Hapag-Lloyd (now known as “Hapagfly” after another impressive demonstration of marketing stupidity) offered a sensational deal for flights from Germany to the Canary Islands a few months ago – 29 Euro all inclusive for a 4,5 hour segment – so I did not hesitate one second to jump at the opportunity to visit an unknown airport (LPA) and destination (Gran Canaria). The return flight was scheduled to be operated by Condor (for another 58 Euro) and supposed to leave about eight hours after my arrival on the island, so I originally had planned to explore Tenerife a bit by car. Unfortunately, a few weeks before my departure, flight times were changed to a stopover connection via TFS, reducing my layover to four hours, which left me with no other option than to stay at the airport.
Luckily, LPA has a fairly nice open-air visitor’s deck, so the time went by all too fast, watching interesting traffic and hanging out under a clear 20-degree Centigrade sky while my folks were back at home freezing their rear ends off.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Duesseldorf International Airport
The outbound flight was scheduled to leave Duesseldorf in the wee hours of the morning (actually it turned out to be among the very first flight out of DUS that day after the lifting of the curfew at 6 a.m.), which left me with no other options than to drive to the airport by car and leave my ride in one of the outrageously expensive parking lots, which aren’t even close to the terminal. After a short bus ride (the Skytrain, an automated peoplemover connecting the terminals with a large parking lot and the train station, was as usually out of order), I arrived in the check-in hall about one hour before scheduled departure.
Checking in was a breeze, and I received my preassigned seat 4F together with boarding pass number 163 (out of 184 possible). Passing through security took only a few more minutes, before I entered the fairly empty (save for a few groups of passengers in front of boarding gates for flights to places like BCN, PMI, TFS and LPA).
Outside, the big metal birds were being fed and watered for their daily duty, among them our ride for the day, Boeing 737-800 D-AHLR in the “Teletubby on dope” TUI colorscheme.
Adjacent to our terminal B, LTU’s short haul fleet was already getting into full swing at terminal C, with the usual array of ground equipment providing all necessary support to get the aircraft flying as soon as the night curfew would be over. On the other side of the apron, a few charter aircraft parked at our terminal were almost ready for the day, while the Lufthansa Boeings, Airbusses and various Regional Jets were still sound asleep except for two “early birds” to MUC and HAM, where boarding was started at about the time of our departure.
Boarding commenced early at about 0555h, and our load of passengers, chiefly comprising tourists and other private travellers, stumbled on board, yawning and stretching their arms and legs.
The flight (DUS-LPA)
Duesseldorf International Airport (PMI) – Las Palmas Gando (LPA)
Flight number: HF 7253
Scheduled block time: 0625h – 0955h
Take-Off: 0643h (RWY 23L)
Touch-down: 0938h (RWY 03L)
delivered: April 6, 2002
Seat 4F (Economy Class)
Photo © Maik Mönkemeier
The cabin filled up quickly with an almost full load of passengers, and once everybody had shoed him- or herself into the tiny and narrow seats, the cabin was declared ready and pushback commenced.
During the taxying time to the threshold of the active runway, a safety video was shown on the overhead drop-down screens above every third seat row. After passing a long row of parked Lufthansa regional aircraft, which were not needed on a nearly Sunday morning like this, we made our way onto the active runway, engines spooled up, and our heavily-loaded Boeing sluggishly started her roll down the three kilometer stretch of concrete, lifting up close to the end of the available takeoff distance with a thunderous demonstration of sheer power.
A fifteen to twenty minute climb across the sleeping winter landscape of central Europe ensued, until we levelled off at our cruising altitude of 33.000 feet. The LCD screens above every third seat row were lowered again and the video entertainment program started, comprising several music clips, short features about Hapag-Lloyd destinations and some thrid rate Hollywood hogwash movie. Earphones were available for 1,50 Euro, but it was also possible to plug in your personal earphones from the private MP3-player or discman.
While the cabin crew was busy in the galley, preparing the breakfast this morning, a brief announcement from the cockpit informed us about our flight program for the day. After reaching a cruising speed of Mach 0,79 we would continue cruising from CDG via Paris and Nantes to the Gulf of Biscay, which would be crossed in a long arch until reaching the Spanish coast over Galicia. From here, we would continue our flight towards Porto and Lisbon, where we would climb to 38.000 feet (reason being that our aircraft would have to burn some fuel before being able to make that hike) and leave the European continent once and for all for the last 90 minutes of travel across the Atlantic on our way to the Canaries.
The breakfast was served about one hour after departure just as we were leaving the coast of Brittany near Nantes.
Three rounds of beverage services followed, and finally, just as the sun had come up close to the Purtuguese capital, we ascended another 6.000 feet for our final cruising altutide of 38.000 feet.
While cabin service was immaculate and to a high standard, cabin layout and the seats in particular left a lot to be desired. The coveted new “Recaro”-seats, praised in the Hapag Lloyd inflight magazine, are the worst and most uncomfortable airplane seats I have ever come across during more than 25 years of flying. Small seat pitch, narrow width and only furnished with a very thin gel cusion, passengers should seriously consider taking a sleeping pill or tranquilizer to endure longer flights. Even worse, there is no flexible seat pocket anymore, being replaced by a narrow hard plastic slot in the fron seatback, which is already filled with inflight magazine, safety card and airsickness bag. There is no possiblity at all to store an newspaper or book – and that is supposed to be the “new generation” of aircraft seating? I don’t think so! Even Ryanair can’t be worse.
The remainder of the flight bumbled by pretty slowly (no wonder if you are stuck under such miserable seating conditions). The duty free sales brought a short reprieve, and thanks to a book I had brought along, I actually managed to pass the time somehow.
About twenty minutes before touchdown, descent was initiated and we started to maneuver through a few layers of clouds which blanketed the Canary Islands that day.
Fortunately, just as got ever closer to Gran Canaria, the sky became clear again and the green slopes of this volcanic island greeted us, promising liberation from the inhumane seating in only a matter of minutes.
Just like with every other coastal region in the southern provinces of Spain, the trademark ugly plastic greenhoused became visible, were Europe’s supply of vegetables and fruits is produced and harvested, before it gets shipped to Europe in the belly of leisure flights like ours.
Then we soared across the city of El Doctoral on the east side of Gran Canaria…
…before racing alongside the highway connecting the airport with Maspalomas and Las Palmas de Gran Canria.
Touchdown was firm and with the use of thrust reversers and full spoiler deployment, we quickly decelerated close to the terminal building…
…, then leaving the runway at the next possible exit and taxying to our apron position next to a Donbasaero Yak-42 (I wonder, how many stops the passengers of this plane had to endure on their long journey from Russia to Gran Canaria?).
Just as I was about to leave our aircraft, I snapped one last picture of the cabin – if these seats remind of of the kind of furniture you are bound to see on urban busses, you are probably closer to the truth than obvious, because the seats are definitely not made for journeys lasting more than one or two hours!
I walked a few meters from the aircraft to our bus, snapping on last picture of our ride just as the bus driver was about to close the door and start the race (why is it that airport bus drivers at Spain always thin they are wannabe-Pablo Montoyas?) to the terminal building.
Spotting at Las Palmas (LPA)
Having to kill four hours of time at an airport can be an arduous task – not so much however at Gran Canaria’s main aeronautical gateway. I explored the landside portions of the complex for a while – the airport engineer in me looking for interesting applications, which can be adapted in future projects. While the landside exterior of the terminal was just as functional and plain looking as many other airports around the globe…
… a charming display of local contemporary art had transformed the interior from a generic check-in facility into an interesting mixture of art exhibition and transportation node. Throughout the building, colorful mobiles were hanging from the ceiling, their elegance and airy design being a fitting reference to air transportation, the main dedication of the building.
After a brief run-in with the law – a local policemen stopped me and asked, why I was taking so many pictures of the terminal, leaving me alone again after I presented him with one of my business cards, describing me as an engineer of airports logistics – I was ready to check-in at one of the the “Thomas Cook Airlines” counters, which were open for all flights from the international airline branches of the Thomas Cook empire. Afterwards, I went through the security checkpoint without any hassles and climbed upthe stairs towards the visitor’s deck once I had reached the sterile part of the terminal.
Spotting at LPA’s terminal can be quite a pleasant experience – after a brief lull in the morning, there is a massive increase of movements around late morning hours, when the first wave of flights from Europe is reaching the island. Traffic levels stay high throughout the day, before decreasing in the late afternoon around 6 p.m.
While photographing thorugh the glass can be a tricky experience due to the reflections, the panoramic view of the action leaves nothing to be desired…
… and even 70 to 100 mm of zoom isplenty enough to catch passing aircraft in good detail.
After a while, I went back inside the terminal to shop around for some last-minute duty free items..
…then re-entering the visitor’s deck until I saw our aircraft for the return flight arrive around one hour before scheduled off-block time.
The flight was called only twenty or thirty minutes later after passenger sfor LPA had disembarked, and after presenting my boarding pass to the check-in personal, I was granted entrance to the “long pencil”, as the B757-300 is nicknamed in Condor service.
The flight (LPA-TFS)
Las Palmas Gando (LPA) – Tenerife Sur Reina Sofia (TFS)
Flight number: DE 7675
Scheduled block time: 1435h – 1515h
Take-off: 1428h (RWY 03L)
Touch-down: 1448h (RWY 08)
c/n 29016/804 (the first B757-300 built)
delivered: June 25, 1999
Seat 20A (Economy Class)
Photo © Paul Jongeneelen
This short leg to Teneriffe was used to collect passengers from LPA and to distribute a few DUS-originating passengers to both LPA and and TFS. Therefore, as it is customary with Condor concerning all triangular flight patterns, this short “center” segment offered only free seating. Being one of the first on board, I managed to get seat 20A at the left hand side of the aircraft just above the wing root, so I would have a good view over the island of Tenerife during our final approach, which is usually flown northbound at TFS.
Seating on board Condor’s 757 was infinitely more comfortable than on HF’s new seats, the traditional fabric seats being just hard enough not to produce any structural sufferings to my spine on such a longer flight, but also soft enough not to hurt the tailbone.
Boarding the 60 or so passengers from TFS bound for DUS took only a matter of minutes, and the door was closed way before the planned off-block time. The usual routine of cabine securing and safety demonstration (via monitors installed in the ceiling of the aisle) ensued, and then we pushed back from the gate just as an LTU A320 positioned itself at the stand next to us. Take-off today was scheduled to leave towards the northeast, so we backtracked alongside the parallel runways for a few more minutes, permitting views over the vast apron, which was filled by holiday jets from all over Europe.
After an incoming Spanair A320, we sluggishly turned onto the active runway, thrust increased to a noticeabl eroad, and the trusty Rolls Royce engines propelled us sharply into the cloudy winter sky abouth halfways down the long stretch of concrete.
Flying above to port of Santa Cruz, where a few large freighters and tankers were moored…
We soon settled back into a fairly low and slow cruise (about 300 knots at a ceiling of 18.000 ft). After only a few minutes of maneuvering around the northern tip of LPA and a flight parallel to the westerly island of Tenerife, we once again started descent – this time into TFS’s Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia) airport.
Flaps were lowered, slats followed, then, during the last few minutes fo flying the gear came down while we were passing some more plastic greenhouses.
A firm touchdown followed, thrust reversers and spoilers slowing us down from 150 knots to a more sedate pace, which permitted us to vacate the runway close to the main terminal building.
Slowly the long “pencil” positioned itself at the gate next to an Iberia A321, which had arrived from MAD a few minutes earlier.
Once the aircraft came to a complete stop, the usual mad rush to grab all belongings and block each others in the aisle started . I honestly don’t understand, why vacationers in particular are so keen on making their lives so stressful and miserable during airline travel – after all, they don’t have any appointments to catch.
Once the big huffing and puffing had subsided and the cabin started to become emptier, I got up from my seat, took my backpack out of the overhead bin and left the Boeing for this short transit.
Screwed-up transit at Tenerife Sur (TFS)
The transit at TFS itself was a total screw-up – dear Condor, if you are planning to perform a transit operation at an airport, please make sure that the airport is actually laid out for this special kind of operation! TFS isn’t – so everyone for the subsequent leg to DUS got stranded quite cluelessly in the baggage claim with no legal way to return to the gate. A Condor representative finally arrived, assembling the disoriented and sometimes quite aggravated (if something does not go according to plan, it seems to be a German custom to be totally pi$$ed off) passengers, herding them via a small utility passage to the gate again, where boarding for the flight to Duesseldorf had already begun.
The flight (TFS-DUS)
Tenerife Sur Reina Sofia (TFS) – Duesseldorf International (DUS)
Flight number: DE 7675
Scheduled block time: 1615h – 2150h
Take-off: 1605h (RWY 08)
Touch-down: 2125h (RWY 23L)
c/n 29016/804 (the first B757-300 built)
delivered: June 25, 1999
Seat 19F (Economy Class)
Photo © Paul Jongeneelen
Once again being greeted by the two friendly female flight attendants, I quickly made my way through the narrow fuselage until I reached my seat. My fellow passengers, all eager to fly back to Germany (although from the looks of it, a few Spaniards were also on board) quickly followed suit, so we were ready to leave more than 25 minutes before scheduled off-block time.
Next to us, a Thomsonfly B767-200 was “fed and watered”, almost ready to welcome the next stampede of holidaymakers for the return flight to London Gatwick.
The usual routine of safety annoucement, cabin securing commenced shortly after pushback, just as we were taxying towrds the threshold past an anonymously looking An-12.
Turning onto the active runway without no yielding to potentially incoming traffic at all, our long, sleek airliner quickly accelerated, speeding down the four kiometer long runway and lifting of after having used the lion’s share of the available takeoff distance. During climb, just as we were about to enter the scattered cloud line again, the island of Gran Canaria became visible in the distance.
A few more minutes of climb later, the cabin bell released the crews from their seats. After the usual routine of headseat sale had been completed and the video prgram had commenced, the meal service was prepared. Being my curious self, I had pre-ordered a KSML (depsite not being of Judaic faith at all), so I was really looking forward to something a little bit more exotic than your regular pasta-with red-saucve-and-cheese-meal, which German leisure flights of this distance are notorious for.
It was actually interesting to be the subject of so much attention – if you are craving for the curiosity of your co-travellers, order a special meal, or, even better, a Kosher meal. Before the meal service started, one of the flight attendants came down the aisle right to my seat and asked loudly: “Did you order the Kosher meal, Sir?” Heads turned… curious looks… I wonder, what the others were thinking… “Wow, this guy does not look like Ariel Sharon, and he still is a jew?”
Even better, I even got my meal, packed in a large representative box before all the other passengers…
Although much to my dissapointment, the contents were less stellar – prepackaged foods, which had been prepared weeks ago and stored under sterile conditions. Still, it was interesting to read on the accompanying leaflet, what care had been taken to assure that all contents would comply to the highest orthodox standards. The meal box was prepared by Stogl Catering, which seems to be a specialized enterprise for Kosher airline food based in Antwerp, and some of the contents even originated from Israel!
After the meal service, the flight settled into its usual routine. Our flight path guided us from TFS to FAO, MAD, BIO and across France towards Paris, where we made a slight turn towards the east. Cruising speed reached an average of Mach 0,79 at a relatively low altitude of 29.000 ft (due to severe turbulences in the upper flight levels).
Coincidently, a minor break from the boredom of such longer flights occurred right next to me during the last hour of the flight – an elderly lady sitting on the aisle seat on my seat bench started to feely dizzy, so the calm and professionally acting flight attendants bedded her across our three seats and supplied her with oxygen and fresh water, while I patiently waited in the galley. Luckily, the old lady finally recovered, so as we were starting our final descent into rain-soaked Duesseldorf, she was already” back on her feet” again and actually not very amused after touchdown, when she saw an ambulance waiting at our gate position to pick her up!
Hapag Lloyd is offering a decent product in comparison with other German leisure carriers, which is unfortunately let down massively by the new seats. I will seriously pay atleast twenty Euro more per segment in order to take a different airline with better and more comfortable seats if the need should arise to fly a longer leg in the future. However, apart from this important gripe, service and product was as professional as can be on a leisure flight, demonstrated thirty years of expertise in the market.
Despite some of the shortcomings experienced on board Condor flights one or two years ago, it seems that the airline has finally the right strategy and service program to successfully compete with the cut-throat competition in the Europena market. While the disorganized transit at TFS posed a minor setback, the cabin service was to a very high and professional standard, exemplified by the calm action of the flight attendants during the incident with the old lady. While not being marketed as such any longer, Condor still breaths a lot of the professionalism inherited as “Lufthansa’s holiday airline” – and it can only be hoped that the inevitable future cost cutting does not degrade their product again due to perceived or real economic necessities.
Thanks for reading my report – questions, comments, or criticism are always appreciated.