A Travellerspoint blog

2. Flying Forever

Four pilots; two to fly it and two to sleep

Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Sunday, August 2, 2015

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Our destination is South Africa; land of Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandella, P.W. Botha, F. W. de Klerk, Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Jacob Zuma, once globally embargoed because of apartheid politics, one of only a handful of Africa countries to never suffer a coup d'état, today a multi-ethnic nation of over 50 million people who speak 11 "official" languages in an upper-middle income economy (according to the World Bank) due to recent industrialization but mired in political difficulty which clouds what its future might be. We are here for none of that. We come to safari seeking elephant, lion, rhino, the darkest of nighttime skies and a quiet that comes from being in the bush, far from traffic or even electricity.

At the base of the African continent, aptly named South Africa is bordered on the north by relatively calm Namibia and Botswana and troubled Zimbabwe and on the east by Mozambique and Swaziland while completely surrounding the tiny kingdom of Lesotho. It is a relatively large country with a long coastline on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Besides the beautiful city of Capetown (which we have no time to visit on this journey) the attraction of the country is safari. The gigantic Kruger National Park (about the size of Switzerland) is here but our destination is just West of there in the heart of Zululand in other national game reserves—Hluhluwe/Imfolozi and Mkuze Game Reserves and the World Heritage Site of Isimangaliso Park.

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We are headed for Ezulwini Game Lodges who generously donated a week's safari to Musicares, the charitable arm of The Grammy’s®, to be auctioned off at their salute to Bob Dylan in Los Angeles last February. B4 is a major purchaser and reseller of Gucci watches—a sponsor of The Grammy’s—and we were Gucci’s guests at that star-studded weekend. B4 is fond of saying that "we won" our safari at auction and I am fond of saying that “we were willing to pay more for it than was anyone else.” The trip is the fulfillment of a statement I made to B4 the night we first met when, after being completely smitten by her, I said (she quotes this) “If this relationship is a lasting one, we will one day go on a safari together.” Well, here we are, just over a year later, on our way.

We are arriving in South African winter—dry season. The average daytime temperature at this time of year is 75 degrees, falling to 50 degrees at night. We were warned to bring “a warm jacket” for early morning and evening game drives.

We fly from Kansas City to Atlanta to catch Delta Airlines flight 200, a non-stop 15 hour flight of 8,500 miles to Johannesburg’s Tambo International Airport. The Boeing 777-200LR jet seats 218 in coach, 36 more in what is known as “Delta Comfort+” and an additional 37 fortunate souls in what is now called “Delta One” class which is something between international business class and international first class. Delta’s seats were a part of our auction package. The seats have a round-trip “list price” of $12,637 each even though only last-minute walk-up business types would ever pay that much. We paid much less than that for the entire safari.

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The Delta One business class “pod” experience aboard our Delta Air Lines Boeing 777-200LR is described on my seat’s “personal” TV screen (my comments in bold) thusly: “Lift off in luxury on long-haul international (at 15 hours, surely that’s us) and transcontinental flights. The Delta Oneä (they must trademark “Delta Oneä” so Delta Faucets doesn’t steal it for the smaller of the toilet flush buttons [the larger button being dubbed Delta Twoä]) experience includes expedited security, (we already have TSA Pre-Check which is EXCELLENT and better) premium boarding (Right behind everyone who opts for early boarding so they can “have a bit of extra time on the jetway” even if they don’t really need it) and priority baggage service (we have only carry-on luggage for this trip). Plus you’ll enjoy complimentary access to Delta Sky Club® (a nice complimentary pre-flight meal is available along with a complimentary glass of wine) and our network of SkyTeam® lounges on the day of international travel. Onboard the luxury continues. Relax in more (More? Why not “most”?) comfortable seats that include our Westin Heavenly® In-Flight bedding. (The bedding is a lovely blanket and not one but two pillows which are quite nice but only “heavenly” because we use them 37,000 feet closer to heaven than normal) Choose from your favorite movies, TV shows, games and songs from Delta Studio, on our onboard suite of entertainment. (My favorite offering from Delta Studio was a quite large grouping of wonderful short episodes from Jerry Seinfeld’s web TV show entitled “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” which is hilarious to watch) Enjoy Delta Oneä benefits on almost all (Almost All? Boy, wouldn’t you be angry if you were on one of their aircraft that didn’t have this knowing that the price is the same but the service is less?) intercontinental flights and transcontinental flights between New York-JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco.”

Our seating is described: 21in/78in. I think that means the seat is 21 inches wide and that it occupies 78 inches from the back of your seat to the back of the seat in front of you. A regular coach seat is 18.5 in/31-32 in. The 2.5 inches extra width is nice but the 46-47 inches extra length is spectacular. The seats lie flat so you can too. The seats are arranged in a chevron one-two-one configuration so that, even if you are traveling with someone, you really aren’t. Everyone is in their own private space but everyone’s private space looks directly at everyone else’s private space because of the chevron arrangement. It’s a sort of not private private layout.

Delta got me to purchase GoGo InFlight Wi-Fi when I was on the MCI-ATL leg because there was a price break if you bought it for your entire day. But, I wasted that money because there is no Wi-Fi over the Atlantic Ocean. Oh, well; I suspected that might be the case but I bought it anyway (caveat emptor).

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The Flight Tracker map feature on my seat’s “personal” TV screen has been fun to check from time to time because it shows how much time remains in the flight and has an aircraft outline floating over mid-ocean for most of our journey. My pix from Time to Dest: 11:56 and Time to Dest: 02:22 to go are the bread slices surrounding my sleep and TV watching sandwich. Those 9 hours and 34 minutes flew by.

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For B4, there was time to eat, time to sleep and time to answer “hundreds” of emails which had accumulated on her omnipresent laptop. I can only imagine the many in-boxes of her team when they all simultaneously received multiple reply messages at approximately noon Monday morning back in the USA (7:00pm Monday in JoBurg).

Food? Well, we were offered champagne, orange juice or mimosas along with a bag of almonds prior to pushing back from the gate. Once airborne, the eleven-member cabin crew brought an appetizer of shrimp and grilled pineapple followed by an iceberg wedge salad with tomatoes and blue cheese along with spicy Thai coconut soup. Then we chose from Braised Beef Short Ribs with red wine sauce, garlic smashed potatoes and broccolini OR Butter Chicken and Basmati Rice with carrots topped with raisins and almonds OR Seared Mahi-Mahi with fruit salsa, haricots verts, plantains and coconut rice OR Pappardelle Pasta with mushroom bolognaise and fresh mozzarella cheese. We both got the ribs which were fine.

After that comes Sweet Delights. You choose from a Vanilla Ice Cream Sundae with your choice of sauces (chocolate or caramel), whipped cream and chopped nuts OR A Tasting of Sweet Treats OR Selection of Fine Cheeses offered with fresh fruit along with freshly brewed Starbucks® coffee or Starbucks VIA® decaf.

In between, always available is the Skybreak Basket. It is described: “A variety of sweet and savory snacks will be available for your enjoyment.” Later, there is a Mid-Flight Snack of a bagel with cream cheese and preserves (today a croissant was substituted) along with seasonal fresh fruit and yogurt. Later still, there is “Almost There.” We are asked to please select one of these options: Chicken breast and gouda cheese sandwich on a pretzel roll with black bean and corn salsa OR Five Grain chicken cashew salad served with breadsticks and seasonal fresh fruit followed by Chocolate Truffle Cake. I skip the “Almost There” because I am “Almost Bursting” opting for only caffeine from hot coffee to jumpstart my time zone transition.

For white wine they offer either an American chardonnay or an American sauvignon blanc. For red there is a Argentinian full bodied Bodegas La Rosa CXV or a Spanish medium bodied Monasterio De Las Viῆas Reserva that hails, amazingly, from 2006. For dessert wine and port they offered a French Château Solon Sauternes, Bordeaux, and a Quinta Do Noval Tawny Port from Portugal. Of course, there was also champagne: Jacquart Brut Mosaïque from Reims, France. I had a glass or two of the 2006 which was nice.

I am uncertain as to how one could imbibe this much food and drink in fifteen hours and live to tell about it. When one spends this kind of money, however, to refuse what they offer is in some perverse way refusing to accept what one has paid for wasting value by leaving it on the table. Remember that we didn’t purchase these seats; they were a part of the charity auction package, so I feel none of that.

An interesting fact: There are four pilots aboard. Two went immediately to the cockpit and two went immediately to the crew rest quarters to sleep. Halfway, they switched. As for our Delta One® cabin mates, there is a certain uncomfortable familiarity that occurs when one awakes from sleep in a room with a few dozen strangers. I had that experience in the army and slightly less so in a fraternity house but I was younger and less formal then. To see groggy, hair-mussed, wrinkled (both skin and clothing) folks up close and personal is a bit off-putting. People sans brushing (hair and teeth) should be neither seen or heard.

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Speaking of teeth brushing, our Delta One® in-flight amenity kit comes in a mini-Tumi hard-sided case and contains a ballpoint pen, a sleep mask, ear plugs, tissues, lotions, mouthwash, toothpaste and a toothbrush but, interestingly, no comb or hairbrush. The absence of the latter is, at this stage of the flight, frightfully apparent.

If you are a follower of these blogs, please note that unlike our recent flight from Philadelphia to Venice, there was no youthful presence in business class on this flight. No one was screaming or crying or romping or running or climbing or clowning or complaining or tapping or drumming or otherwise disrupting the environment. Pippy? We hardly missed ye.

It is strange to note that on a flight of this duration one begins to prepare for arrival with well over an hour of flight time remaining. I suppose all things are relative. As I prepare to stow my laptop, we are one hour out of Johannesburg at 3:25pm Monday, local time, which is 8:25am Monday, Kansas City’s Central Daylight Saving Time. Kansas City seems but clearly isn’t a world away. A world away? That phrase would be reserved for visits to my son Cianán who lives in Bangkok which is directly on the opposite side of the planet from his father’s home. We IM and text (which we did just before B4 and I left) and video chat but the distance is too vast for more than annual touch. Thailand makes South Africa seem close by in comparison.

Posted by paulej4 15:33 Archived in South Africa

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