Preparations for this trip started back in January. I was thinking about what I would like to do during my summer break and came to the conclusion that I wanted to visit my family in Charleston, West Virginia, USA. Soon after I began looking for flights online but ended up booking through a local travel agency. The obvious choice would be Delta's nonstop service from Stuttgart to Atlanta and an onward connection on one of their regional affiliates. Since I had traveled twice on this flight within the last two years, I specifically asked for more options through major European gateways such as FRA, CDG or LHR. However, all of which were significantly more expensive than the direct flight from my hometown. As DL also serves Munich and Frankfurt, I inquired about fares from either city, with transportation to the airport by myself. Once more, the result was the same, which seemed a bit odd to me, given DL faces transatlantic competition from either airport whereas they are the sole operator with a non-stop flight from Stuttgart to the USA, which I ended up booking after some consideration. Quite a pity, since I haven't flown on the aircraft types DL operates from MUC and FRA (767-400(ER) and 777-200(ER/LR) respectively) yet. Well, hopefully in the not too distant future I'll be able to add them to my log.
Photo © Manuel Mueller
Photo © Holger Frank
Photo © Bianca Renz
Of course, I already chose my seats during the booking process. Notably, I couldn't select the exit row on both transatlantic sectors, as the airline apparently blocks them for frequent flyers ("Medallion-Members"). Similar procedure with row one on the Canadair Regional Jet 100/200. No wonder, since the window seats in this row on Delta's B76G subfleet have received the highest possible rating by seatguru.com.
Row 20: Not available for everyone
After obtaining my travel documents, I decided to go ahead and sign up for Delta's frequent flyer program, SkyMiles. Sometimes I wonder why I haven't taken this step before. At the same time, I logged on to their website in order to receive an overview of my upcoming flights. I was very pleased with Delta's web presence: Not only was it very easy to connect my FF-number with my itinerary, but it also offered a broad set of information including a countdown to the day of departure, which I found somewhat great. In addition to this, once can change his seat assignment, choose from a selection of 14 special meals, inform the airline of special needs (wheelchair etc.) or other disabilities (hard of hearing, deaf) on top of the usual data such as flight time, arrival/departure gate, aircraft type, and others. Changes are immediately sent to you by e-mail. Using the website, one can also check in 24 hours or less in advance, which I decided not to do.
I am a big fan of flightaware.com and have been using the site for years. Recently, the have added a feature which allows one to track registrations of US-based aircraft. After a bit of searching, I found out which particular airframe was scheduled to operate my flight to Atlanta. I can only praise flightaware for their forthcoming developments in terms of flight tracking.
I couldn't wait for summer to come since I was very excited to finally go on holiday. The day of departure came soon enough and at 7 o'clock in the morning I found myself commuting on the suburban train ("S-Bahn"). I arrived at the airport in no time and proceeded to the check-in counters in terminal 3 which hadn't even opened yet. I was the first person in line and soon after the desks had opened, I received my boarding passes for both flights and dropped off my bag. The staff was very friendly and professional. A pleasant first impression.
I planned on seeing the arrival of the aircraft from Atlanta, so I continued to the viewing terrace right away. Of course, I also did some other spotting. The weather in southwestern Germany that morning was pretty agreeable, temperature-wise, but rain clouds were present around the field. Afterwards, I spent some more time in the terminal before going through security.
This one's for fellow trip reporter Contact Air
airberlin and Turkuaz
While observing the other traffic on the apron, I also kept an eye on the landings on runway 25. Suddenly, there was shape in the horizon, easily distinguished from the smaller airplanes which had landed before – indeed, this could be a Boeing ´67.
Almost on blocks (note the construction site and closed taxiway behind on the right)
Inside terminal 1, top level
Terminals 1 through 3
Security didn't take too long, but as usual during holiday time, the terminal was crowded. I walked around for a while but there wasn't much to see, so I elected to go to the departure gate 109. To my surprise, there happened to me one more security check for passengers bound for Atlanta. All hand luggage is X-rayed once more, every passenger has to undergo a pat-down search (no metal detectors here anyway). Lastly, the hands and belongings are tested for residues of explosive substances. I've not experienced a procedure like that in the United States so far.
Having reached the waiting area, I settled down and listened to some music on my iPod. The crew (cabin all female, cockpit all male) arrived one hour ahead of scheduled departure time, printed out their documents and had a short congregation before boarding the aircraft. The Captain had the sticker „Ich fliege ab Stuttgart“ („I fly from Stuttgart“) on his bag. Well, I guess he likes our airport. I badly need to get one of those. Boarding began at 10:15 am, families with small children first, followed by BusinessElite and other premium passengers, and finally the „Main Cabin“ (as Delta refers to its Economy Class) after zones. By 10:40 am am I was onboard.
Date: Wednesday, 11th of August, 2010
Carrier: Delta Air Lines
Flight: DL 117
Route: Stuttgart-Echterdingen (STR) – Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Int'l (ATL)
Scheduled Departure Time: 11:00 AM CEST
Actual Departure Time: 11:00 AM CEST
Scheduled Arrival Time: 3:25 PM EDT
Actual Arrival Time: 2:58 PM EDT
Flight Time: 9h 58m
Aircraft: Boeing 767-324/ER
Registration: N394DL (ship 1521) (delivered to DL 21/04/1998)
Remarks: Ex Asiana Airlines HL7505 (delivered 10/11/1995)
Photo © John Kelley
Photo © Holger Frank
Ship 1521 is the only ex Asiana aircraft in Delta's B76G subfleet, mainly composed of former Gulf Air airframes (hence the „G“-identifier). Its characteristic is the reduced number of seats in BusinessElite in favor of one more seat in Economy Class and a third entry door, located before the wing. They are commonly used on routes with a smaller demand for a premium product.
For this flight I chose seat 34G –right-hand side, window, behind the wing– because in case of an unlikely take-off from runway 25, I'd be able to see where I live. Additionally, the flight path sometimes crosses Greenland, which has made for nice views in the past. I found a pillow, blanket and earphones on my seat, which I directly put in the overhead bin before getting settled and buckled up. I couldn't spot one open seat in Economy, Business Class didn't look fully-booked, though. The SkyMagazine copy in my seatback pocket was still from July, what's up with that? Anyway, it included some well-written articles that I enjoyed reading. The Captain made a welcome announcement just before boarding was completed. According to him, our estimated flight time would be 9 hours and 43 minutes. We pushed on time.
After pushback, checking the flight controls
The safety video was played during pushback, and after „Deltalina“ had explained the dos and don'ts onboard, the aircraft made its way towards runway 07 – although runway 25 was still the one in use. I believe this needs some explanation, so here goes: Westerly of the airport there is a hill called „Height of Weidach“ which is directly in the take-off path of rwy 25. In case the aircraft is too heavy (which is likely going to be the case for a flight of this duration), it can't take off in this direction due to the obstacle limit/insufficient climb gradient in case of an engine failure. This means that, if winds allow it, either runway 07 has to be used, or the aircraft has to take a reduced fuel load, calling for a stop en-route, most often in Bangor, ME. This has happened in the past – but not today, luckily. After only 12 minutes on the taxiway, ship 1521 thundered down runway 07 in what I would describe as a powerful take-off and initial climb.
The aircraft leveled off at 31 000 feet with a solid overcast underneath – not much to see. I spent some time watching Star Wars on my iPod before the first snack service came around. I can't recall what movies the in-flight entertainment featured, but they weren't really appealing to me, the more so as I could just barely see the ovhead screens from where I was sitting. Almost two hours into the flight, the meal service began. Only a short while later, a water, coffee or tea service followed.
I chose chicken as main dish. Vegetarian pasta was also on offer
Lunch consisted of Chicken Cajun with yellow rice as entrée, salad (with cucumber and raw carrots), salad dressing, cheese, crackers, breadroll, butter and a choc chip & vanilla biscuit for dessert. I drank water (Aquarius Spring!) once more.
This meal was probably the best one I've ever had on a plane. The chicken tasted savory, the sauce was excellent, and the rice also very tasteful. I only ate the cucumbers of my salad as I'm allergic to raw carrots, but I'll assume it was as good as the rest. The bread roll was, I tend to say, ridiculously small. Lots of cheese needed to make it rich in content. The dessert was fine, too – much better than the artificial chocolate mousse that some airlines serve nowadays. Besides that, I liked the whole presentation.
Some words about the cabin crew: They were excellent. Always friendly and with a smile on their lips, all of them did their best to ensure every passenger's comfort. They were helpful with special requests (peanut allergies, regarding snack services) and on top of that, they worked very efficient. I had hardly finished lunch when the coffee arrived. Comfort I'm used to from at home found in a full Economy Class – great!
I can never sleep on westbound flights across the pond, so I kept entertaining myself with some music and movies. At 1:27 pm CEST the remaining flight time equaled the local time at Atlanta (7:27h/am). I found this quite amusing, surely doesn't happen to often. The flight path crossed, as I had assumed, the southernmost tip of Greenland. Unfortunately, I didn't happen to see anything except for the solid overcast. The extremely bright sun outside even forced me to close my blind for a while. After about six hours in the air, we finally reached Canada.
Land in sight!
Another snack service (Biscoff cookies weren't offered throughout the entire flight, regrettably)
Some more coffee. There were frequent water runs as well
Getting gradually closer
Seat belt sign on...
Afternoon snack consisting of "La Pizza Rucola e Mozzarella" and vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate syrup
Water all the way. In fact, I only drank water onboard. My preferred cran-apple cocktail was out of stock
Approximately one hour prior to arrival, the afternoon snack was served. I was hungry by then and the pizza was a welcomed second meal – tasty, and filling as well. I really like Delta's offering here (they also serve pizza in BusinessElite). The ice cream was good, too, I forgot to open the package but it was vanilla flavored, topped with chocolate syrup. Soon thereafter, the Captain came on the PA announcing the descent into Atlanta, adding it was a „beautiful day“ down there. He was correct indeed. A brief video about entering the US followed. On approach, we flew right parallel to the airport on downwind for landing on runway 08L. The last portion of the flight seemed to fly for me, in the truest sense of the word.
I was convinced the other side of the aircraft would offer a great view of the airport
Turning into final
I-285, around 4 miles from touchdown. Click here for a different perspective (April 2009)
Shortly before touching down
After leaving the runway via taxiway B7, the aircraft made its way towards the international concourse E, half an our early due to tailwinds along the route. They reached 96 mph (154 km/h) at one point in Canadian airspace. Ship 1521 blocked off at gate E1 (as opposed to E4 in the forecast). Whilst deboarding, I asked the F/A in the front galley if I could have a quick look into the cockpit, and with a matter of course, she merely responded „sure“. I think it's great that in today's world with raised security standards, it still doesn't pose a problem to get into the most secured area of the aircraft. The Captain hadn't left yet, but he had dimmed all the screens, „because they produce too much heat“. He cranked them up just for me, I got my picture taken along with some smalltalk. I didn't want to keep him occupied for too long, so I thanked him for his kindness and was the last, but surely most satisfied passenger to leave the aircraft.
Gate E1 is on the southern end of T-E
Next to us, ship 1812 (B764) pulled into the gate, inbound from MAD, and bound for LGW later on
Seats 34F/G during deplaning
The yoke of ship 1521. On the EADI/PFD (upper display), note the groundspeed (GS) displayed as 3 knots. I guess it was a windy day in Hotlanta (well-deserved nickname!)
Immigration and customs were quick, bags arrived in due time, only at security, a line started to pile up. I had a smalltalk with a fellow passenger from the flight, who told me she was traveling to the US for the very first time. We had first seen each other at the train station the same morning. As an Atlanta regular ( ), it was a matter of honor for me to help her with the various stages of entering the US, which can be a challenge when you do it for the first time, after all. We hopped on „The Plain Train“, I alighted at terminal T, and she continued to baggage reclaim. I had more than four hours of layover time, so it didn't really matter where exactly I would start my spotting tour. I'd have even made the earlier flight to CRW, but you never know how crowded the facilities are beforehand. The following pictures were taken from every terminal except for T-A.
"Relay for Life - American Cancer Society" - Ship 1817 portraying one of Delta's involvements in charitable organizations
N3762Y is bound for Detroit
The Inuit with the lei
Inside view of terminal C
Named „Senaatintori – Helsinki“. KLM's „Flying Dutchman“ seen hours before traversing the Atlantic Ocean
Ship 7110 being prepared for a 14-hour flight to Dubai
GE90 engine – a masterpiece of present day engineering
B737NG to COS – Colorado Springs
Air France Jumbojet (F-GITD) going back to Paris-CDG. I have a flight logged on sistership Tango Bravo
As the sun was setting over Hartsfield-Jackson International, I proceeded to terminal D, where my flight to Charleston, WV was going to depart from. The shared waiting area of gates D1A/D2 is very nice, as it offers a direct view of taxiway Lima. The CRJ that would take me to CRW was already on blocks. Boarding was called 45 minutes before scheduled departure time.
Date: Wednesday, 11th of August, 2010
Carrier: Atlantic Southeast Airlines (dba Delta Connection)
Flight: EV/DL 4948
Route: Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Int'l (ATL) – Charleston-Yeager (CRW)
Flight Time: 1h 18m
Aircraft: Canadair Regional Jet 200
Registration: N905EV (ship 905) (delivered 04/04/2002)
Photo © Gregg Stansbery
Photo © Hank Nix
Upon boarding the aircraft, I was greeted by a friendly and clearly motivated FA. I proceeded to row 12, right behind the wing.
I settled down and grabbed the SkyMagazine (this time, it was the August issue) for a pre-departure read. It featured a good article and interesting interview about one of my favorite actors, Mark Wahlberg (especially since the 2006 movie „The Departed“) which kept me busy until pushback. If you're interested in reading the SkyMag online, simply follow this link. I had both seats for myself, and legroom was decent. A picture will follow in the next part. I got distracted from a loud sound outside only once. I looked up and spotted a DL 777-200/LR on T/O-roll. Just wow – these engines do not only look huge, they also sound like that. Our take-off was from runway 26L this time, followed by a right turn with early flap retraction (flaps 8 T/O for those who care). The seatbelt sign was illuminated for the entire duration of the flight due to thunderstorms along the route, as a precautionary measure. Flashes were visible right beside the left wing, and also as reflections on it. Quite exciting. Miraculously, there was not a single bump that I recall. The pilots did a good job evading the CB activity. Service, which took place nonetheless, consisted of a drink (I ordered Canada Dry Ginger Ale) and two packs of Biscoff cookies (finally!).
The approach started soon after the trash had been collected and night had fallen. No chances for decent photographs, but I recognized some geological landmarks (like the Kanawha River). The final approach was thrilling. The 1921 meters-long runway 23 was in use, and shortly before final, there is nothing to see at night. It's essentially a dark area that the aircraft keeps descending onto until the runway lights finally pop up. The touchdown was rough, the breaking action phenomenal. On top of all that, it was raining outside. The pilots slammed on the brakes so hard that I had to hold on my camera bag with my feet. What a great end of a trip on a US regional carrier. The aircraft blocked off at an apron parking position. It was a nice touch that both the FA and Captain were saying goodbye to the passengers. I commended him for his flying skills through the thunderstorm, which he seemed to appreciate. I got to use the CRJ's own stairs for the first time. Private jet feeling, eh? I tried to take pictures of the jets parked at the gates while walking across the tarmac, but even with flash, they didn't come out nicely. Too bad. My bag was the very first one on the belt – what is a priority tag anyway?
This also marks the end of the first part of my journey. I actually wanted to include all flights in here, but it has gotten so long that I will split it up in two parts, because there is a lot to write about the flight home to Germany.
I would spend the next three weeks in sunny West Virginia and South Carolina.
Thank you for reading. I'd be happy to receive any feedback on this trip report! So don't hesitate to express laud, criticism, questions, suggestions, etc. I certainly look forward to reading from you.
Marius aka Luftfahrer
germanwings to London-STN
Delta to TUL, ATL and ABQ