Why Fly Delta?
For a couple of reasons. First, because of a recommendation by a colleague of Julie. Best way to go apparently. Second, because they were not too far off about €90 cheaper than the Aer Lingus fare. KLM, who I’d always flown trans-Atlantic with in the past didn’t even get a look in. Their fare was crazy out of this world high. We booked online, confirmed flights, selected seats and paid on the spot. All good so far.
About five or so days before our outbound journey from Dublin to New York, I logged onto the Delta website to make sure everything was in order. Little did I know the fun was about to start from right here. Everything was great outbound, but our seats had changed for the return journey. Not something so simple as sitting in a different pair of seats than the one’s we’d selected during booking, our new seats were now not even on the same row. A bit strange I thought, seeing as our seats were both on the same booking. Maybe they were accounting for those couples that go to New York, have a massive argument before returning and then want to sit as far away from each other as possible. Yes, that had to be it. A quick Google showed that this is apparently a fairly common occurrence and also that a quick word with someone in the Delta call center could sort it out straight away.
The next morning (about two days before departure), I phoned the Irish number for the Delta call center. After a few minutes on hold I was put through to a friendly representative who was of absolutely no use whatsoever. “The flight has been re-scheduled, I can’t change anything from here” was the response I got. “Speak to the check-in staff on your arrival at the airport, they’ll be able to fix it.” I thought nothing more of it as in the past, it’s been a simple ‘here’s what happened, can you fix it?’ conversation at check-in and seats get changed. No big deal.
So the big day came and we were off to Dublin airport at an hour of the morning that Julie rarely sees. I rarely see it either for that matter, only when I’m flying out to work in some far flung corner of wherever. Got to the airport, joined the check-in queue and filled out those wonderfully repetitive US immigration visa waiver forms. While our boarding passes and baggage tags were printing, I mentioned to the check-in woman about the mix up with the seats. “Oh” she started. “Oh that sometimes happens, but as the flight has been rescheduled, I can’t change anything from here. You’ll need to talk to a member of Delta staff when you land in JFK”. Right, this is all going around the houses a bit but for now I’m willing to play along. Queue lots of waiting around, filling in more forms, being looked up and down by customs and immigration people and finally more waiting around until we boarded the flight.
Having been informed about the marvelous seat back screens and entertainment systems before booking with Delta, I was interested to see what exactly all the fuss was about. Two Delta flights later and I’m still interested to see. Nothing says trans-Atlantic flying comfort like staring at the back of a fellow passengers bald spot for six hours. The only thing in the seat back in front of me was foam and even that was coming out at the raggedy edges. So instead of being able to choose my own TV, movies and whatever else is presumably on show somewhere in airline Nirvana, I got the usual ‘squint at a twelve inch screen fifteen feet away from me’. Niceties, bells and whistles aside, the plane did eventually touch down in New York’s JFK.
On stepping out of the plane into the terminal building the gravity of the situation that we found ourselves in became shockingly apparent. Not only had we flown back in time by five hours, we’d also gone back thirty five years! Dear God, a time-plane-thingy! Delta’s presence at JFK airport is, in a word, dated. I had to check the date on a newspaper to make sure we weren’t actually in the 1970′s and that my uber stylish t-shirt and boot-cut jeans combo wouldn’t be ridiculed by the flowery shirt and flare wearing population of New York City. No, it was still 2009. At least it was 2009 everywhere except Delta arrivals.
We were met by the driver of our overpriced car service at the arrivals hall and before leaving, I informed him that we needed to speak to a member of Delta staff to sort out our tickets for the way back in a weeks time. A hike from the arrivals to some kind of mini departures hall ensued and when we arrived there after getting lost twice in the maze of gray concrete and garish blue and red logos, we once again joined a queue. After the Delta staff member had finished filing her nails and talking on the phone, we were called forward. A puzzled look crossed her face and for a fleeting moment, I thought she was going to respond “Delta? Who are Delta?”. Instead, she said “Oh I can’t do anything now as the flight has been rescheduled, you’ll need to talk to the staff when you’re checking in next week”. I’d almost have preferred if she had reached over and slapped me across the face.
Out into the wilds of New York and the week long holiday began in earnest. Forgotten was the queuing, the blank-faced check-in women, the seat numbers and the depressing as a month long funeral airport terminal.
Alas, as it often does when you’re on holidays, a week passed all too quickly…
Back to the Delta departures hall in JFK. Several deep breaths walking from the taxi to the front door and we were ready to face whatever could be thrown at us. Hang on, there aren’t any check-in desks. There aren’t any check-in staff. There isn’t anyone to change our seat numbers. There were however two overworked looking people floating around the maze of automated check-in kiosks helping bewildered technophobe would-be passengers. Catching the attention of one of them, I inquired about the seat change. “Oh, you can change your seat when you check in using the kiosk”. I can? Wait… I can? Could this be true? There’s a light at the end of the tunnel? I turned and ran back to where Julie was standing with the cases, maintaining the aura of impeccable patience that surrounds her whenever we’ve spent ‘that much’ time together. Tap, tap, tap tap tap. Scan passport. Tap. Scan other passport. Then, in the corner of the screen a button appeared. “Change Seats”. We both almost couldn’t believe it. Pressed the button and a message popped up; “I’m sorry, you cannot change your seats because the flight has been re-scheduled.”
No, I jest. Had that popped up I surely would have eaten my passport to contain the venomous bile. Instead, the helpful screen showed that no seats were available. Nothing whatsoever. Not a sausage. Instead, seats were being assigned at the gate. So, we printed the boarding cards and went to drop our bags in. My bag, admittedly stuffed to the gills with all the t-shirts, jeans and other stuff I’d bought was a bit overweight. I didn’t check what the excess baggage rates were (first time in my long history of flying that I’ve ever gone over the limit) so I wasn’t sure what to expect. $20? $50? Surely something like that. The extra seven pounds of tourist trinkets, I [heart] NY mugs, clothes and whatever else I bought cost me an extra $150 at the gate. I can only assume my jaw hit the floor as I got an unpleasant taste of my own feet on my bottom lip. Instead of going to the hassle of re-distributing weight to Julie’s bag (which was just within the weight) and run the risk of undoing the delicate act of stuffing the bag I’d performed earlier on, I bit the bullet and coughed up the credit card. I will most definitely be comparing other airlines excess rates when I get home. Still possibly a good deal for the amount of stuff I bought though. Incidentally, I have found since writing this that the Aer Lingus excess baggage fee is €40 or $50. Aer Lingus apply the same weight limits as Delta.
Arrived at the gate, which was as fun and feature packed as the arrivals hall. Seriously Delta, invest some money in re-decorating the place. We were both first time visitors to the terminal at JFK airport and were completely in awe of what a poor welcome it is to one of the most amazing cities in the world. Maybe JFK is a pretty old airport and all, but that’s no excuse for how the place looks. If the Delta terminal was a cardboard box, I wouldn’t use it to bury a dead, rabid dog. If only out of the fear the ghost of the dog would come back and haunt me.
Nobody at the gate to even ask about the seats so instead, we went for a wander to the shop. A while later on returning to the gate, there was a member of Delta staff sitting at a small desk in front of the gate. I politely asked her about the seat mix up and she barked back “wait until your name is called, then come get your ticket”. I don’t think I even got the full sentence out. Ah air travel, the delight of the masses. Sat down for a while and only by chance Julie spotted the screen directly above our heads showing seats available and assigned. As soon as our names appeared on the screen I sprinted back to the desk where I was handed two boarding passes from a pre-printed stack. A pre-printed stack that had been sitting there when I first inquired about the seat change. Not to worry, I had boarding passes in hand that put us sitting next to each other for the almost six hour flight. At this stage I wasn’t even bothered that they’d stuck us right at the back of the plane, I just didn’t want either of us to have to spent the entirety of the flight gazing at some octogenarians family photos while being talked to death or being granted half a seat while the morbidly obese traveler next to us takes up a seat and a half. Both are woeful cliches but both happen with amazing frequency. Thankfully I’m normally only on 45 minute flights when either happen. This is why I always, without fail, bring headphones onto a flight. Even if I got nothing to plug them into. Simply tuck the end of the plug into your trouser pocket, take on a look that you’re listening to music or an audio book and repeat for however long the flight takes.
Right, in seat, strapped in and shoes off. Looking forward to some food, a bit of relaxation and being in a familiar bed in seven or eight hours time. Food service started. It slowed. Slowed again. By the time it got to row forty, it had almost slowed to a crawl. Chicken. I unclipped my tray and it landed in my lap. Literally. It didn’t bounce and stop an inch or two above my legs, the plastic tray met me in an uncomfortable manner. Obviously broken, I pointed it out to the flight attendant. “I can’t do anything about that right now” was the gruff and to the point response. Translation – I have no intention whatsoever of doing anything at all to remedy the problem. Here’s your God awful chicken, eat it on a slope and like it. In reality, I was just looking for an upgrade to business class. If I thought breaking a tray would get me that, I’d have ripped it from it’s hinges and flung it out into the aisle. Sadly, someone got there before me and this one was pre-broken. I ate my questionable chicken while balancing the tray with my knees. In fact, I ate and drank everything they handed out while balancing the broken tray with my knees. I’m now the world champion in broken airline tray balancing as confirmed by the association of broken airline tray balancers. I managed to steady the tray sufficiently to compose this rant of epic proportions anyway.
Toward the end of the flight (well, I say end but there was still at least 90 minutes to go until we landed) Julie went in search of the facilities. As anyone who has traveled in a plane knows, you get probably four toilets for however many hundred people are on board. Over the space of six hours, those four toilets see quite a bit of use. However, I have on several occasions seen staff checking on the whole cleanliness situation mid way through the flight and taking the necessary steps to rectify any problems. On finding a free toilet, Julie was advised to go back and put her shoes on as ‘guys have been using the toilet and it’s quite messy in there’. Right, so clean it then. I’m hardly suggesting that the staff are in any way responsible for how people use the toilet, but surely they should be on hand to ensure that the toilets remain clean and somewhat acceptable to use? During the flight, a child was quite ill in one of the toilets and the only evidence of Delta interaction with the scene was one of the male flight attendants looking on with a rather disgusted face while ushering the child’s father to one side so he could pass him in the aisle.
Great holiday, adequate flight, woefully bad service and ridiculously overpriced excess baggage charges. If flying with Delta has taught me one thing, it’s don’t fly with Delta. I hope when I write to them to point all this out that they don’t offer me a voucher off my next flight. Unless of course that voucher also works with Aer Lingus, KLM, Virgin or any one of the host of other airlines I’d rather give more money to for the same flight. The only good reason I can think of flying Delta is if you’re traveling for business and you want to arrive at your destination completely pissed off and ready to kick some ass in whatever business meeting you’re heading into.