Around the World, Around the Wooooorld…

If you don’t remember that awesome song from Daft Punk back in the day (it was a Wednesday, by the way), you should check it out.

Although, this post has nothing to do with Daft Punk, or that song, really – with the exception being that I’m writing about traveling around the world…. See what I did there?

As I do with most of my posts, I’m going to start off with a story:

Just over five years ago, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in beautiful Firenze, Italy (or, as most of you know it, Florence). A few weeks later, one of my best friend’s girlfriend was throwing a surprise party for him returning to Raleigh from his new job in Florida (lucky for me, I took a victory lap in college, so I was still around and in school J). I attended said party and had an amazing time – for multiple reasons.

Quite possibly the best reason of all was that I had the opportunity to reconnect with a good friend of mine from school who also happened to graduate ‘on-time’ (whatever that means) and join the real world ahead of me. While we were all hanging out, drinking and having a great time, I had promised said friend that we would return to Italy together and jokingly proposed to her to convince her that I seriously wanted to go back, and wouldn’t have minded the company.

Little did either of us know that a few years later, I would actually propose to said friend and we would date for a while, get a dog, get married, get another dog, buy a house (sell one first) and go on an amazing vacation to Europe (though this was not our first international trip together).

Booking our travel

Fast forward to spring, 2017: we had planned a European getaway for months and had been holding off on purchasing tickets and booking hotels in hopes that Emirates would release one of their coveted companion fares between JFK and Milan. We had previously scoped out the airline for our honeymoon, but the tickets were too expensive and we ended up going with a competitor (oops) for that trip. However, I recommended the companion fare for one of my friends for his honeymoon and he had an amazing experience (not that we didn’t on the other, but from my understanding, the Emirates experience is one that you have to experience for yourself – I mean, c’mon, there’s a bar on the plane).

Any who, we waited for months for the promotional ticket offer (buy one, get one tickets) that never came (though they had other enticing offers throughout the time period). While looking through promotions from other airlines, I stumbled across Delta One specials. I think this is a good place to mention that my wife has claustrophobia and gets motion sick, so long trips on a plane don’t sit well with her. Because of this, I made the mistake (and by that, I mean: best choice ever) of booking international business class tickets for our honeymoon. The reason I say mistake is that now we are spoiled – we know there are beds in the front of the plane, how can we go back to a regular chair?! (Kidding, of course. I’m well aware that this is an extreme luxury and we are fortunate to be able to have such experiences.)

Around the end of April, early May, I began looking into DeltaOne a bit more – and they had a similar price when compared to the Emirates companion fare for business class. Delta is my preferred domestic airline, no question about it (the best part is, as I began writing this post, Ann Coulter flipped on Delta for a menial reason – ahem, $30 – and Delta’s and others’ responses made me love the airline even more).

I decided to show my wife what I had found – two tickets round trip from Atlanta to Zurich, Switzerland for what I would consider a great price for business class travel (in some cases, cheaper than domestic/cross-country flights in first/business). We talked through our options; our desired destination was Italy, but we are always open to trying something new!

Now we were in a time crunch – our travel window consisted of two weeks in July so that we could make it back for her to return to school (they have a modified calendar and start earlier than most public schools in our area) and so that I could travel without the burden of work (being in sales, you don’t travel at the end of a quarter). Not to mention, the fare special ended two days after we found it!

As you can probably derive, I’m an impulse buyer – it’s one of my many habits that I am trying to work on (more on that in another post). I priced out our travel from Zurich to Barcelona, Spain to Sorrento, Italy to Genoa, Italy and back to Zurich. Three countries, ten days.

Obviously, we purchased the tickets… and what a great decision that turned out to be. I’ve already mentioned that Delta is my preferred domestic airline (I’m actually flying them right now!); but after this trip, they’ve moved up in my book on international travel as well. Unfortunately, we don’t get to do as much traveling around the world as we’d like to, but I still enjoy keeping up with in-flight experiences and ratings for international airlines – so Delta hadn’t really been on my radar for that purpose as it doesn’t seem to get the best ratings globally (which is fine – to each their own).

Alright, now that I’ve rambled for two pages, let’s get down to the Delta experience:

The Outgoing Flight

Let’s start with our first flight – we bought our tickets from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta in a separate purchase and decided to go with Delta Comfort+, rather than pay an absurd amount (sorry, Delta) for a first-class seat on a one hour flight. Obviously, we didn’t get much sleep the night before because of our anxious nerves (well, at least I didn’t), so we were both excited and tired on embarkation day. We got up, packed the car, dropped the dogs off and got an Uber to the airport!

Since we were flying internationally on a Business class ticket, we were granted access to Delta SkyClub… Unfortunately, the desk agents at RDU (for most airlines, not just Delta – we had the same poor experience on our honeymoon when purchasing a code-share ticket) are not much help, so we were only able to access our tickets for the first flight – they wouldn’t print our other passes or let us check our bags, which was okay, because we packed like champs and fit everything into two carry-ons and a backpack! If you know my wife, that is EXTREMELY impressive!

No matter. We head on our way through security – quickly, I might add, as we both got Global Entry last year in anticipation of this trip, which grants us TSA PreCheck for security checkpoints where offered (like RDU). If you’ve ever been to RDU, you’re aware it’s not a large airport. That being said, that doesn’t mean there’s a guarantee that the airport will be empty, but typically, security is a breeze with or without TSA Pre.

We immediately go to the SkyClub after we make it through security – my first RDU SkyClub experience (typically, we have gone to the Admirals Club offered by American Airlines while traveling with my family or using our international code share on our honeymoon). The SkyClub agent is helpful and is able to pull up our international booking, even though we don’t have the tickets printed or available within the mobile app. Upon entering, we go take a seat and I head to the bar to grab a few drinks…. Continuing with my bad luck streak on days when I travel (our AC broke in the middle of summer, my dog got sick and cut his leg open, etc.), we both ended up getting food poisoning the night before we left. Womp, womp.

Thus, we only had soft drinks in attempts to woo our stomachs into letting us fly. Luckily, it worked! Wellllll, sort of. It wasn’t the most comfortable flying, but that’s not because of Delta –stupid food poisoning.

We grab a little food from the buffet/snack bar in the SkyClub and wait for our plane to begin boarding. We hop on and have a quick, easy flight to Atlanta even while being unable to take advantage of the free drinks in Delta Comfort+.

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The DeltOne logo along with artwork in the Detla SkyClub in Concourse B of the Atlanta Airport.

Once in Atlanta, we debark the plane and head straight to the new Delta SkyClub in Concourse B to check it out. I had read a lot about this new club and ended up confusing it with the club we really wanted to go to in Concourse F where there is a SkyDeck. Definitely a happy accident as both clubs were amazing (with the exception of the heat out on the SkyDeck, but, hey, we can’t really control that). I’ve started feeling better by this point, so I begin enjoying one of my favorite beers – the flagship of ATL – Sweetwater 420. When I say “enjoying,” I mean it’s free… so I have a few (and then a few more)…

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Delta SkyDeck at the Delta SkyClub in Concourse F of the Atlanta Airport.

Time to board the plane: we scurry out of the SkyClub, walk down to our gate and get to our gate. They’re already boarding the plane, so we head right to the SkyPriority lane to bypass the line. At the bottom of the jet bridge, we step on to the plane and try to turn left towards our seats. We’re greeted by a friendly flight attendant who requests our tickets, sees our seats and lets us enter the DeltaOne cabin.

We get to our seats, which have a Tumi amenities kit, a Westin pillow and throw blanket, a bottle of water and a pair of sound-cancelling headphones waiting for us. We put our things in our personal overhead bins (one of my favorite perks of business class on international flights) and settle into our seats. Before we can sit down completely, we’re greeted by another flight attendant with a tray of drinks; “Sparkling wine?” she asks. Absolutely, thank you!

We enjoy a glass of champagne and receive a hot towel as they close the door; it’s almost time for takeoff. Our flight leaves about 5:30 pm eastern, so we immediately get our dinner order taken and asked if we’d like the attendants to wake us for breakfast before landing. The menu has a bit of a German cuisine theme to it – after all, we are traveling to Zurich. I order the beef dish and my wife orders the chicken (apologies, I don’t recall the entire dish contents). We get a large first course plate complemented by our choice of bread and butter – there’s a salad, the option for soup (which I pass on) and mixed cheeses (also, pass).

After a few glasses of champagne, I order a glass of pinot noir to go with my steak – which was delicious, by the way (at least for airplane food). I’m a fairly picky eater, and German is not high on my list of ‘preferred cuisine,’ so I don’t eat too much on the way there… until dessert; who doesn’t like desert? I get a simple ice cream sundae with chocolate sauce and a cookie – again, great for airplane food, but it’s kind of hard to screw up ice cream.

The remainder of the trip is spent watching movies and getting some much-needed sleep – we’re on a ten-hour redeye flight that puts us six hours ahead in time upon landing. The plane we were on seemed to be a little dated – nothing to complain about since we are 35,000 feet in the air, on an airplane, with a bed, personal TV and WiFi – but the screen size was sub-par for the experience that it came along with (and in comparison to other business-class offerings). Delta’s selection of movies, shows and music was quite nice – I spent the trip watching (crying to) Collateral Beauty and followed up with an Italian film: Lasciati Andare, to get myself ready to start speaking Italian again. After falling asleep twice watching movies, I switch over to some Classical music to help myself sleep while the baby in the row behind us screams for the duration of the flight.

After a few hours of shut eye, I wake up to the smell of breakfast… it smelled great… that’s about all I can say, but again, airplane food. I get my tray with a glass of orange juice to start the day – there’s a croissant, some fruit, a frittata that was microwaved (how else would they cook it?) and some salsa. I’m pretty sure there were other items, but I didn’t dig into too much after I ate a bite of my rubber, I mean, frittata.

Breakfast is cleaned up in a hurry as we are about to land, so we get our things in order, sit our seats back up and finally get to Zurich!

This is a good point to pause to say that anything in between this flight and the next description is going to be posted separately – this post is specific to our Delta experience to and fro.

The Return Flight

And we’re back in Zurich! After a quick shuttle to the Zurich airport, we check our bags and check my wife into our flight. For some odd reason, she was unable to check into our flight on the Delta app or online at Delta.com… we didn’t find out until just before our flight why this was (I’ll get to that in a moment).

We check our bags and request that they check all the way through our connection in Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham International. The desk agent is very polite and asks her manager to help override the system and allow her to do so – which is great since we didn’t have a checked bag allowance for our second leg as it was booked separately.

Once our bags are gone, we get our boarding passes, head to security (which is a breeze since we are on business class lines), and go shopping for a few gifts so that we can burn through the last of our foreign currency. Once that’s gone, we head to the lounge for some breakfast and to relax before our flight. The lounge here also has an outdoor area (luckily, we’re on the shaded side of the terminal at 7 AM CET) that we take advantage of to overlook the runway and terminals.

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The lounge in Zurich International Airport overlooking the runway – tried getting the plane from start to end, but luckily got the takeoff!

Time for boarding comes around so we head to our gate – they’re already boarding business class so we walk straight up to the counter to board… except we can’t yet. Enter the reason we couldn’t check my wife into our flight. We hand our tickets and passports to the gate agent, who directs us to a line of people waiting to go through another security check in a pop-up ‘room’. This is where a nice gentleman (with horrible luck) explains the magic of the four S’s (SSSS on your ticket).

If you’re one of the lucky recipients of the four S’s, you are selected for a ‘random’ check in addition to the security checkpoint – and this is thorough. They swipe everything – your hands, your feet, your waistline, shirt, pants, make you empty your bag and swipe the inside and out of it, etc. The process of waiting in that line and getting checked took us about 45 minutes (and I didn’t need to be re-checked for some reason, just my wife), so I was pacing around and making sure the plane wasn’t leaving us.

I spoke with a few agents at the gate who assured me it wouldn’t leave without us (even though everyone but those getting extra screenings had boarded) and they explained why these checks occurred. However, their explanations didn’t add up and often contradicted one another – most said that these checks are ordered by TSA, an American agency. After I hear this, I explain that we have TSA PreCheck and Global Entry (from CPB), to which I get responses like “but this is Europe.” No shit, Sherlock; but you just told me that this is a checkpoint for TSA – an agency that we are pre-cleared for.

No matter, we finally board our plane – the guy who was behind us in line to board ends up sitting across the aisle from me and gives us a “Oh, good, they let you on! We didn’t think you were going to make it!” He knew our pain from previous experiences.

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The personal screen and foot cubby (storing my pillow and blanket for taxi and takeoff) and the cabin behind us with staggered seating.

As soon as we get to our seats, we’re greeted by the same items from the first trip, though the amenities kit is in a different case, and there was a bit of a personal touch in the form of hand written notes thanking us for flying with Delta. A friendly flight attendant with a tray of champagne and orange juice then comes by to introduce herself – we’re feeling better this time around, so we both spring for the champagne! Already, I feel more comfortable on this flight – the flight attendants all have a strong southern draw in their voice and essentially project southern hospitality in everything that they say and/or do – much nicer than our flight crew on the way to Zurich (not that they were bad, but this was much more ‘at home’ and easier to understand (we don’t speak German)).

As we get settled in, the attendants give us a few moments before coming by with a hot towel and menus for lunch and dinner (or, lunch and lunch, if you account for the time zone change). We order food, get comfortable and await pushback. I begin watching Bleed for This, which turned out to be a pretty good movie – definitely an incredible story – taking breaks from the screen to enjoy a first course salad and selection of vegetables and a few more glasses of champagne! Next comes the main course: we both get the beef tenderloin dish that ended up being quite delicious for a microwaved steak.

After lunch/dinner/whatever you want to call it (and a number of drinks – not too many though, I don’t drink much anymore, so I’m a pretty cheap date right now), it’s time to try to get some sleep. I know this because I began watching Why Him?, only to wake up to a point 15 min further into the movie than I can remember. I turn off the entertainment and take a ‘nap’ for about 5 hours (thanks, alcohol!).

I probably could have slept the remainder of the trip if it weren’t for the smell of fresh-baked cookies (or, microwaved cookies for that matter)! Unfortunately, I wake up just after they finish passing them out. Luckily, we have some of the nicest flight attendants in the world – one notices that I have woken up, so she comes straight over to ask if I’d like a cookie and/or a drink. Do I ever – I ask for a cookie and a beer (Sweetwater 420, duh). She surprises me and comes back with a beer and TWO cookies! They’re still warm and soft, too – I know this is a small thing, but I like cookies, and it’s the little things that count.

A few minutes after the cookies, we get a second snack/small meal before landing – I finish watching the rest of Why Him?, which is a Christmas movie, by the way (wasn’t aware of that) and start the TV series: Atlanta. As we start to approach our final decent, the flight attendant who brought me two cookies comes by again to chat with my wife and I. She thanks us again for flying with them and asks if she can gift us a bottle of champagne! Who says no to champagne (or cava, which it ended up actually being)?! Not us, that’s for sure. She walks away and comes back with a bottle wrapped in a napkin for us and tells us to put it in our checked baggage when we pick it up in customs – this was what really made our day. We’re pretty sure that the flight crew thought we were on our honeymoon – when she asked if we were traveling for business or pleasure, we responded by saying it was just a vacation… her expression seemed to say “oops” upon hearing that. We explain we are on an anniversary trip to help get past the awkward moment and thank her for the gift.

Thank you
Our thank you cards along with a generous gift from our in-flight crew!

We settle back into our seats, delighted by the generosity of our flight crew and prepare to land back in the States. Upon landing, we taxi to our gate, exit the plane and prepare to go through Customs. This is our first opportunity to use our Global Entry privileges since obtaining our GE memberships last year (though, we have had many opportunities to enjoy the TSA PreCheck that comes along with it!). We follow the signs to the GE line – since we are so excited to be back ‘home’, we completely miss the kiosks for GE and get turned around by a Delta agent who asks to see our certificate. We head back to the kiosk, go through the three-, maybe four-step process to get our printout to show the Customs agents. Just like that, we’re through! We grab our checked baggage and quickly stash our new bottle of cava before re-checking our bags through to our destination.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a PreCheck line for the TSA checkpoint after Customs in Atlanta’s airport – bummer. No matter, we have plenty of time (sort of) to make our next flight home. We make it through security (slowly) and head to our terminal for our ‘connecting’ flight. As we board our last flight home from Atlanta, we both have the bittersweet excitement of being home – we get to sleep in our own bed, but we’re still not back in Italy… Luckily for us, my mother picked up dinner for us… who wouldn’t want pizza on their first night home from a week in Italy?!

In closing

All in all, the experience from Delta was great! I would have to say the return flight was much more pleasant than the outgoing flight, but that’s not to say either was a ‘bad’ experience. Having flown business class before on an international flight, I think the DeltaOne experience is more on-par with other airlines than it is made out to be. Yes, while their seating options on some of the long-haul flights may be a little dated, they still get the job done and the friendly and professional service by the in-flight crew makes up for anything that lacks in the ‘advancement’ of the in-flight technology (like a small personal screen for Delta Studio).

If you have the opportunity to take advantage of a DeltaOne International sale, I implore you to take it – you will not be sorry that you did! The prices that they offer (both on-sale and advanced-purchase tickets) are quite fair for the in-flight experience (as well as the pre- and post- flight experiences – i.e. SkyClub access).

Overall rating: 9 out of 10

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