The day after returning from Bangalore, India I set out on a trip to Bangkok, Thailand. I booked an award ticket in business class about three weeks before departure when saver award space on China Eastern Airlines became available on the Delta Airlines (Delta or DL) website.
DL flight 3621 was scheduled to depart CLT at 11:29am and arrive at 1:35pm at JFK, or a little over two hours to cover the 541 as-the-crow-flies miles to JFK.
Boarding and Taxi
Boarding commenced at Gate A5 at 11:10am. Boarding went quickly. My seat was 2A a window seat on the left side.
This regional jet has 12 first class seats arranged 1-2 in four rows. The single seats on the left side have windows and direct aisle access. The seats have 37 inches of pitch and are 19.6 inches wide. Like many regional jets, the windows are small and positioned lower than ideal for good views.
The flights attendant (FA) offered pre-departure beverages as on every DL flight. We pushed back from the gate at 11:30 and started to taxi.
The taxiways were jammed.
The captain announced we were number 25 for departure. I have never seen a back up like that at CLT, and the weather was perfect. He also said he would see what he could do to get a better takeoff slot.
We soon learned what he had in mind. Instead of taxing to the end of runway 18L and use its full length of nearly 8,700 feet, he received permission to take the runway at taxiway Mike.
By taking 18L at taxiway Mike, the pilot discarded no more than 1500 feet of useable runway. He still had something like 7,000 feet of runway to use. To clear a 35 foot object with one engine or safely stop if takeoff is rejected, a CRJ 900 is said to require about 5,800 to 6,000 feet depending on weight, wind and other factors. So the pilot was violating no safety regulations.
However, the saying goes “there is nothing as useless as runway behind you.” The more runway you have to use, the higher the likelihood of a successful outcome if something goes wrong on takeoff or procedures are imperfectly implemented. Aircraft accidents happen when multiple things go wrong.
This seems like it might be a situation where the pilot, while complying with the rules and operating “safely,” reduced the available margin of safety for the takeoff in the name of an ontime departure and arrival. Or perhaps it was a dig at the American planes stuck in line. There were other regional jets waiting to takeoff. They all used the entire runway.
Takeoff was uneventful.
Upon reaching cruise altitude, the FA brought the snack basket and offered beverages. There was no meal.
The flight proceeded up the east coast. There is usually a good view from the left side of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.
The Delta app informed me that my flight to JFK was delayed and offered other options for the flight to Bangkok. Unfortunately, all of the flights were departing the next day and the seats were in coach not business. Sometimes these offers can be very helpful in getting a better flight. In this case, I was in no danger of missing my scheduled flight and I certainly did not want to spend the night in New York and fly coach to BKK.
Descent and Approach
Approaching JFK , at 1:14pm the pilot announced we would be in a holding pattern for 25 – 30 minutes. We went into the standard “racetrack” holding pattern over the Atlantic. At 1:23pm ATC cleared us for the approach to JFK.
We landed on runway 13R at 1:40pm just five minutes behind schedule. The aircraft parked at Gate 55 at Terminal 2.
The CRJ-900 is a nice aircraft in first class. It is one of the few domestic aircraft where one can have an aisle seat and window seat at the same time. The drawbacks are limited catering and no power. I remain curious about the decision to use a midfield takeoff to avoid a long takeoff line. This possibly sacrificed some of our safety margin to help ontime statistics.