#940742 by pjh
13 Jan 2018, 11:06
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

So it is said. I did learn, so although almost the same sh*t happened in the end the impact this time around was reduced. To wit, last year’s trip to NYC was marred by both the “M25 as car park” experience eating into our Clubhouse time and then the first gate the DTCI ramp failing, forcing us out into the world of real people having to disembark and haul our own luggage into the normal check in. This year almost exactly the same, the differences being;

1. Not only was google maps showing the M25 as red from junction 17 onwards, when we left the motorway to go the “back roads” they all went red too (unsurprising really)
2. It was the second gate at DTCI that failed this time around, as we reportedly “threw it out of sync” by approaching at “slightly the wrong angle”
3. I’d stuck another two hours padding into our trip so we could still get enough time at the CH to have a treatment as well as late lunch.

Next time, hotel the night before.

This was our third year to NYC between Christmas and New Year, sticking to our traditional pattern of staying at the same hotel in the Lower East Side, meeting friends, taking walking tours and some theatre if possible. There were however, with two significant and related changes this time around. First, we would be there over New Year (previously we had flown back on NYE) and second we would be flying Delta. The former change was down to MrsPJH being in the process of retiring from her headship and therefore not having to be back for the beginning of term, and the latter down to the miles pricing of the flights.

These two factors were related in that the point a replacement had been found for MrsPJH and she could therefore submit her papers coincided with a rash of reward availability appearing to NYC on the Virgin Atlantic website, including some relatively low priced Delta flights, which put two return tickets outbound on Virgin Atlantic and inbound on Delta One at just under my miles balance rather than just over for those on full Virgin Atlantic. Having read some good reports in the Delta offering, having checked that all other benefits (JFK Clubhouse, Arrivals) would remain the same as if we were flying VS and thinking “we tend to sleep on the way back so the onboard bar is less important” I went into booking mode…where it became evident things weren’t quite as straightforward as I had hoped.

First, every time I tried a mixed return booking, at the final stage of the process a message stating something like “This itinerary cannot be priced” would pop up. Second every time I tried two singles (one Virgin Atlantic and one Delta) the same message would appear. Third every time I tried a Delta only combo, the same message. Eventually I gave in and called Virgin Atlantic to be told both that the Delta flights could only be booked over the phone and also that a mixed Virgin Atlantic / Delta itinerary would incur the same reward pricing as if it were a Virgin Atlantic only trip, at which point I plumped for the Delta only option.

From that point on, all was plain sailing. I could log into Delta and use the Virgin Atlantic booking reference to assign seats, and phone Virgin Atlantic to set up the use of the UC Wing….

…which is broadly where we found ourselves on the day, well at least at the foot of it, between the gates trying to work out why we weren’t being allowed past the second barrier. I opted for shuttling back and forth between the intercom (helpfully located at the first barrier) and the driver relaying messages to move three quarters of an inch to the right and adopt an angle closer to 27 degrees. Eventually the message to strike fear into the heart came through…”we will contact the airport to send an engineer”. Having just endured a near three hour drive for what can be done in an hour and half my patience was stretched thin and so I set about phoning and tweeting. This at least produced the effect of someone wandering down the ramp and telling us to use the exit and then head to the standard check in, which we duly did. Here we were greeted with fulsome apologies and then escorted upstairs (not via the lift) to the DTCI check in where our luggage vanished and our boarding passes were retrieved from the secret store.

Now the net effect is the same but it was a touch irksome not to have the full experience, particularly as it is about the only time MrsPJH really revels in the level of attention and service. In the grand scheme of things it is minor however, and far less irritating than the clustershambles that awaited us in JFK. More of that later. At this point there was no evidence of any additional Homeland security style questions which we’d been warned about.

So then quickly through Security (passing a couple who were busy transferring items into clear plastic bags), do pass all temptations of duty free, do not collect magazines but do head up the stairs to the CH. Greeted with commiserations about our journey, we then entered and headed straight to the spa reception where, to be frank, it seemed to be trainee day where everyone was relying on the wisdom and experience of one particular member of staff to complete any task. We did manage to get polishes booked, French for MrsPJH and basic head for me.

Opting for seats close to end of the bar and just below the raised area, we were soon served with Lanson to soothe the nerves by a very charming young man. He went off shift a few minutes later and went round all the tables in his area, saying goodbye and naming and pointing out the young lady who would then be taking over the duty of providing us with regular refills. This she did well, though there were a number of service free points where I was tempted to get off my backside and head to the bar.

As various people have reported Delta to be “feeders”, we decided to stick to the deli offerings for food. For some reason I think I could survive on a diet of their sourdough and ham for several months.

Having seen mikethe3rd’s response to my “Hello from the Clubhouse” posting I went off to introduce myself and have a quick chat with him and his partner. Within a couple of days when donning my fifth layer of clothing I felt very jealous when I remembered they said they were off to FLA after NYC. I also went upstairs to have a quick look at the igloo.

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On the way back to our encampment I could see that, as Mike had commented in his response, the Clubhouse was very quiet at that end.

Time passed in a very pleasant manner, assisted by a few Lanson and a very muddy cocktail of some sort. Head polish took a nano second, unlike MrsPJH’s French polish which seemed to take an age and only finished just before we were called to the gate.

So off we wandered in a vaguely unsteady manner, me carrying all our gubbins to save MrsPJH’s nails. At the gate we were greeted warmly, asked a couple of the Homeland Security style questions (“what’s the purpose of your visit?”) and then directed straight on.

The member of the crew who met us at the door first directed MrsPJH to her seat down the far aisle, and then remarked to me “Oh, and you’re in seat next to this young lady”. This gave me the opportunity to quip “I’m sure I’ll get to know her well during the flight” and MrsPJH the opportunity to say “You’re not funny”.

Getting over the minor disappointment of not getting to turn left (I am shallow, I know) the first impressions of the Delta One offering are of its functional appearance - a bit, well, grey – and how compact the business section is - MrsPJH asked “is that it?”.

It’s a 1:2:1 configuration, and I’d chosen two in the middle. It’s a while since we’ve sat side by side in a business cabin, and I figured that the trip would largely be in the dark so wistfully gazing out of the window would be out of the question.

Bedding, amenity kit, water and headphones were on the seat. There’s very little storage around the seat, so most of it has to be transferred up into the overhead lockers (none of the whacking it behind your head that you can do with the UCS). As we are doing this a welcome sparkling something is offered and gratefully accepted.

So let’s start with the “hard” offerings;

- The seat is a full flat job, and pretty comfortable in a semi reclined position. Mine was pretty battered though and needed encouragement to move at all, which I applied through engaging the switch and then wriggling around in an undignified manner until something went “click” and all was good.

- Bedding is quite light and pleasant, though I only used the pillow on this leg

- On this leg the amenity kit is a soft pouch, with the usual contents Some of the offerings are Kiehl’s, and you get a voucher to pick up some additional offerings in store. The lip balm was to prove invaluable on this trip

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And now the consumables;

- IFE content is pretty good, with a fair smattering of recent films and classics. I opted for “Logan Lucky” and “Lego Batman”, though only managed half of each. You can opt to watch on your tablet / phone via an app, which makes like a bit easier as (a) the touchscreen is a bit of a reach away (though there is a controller hidden in the arm of the seat) and (b) you can then use your own headphones as those supplied are sh*te.

- There is free wifi for messaging apps, and paid for other

- Going short of food and drink is not an option. There’s the usual drink offer before dinner, where I opted for a Woodford’s, which was doubled up for me. Service is via a trolley, and spirits as dispensed from miniatures. Though several starters are mentioned on the menu, it’s both / and, not either / or…

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I opted for the steak for main, which just reinforced my belief that, like snakes and eggs, beef has no place being on a plane.

Dessert does, however. This is MrsPJH’s bread and butter pudding.
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I was too busy shovelling down my ice cream with “You can’t make your mind up? Have them all!” toppings. I did, however, notice that the spoon appears to be bum shaped. It is a legend that one of Marie Antoinette's breasts served as the model for the champagne coupe, so I wonder who modelled this?

And finally, the service;

- The crew were a little more aged then the usual VS crew, but all were personable and friendly. The chap providing service to the part of the cabin that included me used my name at each interaction. He did manage to pronounce it incorrectly, but full marks for effort.

- There was a nice touch where the cabin manager for the Delta One section addressed the cabin without using the intercom for her “welcome” spiel. Whether this is standard or the result of the p.a. not working in that section of the plane wasn’t clear but it did make it feel a bit more human.

I did miss the ability to wander up to the bar as the only clear standing space is actually in the galley at the front, where I always feel as if I’m intruding. Not, I hasten to add, that the crew make you feel unwelcome, just that it’s their space both for working and having a few minutes relaxation.

I didn’t miss the bar itself, as the level of blood in my alcohol was sufficient to put in me into a lengthy doze and any more would have been a mistake.

We departed a little early, and made good progress on the flight so we were early into JFK, off the plane first and things were looking good for a late evening in the Lower East Side. That lasted until we hit the queue for “First Time ESTA Users” where the sign stated “Length of wait – at least 60 minutes”. And so it proved, as it took us 90 minutes to reach the agent. I know that had we been on an ESTA we’d used before we’d have been through in about 15, and that rules and procedures have to be followed but it felt dispiriting and very unwelcoming. Mind you, at least we got in as the chap at the adjacent booth was being told “no, sorry, that’s not the correct visa…”

Now the length of time queuing for security did mean there was no time needed to wait for the luggage, but it also meant that we had no idea where our luggage was as clearly it had been delivered an hour before we emerged and none of the belts was showing any evidence of having dealt with our flight. We did eventually find it, notified Dial7 that we were ready to be picked up and headed out in the terminal to wait…and wait some more…and then some more…as our driver switched between being 10 and 11 minutes away for about 30 or 40 of our earth minutes in the company of much of humanity who also seemed to undergoing the same shared experience. We whiled away the time watching parents berate children who were insisting that their Florida attire of shorts and t-shirt were well warm enough and a dog trying to come to terms with the properties of glass being both see through and solid. Eventually it switched from 10 minutes away to “on location” with a very harassed driver phoning and demanding why weren’t we outside waiting for him? “Well, it’s bl**dy freezing and you seem to have bypassed the laws of time and space” would have been my response had my teeth not been chattering so much.

Anyway, a straightforward drive down towards Brooklyn, across the Williamsburg Bridge, onto Delancey and then a quick jog left to our hotel on Broome St. Despite the late hour we decided a celebratory beer was in order and headed off into the night…
#940746 by hiljil
13 Jan 2018, 11:47
Thank you for a most enjoyable and entertaining TR. I do hope you get it right next trip with a hotel the night before ! Thank you for the photos too.
#940777 by pjh
13 Jan 2018, 23:57
Traveller2 wrote:If I'm reading your post correctly, you were just on a new ESTA and not a first time ESTA user? Apologies if I'm missing something.

Thanks for the very comprehensive trip report.


Yes, first time on a new ESTA. Have had several ESTA in the past, but told by staff this didn't matter. First trip on any ESTA = finger prints and photo as new taken by official = longest line.

Edited to add: your comment piqued my interest and having done some googling I'm not sure we were correctly advised. Some comments I have seen suggest that as long as you have had one previous ESTA and travelled to the US since 2008 you can use the "returning" line.
#940786 by Traveller2
14 Jan 2018, 12:43
I actually entered MCO 2 years ago on a new ESTA and used the machines.....so the equivalent of the returning line. The person from Homeland Security was saying that if you had travelled to the USA I the past 8 years on an ESTA ... use the machines.
#940787 by pjh
14 Jan 2018, 13:00
Traveller2 wrote:I actually entered MCO 2 years ago on a new ESTA and used the machines.....so the equivalent of the returning line. The person from Homeland Security was saying that if you had travelled to the USA I the past 8 years on an ESTA ... use the machines.


In retrospect we probably should have tried it. Our queue management operatives were in "shout" rather than "inform" mode though. :-)
#940789 by Traveller2
14 Jan 2018, 13:49
I know exactly what you mean. I think they enjoy the sense of "power" they have! I'll never forget a few years ago we were in a very long line for immigration at Dulles. Someone from our flight asked one of the people managing the queue if they could possibly open some of the (now empty) US Citizen lines for us. Well, no sooner said than done but.....the poor chap who had asked the question was not allowed into those lines and had to continue waiting in the very long one, while everyone else behind him (us included) was allowed into the US Citizen lines. Oh dear.
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