Delta Air Lines
by Luigi Vallero
PHOTO: ED PASCUZZI
Route: New York-Kennedy (IATA: JFK/ICAO: KJFK) to Milano-Malpensa (MXP/LIMC)
Date: November 16, 2006
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300 (N180DN)
Departure time: 1925
Arrival time: 1020
Passenger: Luigi Vallero
Sometimes travel plans simply don’t turn out as expected, and this was one of those days. My flight from Dallas to Atlanta had been cancelled, jeopardizing my onward connection to Rome [Roma], Italy, so I had been re-routed on a rather circuitous path, flying to New York-LaGuardia and then, after a taxi ride, reaching JFK in the hope of catching my long-haul flight from JFK. And there I was, travelling at a very slow pace, in a Yellow Cab at rush hour on the heavily congested Van Wyck Expressway, wondering whether I would ever make it.
Arriving at Delta’s JFK check-in area barely an hour before departure, my heart sank when I saw the dozens of travellers standing in line. Now resigned to see my flight leave without me, I simply joined the long human string, and after a 45-minute wait I reached the counter at 1715. “Yes sir, your flight is now closed,” was the predictable response of the agent.
I suggested that I could take a flight to any city within Italy—Delta also flies to Milan and Venice [Venezia]—and the extremely kind and helpful lady at the desk quickly processed my request by handing me a boarding pass for the 1925 service to Milan. At least I was heading toward home.
Then it was the usual ordeal that US air travellers have to face these days. Long lines at the TSA points, partially undress, shoes off, and to top it all off, I was graced— for the second time that same day—by an agent telling me, “Sir, you’ve been selected for an extra search.”
After a long walk, I finally reached Gate 08 at 1815, with plenty of time to spare. The digital displays that Delta has placed in the pre-boarding gate areas gives passengers extremely useful information, and indicated only a half-full aircraft on this overnight eastward trek, although the ‘BusinessElite’ cabin was expected to be quite full.
Boarding was called 40 minutes before STD, and I was among the first passengers to enter the spacious cabin. Greeted by a courteous flight attendant, I found that my seat had a pillow and blanket already in place.
Delta’s BusinessElite cabins, both on 767s and 777s, feature comfortable but older style dark-blue leather-covered seats, with a very good pitch. The airline has recently unveiled plans for a complete revamp and will introduce the more contemporary lie-flat seats.
Immediately upon settling into my seat, a smiling and joyful female cabin attendant asked for my jacket and soon afterward offered me newspapers and a choice of Champagne, juice, or water. Already in the seat pocket was a headset, a small bottle of water, and an amenity kit.
By 1920 all passengers were onboard, although it took a few more minutes to secure the cabin and we pushed from the gate at 1935, ten minutes behind schedule.
Three minutes later we were underway, beginning the longest taxi ride I have ever experienced. Moving along the taxiway patterns of JFK, literally choked with every airliner imaginable—mostly bound for Europe—we slowly threaded our way toward the runway. After some 30 minutes, the captain announced that we were completely caught in the traffic jam, and were number 19 for takeoff. During the wait, flight attendants distributed menus, and then took orders for dinner. We reached the threshold of Runway 22R after 1hr 6min.
We were finally airborne at 2044, and an immediate left turn set us on a northeasterly course to parallel the coastline of Long Island.
Service began right away, with the four personable cabin crew members dedicated to BusinessElite customers offering hot o-shibori refresher towels. This was followed by a traditional aperitif service, with drinks accompanied by a high-quality warm nut mix selection.
PHOTOS: LUIGI VALLERO
Roughly 20 minutes later dinner service began. Delta has tied with a number of celebrity chefs across the US for its menus, and this flight featured Michelle Bernstein. After a nice appetizer of Ancho Chile breast of chicken with shrimp, and a selection of two starters—I chose a flavourful hot and spicy roasted vegetable soup—came Bernstein’s braised breast of duck with Thai coconut-ginger sauce, jasmine rice, and stir-fried bok choy. This dish was excellent, absolutely restaurant quality, with the duck moist and tender, and the flavors a perfect blend of Western and Oriental. The wine selection was very appealing, and I enjoyed a nice Italian Syrah. Afterward, there was a selection of cheese with grapes and crackers, accompanied by a glass of Port, and finally Delta’s traditional Breyer’s ice-cream sundae. Everything was served using Delta’s classic and elegant crockery, metal cutlery, and crisp linen.
What I particularly like is that Delta allows passengers to really customize their choices, and choose to have them served whenever they like. Each dish was individually presented, and the FAs were always available to give passengers hints on wines and food selections.
Over Newfoundland I took some time to play with Delta’s ‘Horizons’ in-flight programming, but soon decided that after a hectic day rest was a better option. With my seat in the fully reclined position I dozed for almost three hours.
Most of the flight was accompanied with some degree of turbulence associated with the jetstream, and very soon the sun appeared on the horizon. When we approached the coast of northwestern France, the FAs came around once more with welcome hot o-shibori to start the day anew.
For breakfast I had a slightly rubbery parmesan omelette and chicken-apple sausage, with diced tomatoes and sliced potatoes, fresh fruit, and pastries, helped down with delicious tea chosen from an excellent selection.
About half an hour after breakfast, we started our descent into MXP. After the standard long circuit from the northeast we landed on Runway 35R at 1013. We docked at the gate 15 minutes later, with at least ten minutes lost waiting for two Alitalia aircraft to vacate the taxiway.
Passport control was painless and, quite surprisingly at MXP, my suitcase appeared on the carousel after only five minutes waiting time.
Once onboard, this was a very enjoyable flight experience, with two good-quality hot meal services within seven and a half hours, served by a ‘very American’ friendly crew. With the bonus of new lie-flat seats, Delta’s BusinessElite will be well positioned to face the competition.
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