Airlines have carefully thought out boarding procedures. Passengers are divided into groups based on the cabin in which they are sitting, frequent flyer status, fare class, and the airline credit card they hold. However anyone can be in the group that boards first. That group is reserved for individuals requiring extra time to board such as families with very young children and people who have difficulty walking.
Over the years there have been times when I’ve silently questioned if some who claim to need extra time really did. Any resentment, though, is kind of silly because my boarding is not significantly delayed. Even in situations where an entire family boards with grandma or grandpa, the delay for others is minor. It is the thought of someone violating the rules to gain an advantage that fosters some indignation. This flight to Detroit showed me I should not be so judgemental.
I was looking forward to the flight because I was heading home just before Christmas and I’d get to enjoy one of the better business class seats in the air. In 2017, Delta Air Lines started a mini-revolution when it introduced the first enclosed business class seat known as the DeltaOne (D1) Suite. The D1 suite is a Thompson Vantage XL Seat with a door. D1 Reviews from previous flights are here and here.
Other airlines have copied and improved on the concept. The best business class suite I’ve tried is the amazing Qatar Qsuite. In 2019, British Airways made a huge leap forward when it introduced Club Suites, a Super Diamond seat with a door. Also in 2019, ANA unveiled The Room business suites. This product is probably the best business class suite and better than some first class seats. Until Covid-19 struck, I had been looking forward to trying it this year.
Delta Flight DL582 Shanghai (PVG) to Detroit (DTW)
The flight boarded at Gate 137 in the beautiful S1 terminal. Delta transferred its operations from Terminal 1 to S1 on September 23, 2019 one week after the terminal opened.
The flight time to Detroit was 12 hours and 34 minutes. The great circle distance between Shanghai and Detroit is 7,137 miles. Boarding began at 11:05 for the scheduled 11:40 departure. Everything seemed normal as I took my seat 7A.
See the previous posts above for descriptions of the D1 suite seat and amenities.
I had a mimosa pre-departure beverage.
Pushback from the gate was three minutes later than scheduled. Takeoff occured at 12:03. I settled in for what I expected would be a long but enjoyable flight.
Diner service began at 12:51. Beverages were followed by the appetizer, soup, and bread. I finished the soup but not the shrimp appetizer. When the attendant brought the beef entree I barely touched it. Even part of the ice cream sundae went to waste.
Having no appetite was weird. There was nothing wrong with the food. I felt like I should eat but I wasn’t hungry. I chalked it up to fatigue. I had arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok just after midnight for the 02:30 China Southern flight to Shanghai. Except for a couple of hours of rest on that flight I hadn’t had any sleep in more than 24 hours.
After the meal I slept under the comfy duvet. Several hours later I awoke with an urge to visit the lav. There I discovered I had diarrhea. There are many things worse than having diarrhea. One of them is having diarrhea and not knowing you have it. It was a miserable situation.
I went to my seat after being in the bathroom for about 15 minutes. I had no idea what was going on. Infection from bacteria, a virus or a parasite? A reaction to something I ate? Other than a couple more trips to the lav I stayed in the suite with the door shut until landing. It was December 23, 2019. Had this experience occurred a couple of weeks later when the news of coronavirus became public, I and the flight crew would have been very concerned.
Wheelchair To The Rescue
After arriving at the gate, I stayed in my seat until everyone else had gotten off. (It was interesting to see what goes on on a long-haul flight after all the passengers leave. In this instance, the flight attendants and pilots let their hair down and had a good time. It was like an office at quitting time on Friday before a long weekend.)
I was still very, very tired. The extendable handle on my roll-aboard suitcase had broken several months before. I didn’t want to buy a new one and carrying 30 or 40 pounds through airports provided some exercise. I carried my backpack and suitcase to the front of the plane and decided I needed help making it all the way through immigration and customs.
A flight attendant requested a wheelchair. A man helped me into a wheelchair at the aircraft door and stayed with me all the way to the Delta SkyClub lounge. I gave him my connecting flight information and we set a time for someone to meet me in the lounge and escort me to the departing gate. I wasn’t sure of what was customary but I gave him $5.
Another attendant took me to the gate, and when I arrived in Charlotte a wheelchair attendant took me off the plane and to the rideshare area. I don’t look disabled and I got a few looks being pushed around the airport in a wheelchair and boarding early. It was somewhat embarrassing but I was grateful for the service. I’m sure I could have made it without assistance but feeling like I had zero energy and carrying the roll aboard and backpack it would have taken a long time.
The next time I see someone who looks healthy boarding early or being assisted in a wheelchair, I won’t jump to conclusions about the person playing games to get favorable treatment.
Have you ever suspected some who board early or are in wheelchairs are faking it? Have you ever felt like you needed more time to board or assistance in getting around an airport?