Inaugural flights are always so much fun, there's a certain electricity around the boarding area and throughout the whole flight. Delta's recent inaugural flight to Auckland, New Zealand didn't disappointing. Rich with traditional ceremonies and an all around warm atmosphere it ended up being a great flight, even for me who got stuck in Comfort+ and still had a good time.
Originally when Delta announced this flight to Auckland I wasn't going to take it, part of the reason was that Delta One filled up so fast and sold out before I could try to book it. However back during the summer before this flight Delta had one of many flash sales where they were selling round trip tickets to Auckland for 50,000 miles in Economy. And to my luck they were still offering the inaugural flight for the flash sale. Against my better judgement I decided to take them up on the offer and booked 50,000 miles round trip as an open-jaw segment flying LAX-AKL and returning at a later date SYD-LAX.
Being an inaugural flight it was quite the bumpy start, it first started when I went to check-in. I was unable to check-in online and told me to go to the airport to receive my boarding pass. Thinking it was just because I needed to renew a scan of my passport, I arrived and tried to use one of the self-service kiosks. This didn't work and I was given a generic error and told that I needed to see an agent. When I finally did get to see an agent that have no idea how to check me in. I'm not sure if the person helping me was new, or because it was a new route that they were having problems verifying entry requirements but it took over 30 minutes and a phone call to a special support hotline to get me checked in.
The problems seemed to be rooted in the verification of entry requirements to New Zealand. Just like Australia, you need an electronic travel authorization (ETA) issued and verified before a U.S. citizen can board a flight to New Zealand. The problem is that I think Delta's system isn't setup properly to verify this requirement and it look some time for them to mark it as complete in the system so that I could get my boarding passes. However this wouldn't be the last time I was asked for a document check.
Delta's main lounge at the LAX airport is stunning, the brand new lounge is very modern and has lots of seating. With the flight leaving near midnight and since there's not a lot to do around the airport I ended up at the airport pretty early to catch my flight, more than 3 hours early to be exact.
When I tried to enter the main lounge the agent stopped me and said that I couldn't use the lounge as only passengers departing within 3 hours could use it, instead she pointed me to the old lounge which is still in operation and said I could use that lounge more than 3 hours before departure.
I ended up staying in this lounge for most of the time, it had been a long day already since I had gotten up early, went around town, then went out with a local friend for dinner. So I used the quietness of the lounge to find a dark corner and grab some sleep for a few hours before my flight.
While it would be nice to be able to get into the main lounge more than 3 hours prior to departure, especially for the SYD and AKL flight that leaves very close to midnight, I find the old lounge perfectly acceptable. It still had hot food, a quiet place to sit, and acceptable bathrooms.
The boarding area around the inaugural flight was pretty hyped up and had a lot of action. The local Delta employees put together quite the show, they had performers doing a traditional dance, meat pies, and gift bags for all the passengers on the inaugural flight.
However as boarding time neared the gate agent was calling a long list of names up to the counter, apparently none of the documentation had been recorded correctly so they had to verify everyone's entry requirements again before we could start boarding. On top of that they called me to the front desk twice as it seemed they were even having troubles saving the information into the system after they had already fixed it.
While it was annoying to pull out all the paperwork again and show them that, yes in face, I was allowed to enter New Zealand. Boarding started promptly about 50 minutes before departure, during the boarding process there were people handing out gift bags and taking photos as people entered the airplane.
I managed to snag a bulkhead Comfort+ seat, and I'm not sure which good luck I managed to secure but I found myself without someone sitting in the middle seat. This ended up being essential for the flight to Auckland as I was really able to spread out in the seat and sleep for most of the flight.
It was a typical economy class seat with a little bit of extra legroom at the bulkhead, it was nice having reserved bin space up front and being able to fully spread out my legs without a backpack crowding my feet. Sitting on the left side of a middle set of seats ended up being perfect as the aisle had an immovable arm rest but the arm rest on the middle seat was fully able to move and I could put it up and gain even more room to spread out.
I'm not kidding when I said I felt lucky, I was dreading spending 12 hours on a flight stuck next to someone and not being able to spread out, this was my ultimate economy configuration and probably contributed to how well I was able to fall asleep and not be worried about yawning or stretching in my seat.
As expected Delta's flight attendants were exceptional, however with an inaugural flight that is expected as more eyes and the media are looking after the flight. But each flight attendant I talked to was sweet, very nice, and looked after all the passengers wonderfully.
As I later found out by one of the flight attendants, everyone working that flight had a minimum of 15 years with the company, some with even more years! There was one extremely new flight attendant who managed to pickup the flight from someone who got sick at the last minute. It was quite impressive to see the amount of seniority that was on the flight, and with good reason, it's probably a great layover.
Shortly after takeoff dinner service was provided, there were no menus and you only had two options, a chicken dish or vegetarian pasta. While the choice was limited it was still perfectly good and acceptable for an economy class meal. Drinks were right behind the meal cart and it's nice to see that not only does Delta give you soft drink and juice choices but also had a good wine and beer selection for the passengers.
I was pretty tired from the day so I slept most of the flight, I woke up twice. Once for mid-flight snack which consisted of a muffin and another round of drink service. Second for pre-arrival meal which was a breakfast calzone. All food was perfectly passable as an economy class meal and tasted very good.
Right before landing the flight attendants passed out chocolates and took their seats as it was expected to be pretty bumpy and turbulent on arrival into New Zealand.
I was very pleased with this very senior crew, they all clearly knew what they were doing, extremely welcoming and pleasant to talk to, and seemed genuinely excited along with the rest of the passengers for a brand new service.
I wanted to save inflight entertainment for last because this is where I think Delta dropped the ball by putting an inferior A350 on this route. For those that don't know, Delta has two types of A350s. Ones that were delivered straight to Delta, these ones have the suites and Premium Select interiors. And then they have a small sub-set of planes they acquired from LATAM after they decided to go with an all Boeing widebody fleet, these airplanes have no suites in them, they have no Premium Select, and these planes were rushed into service to fast they barely made any modifications to the airplane except reupholster the seats.
For Delta's very first visit to New Zealand they decided to put an inferior product on the route and expected people not to care. However I find it very disappointing and hope that soon when Delta starts to take more A350 deliveries over the next year, they will rethink and put a plane with suites on the Auckland route.
For being new to Delta, these airplanes seem to be having a lot of problems. My IFE screen was broken and the person next to me couldn't keep their screen pointed at them because it came out of the armrest. Thankfully the flight attendants noticed this and were very proactive about offering compensation in the form of a few thousand SkyMiles for our suffering.
I am disappointed and want Delta to do better.
I think that Delta visiting a new country is awesome, I always love to see new and expanded service by U.S. carriers. However, I was very disappointed by the older, inferior airplane that Delta put on this route. It was partially made up by the crew who were very pleasant and proactive all throughout the flight, even for someone sitting in the back of the bus (Airbus that is). Delta has a lot of room to improve on this route and hope we see a proper long haul airplane, with suites and premium seating. Until then not only is Delta servicing this route but American and United are also, so it'll be competition who offers the best product to this dual-island nation.