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Trip Report rkkwan's 9-seg 26,000mi DL/SQ trip to opposite side of the earth, Nov 2010

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I needed to attend my best friend's wedding in Hong Kong, so I claimed a 60k award on DL to do so. For those who say such "lowest" awards don't exist, well, if you're flexible enough with dates and routing, one can indeed find them. I was routed IAH-DTW-HKG on the outbound and HKG-NRT-ATL-IAH on the inbound with a 5.5-hr layover in ATL on Thanskgiving Day. [It worked out well, read on.]

I decided to use this opportunity to visit my 88-year old uncle in Perth, Western Australia. Never visited him and I had never visited Australia or the Southern Hemisphere. I looked into non-stop options on CX/QF, but wanted to visit Singapore as well. LCCs Tiger, AirAsia and Jetstar were considered, but in the end SQ's schedule was best and didn't cost too much more.

So, final routing was IAH-DTW-HKG-SIN-PER-SIN-HKG-NRT-ATL-IAH. 26,330mi, which is the most of any trip I've ever made. If I dig a tunnel from Houston through the center of the earth and come up other side, I wouldn't be that far from Perth.

Added some new lines on my Flightmemory and OpenFlights, 2 new aircraft type, and one new airport - PER.

11/8/10 DL 5134 IAH-DTW CR7 N376CA

Found out early in the morning my flight had been delayed for over an hour. DL was pretty good in notification about this through email and text messages to my phone. Turned out the CR7 that arrived previous night at IAH was found to have problems, and ASA (Atlantic Southeast) would ferry an empty from ATL early in the morning. Since I had 3 hours at DTW anyways, this actually benefited me. No need to get to IAH that early.

First time using Terminal A at IAH in months. The TerminaLink train extension had been completed, along as an airside walkway between the two halves of Terminal A. Meaning all gates at IAH are now connected on the airside with trains and walkways. No more re-clearing security or bus riding.

Flight was uneventful. I grabbed the overwing exit row during OLCI and it has tonnes of legroom. Still got about 2 hours for my layover, and I had lunch at DTW's McNamara Terminal, which is indeed one of the best in the US.

11/8/10 DL27 DTW-HKG 77L N704DK

This is a fairly new route for DL, started only in June of this year, using their ultra-longrange 777-200LR, which would be the very first time for me on this type. It uses a pair of derated GE90 (to 110k lb, down from 115 on the 77W). DL has herringbone for BusinessElite, but coach is standard fare. Modern AVOD with large 9" widescreen, decent selection of entertainment including some Asian movies.; but all controls are via the screen with no extra remote, including the control for the reading lamps. There is AC power on this aircraft for my seat 41F, one row in front of Door 3.

[Since I've flown CO's EWR-HKG many times, you may read some comparison in my report, as well as comparison to the old NW trans-Pac service, which I have also experienced many times over the past few decades.]

Similar to CO, DL has a towel service and printed menu. First meal supposed to be pretty nice, better quality than CO and old NW. Unfortunately, the entree wasn't heated enough. I wasn't hungry since I had lunch at DTW, but many of my fellow Chinese seatmates sent their pork/rice back for reheating. Mid-flight meal was served a bit late, past mid-point of the flight and only when hitting land in Siberia. Apple and Milanos are great, but the cold ham sandwich is very hard and cold. Before arrival in HKG, a second full meal is served, rather than breakfast as on CO, despite almost identical departure/arrival times. Besides the cold first entree, another issue for me is that they turned on all the lights for the mid-flight snacks. That was totally unnecessary, waking up everybody 1am Eastern Time. Alcoholic drinks are complimentary, unlike on CO.

The cabin crew consisted of many Cantonese-speaking ones, but I question some of their attitude. I heard one complaining about the trash and tissues on the floor, in Cantonese. Well, 3/4 of the passengers can understand what she was saying. Also, the timing of the service was horribly managed. No reason why the whole crew was totally unprepared for landing after a 15-hour trip. At the end, no one passed through the cabin to check for seatbacks and tray tables. Unacceptable.

The flight path we took is Polar4, same as UA's ORD-HKG, but not the Polar3 used by CO/CX/AC from EWR/JFK/YYZ. We flew NNW through Northwest Territories into the Arctic Ocean, passed on the Pacific side of N. Pole, then down through eastern Siberia, and cut through the eastern most part of Mongolia before overflying Beijing down to HKG. [EWR/JFK/YYZ goes NNE initially, and flies directly over N. Pole or just to the Atlantic side of it.] Flight time for my flight was 15:04, basically identical to typical EWR-HKG flights. DL scheduled the flight for 16:05; and we ended up arriving 40 minutes early.

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    I hadn't been to Singapore for 7 years, and wouldn't mind a brief stopover to take a look at the new developments at the Marina. I considered the LCCs Jetstar (QF group) and Tiger Airways (SQ group), but some of their flight time is bad, and overall cost not that much cheaper than SQ. For SQ, I can get a "free" stopover, if I choose the morning SIN-PER flight in my itinerary. I tried to book HKG-SIN on the A380 (I bought the ticket before the R-R Trent 900 exploded on QF's), but those flights cost more, so I just went with 77E ones.

    11/16/10 SQ859 HKG-SIN 77E 9V-SQE

    Hadn't flown SQ for about 10 years, and I got a pleasant surprise as soon as check-in at HKG, as the contract agent offered a candy to me. [I did OLCI 48 hours prior, but got no printer, and HKG doesn't allow self-printed BPs anyways.] At the gate, huge stacks of newspapers including Financial Times and Asian WSJ. The regional-configured 777-200ER I was on hasn't been refurbished and has old-style regional business and no AVOD in coach. Still, it was okay for a 3-hour flight and there are footrests in coach.

    Lunch is fine, with printed menu and English and Chinese. I appreciate that they waited a bit until around we were off the coast of Vietnam at noon before serving lunch instead of right after take off. Serving ice-cream as dessert was another nice touch (same for subsequent flights except for breakfast). Out of HKG, they serve Häagen-Dazs.

    I was picked to fill a survey. It was very long and thorough with around 7-8 pages, with quite a bit of attention paid to the check-in and gate agents at the departure airport - in my case, the contract ones at HKG.

    The new T3 at SIN is super nice. With no checked luggage, I was out customs about 15 minutes after touching down. No line at immigration.

    [BTW, for a one-night layover at SIN, I found the Grand Mercure Roxy to be a great option. Free shuttle every 30 minutes from SIN, and trip takes about 15. Less than 1/2 the cost of the Crowne Plaza at SIN; and frequent buses to marina and downtown.]

    SIN Terminal 3

    Since I woke up early, I got to the airport a bit early to check it out and to do some last minute shopping. The departure area in SIN T3 is literally dazzling. One thing disappointing is the public viewing area upstairs. Quiet and nice with exhibits, but two layers of glass mean no way to get decent pictures.

    SIN has similar setup as many European hubs. One go through a quick bag scan and passport control to go to the airside with tonnes of restaurants and shops. Then there are separate clusters of gates through actual security. Lots of computer terminals throughout T3 to access internet, before and after security. However, only a few area with AC plugs. There is free wi-fi, but it requires registration and have the password sent to a cellphone.

    Overall, extremely spacious and comfortable terminal. I rate it above HKG and I haven't been to any other in the world that comes close to its user experience.

    11/17/10 SQ223 SIN-PER 333 9V-STI

    SQ's Airbus 330-300 are all very new, and 9V-STI was delivered only in Feb of this year. SQ really lived up to its reputation in spec'ing this aircraft, even for coach. Huge AVOD screen, AV/iPod/USB connectors, coat hanger, cup holder on seatback. Footrest. Lots of pockets for personal items. Very comfortable seat. AVOD has huge number of movies and music from all around the world. Tray table is bi-folded, and with a mirror.

    Because of the eruption of Mount Merapi on Java, we detoured quite a bit east. We flew SE to Bali before turning south. Instead of flying off the coast, we hit Western Australia near Karratha. Flight ended up taking 5:20, about 20 minutes longer than normal.

    This was my very first ride on the 333, or any Airbus 330 for that matter. Also first time crossing the Equator. Very exciting.

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    The last time I flew Delta, I thought they made too many interruptions. There was one every 45 minutes of the flight. Also, was the fasten seatbelt sign on only when it needed to be on? or was it turned on when the flight attendants took their break, which is what happened on my flight with Delta to LAX.

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    11/20/10 SQ224 PER-SIN 333 9V-STM

    Too bad SQ didn't ask me to fill a survey for this flight, as SQ has some problem with Dnata (the ground contract) at PER for this flight. I arrived at the international terminal at PER at 6am for the 7:40a departure, and the line for the regular line was huge. My line for internet checked-in was short, but the Dnata agents were very slow. Or just too many passengers arrived too late at airport.

    At the end, they couldn't close door until 7:58a, almost 20 minutes late; just to wait for all passengers to get checked-in and go through immigration/security. They should do something about it.

    No candies for check-in this time at PER, but stacks of The West Australian and Strait Times (previous day) at gate. There are a few free computer terminals near gate to access internet and the SQ Silver Kris Lounge across from gate beams very strong free wi-fi for everybody at gate area.

    The 333 9V-STM is even newer than the one that took me south. This one delivered in April. Again, very decent flight, good breakfast. No issue with Mt. Merapi this time, and we flew straight towards SIN off the coast of Western Australia, then cutting through Sumatra to SIN. Because of late departure, we were about 30 minutes late into gate at SIN.

    11/25/10 SQ872 SIN-HKG 77E 9V-SQJ

    My flight departs from a gate in the same cluster as the PER arrival, but with SIN's setup, one still need to reclear security. But it was fast and again, plenty of computer terminals to use on either side to access internet.

    A number of SQ's A380 were parked at two areas of SIN, following the explosion of a R-R Trent 900 on a QF A380. SQ suspended A380 flights to Australia and was exchanging engines at that time. I saw one A380 with both #2 and #4 engines removed.

    When I did OLCI for this flight, I was able to switch to 31A, the bulkhead window seat. This 77E is a refurbished one with space-bed type business class. In coach, there is AVOD (older system than that on the 333 with low-resolution Airshow), and the seats are awesome with lumbar support. My bulkhead has incredible amount of legroom, though the screen size is smaller than other rows, and naturally no footrest.

    My seatmates have a 1-year old infant on their lap, and a bassinet was set up in front of our seats after takeoff. There is so much legroom that I have no problem getting in and out of my seat even with the bassinet there.

    Dinner was again great, with ice cream as dessert again. Saw a great sunset over the South China Sea before arriving at HKG.

    Nitpicking on SQ

    I have to say SQ really lives up to its reputation for service, even in coach. The seats and amenities are top-notch. They still have cream, aftershave, eau de toilette and mouthwash in bathroom. Kids are still given playing cards, and infants a small stuffed toy. All the food is good, ice cream for dessert. Flight attendants well-groomed and all know what they're doing. At least in HKG, even the contract agents know SQ hold them to higher standard than other airlines do. And their hub at SIN T3 is probably best in the world.

    Now if I really have to nitpick, I can still notice a few things that they can improve on. First, the meals take too long. One is locked in their seats for too much time, especially for short hauls like HKG-SIN. Second, they need to put paper towels in additional to their very soft tissues in the bathroom. The tissues are great for wiping face, but they melt in water. Third, I have this issue for basically all 4 meals on all 4 flights. I ask for Equal for my coffee, and they never have it on the FA's tray or cart, and require going to the galley to grab them for me. My coffee gets cold and it slows down their service.

    Anyways, nitpicking aside, it is depressing getting back on DL for my flights back to the US a few days later.

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    Sorry, the SIN-HKG flight was on 11/20, not 11/25.

    11/25/10 DL638 HKG-NRT 744 N663US

    HKG-NRT is the route I've flown the most times in my life, and this is the 17th time I've flown between these two cities. Quite a number of those were on NW's 747, but this would be the first since DL took over NW. One nice improvement at HKG is that the SkyTeam members have set up common kiosks in Aisle D for check-in. That shortens the line for bag-drop significantly.

    N663US is the first 744 delivered by Boeing to a customer in 1989. Now in DL colors, but DL has adopted its close partner AF's aircraft cleaning schedule - meaning never washed and super dirty. The seats have been reupholstered in DL's blue leather from NW's blue cloth, but otherwise the same. DL has announced they'll refurbish the fleet soon with new BusinessElite seats and AVOD.

    I had 63A, the first of the 2x2 seats near the rear, with extra rooms on the side to put my stuff, but forget seeing the communal screen from this far back. Breakfast was not bad. Otherwise, quick uneventful flight flying over Taiwan and then riding the strong tailwind to NRT. Due to strong northwind at NRT, we landed on the half-runway 34R, flying literally just feet above the farm house that would not sell its land. And then it was a long 18-minute serpentine taxi back to the Skyteam gates at T1. We parked next to F-HPJA, AF's first A380, which is super dirty. Took a bunch of pics of it.

    KE Lounge at NRT T1

    I got into the KE lounge near Gate 26 with Priority Pass as DL's Sky Clubs are not a partner with PP. This club is actually closer to my departure gate, 21. Smallish lounge, but pretty quiet and comfortable. Good drink selection, including a beer machine that pours Bud and Kirin draft, but much fewer food choice. I had an onigiri and some nice KE rice crackers. No shower and no computer terminals, but good wi-fi and plenty of AC outlets. There is a separate First Class section. Most of those in the lounge were on KE001 to LAX. Once those passengers gone, it was even quieter. I think it is a good alternative to the Sky Clubs at NRT if one isn't hungry and has his/her own computer for internet access.

    11/25/10 DL280 NRT-ATL 77L N701DN

    This flight was operated with N701DN "The Delta Spirit", DL's first 777-200LR. I sat on the same row (41) as on DTW-HKG, but this slightly older plane has no AC plug on this row.

    Cabin crew is more professional on this flight than my DTW-HKG one. Again, there was towel service and printed bilingual menus in English and Japanese. First meal out of NRT - Korean bibimbap - may be one of the best economy meals I've had on a US-based airline. Mid-flight snack was danish, fruit cup and yougurt. And then another full meal before arrival at ATL.

    Due to a very strong tailwind, we flew quite a bit south of the Great Circle route to avoid Canadian airspace, and still arrived at ATL in only 11:40. Incredibly quick.

    Scanned at ATL

    As I mentioned in the intro, I have a 5.5-hour layover at ATL, as this was the only flight I could find for my 60K award. I would hate to sit at an airport for that long (even if in a lounge) on Thanksgiving Day. Fortunately, I have a good friend in Atlanta, and I invited myself to her dinner. She would even come pick me up at ATL.

    This was my first time arriving from an international flight into ATL, and as some of you know, due to the layout of ATL, one has to reclear security after arrival even if going into Atlanta. Well, with all the uproars about TSA, I had considered "opting out" a full body scan if I was chosen. And I was indeed chosen to be scanned at that stupid ATL international arrivals checkpoint. However, my friend was already on her way, and I was not going to delay everybody's Thanksgiving dinner to stage a protest with TSA. So, I surrendered, and scanned for the first time.

    11/25/10 DL2285 ATL-IAH M88 N957DL

    Got back to ATL by MARTA in time, nobody at security early Thanksgiving evening. But my flight was completely full. I didn't remember anything about the flight - missed my drink service and didn't even use the free gogoinflight wifi. Completely passed out.

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    Fantastic report, rkkwan, with a level of detail that improves on your already sky-high standards.

    Good grief, you'd think that AF would do something to keep its new 380 shiny clean.

    Next time you have a chance to do the Tokyo-Hong Kong route, maybe you'll have a chance to travel on one of the new flights through Haneda. (Though I don't think that SkyTeam has any flights yet on that route yet.) Brand new international terminal at Haneda is much quicker/cheaper to access than NRT.

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    An update. I finally got to write to DL on their website about the incidents on DL27 DTW-HKG. Got a quick response with 12 hours, though mostly standard reply, saying they'll forward to inflight managers, etc. Also promised 5,500 Skymiles. No idea how they come up with that number, and I don't really care anyways. I want them to address the safety issues.

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    My Kwan, Am very impressed with how observant and detailed-minded you are. Last time I flew Delta, they never got me the blanket and drinks I asked for. Flying them long distance is not desirable unless it's free. I might have missed it but did you redeem your tix with points? I have delta skymiles and also tons of points from Amex and now I need to figure out how to put to good use.
    I am a fan of Singapore Air. I was willing to put up with their JFK -frankfurt-Sin route. It's ridiculously long like 23-25 hours flight (much longer on the way back) but their service made up for it. Thanks.

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