Delta Air Lines Bankruptcy Emergence, Part 12: I Made It!!! I Made It!!! Flight 9998, Here I Am!!!

Note: Nine years ago yesterday, Delta Air Lines formally emerged from bankruptcy protection; and this article is the twelfth of a series of articles which I first wrote nine years ago today — and this article combines two original articles.

 rounded the corner from the escalator to Gate A19. There must have been a dozen people from the airport around the gate, but the gate area looked as though it was already closed. These people reminded me of the Secret Service for some reason. They knew my name and asked me if I was that person. I said yes. While using exasperated body motions, they verbally ordered me to board the aircraft immediately.

I ran, flying down the Jetway, only to find Jerry Grinstein posing for a picture at the entrance to the aircraft with a Delta Air Lines employee. When he was finished, we boarded the aircraft. Everybody knew who I was. I was so embarrassed that I was almost mortified. I pride myself on never being late for almost anything, let alone a special flight, but they knew at least part of the reason why I was late — and, fortunately, they understood. In fact, they even smiled as they greeted me!

Once on board, I looked at my watch. 0959 hours. I boarded literally one minute before departure from the gate.

Being a SkyMiles Medallion elite member for 12 straight years, I immediately took an aisle seat normally reserved for SkyMiles Medallion elite members. I believe it was seat 21C. It was a force of habit.

I did not care what happened at that point, as everything was a blur. All I knew is that I made the flight.

I actually made the flight…

Observations Aboard Delta Air Lines Flight 9998

I could not tell you everyone to whom I explained my situation as I rushed aboard the aircraft, feeling all disheveled and embarrassed, but I do know that one of those people is Susan M. West, General Manager, ACS Corporate Communications for Delta Air Lines. She sat in the seat across the aisle from me, and we “clicked” immediately, almost as though we already knew each other. We eventually wound up talking to each other on much of the flight en route to Salt Lake City — and I later revealed to her that I am the type of person who typically keeps to myself during a flight, as I usually do not enjoy chatting on a flight with someone else whom I do not know.

After finally having a chance to compose myself, get settled, take my seat and relax, I began to observe the aircraft. The first thing I noticed was that there were approximately a couple of dozen people on board Flight 9998. For some reason, I thought there would be more passengers — but then again, as has been the theme all along for me, I did not know what to expect. I also did not know who would be on this flight. I automatically looked in what would normally be the First Class cabin, but nobody was sitting there. Instead, I noticed that everybody was sitting in the Coach cabin — many of whom were located towards the rear of the Boeing 757 aircraft. There was a lot of laughter and camaraderie back there, and joining in on the fun was none other than Jerry Grinstein, who sat in the very last row of the aircraft.

Wearing their stylish uniforms, the “flight attendants” were really Delta Air Lines employees who have other positions within the company but still maintained their official flight attendant certification. I enjoyed listening to their unconventional — yet still official — announcements. My favorite example is when we were ready to depart after the typical safety demonstrations were performed, one flight attendant announced that we cannot depart until Jerry takes his seat. I turned around and saw this wide-eyed “you caught me!” look on his face as he stood in the middle of the aisle in the back of the aircraft, and then immediately took his seat. Jerry acted just like a little boy wanting to have fun.

I enjoyed observing this because I could definitely relate, as I am essentially the same way. Many people who know me, including members of www.flyertalk.com, know that I have quite a playful — albeit somewhat warped — sense of humor. I have always believed that a sense of humor is the key to having fun regardless of what life has in store. Although I have never been in charge of a company as large as Delta Air Lines, I have had experience with leadership roles in the past; and I have found that a sense of humor has always been the key to success in most situations.

I was told that the in-flight entertainment system had everything activated, including the HBO option. The in-flight entertainment system is one of my favorite options whenever I am seated in the Business Elite cabin on a long flight, but I would have little chance to try it out on the way to Salt Lake City.

Unlike the status of the inaugural flight around Atlanta on the previous day, our flight was fourth in line for take-off.

Not Included in the Original Articles

A choice of three full meals were served aboard the airplane during this special flight — regardless of cabin, as the only difference between the cabins were the seats on this flight — and those meals were examples of what was to be served in the business class cabin during international flights. The food was served on china plates; and it was delicious.

At that time, I did not even think of taking photographs of the meals — I mean, who did a crazy thing like that? The Gate was only in existence for little more than eight months at that time; so I did not have much experience “blogging” at the time. Besides, I was way too busy engaging with fellow passengers aboard the airplane; and I was truly enjoying the flight.

Two examples of the “stylish uniforms” to which I refer are shown in the photograph at the top of this article. A new uniform program is expected to be introduced in early 2018 to employees of Delta Air Lines; and this project will be driven by its employees.

One particular moment which amazed me so much about this experience is that Joanne Smith — who was the senior vice president of in-flight service and global product development for Delta Air Lines at the time — calmly said to me while smiling that the aircraft was being held just for me.

What? Did I hear her correctly as I stood there, panting and sweating from what seemed like going through hoop after hoop in exasperation in trying to catch that special flight?!?

I was completely stunned — especially as the passengers of the airplane mostly comprised of its chief executive officer and many of the top-level executives of the airline and special guests.

This has never happened to me before — and it has not happened to me since then.

I will never forget that incredible moment…

Joanne Smith (front, center) — who is the Senior Vice President of In-Flight Service and Global Product Development for Delta Air Lines — poses with Captain Wes Keeley (front, left) and First Officer Jennifer Powers (front, right) on the stairs outside of ship 638 shortly after arriving in Salt Lake City. The rest of the crew of Delta Air Lines flight 9998 includes Joan Vincenz and an unidentified flight attendant on the top row from left to right, and two more unidentified flight attendants with Jaime Jewell on the right in the middle row. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

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