This is going to be a fairly short report – with lots and lots of pictures for y’all to drool on - covering an unusual flight. Every once in a while, Duesseldorf International Airport, in conjunction with various airlines and tour operator, celebrates “Reisemarkt”, which is some kind of small-scale travel fare for the “Average Joe”. Part of this year’s attractions was the possibility to book short scenic flights on Air Berlin and Condor (formerly known as Thomas Koch - you know what I mean!).
Condor was offering a scenic one-hour flight from DUS to the German North Sea Island of Helgoland, where the aircraft was supposed to circle the island at a very low altitude. Although I had really longed to get on that particular flight, it was only available the following Sunday around noon – a time when I had already promised my Grandfather to take him to Paderborn airport for the flight to his winter vacation in Andalusia. Being possibly the most wonderful grandson in the whole universe , I heroically declined the temptation to fly with Condor, and instead booked two seats for me and my girlfriend on one of the five Air Berlin scenic flights, which were available on the Saturday before.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
Duesseldorf International Airport
We arrived at the airport by train about two and half hours before departure on a sunny and crispy clear Saturday noon, and proceeded directly to the Air Berlin check-in desks, which are located in Duesseldorf’s “brand new” (if you get the irony behind this remark) Central Terminal building. Besides the usual dedicated check-in desks for the plethora of flights Air Berlin is operating out of DUS every day, there were also two special counters available for scenic flights only, so in a matter of just a few minutes, the very friendly, although somewhat confused looking young check-in agent had assigned us our seats and handed the boarding passes.
With still a lot of time to spare, we wandered around the terminal building and explored the offers of the “Reisemarkt”. To be honest, if it wouldn’t have been for the scenic flights, I cannot see any reason to go to this event. Strewn all throughout the landside part of the terminal are smaller and bigger booths of the “big” and “not so big” players in the Duesseldorf travel market, e.g. Air Berlin, Condor, Hapag-Lloyd, but also GEXX and Aegean. While some of the booths offered at least mildly interesting reading material, timetables etc., some other were just littered with last minute travel offers.
So it probably isn’t surprising at all that we were pretty bored after a just few minutes, and since the visitor’s deck did not offer anything out of the ordinary on this tranquil Saturday afternoon, we spend most of the remaining time before departure by filling out at least 50 cards for the big Air Berlin sweepstakes – gotta beat the statistics! We’re still keeping our fingers crossed and expect at least the 5th to 10th prize to arrive at my place in due course – which would be a shiny new inflatable Air Berlin B737, in case you are wondering.
About thirty minutes before scheduled off-block time, we made our way towards the security check-point at Terminal C, which we passed after a few minutes of waiting time.
In typical German tourist fashion, there was already an immensely long line waiting impatiently at our boarding gate – kind of ridiculous if you ask me, since all seats were already assigned at check-in… but on the other hand, not very surprising, since scenic flights like this not only attracts regular guys and gals, but also the spotty airline geek, and the seldom- or never-flyers, who are waiting for the big adventure to begin.
We didn’t really see a good reason to also stand in this unnecessary line, so we just walked around the terminal for a bit, snapped some pictures,…
… and when we finally arrived back at gate C43, the boarding announcement had just begun. “Ladies and gentlemen, dear kids, we are about to start boarding for our scenic flight around Duesseldorf and Northrhine-Westphalia. We would like to board rows 15-31 first, followed by the other rows afterwards. Thank you very much!”
A couple of minutes later, after most of the passengers had boarded, we finally stood up and went onboard.
The flight (DUS-DUS)
Duesseldorf International Airport (DUS) – Duesseldorf International Airport (DUS)
Flight number: AB1003
Scheduled block time: 1530h – 1615h
Take-Off: 1543h (RWY 23L)
Touch-down: 1633h (RWY 23L)
delivered: February 19, 2003
Seat 8EF (Economy Class)
Photo © Dario Crusafon - IBERIAN SPOTTERS
We were greeted at the entrance by the usual friendly and smiling young Air Berlin staff, who welcomed us onboard and wished us an exciting flight (When do you get to hear that on common flights?). Passing through the already crowded rows, we found our row just in front of the right engine. Putting our backpacks and jackets into the overhead compartment was just a matter of seconds, before we finally took our seats and waited for the adventure to begin.
With a notable “thump” the pushback commenced the movement of our tightly packed Boeing from the terminal, the trusty CFM56 engines spooled up – one after another – with the trademark rough sounding whining and notable vibrations, and after one or two minutes of pushing, our bird came to rest in the middle of the apron between Terminal B and C right under the still largely cloudless sky on this chilly November day.
Brakes were released, and while we were taxiing to the active runway alongside a tranquil apron filled with inactive Lufthansa 737’s and Eurowings CRJ’s, which were parked over the weekend, the inevitable safety video was shown.
While we were a few hundred meters away from the threshold of RWY23L, just passing the LTU hangars, a brief announcement form the cockpit introduced us to our crew and the program for this afternoon:
“After take-off, we will turn straight to the North and then to the West, before circling over Essen (a big city in the center of the Ruhrgebiet, the largest industrial area of Germany) and making the approach to Runway 23L. We will not touch down, but instead fly across the runway at an altitude of 20 meters, the climb again and start with the second part of our journey, which shall lead us across some smaller towns in the Rhineland, as well as across Aachen, Cologne and Wuppertal. If possible, we will request clearance to circle above downtown Cologne, so you can all see the world-famous Cathedral from above.”
Sounded good – but the actual experience was even better! Before I will shutup and finally just show you the pictures (together with some short comments), let me just say that this scenic flight was an absolutely awesome experience, totally different from the average run-of-the-mill flight on an airliner. Our maximum altitude hovered between 3.000 and 3.500 feet with our speed always staying in the 230-300 knots range, so there were plenty of details visible on the ground. Coupled with some sharp circling, sudden turns and the totally awesome missed approach plus “runway chase” in 20 meters altitude across 23L, this was an event I will not forget in a long time!
After takeoff on RWY 23L, we left the airport boundary,…
…then crossed the Rhine, which was glistering majestically in the late afternoon sun (visible is the new Autobahn bridge of the A 44 north of Duesseldorf)…
… before heading towards Essen, where we circled for a short while…
… and then began our approach towards Duesseldorf.
Soaring across the outskirts of Duesseldorf and some industrial zones adjacent to the airport…
…we came closer and closer to the tarmac, but suddenly throttles were shoved upwards and with a loud roar…
… we dashed over the runway, just a few meter above ground, gear still NOT extended…
… before we finally pulled up at the very end of the stretch of concrete, climbing again towards Erkelenz…
… where we circled the town.
Soon afterwards, our voyage continued along the Heerlen - Langraaf - Kerkrade - Herzogenrath – Weisweiler routing.
Once in the vicinity of Cologne, we first passed Noervenich Luftwaffe Air Base...
... and then reached the outskirts of the city...
... until we finally circled over downtown Cologne and its famous Cathedral.
A left circle was followed by a right circle...
…and the we were on our way towards Wuppertal, leaving the industrial city of Leverkusen and its gigantic chemical plants and power plants on our right.
Wuppertal became visible in the distance...
... and the we were back over the outskirts of Essen, where we lined upon the ISL for RWY 23L...
...passing Essen-Muehlheim Airport...
..until we finally touched down on terra firma after a memorable 50 minutes experience on what is undoubtedly one of the better and more service-oriented airlines here in Germany. A few minutes of taxiing ensued, and then we were back at Terminal C, where another crowd was already waiting impatiently for the start of the next scenic flight.
Although I had booked what seemed to be the “lesser alternative” compared to Condor’s North Sea trip on the following Sunday, I am happy to say that this little journey on Air Berlin was certainly in no way a compromise. Air Berlin treated us to some stunning views of our home state plus awarded us with the absolutely awesome experience of jetting across the runway just a few feet above the soil. 50 minutes of sheer enjoyment for just 29 Euro per person – thumbs up for that!
In case you get the chance to go on a similar flight, I can wholeheartedly recommend this experience. Until the next such opportunity, I will keep my eyes open for the upcoming “Reisemarkt” – I am getting the hang of scenic flying (and winning inflatable Boeing 737’s).
Thanks for reading my report – questions, comments, or criticism is always appreciated.