Johannesburg journey tedium

LOW FARE, LONG WAIT

Delta introduced Premium Economy service to Johannesburg last April with a special low introductory fare.

But that fare required me to act quickly, which I did, snagging it the same day it was introduced. The catch was having to endure an interminable five hour wait between planes in Atlanta prior to a 15+ hour flight.

That day came last week when I had to live through the tedium of both the long connection and the long flight.  It wore on my spirit as much as on my body.

Waiting in the Atlanta F concourse SkyClub, I enjoyed a surprisingly good Korean chicken and rice dish, some delicious humus, and a tasty Thai chicken and rice soup with a red curry look, but a yellow curry flavor. It was as good as a restaurant meal. Even a decent Champagne was poured. All in all, a delightful experience, as my expectations were low.

I just wish the time had passed quicker.

FACIAL RECOGNITION BOARDING

Finally at the gate, I noticed that Delta is now using facial recognition to board international flights. If your face doesn’t produce a green light on the screen, you don’t fly without extra scrutiny. I complied, proffering my boarding pass and passport, and then smiled at the cold heart of the digital camera in order to get to my seat (20B) in Premium Economy on DL200 ATL/JNB.

The Captain announced a relatively short 14 hrs 45 mins flight (usually closer to 16 hrs) as boarding progressed.

FLIGHT IMPRESSIONS AT THE 10 HOUR MARK

Ten hours into flight time and with five hours left before landing in Johannesburg on Delta 200, these were my Premium Economy impressions:

The usual small amenity kit provided socks (throwaway booties), eyeshades, and toothpaste/toothbrush. Separately, Delta gave us a pair of slippers, but they were small and inadequate, and I threw them away mid-flight. Mine were sized for children.

Excellent service on the 777-200ER throughout, beginning with a high quality tray meal (that is, served all at once). I chose ravioli ricotta with broccoli as my entree, and my companion had braised beef short rib. Both were very good and came with delicious, spicy shrimp, a fresh and tasty salad, and a yummy chocolate mousse. The stale bread didn’t diminish our satisfaction with the meal. Lots of the usual cheap wines and okay beers and standard liquors poured in copious quantities. I thought the meal was better than I remembered on Delta in Premium Economy.

Lots of snacks, water, juice, and alcohol available throughout the flight, along with a mid-flight cold Turkey sandwich, which wasn’t bad, and a second meal before arrival. No breakfast, though. Owing to the seven hour time change and the 15 hour duration, we went straight from dinner to lunch before the 4:00 PM local time touchdown.

The all-senior Delta flight attendants were friendly and polite start to finish, and they worked hard to keep the two lavs at the front of the PE cabin clean. Considering nearly constant use and queues from both PE and economy travelers, that wasn’t easy.

The PE seats are the same as I remember: not the lieflat marvels in Business Class, of course, but a vast improvement in comfort over narrow and cramped coach chairs, with enough width, pitch, and recline to sleep well and not feel claustrophobic.

The Delta PE cabin seemed to have more chairs than I remember the last time I flew it, which was Detroit to Beijing a couple of years ago, maybe because every seat was full. Premium Economy on DL200, which Delta calls Premium Select, has a capacity of 48, consisting of 6 rows of 8 across in a 2-4-2 configuration (coach is 9 across, configured 3-3-3).

I didn’t do my normal pre-flight comparative seat analysis using seatguru.com, so I can’t say how the spacial specs measure up to, say, Cathay and Singapore PE. I can only observe that I wouldn’t have been as happy if I didn’t have a bulkhead seat (20B). They seemed more roomy and private than the rows that follow, the downside being proximate to the two lavs and the galley that separates Business and PE.

The in-flight entertainment system had great movie selections that included all the latest Oscar winners, but the clunky headphones provided by Delta were far inferior to my Bose noise-canceling over-the-ear phones. I never go on long flights without them.

The PE pillow was okay, but the Delta Premium Economy blanket was thin, small, and quite insufficient for the cold and drafty cabin we experienced the entire distance of 8,400 miles from Atlanta to Jo’burg. Thank goodness I took a light jacket. Otherwise, I’d have been shivering most of the flight.

I’ve flown on Delta 200/201 to and from Johannesburg many times since it was inaugurated, but this was the first time since the PE cabin was added. Just like always on DL200, every seat was full from stem to stern, reconfirming my speculation that these flights must be among Delta’s most profitable.

The flight is a milk run and nothing special, but it is consistently reliable and adequately comfortable if in Premium Economy, barely tolerable if in Comfort+. It is a good means to get to and from Johannesburg without hating the flying experience per se.

Still, after the long connection in Atlanta coupled with the long flight time, the thrill of the trip wore thin. Being in Business Class would have made it more tolerable.

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