PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 7094 posts, RR: 76 Posted (9 years 1 month 1 day 13 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
9/11 Review: Failed trip to LAX on Air France
Five years ago, the world changed on September 11, 2001. Everyone remembers that day, still knows exactly the circumstances of the situation when the horror was reported, still has in mind the feelings while watching the unthinkable on TV.
I had chosen September 11, 2001 for a trip to Los Angeles. What had been planned as an easy-going vacation ended before it really started. Shortly after my plane took off from Paris, American Airlines flight 11 hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. Only four hours later, when we touched down at Paris again, four planes had crashed, both WTC towers had collapsed, thousands of lives were lost, the world had become a different one.
With the fifth anniversary of 9/11 ahead, I have decided to write a review of my trip, narrating my memories which are still present today as if it all happened yesterday.
I didn't take many pictures with my old camera on that unusual trip, though I got the most important scene.
After visiting my American friends in Los Angeles in summer 2000 I decided to go again one year later. Air France offered attractive fares so I took the chance and booked in early June. I also chose Air France in order to fly the B777-200ER (I had previously only flown non-ERs) and to get the CRJ. British European's CRJ200 was scheduled to operate CDG-Nuremberg and I booked that leg for the return trip. However, I would depart from Munich (A320) on an early morning service so that I would have enough time for spotting at CDG. Sure, I had hoped for the A320-100, but I knew the chance would be small.
Tuesday, 11. September 2001
Munich (MUC) - Paris (CDG)
Air France AF1223
F-GFKV "Ville de Bordeaux" (s/n 227) - delivered 09/1991
On departure day I arrived at MUC at around 05:00 in the morning, check-in was fast, AF staff very friendly. For the longhaul flight I chose a window seat in the second last row on the Triple Seven. Only minutes later I passed security and I walked to my gate.
The evening before I had already checked MUC arrivals on TV text and I knew I would only get a A320-200, not the -100 I had hoped for. So there was nothing spectacular about the aircraft, F-GFKV.
Departure was on time, and after take off I enjoyed the cloudless scenery en route to CDG. Breakfast was served, or better: what they called breakfast. They offered croissants, juice and coffee…though that has become standard today.
Arrival was on time as well, even a bit early. While we parked at Terminal 2A, the LAX flight was scheduled to depart from 2F. In order to be able to log as many registrations as possible, I had chosen the second LAX flight, AF 068 at 14:00 in the afternoon. The first LAX flight, AF062, would already depart at 10:00. I wanted to start my spotting tour at Terminal 2A/C but when I tried to enter the gate area I was sent away: passengers were only allowed to enter the departure hall where their very own flight would actually depart.
So I went on to hall 2F where all different kinds of AF longhaul aircraft were parked. I took a seat got almost all departing aircraft on the southern runway and also most arrivals on that side. Some minutes after 10:00 I watched AF062 leaving the gate and later I also spotted CO's Peter Max B777 with its "New York 2000" livery.
Tuesday, 11. September 2001
Paris (CDG) – Paris (CDG)
Air France AF 068
F-GSPD (s/n 187) - delivered 01/1999
The few hours passed very fast and shortly after 13:00 boarding for AF068 was started. I soon realized we had to enter one of the famous ADP busses which can be moved upwards to the aircraft so that passengers don't have to climb any stairs on remote parking positions.
F-GSPD was the aircraft today and after entering the cabin I was very impressed by AF's interior with blue comfortable seats. Next to me an older French couple sat down. They were very nice, after realizing I was German they started to speak German, very well indeed – not surprisingly, they were from Alsace-Lorraine.
After all passengers were seated, a short delay was announced. On the left side of the rear Economy section four window rows had been flattened and bed with a curtain had been installed. Soon we knew why, an older sick man was brought to the aircraft in an ambulance. It took around 20 minutes until the man was laid down safely. A younger woman accompanied and him and took care of him, probably his daughter or a nurse.
Two blithe hours
Finally, doors were closed, engines started, and 15 minutes later we lined up for take off. After only some minutes of waiting the two GE90s accelerated the aircraft quickly and we took off for LAX. At that point of time it was around 14:00 at CDG, 08:00 local time in New York...
I was looking forward to Los Angeles and I really enjoyed the flight. I tested several games, chose my lunch and earmarked two movies for the next hours. I was sure the next 11 hours would be over very fast and I was already thinking of many upcoming spotting days at LAX.Two hours had passed very fast, and after leaving behind the last Northwestern British isles the lunch was served.
Even today it's still hard to imagine that within these two blithe hours, while being totally clueless, the unthinkable with all the the atrocities was happening...
The captain's announcement...
Suddenly, all IFE channels were interrupted and the captain addressed the passengers. First, he spoke French and I didn't understand much of what he said - but I spotted the reaction of two flight attendants who were serving meals - the expressions on their faces were characterized by total confusion. Then my two neighbors started talking to each other and they didn't seem to feel comfortable. And then the captain said it in English: "…we have to turn back to Paris, American airspace is closed." "WHAT? In the first moment I was just totally confused - could that be true? I asked my neighbor and he wasn't sure either. He said: "No, the captain must be joking." I cannot remember how long I talked to him without looking out of the window, but when I checked my PTV flight map I suddenly realized that the small aircraft image was already pointing at Paris again! However, I hadn't felt the aircraft turning - so intensively I must have been under the impression of the captain's dazing announcement.
I still somehow refused to believe that we really flew back, but then I got the final confirmation: a thick, white fountain suddenly sprayed out of the wing tip and I knew what it meant - fuel dump!
The captain later announced that 40,000 litres of kerosene had to be dumped. Of course I took a picture of the scene which was over after a few minutes.
On the TVs arrival time at CDG was quoted as 18:00, almost two hours to go. People were talking to each other throughout the cabin, no matter whether they knew each other or not. I talked to my neighbors and we tried to guess what could have caused the American airspace to be closed. What the hell could cause such a drastic measure? A military strike would be very unlikely, and so would be a widespread natural disaster. I remembered there had been a light earthquake in California two days ago – probably the long awaited big one now? But that wouldn't have affected the East Coast or most other parts of the country...well, we just didn't know. I realized that the News channel of the IFE was offline...very strange, I thought. Some time later, I heard a French man saying something like "Twin Towers, boom..." – probably he had made a phone call. I immediately concluded the WTC must have been affected, but I in no way I thought about anything similar to what was actually happening...
Then I started thinking about my trip. What would happen in Paris? When would we be able to continue the journey? I thought of my two very heavy cases and how difficult it would be to carry all my stuff around. I walked to the galley and asked a flight attendant whether they knew what would happen in Paris later. I asked many questions, but he couldn't help me. "I wish I could answer, but I just don't know either", he replied.
Meal service was continued, but I couldn't really enjoy it any more. Though nobody seemed to know what really had happened, the atmosphere on board was tense.
At around 18:00 we had started our final approach to CDG and minutes later the aircraft touched down very hard - with thrust reversers and brakes fully deployed. That must have been a landing at heavy weight…
We taxied to a gate at Hall 2F and I saw some aircraft of American carriers parked – with police cars and guards all around. I was still hoping that we would be able to depart again later today - but then cargo doors were opened and the aircraft was unloaded. According to an announcement, passengers should follow AF staff in the terminal. With so many aircraft obviously in the same situation I expected the absolute chaos in the hall - and that's exactly what I found some minutes later.
Since I had had a bad experience with AF not long ago I wasn't sure how they would handle the chaos (e.g. staff speaking only French) - for that reason I just stayed with the French couple. It was a good decision: there were three flights assigned to our baggage carousel - and it would have been a serious problem to keep an eye on one case while trying to catch the other. So we watched our cases each other and soon had all our luggage.
We were then guided to the check-in area in Hall 2F where hundreds, maybe thousands of people ran around like ants. Uncountable AF employees were present – many of them must have been called in on short notice as they wore regular clothes with AF IDs attached.
Endless queues evolved in front of the counters and the only option everybody had was to wait, wait and wait. Meanwhile two Germans from Stuttgart had moved next to me who had been en route to California as well. I asked them whether they knew the cause of that all. I remember one of them saying: "Allegedly three aircraft have crashed at Los Angeles." I was quite irritated, though I couldn't really believe it.
Back to MUC
Two hours must have passed until I arrived at the counter. I was still full of hope that I would be sent to a hotel and could simply take a new flight to LAX the next day or two days later. But then I started to realize that the hotels would be filled with Americans currently unable to return home. The AF agent behind the counter said they just didn't have a clue when US airspace would reopen again. "That can happen in two days, but it can be ten days", he said. "What we can offer you is a return flight to Germany - or you can wait on your own expense." Rather quickly I decided to fly home since I didn't want to take the risk of being stranded for days.
According to my original itinerary the return trip should terminate at Nuremberg, but the last flight to NUE had already departed this evening. So they offered me one of very few remaining seats on the last evening service to MUC and I agreed. After receiving the ticket I was really glad I could escape from all the chaos in that hall. The French couple had in the meantime had an eye on my two cases because it would have been impossible to bring them to the counter. I said thanks and good bye to them and started running to Hall 2A where my MUC flight would depart some 45 minutes later. At a counter in Hall 2A I checked in quickly and I was very impressed how friendly and helpful all the AF staff members were.
Learning the truth
After receiving my boarding pass I had about 30 more minutes left until departure. I still had to call home in order to make sure someone would pick me up at MUC later. Too bad I had left my mobile phone at home and didn't have any Francs or a calling card. So I asked at a AF counter where I could get a telephone card. However, a very friendly AF lady gave me her personal calling card and even explained how to use it. First of all I called my parents, but nobody answered. Then I called my brother and after trying several times I finally got him. "Where are you?", was the first he asked. "Have you heard what happened?" I said: "No, not really." Then he continued: "The World Trade Center collapsed after planes crashed into each tower - and another one crashed into the Pentagon!" I couldn't say anything and was somehow paralysed. It took a few moments to recover and I finally told him that I would arrive at MUC two hours later.
Tuesday, 11. September 2001
Paris (CDG) – Munich (MUC)
Air France AF1222
F-GFKQ "Ville de Berlin" (s/n 002), built 04/1987, delivered 02/1991
-100 series, and not only that...
After hanging up it still took me some minutes to digest the news. For the first time in my life, I didn't think about the upcoming aircraft, I always had to think of what had happened.
When I entered the gate area I realized that the flight was delayed by 30 minutes, obviously due to an aircraft change. It was very dark outside, I only saw an A320 parked at the gate, with cargo doors closed and the jetway not being docked. I was expecting they would tow the aircraft away soon but then they started working on it. It seemed to be my flight's aircraft and simply for the purpose of statistics I went closer in order to read the registration. I identified "KQ" on the gear door...and much slower as usual I started thinking...GFKQ...then I turned my head and checked the wingtips - indeed winglets were missing: a -100 series. Then I realized why I had "KQ" in my memory: it is second built A320 series aircraft - the oldest one in active service (prototype 001 has never left Airbus). I couldn't believe I would fly that very special aircraft - which I had always hunted - on such a disastrous day - I definitely couldn't enjoy it at all. Of course, at a much later date, I was glad being able to add it to my "flown aircraft list". Though F-GFKQ will always be connected with that sad day.
The flight itself was not very spectacular. The atmosphere on board was very strange, it was totally quiet in the cabin, I guess most passengers had already heard the news at that time. After eating a quite generous dinner I tried to get some sleep. Of course, my thoughts were dominated by the disaster.
Later at the airport I was glad my two cases had arrived as well, regarding the chaos at CDG. My brother picked me up and we went home after that very uncommon round-trip, listening to the radio news all the time.
AF062 to Montreal
At home I called my American friends who had contacted Air France all day to check my flight's status. They were told AF062, which left at 10:00, had diverted to Montreal...so I was really glad I had chosen AF068.
The next morning I called Air France and they offered to pay back the money or another flight. Initially, I booked another flight, with departure day one week later - since I really wanted to see my American friends this year. However, after carefully analyzing the situation I realized that spotting would be impossible...and that it simply wouldn't be the appropriate time to enjoy easygoing and relaxed holidays in the US. I finally decided to cancel my plans and took the money. I postponed my trip to fall 2002 and it was the right decision.
As usual, comments, opinions and questions are always welcome!
Alaskaqantas From New Zealand, joined Dec 2005, 907 posts, RR: 4
Reply 1, posted (9 years 1 month 1 day 12 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
WOW... I couldn't imagine flying on that day
nice job at keeping your cool!
I have friends that were going to fly from ANC-SEA-Washinton on 9/11 and some other friends that were going from LAX-NYC, but they all canceled their flights, really lucky if you ask me.
I was REALLY surprised when we didn't get a national holiday for 9/11, I mean I know people that don't take their kids to school on 9/11 since their dad was involved with the after math.
thanks for charing and good report!! Always wondered what a fuel dump looked like. Almost had one about a few weeks ago when we hit a bird on take off THEN we hit the wake turbulence of the plane that had taken off in front of us, but in the end we continued on!
to some people the sky is the limit, to aviation enthusiasts, its home!
Goldorak From France, joined Sep 2006, 1933 posts, RR: 3
Reply 2, posted (9 years 1 month 1 day 11 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
thanks for this nice report. I'll remeber also this horrible day all my life. I'm glad you were safe back home and with all your belongings. I can really imagine the chaos at CDG on such a day. How were your spotting at LAX in 2002 ?
Triple7man From Thailand, joined May 2005, 772 posts, RR: 0
Reply 4, posted (9 years 1 month 1 day 10 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Good trip report. I think everyone will be able to remember where they were on 11 September 2001 (I had flown AA ZRH-DFW 10 September).
It was a day we will never forget and I can only pray that it is a day that never happens again.
Were you ever able to make it to LAX for your plane spotting trip? That is one of my favorite airports to watch airplanes. (Now my favorite is NRT because I live near Tokyo)
Quoting Triple7man (Reply 4): Were you ever able to make it to LAX for your plane spotting trip?
Yes, I catched up on the spotting trip to California in 2002, this time on AA & BA. Interestingly I almost almost didn't face many problems with spotting. On my first US trip after 9/11 in April 2002 spotting at FLL, MCO, MIA and PBI wasn't a problem either.
However, it was very different in fall 2004 when I was checked almost everywhere.
Alaskaqantas From New Zealand, joined Dec 2005, 907 posts, RR: 4
Reply 9, posted (9 years 1 month 13 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting Triple7man (Reply 4): I think everyone will be able to remember where they were on 11 September 2001
I was at home and my dad called us to tell us to listen to 91.1 FM (our local National Public Radio station) and that in itself is ironic 91.1. He told us that he had been listening about half way into this guys story and it was just like the "War of the Worlds" how people were believing it and it was only a story as other stations were starting to talk about it. then we realized that it wasn't a fake. my mum and myself were late to school that day as we sat by the radio not wanting to leave just incase more information came up while we headed to the car. but soon we headed down.
we had heard about the crash in pennsalvania and it was right back up the hill again to our house (we live about 40 minutes away from my school and we had almost gotten there when we turned back to my house which is on the side of a mountain) because alot of family lives in Penn state so we had to call them.
Finally when I got to school we just talked about what happened and why I can remember at the end of the day our principle getting on the intercom and saying that she would like another minute of silence. it lasted long after a minute. then she came back on and said that she would be gone for a week to deal with family issues, we could hear her holding back tears. As she said good bye we could hear her crying. Then my teacher was crying (she cried really easily though) and it was one of my first times seeing grown ups start to cry(other then my mum when her parents died)
That day was a day to remember and I will always rememeber all of the details of that day like who I stood next to while we gave the minute of silence (taylor) and things that I would normally not remember from being 10 years old.
I'm still amazed at the fuel dumping!
to some people the sky is the limit, to aviation enthusiasts, its home!
Levg79 From United States of America, joined Sep 2003, 1004 posts, RR: 0
Reply 10, posted (9 years 1 month 9 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Thank you for sharing. It was common in those days 5 years ago to hear about people's experiences when they couldn't take off and got stranded in airports, but I don't think I ever heard such a story from someone who was aboard the airplane that day and turned around. By the way, did you notice back then how far you went before turning around back to CDG? The only positive thing about it is that you got a free flight on AF, if I interpreted it correctly since you got a refund. Once again, thank you for sharing. Trully an amazing read.
A mile of runway takes you to the world. A mile of highway takes you a mile.
UpperDeck79 From Finland, joined Feb 2005, 1139 posts, RR: 2
Reply 14, posted (9 years 4 weeks 1 day 11 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting PlaneHunter (Thread starter): . I soon realized we had to enter one of the famous ADP busses which can be moved upwards to the aircraft so that passengers don't have to climb any stairs on remote parking positions.
Are these like mobile lounges? Are they new or old? Any info would be appriciated!
B747forever From Sweden, joined May 2007, 17451 posts, RR: 10
Reply 19, posted (7 years 7 months 13 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
The pics are good.
You have really wrote it in a great way. You wrote it in a apprehension way.
This day will always be a sad day for the aviation world, and all affected. You remember everything when reading your TR, from that day.
However, I am really glad that you could share this story with us, and so glad that you made it home safely. And you made the right decision to go for L.A a year later. It would be so hard to fly just one week after 9/11.
Boeing744 From Canada, joined Jun 2005, 1875 posts, RR: 22
Reply 23, posted (7 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Wow... Amazing report. My family was booked to fly YYJ-YVR-LAX on September 21st to go to Disneyland for a week. We ended up cancelling because Disneyland had been indefinitely closed, and knew that flying to the US would be extremely difficult only 10 days after the attacks.
Thanks for sharing your story!
Quoting PlaneHunter (Reply 17): It would also be interesting to read a report about someone who had to divert to and stay at Halifax, Gander or elsewhere.
I just finished reading Jean Chretien's (former Canadians PM) book about his time as Prime Minister. He talked in depth about the attacks, and Canada's role in helping people who had been stranded. He never stressed enough how proud he was of the people of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland for opening their homes to stranded Americans and Europeans.
Caspritz78 From Germany, joined Aug 2007, 518 posts, RR: 0
Reply 24, posted (7 years 6 months 4 weeks 1 day 13 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
My dad was on he was back from Nice to Boston via Frankfurt with LH that day. When he arrived in Frankfurt the flight to Boston was already canceled. So he stayed a few days in Germany and took the first flight from FRA to BOS with LH. He said the atmosphere on that flight was really weird. First of all everyone got strip searched before boarding. Then there was no metal cutlery on board and the flight was only 30% full.
9/11 was the day when the 20th century finally ended. In a very sad way.
: There is an excellent book titled "The day the World Came to Town" It is about the diversion of planes into Gander. It's very good, poignant and movi
: Great write up of a terrible day. I'll always remember, I was in my third grade class room. All of the teachers were whispering to each other, then on
: Thanks for an excellent account of your experiences, feelings and emotions on that day. It was the first account I actually read by anyone who had bee
: I think that this was the most powerful and moving trip report I have ever read. To capture the dramatic shift of mood on that terrible day as a passe
: Hi PH, I never saw this report so far, but it gave me goosebumps all over! This day will always be remembered! Very interesting to read the story of o
: Thanks a lot for all your new comments! Sounds interesting, I'll try to get these books. I guess they didn't know any details either. PH[Edited 2008-0
: That is absolutely chilling. I can only imagine how confusing and frightening that morning must have been for you. I was at work when the first plane
: Wonderful description of the events on that day. Thanks for sharing, must have taken a lot of will power. Cheers, Max
: Thanks for your comments, CairnterriAIR and Max. I felt the same when I finally heard what happened. Even though I had assumed something really terrib
: Guten Tag, PlaneHunter Thank you for an amazing report. I think all of us remember exactly what we were doing on that day in 2001. It has become a com
: Hi HP, thanks for your feedback. Must have been a stange situation. I remember my friends in LA telling me a similar story on the phone in the days af
: There is only one word to describe this and that is WOW I am amazed. On 9/11 i was getting up for school and my mom and Grand mom were crying i front