[Trip Report] A Throwback to the Delta 747

A vintage advertisement for the Delta Boeing 747 circa-1970s.

Background:

This is a throwback report from 2014. Since Delta has:

  1. Suspended their Hong Kong operations.
  2. Retired the 747.
  3. Stopped flying into NRT and dropped their Tokyo hub in favour of connections through ICN with KE.

This trip takes place during a time where the Tokyo hub still existed and runs like a well-oiled machine with Delta offering intra-Asia flights to power the hub.

The events and pictures in this report would be a little more than 5 years old at this point. So the camera resolution and my complete lack of photographic skill reflects that. I will try and include as many historical tidbits I can recall, but it has been a couple of years, so some of the details may be a little spotty. Nevertheless, I hope this is a good distraction from our current predicament of being stuck on the ground.

Leg 1 DL 1146 YXE-MSP


Departure Airport: Saskatoon John G. Diefenbaker International (YXE)

Arrival Airport: Minneapolis - Saint Paul international airport (MSP)

Scheduled Departure: 05:25

Scheduled Arrival: 08:57

Actual Departure: 05:25

Actual Arrival: 08:40

Flight Time: 01:40

Aircraft Used: Airbus A320

Aircraft Registration: N312US

Engine(s): 2x CFM56-5A1

Aircraft Age: 23.9 Years

The story of this flight stems from a mistake fare. I received a call late at night from a family friend telling me about this Delta mistake fare, Canada to Hong Kong for CA$470. I decided that the other details can be sorted out later and booked the ticket.

Because I live in quite literally the middle of nowhere, the flights in and out are always timed either at early mornings or very late nights due to the need to accommodate connecting traffic. This morning’s call time was 3:00 AM to make it to the airport for 3:55 AM. I arrived at the airport and was checked in by an agent that seemed to be too cheerful considering the early hour.

There was no wait at security as I arrived between the people who arrive early to the airport and those who leave it until the literal last second until sprinting through the checkpoint (me now).

The airport just wrapped up a massive renovation of its airside area and it looks pretty good considering that we have been paying a $25 AIF for every ticket sold ex-YXE.

Boarding was announced at 4:50AM and it was conducted quickly and efficiently. This was back in the days of the airline business where “economy plus” didn’t exist and I can be allocated 9C without an extra fee. After boarding was completed, the exit rows were empty, so the flight attendant moved me into the extra legroom window seat right behind me. Not a bad start to the trip!

My new seat, 2020 Danman is realizing that 2014 Danman will not win the “Whitest Sneakers” Dundie.

The captain’s voice came over the speakers to tell us about the expected flight time of 1 hour and 39 minutes. Soon after, the YXE de-icing technician was spraying ethylene glycol on to our wings and we were on our way.

After a long taxi, we took off at 6:00 AM as dawn broke over us, the atmosphere painted the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen.

Dawn Breaks (at ISO 104000)

This A320 is sporting the last generation interior, the seats are like a well-worn couch. They look beat-up, it has seen more than its fair share of drink spills, but is still more than comfortable. The new seats have much less give to them, that’s for sure.

As we rode some clear air turbulence, the flight attendants prepared a snack service consisting of mini pretzels, peanuts, biscoff cookies and a drink.

Biscoff or Pretzels? Both, please.

We touched down in on Runway 30R in Minneapolis without much incident in lightly gusting crosswinds. Thanks N312US! A perfectly comfortable ride to kick off my travel day.

I arrived at MSP with a couple hours to kill, little did I know that I had a surprise waiting at the end of the wait.

Leg 2 DL 121 MSP-NRT


Departure Airport: Minneapolis - Saint Paul International (MSP)

Arrival Airport: Tokyo Narita International (NRT)

Scheduled Departure: 14:42

Scheduled Arrival: 16:55 +1

Actual Departure: 15:27

Actual Arrival:17:30 + 1

Flight Time: 12:03

Aircraft Used: Boeing 747-400

Aircraft Registration:N661US

Engine(s): 4x PW4056

Aircraft Age: 26.1 Years

J: 48/48 = 100% LF

Y: 236/312 + 17 Standbys = 253/312 = ~80% LF

After burning 4 hours by:

  1. Doing a full lap of the airside concourse.
  2. Trying to ask for Nestea at McDonalds and realizing that I really should be looking for sweet tea at Chick-Fil-A.
  3. Being absent-minded enough to accidentally let go of my suitcase on the MSP tram and almost taking out an innocent bystander as a result.

But I digress, I walked over to Gate G4/G5 to spot my inbound aircraft.

Another fun fact, DL 121 was actually sold as a though flight to Hong Kong with a stop and gauge-change in Tokyo (747-400 to 767-300).

Here’s the inbound aircraft!

As it turns out, N661US will operate our flight to Tokyo today. N661US was the first ever Boeing 747-400 built, it was used for certification and testing before delivery to Northwest. Once testing was complete, it was re-fitted and rewired to enable passenger service. After being retired, N661US is now preserved at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta, GA.

The flight was delayed due to a maintenance issue, but the delay was minor and we soon boarded the queen of the skies to Tokyo.

The cabin is cavernous, though a little less modern than what you would expect from the 777s, A350s, and 787s of the world. Boarding was swiftly completed, and since Murphy’s law was in effect, I had non-revving seat mates, instead of a free middle seat as promised by the seat map I was looking at 24 hours before departure.

Legroom is enough, but I am not tall, so keep that in mind.

There was a sleep kit (eye mask and earplugs) and headphones on the seat. The headphones were extraordinarily terrible, but they were free. I stuck with my own wired headphones.

We pushed back, the Queen gracefully powered up and she gently purred to the runway coaxed along by the 4 Pratt engines.

Once lined up on the runway, the pilots quickly set takeoff thrust and we belted down the runway, and then we gently rotated into the sky, guided by the massive control surfaces.

We rose into the sky, carried by the wings of the Queen.

We were buffeted by some wind which caused some panic among the passengers as the 747 pushed through the light chop.

Once the seatbelt sign was turned off, the flight attendants began with a snack like the one onboard DL1146, but there was only peanuts and pretzels instead of the biscoff cookies.

2014 Danman trying to be artsy.

After one and a half hours, lunch service was provided.

Menu:

Chicken Breast in Ale sauce, with cheddar mashed potatoes and broccoli.

Beef strips with Thai curry sauce, steamed rice and vegetable.

All Dinners are served with:

Shrimp Cocktail

Garden Salad

Roll with butter

Cookies and cream brownie

The main was good. While the chicken was slightly overcooked (as expected), there was flavour in both the chicken and the sauce instead of the sauce being used as a palatant to pair with the bland Chicken. The sides are good as well, the salad was fresh. Instead of a cookies and Cream brownie, I got a cinnamon brownie on my tray, which was outstanding thanks to the magic of food science, the bun was not heated so it was a bit cold and hard to bite into.

As the flight progressed, I had a chance to play with Delta Studio, it is a modern system for 2014 standards with a responsive touchscreen and an expansive content library.

Since I didn’t have a window seat, I went for a stroll to door L5 and R5 and attempted some shots, they turned out nicely.

Views from the plane window.

With 5 hours left, we were served a light snack consisting of a turkey and cheese on a baguette roll with lettuce and mayo, along with a banana and some cookies. As a sidenote, the crew was great on this leg of the flight, they were proactive with water runs and offered waters and top-up and walked through the cabin making sure that everything was taken care of, kudos to the great crew.

Brunch service kicked off with a hot towel (!) and the food consisted of Either a miso chicken with rice or a omelette with potatoes.

I chose the omelette (it was brunch, after all), which was not really that good, but my seat mate reported that the miso chicken was excellent. Pictures of the full meal tray are not published as it was a crime to photography upon further review.

Our descent into Narita was interesting with noise abatement maneuvers dominating most of the approach, the Queen set down gently on the runway with a 35 minute delay, shrinking my connection time from a somewhat healthy 1:35 to a stressful 1:00. Like the fool I am, I couldn’t pass up a change to take pictures of the flight deck. The crew kindly allowed the request and I ascended the stairs to the upper deck on the way to the flight deck.

A rapidly disappearing sight in flight decks everywhere.

Thanks N661US! (Feat. a jetbridge not sponsored by HSBC)

Leg 3 DL 121 NRT - HKG


Departure Airport: Tokyo Narita International (NRT)

Arrival Airport: Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International (HKG)

Scheduled Departure: 18:30

Scheduled Arrival 22:25

Actual Departure: 18:25

Actual Arrival: 21:55

Flight Time: 4:07

Aircraft Used: Boeing 767-300 (Winglets)

Aircraft Registration: N175DZ

Engine(s): 2x General Electric CF6-80C2B6F

Aircraft Age: 15.7 Years

I walked quickly to the security checkpoint, knowing my connection is getting a little tight. A slightly stressed ground agent was present, asking everyone the same question:

“Hong Kong? Hong Kong?”

I sheepishly identified myself. She immediately started to manhandle me towards to priority line, yelling “Priority! Priority!” at the security personnel. I was through security in 30 seconds.

Insert the fire drill scene from The Office here

I arrived at the gate with moments to spare, the gate agent processed me and I was aboard the brightly lit plane that was already mostly full.

As I settled in, I watched the carry on phenomenon that happens when people try and stuff all their NRT duty-free shopping into the overheads along with their carry-on and personal items. The flight attendants and passengers managed to latch all of the bins without incidents and we pushed back early.

Takeoff was swift and powerful, but after 30 seconds, the power was abruptly dialed back and we continued at minimum climb thrust until we were over the sea before resuming our climb.

The view of Japan’s impossibly coastal cities were specular, but the pictures were quite terrible.

Interestingly enough, Evian water was offered with the food, which seems unnecessarily extravagant, but if they are offering it, I will take it.

Meal Tray

An ale sauce chicken or beef with rice was offered, I took the beef since I already had the ale sauce chicken, the beef was the best in-flight beef I’ve had, it was not overcooked and the salad was very fresh.

After the meal, I slept for the rest of the flight as I have been awake for approximately 26 hours straight at that point. I woke up to the feeling to the plane pitching its nose down and slowly descending from the sky. The flight attendants made their final checks and we touched down with a loud bang, we swiftly braked and arrived on stand after a short taxi.

Parking next to a TK 777-300ER

That’s it! I know the pictures are not up to my usual quality, but I hope the report is enjoyable nonetheless. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below!

39 Likes

Wow, that’s a great report! I remember the day we had the last Delta 747 flight out of MSP. At least UPS still brings their 747s…

This is an awesome report! You perfectly combined reviewing the product and recounting your experience! Sadly, the era of 747s is coming to an end (and already has for Delta of course), which is a true tragedy. Flying on a 747 is one of the greatest experiences one can have in the sky!

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Long live the Queen!!

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Amazing trip report! I’ve always loved the Delta livery on the 747. Seems like some good food that they offered. Hey, I’m yet to see an airline perfect a breakfast meal. And it looks like Delta might have gotten close.

This makes me miss all the times I’ve flown on this beauty 😞 really nice trip report tho

Very detailed one there! Reminds me of when I flew the 747. It’s sad that Delta stopped operations to NRT though, it also meant we won’t be seeing delta in Singapore anymore.

Thanks for everyone’s kind words. I’m happy to share this experience as it was a lot of fun!

Breakfast is not complex, but difficult to get right in the air especially in economy when everyone has to be heated at the same temperature for the same amount of time.

4 Likes

Man I miss riding her every year. I remember the very first time I was in the Red top NWA livery going to Nagoya. Chances are I’ve probably ridden on every 747 they used from so many flights on the queen. Totally forgot 74s operated MSP NRT; I thought it was a 772 flight from the start.

2 Likes

This could be a really interesting chain of flights to try and recreate on Infinite Flight… I might try and plan that.

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This was a very nice Trip Report! 10 out of 10!

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The flight was surprising full, but considering that it was a hub to hub flight (MSP and NRT were both significant hubs at the time), the aircraft choice made sense. It’s one of those aircraft choices that can only exist because of hubs being on both ends of the flight.

It is a lot of fun! You end up with some diverse weather when you fly it in the winter.

Thank you for your kind words!

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