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 (One Eight Left) 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 usable runway. He still had something like 7,000 feet of runway to use. If one engine fails on takeoff, to clear a 35-foot object 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 apparently violated 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. A failure must be recognized and identified. Emergency procedures might be implemented imperfectly. Additional mechanical or system failures occur. Aircraft accidents happen when multiple things go wrong.
This seemed like it was a situation where the Delta pilot, while technically complying with the rules and operating “safely,” reduced the available margin of safety for the takeoff in the name of an on-time 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 elected to use the entire runway.
Takeoff was uneventful. If something unfortunate had occurred, my survivors would have had very good causes of action.
Upon reaching cruise altitude, the FA brought the snack basket and offered beverages. There was no meal.
As usual on flight to NYC, the flight proceeded up the Atlantic coast. Often the left side of the aircraft has good views 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 Bangkok.
Descent and Approach
Approaching JFK , at 1:14pm the pilot announced that air traffic control was delaying the landing 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 (One Three Right) at 1:40 pm 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 a first-class window seat with direct-aisle access. The drawbacks are limited catering and no power. I remain skeptical about the decision to use a midfield takeoff to avoid a long takeoff line. That move appeared to have sacrificed some of our safety margin on takeoff purely to help on-time statistics.