Across the Atlantic and back, and back again
by N866DA 

Having not seen any trip reports about BusinessElite recently, I thought it might be a good idea to post this one, which I finished some time back but never posted for some reason. As with most of my reports, this one is slightly wordy. I’m a stickler for the little details when I compose my narratives of my many space-available experiences aloft. So bear with me.

Sunday, April 28, 2002
Delta Air Lines 1964
Boeing 767-332(ER)
N193DN / Ship 193
Portland International to Hartsfield Atlanta International

In celebration of the occasion of absolutely nothing, I decided to take some time off of work for a trip to Europe. I listed myself on the redeye to ATL, which was for the month of April operating with 763ER equipment rather than the decidedly more Spartan 767-300 Domestic. Having flown only a couple of domestic redeyes in BusinessElite, I was extremely, extremely, extremely appreciative of the fact that the powers that be saw fit to give us this treat for a month. I would have loved to take advantage of it more often were it not for the fact that when you drop 110 seats out of your nightly redeye it tends to drop 110 available seats for nonrevs to take. Ah, well. That’s part of the game. On this night, at least, it looked quite inviting for a SA traveler such as myself with 22 seats open in B/E and oversold by just 2 in coach. I figured it would be a breeze to get on it.

How wrong I was. I sailed into employee parking at PDX about 60 minutes prior to departure, was socializing in the back office 45 minutes prior to departure, was in the gate area waiting for a seat assignment 30 minutes prior to departure, and was sitting in the gate area wondering if I was going to even clear onto the flight just 5 minutes before scheduled departure.

Okay, so I wasn’t completely wrong. I cleared to 10E, a nice center aisle in the aft B/E cabin. Known to you international fliers as the crew rest seat on international flights. I was one of only four nonrevs in the forty eight seat B/E cabin so I thanked my lucky stars. I chuckled to myself as I wondered how the crew would react if I got up and went into the closet to grab that nice flat footrest the pilots get to use when they use the rest seat. The lady in the seat next to me apparently heard me laugh out loud at absolutely nothing and she at that point decided I was crazy and gave me strange looks for the rest of the flight.

This flight can be best described in one word: sleep. I did that from the time we were off the ground in Portland to the time we were on final approach into Atlanta.

We arrived ATL early, deplaned, and I trudged off down the wide south corridor of E Concourse toward the train. I stopped at the ticket counter in the E Concourse atrium to see about the load for the 7:05 PM flight to Paris, then as I stood there staring at the quiet, empty ticket counter, it became apparent that it was closed. Sorry, I’m just slow like that at 5:15 AM.

In a way, maybe a redeye in B/E is worse than a redeye in Domestic F. At least when you’re flying a redeye on a normal airplane, you’re happy to get off it. When you’re in BE after just 4 or so hours and the flight attendant wakes you up because the flight is on final approach, you’re kind of annoyed because you were actually sleeping halfway decently. I guess I got my wish; DL1964 reverted to DL1576 with 763D equipment on May 1. Be careful what you wish for.

I rode the train to the main terminal and took the landside GO shuttle over to the General Offices to go visit with a few friends.

Monday, April 29, 2002
Delta Air Lines 28
Boeing 777-232(ER)
N865DA / Ship 7006
Hartsfield Atlanta International to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Paris? Why? I don’t know. Last time I flew through de Gaulle, I swore I’d never go back. Anyway, I got back to the international ticket counter around 5:10 for a 7:05 PM flight. A few minutes later, I cleared security, Seat Request card in hand. The flight looked good, 18 seats open in J, 30 or so open in Y.

Headed to E concourse, crashed at gate E12 with some nice John Pizzarelli playing on my Bose ANR Headset, and suddenly awoke some time later, wondering if I missed my flight. I checked my watch. 6:12 PM. Thank God. I headed over to E18 where Ship 7006 sat, being loaded and fueled for the routine 7 hour and 30 minute flight to Roissy Charles de Gaulle. The gate agents started clearing standbys. I watched the spectacle of the moron nonrevs who stand right around the gate desk waiting for their name to be called. The usual characters…. The guy who thinks there’s some sort of policy requiring nonrevs to have their company ID hanging from their neck not only in the gate area, but during the entire flight! Can you say dork? We also had the buddy pass riders who think they’re confirmed in B/E and just got turned away from the B/E Lounge and are now in for a big surprise when they’re told that, lo and behold, B/E is full. And let’s not forget the pushy nonrev, perhaps a senior lady from Res and her husband, who is totally submissive. She thinks her 38 years of seniority entitles her to stand right behind and to the right of the gate agent doing the clearing, looking over the shoulder of the fairly junior but competent gate agent, and asking “have you gotten to Thompson yet?” at least four times. At least two of those four times are asked right while the agent is making an announcement on the PA. Of course, I sat discreetly a couple of rows away from this whole thing, watching it, and marveling at how funny it is that most revenue pax are completely unaware of this entertaining tradition.

Soon enough, the gate agent got to my name. “Does 12J work for you?” I replied that it would be just hunky dory and boarded along with some folks who apparently were not big fans of Delta. All they kept talking about was how annoying it was that Delta didn’t fly 747s. One of them saw my company ID which I had in hand for the gate agent and asked me if I thought Delta should buy 747s. I said no and tried to kind of politely ignore them.

I boarded, stowed my luggage, and plopped down in 12J. As I was apparently the last B/E passenger to board by a long way, I was greeted by the On Board Leader almost immediately after sitting down. She gave me a menu, amenity kit, and asked if I’d like a predeparture beverage. I asked for some champagne. I don’t know what they were serving but the bottle didn’t look like anything I’d ever heard of. I looked forward to the Alexandre Bonnet which would be available during the flight, another which I had never heard of before I tried it on DL and enjoyed it. I took a few minutes to go onto the flight deck and chat with the crew up there, mostly to see what our weight and routing was that evening.

I watched as the rampers over at the next gate loaded up one of the much-maligned—and deservedly so—MD-11s for a flight to some point in Europe.

The gate finished right on time and the boarding door was closed precisely five minutes prior to departure. We were off the gate one minute ahead of schedule, at 7:04 PM. The On Board Leader refilled my champagne as the safety video droned on about life vests. Following the safety demo, the Captain came on the PA system and informed us that our flight falls right in the midst of a bank of flights from Atlanta to pretty much every major city west of the Rockies and up the Atlantic seaboard; consequently, it would be 30 or so minutes before takeoff. Three glasses of ground swill champagne (Moet & Chandon on the ground is gone, see reference two paragraphs above) later, he came back on and said we were #2 in line. The flight attendants efficiently prepared the cabin for departure and we were ready to go.

The Rolls-Royce Trents growled as the 777 eased onto 27L and aligned for takeoff. A few seconds there was that unmistakable and powerful sound of them spooling up and the famous Rolls buzzsaw sound as all 510,000 pounds of our 777 and its payload accelerated down the runway. Ahhhh, gotta love those wide chord fan blades. Right as I thought that to myself, my seatmate turned to me and said “these things sound so scary on takeoff.” We rotated gracefully after a brief takeoff run and executed a very slow, lazy bank to the north as we climbed shallowly into the clouds.

In keeping with personal tradition, I pulled out my Bose headset and a nice CD I burned of Nat King Cole with Duke Ellington to enjoy during dinner. We climbed further and further up and the passengers on the left side of the aircraft were treated to an absolutely spectacular reddish-orange glow of the setting sun radiating off the massive expanses of clouds that lay a good 15,000 feet below us as we cruised at 38,000 feet and Mach 0.84.

About 25 minutes into the flight, the On Board Leader came by to ask me for my drink choice and meal order. I asked what champagnes were on board and was informed that this evening the Alexandre Bonnet Grande Reserve 1993 and Philiponnat Reserve Millesimee 1993 were available. I asked for the Philiponnat and was definitely not disappointed. Still, after you try Krug Grande Cuvee, it’s hard not to miss it.

Anyway, our menu was as follows:

Delta Air Lines and Air France welcome you aboard BusinessElite, where your need for convenience, comfort, and premium service is recognized. We invite you to sit back and enjoy a variety of international flavors designed for your pleasure. To complement your meal, we are proud to suggest a wine from our award-winning Vinum program.

Thank you for choosing Delta Air Lines.

Pepper-crusted Ahi Tuna offered with Shrimp and a spicy Cucumber salad

Red Leaf Lettuce and Escarole with Feta Cheese, Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives, offered with Tomato Basil Vinaigrette or Parmesan Peppercorn Ranch Dressing

Assorted Breads and Butter

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Madeira Shiitake Mushroom Sauce, accompanied by Celery Root and Herb Mashed Potatoes, julienned Roma Tomato and Sugar Snap Peas

Regional Cuisine: This month we are pleased to feature a culinary selection from the Pacific Rim
Marinated, grilled Mahi Mahi enhanced by Ginger Soy Sauce, served with a medley of Jasmine Rice, Asparagus and Squash

Farfalle Pasta complemented by roasted Red Pepper Cream, tossed with Green Beans, Corn and Leeks
Smoked Turkey Pesto Sausage may be added to this Entrée

Hearty Southwestern Chicken Soup garnished with Green Pepper Salsa

Fresh and dried Fruit with a Cheeseboard featuring selections from around the world designed to perfectly complement one another in flavor and texture. Our Vinum Dessert Wine and Port make a perfect accompaniment.

Breyers All Natural Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae with your choice of Chocolate, Caramel and Blackberry Sauces, Whipped Cream and chopped Nuts, garnished with a Pirouline Cookie

Since the particular pasta dish offered on this flight is my favorite airline meal in the world, it wasn’t a difficult choice. I asked for it and was informed that it was still available. Awesome.

The tuna appetizer was nice and spicy, though not quite as much as an Ahi Tuna appetizer I had in United F about a year ago. I enjoyed it thoroughly anyway.

The salad, once picked free of tomatoes, was outstanding. I chose the Parmesan Peppercorn Ranch and the combination of that with the Feta and olives was delicious. BusinessElite salads are great since they always come in such generous helpings.

The entrée, as I knew it would be, was also outstanding. I took it with the sausage. The flight attendant gave me a generous helping of Parmesan cheese for it. Still my favorite airline meal by far, and again, as always, a very generous helping. After finishing this, I was beyond full. Must… Stay… awake… for Ice… Cream… S-S-Sundae…

I took some grapes and Brie and Rocquefort cheeses, which was kind of an unusual thing for me since I usually like to just cut to the chase and do the ice cream sundae. The flight attendant apparently interpreted my “oh, I guess I’ll have a few grapes” as “hey, gimme a whole big clump of grapes.”

As always, I had a sundae with whipped cream, lots of chopped nuts, and caramel sauce. What better way to end a good meal than this.

During dessert, I switched from champagne to the Danie de Wet Cape Natural Riesling.

At the conclusion of this force feeding, I switched yet again, to bottled water. I then reclined my seat all the way and fell asleep, soothed by Nat King Cole’s incomparable voice.

When I awoke, we were over Calais, France and just starting our slow letdown from cruise altitude. The attractive young flight attendant who had served me dinner just four and a half hours before informed me that I had long since missed breakfast but was more than welcome to a breakfast roll and a glass of orange juice or a cup of coffee or tea. “Or another glass of Champagne, if you’d like,” she added, as she smiled. I said a nice roll and some OJ would be fine.

I enjoyed the Danish and a couple of glasses of juice, then went to the lav to get cleaned up before arrival. I then switched to another homemade CD, this one full of nice bossa novas and sambas by various legendary jazz artists. For those of you interested, a highlight of this CD was Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim performing “One Note Samba.” Wow. In case you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a hopeless addict of jazz and Latin music. My seatmate at that very moment noticed my CDs and complemented me on my nice taste in music and we got into a pretty interesting conversation about music. As it turned out, he worked for Telarc Records and was headed to France to meet his wife there for a much needed vacation. He gave me some outstanding suggestions on good, relatively unknown jazz artists.

Next time I took note of our position, we were on short finals into de Gaulle. I kept talking with my seatmate, then we grew quiet as we descended down to about 100 feet AGL. We touched down smoothly and the Captain elected to use only idle reverse thrust and do an extended rollout. We turned off the active runway almost at its end and had about a three minute taxi into C91.

I chatted with my seatmate all the way through immigration and we went our separate ways at the baggage claim as he had bags and I didn’t. I prepared for a lovely next few days in the Old World, energized by the very enlightening conversation with that gentleman.

Thursday, May 2, 2002
Delta Air Lines 21
Boeing 777-232(ER)
N866DA / Ship 7007
Paris Charles de Gaulle to Hartsfield Atlanta International

Well, I arrived back at de Gaulle only about hour before my flight back to Kennedy, on which I was listed. I went to the dreaded NRSA check in area and somehow made it through the security conversation, for lack of a better term, without saying something that would make the security guy decide that they needed to tear my stuff apart and do a full cavity search. Good. I waited in line for the next available AF agent. Now was the moment of truth, the moment I had been dreading the whole trip: the moment at which I would have to deal with an Air France agent. My arrival experience a few days before had been flawless, and of course I immediately dismissed it as an anomaly. Well, this time, our conversation went something like this:

Air France agent: “Hello, how are you this morning?”

Me: “…uh….” (speechless at the genuine concern showed by the AF agent for how my morning was… very out of character) “I’m good, and you?”

AF: “Not bad. Where are you going this morning?”

Me: “New York Kennedy, listed on Delta flight 17, last name is XXXXX.”

AF: “Okay, I just need your passport, company passcard and ID, and your paper pass.”

I handed these over and watched somewhat nervously as the AF agent got a frazzled look on her face.

AF: “Are you sure you want to go through Kennedy to get to Atlanta? The nonstop Atlanta flight has 20 open seats in J class and if you go to Kennedy you will be in eco class since J class is full.”

Me: “Uh, sure, that sounds like a better idea. Thanks, I appreciate that.” Now at this point I was just floored. I had heard stories of Air France having made a concerted effort to clean up their act as far as service at CDG was concerned. Could it be? Delta nonrevs endured the worst of the worst treatment by AF agents, and this lady was making me feel really bad for jumping to such a conclusion.

AF: “Okay, you’re listed. I’ll call your name in about 30 minutes. Please stay here in this area. Oh, do you prefer a window seat or an aisle?”

Me: “I’ll take a window if you have it.”

AF: “Alright, I’ll keep that in mind Mr. XXXXX.”

Me: “Thank you, have a nice morning.”

AF: “You too.”

Exactly thirty minutes later:

AF: “Mr. XXXXX on Delta to Atlanta……”

I got up out of my seat and went to the desk.

AF: “Is 4A okay?”

Me: “Yes, most certainly.”

AF: “Okay, have a nice flight. Please go straight to C89 for boarding.”

Me: “I will. Thank you very much for all your help.”

AF: “Bon voyage.”

I walked to C89, absolutely stunned. AF truly had changed their ways.

I arrived at the gate to discover that we were delayed. Pretty badly. Our scheduled departure time was 1345, and it looked like we weren’t even going to board until 1500 “at the earliest,” according to an announcement made by one of the Delta agents at the gate. The reason: a mechanical. The exact reason: PA system inoperative. My next thought was to walk over to verify which particular aircraft it was. I hadn’t asked anybody which exact aircraft it was, but I had a feeling I knew once I found out it was delayed. Sure enough, as I walked up to the window and saw the ship number on the nose gear door, I saw it. It was Ship 7007, registered N866DA. My namesake, but more widely known for being the, uh, problem child of the Delta 777 fleet. I could regale you with many tales of delays, cancellations, and even a diversion or two involving Ship 7007, but I don’t know if FT can take posts that long.
Anyway, I laughed, sort of shrugged it off and figured “that’s 7007 for ya.” Proof positive that airplanes really do have personalities. 7007 had been performing flawlessly for several months, only a few minor mechanical issues, but again, on this day, she came through in fine form, blowing connections for every single connecting passenger on the flight save the contingent headed for EZE, and giving the Delta gate agents and maintenance guys in CDG a massive headache. Lovely. I was quite proud, in a morbid sort of way.

Well, at 1455, we were ready to board. Unusual, since 7007’s specialty is what is internally referred to as the “creeping delay,” or one where the departure time is constantly revised to reflect a constantly lengthening delay. In this case, maintenance had done a good job of estimating the revised departure time and getting the problem corrected. Passenger Service handled the delay with a great deal of poise and confidence, and the passengers’ appreciation was apparent.

I boarded along with the rest of the BusinessElite cabin. All told there were about 30 empty seats, including the one next to me. Outstanding. I think coach was only booked to around 80 of 225.

I got the usual menu, amenity kit, and predeparture beverage of water. Again, I went to the flight deck to chat. Pretty light load today. We would be at no more than about 410,000 pounds and would cruise at Mach 0.86 in order to try and make up some lost time.

We pushed back at God knows what hour, I had long since lost track of time, just happy to be aboard 7007. An expedited taxi to our active runway ensued and we turned onto the active runway, brought the twin Rolls Royces up to about 50% power for 10 or so seconds, executing a rolling start, and finally the flight deck advanced the throttles to takeoff power. The engines roared and we hurtled down the runway, getting off the ground in less than maybe 15 or 18 seconds. We continued a steep climb all the way up to 15,000 feet, at which point they eased off the power and slowed our rate of climb.

Half an hour or so into the flight, it was time for drinks and lunch orders. As always, I took a ramekin of warmed nuts and asked for a glass of champagne. Again the Philipponnat was among the available selections and I took that.

The menu was as follows:

Smoked Salmon atop Red Potato Slices, garnished with Caviar and Chive Sour Cream, accompanied by Crostini topped with a Relish of grilled Vegetables

Romaine Lettuce, Radicchio and Italian Parsley with Artichoke Hearts, roasted Red Bell Pepper, Kalamata Olives and Parmesan Cheese, offered with Parmesan Peppercorn Dressing or Mustard Vinaigrette

Assorted Breads and Butter

Herb-crusted Rack of Lamb presented with a Bordelaise Sauce, complemented by a roasted Potato and Vegetable Medley

Regional Cuisine: This month we are pleased to feature a culinary selection from Provence, France
Seared Tuna enhanced by Provençale Sauce, offered with Vegetable Orzo and Haricots Verts

Raviolini Pasta accented by Tomato Sauce, tossed with a Zucchini, Eggplant, Bell Pepper, Parsley and Goat Cheese Ratatouille
Grilled Chicken may be added to this entrée

Hearty and spicy Mulligatawny Soup consisting of diced Red Pepper, Onions, Carrots, sliced Apples, and Curry, garnished with Cilantro Rice

Fresh and dried Fruit with a Cheeseboard featuring selections from around the world designed to perfectly complement one another in flavor and texture. Our Vinum Dessert Wine and Port make a perfect accompaniment.

Breyers All Natural Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae with your choice of Chocolate, Caramel and Blackberry Sauces, Whipped Cream and chopped Nuts, garnished with a Pirouline Cookie

The salmon appetizer was okay. Nothing special.

Salad was, again, delicious. I’m a big fan of artichoke hearts and enjoyed them thoroughly alongside the Kalamata olives. It made for a very nice combination. I took the Parmesan Peppercorn dressing.

I took the lamb and was glad they actually had it when they got around to me because none of the other three entrees looked particularly appetizing and I was thinking most of the revenue folks there would be inclined to agree with me. Apparently not. The lamb was outstanding.

I skipped the fruit and cheese plate, which is what I normally do, and had a sundae, like I always do. Delicious, as always. I switched once again to bottled water and went into a very sound, deep sleep, accompanied by John Pizzarelli, a very talented jazz guitarist and vocalist.

I didn’t wake up until we were on final approach into Atlanta and a flight attendant was sort of shaking my arm, trying to get me to wake up. Agh… how embarrassing. I woke up, and got my stuff together.

We touched down smoothly, quite late, in Atlanta, and taxied quietly to E12. I cleared formalities with no problems and was standing in the international arrivals area within 5 minutes of the time I deplaned.

Now at this point I was planning on meeting some friends and proceeding with them down to Buenos Aires for a few days. Little did I know that within 24 hours I would be headed east again, across the Atlantic, on an MD-11 headed to Brussels. But I’ll spare you the grisly details of that other than to say that there is simply no comparison between the 777 and anything else.

Truly an outstanding trip. Hope you enjoyed reading about it and I also hope you haven’t fallen asleep by this point from having to read something so long, although if you really have fallen asleep, you’re not reading this, so my apology if you are is kind of a moot point. Home       Trip Reports Index       Whine And Cheez Index       Discussion Forums

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