Shortly after the rebranded Condor had introduced their new low fares scheme, fellow a.net members Alex (Ndebele) and Christoph (Contact Air) and me decided to use this opportunity in order to schedule an a.net “mini meet” at one of the lesser known Spanish Airports – Valencia. The winter schedules of Germany’s second largest holiday carrier offered us the chance to fly from our various home airports (STR in Alex’s and Christoph’s case, DUS in my case) via the Condor winter hub in PMI to VLC and back in one day for a mere 58 Euros – an opportunity, which was better not to be missed.
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
Duesseldorf International Airport
I arrived at the airport about one and a half hours before scheduled off-block time, and parked my car in one of the remote, but nevertheless outrageously expensive (16 Euros per day, what a rip-off!) parking lots, Duesseldorf airport is infamous for. After picking up my backpack, I leisurely made my way to the peoplemover station, which took me to the main terminal building within three minutes.
Upon arrival in DUS’s bright and airy terminal, I was amazed to see such enormous crowds, with stressed-out passengers and visitors rushing through the departure level, waiting for check-in or standing in line at the airline counters. Especially noteworthy were large groups of Turkish immigrant workers waiting in huge line in front of various check-in desks for Turkish charter airline flights – it always seems like this group of passengers is taking their entire home with them, including furniture, washing machines and so on! A bit away from the main activity and close to Lufthansa’s more relaxed check-in area in Terminal A were the two Condor counters, which were assigned to our flight this morning. Next to our counters were four more Condor counters, these catering for flights to Tenerife Sur (TFS) and Las Palmas (LPA).
Although it was recommended to arrive for check-in at least two hours before the departure of the flight, I had decided, in favor of my sleep contingency, to reserve my seats via telephone (for a fee) beforehand. Therefore I would be able to arrive at fairly short notice and still get some window seats – 16 Euros, which were well-invested money, if you ask me. D
After receiving my boarding passes from the really friendly and cheerful LH check-in lady (why are they always a lot more relaxed and friendly when they are handling Condor leisure flights than when they are working for their own airline?), I made my way to the safety checkpoint at the root of Terminal B, where I passed all checks without any problems.
Once inside the relatively new Terminal B, I still had about one hour to spare, so I walked around and checked what this early Wednesday morning had to offer in terms of movements.
The terminal was already bustling with activity, and large crowds of chiefly elderly citizens were already anxiously crowding in front of the gates for the leisure flights. This is a really weird phenomenon, which seems to be exclusive to holiday flights – although their seats are already assigned to them, holidaymakers still seem to be scared that they wouldn’t be allowed onboard their flight unless they crowd in front of the gate at least 45 minutes before the plane is realistically ready to leave. Stupid, if you ask me, to start and finish one’s vacations with self-induced stress.
There were at least five Air Berlin departures within the first half our after the lifting of the airport curfew – one to VIE, two (!) to PMI, one to the winter hub at NUE and one to LPA. Also, their cooperation partner Hapag-Lloyd had three more departures, one A310 to PMI and two B737 to various other destinations around the Med.
Other parts of the terminal, where flights to business destinations where about to leave (e.g. DI services to MUC and TXL), were a sharp contrast due to their tranquillity and relaxed atmosphere.
After I had watched the AB 6 a.m. flight to VIE being pushed back – a flight, which I would have regularly taken until only a week before this trip – I walked to my gate (B58), sat down and waited until boarding was finally announced for our Palma flight.
After showing my boarding pass to the gate agent, I was allowed to walk down the stairs and to enter the bus, which brought us to our waiting a A320, passing a variety of other charter airplanes at the nearby Terminal C, among them even a few A330-200 of LTU, which where readied for their long haul flights this morning.
The flight (DUS-PMI)
Duesseldorf International Airport (PMI) – Palma de Mallorca Sont San Joan (PMI)
Flight number: DE3088
Scheduled block time: 0650h – 0910h
Take-Off: 0707h (RWY 23L)
Touch-down: 0907h (RWY 06L)
delivered: January 25, 2001
Seat 6F (Economy Class)
Photo © David James Clelford
The bus driver dropped us off right in front of D-AICI, and since I had positioned myself strategically to the rear of the bus at the door, I was among the first group of passengers arriving inside the Airbus. Here, two middle-aged female flight attendants in the relatively elegant Condor uniform greeted us friendly and offered us various newspapers and magazines. I grabbed a “Sueddeutsche Zeitung”, and made my way through the aisle, until I arrived at my seat, which was a few feet in front of the trusty CFM-56 engine. After I had dropped my backpack in the overhead bin and closed the seat belt, I folded out the newspaper and waited until boarding was finished, always hoping that the seats next to me would remain vacant. Alas, this was not to be and the aircraft was filled very will, the seat load factor reaching an estimated 90 percent.
A few minutes behind schedule, the engines were spooled up and we slowly but surely made our way to the active runway, passing, among other aircraft, the damaged Atlas Air B747-200 freighter, which has been parked at the cargo apron for over two months now ever since it overran the runway upon landing. The aircraft is rumoured to be a write-off, and the lack of activity in recent weeks seems to support this theory.
An Air Berlin B737 took off in front of us, and after an inbound LTU A330 had touched down on the parallel RWY 23R, almost certainly arriving from a faraway destination in an exotic country, our Airbus rumbled onto the active runway, engine throttle was sharply increased and with a very noticeable acceleration, we rushed down the runway and lifted off about two thirds down the stretch of concrete…
…passing a few of Duesseldorf’s still-sleeping suburbs below us…
…and also travelling along the new Rhine River crossing of the Autobahn A44.
During our taxiing and take-off, the LCD monitors above the seats showed a real-time pilot’s view of the scenery in front and below us – after we were airborne, it was especially funny to watch into the backyards and onto the rooftops of the houses vertically below us! Unfortunately, I summer was still far away, so there were no bathing bikini beauties when we flew across the shore of the Rhine!
A few feet upwards, the hazy morning sky had blanketed the vision below us, while we were still climbing over the Rhineland, passing Krefeld and Cologne below us, before we turned further southbound and made our way towards Luxembourg. While the onboard video features were initialized on the LCD screens over every third seat row, unfortunately replacing the – at least in my opinion - much more interesting AirShow with senseless “Candid Camera”, Condor commercials and over-hyped under-talented music video crap, the cabin crew started to prepare the meal service, which was scheduled to commence once our aircraft would reach its cruising altitude of 35.000 feet.
We finally levelled off at our cruising altitude near Metz (ETZ) and speed increased to 530 mph. Travelling further south, we flew across some smaller French cities in the Jura, heading towards Geneva.
The cabin service was started soon after passing Metz. While Condor meal service used to be good even on such short flights, the former “Ferienflieger der Lufthansa” (Lufthansa’s holiday carrier) had certainly taken every effort to cut corners in cabin service in order to save a penny here and there. An effort, which must make its mother company, which is renowned for their shoddy Peasant Class service, very proud. Talk about the lowest common denominator… :-/
Our meal service today was the standard repertoire known on every condor flight of less than 2:30 h of flying time – a small (but nevertheless tasty) cheese or ham baguette, followed by a small yoghurt and free soft drinks from the onboard bar.
…it could have been much worse (I vividly remembered the inedible and infamous “flour brick”, Condor had served us on a previous flight last year, never imagining that a deja vu was about to become reality on the return flight this very evening), but nevertheless, this was nothing to write home about. Service itself was conducted efficiently, but nevertheless friendly, although it was missing any personal touch.
As we travelled further to the south, the scenery on the ground changed from the brownish-green hues of the early spring to the grey and white of the winter. Although I was sitting on the “wrong side” of the aircraft this morning – the left side would be treated to spectacular scenery of Lake Geneva and the Swiss high Alps – there were still a few noteworthy sights below, like e.g. this river valley covered in dense fog…
…or the city of Lyon, also totally covered below a low-hanging fog blanket.
However, a few minutes later, as we were reaching the lush shores of the Provence, the ground started to become green again, and when we crossed the Mediterranean shoreline near Marseille, the vegetation below already looked a lot more spring-like than the hills and mountains in the Geneva area.
After the cabin crew had finished their duty-free sales tour with very limited success, final descent was initiated while we were still high above the Mediterranean Sea…
Due to relatively rare easterly wind conditions over the Balearic Islands this morning, our flight was scheduled to land towards the east, so we glided gently across the northern coast of Mallorca, passing the port of Andraitx, before initiating a gently turn towards the south and then to the East, which lined us up with RWY 06L. Flaps and slats were lowered, and just before we passed the shore close to the infamous tourist resort of El Arenal,…
…our gear came down with a noticeable thump. We soared across a few hundred meters of farmland…
… and touched down firmly on the left parallel runway, thrust reversers were deployed and with some heavy braking, we were able to vacate the runway right in front of the old terminal building, which now serves as Terminal A and is home to the Condor winter hub.
Also situated on the across adjacent to Terminal A are the parking stands of the regional propliners of Iberia Regional, which are employed on the very dense network between PMI, VLC, IBZ and MAH. BCN, on the other hand, rarely sees any of the variety of Dash-8’s, F-50’s and ATR-72, Air Nostrum is flying on these short hops, and is chiefly served with Iberia mainline equipment.
Only three minutes after touchdown, we had arrived at our gate (A20), chocks were put on and the jetway lowered to the height level of the A320, before the connection was re-established to our airliner. After most of the passengers (which were already stressing themselves, because everyone wanted to be the first one off the aircraft) had left our Airbus, I also grabbed my backpack, said goodbye to the cabin crew and entered the terminal building, where I would be waiting a few minutes until the arrival of Alex and Christoph from STR.
The middle part of our trip, covering the segments PMI-VLC-PMI, will be covered by a separate trip report. I will now continue my narration after the arrival of our flight form VLC later the same afternoon.
Palma de Mallorca Airport
While Terminal A had been relatively empty and tranquil in the morning, the main activity being the seven airplanes of Condor’s mini winter hub, a lot more activity was evident in the afternoon. Still, due to the vast terminal complex, the atmosphere was very relaxed, and in some parts, the huge multi-terminal structure almost seemed to be deserted.
After five of the seven Condor aircraft, which were involved in our hub this morning, had started to arrive from a variety of mainland Spanish and Portuguese destinations (FAO, AGP, XRY, ALC and VLC) and two other aircraft from FRA and MUC also joined their ranks, the apron looked more like one would expect from the largest holiday airport in Europe. At the gates A15 to A20, Airbuses and Boeing 757’s of Condor in a wide range of different interim color schemes were being readied for their return journeys to Germany.
Although I was originally scheduled to be on one of the first Condor departures this afternoon, a delay of the aircraft, which was assigned to the Duesseldorf flight meant that I had a little more time to spend in the terminal together with Alex and Christoph. Fortunately, time really flew while we were waiting and watching through the large panoramic windows, so I actually a little sad when I finally had to say goodbye to the two guys when boarding for DE3089 to DUS was announced. I joined the queue in front of the jetway, presented the boarding pass to the gate agent and went inside the aircraft.
The flight (PMI-DUS)
Palma de Mallorca Sont San Joan (PMI) – Duesseldorf International (DUS)
Flight number: DE3089
Scheduled block time: 1610h – 1835h
Take-off: 1715h (RWY 24R)
Touch-down: 1923h (RWY 23R)
delivered: April 24, 1998
Seat 26F (Economy Class)
Photo © Mario Nonaka
I will only point out some noteworthy details of my return journey, because basically, this segment was just the very same standard like the outbound flight and in fact, every other Condor flight I have taken recently. After boarding was completed, we had to wait another twenty minutes until it was finally our time to push back. This delay was explained by the late inbound arrival of our aircraft at FRA, which had rendered it impossible to leave in time for the flight from FRA to PMI, and consequently, had also impacted our return segment to DUS. Our Airbus queued behind a few other Condor birds waiting for take-off on RWY 24R, and after a 757-300 had taken off in front of us…
… we entered the threshold, engine thrust was throttled up and with a load roar we thundered down the runway and lifted of into the clear spring evening sky.
Climbing out over the Bahia de Palma (Palma Bay) we soon turned back towards the north and continued our climb over the Mediterranean towards MRS. Our cruising altitude and speed mirrored the data of the outbound trip this morning, and in fact even the routing was a reverse carbon copy of our journey ten hours before.
Meal service in the evening consisted again of a cheese or ham sandwich, a yoghurt and free soft drinks. While this offer might look good on the surface…
… the sandwich was the same rock-hard and super-dry “flour brick” kind I had been served on my last Condor flight in September. In fact, even funnier, the reaction of the passengers was just the same like last year – lots of protest and anger, while the cabin attendants tried to calm the bad mood by distributing complaint forms. Well, having filled out such a form last year and having received a standardized reply letter a few weeks later, I declined this offer, because I knew that absolutely nothing would be changed by this customer input. A very weak sign for a service company, if you ask me, and another sad indication that bean-counters and number-crunchers have taken the reign at this once proud and high-quality airline.
Fortunately, the scenery outside more than compensated for this shortcoming – so let me treat you all with some stunning and breathtaking evening shots of the snow-covered French and Swiss Alps…
The rest of the flight went by fairly quickly. Our final descent guided us right past Duesseldorf to the west of the airport, before we made a sharp right turn, continued our descent parallel to Duesseldorf’s runways across the metropolitan area of the Ruhrgebiet. A few miles east of Essen, a sharp right-hand turn began, taking us across the old industrial town of Hattingen in the lush Ruhr Valley before we lined up on the ILS to RWY23L, where we touched down a few minutes behind schedule.
A short taxiing past some Boeing 737’s and A320’s on Lufthansa colors, being readied for the evening wave to the hubs in MUC and FRA and the major European business destinations ensued, until we connected to the jetway at gate B56, and our voyage was finally over.
Condor and their new low-cost concept can be deemed as a rather uncreative effort to save the ailing German leisure carrier. The airline now offers a basic, but very dependable product at a fair price. Despite the setback with the “flour brick” on the return flight , which is one of the worst catering blunders I have ever experienced and which hadn’t changed at all since my last Condor flight in October 2004. The service level onboard and on the ground can be described as accurate, though without any bonuses. After offering an industry-leading service product for a while, the recent cutbacks and the re-orientation as a low cost leisure airline have transformed Condor into a generic airline, which is not worth any extra money if you book a flight, but which is certainly also not worse than any of its German competitors.
A lot like its parent company Lufthansa, Condor offers a clean, dependable product without any style or charm. However, that is all one usually will ask for when travelling from A to B on holiday.
If the price and schedule are right for your needs, Condor should be an option for your travels. However, it is also important to point out, that it is not worth spending more for a Condor flight if a competitor is flying on the same route at the same time for almost the same fare.
Thanks for reading my report – questions, comments, or criticism is always appreciated.