Delta Air Lines Bankruptcy Emergence, Part 8: Aboard Flight 9998: The Inaugural Flight Around Atlanta

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

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

…g  ave me a gesture with his index finger, inviting me over to the “check-in” area.

Of course, I had to ask: did my “stand-by” status clear for boarding?

“Yes”, he said.

I cannot describe the excitement that suddenly encompassed me. I felt like a little boy in a toy store, and I am about to “play” aboard a big shiny “toy”.

As I gave my name and signed the list of passengers of Delta Air Lines flight 9998, the last of the other passengers were boarding. I barely made the flight!

I walked up the stairs to board the aircraft. I was greeted by a flight attendant who offered bottled water and snacks at the doorway. I took a bottle of water and a granola bar and headed down the aisle towards the back of the hot, crowded aircraft. It was hot because the engines were idle — after all, the aircraft was in a hangar — and the ship 638 was not at a gate where cool air-conditioned air could be pumped into the aircraft.

I found a middle seat in row 41 aboard the specially-designated Boeing 757 aircraft. As I was preparing to sit in seat 41B, a Delta Air Lines employee offered me, a complete stranger to her, the aisle seat.

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

This is a view of the packed coach cabin of Delta Air Lines flight 9998 with service around Atlanta, as taken from the First Class cabin. No, I was not in a First Class seat, but who cared? I was thrilled just to be along for the ride! Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

This action convinced me that the legendary hospitality made famous by Delta Air Lines employees was indeed alive and well.

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

Every passenger has in-flight entertainment available to them on this short inaugural Delta Air Lines flight 9998 with service around Atlanta. This picture was taken from in the aisle next to seat 41C, which was my seat for the flight. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

Flight attendant Patricia Ringness “nose” how to please the passengers aboard Delta Air Lines flight 9998. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

As I finally settled into seat 41C, another Delta Air Lines employee seated across the aisle from me noticed that I was sweating profusely as I sat inside the hot aircraft in my suit and tie. I already had my seat belt fastened, and because I was one of the last people to board the aircraft, I did not want to unbuckle my seat belt so that I may stand to take off my jacket, as that could delay the departure of the flight. Anyway, the woman in seat 41D offered to assist me in removing my jacket so that I may be more comfortable. The woman seated in 41B, who already gave me her aisle seat to sit in a middle seat, also assisted by grabbing the other side of my jacket. With their efforts, my jacket was successfully removed. Although I was still quite hot, I felt cooler and more comfortable. I thanked them, thinking about how once again Delta Air Lines employees will not think twice before selflessly assisting a total stranger. At that moment, being aboard the aircraft almost felt like I was in the living room of their “home”.

Before the pilot announced over the public address system that Delta Air Lines flight 9998, with service around Atlanta, was ready for departure, he said that this flight was not a “joyride”, but rather a “victory lap”.

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

Patricia Ringness, one of the flight attendants for Delta Air Lines flight 9998, poses with a future Delta Air Lines employee. Could she be the Chief Executive Officer of Delta Air Lines thirty or forty years from now? Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

While the subject matter of the announcements by the flight attendants were typical in nature as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, the way they announced them was not typical at all. Being amongst an aircraft filled with Delta Air Lines employees, they customized their announcements and even displayed a refreshing sense of humor, which garnered a chorus of laughter throughout the aircraft. One could feel the growing excitement and anticipation of the passengers aboard ship 638. Although everybody was in a great mood, the introduction of air conditioning greatly improved the lively atmosphere aboard Delta Air Lines flight 9998 as it was towed out of the hangar and started its taxi towards the active runway.

Media trucks equipped with satellite dishes were parked outside of the hangar. Thousands of onlookers beamed with pride as they applauded and cheered the departure of Delta Air Lines flight 9998. Dozens of photographers snapped thousands of photographs of ship 638, proudly displaying its new livery in the bright sunshine. It was truly an important moment in the 77-year history of Delta Air Lines.

During the taxi of the aircraft before making its way up the ramp towards the runway, the Delta Air Lines employee sitting in seat 41A suddenly wondered aloud, “Imagine if all this was not here.”

It took me a moment to understand and realize what she was saying. Imagine if Delta Air Lines failed to emerge from bankruptcy and went out of business. What would the airport in Atlanta be like without Delta Air Lines?

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

I have been to Abidjan and much of the Ivory Coast, and I know that the airport in Atlanta is nowhere near there. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

I replied, “Even worse: what would all of this be like if all of this was US Airways instead of Delta Air Lines,” referring to the failed hostile takeover of Delta Air Lines by US Airways. However, to derail the seriousness of such morbid thoughts, I then said, “I wonder if Doug Parker is having a drink right about now?” She responded, “You mean while driving?” Laughter once again ensued.

Immediately prior to take-off, the pilot announced that Delta Air Lines flight 9998 was “number one for take-off — as it should be. Flight attendants, please take your seats.”

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence inaugural flight

Is that Eastern Daylight Time? Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

The aircraft took its position on the runway. The jovial atmosphere increased as everybody was about to experience the inaugural flight of a Delta Air Lines aircraft sporting its new livery, its new identity — a symbol of a new beginning, moving forward from the dark clouds of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The pilots did not lose this symbolism when the aircraft took off from the runway to the east, as it suddenly made a steep incline into the clear skies above the airport — at least, an incline steeper than normal for a typical take-off of a Boeing 757 aircraft.

Immediately after the sudden incline, the aircraft suddenly dropped. Gasps and sounds of awe filled the cabin as a result of the mild acrobatics. Most of the passengers were enjoying the “joyride”. Some of them, however, started to get airsick.

Shortly afterwards, the aircraft sharply banked to the left to make a “U-turn” back towards the city of Atlanta, where it flew by just slightly south of the city. It eventually banked sharply to the left again to head back towards the airport.

As we neared the airport, we descended to what I later found out would be as low as 100 feet above the runway. During the “fly-by” of the hangar from where Delta Air Lines flight 9998 departed, the aircraft tilted to the left for a moment, then tilted towards the right for another moment, in order to give those who were watching a good view of the livery of the aircraft.

Not Included in the Original Article

There was some turbulence before the aircraft landed safely at the airport. It was amazing seeing all of the media and people on the ground still in and out of the hangar from the airplane during the flight; and I had never been a passenger on an aircraft doing a “fly-by” before. It was weird in that it almost felt like an aborted landing — but it was done purposely.

It was also the first time I was scheduled on a flight where the origination and destination were purposely one and the same. What an incredible ride — and the euphoric employees of Delta Air Lines as fellow passengers only contributed to the flight being that much more memorable in a positive way.

Passengers fortunate enough to sit in the First Class cabin eagerly await the departure of the inaugural Delta Air Lines flight 9998 with service around Atlanta. All photographs ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

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