Costa del Sol Part 1:  Delta One New York to Malaga and back (JFK-AGP-JFK)

Delta Flt. 270  New York-Kennedy to Malaga (JFK-AGP)
Boeing 757, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 5:14PM       Sched. Arr. 6:45AM
Act. Dep. 7:03PM            Act. Arr. 7:54AM
Delta Flt. 271  Malaga to New York-Kennedy (AGP-JFK)
Boeing 757, Business Class
Sched. Dep. 8:15AM       Sched. Arr. 10:50AM
Act. Dep. 8:09AM            Act. Arr. 10:07AM

Last year, I spent Memorial Day weekend in Sitges, where I had a great time, even though it was a bit cool to be on the beach. This year, I decided to go a bit further south to Torremolinos, on the Costa del Sol, just outside Malaga. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as I don’t know anyone who had actually been there. I’ll cover what I found there in my next post, but here, I’ll cover how I got there and back.

Last fall, Delta was running a promotion for flights from the US to Europe in business class at a highly-discounted rate of 98,000 Skymiles. The catch was that it only was good for flights through the end of May- which worked for Memorial Day weekend pretty well.  Delta has a seasonal flight from JFK to Malaga, and there was availability on the dates I wanted- the Thursday before Memorial Day, my departure date, was actually the first date of the flight for the season.  Alas, even months in advance, the domestic leg up from DCA had poor availability, so I was booked with a massive layover in New York on the way up – more than seven hours.  (On the way back, I had a normal two hour one.) I hoped there would be a schedule change in the intervening months, but alas, nope.  There are two other downsides, which are related. One, Delta uses a 757 on this flight, which is the only plane Delta uses for transatlantic flights that has a bit of a sub-par business class product. Two, because of that and for aircraft utilization purposes so that the 757 can also do NY to California flights, the flight times are less than ideal – leaving on the early side and arriving in Spain before 7am, and, far worse, leaving Spain at 8:15am and arriving at JFK later that morning.  On the plus side, you get to your destination in time for a full day, and you get back to the US pretty early.  But it makes it hard to sleep on the outbound flight with little chance of getting into your hotel room on arrival, combined with very early departure on your last day of vacation.  That being said, being able to get to Malaga without a stop elsewhere in the U.S. is great, and I found the flights pretty good.

The Outbound Trip

My flight up from DCA was uneventful. For my long layover, I had lunch with my parents at a nearby diner, before heading to the Skyclub at Terminal 4.  The club was finishing up renovations of its food stations, which have now been completed, but it was still a good experience – albeit it got substantially more crowded as the afternoon progressed. There were specialty rum cocktails at the entrance, and the outdoor Skydeck opened later in the afternoon. Skyclubs continue to have the best food of any “regular” US airline lounge, and, I’d argue equal to or on par to some of the premium United or AA lounges, and better than many foreign airline lounges.  On offer when I was there were a variety of salads and salad bar items, soups, hot freshly made pasta dishes, and delicious braised chicken thighs. There were also servers coming around with eclairs, randomly, and others occasionally taking drink orders while they cleaned.

At one point, I saw a fire on the tarmac, but the airport’s twitter account revealed to me that it was just a training argument.  It was part of some good planespotting, though, given the mix of random airlines that fly out of T4.

Just a drill!

Planespotting from Delta T4 Skyclub

The boarding gate for my flight was right across from the entrance to the Skyclub. It was nearly all American senior citizens, but for one bachelor party-type group drinking beer at the gate, and a few Spaniards. As the gate agents tried to get the flight ready to go, people were repeatedly coming come up to the gate to ask where the Skyclub was. So maybe they need better signage.

It started to rain just at scheduled boarding time, and ten minutes later, the gate agents started to board, making it to passengers needing special assistance before the pilot came out to stop boarding. He announced the ramp was closed due to lightning, and the passengers that had gotten on had to disembark. Unfortunately, the rain continued, and it was thirty minutes before boarding could begin again. The number of people who boarded with active military seemed oddly high, but I was the first one on board with Sky Priority/business. Remarkably, I was the 7th person in the small business cabin at the time and methinks that the other six didn’t happen to be active duty military.  I actually had to move bags around to get my rollaboard in the overhead bin, because everyone had put them in the wrong way. A guy who had been obnoxious and pushy at the gate wanted me to switch my window seat for an aisle seat, but I had chosen purposefully and declined.

Boarding after the rain stopped

Upon boarding, each seat had a duvet, pillow, amenity kit, noise-canceling headphones, and a bottle of water. The amenity kit was a design Delta is phasing out, a hard-shell Tumi case with Kiehl’s lip balm and hand cream, tissues, mouthwash, a large tube of toothpaste and toothbrush, earplugs, a pen, hand sanitizer, eye mask, and socks. It also had a leather tag that you could take to a Tumi store to have monogrammed for free, but I don’t know why anyone would go through the trouble of doing that for free.  I actually find these hard cases less desirable than soft ones as they are less practically reusable, despite seeming higher quality.

Delta One, Boeing 757

Delta One Tumi Amenity Kit

The seats on the 757 are in a 2-2 configuration, going fully flat and slightly angled towards the windows. There’s a magazine shelf under the large TV screen, and storage space behind and next to the back of the seat, in pockets along each side of the seat, and under the ottoman below. The seat itself is fairly comfortable, but there is no real privacy if you are traveling alone, and the lack of direct aisle access at every seat can be a bit of an issue for bathroom access during the flight.  For the sub-7 hour flying time, though, it was fine.

Delta One, Boeing 757

Delta One, Boeing 757

Despite being a Delta elite member the past few years, it’s been quite a while since I flew Delta transatlantic in any cabin. There are two reasons: one, Delta does not fly transatlantic from anywhere in the DC area, though nearly all of its European partners fly to Dulles (KL,AF,VS,SU, and now AZ); two, the MQM/MQD regime encourages those seeking to accrue status or miles to fly those partners anyway when there are inexpensive fares. So, I didn’t know what to expect, but in the end Delta’s service in both directions was good.

There was an option of prosecco or orange juice as a pre-departure drink, followed by distribution of menus before take-off. For both of my flights, I was given the opportunity to pre-select my meal before departure; unlike say Singapore Airlines’ “book-the-cook,” the options were the same whether you pre-ordered or ordered on board, but you were guaranteed your choice this way. I had found all four options sounded good, actually: cacio e pepe ravioli, beef tenderloin, chicken Milanese, or grilled salmon. Before take-off, the friendly purser confirmed my pre-order of the salmon and took other meal orders.

Delta business class menu, JFK-AGP

We sat at the gate for a full hour after boarding with no explanation, but there were never any refills of the PDBs, unfortunately.  The in-flight entertainment did work on the ground, though, so that was good, as it had a massive range of options, including live television.  While we waited, one of the flight attendants came up front and asked the purser if she could upgrade a woman in the rear to an empty business seat because the woman was complaining about her sciatica. Thankfully, the answer was no.

After waiting awhile without any explanation, the Captain came on and stated that we needed to be re-routed due to the weather and have extra fuel loaded. At 5:50pm, 35 minutes past scheduled departure time, we finally pushed back from the gate. We then proceeded to wait on the tarmac for another fifty minutes, before finally getting in line for take-off with wheels up at 7:03 – more than two hours after boarding.

It was a bit disappointing that the crew hadn’t done drink orders or anything in that two-hour period. In fact, I didn’t see a flight attendant until 7:28, twenty-five minutes after takeoff, when hot towels were distributed.  At 7:43pm, the drink cart was rolled out, and drinks were served with nuts, and then starters came at 8:02pm- about an hour after take-off.

The coloring in these photos are off due to the lighting in the cabin, but the food was quite good- though one frustration was a lack of a drink refill during any course of the meal. The starter course included a good, fresh wedge salad and a yummy tomato bisque, and a meh cold shrimp cocktail.  There was a choice of bread from a basket, and I went with the pretzel bread. About fifteen minutes later, the main was served.  It was probably the best fish I have had on a plane, served on top of a cedar plank.  The green beans were fresh.  The potato salad was a bit of an odd accompaniment.

Dinner, Delta business class JFK-AGP

About fifteen minutes after that, I had my ice cream sundae, prepared off the cart in the aisle.

Mmm ice cream

I was able to go to sleep at around 8:55pm, about an hour and forty minutes after takeoff.  So not the fastest service, but not the slowest either. I actually slept quite well.  I found the bedding particularly good, with the pillow plusher than many others, and a duvet which was an appropriate weight given the temperature of the cabin.

I got about four hours of sleep, waking up as the breakfast service was beginning. I appreciated that they didn’t start it until 55 minutes before arrival, as so many airlines begin it way too early. You can’t pre-order the breakfast, and I was in the third of four rows. So, they were out of the granola and yogurt option, which seemed odd, but I intended to go with the frittata option instead. The frittata was served with a choice of a croissant, scone, or cinnamon roll from a bread basket, along with a fruit cup, some asparagus, and a ramekin of way too much tomato hollandaise sauce.  The frittata itself was actually really good!

Breakfast, Delta business class JFK-AGP

At 7:53am local time, we were wheels down, about fifty minutes late. Coach and business exited through the same door, and the crew didn’t hold coach passengers back, so it was a bit of a traffic jam.  Once in the Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport terminal, we were held back because immigration was full, presumably with the Ryanair flight from Tétouan, Morocco, as the only other arrival at that hour was from Bordeaux.  It didn’t take very long though, and I was through immigration at 8:12am, and at the commuter rail station right outside the terminal at 8:20am, for the easy ride to Torremolinos.

Approaching the Costa del Sol

Arriving at AGP

Delta 757 on the ground at AGP

Returning Home

After a great long weekend in Torremolinos, I got a 5:40am 13 Euro Uber from my hotel back to the airport.  It was a black car with a driver in a suit, so pretty good. At 5:55am, I was at the gleaming new airport terminal.

Too early at AGP

There was no wait at the check-in counter. The contract ground agent was being trained, and seemed a little frazzled. There was no mention of the lounge access or anything. I tried the “Fast Lane” for security, but was turned away despite my Sky Priority boarding pass and the sign saying it was for Delta passengers. I had plenty of time, though, and security wasn’t that bad, dumping me into a big duty-free shop and then a big food court at 6:15am.

I went straight to the Sala VIP, the contract lounge run by the airport like they have in most Spanish airports. I had access as a Delta business passenger, but it is also a Priority Pass participant.  The lounge is upstairs on a mezzanine above the main terminal, and is mostly just one large open space. There is a weird watch and jewelry display case in the front. The seating is mostly low couches, which weren’t very comfortable.

Sala VIP Malaga Airport lounge

The food spread wasn’t great.  There was self-serve liquor and cold beverages, and Nespresso machines. There was a modest selection of pastries, some cheese and meat, and fruit, along with cereal, and yogurts in a refrigerator. There were also salty, all-day type snacks on the side- nuts, chips, popcorn, etc.

Food at the Malaga Sala VIP

Oddly, as soon as I sat down, the screen updated to say my flight was boarding, which was weird since it was 6:25am, and the flight wasn’t scheduled to board until 7:20am. I didn’t know what the airport layout and/or US flight procedure would be, so finished my coffee and headed out. It was actually quite a long walk to immigration, where there was no wait, followed by another long walk to the gate area. In the non-Schengen departures area, there was a restaurant and a small duty-free shop.  I was still at the gate area, which only had about five people sitting at it, way too early.

Preboarding began at 7:15am, and there was a mass rush to the gate area, so I ended up being one of the last in business class to board again. The crew on the flight was a bit frantic and unprofessional. To be fair, the plane does a quick turn so it must be stressful. But the Purser was yelling very loudly complaining about some of the issues with the food, in a way that would not happen on a non-U.S. carrier—and in my experience, not on Delta.

Toodles, Spain!

About 10 minutes after boarding, one of the flight attendants offered orange juice or champagne.  Then, after she settled her drama in the galley, the Purser came by with menus, greeting each passenger by name and confirming pre-ordered meals. At 8:08am, we pushed back from the gate, and at 8:20am, we were wheels up, a little early. Hot towels came quickly, followed with a drink cart and nuts 25 minutes later.

The meal service on this flight is a bit odd.  It’s the middle of the night in New York when you leave, and early in the morning in Spain. The main meal is a sort of brunch. The options were steak and eggs, apple-stuffed French toast, a deli plate, or cereal. I had pre-ordered the steak and eggs.

Menu, Delta Business Class, AGP-JFK

Fifty minutes into flight, came a quite large starter tray, which had fresh fruit, yogurt, smoked salmon with potato salads, and a pass of a bread basket. Surprisingly, when it was time for the entrée, the flight attendant took my entire tray, and returned with just the dish and new cutlery.  The eggs were fine, but the steak lacked any flavor and the potatoes were soggy.  Again, no drink refill over the course of the meal.

Brunch, Delta business class, AGP-JFK

For dessert, the Purser asked me if I wanted to wait because some people thought it was too early for ice cream.  I consider that blasphemy.  It was not as good as the sundae on my outbound, though.

I slept most of the flight, despite turbulence and temperature that kept radically changing as either too hot or freezing. If the mid-flight chocolate chip cookie service mentioned in the menu happened, I slept through it.  About 90 minutes before landing, hot towels were distributed, followed by the drink cart again, and then the second meal. The second meal was similar to a Delta domestic first-class lunch, with a choice of a sandwich or salad.  The Cuban sandwich was actually pretty good, with nice crusty bread. This time, there were frequent coffee refills. Chocolates were passed out just before landing, and we were on the ground nearly 45 minutes early, just after 10am local time. Immigration and re-clearing security were pretty easy, but I then had to take the jitney over to Terminal 2 for my connecting flight back down to DC.

Landing at JFK

Is Delta’s 757 business class state of the art or the best transatlantic flying experience? No. But it’s perfectly fine, and a solid option as the only flight from the U.S. to Malaga (and one of only two transatlantic flights, along with an Air Transat flight from Montreal). For 98,000 SkyMiles on a holiday weekend, it was the right choice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.