Trip report introduction: Chasing the Thanksgiving 747 (and other rare birds)

Trip report introduction: Chasing the Thanksgiving 747 (and other rare birds)

01. Introduction: Chasing the Thanksgiving 747 (and other rare birds)
02. American Airlines 737-800 premium economy (Main Cabin Extra) San Diego to Chicago
03. American Airlines MD-83 economy class Chicago to Detroit
04. Westin DTW (standard room)
05. Delta Airlines 747-400 business class (Delta One) Detroit to Atlanta
06. Delta Airlines 747-400 business class (Delta One) Atlanta to…nowhere
07. Delta Airlines A330-300 business class (Delta One) Atlanta to Seattle
08. Delta Connection ERJ-170 first class Seattle to San Diego

One of my first goals after returning from London was to book a trip for late November or early December. Something. Anything. I don’t have any travel booked until Christmas, and the thought of going two months without going anywhere was a bit depressing for this travel junkie and I really needed to do something about it. I didn’t really have any specific destinations in mind, but there were two solid requirements that I had to adhere to: it had to be quick, and it had to be cheap. Both were equally important, as I knew that I would be having a very busy December at work.

And with all the spending I’d be doing on Christmas gifts during that time, there wouldn’t be much left over for frivolous things like travel. The hunt was on for a “fun but cheap” itinerary, and while I won’t bore you with the details of my search, I’ll just say that it was more difficult than I had expected it to be. Fun and cheap mix together like oil and water most of the time and this situation was no different.

It wasn’t until the first week of November that I noticed a thread on where folks were talking about the current state of domestic US widebody flights. It was there that I learned that in order to move as many people as possible during the busy holiday weekend, Delta would be flying a 747 between Detroit, Atlanta, and Seattle on the Saturday and Sunday following the Thanksgiving holiday. That was exactly the kind of “fun and quick” trip I was looking for, so I scurried on over to to see if it also qualified as “cheap”. Turns out it was! Well, relatively speaking that is.

I paid $500 for a one way ticket (in economy class) from DTW to SEA, with the stopover in ATL. Both segments were on the 747-400, and for as rare as a flight that was going to be, I figured it was well worth the cost. How often do we get to fly a domestic 747 these days? Ok, well, I did it last march on United (SFO-ORD and ORD-SFO), but more often than not a domestic 747 is a rare thing and not something that should be passed up if given the opportunity!

So now that I had tickets for DTW-ATL-SEA on the queen of the skies, I had to figure out a way to get to DTW and then home from SEA. I used the power of Google flights for this, filtering out everything in search of the cheapest fares possible. I ended up scoring a fairly cheap set of flights on American to get me to DTW, and an Alaska Airlines flight from SEA to get me home to SAN.

And the best part about all this? The ORD-DTW segment on AA was an MD-83, and the SEA-SAN segment on AS was a 737-400. So while I didn’t set out to put together an itinerary full of classic airliners, this entire trip was shaping up to be something more interesting than I ever thought I could put together. Two domestic 747-400’s, an MD-83, and a 737-400. Nice.

But wait, there’s more! Two days before the trip, Delta offered me an upgrade to business class (Delta One) on the 747 on both segments (DTW-ATL and ATL-SEA) for a grand total of $52. Are you kidding me?? Of course I’ll do it!

Here’s what the full itinerary looked like:

11/25/16 AA1566 premium economy SAN-ORD (737-800)
11/25/16 AA2286 economy class ORD-DTW (MD-83)
11/26/16 DL1640 business class DTW-ATL (747-400)
11/26/16 DL967 business class ATL-SEA (747-400)
11/26/16 AS492 economy class SEA-SAN (737-400)

Unfortunately, things didn’t go so well with the 747. I’ll go over all of it in much more detail in the individual trip reports, but it was a pretty frustrating day right from the beginning which ultimately led to very long delays and a change of equipment from ATL to SEA. To make matters worse, the delay in ATL was long enough that it meant that I wasn’t able to make my connection to the Alaska Airlines flight from SEA to SAN.

That was a separate ticket, and since Delta was only obligated to get me to SEA, I was on my own to figure out how to get home to San Diego. Ouch. Long story short, I ended up having to purchase a last-minute ticket from SEA to SAN (on the busiest travel weekend of the year). But as I said…more on that later.

Here’s what the final itinerary ended up looking like once all the dust settled:

11/25/16 AA1566 premium economy SAN-ORD (737-800)
11/25/16 AA2286 economy class ORD-DTW (MD-83)
11/26/16 DL1640 business class DTW-ATL (747-400)
11/26/16 DL967 business class ATL-SEA (A330-300)
11/26/16 DL4564 first class SEA-SAN (ERJ-170)

As you can see, this didn’t end up turning out quite like I thought it would. I did get a ride on a 747 though, so all was not lost. And hey – I’ve never been on a Delta A330 before so at least I got to try something new. But once again, the Alaska Airlines 737-400 has eluded me. This is the third time in recent years that I’ve tried to get on an AS 734 and failed. First it happened during my trip to Alaska in 2014 – the PDX-ANC segment was swapped to a 737-700 at the last minute. It happened again last year on my return trip to SAN from BLI. A cancelled flight meant being put on a 737-800 instead.

And now this. What is it with me and the 737-400? The only aircraft that I’ve had similar bad luck with was the DC-10 in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Nearly every time I booked a DC-10 flight, something went wrong and the flight was swapped to a different aircraft or cancelled altogether. Weird.

Anyway, this will still be a fairly interesting trip report despite being diluted a bit from the original itinerary, so let’s get started!

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