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Originally published Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 7:01 PM

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Flying to Paris? No style for now on Delta flight

Two months after Delta took over Air France's Seattle/Paris daily nonstop, the verdict is in: We got the travel equivalent of a stale baguette.

Seattle Times travel writer

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As Seattle's biggest international carrier, Delta Air Lines is pumping major money into Sea-Tac Airport. The airline plans a $13 million renovation of its ticketing area and is adding a second daily flight to Amsterdam this summer.

So why can't it fly us to Paris in style?

Two months after Delta took over Air France's Seattle/Paris daily nonstop, the verdict is in: We got the travel equivalent of a stale baguette.

First, the plane: Delta replaced Air France's Airbus A330 with an older and slower Boeing 767-300ER, adding an extra half-hour or so to the flight on a plane with cramped overhead bins and no individual in-seat entertainment systems in coach.

I can't remember the last time I took a 10-plus-hour international flight with nothing to watch but three movies shown on a single screen with a scratchy audio system, but that's what I found on a Delta flight to Paris in May.

Guaranteed you'll do a lot of reading and won't drink too much.

The standard meal choices were pasta or chicken (avoid these by going on the website and ordering the Hindu meal), and the wine was poured from a box. I heard one or two "Bonjours" on the way over, but only one announcement in French on the return. Mostly it was, "Excuse us please, watch your elbows," as flight attendants came through the aisles.

The good news is that Delta is refurbishing its international 767 fleet with new in-seat video systems, larger overhead bins and flatbed business-class seats.

Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said he couldn't say when the airline would start using upgraded aircraft on the Seattle-Paris run, but hopefully it won't be long. Improvements to the entire fleet will be completed by the end of 2013.

Scoring reward travel

Which airlines offer the best chances to use frequent-flier miles and points to book award travel?

Low-fare airlines, including Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue, ranked in the top 10 of 23 airlines surveyed in March for seat availability on travel dates in June through October, according to the airline consulting firm IdeaWorks and software provider Switchfly.

Southwest and Air Berlin topped the list, showing reward seats available on every flight queried on their websites. Among the major airlines, Lufthansa ranked No. 4, with 92 percent of its flights showing seats available. United tied with AirTran (now part of Southwest) for seventh place (87 percent), and British Airways and Air Canada tied for 10th place (79 percent).

Delta came in last, with just 27 percent of its flights showing seats available. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines ranked 16th, with 59 percent availability.

Most travelers suspect that airlines open up more seats closer to departure. The results confirmed this in most cases. Surveyors shopped on April 13 for travel in a five- to 15-day booking window. More award seats became available on United, American and US Airways during that time frame, but not on Delta. More details at www.ideaworkscompany.com.

Walk and learn

Here are two ideas for getting to know Portland and Seattle a little better this summer.

Brett Burmeister, managing editor of Food Carts Portland, an online guide to the city's food-cart scene, leads 90-minute lunchtime strolls (noon-1:30 p.m.) past 80 carts in an eight-block area of downtown. That sounds like a big bite, but Burmeister says there are 200 carts downtown alone.

Tours are $25 and include food. You might be on foot, but your taste buds will be globe-trotting. Expect to sample Chinese dumplings, Thai street food and Greek souvlaki. See www.foodcartportland.com. Grab your smartphone and join Yodiotours.com (free apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android) on 40 self-guided audio tours of Seattle-area tourist sites and neighborhoods.

The guides are locals who love their neighborhoods. Gary Covich, a crab-boat skipper, leads a tour of the Ballard Locks. Longtime Seattle resident Jim West guides visitors to West Seattle via water taxi, pointing out tips for the best views and the history of buildings such as the Smith Tower.

Yodio's CEO is Clay Loges, an entrepreneur who started Speedi-Lube, a chain of quick-oil-change outlets. Anyone can create a tour. If it generates advertising revenue, you get a cut.

Have a question

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Contact Carol Pucci:

cpucci@

seattletimes.com.

On Twitter

@carolpucci.

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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