Photo © Bart Noëth
I got to the airport around 1200 for this 1445 flight, and found that DL had no check-in counters open in T3! My girlfriend and I got in the BizElite line, and were promptly told by a DL ground rep that we shouldn't be there if we were not flying BizElite- I told him we were, and he promptly went and opened a check-in counter. Talk about your great first impressions. Check-in went smoothly though, and we were quickly off to security, where we both set off the metal detectors, but the TSA agents were very polite and prompt, explaining everything as they went along. We went over to T2 via the walkway, and sat in the BizElite lounge for the 2 hours until our flight as the Crown Room there is closed. We got the only space there that had a view of the runway, and were able to see the BA Concorde depart, an event that got my aviation-apathetic girlfriend excited. We got to the gate a few minutes before we were supposed to board, and saw the new plasma screens DL has giving all the flight information for the flight at the gate- very impressive. This flight was very empty- only 4 in BizElite, and 50 or so in Coach, so all the cabin crew did was sit in the rear BizElite section, and come forward every 5-10 minutes to check on us. Service was limited to drinks and snack mix- I had water and a Bloody Mary and my girlfriend had wine to celebrate the start of the trip. The flight itself was ontime, and we were in CVG right at 1655. Also, unlike the photo provided, N1602 is now in the 'new-new' c/s for DL
Photo © Robert Sjödell
I was amazed by how nice and clean the B concourse at CVG was, we had arrived at Gate B8, and were departing from B10. However, as we had 2 hours to kill, we wandered around a bit and got some fairly foul sandwiches at the 'Great Steak Co.' in the food concourse there, before going to the BizElite lounge for a while. I had decided to go to the gate a few minutes early again, which turned out to be a good thing, since they had switched equipment on this flight, and while still an MD-11, had a different interior configuration. The gate agent made a request for all passengers to come forward to have their tickets checked. When I did this, I found the seats I had requested, 1AB, had been reassigned to someone else, and we had been given 13CG! After pointing out I had requested these seats in November, the agent said she'd see what she could do, and said she'd call me back up. She had yet to do this when they made the boarding call, so I went back up, and she said 'oh yeah' and printed out our new boarding cards, with the assignment of 1HJ. The only reason I was so picky here was that the only time I can comfortably sit in the window seat is when I am in Business class, so I was not about to squander the opportunity. These seats were noticeably wider than on the 767, and we had a bottle of water and a glass of champagne waiting for us when we got to our seats. This flight was full in BizElite, but only 50% or so in coach. We pushed back about 5 minutes late, and made our way out to the runway for departure. After takeoff we were given our menus/ Vinum list and all the UK customs/immigration forms. Also, about an hour after takeoff, the Captain came on the PA and told us about President Bush's 48-hour ultimatum to Saddam- which caused the cabin to go from quiet to abuzz with discussion. Dinner was a choice of Lamb with a rosemary sauce, Thai Halibut, Pasta with turkey sausage, or a Tomato Bisque, along with a lobster tail (smallest lobsters I've ever seen), salad, cheese plate, and the ice cream sundae. I had the lamb with a nice Pinot Noir, while my girlfriend had the Bisque and a Chardonnay. The lamb was okay, but my girlfriend said the bisque tasted like warmed-up tomato sauce. I read for a little bit after dinner, before falling asleep for 2 hours or so. I woke up just as they were serving breakfast, which was either cold cereal or a scrambled egg crepe. I had the crepe, which was rather tasteless, and my girlfriend had the cereal, which was raisin bran. Overall, the service was quite nice and attentive- it was very clear the f/a's smiles were not forced or faked in any way, making this a very pleasant flight. Landing at LGW was long and hard, with very strong braking- we used the second-to-last turnoff, and made our way to the North Terminal at LGW. Customs were a breeze, and the Gatwick Express train was amazingly easy to use.
Photo © T Silgrim
While in London, I had picked up a sinus infection, so I was quite miserable going to the airport. We also got there 4 hours early, as I was concerned about security, etc. Surprisingly, we were stopped before checking-in by a Immigrations officer stationed infront of the desks who gave everyone a thorough grilling about our bags- basically a much more intense version of the 3 questions they used to ask at airports in the US. Other than that, the check-in process was a breeze, and while the security lines were long, they moved surprisingly quickly, and after a quick browsing of the duty-free shops, we were in the Crown Room, which was very nice (except for the coffee, which tasted like charcoal). Despite a poor location, I was able to do limited spotting, and saw the Peter Max 777 and the Ryanair Hertz Logojet, in addition to a large number of charter airlines. The plane was late in arriving, so we boarded 30 minutes later than indicated on our cards, but since the flight was only half full in BizElite, and maybe 65-70% in Coach, we managed to push on time- well done DL! Before pushing, the Captain came back and gave a little speech in the rear BizElite cabin, welcoming us aboard, and mentioning that one of the seats in this cabin was the crew rest seat (the one next to me! ) and took some time to speak to a few other passengers about the menu, etc. Also, the menus were handed out, and our orders were taken before we had departed, so the meal service was quicker on this flight than on the way to LGW. Our choices were: Steak with Peppercorn sauce, Moroccan Chicken, Pasta with shrimp and scallops, or Eggplant and Red Pepper soup, along with a salmon and herb-encrusted goat cheese, salad, and the same cheese plate and sundae. I had the pasta, which was divine, and had a generous portion, and my girlfriend had the steak, which she enjoyed (she wanted the soup, but was afraid to order it after her experience on the outbound flight). During the meal service, we hit some light turbulence, causing the flight crew to turn on the fasten seat belt sign with the announcement 'The Captain, in his infinite wisdom, has turned on the fasten seat belt sign due to turbulence' which got quite a few chuckles out of the passengers. After the meal, I read most of my book, and watched 'The Truth About Charlie' while my girlfriend slept. Shortly before the second meal service, the Captain came back for his stint in the rest seat, and we started talking, I mentioned that I was also a pilot, and we talked a little about the MD-11. He said it was a very well behaved plane, contrary to rumors, but that the systems were very weird, and had some unusual quirks which made no sense logically. He said that DL got around the aft-CG issue by pumping fuel forward at the TOD, and attributed all the MD-11 accidents to pilot error. However, he did invite me to the cockpit after we landed, which I gratefully accepted. We ended our conversation for the snack meal, which was either a cold salmon salad, or a chicken burrito-type thing, which both my girlfriend and I had, and it was very good. Shortly before our descent, one of the f/a's came back, and told the captain that it was time for him to return to the cockpit, and he looked at me and said 'now comes the fun part' before leaving. The descent was hell on me, as due to my sinuses, my ears did not pop, so I was in a fair amount of pain. We landed about 10 minutes early at CVG, and it was a very smooth, gentle landing. My girlfriend and I waited for the front BizElite cabin to empty before going forward to the cockpit. I went in with the captain and the FO who had been the pilot flying for landing, while my girlfriend stayed in the main cabin, and chatted with the second FO. Turns out the FO who had landed the plane was a former C-141/C-5 pilot in the USAF, so that explains his excellent landing. He also commented that the Garmin 530 GPS unit that we both used in our private GA planes was much better than the systems he had in the MD-11. They invited me to sit in the captain's seat, and slid it into place- the basic layout of the controls did feel very natural and well situated from a pilot's point of view, so it looks like MDC did something right with the MD-11. However, I had to cut the visit painfully short as we only had an hour's layover in CVG, and had to get going. However, due to the time spent in the cockpit, all the lines at customs/immigration and security were gone, so we sped to our flight to JFK, which had already started to board. A special thank-you to both the flight and cabin crew on this flight, both for the cockpit visit, but an amazingly high level of service in the cabin as well, even better than on our flight out. By far, this has been the best flight I have ever had on an airliner.
Photo © Jonathan Derden
After a quick detour to run all over the terminal looking for ear drops for my aching ears, which was unsuccessful, we boarded the plane, which was again fairly empty- only 15 people or so in BizElite, and maybe 25% full in coach. (Rant time- you can have 4 brands of toothpaste, 6 kinds of aspirin, and 2 kinds of condoms for sale in the CVG airport, but be told 'sorry, we don't have the space for ear drops here' grrr... ) This jet was delivered in late 1992, and looked it. The interior was very dirty and worn, and the seats were noticeably smaller, albeit in the international configuration, so the legroom was nice. I had been told we would be arriving at T3, so I called my ride to tell them where we would be going so they could meet us, and settled into my seat. Again, drink and snack service, and I had a coke and several glasses of ice to chew on in an attempt to help pop my ears, which was finally successful. Due to a strong (80mph) tailwind, we were 25 minutes early into JFK, and taxied promptly to gate 25 at T2! (again, grrr...) I called my ride, to tell them where we were (they too, had been told, both over the phone and by 2 separate ground agents at JFK we would be arriving in T3, way to go there DL). Service on this flight was perfunctory, but nothing more. The f/a's did their jobs and that was it, nothing more.
Overall, this was a typical spotty DL trip. The US ground crews and domestic flight crews were average at best. Internationally, they were very good, and did an excellent job. However, they are not my first choice for travel, and after this trip, I doubt they will remain so, despite the excellent international crews. Regardless, they got my girlfriend and I to LGW and back, which is all that really counts, isn't it? Hope this wasn't too long and boring, and congratulations for getting this far.