After my last transatlantic crossing in a Canadair Regional Jet (really! It was a delivery flight of Eurowings) I thought it was time for some bigger equipment again. To avoid a “size shock” I took the next largest aircraft currently plying the North Atlantic, and coincidentally it has the same number of seats as the CRJ, namely 48. Of course I’m talking about the BBJ (B737-700, HB-IIQ) that PrivatAir of Switzerland currently operates for Lufthansa between Dusseldorf and Newark. To spice up the experience, I decided to return from NYC without spending a night, in true global jet-set fashion…
After 9-11, LH cancelled its daily A340 service between DUS and EWR. But as DUS still has a substantial business market that LH was now losing to competitors via their hubs, the airline teamed up with the Geneva-based specialist to cater for that market. So far the reception has been impressive, and Lufthansa has gained a lot more media coverage for the flight than expected. Surely more airlines are looking at this example, and it is an interesting countertrend to the no-frills carriers, 48 instead of 148 seats, in the same aircraft type.
The date is November 30 (yesterday as I’m writing), and I’m leaving my home near FRA early in the morning to fly up to DUS to transfer to the BBJ flight. Arriving in DUS at 8.30, I have enough time to check-in for the 10am departure and proceed to security. No long queues here, the only other flight to the US being United’s Washington service, which is to be discontinued next year (well, if it helps saving the airline…
. It somehow looks odd when you’re about to board a transatlantic flight, and all you see outside your gate window is a 737, even if it looks as elegant as PrivatAir’s one with the huge blended winglets. About 30 passengers are boarding the flight at 9.30, and make themselves comfortable in the spacious layout, dark blue leather seats (adapted from BA’s “cradle” business seat) in a 2-2 configuration with more than 60 inch of seat pitch. With this layout, even the 737 feels like a widebody. We push back at 9.55, five minutes ahead of schedule and take off from runway 23L at 10.05, using about 60% of DUS’ rather short runway. The pax load and cargo may be light, but the fuel load limits the climb rate, yet after a right turn over the river Rhine and into the clouds, we climb straight up to 41,000 feet, which we reach after maybe 25-30 minutes. At this point I realized that this is today’s version of the flight that I’ve been observing when I was growing up near DUS. The low DC-10 departure over our house some 15 miles away from the airport always caught my attention when I was a boy.
Soon after, the friendly multinational PrivatAir crew (it’s a wetlease, i.e. aircraft incl. the crew) begins with the service, which is largely based on Lufthansa’s Business Class service. Menu cards, foods, and most other items are identical with Lufthansa. As the seats don’t have any audio/video systems, Sony Watchmen are distributed, and passengers can choose between a fair range of movies, and also the audio program comes on these tapes. After the pre-departure welcome drink and another offer of aperitifs, food service commences. This flight features the Star Chefs signature service, also called “Connoisseurs on Board”, and the current featured chef is Justin Quek from Singapore, owner of the Les Amis, Au Jardin and The Lighthouse restaurants in Singapore. The menu describes his style as a fusion of Southern French and Chinese. Well, here’s what was on offer:
Slices of smoked Escolar Fish served with Lime Crème Fraiche
Venison Galantine and Apple Celery Salad offered with Lingonberries and Walnuts
Chinese Cabbage, Lamb’s Lettuce, Radicchio and Red Beet Julienne presented with Basil Dressing
Roasted Goose and Red Cabbage with Apples served with Potato Dumplings and Herb Butter (a German Christmas tradition)
Lemon Sole Roulade in spicy Lobster Fond accompanied by Venus Rice
Terrine of Wild Mushrooms offered with Mediterranean Vegetables and Pearl Potatoes
Cheese and Dessert:
Bonbel, Camembert and Morbier with Grapes
Mango Mousse with Pineapple Sauce
Fresh Fruit Salad
Snack before arrival:
Grilled Butterfish seved with Coriander
Asian-style Chicken filled with Ginger
Coconut Cake with Strawberry Compote
To sum it up, they didn’t overpromise, it was really delicious and extraordinary.
The experience was all the much nicer thanks to the really friendly and highly motivated crew. I also chatted with the pilot, an Englishman, for a while and he confirmed that the passenger feedback from this service is extremely positive. The only negative point I can mention is the higher cabin noise when compared to widebodies. Maybe the BBJ isn’t 100% suited for longhauls, but yet it does it pretty well.
Back to the flight itself, clouds prevented any view for the first five hours until we were over Canada. The routing took us over Scotland, south of Iceland, crossing the southern tip of Greenland and meeting with North America north of Goose Bay, then down to Montreal and southwards along the Hudson River. A not too-impressive ground speed of 800 kph/480 mph (due to headwinds and the lower speed of the BBJ when compared to true longhaul aircraft) resulted in a flight time of 8 hours and 15 minutes. Passing by the Manhattan skyline, we touched down on EWR’s runway 22L at 12:20, twenty minutes ahead of schedule. At this time, not too many international flights had arrived yet, so passing immigration and customs was a breeze. When I told the INS officer I would return home the same day, he was quite a bit surprised and said he never had an overseas visitor that would return on the same day. (Maybe the JFK officers are more used to it, especially with the Concorde flights). Anyways, I was outside of the terminal building by 12.40 to meet Joe P.
Since the skies were overcast and some rainshowers forecast, we drove midtown where Joe dropped me off and I spent the afternoon in the city. By 6pm, it was time again for me to head out to JFK for my return flight. Taking the A train and shuttle bus (that will soon be replaced by the Airtrain), I arrived at Terminal 1 at 7.15pm and figured I had some time left to take a look around, but then I saw the enormous line at security, so after checking in, my first goal was to pass through security. It would have taken an hour, but luckily there was a separate line for the upper classes (vive la difference…
. Of course it was rushhour for departures, and it is always a sight with planes leaving for all directions, and passengers of any imaginable origin.
Terminal 1 is operated as a joint venture between LH, AF, KE and JL and has attracted a number of other airlines, as at the time of its opening, it was the only decent alternative to the IAB facility of third world standards. This has of course changed since the opening of the the new Terminal 4. In any case, other airlines departing parallel to my LH flight were Virgin Atlantic (A340 and B744), Air France (B777), Alitalia showing off their new 777, JAL 744, Korean 744 and Singapore’s parallel flight to FRA, continuing to SIN, while the standby Concorde was already having sweet dreams at her remote stand. Most departures had problems getting their passengers to show up at the gate due to the security queue, one really needs to be there 3 hours before departure. Somehow our flight seemed to be a bit faster though, we pushed back ten minutes behind schedule at 9.40pm, while the Virgin flight that had started boarding 30 minutes before our flight was still at the gate. We also beat SQ’s flight 25 by a few minutes, even though it is scheduled to leave before ours.
When I boarded our B747-400 D-ABVS “Saarland”, I saw to my surprise that my former boss’ wife was working on that flight, even in my cabin section, so I knew I would get spoilt for the next few hours. As it turned out, the whole crew was very friendly, and I was impressed when they announced that crew members spoke the following languages besides German and English: French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Serbocroat, Turkish, Hebrew and Persian. And I’m sure the passengers came from even more countries.
Sitting in seat 2K was a nice experience, almost a bit panoramic with a slight front view and also across the aisle to the other side. However, it’s a bit strange during taxiing, I always thought we weren’t lined up properly on the taxiway. The takeoff queue wasn’t too long, we were number 5 behind two JetBlue’s, an AA 767 and a China A340, while an Eagle Saab, Aeroflot 767 and the Virgin 340 were following us. After takeoff from runway 31L at 10.05pm we did the standard left curve over Jamaica Bay for a 180 degree turn, during which the night panorama of New York and Manhattan perfectly lay outside my window, still a great sight! We quickly turned further north and then settled for a course taking us over Boston and Halifax. As the flight was not full, the 747 climbed without delay to our cruising altitude of 37,000ft within 25 minutes. A strong tailwind pushed our ground speed up to 1,060 kph or some 640 mph, and this would of course shorten the flight time to just 6 hours and 15 minutes, hardly enough time for dinner, movies and sleeping. But I was so tired anyways after such a long day that the good food and wine quickly put me to sleep. Here’s the menu for the flight, again of high standard, and created by a German chef, Jörg Sackmann, owner of the restaurant Schlossberg in southwestern Germany and member of the “Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe”.
Roasted Beef Tenderloin enhanced by Red Chili Coulis with an Asparagus and Bean Medley
Seafood Salad offered with Pink Seafood
Halibut in Fennel Thyme Broth with Vegetable Provencale
Breast of Turkey with Stuffing complemented by Red Wine Demi-glace, String Beans, Baby Carrots and creamed Sweet Potatoes (after the German goose now an American favourite after Thanksgiving, nice touch!)
Ravioli filled with Cheese accented by Pomodoro Sauce and grilled Roma Tomatoes
Cheese and Dessert:
Cheddar, Manchego and Cambozola Cheese
Brownie (it was delicious, sort of deluxe version)
Rolls, Croissant, Bread
Cold Cuts (smoked turkey breast, camember and Swiss cheese)
And last but not least, the wine list for both flights, selected by Marcus Del Monego, world champion sommelier:
Duval Leroy Fleur de Champagen Brut
2001 Riesling Classic Schlossgut Diel an der Nahe, Germany
2001 Rueda Verdejo, Vina Mocén, Spain
1999 Chateau Lamothe Bergeron, Cru Bourgeois, France
2000 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, Stellenzicht Vineyards, South Africa
Like I said, I slept after dinner until sunrise, and when I looked out of the window (we were over Southern Ireland), I discovered many other aircraft flying in our vicinity, and later on, I had the chance to try some air-to-air photos of an AA 767, let’s see how those come out.
Not much else to report from this pleasant flight, we touched down on runway 25L at 10.20, 30 minutes ahead of schedule, for which we were punished by not receiving a parking gate for some 15 minutes. Shortly after, SQ flight 25 arrived as well, they didn’t succees in passing us…
I hope you enjoyed this trip report, for me it was really extraordinary, and as I’m writing, 12 hours after returning, I’m feeling just a bit tired…
As always, photos to be posted soon!
Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been...