Welcome back to my first actual travel series on here. As the rest of the year is somewhat difficult for me in terms of finding time for a vacation, and that my last stay in the USA was cut short abruptly for reasons everybody is sick and tired of hearing from by now, the decision where to go was made very quickly. That the only other attractive goal for my trip - Japan - is still closed off to the world as I'm writing these lines, and the US lifted their immigration ban for Schengen area inhabitants last fall made the decision even more easy to make. I had specific reasons for choosing the first three stops of my little tour of the United States but Houston was more or less chosen because it was expedient. Speaking of expediency, this was also part of the reason why I chose the airlines I chose for this trip. Trip times were good and the prices too. For American Airlines, I was even able to use some travel credit leftover from 2020. Plus, I had wanted to try Delta's long-haul product for some time now and the opportunity was there. The routing for my vacation this year is as follows:
Far too soon my time in the US was over already and it was time to fly back to Germany. Obviously, I had booked a round trip from and to Frankfurt, so I was flying on Delta again. As they don't offer a direct flight from Houston to Frankfurt, I had to transfer in Atlanta, which I wasn't exactly looking forward to but I wasn't dreading it either. I mean, in my experience ATL is a fairly efficient airport, and in any case it can't be worse than JFK. My last night in Houston was rather short and not very productive in terms of sleep, so I just wanted to get on the plane and snooze for a bit. Just so you're warned if this report won't be very long or informative :) I hope you enjoy anyways.
See the bonus section down below for some impressions of aviation-focused tourist attractions in Houston.
Houston Intercontinental Airport & Embarkation
After my experiences on the outbound flight, I didn't upload any kind of documentation to the airline's servers before the flight. So I had to present all the documents in person while checking in (which, by the way, I couldn't do beforehand - important note to you Basic Economy folks). This however, wasn't a hassle at all. The waiting time wasn't long, and the employee taking care of this process was very nice and friendly indeed. Security checks are devided by gate groups, about 15-20 gates in one group. There was a wait before the security check, but in general the process was very good. This is because at Houston Intercontinental, it isn't necessary to unpack one's bag before loading it on the belt. That saves a lot of time. Speaking of belts - belts and shoes still need to come off if you don't have TSA PreCheck. Soon enough, I was airside. A disadvantage of the airport being so compartmentalized is that the selection of shops and restaurants in each part of the airport is fairly limited. It was still good, but not what you would expect from a big international airport.
I for my part decided to have late breakfast at one of the places in the airport. Needless to say, the view was superb.
More random planespotting… Houston IAH is pretty much owned by United (as demonstrated by their ERJ-145, 737-900, and E175. But Delta also has a strong presence there (see their A220 and A321). Noteworthy other guests include an Air Canada CRJ (have never seen that one in the new livery) and a Cathay Cargo 747-8.
Another thing I've never seen I encountered while talking a walk through IAH… a Tripadvisor store (selling sundry goods and Houston souvenirs).
Today's boarding gate was A15. As per usual, crowds started buiding up way ahead of the actual boarding time, impatiently balancing from one foot to the other while waiting for the first PAs. Seating at the gates wasn't exactly aplenty, but the terminal wasn't in high use while I was there, so one could easily find a seat close to an adjacent gate.
The rest of the boarding process was rather uneventful. That also must have been where my tiredness kicked in because, as I'm astonished to inform you, the next pictures I have taken are directly from the cabin.
Today's ship: N125DN, A321-200 delivered new to Delta in October 2021 (0.5 years old). I actually didn't know the ceo variant was still being made in late 2021. Anyways, if there was some "new plane smell" present, it was hard to actually smell due to the masks :/ (Picture taken upon deplaning in ATL) (Factual) information courtesy of Airfleets.net.
Disclaimer: First two photos of the gallery below taken after landing. Below you can see my seat for this flight, seat 31A. In the second picture, for comparison, a row of Comfort Plus. Legroom in regular Economy/Main Cabin was typical for a US domestic flight. But every seat was equipped with adjustable headrests, a nice and big pocket, a touch screen infotainment system (9"/11"?), a headphone jack and a USB socket, and probably some kind of power supply below the seats, I didn't look. The window view from seat 31A is also quite nice, enabling you to see a lot of the landscape while also having a little bit of wing in your field of view. Seat pocket contents were standard, being comprised of a sick bag and the safety card. The cabin was in a very good shape at the beginning of the flight.
Sorry I have no idea when pushback commenced, but boarding was closed on time. The taxi was quite nice, as it allowed for views of various aircraft such as said Air Canada CRJ, a United 787 and a 777 taking off, and multiple other planes of Southwest, Delta, and United. Pretty much the dominating airlines at this airport, as far as I can tell.
I remember take-off being weirdly gradual, though. I wasn't worried or anything, it just struck me.
At least this allowed for some nice views of Houston & suburbs…
…until we finally did soar through and above the clouds. Meanwhile, cabin crew made a lengthy announcement informing passengers about the mask rules, earbuds available at request, and the inflight service etc. Also, they advised us of a flight time of 1:35h.
There wasn't a real cloud cover to speak of, though, so occasionally one was able to peek through them and see a patch of land somewhere down there. However, it became "night" pretty quickly after take-off as the lights were dimmed and most (if not all) passengers closed their window blinds.
Time to take a look at the IFE system… Each seat is equipped with an adequately large and responsive IFE touchscreen, giving each passenger access to the customary plentitude of films, TV shows, etc. A certainly interesting feature is not only that extensive info about the aircraft, the route and the current state of the flight are given, but also about the onboard service for this flight. While there isn't much to talk about in this regard, certainly a nice touch! (Plus this system is much easier to put into metric mode than the other one Delta uses). Of course, the complimentary wi-fi messaging and BYOD options were also available on this flight.
On the topic of onboard service. The service on this flight consisted of a full beverage service and a choice between a granola bar or salted almonds. Pictures here are a cup of Coke with ice and a pack of almonds. While it's a good degree of service for a flight this long, having the whole can would have been a nice touch (you'll probably get it if you ask for it). (Sorry for the grainy photo. The original photo turned out to be very dark and I had to enhance it so that you can actually see something on it.)
Flying somewhere near the Alabama/Georgia state line…
For some reason, there were quite a lot of fires going on in the rural areas of Georgia that day. As the flight was drawing near to its end, we noticeably lost altitude and the landscape became more and more suburban. Then (photo 4) we passed downtown Atlanta as we overshot to approach the airport from the East.
We then curved starboard and made our glorious return/approach into ATL.
I think there was an aircraft making a parallel approach to us, but sorry, I don't remember anymore and I obviously didn't take any notes or photos of that. In any case, we made a smooth landing in ATL 6 minutes ahead of schedule, as this DL A321 waits for the clearance to take off (i.e. for us to be gone).
And that A321 came soaring by not much later!
We taxied down the full length of the runway and turned around at a little cul-de-sac on the Western end of it. We came to a sudden stop near the head end of one of the concourse buildings, Concourse B. Our gate. Photo 5: The ever elusive B757, which was supposed to operate this flight when I booked it, rolling by in the background.
Picture taken during disembarkation, which commenced rather promtply. Even I somewhat bumped my head when trying to get out, walking past under one of these big luggage bins in an opened state.
Leaving my flight through a rather congested gate area…
There was a lot going on in the B concourse, indeed!
With that I'll leave you for this part of my series, as that is slowly coming to its close. I'd be happy to see you again for the next and last installment of this year's US trip. Until then, for everybody who made it here, a little bit of aviation-focused tourism content in the bonus section. Enjoy!
Bonus : Click here display hide
One of Houston's most famous attractions certainly is the NASA Space Center. It actually can be visited and offers the visitor a plethora of illustrations, explanations, dioramas, and original artefacts (like a whole Mercury capsule and an original Saturn V rocket). With a guided tour, you can even visit the Mission Control Center and the astronaut training center. However, the Space Center also has something for avgeeks: One of two original shuttle transport jumbos. These were originally American Airlines 747-100s modified for their special role. For example, they were given more powerful engines to better handle the added weight and drag. For the same reason, much of the planes' insulation was removed, particularly in the rear, making this part of the plane rather cold during flights. On the other hand, pig iron weights were introduced in the front for a better weight balance when a shuttle was riding on the jumbo. The front also held the two working areas for Nasa employees, made up of original American Airlines First Class seats situated in the nose of the plane and in the lounge upstairs (unfortunately not open for visitors). Last but not least, additional metal frames were added throughout the fuselage for better weight distribution and general stability when the plane was loaded.
Before you ask: The Space Shuttle riding on this Jumbo, the Independence, is a replica and not an original one.
Another cool but more often overlooked attraction of Houston (seriously, I counted three other visitors in total in the approx. 2 hours I was there) is the 1940 Air Terminal. It is located on the west side of what is today William P. Hobby Airport. This structure, inaugurated in 1940, was Houston's first commercial air terminal and remained in active passenger duties into the 1960s, when it was gradually succeeded by the then-new Hobby airport and, later, Bush Intercontinental. Unfortunately, neither the building (photo 1) nor the corresponding hangar (photo 2) are in really good shape today. You enter through the main hall of the old air terminal (photo 3) and then have access to various artifacts about the history of the airport, aviation in Houston, and pertaining to aviation history in general. Photo 4: An artist's impression of what business here could have been like in the days of DC-3s and Constellations.
This, of course, is a rather "special" attraction that will not appeal to any traveler. Though I had expected something different there, I was very much satisfied with having made the decision to visit. It's a pleasant and well-run place, and the volunteers working there are just great and nice people. So if you have 1-2 hours to spare to look at random aviation history artifacts in an authentic and intimate setting, this is the right place for you.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this tourism bonus. Thank you for stopping by!
Delta Air Lines
Houston - IAH
Atlanta - ATL
DL: A nice and solid domestic flight from Delta. The cabin was fresh and well-appointed and well-cleaned on top, though I can't say anything about the restrooms. Interactions with the cabin crew were pleasant, too. Entertainment options are brilliant for a short flight like this. While I can't give Delta a higher rating than 6.5 for the catering, I think that the drinks and snacks service is totally adequate for a flight this short and certainly more than you get when flying on many European legacy carriers.
IAH: A fairly efficient airport with rather pleasant staff and cool new security technology which makes our lives much easier. The selection of shops and eateries in the individual terminal areas could be improved, though. As I said in my previous review, the airport is quite far from downtown and there's no reasonable way of getting there for most people except a (rental) car.
ATL: Another solid showing from ATL airport. As I covered the airport before and will cover it in my next report more extensively, I will just leave it at saying that I was satisfied with this airport experience.
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