Wednesday, 28 July 2010: Brussels to Tallahassee, first class
Written 27 August 2010
Our flight was not until midmorning, but we always believe in doing our waiting at the gate, so we were up in time to catch an early shuttle to the airport and had our breakfast there. Turns out we need not have hurried in any case, as the flight was delayed. First, it was "Just a little technical glitch, folks; we'll have it cleared up shortly," then "Sorry, waiting for a part," then, "Line up here for your lunch-time meal vouchers." So we had some okay sandwiches from the nearby snackbar (and the 5-euro vouchers didn't even quite cover those) and went back to waiting -- not really a problem; I had my Kindle, my computer, and a handy electrical outlet, so I was set for the duration.
While we waited, the PA would come on periodically to offer updates about the state of the plane but also occasionally to offer bribes to anyone willing to take a later flight—$500 to take a different route home later in the day, then $1000 to stay overnight and take the same flight tomorrow. We considered it briefly, but I had miscounted my pills when packing my prescription medication, and had been on half-dose for three days already; I really needed to get home.
Finally, the PA called for "Thistle, party of two" and about six other passengers—"please approach the desk." "Uh-oh, that's not good," David said, "we're being bumped." But I didn't think so; whether the criterion was date of reservation (ours was months ago) or frequent-flyer status (David is Silver Medallion), there's no way we could be that close to the bottom of the list on a plane that size. And I was right—the passengers up front had apparently gotten tired of waiting and made other arrangements, because we were being upgraded to first class!
When the plane finally boarded, about five hours late, we got to see how the other half (well, the other 5%) lives. Delta really, really wants to keep those first-class passengers happy. We found bottles of water waiting for us on the broad console between our seats, and propped between them the menu describing our four-course meal. The two deep grooves in the console's front edge were our pop-up individual video screens (two dozen on-demand movies, plus a bunch of TV shows, video games, etc.). At (or rather in front of) our feet, large blankets and pillows. But the true wonder was the the seats and their concommitant leg room! I could stretch my legs straight out in front of me without touching the seat ahead. On the little diagram you can see on the console, partially obscured by the menu, each beige dot has a little arrow on it, and pressing the dot moves part of the seat in that direction. I counted that, in all, the seat could be adjusted in seven different dimensions! The part behind your calves and the footrest could be raised like those on a lazy-boy lounger. It didn't actually straighten out completely into a horizontal bed, but pretty close! Express buttons labeled "sleep" and "landing" let you, with a single push, assume either the "maximally flat and extended" or the "fully upright and locked" position. Very comfy indeed. It was delightful for the day-time trip home but would have been even better for the night-time trip to Europe!
At dinner time, the stewardess came around first to drape our tray tables with individual white linen tablecloths. (My tray table was inconveniently swaybacked, to the point where the stewardess noticed, apologized, and "wrote it up" for the maintenance people.) The, with our predinner drinks she distributed individual ceramic bowls of warm (!) roasted nuts (all almonds, cashews, and pecans; no peanuts). David was able to have his favorite predinner drink, a "coupe de champagne."
The first course was three-fold: a cold seared scallop on a bed of braised leeks, cold grilled peppers and eggplant with a slice of mozzarella, and an excellent hot cream of mushroom soup. All were served with real metal cutlery, monogrammed glasses, ceramic dishes, and tiny, individual designer salt and pepper shakers (different ones with different courses). Unfortunately, expected ordinary airline food, I had left my camera in my computer case, under the seat in front of me, where I couldn't get to it once my tray table was up and laden.
The main course was choice of chicken, pasta (rigatoni with tomato, capers, olives, and basil), steak, or cold roast beef. As usual, I went for the pasta. Back in steerage, where in comes in a nice cream sauce with diced tomato and spinach, that's usually by far the best choice, but this time, David, who go the steak with roasted potatoes and asparagus, came out ahead. The pasta was tasty but rather dry and tough—no cream sauce in sight.
The cheese and dessert courses were served together, which would have been fine except that the made-to-order ice cream sundaes looked better than the apple pie, with the result that I had to eat the rapidly melting ice cream first. The assortment of cheeses (morbier, a bleu, and a mild cheddary thing) came with strawberries and huge grapes with seeds.
All in all, awfully good for airline food!
Over dinner, I even got to watch the the new Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland with Johnny Depp, which I liked alot and will never be able to convince David to watch—the original Disney version still gives him the creeps (me too, actually, but the Tim Burton version is better).
I then had plenty of room to set up my InStand computer table (the stewardesses were extremely impressed) and put in a couple of hours on this diary.
In the fullness of time, after quite a good hot ham and cheese sandwich as a "prearrival snack," we arrived without incident in Atlanta. Against David's advice, I declared the can of cassoulet on the customs form (honesty is the best policy), which got us shunted aside and questioned, but of course, as soon as we got to somebody who knew what he was doing we were waved through. After a brief but harrowing episode where David's backpack got left behind at the customs station and we weren't allowed to go back for it without an escort, and no escort was available until David went and grabbed some unfortunately passing Delta official by the collar and dragged him over, we emerged into the familiar Atlanta airport.
Our connecting flight had left without us hours ago, but it was still mid-afternoon, so we hunted up one of this little barcode scanners, waved our boarding passes under its nose, and received our rebooking information. Drat. Not a seat to Tallahassee to be had that night. We were issued meal and hotel vouchers (in separate hotels—a definite first). Our luggage went on without us, and we took a hotel shuttle to the Ramada Inn (which seemed the better of the two), for once with plenty of time for some TV and a good night's sleep before catching an early flight home. David went off to the golf course, I got to the office only about four hours later than originally planned.
Two weeks later, Delta notified that us that they had added 5000 free miles to each of our frequent-flier accounts, for the inconvenience—not bad; I wonder whether people not sitting in first class got the same thing . . .
Next year, southern Burgundy and the Rhône.
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