MH006 KUL-AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA
Flight length 12h00m
777-200ER regn 9M-MRA
This is my first trip to Europe (other than the UK, that is). A week-long trip to Athens, Greece to attend a conference. Since MH do not fly to Athens, it was difficult to get the right connection flights to and from Athens, with Swiss Air Lines (via Zurich) and Austrian (via Vienna) being considered as potential transit points before finally deciding on Lufthansa (via Frankfurt).
I left home at 2100 by cab and arrived KLIA at 2145, two hours ahead of scheduled departure. The airport was already bustling as many of the flights to Europe depart in the late hours of the night. I was to meet up with two of my colleagues who will be on the same trip, but did not locate them in the vast main terminal building. Following check-in (I brought just a carry-on luggage for this trip), I strolled around and made a stop at the currency exchange and bumped into one of my colleagues there. After some chatting to discuss the details of the trip, we made our way to the satellite terminal. Just before boarding at Gate C32 at 23:30, my other colleague showed up and we made our way into the aircraft.
The aircraft on this night was 9M-MRA, MH’s first 777-200ER which was delivered in April 1997. This was the aircraft that made the historic SEA-KUL-SEA trip in conjunction with MH’s 50th anniversary celebrations that year.
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
There were seven passengers in First Class tonight, in a cabin that could seat twelve. I was seated on 1D, which is in the middle block. The First Class cabin will soon be history once MH begin the reconfiguration for an expanded Business Class starting from November 2004. This aircraft will be the first to get the new seats.
The FC service starts with hot towel and a choice of fruit juices. I took the Guava juice. A variety of newspapers and magazines were offered. Aircraft pushback was at 23:50, right on schedule. The plane taxied to runway 14R, the departure runway on this night, and held for about a minute. Then with the Rolls Royce Trent 892s howling, the plane sped down the runway and lifted off, then turned right and northwest toward the Straits of Malacca. Many people have complained about the 777 being noisy, and I couldn’t agree more (especially when you’re seated ahead of a pair or screaming 92,000 lbs thrust engines).
The flight to AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA was to be 12 hours long, and plane climbed to an initial cruise level of 32,000 feet. Soon after, the cabin crew came around to hand out the toiletry kit, menu cards and headsets, and began preparations to serve supper.
The Supper Menu included:
- Malaysian Satay
- Hors d’ourve
- Bread selection
- Choice of two soups
- Beef Steak or Fish or Chicken (with veggies and accompaniments)
- Selection of fresh fruits (mango, pineapple, strawberry, honey dew, kiwi)
I had a second helping of satay, skipped the caviar, took the wonton soup and beef steak with mustard (I have to say that you would need to have a really big appetite or a large stomach to finish the entire course). Metal cutlery was used (metal cutlery is being re-introduced following approval from the respective countries/authorities). A wide selection of hot and cold beverages were also available, as well as alcoholic cocktails, champagne and wines.
By this time the aircraft was flying over the Andaman Sea and towards the Bay of Bengal. Turbulence is a normal occurrence in these areas, so it was quite uncomfortable especially when one was having supper. Another hot towel followed after supper, then the passengers were were provided with duvet, and cabin lights switched off.
MH’s First Class seats are not the most comfortable seats as the cushions are quite flat and hard (personally I prefer the Business seats – more support). So it was difficult for me to get comfortable throughout the entire flight. As I always have trouble sleeping on planes, I decided to check out the in-flight entertainment offerings. With the exception of Twister (yes that old tornado movie), many of the movies are recent ones (but not the latest) including Scooby Doo 2, 50 First Dates, Dirty Dancing 2, and Spartan (?). The particular aircraft didn’t have AVOD and still had the small 6.5 inch screen, so that was a bummer for me. Nevertheless, I managed to watch most of the movies throughout the flight.
The plane ascended to a final cruise level of 36,000 feet as it became lighter. Tonight’s flight path took us from KUL over the Andaman Sea, Bay of Bengal, India (Chennai and Mumbai), Dubai, Syria, Jordan, Turkey (south of Istanbul), Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Austria and on into Germany.
With about two hours to go, half the cabin lights were switched on and hot towel and fruit juices offered. Breakfast was then served which consisted of:-
- Selection of fresh fruits
- Selection of bread rolls
- Choice of muesli or corn flakes with low-fat or full cream milk,
- Choice of mixed grill or omelette or nasi lemak,
I skipped the cereal and went straight into the mixed grill (portions of beef, lamb and chicken). The lamb was too hard though. After breakfast, another hot towel. Cabin service on MH premium classes is top-notch, and the crew ever so attentive.
With 30 minutes to arrival, the plane began its descent and levelled off at 22,000 feet and then to 15,000 feet. The morning was a bit gloomy with thick clouds hovering over the Frankfurt area. The captain came on the intercom and advised of the damp weather in Frankfurt. A slight thud was heard as the landing gears were extended and the plane shuddered a bit as it loses its aerodynamic grace. The ground became closer and I could see the forests on the left and the city of Frankfurt on the right. Finally the airport terminal came into view on the right and the main gears gently touched down on runway 25R. The nose gear touched with a slight bump and the aircraft slowed toward the end of the runway and turned off for the long track back to Terminal 2. The time was 0614 on Sunday. We passed several Lufthansa MD11Fs, 747-400s, 737s, A340s and A320s before turning into bay E4, between a pair of 747-400s belonging to Qantas and Cathay Pacific. It was 0625 and we had arrived 5 minutes ahead of schedule.
Sunday 13th June 2004
LH3380 AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA-ATH
Flight length 2h30m
A300-600R regn D-AIAL (Stade)
My colleagues and I disembarked to proceeded to the Sky Line train for the transfer to Terminal 1. It was a little confusing but we finally managed to get through passport control and on to Gate A17 for our connecting Lufthansa flight to Athens, scheduled for 0905. Since it was barely 0700 the gate reflected an earlier flight to Hamburg at 0805. We had open tickets for the AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA-ATH leg so we were anxious to grab available seats. We found a corner to rest and just waited as the hours went by.
At 0830 we checked-in at the gate and were given seats immediately. The Lufthansa lady was very polite and smiled through the whole process (very short process too). German efficiency I guess. Soon we made our way into the A300, named Stade. Not exactly a new aircraft but it looked well maintained. My first Lufthansa flight. I was seated at 28G, the aisle seat of the middle block, over the wing. The plane was almost full but with a few empty seats. After 12 hours in a quiet comfort of First Class, this was like a reality check.
Photo © Jens Juengling
Aircraft pushback was right on schedule at 0905 and the plane speedily taxied passed all the planes being readied for the day, and on to Runway 18. A Lufthansa 737 took off ahead of us, then our Airbus entered onto the runway and roared its way into the morning sky. It was 0915 and the bright sun had already come out. Three hours after arriving on German soil, we were into the air again.
The entire two-and-a-half-hour flight was uneventful. In fact it was really boring. No IFE whatsoever but I had expected this. A breakfast meal (omelette with spinach and potatoes; and a muesli bar) was served. The drinks came afterwards (it took awhile actually). The meal was okay (I was hungry so I finished everything except the spinach). Cabin service on this flight is okay but nothing special. The meal service was a tad slow in my opnion (the meal carts started from the front and gingerly made their way to the rear). Some of the crew looked old (receding hairline on the male crew – too much flying maybe). Nevertheless they were polite and professional. The flight definitely felt long. I must have read through the in-flight magazine five times over.
With about 25 minutes to arrival, the plane began its descent into Athens. The weather looked bright and sunny outside. At 1250 the plane touched down with a huge bump on runway 21R and quickly taxied pass a stationary Olympic 737-200 (looked like SX-BCL) and then across the aircraft bridge toward Gate B12 at the main terminal. Some renovation works were still ongoing as we made our way through the terminal to Baggage Claim and Exit. For an airport which opened just 2-3 years ago, it looked small and basic with no interesting features. The time was almost 1330 on Sunday and we were dead tired.
We took a cab to the hotel. The driver couldn’t speak good English but still managed to proclaim “Greece 2, Portugal 1” with sheer delight. Yup, he’s really passionate about Euro 2004 football. Sunday traffic was light and the temperature was 34 degrees (sweatingly hot). We managed to catch a glimspe of the new Olympic stadium from a distance but that was about it. This crazy cab driver weaved his way through the lanes at 140 kph as we hung on for dear life. But we reached our hotel safely at 1400 and checked into our respective rooms. It had been 22 hours and no sleep since I started this journey. It was time to catch up on sleep as the conference would begin the next morning.
Monday 14th June to Friday 18th June 2004
It was a four-and-a-half-day conference, beginning at 0830 each morning and ended way beyond the scheduled completion time for the first four days. This meant we didn’t have time to tour the city to see all the attractions. Nevertheless after the first day of conference, we managed to view Athens city-center on foot, from the Parliament House to the original Olympic stadium. We strolled around Ermou Street (shopping area) and then had dinner at the rooftop of the Strofi Restaurant (looking up at the Acropolis) a recommended diner in Athens. Greek food is a little…Greek to me I guess…fried zuchini, fried pepper, cheese, eggplant, octopus and the like. They were actually quite good I have to admit. Something different. Another recommended restaurant we dined on the following nights was Sissifos (in the Plaka area). Nice ambience with good and friendly service. And the food too.
The conference ended on Friday afternoon and we put our plan into action – tour the Acropolis (this has to be the compulsory stop for all visitors). Athens is quite hilly so you’ll need a good pair of legs to trek up just to reach the entrance at the bottom of the Acropolis. Entrance fee is 12 Euros (worth every penny, or should I say Euro). The view from the top is unbelievable. You could see the whole of Athens from up there. Simply superb. The Parthenon (that pillared building that you’ve always seen in books, translates to something like the Church of Virginity – somehow many of the locals couldn’t tell what it meant exactly) is currently being refurbished or rebuilt, with scaffolding and construction materials all around. Visited the Acropolis Museum adjacent to the Parthenon. A good view spot is at the flag pole next to the museum where you can see Athens below, including the ruins of the giant Temple of Olympian Zeus and the original Olympic stadium (Panathenian) below. The entrance fee also includes some of the other buildings around the Acropolis at the bottom of the hill. We managed to see the Ancient Agora but that was about it. Very tiring walk. You’ll need about 3-4 hours to see everything (closing time around 1930). We then exited the place and walked through the Flea Market at Monastiraki. Bought some souvenirs there. Then walked over to the Sissifos again for dinner. Greeks have their dinner late, so the restaurants usually fill up around 2200 and after.
This was my first and probably only trip to Athens. The Acropolis is a definite must-see and must-go. We never had the time to tour the other attractions but one of the conference participant did recommend a boat cruise off Athens. Athens in general seemed a little dusty, with all that construction and roadworks still not completed. I just wondered if they could really finish everything for the Olympics. Maybe they’re working on a “Just-In-Time” policy!. Things are a little expensive, as expected, with the Games coming up. The people are generally friendly although some of the cab drivers and shop owners do give Athens a bad name.
Saturday 19th June 2004
LH3385 ATH-AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA
Flight length 2h30m
A300-600R regn D-AIAI (Erbach/Odenwald)
I had not sleep the entire night. After a long dinner, I had to pack (repack) my clothes and souvenirs. I had brought a foldable bag, since I knew I would need it for the return flight. My two colleagues had a different itinenary, so I was on my own for the return trip. I checked out of the hotel at 0345 and took a cab to the airport. I reached there at about 0430 and was quite surprised that the place was already bustling at that hour. There were a number of flights leaving in the early morning, and the queue at the check-in counters were already long. As I had an open ticket, the check-in guy wouldn’t give me a seat right away, instead telling me to go to Gate B11 and wait. Nevertheless I checked with the lady at the gate and she politely advised me “Don’t worry. We have seats” in a typical Greek accent. Sure enough soon after boarding call was made, the standby passengers were called to get boarding passes. I was given seat 43C which was the third to last row. A Chinese-looking woman was seated at the window seat but she looked uninterested so I decided not to start a conversation.
Photo © Achim Stemmer
Photo © Daniel Werner
The sun was about to rise as the aircraft was pushed back as scheduled at 0600. The plane taxied past a Swiss and a few Olympic planes. An Olympic A340 just landed on runway 21L. Our A300 then turned right and proceeded across the bridge over the main road, passed the stationary Olympic 737 and toward runway 03L. After a brief halt, the plane roared down the runway and lifted off into the bright morning sky. Breakfast was served (it took a long time for the meal cart to reach the back of the plane). It was omelette again. It was another long and uninteresting two-and-a-half-hour flight. I dozed off a few times due to sleepiness but didn’t actually get any quality sleep.
As we descended into Frankfurt, the captain announced that we were being placed in holding pattern as the were heavy arriving traffic at Frankfurt. We finally landed at 0805 and quickly taxied to Gate A19 for disembarkation, about 10 minutes behind schedule. My connecting flight to KUL was still four hours away.
Saturday 19th June 2004
MH005 AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA-KUL
Flight length 11h25m
777-200ER regn 9M-MRF
I spent the hours window shopping and managed to surf at one of the free internet stations at the airport. Boarding call was at 1150 so I proceeded into the aircraft. There was only one other passenger in First Class. Aircraft pushback was exactly at 1230, and the plane taxied all the way from Terminal 2 to runway 18, passing by much of LH’s fleet type (CRJs, 737s, MD11Fs, A300-600, A330-300, A340-300, A340-500, 747-400, A319). Rain was just begun as our 777 arrived at the runway threshold. At 1247, the plane thundered down the runway and climbed into the cloudy skies.
Photo © Florian Kondziela
The flight to KUL was to 11 hours and 25 minutes, and plane climbed to an initial cruise level of 33,000 feet. This aircraft had the bigger PTV at 10.4 inch but no AVOD (MH will probably upgrade the IFE system at the same time as the Business Class reconfiguration). After the usual offerings (hot towel, fruit juices, newspapers, magazines), lunch was served.
The Lunch Menu included:
- Malaysian Satay
- Hors d’ourve
- Bread selection
- Choice of two soups (mushroom or chicken with ginger)
- Roast Tenderloin of Beef with mustard sauce or Baked Cajun Chicken Breast or Steamed White Fish or Spinach with Feta Cannelloni in Tomato sauce (with veggies and accompaniments)
- Selection of fresh fruits (mango, pineapple, strawberry, honey dew, kiwi)
- Dessert (Chocolate Ricotta Tart)
I had the usual second helping of satay, sampled the caviar, took the mushroom soup and Baked Cajun Chicken Breast (my stomach had been growling for some time already). The chocolate cake was very tempting but I declined as I just couldn’t eat anymore by then. Soon after the cabin crew handed the duvet and I quickly fell asleep.
After a couple of hours sleep and the plane at 35,000 feet, I turned to the movies on offer (Starsky & Hutch, The Girl Next Door, Agent Cody Banks 2). It was already night outside as this the plane flew over the Black Sea north of Istanbul, Iran, Pakistan, northern India, Bay of Bengal, Phuket before entering northern Malaysia. I also had the time for instant noodles (part of the SkySnax menu).
With one-and-a-half hours before arrival to KUL, breakfast was served:-
- Health Drink
- Fresh fruit juices
- Fresh fruits
- Corn Flakes or Muesli
- Grilled Breakfast Steak or Deep Fried Stuffed Chicken Breast or Apple Pecan Baked Pancake or Freshly Prepared Eggs (boiled, fried or scrambled)
- Bakery selection
I had the scrambled eggs for the main course and everything else, even managed some pancake, and a giant croissant (the Germans really make large croissants).
With 30 minutes to arrival, the plane began its descent into KUL. The captain had advised earlier that we were due to land around 0615, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. It was still dark as we flew south over Shah Alam and over the highway leading to the airport. Rain begun to shower the plane as the ground became nearer and I could tell that the plane was heading towards runway 14L, with the road leading to the F1 circuit just down below. At 0602, the main wheels gently kissed the ground and the plane slowed gracefully before peeling off the wet runway, the rain still quite heavy. We taxied to Gate C3 and docked at 0610, a full 50 minutes ahead of schedule.
With only two passengers in First Class, disembarkation was swift and I slowly made my way to the Duty Free shop for some compulsory chocolate shopping. Most of the other shops were still closed in this early hours. Another flight had just arrived from somewhere as I could see passengers from another direction streaming toward the Aerotrain. By 0630 the queue had started to build at the Immigration. The cabin crew had given me the Premier Lane card but since there was already a queue there I went straight to the Autogate (automated passport control) for even quicker clearance. By 0715 I was home at last, thanks to a cab driver who drove way past the speed limits. The sun had just risen but I would end up sleeping throughout the day after another 22 hour door-to-door journey.
The next day it was back to work.