Photo © Paul Paulsen
for the first time again in quite some while I went on a trip with my family. we wanted to visit my grandmother in Connecticut, living close to Hartford, and spending a couple of days in San Francisco which is one of the nicest and most interesting places in the world I´ve ever been to.
I´ve always been wondering if my grandmother lives closer to BOS or to JFK. anyway, since for so many years we used to fly only stand-by (my father is LH employee, pilot on CLH´s Avros) we always went to JFK since there arrive and depart more LH flights than at EWR or BOS, thus increasing the chance to get on a flight with space-available tickets. due to my father´s high seniority we are always close to or pretty much on top of the stand-by lists and there was only one time we didn´t get on a flight and that was when my father didn´t come along (reduced seniority in such a case).
for a couple of years when my parents and who else of my family has gone on a trip in summer they don´t take stand-by tickets anymore, they have booked business class tickets, on some kind of employee fare. don´t ask me the details, I´m not too familiar with the different employee-related booking classes, I believe it´s R9 or R7 or whatever. well, it´s certainly more expensive than stand-by tickets, but still pretty inexpensive compared to the standard business class tariffs and you´re booked, you know you´re on the plane when you come to the airport and you don´t have to wait and see.
since so many of my family and friends live all over the USA, when we go there it´s mostly a trip with multiple legs, visiting two or more parties, so it´s business class with LH to the USA and back, and within the US it´s stand-by. for so many years we travelled on AA, but since LH and UA hooked up it´s UA, of course.
ok, there we are at FRA airport, business class tickets and booked on
LH 406, scheduled departure 1.50pm, A343.
I think it´s the first time that LH operates to JFK around 2 o´clock. they still serve EWR at that time as well. LH 406 used to be the flight number of the flight to JFK, which left FRA around 7pm in the evening, if memory serves right.
ok, so let´s talk about the increased security measures. I must admit that when I came to the airport, although knowing it, I forgot that we had to pass additional security screenings, well, we were flying to the USA. ok, our bags were x-rayed before check-in, and our on-board carriage was also checked twice. at the first screening, we passed through quickly since business and first class had separate screening points. however, closer to the gate, there was another screening and there were lots of people standing and waiting. though it seemed to take forever at first sight, the line moved quickly.
when it was my turn, they wanted to x-ray my shoes!!! well, I was pretty annoyed by that but then again, it´s for one´s own safety. however, they were just picking people to take off their shoes just by chance and that´s what made me feel like a criminal and people were looking at me as if I were carrying a bomb.
on the opposite, there was another fellow, he seemed to be of Arabic descent, who was also told to take off his shoes. somehow, I´ve got the feeling that I was asked to take my shoes off just to show to this Arabic fellow that the aviation guards were not only looking for bombs and knives with Arabic people but also with other people, so to make him realize that there were no prejudices against him. in such a case, I gladly take off my shoes a thousand times.
I feel so sorry for every Arabic woman and man that have encountered prejudices and were treated unfairly just due to their descent and what happened one year ago.
Photo © Kai-jens Meyer
arriving at gate B26 I realized it was an A343 as scheduled (A343-313X to be exact), D-AIFF which is Lufthansa´s latest A340 (del. 12-21-01). I like riding on A343s, however, I had hoped for a last minute equipment change and to be lucky to ride a 742 again! I know that the two remaining 742s are serving FRA-YVR exclusively, but you never know.
ok, my seat was 12A, window seat. due to an engine problem, we later learnt oil needed to be refilled in engine no. 4, we were supposed to have a minor delay of 5 minutes. we went off-block 23 minutes later.
taking-off from 25R, the take-off roll took about 48 sec. always when I´m riding on an a340 I pay close attention to how long it takes for the bird to take to the skies. eight years ago, also on an A340 from FRA to JFK, take-off took almost an entire minute!!!
ok, we know that LH offers no SQ or VS style of service, however, I find its business class extremely nice and very comfortable. I was served an amazing lunch covering all one could dream about. however, I find the servings a little too small. ok, your body is seating all the time and with all the recent health issues it´s totally fine to serve light meals, but it could be a little more. I wasn’t still hungry after the meal, but when I was served I cursed that I didn´t take the opportunity to have a snack at the airport.
nonetheless, they’ve got excellent food in the front, I´ve always liked their cheese platter, they serve an excellent choice of wines and drinks and the very best chocolates.
there is certainly no extraordinary IFE on LH´s aircraft, especially not in economy, but I think they offer a nice variety of recent movies, older classics and news and discovery channel. I do appreciate every comfort an airline offers, but I think that LH´s business and first, though they offer nothing fancy, serve all the business traveller’s needs and it needn´t be boring at all. mind that I´m not talking about economy, which is one of worst of all the major carriers.
in addition, I´d like to point out that I had very friendly and professional FAs, which is not surprising since I had never any really bad or unfriendly FAs on LH.
I was paying close attention to whatever moved outside my window, except of clouds, of course. there wasn´t much to see, and so most of the time I enjoyed watching Showtime starring Robert DeNiro and Eddie Murphy and The Time Machine (the latter one wasn´t that good). except for one aircraft there was nothing close enough to take a nice picture with my lens. hopefully, the pictures of this AA 763 which, heading northwest, crossed or flight path a flight level or two above us, will turn out beautiful.
en route, we passed south of Iceland and entered North America over Labrador, heading southwest towards NYC. over BOS, the descent was initiated and after an overall flying time of 7:45 hours and some zigzag over Long Island we touched down at JFK on runway 31R, slightly ahead of the scheduled arrival time.
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
except for one AF 777 and one of AF´s Concorde and quite a fleet of BA, I didn´t see any European airlines at that time. it was about 4pm so most of the European flights should have been arriving shortly (in fact, a VS744 and OAA343 arrived shortly after us). well, I didn´t get to see all of the airport and there aren´t too many airlines at JFK´s Terminal 1.
not surprisingly, at that time of the day T1 is dominated by KE, JL and SQ. that did certainly change with the bank of arrivals coming in right behind us.
Photo © Joe Pries
Photo © Tom Turner
heading for SFO. the rental car bus took us to the United terminal. I didn´t know that UA had moved its LAX and SFO flights to the other terminal. the last time I was at JFK they were still handled in another place. I believe that is now the jetBlue terminal? well, I don´t know since JFK is not really my “home” airport.
this was now on stand-by. on the phone, the 1-800-lady told us that UA 005´s booking figures seemed the best, plenty of space available, so we had not to worry.
at the check-in, we were again picked randomly to have our bags double-checked. again, I was later asked to take off my shoes. this time, the alert went off when I passed through the screening point and since I didn´t wear a belt and I had put all my other belongings into one of the small containers they figured it must have been my shoes. they had never ever gone off, at any airport! there is a small piece of iron and a nail under the sole, that´s it. well, again I felt like a criminal, however, the security staff was always polite and they´re just doing their job. I´m not angry at them, but I´m absolutely annoyed when the circumstances make me feel like a criminal.
don´t remember the gate designation anymore but it was the last gate at the right of the terminal. at the gate counter, I asked the a woman of the UA staff if I could be reseated to a window seat. since the flight was only slightly booked the lady assigned me to a new seat, 34A. just then did I find out that it was definitely a 763 we were supposed to get on. I believe UA005 is scheduled to be a 763, but since some of the other transcons from JFK are 762s, I assume they are able to switch the aircraft sometimes according to demand.
Photo © Philippe Noret
when we passed the gate, we were again picked randomly for additional checks. guess what? I had to take off my shoes again! hand baggage was searched again, and after another 15 minutes of waiting and searching for nail files and deadly toothpicks we were allowed to enter the aircraft.
what I don´t understand is that they want to have total safety but when it comes to double checks they pick the pax randomly. some people were checked as they were 10 years ago. unfortunately, times have changed.
on aircraft there are at least a couple of back-ups for any vital system to increase safety but on ground, they have obviously never heard of that. I don´t have a problem with going through several security check points, with taking my shoes off, with waiting in-line time and again, but that should apply to everyone.
I know it was pure coincidence that it always hit me at random searches, but if you want maximum security (which does not exist, imho), to refute prejudices and not to angry pax, everyone should be checked and searched as thoroughly.
searching all people takes much longer and it doesn´t add to a nice trip but it is necessary, sad as it is. the way the security personal handles it makes the difference.
there was a man sitting next to me, but since there were still about 10-20 seats left, he took another seats so that both of us could enjoy more space.
well, the interior was not the most attractive. it was the first time I travelled in economy on UA, it was nothing nice and certainly nothing special. I do like its business class, though (flying stand-by is thankfully “rewarded” sometimes when the back is full and you´re upgraded). however, the seat pitch was greater than in AA´s economy or so it seemed. the last time I travelled in AA´s economy is a couple of year´s ago so it might be different now, dunno.
I was surprised by the presence of personal in-seat monitors. I´m not following the hype of the IFE and in-seat TV topics on a.net and so I was not aware that there were monitors installed in every seat.
in addition, I was happy to enjoy UA´s channel 9 which I did almost the entire flight. it´s so interesting especially on approach to an airport and unfortunately.
we took-off on-time from runway 31L. unfortunately, the routing took is into a left turn and heading southwest directly after departure. due to my seat I was not able to glimpse at the skyline of Manhattan, which I was keen on seeing. often I fly to and from NYC and I pass NYC on the highways but I´ve only visited the city itself twice and I wanted to do so since Sep 11 (forgive if that sounds macabre). well, at least I had a good view from Whitestone bridge when we drove to the airport. having seen the skyline with the WTC so often it was so strange to see it without. and that is exactly why I would have loved to see that from the aircraft. it´s not a nice sight, but an interesting and historical one.
we flew surprisingly south. I were on transcons before, but only west to east, so I don´t know what the usual routing is. perhaps ours was close to the standard routing. the flight path took us to Philadelphia and from there almost straight to Lincoln, NE, over Cheyenne and then south of South Lake City. we approached SFO from the south of the Bay Area.
when I was not watching the movie, and I only watched Spiderman since I had not to pay for it, I was trying to make out any aircraft. from above, I made out the PHL and LNK (I´m not 100% sure on that one) airports, as well as SJO during approach into SFO.
since I mostly travel with LH, I was quite surprised to being served big cans of soda (350ml/ 12 Fl oz). on LH, one is served the tiny cans (150ml) which are a joke. aren´t we supposed to drink a lot to prevent deep-vein thrombosis? that´s what really bugs me. you´re getting your peanuts and a soft drink or whatever before your first meal, and when they serve you meal, your drink is empty. and the salty peanuts have not really helped in decreasing your thirst.
then it takes them again so long to come up with a new round of drinks during meal. it´s better nowadays, the crews pass by with the trolleys and offer you drinks much more often than before (that´s my impression), I don´t have to pay a visit to the galley anymore.
ok, during the flight quite a few aircraft passed our flight path, and most of times that close to take beautiful shots or identify them without my lens, but I was not always fast enough to get my camera. I saw a US 752, an AA MD-80, another MD-80 or possibly a DC-9 I couldn´t identify, an A300/310 (perhaps a 767 but the livery seemed to resemble the FedEx c/s) and almost at the same flight level a NW A320. the red and grey fuselage against the clear blue sky would have beeen such a beautiful spot, but although I had my camera at hand, my zoom didn´t want to focus onto the Airbus, quite a pity. as we were closer to DEN and to the West Coast, I only saw UA aircraft passing by, two 763s and one 752.
Photo © Timothy Keeney
descent began just after we crossed the Nevada/California borderline. I could make out SJO as well as Moffet air base. just shortly before the finals, an Alaska MD-80 overtook us. on channel 9 I learned that our UA005 heavy was told to keep visual separation to that bird (don´t remember the call sign anymore) which was going to land on runway 28L. shortly thereafter, we touched down on 28R.
I wasn´t able to get the rego of this bird until I disembarked. I asked one of the FAs but she couldn´t find it for me. ok, it was a little late and they didn´t want to disturb the cockpit crew during descent. well, I got a glimpse of the rear fuselage when I got off the airplane.
I had just crossed the US on one of UA´s 767-322ERs, N651UA.
Photo © Ben Wang
Photo © Andrew Hunt
ok, this is supposed to be the day of my return trip back home. the rest of my family will go to HNL this day, going stand-by. yes, we were aware about what you are thinking now. however, booking looked the less worse on that day as well, so with a couple of opportunities on UA to go to HNL a day, and also to go there via OGG (they turned away the possibility to take Aloha from OAK to Hawaii, although there was space available on that flight).
when we called the 1-800-lufthansa lady, I was reconfirmed that I had a booked seat, business class. business as usual, so it seemed. my father told me that he had to come with me to check-in since on the ticket it says “Check-in with employee only”. would it have said something like “You can only have a booked seat when employee is coming along” I wouldn´t have been surprised at check-in when I was told that I would have no booked seat.
as you can imagine that was a rather negative surprise. so ok, don´t ask me why, but I had another ticket, a stand-by ticket issued for SFO-FRA, so there we go.
booking figures don´t look too bright, it´s overbooked, but not impossible to get on. well, seniority is reduced due me travelling without my father. ok, what about the UA flight leaving 5 minutes prior to the LH flight? figures even worse. and the LH flight to MUC in the evening? overbooked as well.
so there I am, I had to get the plane on that day for quite some good reasons and there wouldn´t have been a problem had they not refused my business ticket.
well, I travelled before “unaccompanied” by employee and I had a booked business seat. I even went to the early check-in and they handed me the boarding pass at Changi four and half hours before my flight to FRA. I´m pretty sure they have not changed the rules, but the way they quote it here may be different they quote it somewhere else.
as I said, there shouldn´t be such a problem to get on that flight since it´s always overbooked, however, I´m relieved by the idea of requesting a jump-seat. so my father is awaiting this day´s LH 455 flight crew (due to arrive about 1pm) to ask the captain to allow me for a jump-seat on that flight. as fellow LH employee, there shouldn´t be such a problem to grant me a jump-seat.
it´s definitely time I finish my aviation management studies and graduate, since it´s lame not to be the employee yourself, I´m sick of all these hassles.
ok, my father returned and told me the captain said that I wasn´t the only one who requested a jump seat, there were several family members of some of the flight crew who also wanted desperately to be on this flight. well, on the 2nd day at our Hotel in SF, importantly to note that we stayed at the LH crew hotel, I witnessed the arrival of the MUC flight crew which arrived shortly after 7pm and the departure from the hotel of the flight crew which took the A340 the back to MUC again. among these crewmembers there were a couple of wives or husbands, mothers and fathers, whoever, to enjoy a couple of days in SF.
however, the captain as well told my father that he had never ever left a LH employee requesting a jump-ride behind at an airport so that there should not be a problem. well, I certainly took that message with a grin of salt.
So I split off from my family and went to gate 102 where the 747-400 was already waiting for its return flight. The aircraft was D-ABVT, „rheinland-pfalz“, del.04-28-97.
Photo © Andrew Hunt
It´s 1.50pm (all times pacific standard). It was just about boarding-time when the staff announced a delay of 30 minutes due to technical problems. You know, I´m not worried about technical delays or technical problems, there´s nothing that could make me feel uneasy at an airport or aboard an aircraft except for something very big. However, this time for some reason I did hope it would be nothing big so that no one would be going at all. I love SF but I wouldn´t have wanted to stay another night for many reasons.
2.15pm I still don´t know if I´m on the plane. My name was just called by the staff, I´m certainly going to know soon if I go or not…
I´m allowed jump seat, and I´m really glad about it. As I pointed out I would have preferred to fly business, but at least I´m going.
2.25pm, scheduled departure time. Still no moves, still no boarding, still no sign from the staff.
2.55pm all the time I´ve been thinking if it´s something big the captain will certainly come up himself to make an announcement to the passengers, to explain what´s going on. Guess what, the boarding door opened and the captain entered. After talking to the staff he came on the speaker. So we stay, I thought.
First of all, the captain apologized for the inconvenience, he explained the cause (some component of a vital system had to be fixed prior to departure due to minimum requirements) and assured us we would eventually go. According to him, boarding was to start in another 30 minutes.
Due to his not entirely perfect English some people didn´t seem to like the term “safety concern” and I was hoping some might just decide not to take the flight, freeing up a couple of seats after all.
4.05pm boarding finally began. I was told to remain in the waiting area until the very last pax have boarded but I couldn´t wait so long. I did wait for the very most pax to embark the aircraft, nonetheless. I was welcomed by the purser of the flight and taken to the aft galley where the cabin crew warmly welcomed me.
For take-off and landing, I should sit on one of the jump seats at 4R, next to one of the lovely female FAs. We took-off from 28R, rotating after 45-50 sec. at 4.56pm. when we reached cruising altitude, I was asked to take a new seat, this time at 5R, at the very rear next to all the restrooms. Well, I had a very nice window view and lots of legroom, and I could see the movie screen perfectly well. However, I had no audio but I can still claim to have seen Monster, Inc. (not that I would care about that flick).
As always people started to crowd in front of the restrooms after the seat-belt signs were turned off for the first time.
5.53pm I´m about to write a sign saying “no, I´m not waiting for the restroom”. The crowd had not yet diminished.
I´m certainly annoyed, to say the least, that I´m sitting in the back on a jump-seat and some people are enjoying the biz class meal I was assured to have a couple of days before. Ok, ok, let´s not talk about the point of view here, but I wished the company would have made up their mind regarding their standy-by and employee-travel policies.
6.30pm I´m beginning to assume that some pax, due to my usual clothing and unusual seating, might consider me a sky-marshall. Some do behave like that, I see their faces when they look at me, and the way they do so, with awe and respect, I´m not kidding. Well, I´m making a couple of notes on a printout of the booking figures so that could possibly make me look like someone important to the flight. …?
But that would not be a place where a sky-marshall would be seated, too obvious.
Oh, I forgot, this time no x-raying my shoes, they didn´t go off when I passed the metal detector, and no double and triple checking my bags.
8.15pm northwest of Thunder Bay, Canada, we fly over a thunderstorm which was a wonderful sight in darkness and from above. So many people are again crowding in front of me while I´m waiting for my dinner (I´m the last one, of course).
By now I´m acting as a restroom supervisor, “the next, please”. Perhaps someone´s got some spare change.
I just realized that I´m a victim of last minute aircraft changes. On the print out which was dating a couple of days before we went on the trip, it was still a 744 with a business capacity of 78 seats but this one has only 64.
Ok, don´t know the exact time, but it´s dark outside and a major part of the crew is resting in the crew compartment behind me. Heavy turbulences over Eastern Canada. I do enjoy a bumpy-ride which is way more fun. I was reseated to 5L where I should sit until being reseated again for arrival. Just after one of the lovely female FAs returned from her rest she came up with a meal for me since I was still waiting for something to eat. Unfortunately, I don´t know her name, otherwise I would have tried to pass on a thank-you note to her and the one of the male cabin attendants, both of whom where extraordinarily nice and caring, and often came by to chat with me. I know she´s got a twin sister who´s also a LH cabin attendant, so if anyone who knows them is reading this…
The other jump seat in the rear was almost occupied by some of the pax. They seemed to think of it as a place free for anyone to sit down. Perhaps that´s one of the pax who does think of me as a regular pax, “if he can sit down over there, I may do so as well”. Well, shortly thereafter one of the stewards came by and quickly made this guy leave this seat since it was “not for his convenience”.
Ok, we passed south of Iceland, crossed Scotland and entered the European mainline over the Netherlands. Touch down at FRA on runway 07L after a flight time of 9.50h, 40min shorts of the scheduled flying time, so we made up for some of the delay.
The aircraft was parked in the LH maintenance area, probably due to the technical problem, from where we were taken to the terminal by bus.
Ok, here my notes end. It was a nice flight, and certainly a very interesting one. I would like to thank the most professional and friendliest cabin crew I´ve ever come across for all their assistance and help and that I didn´t feel like a blind passenger. They even didn´t treat me like the son of an employee, but rather than an employee myself. I was even asked by some of the crew what aircraft I was usually piloting. They seemed to have misunderstood some of the info they were given about me.
Photo © Daniel Werner
Photo © Yevgeny Pashnin
I hope I haven´t bored the hell out of you, thanks.