MIAMI — If you’ve never been, is a big airport. I quickly learned just how big while attempting to make a connection between terminal B and the international pier in under 45 minutes. Hustling through the halls I made a beeline for the inter-terminal train; no time for a stop at the SkyClub (cry me a river, I know). The process went much faster than I anticipated and before I knew it I was in Atlanta’s brand new international terminal.
I arrived at the gate, a bit overheated, to discover that boarding was already well underway. As I was unable to print my ticket for this flight where I began, in Seattle, I wound up having it printed at the gate. A few minutes later I headed down the jetbridge, performed my ceremonial touching of the airplane as I stepped in, and was pointed toward my seat—3D—by a friendly crew member.
Once on board, my bags quickly found a home in the overhead bins. Pre-flight drinks and dinner menus were passed out as the cabin began to settle in for a planned 13 hour, 45 minute flight to Dubai. While taxiing out for departure a crew member became ill, forcing the airplane to return to the gate. One hour later we were back on the ramp and headed for the runway. The massive GE-90 engines spooled up with their trademark whine, and off we went.
With the delay in mind, the cabin crew saw to it that our dinner service began promptly after departure. Being tired after having flown Seattle to Atlanta already that day and already well past 11PM local time, I appreciated the quick start: I wanted to get to sleep as soon as possible. A flight attendant gently positioned a white tablecloth onto the generously sized table, which popped out from the side-wall of the seat. Moments later the first appetizer arrived, prawns with pineapple. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell you how the prawns were: I don’t eat seafood. But it looked good.
The prawn dish was followed by a plate with an iceberg lettuce block filled with cheese and a tomato soup. I have never been disappointed by Delta’s soups in Business Elite, and this flight was no exception. The second round was complemented by a stick of pretzel bread, which was sadly rather dry.
The main entrée arrived shortly thereafter, and did not disappoint. I went for the braised beef shortribs, having passed up the very tempting Moroccan chicken, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and broccolini. The ribs were moist and tender, and the broccolini delightfully crisp. The mashed potatoes were a tad on the dry side, nothing unusual in an airplane, but perked right up with a smidge of butter.
Some time later, presumably to finish us all off into a food induced coma, the desert cart came around. I very much wanted to go with the ice cream sundae, a personal favorite, but seeing the portion size doled out to the passenger ahead of me opted to go with a smaller tasting plate instead. It was a good choice. I savored every bite of what I believe were a small brownie, apple fritter, and something akin to crème brulee.
Following dinner I positioned the seat to a comfortable reclining position and read a book. As my eyes could no longer maintain the fight against gravity I gave in and pressed the magical button to go fully lie-flat. Ten slightly noisy seconds later the seat had turned into a comfortable bed. I pulled up the blanket, positioned the pillow, and passed out.
Four hours later my cell phone started buzzing and woke me up. With a planned landing at 9PM local time I had to be careful not to wind up in Dubai wide awake. I cracked the window open in the dark cabin: daylight. A few folks nearby shot me irritated glances, and so I quickly snapped it shut. Bleary eyed and still very tired, I forced myself to bear the brunt of the total twelve hour time change (from Seattle) on the flight.
Still not even half way through the flight I started the next seven hours with a few TV shows and a movie. The entertainment system, which I had toyed with a little bit during dinner, was very well stocked. A wide selection of music, movies, and TV were available. The overall interface is the same as it was on our last Delta flight, on board a 757, and consisted of intuitive high level choices. The screen was a bit on the older side, but worked just fine.
After the movie and several laps around the plane I stopped by the make-shift bar up front and grabbed a few snacks and a soda. Now awake enough to be cogent I broke out my laptop and put in several hours of work. My abnormally large laptop fit easily on the fold-out table, but had little room for anything else. Unlike the 757 flight into Atlanta both the power and USB ports worked brilliantly throughout the whole flight.
About an hour before landing in Dubai the second meal service began. It was much simpler than the four course extravaganza from earlier, but no less tasty. I chose the chicken breast and cranberry bulgur salad, complimented with fresh fruit and pumpkin cheesecake. The meal was the best of the flight without question, and I devoured it.
We touched down in Dubai an hour behind schedule on the nose, and taxied quickly to our gate in terminal A. Stepping into the absolutely enormous terminal I made the ten minute walk to immigration. Premium passengers are able to utilize a dedicated fast-track lane, which was not moving very fast being manned by only one officer. Thirty minutes later I cleared into the UAE and picked up my bag at the luggage claim.
Nearly fourteen hours aloft in a tube is not generally going to be a pleasant experience. My choice to bear the brunt of the time change on board didn’t help buck that trend. But ultimately we need to look at what the product accomplished.
First, I was well fed and with good food to boot. As with previous Delta long haul flights I’ve taken you never leave the plane hungry. And both meals were good, particularly the latter one. The friendly flight crew provided a steady stream of water which, in tandem with avoiding alcohol, kept the worst effects of long-haul travel at bay.
Second, the seat enabled solid sleep. I may not have used the full flat configuration for very long, but while I did I was out like a light. My adjustment strategy, while not terribly fun on board, made it possible to adjust fully in a single day. By the time I reached my hotel at 11PM that evening I was ready to go to bed, and I awoke bright and early the next morning ready to roll.
Related to the seating, I found the herringbone configuration to be a bit odd. While it creates a more private feel in full-flat mode the remainder of the seating options leave you facing the aisle, into the space of someone else. Personally I did not care for that. The reverse herringbone layout of Delta’s 747s was far more preferable, enough so that if both airplanes ran the route for DL I’d take the 747 (or 767, as we will also review soon) instead. Still, the 1-2-1 direct aisle access layout is quite nice, and the seat still spacious and comfortable.
I also found the amount of in-seat storage to be on the disappointing side, though this is something I’ve found disappointing with premium seats in general. Perhaps I just expect too much.
Third and finally, the product enabled me to make meaningful choices to whittle away over half of a day spent in the sky. While the in-flight entertainment system may not the newest or sleekest in Delta’s fleet it is exceptionally well stocked, and the noise cancelling headphones are of good quality. The reasonable amount of personal space, combined with the power and USB plugs, enabled several hours of crucial work to get done. And, as noted, it does a bang-up job for a good rest.
Bottom line? As far as long haul flights go, it was good. A friendly flight crew, good food, and great in-flight entertainment made it as enjoyable as it could be. More importantly, the hard product enabled meaningful productivity and the ability to successfully manage extensive time-zone changes so as to be ready to go the next morning. We’d fly it again.