Our European Journey Begins: Agent Roulette, JFK T4, and JFK-AMS-VIE on Delta and KLM
Delta Flt. 70, New York-JFK to Amsterdam, B767, BusinessElite
Dep. 8:12pm, Arr. 10:15am
KLM Flt. 1845, Amsterdam to Vienna, B737, Europe Business
Dep. 11:40am, Arr. 1:30pm
As mentioned in my preview post, we were scheduled to fly from Newark to Paris on Delta in business class, and then connecting onto an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna as part of a Skymiles redemption. But a few days before we departed, when I was booking another trip, I saw a “France Travel Advisory” on Delta.com. Upon further investigation, it appeared that the French Air Traffic Controllers were going on strike, for a three day period including our trip, and accordingly, approximately half of the flights in and out of Charles DeGaulle Airport would likely be canceled. Fun.
Delta was offering an opportunity to make changes to travel involving France, with the ability to re-route or reschedule, though. I didn’t want us to get stuck in France, so I pulled up other options on Skyteam carriers that would get us to Vienna. Many left too early for us to do due to work commitments, but there was a late Delta flight out of JFK to Amsterdam, connecting on to Vienna on KLM. Although there were plenty of business class seats available, I didn’t even bother to look at award availability, as I assumed there was none. But I figured I’d call Delta and see what happened.
The agent I got was by far the rudest Delta agent I’ve ever spoken to, out of a fairly large sample size. When I told her what the issue was – including wanting to look at flight alternatives, I was met with silence – the kind of silence that is so long and silent you think you must have been disconnected. So after about 30 seconds, I said, “Hello?” The response, a snippy: “I’m reading, there are a lot of flights here.”
She then told me that she wasn’t seeing anything about any strike activity and my flight was canceled. I told her that I was looking at Delta.com which had all the information, and showed fairly standard language for travel exception policies. She then read it aloud to me and told me it only applied where your flight was canceled (really? Delta would have a special policy to allow a flight change where your flight is canceled?), and otherwise all it was was waiving the change fee, and I’d have to pay any fare difference. (Had she noted in all her “reading” that it was an award ticket?). I said, “Well, I understand the flight hasn’t been canceled yet, but the entire point of the exception policy seems to be proactively re-booking.” Her response: “Well, that’s not an answer. I don’t understand what you want.” My response was a calm but blunt: “It seems you’re not really interested in helping me today. So I’m going to go now. Thanks” And I hung up.
I re-read the travel advisory, and concluded (after asking folks on Flyertalk to confirm my reading), that my initial reading was correct and Delta was allowing fee-free, fare-difference free changes (though it didn’t explicitly apply to award tickets). So a few hours later, I called and received a more typical, super-friendly and helpful agent. I told her the issue, said there was an alternative from JFK through Amsterdam, and she placed me on a brief hold, coming back to apologize that it was taking so long but confirming the flights and that she and another agent were processing it. All told, it took about 25 minutes, but she was courteous, friendly, and helpful, so I have no complaints. And we were re-booked without having to be worried about the Paris situation.
Our new flights were, on the whole, fairly comparable to our original flights. Our initial flights were out of Newark, but we ended up with more convenient JFK flights, leaving an hour and a half later, and arriving in Vienna an hour later. There’s no meaningful distinction between Delta’s EWR-CDG and JFK-AMS flights in terms of product on-board, and AMS is a bit easier to connect through in my experience. The one disappointment was it meant giving up a flight on Austrian Airlines, which I’ve heard has a good business soft product even on short hauls, in exchange for a KLM short-haul flight – one of three scheduled on the trip. But a small price to pay to avoid agita.
This was my first flight of Delta’s new Terminal 4 at JFK. I had a moment of panic attack when I tried to check in as the agent called me by the wrong name – my boyfriend’s name. Turns out I had taken his passport from home. Thankfully, he was on the way to the airport at the time, and I called and confirmed he did indeed have my passport. I ended up having a chance to enjoy the very cool Sky Priority check-in area at T4, which is a built out section on the side of the check-in area. In addition to several dedicated check-in podiums, there was also a small seating area, with bottles of water and nuts and pretzels.
Once my boyfriend and my passport arrived, we headed to the PreCheck line. Alas, there was one agent checking IDs for both PreCheck and SkyPriority passengers, and she was training a second agent, so it was moving super slowly. One woman from the SkyPriority line then took her time at the podium as an opportunity to ask the TSA agent about how one gets PreCheck. But we still had plenty of time and headed to the brand new Sky Club at Terminal 4.
The new Sky Club is absolutely beautiful. It is huge and spacious, and the highlight is definitely the Sky Deck, an outdoor space looking out on the runway. In terms of food and drink, the free stuff was the same standard offered at all Sky Clubs. One problem, though, is how much the location promoted the for-purchase food and beverage options. The main seating area was basically a restaurant, complete with a hostess. The “Luxury Bar” was huge, and there were a lot of confused patrons unclear as to what drinks were free and what weren’t. Delta really should put a list out of its complimentary beverages, as low-quality as they might be.
Soon enough, it was time to board, and we boarded the Boeing 767 for our flight over the ocean to Amsterdam. Boarding was a bit chaotic, as lots of people in coach tried to board when business was boarding (or during pre-boarding). To the agents’ credit, these people were rebuked and told to go back in line.
The business cabin on Delta’s 767 is laid out in a 1-2-1 seating arrangement, with every seat having aisle access. We had two middle seats and they were fine – solid lie-flat seats that didn’t feel too cramped, and with the basics of a good business class seat—a large personal tv screen, and USB and standard power outlets. I flew the same seat in 2011 from Boston to London Heathrow, so it wasn’t anything surprising to me. One thing is that the seats are better for solo travelers than for couples, as the window seats have a bit more space, and the seats in the middle have a big table/armrest in between them. My boyfriend noted that the seats weren’t very comfortable totally upright, but that doesn’t matter much on a redeye. I still think the best Skyteam transatlantic business seat is on Alitalia, but this was more than adequate for a 7 hour redeye.
This was my first time flying Delta’s BusinessElite since it changed the soft features – literally. Although Delta had always had a full size pillow and a better duvet than many other carriers, it now has those products branded as Westin “Heavenly Bed” products as a part of the Delta-Starwood partnership. I honestly wouldn’t have known the difference but for the logos on the products. Delta also has a new amenity kit in Business Elite, which is better in some ways and worse and others. The old case was an oddly shaped red circular, not particularly reusable, nylon case. It has been replaced by a sleek small black Tumi toiletry case – smaller than the one I received in Thai First Class, but probably more functional. On the inside, the amount of “stuff” has dropped markedly. Previously, there was a range of Korres lotions and creams, now just a lip balm and face lotion by Malin & Goetz. No more mints, and things like the shoe horn seemed to be of lower quality. The eye mask, also by Tumi, was an upgrade.
There was some congestion at JFK, so it took us a while to take off, but we were rewarded by a gorgeous red sunset while we did. The Flight Attendants took the time to take dinner orders and pass out more bottled water. Although there had been plenty of seats when we rebooked a few days before, the cabin was completely full – likely a combination of the CDG service advisory and weather at JFK earlier in the day that may have caused some missed connections.
Once we were airborne, I watched an episode of Raising Hope, while sipping on a Woodford Reserve with mixed nuts. Soon dinner came.
The first course, consisting of three different appetizers was quite good. The potato leek soup was creamy and flavorful, with big chunks of vegetables – much better than the similar soup I’d had on Lufthansa First Class. There were three delicious shrimp with a corn salsa and an extremely delicious dipping sauce, and then an okay salad with feta. The main course options were a beef tenderloin, roasted chicken brest, pasta, or a cold deli plate. I went with the tenderloin, which was very good, as was the broccolini it came with. The risotto was pretty gross, alas. To end it, I went with an old fashioned ice cream sundae, which, though melted and a bit gloopy, didn’t disappoint.
After dinner, I fell asleep pretty quickly, and managed to wake up only as breakfast was being set. I found the breakfast on the flight to be pretty disappointing, particularly the lack of a hot option, which I’ve had on Delta domestic first class flights. It was basically carbs, carbs, carbs: a bread and pastry basket, a bowl of muesli cereal, yogurt, and fruit. Meh.
Overall, the flight was very solid, though, and the cabin crew was obviously very experienced, with friendly but not overly solicitous service, and an efficiency recognizing the overnight flight. For all the complaints about redeeming Delta SkyMiles, I had no complaints about the redemption value of this flight.
We landed at Schiphol in Amsterdam with about 90 minutes to make our connection to Vienna, which was more than adequate. We had a bit of a walk through the terminal to enter into the Schengen area, but there was a tiny line at passport control in the priority lane, and there was no line for security. We headed to the KLM Crown Lounge, which I like for its simplicity and practicality. It’s a very open and airy space, although no windows to the outside. Everything is self-serve, and, at the end of breakfast time, there was a beef broth available, cheese, coldcuts, rolls/croissants, and a half-dozen juices. There was plenty of seating, and French, Dutch, and English magazines and newspapers. I thought about showering, but we didn’t have a lot of time, so I had a quick snack and two coffees, sent some emails, a light refresh, and then headed to the gate, just as boarding started.
The boarding process was a little hectic, as they didn’t announce business or Sky Priority boarding separately. The seating was standard European business class, with a middle seat blocked – although much more comfortable than my recent experience in Lufthansa’s uncomfortable slimline seating. There was plenty of legroom and inseat power, though no in-flight entertainment on the relatively short flight.
We faced a delay while taxiing, and there was an extremely annoying passenger who did not understand that the middle seats were blocked off in business class – despite the antimacassar on the middle seats that said “Reserved for your personal space” and would not. stop. talking. She quieted a bit when the curt Dutch FA said “Madam, you must sit there,” pointing to the aisle seat, making her move out of the middle.
I was surprised that the business cabin of twelve was completely full. For some reason, the coach snack service started a good 15 minutes before lunch service upfront did, but when it did, it was fine. The polite and efficient purser addressed each passenger by name and offered us a choice of pastrami or cheese sandwich, either of which came with a random four-piece crudite and a small mango-coconut mousse. The sandwiches were simple and bare, but very fresh. The mango mouse was way too sweet for me, but my boyfriend loved it.
Only a few minutes late, we then arrived at Vienna’s Schwechat Airport, and began a great 3 days in Vienna.