Hey guys, sorry for not being so active lately. This is the end-of-trimester testing period for me, so I am overloaded with tons of assignments right now. Once this period passes, though, I will be back making periodic posts on FL360. Until then, please enjoy some unpublished trip reports from last summer!
I decided to apply to an internship program during the summer of 2017 at various colleges across the country. In the spring, a professor from the University of Florida responded to my request, and I would be spending much of the summer after returning from San Francisco at his laboratory in Gainesville, FL. Furthermore, in addition to the work, I would also be going on a week-long jaunt to Tucson, AZ to repair (and hopefully use) the telescope that my professor constructed on behalf of the University. This seemed like a very cool opportunity, and I was very excited to be spending my summer conducting research and working.
Since Gainesville, FL (GNV) is a very small airport, there are only two commercial options for travelers. American Airlines flies nonstop from Charlotte, NC (CLT) and Miami, FL (MIA), while Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta, GA (ATL). As someone who is working towards getting Medallion status on Delta, there was no question as to which airline I would fly on. Tickets were booked in April, roughly three months before departure.
The first part of the trip would involve flying from New York's LaGuardia airport to Atlanta on a Boeing 737-900ER, and connecting to Gainesville, FL on an ExpressJet CRJ-200.
Before The Flight
I don't live particularly far from LGA (it's the closest airport to my house), so I was dropped off at the entrance of Terminal D by my parents roughly 35 minutes after leaving home. After saying goodbyes to my parents and uncle, I made my way inside the aging terminal structure.
Delta actually has a fairly large presence at LGA, though not as large as the operations at JFK airport. I was a bit scared about the timing, since the flight would depart in just under an hour. Furthermore, LGA's reputation as New York City's least efficient airport did not help me here. However, I was surprised to see that the airport wasn't particularly crowded this Saturday morning, and no line had a wait time that was longer than 10 minutes.
After checking in and obtaining a boarding pass using a self-service kiosk, I brought my bag over to a counter, and an agent helped me check the bag to my final destination. With TSA PreCheck given to me this time, I was able to join the "expedited" security line, though the TSA PreCheck line took the same amount of time to pass through as the normal security line. It was a bonus to not have to remove my shoes and laptop from my backpack, though.
After clearing security, I passed through a couple of shops before arriving at the central concourse area. This area of Terminal D has only 11 gates, with a mixture of both Delta mainline aircraft and regional aircraft from its feeder carriers. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Terminal C (also operated by Delta) handles most regional jet traffic out of LGA.
We'll be departing out of gate D-10 today, thankfully just 2 minutes from the security checkpoint, and one of the first gates you'll see as you enter the secure area of the terminal. I still had roughly 25-30 minutes until boarding was scheduled to commence. Walking around the terminal, I decided to do some planespotting. LGA has an abundance of CRJs, ERJs, lots of Boeing and Airbus narrow-body aircraft, an a rare MD-90 going to Atlanta that was getting ready to pushback from the gate. Interestingly, several gates at Terminal D are equipped to handle large widebody jets, such as the 767-300 and the 767-400ER. In fact, Delta used to fly L-1011s and 767s into LGA all the time before they switched their widebody operations completely to JFK. DL is pretty hesitant to send even 757s and MD-88s to LGA now...they used to be pretty common just a couple of years ago.
As I charged my phone at a mobile station beside the gate, I looked out to see a shiny new 737-900ER pulling in. Today's aircraft would be N846DN, delivered to Delta in September 2015. This was one of the first aircraft in DL's fleet to get the advanced split-scimitar winglets. It had just arrived from Atlanta as DL886, and would be turned around for the flight back to ATL within 40 minutes.
July 8, 2017
Delta Air Lines flight # 1539
LGA (New York - LaGuardia) - ATL (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport)
Boeing 737-924ER/WL (N846DN)
Main Cabin - seat 14F
Flight Time 01:51
Boarding commenced on time, 30 minutes before our scheduled departure time of 10:00 AM. I was assigned Group 2 boarding, meaning that about half the plane would board before I would. Lots of congestion occurred in the jetbridge itself, due to Delta's odd policy of boarding rows in the front of the economy cabin before rows in the rear, which leads to people clogging up the aisle/jetbridge during critical moments during the boarding process. The fact that this flight was completely sold out did not ease the movement of the line either.
I would be seated in 14F, the first row of the economy cabin. Each main cabin row has two power outlets for every three seats (except for the bulkhead row, where every passenger gets his/her own dedicated power outlet) below the seat in front. Based on my research, these seats are most likely to be B/E Aerospace Pinnacle seats, an extremely popular 737 economy class seat that can be extensively customized to an airline's satisfaction. The seat pitch was not as good as the generous 33-inch pitch on jetBlue, but still very good for my 5'9" frame (it felt like it was around 31 inches). Each seat was equipped with a Panasonic Eco9i in-flight entertainment system, a fairly responsive 9-inch diagonal length touchscreen that many airlines have chosen to keep their passengers entertained. Last but not least, these new 737-900ERs featured Boeing's signature sky interior, high capacity pivoting overhead storage bins, and personal air vents for each passenger.
We pushed back at 10:02 AM, just two minutes behind schedule. Since we were so close to the business end of runway 31, both CFM56-7B27E engines were started up right after the pushback truck disconnected. The Saturday morning rush was evident, with over 10 aircraft ahead of us in the departure queue, and roughly 5 aircraft arriving on runway 31 during this time as well. As a result, we spent quite some time on the taxiway prior to departure. I took good advantage of this time to explore Delta's excellent entertainment selection - more on that later.
At 10:31 AM - 31 minutes late - we did a fast-paced rolling takeoff on runway 31. The 737 was originally conceived as a "short and stubby" regional jet, with roughly a 100-seat capacity. The current largest iteration of the 737, the -900ER/MAX 9, can seat around 180 passengers - that's almost twice the original capacity of the 737. Furthermore, because it was originally so low to the ground, 737s have an asymmetrical "hamster pouch" inlet on the CFM56, which looks squashed on the lower end. This version of the 737 also isn't fitted with engines that powerful, so it was given the nickname "runway hugger." During the takeoff, we used up most of the runway in order to get off the ground, and followed the 314˚ heading of the runway to 5,000 feet, at which point we made a left turn south over New Jersey. This is the standard departure procedure for all flights taking off on runway 31. Had I been sitting on the left side of the aircraft, I would have had excellent views of midtown Manhattan. As we climbed to 10,000 feet, we flew over the Hudson River and turned south-southwest over New Jersey.
Once the seat belt sign turned off, the flight attendants began the refreshment service. I connected to Delta's wifi network, and download some information about the flight. You could get wifi access through a variety of passes, the cheapest being the messaging pass for $2. Note that this service is now free for all Delta aircraft equipped with wifi. Furthermore, you could also get a full day's worth of wifi for $16 (must purchase before the flight to receive the discount). Information such as our position, arrival gate, baggage claim number, and even the aircraft's fleet number (in DL's fleet) was available through the wifi.
Delta has truly delivered a leading in-flight entertainment product onboard its aircraft, ensuring that there would be something to watch for everyone. There were 290 movies and at least 650 TV shows available during the month of July, when I took this flight. In addition to these, there were a handful of games (by that I mean roughly 20), as well as hundreds of songs from a variety of genres. When I take a flight, I always worry about not having enough content to watch; with Delta, it's basically impossible to get bored.
I was served a cup of apple juice along with some of Delta's signature Biscoff cookies, my snack and drink of choice whenever I travel by plane. Both were tasty, although definitely not as good as jetBlue's extensive snack offering even for main cabin passengers.
As we cruised over the Mid-Atlantic states, I watched The Great Gatsby (2013), one of my favorite adaptations of all time. It was especially appropriate since I would have to read it again once school starts in September. I followed that up by trying out some of the games using the fairly responsive touchscreen, and settled on some music for the remainder of the flight.
Right before we commenced our descent, I decided to use the lavatory in the rear of the cabin. What's interesting about this lavatory was that it was a "SpaceLav," installed in many new narrowbody aircraft. These lavatories are very narrow, freeing up space for an extra row of seats in the cabin. I felt that it was large enough by my standards, however. The sink, though, was very, very small, but somehow prevented me from splashing water all over the place.
At this time, I had a casual conversation with one of the Flight Attendants working the Y cabin. He noticed that I was wearing a Boston Red Sox shirt and he couldn't help but laugh due to the fact that this flight originated out of NYC and I was the only one wearing Boston Red Sox apparel. We proceeded to talk about baseball, and the conversation soon moved on to my training on the C172. Turns out he was also a student pilot training on the C172 as well, albeit at a different airport than mine. He was an exceptional crew member, taking the time to chat with passengers about things they both love, a far cry from what we expect today from Flight Attendants in the United States.
As we descended over North Carolina, we made several turns navigating many local thunderstorms in the area. It was a fairly uneventful approach, with a few bumps here and there. We touched down on runway 26R at 12:26 PM, 17 minutes ahead of schedule and parked at Concourse A.
I went to the cockpit to speak with the Captain, who amazingly had over 48 years of experience at Delta. He has flown aircraft including the 727 (while they were still around!), 757, 767, MD-88, and the F-15 back when he served in the air force. We chatted about the systems and operations of the 737NG family. He compared flying the 739 to driving a large SUV or family van, and flying the 737-700 to "driving a sports car." (The 737 was originally designed for short regional hops and the 737-900/900ER is notoriously difficult to handle, especially on final approach. I've had several bad experiences flying the 737-800 in X Plane 11, so I can't imagine what flying the 739 would be like.) We also chatted about my personal experiences as a student pilot training on the C172, as well as the changes Delta has undergone over the years. He encouraged me to visit the Delta Flight Museum, which is located on the other side of the airport at Delta's World Headquarters.
Bonus: Delta Flight Museum Visit
The Delta Flight Museum is located on the premises of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as part of Delta Air Lines' global headquarters. I took a taxi for $6, and the ride took only 5 minutes.
I had to hop across two parking lots to get to the museum itself, which is in a renovated hangar. I looked through the propeller-age aircraft, then proceeded to explore one of the main attractions, a 767-200 registered N102DA. Named "The Spirit of Delta," this aircraft was purchased by money raised by Delta employees during tough economic periods for Delta. It operated for the airline from 1982 to 2006, where it was preserved and now stored at the museum. You can go inside, and see what air travel used to be like just 10-20 years ago. This is an important historical site for aviation enthusiasts, and I encourage you to visit since it contains a small exhibit on the long and intriguing history of Delta back in the coach cabin. Outside the aircraft, you'll find lots of other aviation artifacts, such as a DC-9 tail, as well as the iconic "FLY DELTA JETS" sign found outside the hangar, which was actually decommissioned during 2008 when Delta was in financial trouble. Fortunately, they recovered, and the sign was lit up again, a literal sign (see what I did there?) of their perseverance throughout the years. To this day, the sign illuminates any traveller passing through ATL, proudly displaying the history of Delta and the city of Atlanta.
Outside, you'll find a DC-9 (N675MC) and 757-200 (N608DA) painted in its original livery. The real attraction here, however, is the Boeing 747-400 that you'll find at the far end of the parking lot. This aircraft, registered N661US, was the first 747-400 built and was used by Boeing as a test aircraft. Delivered to Northwest Airlines in 1989, it flew for NWA and then Delta until its retirement in 2014. In 2002, N661US was involved in an accident where it rolled into an extreme left bank over the Bering Sea during Northwest flight 85 from Detroit to Tokyo-Narita. Due to fatigue in the aircraft's rudder, the crippled aircraft had to be flown manually to Anchorage.
As part of the exhibit, Delta has opened up the 747's interior to visitors. You can get a glimpse of the cockpit, which was very technologically advanced for its time. Furthermore, you can also experience the Delta One reverse herringbone seats (very exciting for me as I've actually never flown in a premium cabin before) as well as its most recent generation of economy seats, found on its 767-300ER aircraft as well. You can also walk on a section of the wing, and explore the history (and some internal systems) of the 747-400 in the rear coach cabin.
If you have a long layover (2-3 hours) in ATL, I highly encourage you to visit the Delta Flight Museum. It represents the storied history of Delta Air Lines and the city of Atlanta, and definitely has something for everyone, even if you are not an aviation enthusiast.
Delta has a very solid economy product on the Boeing 737-900ER. I have heard reports of the seats having too little legroom, but at 5'9", I can attest that the legroom offered in the Main Cabin is enough for a transcontinental flight. I was impressed by the high standards set by the Flight Crew, putting Delta on pretty much the same page as jetBlue. The IFE system, in my opinion, was a lot better than the LiveTV service offered on jetBlue, and the Panasonic Eco9i screens were much more responsive than jetBlue's Thales screens. In addition to detailed information offered about the flight, Delta Studio also contains an impressive selection of movies, TV shows, music, and games; I believe that this is one of the best IFE products offered in the sky. With so many selections, it is simply impossible to get bored on a long flight. I would definitely not hesitate to fly this product again in the future, and I am excited to continue my journey with Delta over the next several weeks. All in all, this was a very comfortable and enjoyable flight, and I would like to thank the Captain and the rest of the Flight Crew for making this flight a very enjoyable one.