BACKGROUND Delta flies daily between Hong Kong and New York via Tokyo-Narita, and since the recent opening of the Terminal 4 extension at JFK, the flight will depart from the Big Apple through this new facility. The route is served by one of Delta’s 16 B747-400s, whose Business Elite cabins were retrofitted with the fully horizontal flatbed seats between summer 2011 and 2012.
CHECK-IN I arrived at JFK around 1215 for my 1410 DL173 flight. There is a new priority check-in area for premium passengers, and there was no queue so check-in took mere minutes. I was then quickly escorted to fast track for the security check which, despite some yelling and butt patting, lasted less than 10 minutes. There was no immigration after the security check, so I passed straight into the shopping area.
THE LOUNGE Boarding was at Gate 32 – the second one in the new T4 extension – and the Sky Club Lounge is right next door, which meant I could make full use of the 15 minutes I had before boarding. It is one level up, accessible by stairs or escalator. You’re first greeted by the wide reception desk; turn right to the work desk area with windows facing the apron, or left to enter the lounge area. The work area is huge and brightly lit, including many types of seating, quiet zones, work desks, and power outlets throughout (US sockets). A series of framed prints inspired by typography from around the world decorate the space.
The biggest attraction is the Sky Deck outdoor space near the work desks; on the day I visited it was particularly popular as the weather was gorgeous. Some passengers even lay down on the long banquette to do some sunbathing. But the food and drinks were disappointing – at least the complimentary ones. There were nuts, party mix, carrot and celery sticks, olives, crackers, and small packages of hummus, Colby Jack cheese and Nutella. Beyond that, you have to order from the bar – at extra cost. A salad starts from US$12, “small plates” such as a rosemary, truffle and parmesan popcorn bowl cost from US$5, and there are “large plates” such as cold poached shrimp, saffron aioli, fennel, hard-boiled egg and carrots (US$18), heartland board (cold cuts US$18) and sushi (eight pieces for US$22). Desserts are US$8 each. When I asked for a glass of wine, I was directed to the price menu, and I had to stress that I wanted the free choice, which was a decent Californian chardonnay (Sycamore Lane 2012). House spirits are also free.
Service was very slow and there were many unhappy faces around, but perhaps this was understandable, as the facility had only been open for four days. Other amenities include shower rooms, a printer (accessed by a designated email address) and photocopier. I followed the instructions and tried to send something to the printer from my iPhone, but it failed to print and I ran out of time trying to ask for help. For more on the new lounge, see page 15.
BOARDING I headed down to the gate at round 1320 to find quite a crowd, but the line for priority boarding was very short. I was seated within minutes.
THE SEAT I was allocated 79K on the upper deck, which is in a 1-1 configuration. A fellow passenger asked if I could swap with her for 80K so that she could sit across the aisle from her travel companion. I did not mind, as 80K was the standalone seat farthest back in the cabin, which meant more privacy. The galley was a small corridor away so the noise did not bother me.
The seat is well designed, each with its semi-enclosed space. The seat control panel is on one side of the shell (the left-hand side in my case), with a push button to unlock the TV and the stowed remote control within easy reach. The seat panel offers three pre-set positions (straight-up, relaxed and lie-flat) as well as manual options for head, back and leg support.
The 15.4-inch touchscreen TV faces sideways towards the window when stowed, but unlocked it swings out to a very reachable distance. There are several storage spaces, one near the footrest where the safety card and Tumi amenity kit are located, one right beside the seat for literature, and another above the USB port, universal power socket and headphone jack, ideal for small items. The triangular surface by the window offers plenty of room for placing personal belongings as well as cups. Next to it is the compartment storing the tray table, which is wide and sturdy. The quilt and pillows (both large and small ones) facilitated a very comfortable sleep. There are some slight grooves and bumps when the seat is flat, but I was not too bothered by them.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? On my New York-bound leg, I was in 1K, in the first row of the lower deck. It’s great for those who want extreme privacy and, as an extra bonus, there is a cabinet conveniently located between 1A and 1K with a hanging rack and clothes hangers. However, 73K, the standalone seat at the front on the upper deck, faces the toilets. My 80K seat on this flight, as mentioned before, also offers extra privacy and I liked how you could observe the action in the cabin from there. The seats I’d avoid would be the lone centre seats 5F and 6F on the upper deck, as they feel rather exposed.
The lower deck configuration includes 1-2-1 and 1-1-1 seating, but all seats had direct aisle access, with those on the sides facing the windows for an extra sense of privacy, and some of the seats in the centre tilting towards one another, suitable for those travelling together.
THE FLIGHT The plane started taxiing to the runway shortly before 1410, and it took off at 1420. The in-flight entertainment system began about 10 minutes later after the safety instruction video and commercials, but I couldn’t really use it for another 15-20 minutes after a couple of announcements from the captain, plus translation in Japanese and Mandarin. Soon, the seatbelt sign was off and we were served nuts and drinks, followed by our meal.
I chose the Japanese selection, of which there were only limited portions on board, but I got one because someone had changed their mind. As fate would have it, after the appetisers of baby scallops and beans, shrimp and pork kakuni, smoked salmon with black miso sauce, and cucumber and salmon roe, I was told, very apologetically, an accident in the galley had destroyed my beef fillet with cabbage and asparagus. I therefore had the Western-style braised beef short ribs with red wine sauce, parsley purée and baby carrots instead, which actually still paired well with the rice and miso soup – although the rice tasted undercooked. I was really full so I skipped dessert and had some cheese with fruit, and chamomile tea. I then lay down and dozed off.
I managed about 5.5 hours’ sleep, and found that it was about another five hours to Tokyo when I woke up. I requested the mid-flight snack of soba noodles and fruit (instead of antipasto or parfait), and some coffee, then proceeded to do some work. About 1.5 hours before landing, breakfast was served and again, I chose the Asian option of roasted pork with vegetable medley and rice, served with a delicious lime chilli sauce, with a fruit bowl to finish. The other choices were vanilla French toast and granola cereal.
ARRIVAL Almost immediately after my breakfast tray was collected,
our descent was announced,
45 minutes out, which gave me just enough time to finish watching Avatar. Touchdown at Narita was five minutes earlier than scheduled at 1650, and after disembarking I still had about 1.5 hours to spare before my Hong Kong-bound flight. The security check took up at least half an hour, and I proceeded to the Sky Club Lounge afterwards. Although not as spacious as its JFK counterpart, this lounge had better complimentary food and drinks (California rolls, fried rice and soup, and wine, spirits and sake), as well as a plethora of iMacs.
Verdict The seat was roomy and comfortable, and the service was prompt and friendly. Having to pay for food in the lounge was a drawback, but the journey was otherwise very enjoyable.
TESTED BY Reggie Ho
PLANE TYPE B747-400
2-2 (Upper deck)
1-2-1 / 1-1-1 / 1-1 (Lower deck)
SEAT WIDTH 20.5in/52cm
BED LENGTH 82in/208cm
SEAT RECLINE Fully flat
PRICE Internet rates for a weekday flexible round-trip business class ticket in August start from US$8,433.