Is this an inaugural flight? DL DTW-HKG June 2010
Delta Inaugural Detroit to Hong Kong flight on June 2, 2010
When Delta announced its intent to introduce a nonstop Detroit to Hong Kong flight using Boeing 777-200LR, I immediately tried to find an affordable way to join the inaugural flight, and as one of the longest schedule routes on Delta network, I was hoping for some fanfare. I ended up buying a complex RT ticket from CMB to YVR, and then YVR to YYZ, then DTW-HKG-CMB. This fare has discontinued, but I think I get an okay deal, considered the major detour to DTW. So with excitement, I arrived Detroit’s North Terminal via Southwest (I can’t tolerate flying a CRJ-200 if I have an option). Chicago Midway was marked with thunderstorms the evening before but Southwest recovered quite well into the morning, as the line of storms move towards east. Detroit’s weather of course was not that great, but at least no thunderstorm and the ATC hold was not too bad. I made it to Delta’s McNamara Terminal around noon.
It was a very quiet day here in Detroit in both terminals. I assume summer traffic had yet to start and it was still a quiet midday. Delta has divided its check-in counters into domestic, international, Sky Priority for Silver Medallion and low level Skyteam elite members, and then the normal Sky Priority area for all Gold and above Medallions, as well as Skyteam’s Elite Plus members. There was no wait, but I was still expected to use the kiosk to print my boarding pass. The agent technically did not need to do anything except to put a tag on my bag and verified my documents. The automatic process is well designed, but there is a lack of customer interaction and the agent was professional, but came off as cold and indifferent. Of course, I did not notice that my bags were tagged through to Colombo, and neither the agent or myself noticed it till I arrived in Hong Kong. I wasted 30 minutes waiting for bags and only the HKG agent saw that my bag was tagged through to CMB. Customer service was non-existent and does this automated check-in process fundamentally aim to eliminate all customer service? Delta has to balance its automated check in process and maintaining certain customer service aspect especially in the priority lines, and trains its check-in agents accordingly.
There was no personal recognition of me attending the Hong Kong inaugural flight, and of course, same as my diamond medallion status, and I was still wondering what does this supposedly higher elite status meant! The Delta Sky Club attendants gave me the most attention and at least knew that it was the first flight. Gate agent, purser, and flight attendants all did not recognize my Diamond Medallion status.
Sky Club is the same old and I used the one near gate A70, as my flight was departing from A60 today. I went by earlier in the afternoon and noticed that nothing was going on but 12:30pm was just too early. But I got a bad vibe. I spent an hour in the Sky Club catching up emails and related matters, and decided to head down early. The gate was quite crowded but nothing was going on, except there were three Chinese agents working the gate with a red coat. There was obviously nothing going on, unlike the Seoul inaugural flight the day before, as told by the Sky Club agent. I was a little bit disappointed, and neither Detroit or Hong Kong planned anything special and I hope the return inaugural would be better (and hopefully some of you were flying that route). I personally think that Delta has missed a big opportunity to sell this route, which can be a viable competition against United’s ORD-HKG service, which was still operated by a lackluster coach cabin, but Delta Air Lines is just not a familiar name in HK, and they need to work on the brand recognition. They could have easily invited some HK journalists on board, instead of clearing a half load of non-rev. Delta has a nice lie flat business class products and a good AVOD product in both cabins. The only inaugural moment was one of the Chinese gate agents approaching me and wanting me to help the captain to take pictures of the inaugural flight with the Chinese gate agents. The Chinese agents were very excited about it. If the gate agent did not mention the fact that it was an inaugural flight, nobody would know.
The plane, N710DN, arrived around noon and I assumed all were ready, but the boarding time of 2:35pm came and went, and Julia, the head agent, explained that due to a ground power and electrical problem, catering was having problems loading meals early on, and was now catching up. These Chinese ladies do not speak Cantonese at all, and are all mandarin speakers. Julia’s attempt to speak Cantonese was funny for a native speaker to hear, and Delta should have gone with pre-recorded Cantonese announcements. Thankfully the Chinese flight attendant on board speaks fluent Cantonese, although the writers can work on the Chinese scripts. Finally at 3:13pm, boarding commenced and for the gate agents’ credits, door was closed at 3:36pm and with a full load in J and Y (noticeably many non-revenue passengers). Only a few Asians were sitting up front, but the economy cabin was filled with mostly economy passengers with a noticeable amount of Mainland Chinese citizens, who were heading towards Southern China via Hong Kong. Delta Air Lines really needs to work on establishing a deal with the Sky Pier in Hong Kong (so passengers taking ferries from Macau and southern Chinese port cities can simply the ferry ride to the airport, check in at the Sky-Pier terminal, and took a Sky Train towards the terminal without the hassles of obtaining Hong Kong permit and going directly into the airport).
The flight attendants were on the above average side, and immediately swung into actions by passing the usual array of beverages including orange juice, champagne (finally a real one – Piper Heidsieck), water and Heineken, as well as the usual menus. Amenity kits, slippers and headsets, along with pillows and duvets, were already pre-placed at each seat. There seems to be a supervisor or cabin service personal aboard, as he was overlooking all the meal preparation and writing down notes during the whole meal service process. There were some new procedures compared to my last delta International flight. Entrée orders were taken prior to takeoff due to the prolonged waiting times at gate. Orders were taken from front to back with no preference towards elites. We were addressed by our last name – the only time of course.
Unfortunately the early electrical problems also affected the cargo loading, and they were working on our numbers, fuel and routing, and being the first flight, they were a bit slower than usual. We did not push back till 4:25pm and thankfully the weather was clear by now, and we taxied towards R/W22L. By the time we taxied towards the holding line, there were only two aircraft in front of us, a DL’s A330-300 N803NW heading to AMS as DL 242 and a NW painted CRJ-200 N8896A (a Pinnacle aircraft) waiting for takeoff, but there seemed to be a backlog of aircraft waiting to get into DTW, and they cleared at least two to three landing a/c before letting one of us to take off. Finally after a Delta Connection CRJ-900 landed, we took our turn and lifted off at 4:54pm and using most of the runway understandably.
Flying time was estimated to be fifteen hours and three minutes, and our routing was not the North Pole one that CX or CO NYC to HKG flight took, but a Great Circle route. We climbed initially to 32,000feet as we crossed Northern Michigan and headed towards Sault Sainte Marie and White River in Ontario, then into Yellowknife in Yukon and eventually towards the Northern Coast of Alaska. We climbed further to 34,000feet as we crossed Prudhoe Bay and Wateright and entered the Chuckchi Sea and crossing into Northern Siberia, in which we climbed to 35,000feet, and crossing the Andayr Plateau and Kolymskiy Mountains and passing a bit West of the coastal city of Magadan into the Sea of Okhotsk, and then crossing the Northern tip of Sakhalin Islands and passing the city of Khabarovsk and then crossing the border into Northwestern part of China, city of Fujin and climbed up to 36,000feet. Then we headed towards Jigmusi and climbed further to 38,000feet and into cities of Harbin, Tongliao, Chengde, and Beijing before turning further south towards Gaocheng, Tanghshan, Zhoukou, Wuhan and Macau before turning back to Hong Kong. We vectored around Macau a bit as we approached Hong Kong due to the heavy evening traffic. Flying time was fifteen hours and nine minutes from takeoff to touchdown!
The meal arrangements are pretty typical for Delta’s ultra long haul flights including my previous experiences on JFK to NRT, ATL to ICN and back. There was a main meal after takeoff, followed by a mid-flight snack – one-tray cold meal service, and then a pre-arrival hot meal service served in one tray. Sky Snack stations were provided and stuffed with the usual Sun Chips, tootsie rolls, chocolate covered graham crackers, White Blondie Brownies, and apples, and now cup noodles. The main meal was a bit different today, and dinner began with the usual hot towel, beverage run with mixed nuts, and then an appetizer tray containing a larger appetizer plate with two different samples – a nice shrimp dish and an interesting beet dish, and of course the usual soup and a bread tray. Salad was served separately on a larger plate, and made the meal a bit fancier and more proper. I had the salmon entrée, the special Chef Michelle Bernstein’s selection, which was better than expected. Then there was a cheese, fruit, and dessert trolley. Delta has set up a proper cheese tray with Cheddar, Swiss and Brie, along with crackers, lots of grapes and strawberries, and now there was an additional pastry selection on top of the usual vanilla ice cream sundaes. Tea and coffee followed by bottled water. The mid-flight snack was served at 12:36am, and as usual, not many takers, but they did not miss much. Later, the F/As passed around noodle soups, but of course the cheapest brand available – Manchurian’s Chicken-flavored cup noodles. Can we at least have Nissan brand or even local Hong Kong brand that is cheaper and tastes better? The deli platter was okay, but the so-called snow pea salad (well really a Napa cabbage salad) was just horrific and a regular salad will do here. I think Delta needs to serve something more Asian here and changes the contents monthly. Cold soba noodles will work well with Asian passengers, not only Japanese, and if they can serve a real noodle soup, it will even better. Continental really leads the pack by serving a proper noodle soup (not instant cup noodle type) and a real pastry, but knowing Delta’s cost structure, that will not be possible, but Delta can easily serve a better brand of instant noodle soups like what Northwest used to do, or just serve the Japanese soba noodle set or try something like a Chinese cold noodles with chicken and sesame sauce, or a Chinese cold noodles using a spicy Szechuan minced pork sauce. Those are cheap items to serve and are definitely preferred. About ninety minutes prior to arrival, lights were turned on with another hot towel service and then the pre-arrival light meal, which was quite nice and good enough. I had the pasta with shredded beef, which was tasty and not too heavy. The fruit plate was okay but the grapes were really sour. A dark roll was provided at the tray. The lemon tart was the typical one you can find on other Delta’s domestic meals. Delta’s international meals are pretty decent in general and I gave it credit for stocking the Sky Snack Station well and the only items that can use more are bottled waters, which ran out at the end of the flight.
Wine List and Menu Transcript:
Chartron et Trebuchet Rully Cuvee “La Chaume,” Burgundy, France, 2007
Grove Street Chardonnay, Sonoma, California, 2007
Heritage Road Grenache, Australia, 2006
Louis Martini Cabernet Reserve, Sonoma, California 2005
Deen de Bortoli Vat 5 Botrytis Semillon, Riverna, Australia, 2007
Penfolds Club Port, Australia, N.V.
Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Brut, France
Sampling of Two Appetizers
Shrimp with lemongrass and marinated hearts of palm and roasted beets with crumbled Blue cheese
Tomato Florentine Soup
Mixed Green Salad topped with jicama, yellow pepper, cipollini onion and Roma tomato
Delta Chef, Michelle Bernstein’s Collection
Salmon Francaise topped with crispy garlic and citrus mojo sauce offered with boniato puree and asparagus
Fillet of Beef with grain mustard sauce, accompanied by sweet potato wedges, zucchini and yellow squash
Roasted Chicken a L’Orange served with celery puree and stir-fried green beans
Pork Stir-Fry with Asian vegetables, cashew nuts and low mein noodles
Lasagna Pasta Bites tossed with spinach and radicchio in a light gorgonzola sauce topped with pine nuts
Fine Cheeses served with fresh fruit
All Natural Vanilla Ice cream Sundae
Belgian Chocolate Cheesecake
A variety of sweet and savory snacks will be available for your enjoyment.
Snow Pea Salad
Chilled Deli Platter featuring roast beef, shrimp and muenster cheese
Pre-Arrival Light Meal
Seasonal Fresh Fruit
Gemelli Pasta in porcini mushroom sauce with beef tenderloin and vegetables
Roasted chicken with ginger sauce, sautéed spinach and oriental rice
06/10 BE DTW-HKG-C12C (DTW-HKG)
Delta has a larger expanded AVOD library on its Boeing 777-200LRs, which was nice because these aircrafts are used on longer flights, but I still think they can expand the sitcom line up better, and one “Family Guy” episode will not cut me for me. HBO is a nice addition of course, and it will not hurt if they can get a few Chinese TV shows added to the library.
Well, the main flight attendant serving my section (and also the purser), Skip, was quite nice in our section, and was very polite, and most importantly will react to my “thank you.” With various supervisors on board, the F/As were a bit more nervous today, as it was the inaugural flight and there were some new procedures introduced. He also said his farewell and thanked us for flying Delta Airlines shortly prior to landing. Of course this is not Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, so don’t expect the personalized service, but this group did their jobs. The Chinese F/As were polite, but a bit offish. They looked new to the job and were not actively interacting with passengers. Nothing like their Asian counterparts in respective Asian countries, and I think their roles should be more mingling with Chinese passenger and provided a bit more personal service. Those should be the roles of “country specific” flight attendants. However this group of flight attendants was not your typical “chitchat” group, and the service was a bit more formal and reserved. Out of all the Asian flight attendants, I surprising like the Korean flight attendants the best, followed by the Japanese flight attendants.
Descent began at 7:22pm but we were held at 34,000feet and vectored around south of Macau before turning back for R/W7L approach. We touched down at 8:03pm local time on June 3, 2010, and parked at gate 32 six minutes later. There was a bit of problem with the jet bridge, and bags took a bit longer. Delta is using SATS here in Hong Kong as their ground agent.
Despite the lack of fanfare on this really dull inaugural flight, I am still glad that Delta has started this nonstop route and the usage of Boeing 777-200LR with lie flat business class seats and PTV at each seats is a smart choice. Delta still needs some more work in getting the brand known, and of course, replaced some of the not very nice comment related to the old Northwest name. The Detroit hub is definitely miles ahead of United’s Chicago O’Hare hub (not to mention the complex terminal transfer on the flight back to the US). Delta uses brand new planes with more amenities, and Detroit as a better and more convenient hub. That should be Delta’s focus, as it inaugurates this service. Of course, Delta’s weakness is its rather lackluster SkyMiles program and United has developed a loyal base of mileage plus earners throughout the years. However, this renewed attempt by Delta to reintroduce a nonstop Hong Kong to US route should be successful, judging from frustrated United fliers, and my belief is that if Delta works as a hard as Continental to attract and develop a HK and China-based loyal fliers, they can be successful. Back when Continental starters the route, it hired an excellent and motivated team of ground staff to handle the HK operation, and local ground staff will approach each elite flyer and business class fliers with name cards, and offer name tag service, and introduce themselves personally to each of them with name cards. Continental really spares no expense and its success is not a miracle but reflection of hard work, and the main question here is can Delta follow that hard working spirit! Delta needs to motivate its Hong Kong team, and the in-flight service definitely needs to touch up and more Asian flavor needs to add to various meal components. Chinese loves soup and introducing a more Chinese style soup, like Sweet corn and chicken soup, will be nice, and serving Chinese porridge prior to landing will also be a cheap but nice option. Learn from Continental’s operation and service on the HK routes, and Delta will hopefully go to a better path and hopefully it will become a daily service in the future.