How Delta Handles IRROPS vs. United

A few weeks ago, I talked briefly about the implosion that occurred with United Airlines when the “polar vortex” hit Chicago and the Midwest and what they did wrong or, at least, didn’t do right.  This week, Delta’s hub in Atlanta and much of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic was hit with unusual winter weather that created significant Irregular Operations (IRROPS).

There were several things that went wrong for United a few weeks ago.  Of course, they cannot control the weather but they have operated out of Chicago for a long, long time and have signficant experience with cold weather and snow. Additionally, American Airlines, who also has a significant hub in Chicago, seemed to fare much better in regards to cancellations.

The specific problems that went beyond the weather and actual flight cancellations were:

  • Lack of notice – I only learned about the cancellation of my flight upon going to United.com to check-in the night before.  Of course, the sooner you know about the problem, the more options that are available for rebooking.  I never received an email or call from United even though they had my info in the record.  Had I not checked on-line, I could possibly have found out only a couple of hours before my original flight.
  • Inability to Reach United – Upon discovering the cancellation, I tried repeatedly to get in touch with United.  I probably tried phoning them 20-25 times.  In each case, after spending 10-15 minutes navigating phone trees and holding, I was disconnected with a message that either said “All agents are busy.  Please call back.” or “We are experiencing technical difficulties.  Goodbye.”  In other words, one could not even get in the queue.
  • Website was Useless – While trying to reach them via phone, I also tried to use their website to book alternate flights.  This function simply did not work.  At all.
  • Email and Web Form Not Answered – Well, in fairness, they did respond – six days into my trip with a message that basically said, “We hope it worked out for you.”
  • United’s Twitter did Respond but No Help – I direct messaged United Twitter account before heading to bed and did get a response overnight.  They offered to rebook me for the first two legs of my trip for five days later and told me that I needed to contact US Airways for the remaining legs (I was traveling on an award ticket issued by US Air).  This response did not help and was inaccurate.  Once the IRROPS begin, United owns the itinerary.

Had it not been for the great work of a couple of local ticket agents, the two week international trip would have been completely scuttled.

Now, let’s turn to Delta and their handling of IRROPS today.  I was scheduled for an early flight out of PHX, connecting to DTW, and then into LEX.  Upon rising, I discovered that my 7:05 a.m. departure was delayed until 10:30 a.m. and I would not make my connnection.  While checking the web, I received an email and a phone call on my cell letting me know the same information.  This was right at two hours before the originally scheduled departure.

I went to Delta.com where the delay was noted and the proposed rebooking was already in my record for acceptance, if I was happy with it.  The proposed rebooking was PHX-DTW-LGA-LEX and would get me in about six hours later than originally scheduled.  The website allowed me to look for alternatives and showed a 6:00 a.m. departure through ATL that would get me in about 3 hours earlier than originally scheduled and that seats were still available.

Since I was up a little early and staying by the airport, I figured I could make this earlier flight.  I was not able to rebook the flight on the website – it gave me an error – but I called the Diamond Medallion line and, after 14 minutes of hold time, was able to book the flight.  In addition, the phone agent called over to Operations to have an aisle seat unblocked for me and got me an aisle since it was close to a fully booked flight.

A hotel shuttle ride to the airport, printing of the new boarding passes at a kiosk, a quick trip through the TSA PreCheck line with my shoes on and liquids in my bag, and I was at the gate.  Then, I just got lucky and scored a first class upgrade when someone did not check-in for their confirmed seat.

All the things that United got wrong, Delta got right.  In fairness, I have the highest elite status with Delta and my experience might not reflect what others without status might have experienced.  But, the key issue is that the systems worked – the automated emails and phone calls, the rebooked flights available for review on the website, and the ability to connect with a phone agent.

Will I give United another shot in the future?  I’m sure that will happen based on schedules, routes, or price at some point in the future, but the real question is why would I not fly Delta?  I don’t get paid by Delta.  I don’t get promotional credit from Delta.  Delta sometimes frustrates me or screws things up.  But, credit needs to be given where credit is due.

United’s 777 Business Class – FRA – ORD – LEX

After the quick overnight in Frankfurt, it was time to finish up the trip with United in their newly configured Boeing 777-200 business class.  Of course, I was happy to be flying business class instead of economy for this nine hour flight but, overall, disappointed with this product offering.  Here are the pros and cons of this business seat.

What I didn’t like about the seat

  • First, they are crammed in with 8 seats per row in a 2-4-2 configuration.  I’ve never seen this kind of density in trans-continental business class.  They are able to offer 40 seats in this class, as a result, but with little privacy and difficult aisle access for windows and middle passengers.
  • Very little privacy and not much room.  There is a shared armrest but no seat back pouch or any other real area to store small items.  Luckily, the section was not very full and I was able to move to an aisle with and empty seat beside me.  If I had not been able to do that, it would have been a much worse experience.
  • The aisle seats feature armrests, on the aisle side, that are designed to move to different heights.  In both seats that I sat in, it was extremely difficult to get them to lock into place.  The first one would not lock at all and the second had to periodically slammed into position.  It sounds like a small thing but having a floating arm rest is not comfortable for nine hours.
  • The length of the seat in lie flat position was good, but very narrow.  It really almost impossible to turn onto your side in the lie flat position without being pretty ramrod straight.

What I did like about the seat

  • I’ve read other reviews that say that the seat is too short but I do not concur.  I’m 6′ 2″ and the seat was plenty long when in lie flat position.
  • The seat comfort was pretty good in most upright positions.
  • The AVOD system was very good.  The screen was beautiful and, I’d guess, about 17″ in size.  A good selection of options and a remote that was very responsive.

The food service on the flight was fine.  I didn’t particularly care for the main course options, but others may have loved them.  I also thought the flight attendants that I interacted with were great.  I’ve read many reviews in the past year about “surly” flight crews, but my experience on this flight was just the opposite.

Overall, it was disappointing compared to my usual experience with Delta who, by contrast, have only four seats across on their transcontinental 777 business class configuration.

After a 3 hours stop in Chicago, I finished my trip with a short one and a half hop down to LEX, arriving right on time despite another round of snow and freezing temps in both Chicago and Lexington.

Headed Home on Thai Air – PEN – BKK – FRA

I’ve never flown Thai Air before but had a short 2 hour flight this morning from Phnom Penh to Bangkok where I picked up my 12 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany for overnight stay.  My seats were booked in their “Royal Silk” business class so was looking forward to their offering.

What I Liked about Thai

  • Service was very attentive and professional
  • The menu and wine list impressive if one is into high cuisine.  There was some stuff I tried that I didn’t particularly care for but it was all presented nicely.  For instance, the various appetizers and sides included foie de gras, salmon, shrimp, and various items that I do not recognize and did not particularly care for, to be honest.
  • I’m not a wine connoisseur but was impressed they were serving a 2004 Bordeaux as an option.
  • In Bangkok, they have a spa where they provide a complimentary massage pre-fight.  You can choose a neck and shoulders or foot massage.  I opted for the neck and shoulders which lasted about 20 minutes and was very good.
  • While I didn’t really partake of it, their food selection in their business lounge was pretty varied and had enough heft that one could make a meal of it.

What I Didn’t Like about Thai

  • Really only one thing, their business class seat.  I was on the Airbus 340-600 with an angled lie-flat seat.  It just wasn’t very comfortable in any position.  And, it was very noisy when changing positions as the person across the aisle seemed to do for most of the flight.

Hilton Garden Inn – Frankfurt, Germany

Upon arrival, I was very happy with my selection of the Hilton Garden Inn at the airport.  Since I’m only staying overnight for an 8:00 a.m. flight in the morning, I wanted something easy and reliable.  I did not even have to step outside as the hotel, and the adjacent Hilton, are connected to the terminals by walkways and are just by the rail link station.

Tomorrow morning, I finish the trip.

Getting Around: Vietnam Airlines

During my initial planning of the trip, I knew my arrival airport and departure airport but did not have a firm idea of my itinerary or how I would get around within Vietnam and Cambodia. I fancied the idea of taking trains, buses, and boats, but had to balance those ideas with the practicalities of how much ground I have to cover in a limited time.

Vietnam covers a lot of ground between Hanoi in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south. Ultimately, I decided on flying between my major destinations as it was the most time efficient and the costs are very reasonable. I will be flying Vietnam Airlines for all my major transits:

  • Hanoi to Hoi An (via Da Nang airport)
  • Hoi An to Saigon
  • Saigon to Siem Reap

The only arrangement I have not made yet is Siem Reap down to Phnom Penh as I’m still holding out the idea that I might do that leg via boat on the Mekong River.

Vietnam Airlines is a SkyTeam member and I have the privileges of my Delta status in regards to seat selection, boarding priority, checked baggage (if I had any), and the like. Costs were also reasonable with my flight from Hanoi to Da Nang running $52 USD, Da Nang to Saigon $104 USD, and Saigon to Siem Reap being the most expensive at $187 USD. At prices like these, it did not make sense to use miles for award travel.

Long Haul Flights – Passing Time

One of the questions I get is “What do you do for 14 hours on a plane?” It is quite a long flight and the kind of flight that I’ve done a few times – twice to Asia, twice to the Middle East, and once to South Africa.

First, you hope that there is a good choice of movies on the flight. With the newer VOD (video on demand) systems that come on many of the international flights, in both economy and business/first, I’ve watched many more movies on flights than in theaters.

Unfortunately, the movie list on this flight was not that great and contained a lot of TNT/TBS standards like National Treasure, the Bourne Identity, Iron Man, Batman Begins, Patriot Games, and Clear and Present Danger. Don’t get me wrong, these are great movies but even I have seen them multiple times. I know, I know..#Firstworldpain.

So, here is how I spent my time..

  • Settle in
  • Read today’s Wall Street Journal
  • Watch an episode of “Louis” featuring Louis C.K.
  • Eat dinner
  • Watch Crazy Stupid Love
  • Sleep for 90 minutes

All that being done, I only had 9 hours of flying left..

Dinner was quite good and the service was attentive. It was just a simple service of:

  • Sushi appetizer
  • Salad with Parmesan pepper dressing
  • Beef tenderloin with green beans and rosti potatoes
  • Assorted cheese and crackers
  • Ice cream with choice of toppings

I accompanied the main course with a 2009 Chateau Argadens Bordeaux Superieur.

Okay, that’s enough. No one, not even my Mom, wants to hear the definitive recap of the whole flight. Suffice to say, the rest of the time is passed reading books on my iPad, watching a movie I’ve seen before, more eating, more sleeping, and plenty of sitting around hoping that the time will pass a little quicker.

No doubt, it is a long flight, but I’m now here in Tokyo having some dinner waiting for my next flight to Hanoi which is six more hours of flying.