right by the escalators up from the transfer security check.
But we’ll leave the rest of my thoughts on the new Incheon terminal for the next flight-report, as we’ll pick up here for ICN-HKG on Korean. Will your humble flight-reporter survive in economy? Hey, at least KE hasn’t gone 10-across on the 777s yet.
Thanks for joining me for this unexpected trip to Seoul, and I hope to see you when it continues, and I make my way towards Hong Kong. Cheers!
Another good experience with Delta longhaul, and another crew that shows that experience does not have to mean frowns and lacklustre service.
I think I may have found a rare situation in which having a middle seat at least isn’t a downgrade from a window seat in business class. The seat itself is the same, but additional headroom and storage make the middle seats pretty good. They just have one problem — they’re missing a window.