Editor's note: Hi everybody! I'm so sorry that it has been so long since the posting of the last trip report! Unfortunately, schoolwork and extracurriculars have really gotten the best of me this year, so I haven't been able to spend as much time as I would have liked with Flight Level 360. That being said, though, keep an eye out for more past trip reports over the next several weeks!
After working for a couple of weeks in Gainesville, it was finally time to transfer to Tucson, AZ, to work on my professor's telescope. Again, there were two choices for flying to Tuscon. One was to fly on a CRJ to Atlanta, where you would then transfer onto a nonstop flight to Tucson (operated by a MD-90 at the time of the trip, which has since been upgraded to alternating 737-900ER/757-200D aircraft. You could also fly on American Eagle to Charlotte, then transfer to Phoenix (this route is operated by an internationally-configured A330-200 once per day, which is far better than the A321 that you can usually find on this route), and finally take another short flight to Tucson.
I chose none of those options. I had known for a long time that Delta operated a repositioning flight for their Boeing 777-200LR aircraft between Atlanta and Los Angeles. Several TPAC routes out of LAX are operated by the 777-200LR, while the ATL-JNB route is also operated by the 77L, thus making this repositioning flight necessary. ATL to LAX is often serviced by all of Delta's modern domestic aircraft, including 737s, 757s, and A321s, but the 777-200LR flight is a truly unique one, especially considering the fact that only 59 units are in service as of 2017. Best of all, this option was cheaper than taking the nonstop to Tucson!
This is one of the few domestic flights within the United States that are operated by an internationally-configured aircraft, something that is much preferred over the cramped single aisle aircraft that usually operate the ATL-LAX route. The 777-200LR operating this route offers three additional auxiliary fuel tanks, extended raked wingtips, redesigned landing gear capable of supporting higher weight, an GE90-110B1L engines capable of producing up to 110,000 pounds of thrust. These improvements allow the 777-200LR to fly distances up to 15,844 kilometers (roughly 8,555 nautical miles), theoretically allowing it to connect any two points in the world (though this is subject to ETOPS restrictions unfortunately).
The first part of this trip involved flying on a cramped Endeavor Air CRJ200 to Atlanta, transferring onto the 777-200LR flight departing at 10AM, and taking a SkyWest CRJ700 after a 3-hour layover in LAX.
Before The Flight
My early-morning flight from Gainesville arrived at Concourse D at ATL, considered by many to be ATL's regional jet terminal because it is almost exclusively reserved for Delta Connection operations, with the exception of some American Airlines and United Express flights. From here, I just needed to take the ATL Plane Train one stop to Concourse E, where many of Delta's domestic flights (and international widebody flights) depart from. Transferring there was a simple process. I had a tight 1-hour layover at ATL, but after I arrived at gate E17 for the flight to LAX, I still had roughly 30 minutes before the next flight was scheduled to board.
In front of my gate sat N703DN (fleet #7103), a Boeing 777-232LR delivered to Delta in February 2009. The one thing that set it apart from other similarly-sized 777s was its enormous GE90-110B1L engines, each capable of producing 110,000 pounds of thrust. Each engine's nacelle can easily swallow a Boeing 737's fuselage. That's pure power right there!
I had requested to board early in order to snap some pictures of Delta's first-generation international economy product, which is about to be replaced with the second-generation product (found on 767-300ERs and A330s) and the third-generation economy seat (currently only on the A350-900). While comfortable, this product is definitely starting to show its age. Thankfully, Delta will refurbish its 777-200ER/LR aircraft with a new interior based on the A350-900's signature interior starting in 2018.
Delta One (international business class) consisted of 37 lie-flat seats in a herringbone configuration. Although these seats can be converted into a bed, they are angled toward the aisle, thus offering little privacy. These seats are of a fairly old design, and are not highly rated by business travelers. They do seem fairly comfortable though, and will be replaced by the extremely private Delta One suites, which debuted on the A350, in 2018.
The Main Cabin section consists of 36 "Delta Comfort+" extra legroom seats as well as 218 regular economy seats. These seats are 18 inches wide, and offer 31-32 inches of legroom in economy, with 35-36 inches in Delta Comfort+. These seats are fairly well-padded, and were generally very comfortable for the four-hour flight. Each Main Cabin seat also featured a 9-inch Panasonic eX2 entertainment system, a fairly reliable (but sometimes sluggish) and widely used system employed by many airlines worldwide.
One bonus about Delta's 777-configuration is that they haven't followed the industry standard of cramming 10 seats power row; rather, they have just 9 seats in any Main Cabin row. This allows for a comfortable 18" seat width, compared to the 17" you'll find on the 10-abreast 777 (which is around the same seat width you'll find on a 737 in economy). Furthermore, this wide configuration allows for more space between window seats and the fuselage wall, offering passengers slightly more space to stretch out. Once Delta's 777 retrofits begin in 2018, they would still install 9 seats per row in economy, allowing for an extremely comfortable passenger experience.
July 17, 2017
Delta Air Lines flight # 1172
ATL (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) - LAX (Los Angeles International Airport)
Boeing 777-232LR (N703DN)
Main Cabin - seat 40J
Flight Time 03:57
After taking my fair share of pictures, I settled into seat 40J, a window seat in the rear of the front economy cabin. My seat was right behind the enormous wing, which is cantered slightly upwards and gives the illusion of wing flex while on the ground. Each seat had a reasonable amount of leather padding, and the IFE system was of a good size. Although some reviews have mentioned that the legroom was especially tight in economy, that wasn't a problem at all for me; the legroom was perfect for my 5'9" frame.
The Boeing 777 was one of the first aircraft to feature pivoting overhead bins. These bins are deeper; thus, they have much more capacity than conventional bins. The 777's slanted overhead panel also gives passengers more space when they are standing up, and reduces the chances of accidentally bumping your head while getting up or sitting down (as was the case when I flew jetBlue's A321). All of Delta's 777s feature personal air vents, very much appreciated for long-haul travel (as sometimes the temperature might be too warm for your liking).
At this time, the official boarding process was begun. I don't know the exact order of the boarding process because I had requested pre-boarding, but it should have been similar to a typical domestic flight boarding process.
While exploring the features of my seat, I discovered a flaw that might have made the flight uncomfortable for some individuals. Simply put, the tray table does not slide back once it is extended! This could be very tough for business travelers since when the seat in front reclines, there wouldn't be any space to put their laptops, except...well, on their laps! Furthermore, this could also be uncomfortable when eating for others.
As we pushed back from the gate, the safety video was shown on the entertainment screens. Each GE90 engine was then started up one by one, with a refreshing sound that made the entire cabin vibrate. For those who haven't flown on a 777 with General Electric engines, the sound of the engine startup serves as a testament to the power each engine can produce. It kind of sounded like someone dumped a ton of sawdust inside the engine when the fuel cutoff switches were flipped, but once the engine spun up to a certain level, the harsh grinding sound was replaced with a gentle, low-pitched hum. There's no need to worry as this is completely normal behavior for the GE90 engine, currently the largest (and most powerful) high-bypass turbofan engine in the world.
We soon began our taxi down ramp 5 toward taxiway bravo. The flaps were also extended at this point to the takeoff configuration. Along the way, we passed many company aircraft. It's really hard to fathom the size of Delta's main operation, with over 1,000 Delta flights departing every day.
We turned onto runway 26L, and performed a de-rated takeoff, as the short 4-hour flight from ATL to LAX did not require full power from both engines. We mostly followed the runway's heading immediately after takeoff, while the captain set a westward course to Los Angeles. We were almost immediately cleared to our initial cruising altitude of 36,000 feet (later increased to 38,000 feet to reduce fuel consumption). Takeoff occurred at 10:12 AM, roughly 17 minutes late. The 777 really had an amazing wing flex, especially when viewed from this angle.
Just like my previous flight, Delta's in-flight wifi provided important information about our flight, and offered a variety of packages to access the internet. At the time of this writing, the messaging pass (formerly $2) is now free for all passengers.
The entertainment selection on the 777's Panasonic eX2 system is the same excellent selection as the eX3-based system on other aircraft. I decided to start by watching 君の名は (Your Name), an extremely popular animated film that I watched before in Japanese class.
At this moment we had also reached our initial cruising altitude of 36,000 feet over Alabama. Note that the weather was mostly overcast; the weather wouldn't gradually thin out until we were over Texas. During the summer in the southern United States, it's usually cloudy over the states near the East Coast, while the weather is mostly clear for the states near the west coast. This isn't always true, however, as I would be traveling to Tucson to perform maintenance on the telescope in the middle of monsoon season to prevent lightning maintenance. Enough of the weather talk, let's get back to topic.
I decided to visit the lavatory in the middle of the movie. It was very clean and fairly large compared to the small and cramped "SpaceLavs" onboard newer 737 and A320 aircraft. The restroom was your typical standard affair without many luxurious amenities, but like all lavatories, it contained an ashtray on the door. Why? In case a passenger decides to break the rule and light up a cigarette in the lavatory of a plane, the crew would have a place to extinguish the cigarettes and not have them be a fire hazard to the aircraft.
At this time, the Flight Attendants came by with a beverage service and a cart with sandwiches on it. I ordered an apple juice with Biscoff cookies. I also purchased a Mesquite-Smoked Turkey Sandwich for $10. It was expensive, but not nearly as expensive as a meal of the same size at LAX. Furthermore, the meal was delicious and filling. In terms of beverage services, the crew came through the cabin about 3 times with assorted drinks to offer to the passengers.
As we cruised over Western Texas, I finished the movie and began exploring some of the games on the IFE. There were many classics, like Bejewled 2 (very similar to candy crush) and Texas Hold' em poker. There was also a trivia game, which my friends found somewhat addicting on their cross-country flight from JFK to SFO (back in June 2017).
I proceeded to watch The Bridges of Madison Country (1995) on the IFE as we cruised over northern Arizona. It seems like a typical love story, but the movie was intriguing nonetheless, with many historical references. I will be seeing this again in December 2017 as a play, and watching the movie gave me an idea of what to expect (that doesn't mean the movie spoiled the play for me though).
The flight attendants came through the cabin for one final drink service before descent, and followed it up with a trash collection service. I just went with a small coffee, apple juice, and a couple of Biscoff cookies for the 3-hour layover. Soon after the drink ended, the captain announced descent from 38,000 feet. Around the same time, one of the lead flight attendants, a very friendly and helpful man who served me the turkey sandwich, made an announcement for passengers with connecting gates. I have never seen this before on a domestic flight within the United States, and thought it was very helpful. It probably has to do with Delta's recent move from Terminals 5 and 6 to Terminals 2 and 3, though. Still, it was a very thoughtful touch for the many passengers onboard this flight who had connections.
Descent was initiated over Prescott National Forest, which contained many breathtaking views that eventually opened up in to Los Angeles county. The descent was pretty smooth, and we didn't have to hold, as this was not a particularly busy time for LAX Arrivals. We lined up with runway 25L, and the city of Los Angeles was visible on the starboard side of the aircraft, though the view was somewhat obscured because it was a hazy day. Landing occurred at 10:49 AM, 36 minutes early.
Because we landed on the South side of LAX, we had to taxi through the ramp adjacent to the Tom Bradley International Terminal in order to get to Delta's Terminal 2. You could see several interesting international aircraft that were preparing to depart to Asian, Mexican and South American cities. N703DN in fact would head to Shanghai next as DL185. We waited on the ramp for 20 minutes due to N708DN, another 777-200LR operating as DL174 to Atlanta, taking up our gate (27).
It did take fairly long for the people on this flight to disembark, simply because of how many seats the aircraft had. I made my way over to the port side of the aircraft, and visited the cockpit with the First Officer's permission. I visited the cockpit immediately after we landed and talked with the first officer on the operating differences between the 777-200LR and 777-200ER. We had a blast sharing our experiences flying, me on the C172 and him on the B777. This cockpit was much larger, and far more sophisticated than a narrowbody cockpit. Because the 777 is such a large aircraft, it has so many more systems, which makes the cockpit feel kind of overwhelming. I have flown the 777 in X plane 10 before, and it does fly very smoothly, even for such a large aircraft. It's the A330 that feels really rough and sensitive to the touch.
After bidding farewell to the crew, it was time to head into the terminal. I was released into an EXTREMELY CROWDED Terminal 2. I then headed down to the tarmac level, where I took the complimentary Delta shuttle to Terminal 3, where my flight to Tucson would depart.
Delta has an extremely well-rounded international economy product on the Boeing 777-200LR. I was impressed by the high standards set by the Flight Crew. The IFE system, in my opinion, was excellent, but the Panasonic eX2 screens were much less responsive than the eX3/eXLite Eco9i monitors on Delta's newer aircraft. 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. However, one complaint that I have is that the tray table does not slide toward you, making it slightly annoying to eat and work on your laptop during the flight. Regardless, I would definitely not hesitate to fly this aircraft, both domestically and internationally, and I am excited to continue my journey with Delta over the next several weeks. Furthermore, the fact that this was a domestic sector on a widebody internationally-configured aircraft made the flight all the more interesting and comfortable. This was one of my favorite flights ever, and I would like to thank the flight crew for making this flight an extremely enjoyable one.