Published Jul 25, 2010

I realized that the flight would be different when nobody responded to the call button that my wife pushed shortly after take-off. In fact, it took five hours for a Delta attendant to come by… and, rather than asking her what the question was, the attendant just told her to turn it off. It was either then or earlier, when dinner service came; they asked me what I wanted, I said “tortellini,” and they gave me the chicken. 

We flew to France direct on Air France but returned on Delta, with a stop in Atlanta. Buying this particular arrangement — which we did through Air France — saved us more than a thousand bucks versus going Air France for the roundtrip. In the end, I’d say we earned that thousand.

The first way we paid was with our time. The direct flight from LAX to Paris was 10 1/2 hours; the flight from Paris to Atlanta was almost 10 hours long, followed by a flight to LA that took almost 5 hours. Well, it was supposed to take almost five hours; when we got to Atlanta, the flight was delayed an hour, and they didn’t have anyone to fly our plane, so we sat on the tarmac for an hour waiting for a pilot to show up. In Delta’s defense, the guy running the cabin was very, very apologetic and provided updates on the situation every 5-10 minutes. When we landed in LA, they didn’t have a truck to tow us to the gate for a half hour, so the total was more like seven and a half hours, making the return trip about 75% longer than the trip there. And that’s not even including the cab ride home, which will be a blog entry all to itself.

I also paid with a sore ass. It could just be the older equipment — we flew a shiny-new seeming 777 with Air France but took a 767 and a 737 with Delta — but I felt cheated on seat padding on the Delta flights. Although SeatGuru says that Economy seats have the same 18” pitch on both airlines, it seemed a little tighter on Delta, perhaps because of some detail of the seat shape. We were seated in the middle bunch of seats on AirFrance and only had 3 underseat storage spaces for 4 seats, but, to a substantial extent, a lot more seatback storage space and a cupholder reduced that problem to tolerable. Our Delta experience might’ve been degraded since they switched equipment on us on the Atlanta to LAX flight, from a 757 to a 737, and somehow we lost our aisle seat and ended up in the middle and window seats. I don’t mind the middle, since my only vice on a plane is usually a toilet break, but Mrs. DJ L’il Bit really needs the aisle seat or she gets claustrophobic. The same thing happens in small hotel rooms or if her side of the bed is up against the wall. There’s no panic involved, but every minute she wasn’t sleeping on this flight she was fidgeting and changing how she sat, practically climbing both the back of seat in front of her and her own seatback, trying to give herself the illusion of space.

Speaking of that older equipment, we had great inflight entertainment on AirFrance; I didn’t even crack a book on the flight there, enjoying the wide selection of movies in the seatback in front of me. On the way back, we had fold-down LCD screens a few rows up to watch. Since I had a window seat, about a quarter of the screen was blocked from my view, and, since it was a tiny screen a dozen feet away, I could barely see it. Thus the ensemble cast of Valentine’s Day was totally wasted on me; I couldn’t tell Patrick Dempsey from Bradley Cooper, I didn’t know that Taylor Swift was even in the thing, and if I hadn’t awoken from my nap just in time to see Taylor Lautner’s name on the screen, I never would’ve known the jock was him. But making up that missing quarter was a pretty fun game to play: was there nudity? Was Ashton Kutcher hiding in there, waiting to punk everyone? Did Jessica Alba have an actual substantive part in the movie, if I’d only seen that corner of the screen?

Most of my inflight entertainment on the flight to Atlanta was a David Sedaris book, reading which allowed me to skip Date Night entirely. At exactly 6:15pm, two hours after departure, Date night came off the TV and a map popped up, showing us just beyond Ireland. We’d left Europe. A few hours later, I fell asleep while reading, and dreamed I was reading David Sedaris stories until turbulence woke me up and I could return to actually reading them. Hours past that, near to the end of my book, I took my bulky noise-cancelling headphones off so that Mrs. DJ L’il Bit could put her head on my shoulder, and I my head on hers, and we could both nap.

Dinner on Air France was a delicious curry, with, of course, great bread and butter; the meal on Delta wasn’t much to talk about. In fact, before dinner they announced that beverage service was limited to just Coke, Sprite, orange juice, water, and wine. The snack, on the other hand, looked great. Awoken from a deep sleep about an hour out of Atlanta, with a sweet-smelling hot corn pastry and a cool cup of ice cream, my mouth began to savor. Fortunately, me being allergic to corn and milk, I awoke enough just before taking my first spoonful of ice cream to stop and pass the goodies on to my wife, whom I spent the next 20 minutes being jealous of. Later, she got her comeuppance when she went back to the galley to ask for a Coke and was told that no beverages were available at all except during the scheduled service from the carts.

The only entertainment for the rest of that flight was an intro film produced by Customs & Border Patrol. But I can’t fault them: when we arrived in Atlanta, and had to clear customs with all of our stuff, they sped us right through. Originally, we had an hour and a half to clear customs and immigration, and we would easily have had time to do that; with the extra hour delay, I fit in two beers — although the guy with the aisle seat outside me might’ve wished I didn’t, since, two hours into our flight to LAX, woke him up to pee.

Which was actually kind of the highlight. The Delta planes had these spiffy wooden floors in the restroom, the sole touch of class. Of course, years after their installation, these floors were mud-stained and dull-finished, but it was quite an effort at an image.

On the flight to LAX, we fell asleep right after takeoff and missed the start of The Ghost Writer — the big down-side of one movie for the whole plane. We made our own in-flight entertainment, and watched the last couple of episodes of season one of Mad Men on our portable DVD player

Finally the sparse pockets of light below the plane turned into a landscape of yellow sparkling stretching from one horizon to the next. For some reason the ceiling lights stayed out past landing, leaving us all in the dark as we as we descended into LAX, and then as we waited for a truck to drag us into the gate. And then, as we debarked, we got our first lungful of cool, fresh air since we boarded the airport shuttle in Paris. Two am in LA was cool and welcoming after our hot, sunny vacation, and we fought our way to the front of the taxi line and then home.