FRIDAY 8 JUNE 2007.
LONDON HEATHROW AIRPORT (LHR) -- MUNICH FRANZ JOSEF STRAUSS AIRPORT (MUC).
BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHT BA 954.
DEPARTURE TIME 1355HR; ARRIVAL TIME 1645HR.
AIRBUS A320-111 G-BUSB (C/N 6).
Photo © Hans Schulze
This would turn out to be a long day. There were several of us going to the conference and so I arranged with two (2) others to go together, with one of my friends picking me up in Cardiff and then going across to meet the third before making the M4 trek to London. I got up in good time on the morning and made sure everything was ready and had a small breakfast.
My friend arrived at 0815HR and then we drove 15 minutes over to the other friend's house. After a short turn-around, we were off along the M4 motorway which was largely unremarkable at this time. Along the way we stopped at the Reading motorway services for some breakfast at about 1000HR. I chose my usual diet of fruit but somehow the fruit salad tasted a bit tired. In the meantime two (2) more of us on the flight to MUC came and met us there entirely by chance; we chatted for a bit before heading back onto the road at 1045HR.
The last stretch to LHR was uneventful and as we approached the great aerodrome it became evident that the Runways 09 were in use. We arrived at the long-stay car park just under the 27 Right approach at 1135HR, parked the car and got onto the shuttle bus which dropped us off at Terminal 1 at 1150HR. This would thus be my first ever flight from this terminal.
The BA check-in area was huge but not particularly well-signposted. There were several lines of travellers around, a number of self-service check-in kiosks and express luggage drop-off points as well as a few check-in agents. My friends were travelling with posters and had wanted to check in with agents; however I was content to use the machine, which effortlessly dispensed my boarding pass and a receipt. I then sent in my one (1) suitcase. Pretty soon the others got sorted and then we made our way towards the security area. I made my way through very easily but, after a short while, I realized that the others had not. Of course, this being a security area I could not stop and wait for them so I proceeded through to the Departures Lounge and waited there. After about ten (10) minutes they came out. The trouble was, though the BA agents allowed them to carry their posters, which were enclosed in long thin cardboard tubes, onboard with them (which is what they wanted to do), the security would not let them in with them, so they had to return to the BA desk and check them in. This created a sense of dread as of course nobody wants his or her hard work to go astray and thus lose the presentation opportunity. We were thus all keeping our fingers crossed that everything would be okay.
Once in the Departures Lounge we all roamed for a bit, checking out the shops. Now I was interested in finding a memory card for my Olympus camera. There were two (2) branches of Currys (formerly Dixons) in the lounge but neither had the Olympus product, which I preferred to the generic cards. (I would later get a card in Munich itself.) I also looked at the watches as I considered whether to buy myself a new one; in the end I did not buy one either. What I did get though was a newspaper and the book "Airline Confidential" by Richard Havers and Christopher Tiffney. As usual, the most interesting books are to be found in airports and now I have something to sit down and read sometime (I do not generally read on trips). In between the rest of us on this flight arrived and we had some coffee before flying.
Terminal 1 did not really seem as wildly overcrowded as Terminal 3 is more consistently but it does give the impression of being somewhat run-down. There are relatively few windows so it is not easy to watch the aviation action at the world's busiest international airport. At least there were adequate seats but perhaps this reflected a quieter time of day. At rush-hour in the early morning or late evening things could be quite different. In true BAA style, the gate was not announced for a long time and indeed the flight ended up being a bit late. The scheduled departure time was 1355HR yet the flight was not called until 1340HR. The flight would depart from Gate 36.
We all made our way to the requisite gate and I looked out to see what aircraft we would be going on. It was such a delight to see the A320-100, G-BUSB! Now BA's story with the A320 has been quite intriguing. BA inherited --SB along with four (4) other A320-100s and five (5) A320-200s in 1988 when it took over British Caledonian. At the time it was widely anticipated that BA would dispose of the small 'Bus fleet as it had a large 737 fleet but it felt happy with the 'Buses and kept them alongside the 737s. The turning point came a decade later when BA decided to renew its short-haul fleet with A320 family models, mainly A319s and A320-200s with a few A321s thrown in for good measure later. As of now the older A320 family is on its last legs as the planes are due for retirement and likely the can by next year. Indeed another A320-100, G-BUSD, is already no more and --SB is 20 years old this year. Additionally BA remains one (1) of only two (2) -100 operators, the other being Air France with thirteen (13) frames.
Once at the gate, the flight was boarded shortly afterwards. I boarded at 1355HR and took up seat 13D, an aisle seat. The flight was nearly full. The A320's interior featured seats upholstered in blue leather and the overall impression was of being quite clean but a little tired-looking, perhaps in keeping with the age of the plane. There was also no IFE. The seats were six (6)-abreast in economy class and five (5)-abreast in front; the curtains were open during take-off and landing and closed after the "Fasten seat belts" sign was switched off. The seat pockets contained copies of BA's magazine "High Life", which I read during the flight when not gazing through the window. There was also a guide to duty-free shopping on board but there was no shopping available on either flight.
The Captain soon greeted the passengers and the safety briefing started; this was demonstrated by the crew. There was indeed a greeting in German too but the safety information was entirely in English. Meanwhile the plane was pushed back at 1406HR and started taxiing at 1412HR. Needless to say, this being LHR there were many BA planes of all descriptions around along with a good number of other airlines. The plane made its way down to Runway 09 Right for take-off. As I was away from the window and was sitting to starboard I could not see the action on the runway, which was to port, especially as two (2) children sitting next to the port windows in my row were playfully opening and closing the window blind! Nonetheless, the plane was on its way at 1424HR and it lifted smoothly off the runway. Again, many have commented on the CFM56 engines on the A320 sounding like kitchen appliances and this bird was no exception! On the ground during taxi the engines purred rather than screamed and even on take-off the typical jet-noise was just not there.
The plane climbed through a layer of clouds and soon reached its cruising altitude, whereupon the "Fasten Seat belts" sign was switched off. At 1432HR the in-flight service began, the flight attendants offered a choice of drinks and sandwiches; the latter were available in cheese and chicken korma varieties. I opted for the latter and found that there was one (1) chicken sandwich plus one (1) tuna sandwich. I had some orange juice to drink with them. In the meantime I gazed out of the window but with a huge blanket of clouds over the UK, English Channel and much of Europe little was visible for a long while. As mentioned earlier, I used this opportunity to read the High Life magazine. I was seated away from the others so conversation was not an option.
The flight was largely uneventful but two (2) episodes of turbulence saw the seat belt sign switched on twice. Indeed, Western Europe had been experiencing a wave of storms at the time and the first shake-up came at 1442HR (1542HR CEST, which I will use from now on as this is the time in MUC). The sign was switched on for five (5) minutes. The second episode came at 1603HR and again the sign was illuminated for five (5) minutes. Soon after this the clouds parted and I was able to see some of the German countryside.
The descent started at 1629HR and pretty soon the plane was making its way into MUC. It landed at the modern facility at 1645HR on Runway 08 Right and made a high-speed turn-off from the runway. As it taxied to the terminal I was able to see a variety of jetliners including several LH planes plus jets of AF and RO and a UT Air TU-154M. It is always refreshing to see a Russian bird as they are getting scarcer by the day as many CIS airlines have introduced Western birds into their fleets.
The plane parked at the gate at 1652HR and we all disembarked. Once off the elderly A320 we made our way along a short corridor and thence to the Immigration desks, which in typical EU style were separated into "EU passports" and "Other passports". In a short while we were all at the baggage carousel and retrieved our bags. As for the posters, they had been placed separately in the hold and soon an agent came across with the precious goods in her hand. What a huge sigh of relief all around!
From there, we all gathered and proceeded to the railway station to get the S-Bahn to our hotels. We used route S1. The majority were staying at a hotel near to Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) but mine was closer to Marienplatz, 2 stops further on. Nonetheless I got off at Hauptbahnhof to get a sense of direction in the city before riding on to Marienplatz -- and then getting caught in the rain as I tried to navigate to my hotel.
WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE 2007.
MUNICH FRANZ JOSEF STRAUSS AIRPORT (MUC) -- LONDON HEATHROW AIRPORT (LHR).
BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHT BA 953.
DEPARTURE TIME 1615HR; ARRIVAL TIME 1715HR.
AIRBUS A319-131 G-EUPG (C/N 1222).
Photo © Gerry Stegmeier
One thing is very true, Germany really knows how to organise events! My favourable impressions were first made during the World Cup last year (I had gone to see Trinidad and Tobago play Paraguay and wrote a trip report here) and were confirmed by the conference. The centre, which is located on the old MUC airport at Riem, is very large and comfortable and the many meetings and sessions generally ran to time. Additionally, the conference fee included a pass on the city's excellent public transport system including U and S-Bahn, trams, buses and underground trains. Above all, Munich is a very atmospheric city with lots to see and do -- or perhaps nothing at all, if one would rather enjoy a stein of beer in one of the city's famous beer gardens. It is a lovely place to visit and I say "Well Done" to Munich for an outstanding conference.
I was the last of my crew to leave Munich as I stayed an extra night to walk around and take a tour of the city. The next day, after deliberating long and hard about buying a German train set (I like model trains and Germany produces a wide range) I decided not to because my case was very heavy from all the paperwork I had obtained during the conference. I retrieved my case from the hotel at about 1230HR and made my way to Marienplatz station, from where I decided to take the S8 train to the airport, to see the other route as I had already taken S1 when arriving. Alas I had a bit of a mishap as I had forgotten to buy a ticket and only realized this just as the train arrived and I was about to board! A bit unhappy with myself, I lugged the case back upstairs and bought one, then returned to the platform to wait twenty (20) minutes for the next one. The train arrived at 1340HR and arrived at MUC at 1415HR, in ample time for me to check in.
I checked in at 1425HR after a long walk across the huge facility to find the BA desks, which are in Zone B of Terminal 1. Again I used the check-in machine got a boarding pass, then dropped my suitcase off. It was severely overweight -- 30kg -- when the limit allowed free is 23kg. The agent at the desk told me to remember that for next time (I must indeed make an effort to travel lighter because I seem to take too much unnecessary stuff). From there I crossed the Schengen border (i.e. passed passport control) and cleared security.
MUC's departure lounge at this point is very clean and uncluttered with just a few shops and several windows. I walked around the shops a little but bought nothing and instead had a snack and drink. The views were however obstructed by the jetways but one could see the planes taxiing in and out at this point. An Air Berlin (AB) 737-300m left a nearby stand at 1517HR then a Hapagfly (TUI) 737-8K5, D-AHFE (C/N 27979/44), came in at 1520HR. Nine (9) minutes later came an easyjet A319-111, G-EZEW (C/N 2300), which parked at a remote stand across the taxiway from the terminal building. After a further nine (9) minutes came the plane which would bring me back to the United Kingdom, BA's A319-131 G-EUPG. As it came I could not see the registration immediately and thus walked along the windows of the terminal to get a glimpse, though I was able to confirm by seeing the certificate just inside the cabin when I boarded. It took gate B08, which was thus my departure gate. Within a few minutes LTU (LT) A330-223, D-ALPC (C/N 444), landed and took the jetway stand next to the BA Airbus. It certainly looked splendid in the bright red livery!
My flight was called at 1559HR. I boarded at 1605HR and took up seat 22F, a starboard window seat. Incidentally, when I had checked in the computer assigned me a different seat but this window seat was the only one available, so I took it. The range of available seats was smaller when I was flying to MUC and no window seat was available, hence I remained by the aisle. Again, the plane was nearly fully loaded. The interior of this 'Bus was similarly blue upholstery though it seemed to be in somewhat better condition than the A320 I had come over on. It also had fold-down movie screens above the seats. After I took my seat, I was actually able to see my suitcase being loaded onto the jet.
As the crew prepared for departure, I was able to glimpse the easyjet A319 depart only for another, this time G-EZAN (C/N 2765), arrive to take its place. An RO Boeing 737-38J, YR-BGA (C/N 27179/2524)was parked at a jetway a bit further down the terminal and so I was only able to see it during pushback, which commenced at 1617HR. The passengers were greeted in English and German and the safety video was shown - with the IFE available this time this approach was taken!
The plane taxied out towards Runway 26 Right for take-off; in doing so it passed 757-23A SP-FVR of Fischer Air Poland (C/N 25490/510) and later Terminal 2, which is used by LH and its Star Alliance partners. Predictably a very large number of LH birds were there along with OY-KHU, an SK MD87 (C/N 53336/1953). Once again, given the predomination of Airbus types at MUC with a healthy serving of Boeings, it was good to be reminded that there were other great aircraft builders who have now lapsed into history. Meanwhile, the plane went to threshold of Runway 26 Right and waited for three (3) planes to land; these were a KL 737-300 at 1627HR, an AB F100 at 1629HR and then an LH 737-300 at 1631HR. One (1) minute later the BA Airbus made its way onto the runway and powered up for take-off, quickly becoming airborne. Since BA ordered IAE 2500s on its newer A320 family jets the engine noise was more in keeping with a traditional jet. The plane soared into the warm spring sunshine over Germany.
The in-flight service began at 1655HR; I had a drink of orange juice. They also served some munchies. In the meantime I took out my MP3 player and began to listen to some music. Which track first? Of course, a track that's all about flying... "Fly on the Wings of Love", which is sung by Annia and produced by XTM and DJ Chucky. This was the first time I had ever used an MP3 player in-flight and I can see that being useful in the future on flights with no or non-functional IFE. At 1700HR passengers seated to starboard were treated to a spectacular flypast of an LH A340-600, the mighty jet issuing a thick contrail as it sped past in the opposite direction (who knows, it could have been heading to MUC though seeing that it was at cruising altitude not very far from MUC it may have left FRA and been headed elsewhere).
The plane's route took it past Nuremburg and Frankfurt (although clouds made it tricky at times to follow the ground); in any case I am no expert at European geography and need coastlines to get an idea of location. Fortunately, at 1720HR the screens were unfolded and the flight tracker came on; at this time the plane was just over Aachen, the city which I had visited on my previous trip to Germany and which is on Dutch and Belgian borders. From here the plane passed over Belgium, just north of Brussels itself and then to the coast at the border with The Netherlands. The plane was cruising at 11 227m with a speed of 735 km/h.
The clouds remained patchy over the English Channel but reappeared a bit over the UK as it came into view. The coast of Suffolk and Essex were first visible and the plane passed over the Thames Estuary at 1730HR CEST (or 1630HR BDT, which will be used onwards). The flight approached LHR from the east and circled London itself once, thus affording spectacular views of the Dome (now a concert hall), the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, several railway stations, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and Hyde Park. The plane descended quickly before landing at LHR at 1706HR on Runway 27 Right. It was thus ahead of time, as the Captain promised to make up for the delay in departure from MUC. This was not to be the end of the story though.
As the plane taxied over to its stand at Terminal 1, it arrived there at 1711HR but due to a problem it did not line up with the jetway. It was not until 1717HR that it did line up, the Captain having advised the passengers not to get out of their seats until final shutdown. Unfortunately, the jetway was not working at all! The Captain had to ask for stairs to be brought to the plane and with BAA having to find a set, us passengers were stuck on the aircraft for over half an hour after landing. We were finally able to get off at 1742HR.
For once the Immigration lines at LHR were not too bad (then again, it was not rush-hour) and I was able to get my suitcase and run out to the Central Bus Station and catch a National Express bus to Cardiff, 1 hour earlier than the one I had originally booked. I had factored in delays and all that in choosing to book the later service but for once I was lucky! My flight was thus over but my ride to Cardiff took three (3) hours from the 1815HR departure of the bus, whereupon I caught a train home.
So, what do I make of BA's service? Indeed, BA offers quite a good service on its short-haul with snacks and so on -- it is such a difference not having to pay for refreshments! There was no duty-free shopping on board but with such short flight times that is probably more trouble to carry out than it is worth. Overall the planes are in good condition (even if LHR itself is not, though that is not BA's fault as such) and the flights were good. LHR itself desperately needs a lot of work, although that will soon come when Heathrow East is built to replace Terminals 1 and 2. BA's vacating of Terminal 1 will ease the pressure somewhat though how the Star Alliance airlines will all operate from there remains to be seen -- remember that there will then be a higher concentration of long-haul flights with United, AC, NH, NZ (plus SA who are already there) and so passenger numbers will rise, added to which will be the busy LH and SK services to the already-present BD. Only time will tell.
Thanks for reading and keep on flying.