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I’ve just returned from a 10-day trip to China with two of my kids. We visited Beijing and Hong Kong, taking advantage of the 144-hour China Transit without visa (TWOV) policy. The flights were booked as two one-way trips. Our outbound was a reasonable cash fare that had us flying Delta 767 economy class from San Jose, California to the Chinese capital by way of Seattle. I used our EU261 compensation from our trip to Paris earlier this year to cover most of the fare (SEE: My EU261 claim is approved! But for how much?).
We arrived in Seattle on an uneventful flight from San Jose. The only excitement was self-inflicted. I had a 10:36 departure seared in my brain ever since I booked the tickets. Somehow I missed the memo that the flight got moved back to 10:00 on the dot, so we almost missed our flight simply by hanging out too long in the lounge! A sprint through San Jose airport, and we made it to the gate with a few minutes left in the boarding process. Thank you Delta app for notifying me that boarding had started!
We spent our time in Seattle in another Priority Pass lounge [SEE: The Club at SEA (South Satellite) Review]. I’d planned on visiting this lounge just to compare it to the other “The Club” lounge at Seattle in Concourse A, but it turned out to actually be the most convenient anyway, as our flight to Beijing was departing from the south satellite anyway.
Boarding hassle due to TWOV
When moseyed over to the gate just before boarding started. I handed all of our passports and tickets to the gate agent, organized by passenger, when we reached the front of the queue. She thumbed through my passport and asked if I had a Chinese visa. I said no, and that we’d be transiting without a visa under the 144-hour policy.
I thought we had covered this in San Jose, where I had to explain the plan originally. We couldn’t check in at a kiosk and had to be manually cleared. Our boarding passes clearly had the “DOCS OK” written on them. I’d not anticipated a last-minute issue at the gate.
Turns out the gate agent wanted not only the confirmation and PNR, but also the ticket numbers for our flights. This wasn’t on the paper I’d printed. I frantically searched on my phone for the ticket numbers. It was utter chaos at the gate around us. The gate agent had taken almost five minutes to simply ask me for the ticket numbers. She was interrupted nearly every 15 seconds by some other issue. So we got to watch almost everyone else on the plane board before us.
I eventually found the ticket numbers in the Alaska confirmation email for our return flights on Cathay Pacific. We finally scanned our boarding passes and headed down the jet-bridge to our waiting 767. So much for boarding early in the queue.
The plane was completely full. I’m not sure if this is consistent for Delta’s Beijing flights, but I hadn’t anticipated this. It didn’t help that the Boeing 767 felt tight after our last Delta economy long-haul flight on a 777 (SEE: Delta 777 economy review: Seattle to Paris). Since we were now among the last to board the Delta 767 economy class cabin, it was chaos around us. We miraculously found two bin spots for the kids’ small luggage and settled into our seats. I had to stuff my backpack under the seat in front of me, something I’d hoped to avoid. Given that Delta offers 2 free checked bags on flights to Asia, I was surprised at the completely packed overhead bins. The flight attendants did their best to get people situated, the door closed, and the safety briefing started as quickly as possible.
Our seats were 27A, 27B and 27C. Delta 767 economy class is laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration, and this meant my kids were in a pair of seats near a window while I was seated across the aisle. I remember purposefully choosing this arrangement to see how it would go.
The first thing I noticed was how tight the seats are. I’m pretty sure the pitch is the same as on the 777, but the 767 felt a bit more cramped. I guess the one difference was that I had a backpack at my feet this time since I couldn’t stow it overhead. I know backpacks are typically supposed to go under the seat, but when it *is* my entire carry-on, I like to store it in the bin. At each seat were a pillow and blanket.
Menus, headphones and eye masks were passed out by flight attendants once all passengers were seated and boarding was complete.
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen is substantially smaller than either the Delta 777 or Air France A380. Makes sense due to age of 767 fleet (average 767 age is over 20 years). There are *so* many other better products out there these days. Even the Delta IFE screen on their 737s is better.
The tray table was fairly large, but did not slide. There was also at-seat power and a USB outlet near the screen.
It took maybe 10-15 minutes for us to push back after we got seated. We were soon airborne, and given the efficiency of departure, I figured we might arrive ahead of schedule. Our Delta 767 economy class flight from Seattle to Beijing has a 12-hour block time. So slow going west. Compare this with an identical 12-hour block time of our Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to SFO on our return, which is 1,500 miles longer!
The Delta 767 economy class meal service started with a hot towel and bottle of water, served about 40 minutes into the flight. The only noteworthy thing here is that the guy next to me took off his socks and shoes and wiped his feet with the towel just inches from me. Ew.
Drinks and snacks made it to us about an hour into the flight. The snacks were typical Delta cookies and pretzel/chip mix. My drink request was a glass of red wine. I didn’t catch which variety it was, but I found it “fruity” and thought it was good. For reference, the only time I have a glass of anything is either a) in a lounge before a flight, or b) on a plane.
I made sure the kids had settled on an entree choice by then and were ready to tell the flight attendants. The main course options included herb roasted chicken, ravioli, or beef with rice.
I figured meal service would be right on the heels of the snack, but I was wrong. Meal trays weren’t passed out until a solid 90 minutes into the flight, which seems slow to me. Service seems to typically start 30-45 minutes into the flight, which was our experience flying Cathay Pacific coming home from this same trip.
I went with the beef and rice option. It was spicy and actually quite good. The accompaniments included a salad, a roll, the noodles with shrimp and pineapple, and a brownie. Following dinner was a coffee, tea and water service.
Soon after the cabin lights were dimmed for everyone to sleep.
The middle hours
The kids watched movies and listened to audio-books for most of the flight. I watched a couple films as well. I found the IFE had enough to choose from, but not a lot were appealing among the new releases. I re-watched Ant Man and the Wasp, which catapulted to one of my favorite Marvel flicks when I’d first seen it. WiFi messaging worked just fine, unlike on our connecting flight to Seattle. I was able to send my wife a few messages before it got too late back in California.
I also tried to nap. This was mostly unsuccessful. With very limited recline and no comfortable footing, it was hard to get comfortable. the other issue was that the seat was unstable when reclined. If I shifted, it would rock forward and back. Not the most comfortable. I need to invest in a decent travel pillow, which might have helped in this instance, but probably not much. Most of the issue this flight was the footing and seat.
I made sure to get up a few times to stretch and walk, and had the kids do the same. My daughter had some mild pain after our return flight from Paris, which made me worry about deep vein thrombosis. I turned on the flight tracker again for a while, like I had at the beginning.
Around the middle of the flight, the attendants served a vegetable-filled pastry and a tiny ice cream. The former was kinda gross, but the ice cream redeemed the snack. By midnight California time, I was quite tired and ready to be back on the ground. Luckily we’d taken off on time and only had three hours until arrival in Beijing.
The cabin got a bit chilly and stayed that way. It made me wonder if a good number of people on the flight were uncomfortable. Many had thick coats on. I found I had to keep my sweater on and the blanket over me to be comfortable, which is rare. I normally wear a very light jacket and am just fine in either slightly cool or slightly warm.
Ultimately, I found that the seating arrangement I’d chosen did make it hard to talk with the kids. I had to lean way out over the aisle, and sometimes was unaware of an approaching passenger or flight attendant. If I had to choose again, I would not pick this option, although my kids did enjoy having the window for takeoff and landing. Better would be booking a middle section of three seats in Delta 767 economy class.
Final service and arrival
The flight attendants brought water around a couple times, which I really appreciated. The air on the Delta 767 was dry. Not sure if it was exceptionally so, but my nose started to bleed near the tail end of the flight. I also experience this in the desert. Blame it on living in a moist climate all my life.
The final meal service was served about 90 minutes before arrival into Beijing. It consisted of a warm breakfast sandwich and a cup of pineapple. The pineapple cup included the most minuscule spoon that barely left you eat one pineapple chunk at a time. I found it hysterical and was literally laughing out loud. Maybe it was because it was now after 2:00 a.m. back home.
Exhaustion does funny things to you. Sometimes I end up more irritable. Sometimes everything seems funny. I guess this time was one of the latter. The kids, for their part, were extremely tired as well. You can just feel the exhaustion emanating from this photo.
The flight attendants had handed out arrival cards at the beginning of the flight, but then made a second pass. I figured I’d better get these things filled out before we touch down (note: the TWOV card is actually different, which I’m pretty sure made these unnecessary for us).
Soon after the trash from the meal was picked up, the cabin was prepped for landing. We touched down in Beijing at 7:30 p.m. more than twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Winding our way through Beijing Capital Airport, we made our way through customs and eventually to our hotel, getting to bed around 11:00 p.m. local time, utterly exhausted.
Final thoughts on Delta 767 economy class
I can honestly say that there was nothing about Delta 767 economy class that made me want to fly it again. It was a fine flight experience, but a couple steps below some of my previous experiences. I much prefer the spacious, less noisy cabin of larger, newer aircraft. Sure, if it was the cheapest option, I’d pick it. But if it was only a bit more to fly a different product, I’d probably avoid the 767 and book the other option instead. This was nothing like our experience flying an Air France A380 home from Paris earlier this year (SEE: Air France A380 economy review: Paris to San Francisco), which I can honestly say is tied with a Qantas 747 for best long-haul economy experience I’ve had. The latter was only excellent because I had a set of three seats to myself!
Delta operates their 767s on a number of routes, both to Asia and Europe. Make sure you check the equipment you’re flying when you book! The experience on the 777 or the new flagship A350 will likely be much better than the Delta 767 economy class experience.