When life gives you lemons, make champagne

When life gives you lemons, make champagne – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Delta Air Lines likes to call itself the “the on-time machine.” Heck, they even filed for trademark protection of that term. Indeed, the airline does have a statistically high on-time performance and completion factor. But what happens when your flight is one of the minority that does get delayed? And what if I actually wanted it to be delayed? Weird, right?

Recently, I had to fly from San Jose (SJC) to New York City. San Jose is one of those oddball cities where the flights back to New York are lacking; just one non-stop exists, and it’s a redeye, which I won’t do. This meant I could get a little creative while booking. I settled on a one-hop journey through Salt Lake City, which would be my first visit to Utah.

During the booking process, the Delta website prompted me several times to upgrade to First Class. For $120, I would be upgraded on both legs of the trip, which isn’t such a bad deal considering I have paid nearly that much for Comfort+ domestically. I took the bait and selected my new seats, expecting to fly on a beat up ex-Northwest Airbus A319 and one of the older Boeing 737-800s with seatback entertainment screens.

The morning of my flight, I was minding my own business, watching TV in my hotel room when I suddenly got an email, text message, and app alert from Delta. Here we go, it’s the delay notification carpet bomb. My flight from San Jose to Salt Lake City was suddenly delayed three hours, meaning I wouldn’t have a chance at making the connecting flight (the last of the day) to New York. It was time to get creative if I wanted to get home.

Air India's Dreamliner livery - Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Air India’s Dreamliner livery – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Let’s start with the bare facts: India’s flag carrier Air India doesn’t have a great reputation. Whenever I’ve asked people about their experience on the airline, they cite inexplicable delays, poorly maintained aircraft, a non-negligible risk of food poisoning, or rude staff. Or, sometimes, all of the above. As a friend of mine put it, “If my only choice for a flight was Air India, I would just skip the trip and stay at home.”

Am I going to regret this? - Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Am I going to regret this? – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

As an American of Indian descent, I’ve always been a bit disappointed that my ancestral homeland’s flag carrier apparently doesn’t seem to have its act together. As someone who has never flown with the “maharaja,” part of me also wondered whether the airline is actually better than the reputation suggests. I decided to find out for myself.

Getting set up for the special 100th celebration, next to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA

Getting set up for the special 100th celebration, next to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA

In the scheme of how long the universe has existed, 100 years is barely a speck in time. But in the world of aviation, it is one heck of a long time… and a huge chunk of human flight’s existence.

It is crazy to think that the Wright Brothers first flew on December 17, 1903 and just over 12 years later, William Boeing had the foresight to create his own aviation company (called “Pacific Aero Products Co” until 1934). I am not going to go into the vast history of Boeing — there are plenty of places where you can read about it, but if you have never heard of the company before, let me give you a basic rundown.

Part of the Boeing 7-series line up at Boeing Field.

Part of the Boeing 7-series lineup at Boeing Field

About 100 years ago (July 16, 1916), William Boeing created his company, which since then has made lots of cool flying machines and defense tools, and shot cool stuff into space, along with making some other oddball contraptions. So now that we are all on the same page… let’s party!

A Thomas Cook Airbus A330 taxis by the Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park (Credit: Jason Rabinowitz)

A Thomas Cook Airbus A330 taxis by the Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Every few days, I tweet out another installment of my “airline you’ve (probably) never heard of before” series. For many of you reading this, Thomas Cook Airlines probably fits that description. Thomas Cook is not a new airline, or really even that small. But unless you are European and going on holiday, you probably have not come across Thomas Cook as an option before. 

That is slowly changing, as Thomas Cook starts its transformation from a primarily holiday booking and charter operation to full-time scheduled airline alongside its sister airline Condor. This is a daunting challenge, nearly as difficult as starting up a new airline from scratch in some regards. The airline reached out to me to give me a look at how they are changing, and offered a review flight in its Premium Class product. My response to them, basically, was “you have a premium class product?” It does, and it is worth a closer look.

The Premium cabin on my Thomas Cook A330 - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

The Premium Class cabin on my Thomas Cook A330 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Before I continue, it’s important to convey that Thomas Cook is not competing with other airlines on a basis of lie-flat seats or posh lounges. What it brings to the table is a specific value proposition. Getting passengers from A to B in relative comfort for the lowest fare possible. The airline is often hundreds of dollars less than its competitors flying between New York and Manchester — the route that I flew.

I wouldn’t blame you if you were to say “save hundreds of dollars? The flight is probably crap, right?” It isn’t. In fact, flying between New York and Manchester, it’s one of the better options. The Thomas Cook intercontinental fleet operates using the Airbus A330, and each aircraft has recently been refurbished. Each A330 sports economy in a 2-4-2 configuration, not the squishy 3-3-3 you might have found in the past. Each seat has its own on-demand entertainment screen, complete with USB port to charge your own device. You won’t find either of those things on a certain U.S.-based airline also operating this route.