Before I get started, a quick note about pictures. All images when clicked upon will redirect to the Flickr page where they can be viewed in different sizes. In order to keep the loadup times sane, especially for those on dialup, I've included medium sized images in this post.
Also, this is my first attempt at writing a trip report, so please bear with me.
Having just completed five years of college education, which included a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and three summer internships, it was time to take off on a long vacation before starting work. Long would be a couple of months; although I would have loved for it to be a year
Planning for this trip started way back in December 2005; I would be spending 2 months in India, starting at Bangalore. Being an aviation addict, it was time to start looking for cheap fares to BLR. Oddly enough, BLR is very under-served in terms of airlines, in spite of being India's silicon valley. LH has really been milking money on the FRA-BLR route; in fact I think LH has been doing very well in India as a whole. A lot has changed since my last visit to Bangalore in the summer of 2005; AF and BA have started direct service, with more airlines like EK to follow soon.
Anyways, I decided to explore two options for purchasing tickets: travel agents, and of course the Internet. Being particular about direct service into BLR and having a very strong preference for 1 stoppers, AF, BA, LH (all 1 stoppers), SQ, TG, MH (2 stoppers) were my only choice from the US. AF was off the charts when compared to LH and BA, with the latter being a couple of hundred dollars costlier than LH. I chose the cheapest alternative (as does every college student ), and this would come back to bite me later
LH has a created a system called WeFlyHome (http://www.weflyhome.com) that offers cheap fares for travel from the US to several countries, especially those that have a significant immigrant population here in the states. The fares there are lower than what you'll find on Lufthansa.com, and as one would expect with several restrictions. I even recommended this option on A.net . If you have any idea where this is going, then yes, booking with WeFlyHome turned out to be a terrible mistake.
I had to change my travel dates, and was of course willing to pay for any cancellation fees (turned out to be $300). A phone call to WeFlyHome landed in India with the recorded message claiming that all changes to travel would have to be done over email. It was almost impossible to talk to a rep and when they did answer the phone, I received the same response as the automated message. So, let me understand this; there are service reps on the other end of the line, yet they will not help me determine ticket availability and make changes to my reservation.
As a customer of LH, I expect to speak to someone who can assist me with ticket changes, especially when Iï¿½m willing to pay any change fees. If LH does not want telephone conversations, why does it even list a phone number? The only mode of communication available was email. I had to send numerous emails back-and-forth, enquiring about available flights and seats; the whole change process took 5 days, when it could have been completed in the matter of 15 minutes over the phone.
I have always been critical of LH's treatment of Economy class passengers, but this is setting a new low. When I tried calling LH's support numbers in the US, I was told that my booking was not through LH, but through a travel agent, and so they could not offer me any help. I did not see this mentioned on the weflyhome.com website. So, Lufthansa advertises WeFlyHome fares on its website and in the fare flash emails, and even redirects to WeFlyHome.com from its website, yet washes its hands off of any customer service duties.
Another strange feature of LH online ticket purchases is that the credit card holder has to be part of the traveling party. What if a parent wants to buy a ticket for his/her child (whose credit card may not have a big enough limit)?
Day of my travel (May 26, 2006)
I was looking forward to this trip ever since my tickets were booked back in February (probably a little too early, waiting another month would have allowed for slightly cheaper fares), but as the day arrived, everything was extremely rushed.
My parents would be dropping me off at the airport, and we decided to leave home at noon for a 4:30 departure from IAD. 26th happened to be the Friday before Memorial Day (the following Monday), which is a holiday here in the US. A lot of people travel over the long weekend, and a crowd was to be expected at the airport. Sure enough the security lines were quite long, but the TSA folk did a great job of clearing passengers at an amazing speed. There were a few people at checkin, nothing significant.
Lufthansa checkin counters
IAD Terminal -- Lufthansa Checkin" />
IAD Terminal building
At security, I removed my shoes (there well several who didn't), but forgot to remove my belt. However, the machine did not scream. Either it has gotten intelligent, or is not doing its job.
Once past security, it was time to choose between the mobile lounges or underground walk way to the B gates. I chose the latter, having never experienced it before. Nothing special, but it was good to explore something new.
My departure gate was B45, and upon walking to the gate I saw our beautiful B747-430 with a football nose (D-ABVR, Köln). Sitting next to us was an AF B772ER (F-GSPI). It was........dirty........very dirty. I guess nothing changes at Air France. Anyways, time to take some pictures
The football-nose B747-430 that would take me to Frankfurt
And then I heard something that got me excited; the opportunity to get bumped off of this flight and take the next one (2 hours later) in return for 300 euros, cash. My original flight was scheduled to depart at 4:30, with a five hour layover at FRA before my next flight to BLR. Based on browsing the FraPort website, and a few older A.net threads, I knew that spending 5 hours at FRA was not going to be easy. I thus wanted to ask the checkin agent for a seat on the later flight, but passed on the thought since I am very picky about my seat; always desire an aisle. So, this would be a great deal, 300 euros and an opportunity to get on a later flight.
Needless to say, I made my way to the podium and was second in the VDB (Voluntary Denied Boarding) line. The agents collected my boarding pass and said that a decision would be made by 4pm. As it turns out, if you agree to be a VDB, any special meal request in your reservation is not honored; there just isnï¿½t enough time to get the meal on board. I had requested a Vegan Meal, but this was not of concern to me when I could be making 300 euros. I would have been more than happy to buy a pizza for less than $20
While I waited for the agents' decision, I started working on this trip report. That would be until 3:40 when boarding calls were issued. Luck was not on my side today, as no volunteers were needed. That's alright, at least I tried. Hopefully, a similar opportunity will present itself in the future when I can make some free money.
IAD - FRA
May 26th 2006
Lufthansa, LH 417
Boeing 747-430, Serial number 1106
Delivery Date 03/13/1997
Registration D-ABVR (Kï¿½ln)
Scheduled time of departure 4:30 pm
Push back time 4:40 pm
Rotation time 4:49 pm
Scheduled time of arrival 6:15 am
Actual Arrival 5:40 am
Load Factor 100% Economy (no idea about F and J)
The gate agents boarded passengers with special needs (children, elders, etc), and first and business passengers (through a separate gate). General boarding was done row wise, and I must say it was very organized. As I entered the aircraft, I did the usual 'fuselage touch' and was greeted by a middle-aged FA, who directed me to aisle one. She was not seen in Economy through the duration of the flight.
My seatmates were a German gentleman and his wife. Another couple wanted to be seated together, and the purser (S. Kloppmann) accommodated that request. It required 3 other people to be moved, though. Is it so difficult to sit apart for 6 hours? I don't know. We had a second purser on the flight, Günter [could not get the last name]. I was always of the opinion that each flight had exactly one purser.
Our captain came on the PA and announced that there were very favorable tailwinds, and our flight time would be cut by 30 minutes. Now, this was disappointing news; the 5 hour layover in FRA seemed like a lot, but that would now be 5.5 hours. After the announcement, the aircraft was pushed back, and we were on our way. There was no queue for takeoff, and the B744 rumbled down the runway for a long time. This aircraft was definitely heavy.
Once we reached initial cruise altitude, the seatbelt signs were turned off and the flight attendants started their in-flight service. First up were some goodies for the young travelers, followed by a drinks service (I chose OJ), and some hot towels. In the galley walls, I saw the HOTSPOT signs, i.e. the indications that this bird had WiFi internet on board. I have wanted to use this service ever since its introductory flight between FRA and IAD back in 2004 (if I am not mistaken).
So, I decided to fork out $9.95 for an hour's usage. The other plans (2 hours, 3 hours and unlimited) did not appeal because I was running short of battery power, and there was just a couple of hours worth of juice left in my machine.
Connexion by Boeing
Signing up for the service was extremely easy; you get a username and password, and pay using your credit card. The speed was very respectable, significantly faster than dialup, but still a little slower than the cable internet I have at home. I wouldn't complain though; this service is still in its infancy, and I'm sure it will only improve in the future.
One semi-irritating feature is that your quota clock starts the moment you complete your sign up and continues on until the end of your quota, all in one contiguous session. So, I could not slice my 1 hour subscription as two half hour sessions with a break in between. This seems to be driven by commercial interests. I can see a situation where someone bulk downloads email, and bulk sends email, using just a few minutes of the service. Boeing and Lufthansa of course want to avoid this
Here are a couple of pictures that I took while browsing A.net.
A picture of the aircraft that I was flying on in the A.net database
Civil Aviation Forum
I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures. I need to learn how to shoot content on computer screens
The First Officer came online when we were flying over New York, and mentioned that our routing would take us over St Johns, then over the Atlantic, making landfall at the southern tip of Ireland, flying over Cardiff, London, Belgium and into Frankfurt.
While booking my ticket, I had requested a Vegan Meal; that seemed to have changed into Asian Vegetarian, not really sure how. The food was alright, I wouldnï¿½t say that it was good; this is however something that I have come to expect for AVML on all airlines.
The dinner consisted of rice with baked carrots and beans, as well as some eggplant. In addition, we were provided with yoghurt, a bowl of fruits, a salad and some crackers.
IAD - FRA" />
After dinner, it was movie time. Today's movie, Fun with Dick and Jane starred Jim Carrey, Alex Baldwin and Tea Leoni. It was about a CEO (Baldwin) who cheats all his employees, and the company's stock crashes. Carrey is one of the employees, and goes through absolute financial turmoil. This story was especially relevant considering it was just yesterday that Lay and Skilling of Enron were found guilty and will most likely do some jail time.
The movie was pretty ordinary. Anyways, with the movie complete, we were about an hour and a half out of FRA, and it was time for a pre-arrival snack. The AVML option consisted of a vegetarian wrap, cantaloupe and Strawberry-Banana yoghurt. After service completion, it was time to collect the trays, and prepare for landing.
IAD - FRA" />
We started descending about 30 minutes prior to touchdown. The landing was not great; I have certainly experienced better ones. There was sporadic clapping in the cabin, not immediately after touchdown, but as we pulled into gate B28. Once out of the aircraft, it was time to head to the transfer center in Terminal 1.
Overall, this was a good flight, the best part being the availability of onboard internet. The food was less than impressive, but that is not surprising considering that I was served AVML. We did encounter some turbulence, which I always enjoy; the feeling is pretty cool.
Frankfurt airport is huge, and it seemed to me that the seating was rather limited for an airport of this size. Being forced to kill a little more than 5 hours, I decided to walk around. It was about 6 in the morning and while the building was not buzzing with people, the crowd was still quite respectable. I walked through the B gates, and wanted to reach the A ones as well, until I realized that several A gates were for EU departures, and had a checkpoint.
With nothing much to explore in terms of gates, what remained were the duty free and other airport stores. I am not a big shopper; in fact it wouldn't be far-fetched to say that I hate shopping. I spent approximately 15 minutes in a camera store, and that was about it. I found a seat near the transfer center and decided to read one of my books, Richest Man in Babylon. I could barely get through 10 pages before my eyes started to close. 6 am in Frankfurt, was around 1 or 2 am back home, and without proper sleep the previous night, I could barely stay awake. This had me worried; I did not want to lose any of my belongings, but was also keenly aware of the risks involved considering that I've heard numerous cases of luggage being stolen at FRA.
I decided that the best way to freshen up was to have a shower, and so was off to the showers right behind the transfer center. After freshening up, I decided to get something to drink. An OJ and a bottle of sparkling water set me back by 7 euros. .
My flight to Bangalore did not have a gate assigned yet, so I decided to hang around one of the gate displays. All the tables were semi-occupied, forcing me to share one of them with another American gentleman. In roughly 15 minutes, I had a gate, B58. I simply love the way the gate boards (for the lack of a better word (s)) change their content in FRA; the noise and mechanics are fantastic.
B58 was one level below all the other gates, and as I had suspected was just a holding area for a remote boarding location. This was exciting, for it had been a while since I last boarded through stairs. The gate area was extremely crowded; everyone was waiting to get into the seating area. There were two serpentine lines, and I decided to join one of them. Indian flights always tend to be pretty disorganized, and the situation was no different while boarding.
Once everyone was in, the LH staff came around gate checking all the hand luggage items that were a little too big or heavy. Apparently, they had a full flight, so this had to be done. Everyone was thus restricted to one piece of cabin luggage, and one personal item, although this was freely violated.
As the airport buses approached to ferry us to our aircraft, the gate agents called all first class and business class passengers and those traveling with kids. I saw quite a few 30 and 40 year olds (who I later saw in Y) get up and head towards the gate exit as this announcement was made. Were these people the kids? Anyways, the ride on the bus was great, got to see a lot of birds, not surprisingly almost all LH. Our bus waited for an A343 to cross the runway ahead of us, that was cool. The bus driver then turned alongside a STAR Alliance LH A343 (D-AIGC). Would I get to fly this aircraft (I've never flown a STAR alliance livery plane before)? Turns out, no
He pulled by the A343 standing next to it (D-AIGL); this would be my ride to Bangalore, my first on an A343. Last year, I flew Thai's A345 between JFK and BKK.
First and Business passenger (s) boarding at the front
FRA, LH754 to BLR" />
Economy passengers boarding from the rear
FRA, LH754 ot BLR" />
As everyone rushed off the bus and onto the stairs, I decided to hold off for a few minutes, look around and take some pictures. I was joined by a couple of other guys as well. Visible from my location were more LH A343s, a Thai B744, an LH Cargo MD-11F (the last MD-11 ever manufactured), an LH A332, an A333 and more jets in the distance. Here are a few pictures.
D-AIKJ, football nose A333 being pulled by a tug
D-ALCM, LH Cargo. The last MD-11 to be built
MD-11F at FRA" />
D-AIMD (A330-323) near and D-AIKG (A330-343X) far
HS-TGN, Thai Airways, Boeing 744, looking great
FRA - BLR
May 27th, 2005
Lufthansa, LH 754
Aircraft A340-313X, Serial Number 135
Registration D-AIGL (Herne)
Delivery Date 05/10/1996
Scheduled Departure time 11:20 am
Actual Departure time 11:49 am
Scheduled Arrival time 11:45 pm
Actual Arrival time 11:40 pm
Seat 35H, aisle
A photo of the tail just before boarding
A picture from the top step just before entering the aircraft
I was the second to last to person to board using the rear stairs (as all economy passengers were advised to), and was greeted by two flight attendants, a lady (didn't get her name) and a gentleman (Gersom Ui[something]Werff). I read his last name a few times when he paced the aisle, but never managed to register it. Gersom would serve my side of the cabin with another FA, Ms. Gloux. Our purser was a gentleman, S. Gar. We had a handicapped passenger who was brought onboard in a wheelchair and was seated in 34K.
After the doors were closed, the FA went around the cabin distributing stuff for the kids. There were several young families on this flight; I suppose most of them from the US heading to India for the summer vacations. One such family was seated to my left. Upon receiving his coloring sheets, the excited kid decided to open the entire pack of coloring pencils and lay them out on his tray table. One of the pencils fell to the floor, and the father started screaming at the kid "Why did you have to remove all the pencils at once, couldn't you have removed them one at a time"? He could have told his child the very same thing, albeit in a very different tone. Oh well.
Soon, we started rolling, and the safety video was played. It still features the old style business class seats, as did this A343 (D-AIGL). The aircraft was configured as 8F, 42J, 197Y. The load factor in economy was 100%, and I suppose the same is true of J. Not sure about F, although based on what I saw while deplaning, not all seats were used.
Captain Kruger welcomed us all on board this Lufthansa flight that was operated in partnership with Air India, United Airlines, US Airways, "all within the framework of the Star Alliance". Has Air India formally joined the alliance, or is this just a code share agreement between LH and AI? He mentioned that our flight time would be 8.5 hours aided by strong tailwinds which would save us 30 minutes in the air. All announcements were made in three languages, German, English (by the Captain/FO) and Hindi (by one of the cabin attendants) in that order.
The takeoff roll was very long, probably the longest that I have experienced, and the climb wasn't spectacular either (this gets mentioned so often on A.net that I just had to stick it in there ). Once we hit the initial cruise altitude, the FAs were on their feet, and started a drinks service (my choice being tomato juice) and offered a pack of cashews. The FO came on the PA and described our route. We would be flying over Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan (Karachi), India (Ahmedabad), over Mumbai, skirting the country's western coast and finally into Bangalore.
With the drinks service complete, hot towels were distributed, collected back, and preparations were made for lunch.
My seatmate had his special AVML served, and I was surprised that I did not get mine before they started the general meal service. It had somehow been removed from the reservationï¿½humm. Anyways, I was not all that concerned because airlines tend to carry a lot of vegetarian food on the India bound flights. When Gersom approached my seat, I was served the Veg option, so it was all good. The menu was rice with spinach and kidney beans, salad with Thousand Island dressing, Yoghurt with mint, bread and an Indian desert (which was good). Here's a picture:
With the meal served, it was movie time, which was a comedy that featured Steve Martin, and was followed by an Indian movie. Not particularly impressed with the entertainment, I decided to turn to the music channels and get some sleep. I woke up somewhere over Iran and all that I could see out of the window were mountains and a small settlement below. There were another 3.5 hours of flying time left. By this time I had grown tired of travel, especially considering that the IFE choices were so poor (non-existent!), and my laptop was completely void of any battery power. So, I decided to read a little more, and chat with my seatmate. He was traveling from RDU and was carrying a US Airways issued boarding pass (I saw United BPs as well). He was flying back home to get married. Of course, he had my best wishes
The person seated in front of me decided to recline his seat all the way back, and with my camera occupying the seat pocket in front of me, leg room was at a premium. In fact, it felt terrible!
A couple of hours passed, and the FAs started the dinner service. This meal was pretty similar to the last, except that the spinach was replaced with baby corn, and yes we did get served kidney beans again. The chefs probably made too much of the same curry. We were also served a different Indian desert, and did not have a salad. This time I chose tomato juice instead of water.
FRA - BLR" />
As Ms. Gloux moved on to the next row after serving me dinner, I took a picture with my camera. I heard my seatmate chuckle, and wondered what happened, only to realize that Ms. Gloux had been watching me photograph the meal with great interest. Apparently, she hadn't seen anyone else do this in the past (an amateur FA probably :P), and was most curious about my intentions. I mentioned that we exchange such information on the internet. That didn't satiate her curiosity, neither did mentioning the fact that we write trip reports. It was only when I told her that people may not fly LH because of my pictures did I get across to her. Of course she was quick to realize that I was not in any position of power, and was just having fun.
All of the meal services on LH were followed by a second serving of wine and cognac. The dinner trays were collected and we had 30 minutes left in our flight. The captain came online and announced that the cabin crew would be collecting headphones and that we had now started our descent. As we lined up for our final approach, the city's lights were visible out of window, and the pilot brought our bird down HARD. After pulling out of the runway we were stationary for a few minutes before being taxiing to our gate.
Immigration was a breeze, thanks to the 8 immigration officers who were working the desks when we arrived. All passengers were provided with disembarkation cards while onboard LH754. Upon clearing immigration, it was off to baggage claim (the next room really), where everyone's carryon luggage was inspected by customs officials (using a scanner of course). My two bags (carryon and laptop) passed though without any concerns; I wasn't carrying any dutiable goods.
While waiting for my bags to arrive, there was this other gentleman who had three bags, a fully stuffed backpack (I wonder how it even fit in the overhead bins), a duty-free shopping bag, and a camera kit. The customs official was quick to pounce on the camera, enquiring if it were an SLR with lenses. The person answered in the affirmative, but tried to convince the customs official that this camera equipment was not acquired on this trip abroad, but was something that he owned beforehand. Well, it was sooo damn obvious that this guy was lieing though his teeth that I couldn't help but smile and chuckle. The customs official gave in and let him by; good for the guy, I say. Let's hope he puts that SLR to good use and contributes some pictures to this site through trip reports or otherwise in the future.
BLR baggage claim is a DUMP. The restroom in the hall is so terrible, that I'd rather not mention it. If anyone flies into BLR in the future, I'd recommend that you use the restroom on board the aircraft before getting off. There is half a conveyor belt for the multiple widebodies that arrive each night (AF, BA, LH, TG, SQ, MH, AI). A few young men (early twenties) remove all the bags from the carousel the moment it reaches where they are stationed; otherwise the belt would get clogged VERY SOON. I felt sorry for these guys; they were lifting the heavy bags that everyone had carried with them.
Several folks who traveled with me received their bags, and I was growing increasingly anxious. Another flight had just landed (I think SQ), and its passengers were starting to arrive at baggage claim. I didn't want to wait with another 300 passengers for my bags. Luckily, it wasn't long until my luggage made its way out, and I was off.
Suffice to say that I enjoyed this trip, the highlights being the use of onboard WiFi (Connexion by Boeing), and riding the airport bus to the remote stand where our A343 to BLR was stationed.
I especially lament the lack of any decent IFE on LH, the absence of menu cards and amenity kits for economy passengers (several other airlines offer them). My experience with WeFlyHome is not one that would like to repeat, especially considering that I could have obtained similar fares through another airline, but with better customer service.
The food was decent on the IAD-FRA sector, and good on the FRA-BLR leg. Both flights were on time, the cabin attendants very professional, and always willing to help passengers.
Thanks for reading, and if youve gotten this far, either by scrolling all the way down or actually reading what I had to say , please do leave a comment.
[Edited 2006-06-01 16:26:38]
[Edited 2006-06-01 16:36:40]