It’s always a pretty big gamble booking flights based on aircraft type alone, especially when it comes to airlines with massively diverse fleets and dynamic schedules such as Delta.
This entire trip was built around the 747 and it would have been a pretty big disaster if Delta had decided to change to a different aircraft at the last minute. It shouldn’t come as any big surprise that I was a bit nervous as I was walking into the terminal that morning to kick off this special domestic 747 adventure across the country today.
Luckily for me (and all the other passengers who wanted a ride on a domestic 747), Delta held true to their word and there was indeed a 747-400 waiting for us parked at gate A34 ready to take us to Atlanta. The whole situation felt really strange actually, mostly considering that we live in a time where small narrow bodies do the bulk of domestic US flying and it was difficult to wrap my head around the concept of a 747 flying a short domestic segment such as this.
Big airplanes on short routes were a lot more common back in the 70’s and early 80’s, and I almost felt nostalgic enough about it all to show up wearing bell-bottoms and a wide-collared shirt to celebrate the occasion. Almost.
Detroit, MI (DTW) – Atlanta, GA (ATL)
Saturday, November 26, 2016
Duration: 1 hour 21 minutes
Seat: 13K (Delta One / business class)
It’s not very often I take special flights such as this, so I didn’t quite know what to expect as other passengers arrived at the gate. Would it be a party atmosphere? Would nobody even notice (or care) that it was a 747? It ended up leaning more to the “nobody cares” side of things as we waited to board – there were a few people taking pics through the windows just before boarding, but otherwise it was business as usual and the mood no different as if we were all about to board a regional jet to Fort Wayne.
Things got a bit more festive as soon as they let the Delta One passengers onboard, as there were many who stopped in the jet bridge to take a pic of the nose of the 747 through the window. Even one of the Delta ground staff walked by saying that she wished that she could fly on the 747 today, so at least there were some people who knew that this was a special treat. It was at this point that I didn’t feel like a total airline nerd, because hey – it was clear that I wasn’t the only one excited about this flight!
Delta One passengers boarded through the forward boarding door, while premium economy and economy boarded through the second. This was a completely full flight though, and they eventually started letting economy passengers board through the forward door (and walking through the Delta One cabin) to expedite the boarding process.
My only other experience with Delta One was on a 767-300 from JFK to LAX late last year, and right away I was surprised to find that the seat design and layout was significantly different. The 747 seats are much more private than what was on the 767, and I much preferred these. The way they angled towards the sidewall and windows did a lot to increase the feeling of overall privacy. This layout is basically the opposite of what I recently experienced on my Virgin Atlantic A340-600 Upper Class flight from LHR to JFK, and I’m happy to report that there was none of the awkwardness.
The boarding process seemed excessively long, and at first I brushed it off as a consequence of loading a very large aircraft. But the minutes were rolling past without any acknowledgment from the crew, and that’s never a good sign. My suspicions of troubles were confirmed several minutes later when the captain came over the PA to let us know that there was a fuel loading issue – but it shouldn’t take long to resolve and we’d be on our way soon.
Not long after that announcement, he walked downstairs and personally greeted the Delta One cabin – which I thought was a very nice thing to do. He even made a comment about flying the Queen of the Skies, stating that this was a special treat as she doesn’t normally do a lot of domestic flying.
I assumed that we’d be on our way out of Detroit shortly after the captain’s greeting, but…more delays. We sat at the gate for a while longer before pushing back, and even though I knew that this was the aircraft that would be continuing on to SEA from ATL later today (with me on it), I couldn’t help but worry that this delay could screw things up and it might force Delta to change things bit. Even worse, what if I missed my Alaska Airlines connection to SAN at SEA later that evening? I tried to put it out of my mind as we slowly made our way out to the runway.
We eventually made it to the departure runway, but we ended up sitting for a while with no comment from the captain. Uh oh. More problems? We sat longer. And longer.
Finally a very perturbed sounding captain made an announcement over the PA saying that there was a fuel load issue that would require us going back to the gate. The proper amount of fuel was loaded, but it was balanced improperly and it needed to be fixed. He sounded really frustrated by it, calling it a “huge mistake” and he apologized profusely. Sigh. It was by now that I was praying that they wouldn’t cancel this flight altogether.
After what seemed like an eternity back at the gate, we pushed back once again and I started getting excited about this flight. Again. However, our troubles were not over. Several minutes into the taxi out to the runway, we stopped for an uncomfortable amount of time, and I was once again feeling like we were screwed. The longer we sat, the more I knew we were in trouble.
The captain made another announcement, this time saying that there was a “clearance issue” trying to maneuver around parked deicing equipment.
At first he said that we had to wait for the ground crew to come out and give us a tow around it, but 10 minutes went by and nothing happened. He then made an announcement that no tow was coming, but they were going to send out ops crew to determine if we could move forward without it. Long story short, we didn’t need the tow. But we were now two hours behind schedule and the excitement of flying on a 747 from DTW to ATL had been greatly diminished. Long delays are never fun no matter what kind of aircraft it is!
Departing DTW never felt better, and it was so nice to finally be in the air and on the way to ATL. The in flight service began 15 minutes after departure, starting with the snack basket. Drink orders immediately followed.
Overall, it was a pretty bland flight. Cold too. There was a serious draft coming from somewhere (I was never able to determine where the source was), but it was very cold and very annoying. The good news is that the weather was perfect all the way down to Atlanta and it was a pretty smooth flight for the entire distance.
Our landing on runway 26 and docking at E28 was two hours behind schedule, but little did we know that the real delays were just getting started…