I haven’t written a trip report for a while despite having been on some interesting flights over the past couple of months. Somehow, college continued to eat up my time during the second semester leaving me no time to write up the reports. My last two legs were on Lufthansa between Vienna (where my permanent residence is) and Boston (where I am studying at the moment), on a 747-400 on the way there and an A340-600 on the way back. I was super excited about both of these trips as the last time I was on a 7474 had been ages ago and it was also my first time on the A340-600, which was quite an amazing plane. Thus, 2008 continues to be a fantastic year for flying as I have gotten numerous chances to check out new routes on new aircraft and airlines. I have some exciting trips in stock for the rest of the year including this one (my first time in MUC and my first LH PTV experience), a long trip from Vienna to Bali via Singapore and on the 777-300ER in July and then hopefully an interesting flight combination for my trip back to college in August. Additionally, I have been clocking up the miles rather quickly and will be upgraded to Star Alliance Frequent Flyer (Silver) status in July. This I am extremely excited about as I have never previously been in a lounge, gotten a priority tag on my bag or been considered for an upgrade (I actually have flown in Business class once where my dad kindly gave me his upgrade from ZRH to BOS). In fact, I am considering whether to try and spend my miles on an upgrade for my next Boston flight – I somehow want to keep them for any possibility of flying with an Asian carrier, however, I don’t know when I will next have the chance to fly in that direction alone.
Anyway, back to this trip and the following trip report. We made a quick one week hop to Charlotte, North Carolina, where some of my family lives, to attend my oldest cousin’s wedding. I have never been to an American wedding before and, therefore, I was looking forward to the experience despite having to leave Austria. I actually would have much preferred to have flown later because I wanted to spend as much quality time in Austria this summer before I return to college in the US (which is a less desirable location according to my preferences). The reason we left so early is because we took my grandmother along with us for the wedding and we wanted to give her time to overcome the jetlag and to have a relaxing time in the States. Incidentally, this didn’t turn out too badly as we received very preferential treatment when flying with her (more details below).
We booked the flight about one month prior on Lufthansa which turned out to be one of the cheapest options. There was a cheaper option with Austria and United via Chicago, which good because we would have flown on Austrian (an airline on which I have had some of my best experiences), however, transferring in the states would have been too much of a hassle. I really hate the system of having to claim your luggage and then submit it again when transferring from an international to a regional US flight. I am sure this is a huge deterrent to many travelers. All-in-all though, I have pretty lucky in that I have usually been able to get very cheap Star Alliance flights over the past year which has allowed me to collect all those miles. BA is usually the cheapest option when connecting somewhere from Vienna, however, the last couple of experiences I have had with them have been appalling.
We set off in the morning at about 7AM to check in for both our Munich flight (at 9:10AM) and the Charlotte sector. I was super tried after only having slept three hours – I spent the night before in the “Fanzone” for the European Cup which has been built up in the inner city of Vienna. For some odd reason, Lufthansa’s online check in function was not working properly – it only let me checking for the first sector, my dad for the second and my grandmother for none! Still checking at VIE was smooth as hardly anyone was around. I asked the agent whether she could move us forward on the MUC-CLT sector as we had been allocated seats 43H &K/ 44K. She told me, which I thought was very weird, that she was not able to change the seat allocation as the flight was operated by Lufthansa and that I should ask at the gate in Munich. I have never heard this before and I found it peculiar since you can always choose your seat on the self checking machines.
We got a couple of sandwiches for the trip from Billa (an Austrian supermarket) and headed through security which was a breeze (generally, this turned out to be an extremely smooth trip!) We headed towards gate B31 – a bus gate.
Boarding Gate B31 at Vienna International Airport
First Leg: VIE – MUC LH 3551 (Operated by CityLine)
Flight Time: 0:45
Aircraft: BAE RJ 85 (D-AVRG)
Load Factor: approx. 90%
The bus filled up quickly and we rode along to one of the remote stands off of terminal C, for those of you who know VIE. I was actually still unsure which aircraft I would be flying as the Lufthansa site quoted an “equipment may vary” for both sectors and I didn’t have time to check any other sources. As an airline/aircraft enthusiast, you can image that I was sweating to find out what I would be flying in, since I think this is the first time in my life where I didn’t know beforehand. We passed a couple of Lufthansa CRJs and then finally pulled up to our RJ 85 (sorry, I forgot to check the registration!)
Some pictures of D-AVRG during boarding at the remote stand
The cabin was pleasant enough and kept in rather good shape for a relatively old aircraft. I still find that the BAE RJs look pretty cool from the outside, and it’s pretty cool to see a four engine regional jet since, nowadays, they would no longer be designed that way. The grey leather seats (made by AVIO Interiors who also do the seats for Austrian’s Fokkers) had acceptable legroom; however, as with most RJs the positioning of the seats relative to the window was pretty odd. You either had to lean very far forward or very far back to see what was going on. Furthermore, 9A was right by the wing, so I didn’t really get to see much of what was going on below. This made for a nice change, however, as I got to see all the inner workings of the aircraft’s wing, which was especially fun when the flaps were driven out!
Our captain came on informing us about the flight and thanking us for getting up so early (not that we really had a chance!) We taxied to the runway well on time and then had a rolling take off which was a lot of fun! Being by the wing was extremely loud, although this got a lot worse at landing.
The crew quickly came through with a drinks cart and passed around some disgusting waffle-like confectionary which tasted like plastic. I turned around the package of this unknown specimen and read its ingredients, which were full of interesting unpronounceable items. This was especially interesting as I am currently reading An Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which has taught me that half of these ingredients, if not more, are derived from corn! It’s a fabulous book and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in finding out more about how the food we eat on an everyday basis gets on to our plates.
Cabin photos of D-AVRG. The aircraft was in rpetty good shape for its age.
A disgusting soft cookie snack served on the short flight to MUC. Remember that OS serves a full plate of cold cuts with warm bread on the same sector!
Before I knew it we were descending into MUC. The RJ 85 makes a very steep angle and a lot of noise at decent which was a lot of fun for me, but not for my grandmother! We landed smoothly and taxied to a remote stand at MUC.
Transfer at MUC
We told our grandmother to take the front exit of the aircraft as that was where the bus was, whilst we collected our hand luggage that was dispersed throughout the overhead compartments. I had phoned Lufthansa a week earlier to organize some assistance for my grandmother at MUC and CLT (we decided VIE was small and practical enough to get her through). I confess, however, that I wasn’t sure how this would work at a bus gate – I soon found out!
My dad and I jumped out the back exit of the plane, only to hear our family name being called repeatedly. We reported to the man who asked whether we had ordered assistance. They grabbed my grandmother who was just about to get into the bus and brought her to a dedicated Mercedes van equipped with a ramp and three wheelchairs. The guy who was assisting us was great and we had a wonderful chat (mainly about the European Cup) whilst driving to a back entrance dedicated passport control with no-one else around! As far as I am aware this is the service that First and HON-Circle members get at FRA and MUC! On our drive we passed a colorful canteen which I was interested to find out was the staff canteen at the airport. We proceeded upstairs and in no time we were at our gate, H08 – all in all taking us about 10 minutes. I think I will be traveling with my grandmother more often from now on!
The Mercedes van that took us through an isolated passport control area and to our gate in a matter of 10 minutes!
Gate H08 where our flight to Charlotte was departing from.
I left the gate to check out MUC a little bit and I have to say I was very impressed. Although we had gotten an extreme case of it, I found that the airport was extremely efficient in terms of its layout and general operation. I liked the way the security checks are laid out in front of each gate and that, if you are smart, you can actually go to another gate’s security check if it is shorter and then proceed to your own gate. The hall ways were generally very airy and spaced out and the architecture I found was all-in-all very German. Food and shopping opportunities were not extensive but were still relatively good. This was my first time at MUC but I hope to be able to fly through it again soon – Lufthansa runs a summer service to BOS with an A330 which I might consider taking.
MUC is a very well designed, efficient and airy airport. I plan to pass through here more often in the future.
Second Leg: MUC - CLT LH 428
Flight Time: 9:05
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300 (D-AIKI)
Seat: 44K Approx.
Load Factor: approx. 95% in economy
When asking about seating earlier on, the gate agent informed me that the flight was very full and that there were only two seats left in economy in the middle section. I am surprised at the demand between CLT and Germany, as LH sometimes sends an A340-600 on the route. I checked immediately when getting to the gate and saw that our aircraft today would be an A330-300, one that I had never flow on before. I have been on the A330-200 numerous times and so I was happy to being able to check off another aircraft type on my list. Also, I was excited about the prospect of possibly getting to try out Lufthansa’s new PTV’s in Y – the A340-600 I flew back from BOS a month ago didn’t have them yet.
When we returned to our gate, the boarding call for “all other passengers” was made. I was interested to see that Lufthansa doesn’t board by rows (or sections) at MUC as they do in FRA. We were surprised to find that our grandmother was gone when we got to the gate – she had already been taken into the aircraft along with all of our hand luggage – again, first class service!
LH's A330 was gorgeous and sparkling clean. The colour scheme gave the cabin a very modern feel.
A stunning LH A340-600.
The A330 looked stunning – bright and modern and, again, very German. We passed through Business class (this aircraft was actually also equipped with First) and then slowly made our way to the back of the plane. When entering the economy class section, my heart was pounding as I was excited to see whether there would be gorgeous screens at the back of these slim-line yellow-accented grey Recaro seats. And there were! I was so excited and now I just had to hope that the screen would actually work in 44K, seeing as my last experience with a new entertainment system – the EMB 175 from BOS to YYZ – I had the only seat without a functioning unit.
I sat myself down in 44K next to an American woman who I actually didn’t talk to for the whole ride. Just like I had found in the A340-600, the leg room provided by these new Recaro seats was actually very comfortable, the only obstruction being the blasted IFE box. At least it was being used for something good – I remember during my A340-600 flight that the box was still there despite there being no PTV installed on the aircraft yet. To my excitement, the system was kept on and fully operational before takeoff (and also actually through landing as well). Headphones had also been provided in the seat pocket and so I got to work checking out the new system.
The crew on this flight was wonderful – full of smiles and generally portraying a positive attitude. Maybe this was because Lufthansa recently announced a €850 mil. Profit for the last fiscal year! There were a surprisingly high number of children on the flight and generally I would say the majority of passengers were Americans.
An announcement was made by the purser, who was actually very emotionless – he never said welcome, but rather just jumped into the “Please take a few moments to view the following video highlighting the safety features on this Aircraft…”
Push back was very much on time and we taxied for about 10 minutes to the runway. The A330 roared up and take off was moderately powerful – I felt that the climb rate was not that substantial, but maybe that has something to do with the fact that the last two long haul sectors I have been on were with a 747 and an A340-600! Eventually we reached cruising altitude and I started to explore the IFE.
I have to say I am very impressed with Lufthansa’s offering. The layout of the interface is fantastic – both from the perspective of ease of use and of aesthetics. The system was moderately responsive and I felt that the touch screen interface was very good (this is the first time I have experienced touch screen IFE. Incidentally, does anyone know about the “backend” of the system? What hardware is it running on? And software/operating system? Also, it is a Rockwell Collins system – correct?
Some pictures of LH's new AVOD entertainment system.
The only downsides to the system were the relatively small selection of content – 10 movies are offered along with about 10 TV shows and an extensive selection of radio channels but not CDs/albums. Also, for some odd reason, the little yellow cursor would sometimes choose to stay on the screen which was really annoying. What I really liked, however, was the high-resolution screen and the “FlyLufthansa” section, which included numerous documentaries and information about the company and initiatives they are involved in. Some of the content in this section included: fleet and route information, an A380 documentary, the history of Lufthansa and information on recycling initiatives taken by Lufthansa and the HelpAlliance charity.
I started by watching all of the Lufthansa documentaries and information whilst the crew brought through the first round of drinks. Previously, we had also been given hot towels which are always a nice touch. Almost immediately, they followed with the second round and with Lunch. In contrast to my Boston flight ex FRA, they served from the front to the back of the cabin this time. Does anyone know how they determined this? Both choices were still available when they finally reached the last row. I, however, had ordered a vegetarian meal, which was served. Now, I am not a vegetarian, however, I am someone who is very conscious of what I eat in terms of food origin etc. I am a big supporter of Fair Trade and organic food products. Recently, I have also reduced my general consumption of meat. The reason for choosing a vegan meal for this flight stemmed from my disgust at LSG catering during my last flight from FRA. I remember not being able to eat what was referred to as “chicken” and so, for the first time in my life, I decided to order a special meal. This actually didn’t turn out too bad – I was served polenta with pumpkin, a nice salad and a fruit salad for desert. Also, for some odd reason, they provide vegetarians with an extra bottle of water on their tray which was nice. The main choices were exactly the same as on my BOS-FRA flight four months ago – chicken or tortellini. The food was great, but better than the regular meal I had last time. But boy, I have to say I missed Austrian catering, which I still say is out of this world. I think I will try and fly them for my next Atlantic crossing as I have really had outstanding experiences with them.
The first drink service served with a small bag of mixed snacks. The drink round was preceeded by a hot towel service
Vegetarian special meal lunch - polenta with pumpkin.
I watched “The Bucket List” with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, which wasn’t bad. I then went on to watching a couple of TV shows and documentaries. I realized that the smaller selection might not actually be a bad thing – I don’t know how I would have chosen what to watch on a 500+ channel entertainment system. Having 10 movies greatly reduces this pressure of choice. The only thing is that I believe the same choices will be offered on the flight back – actually for the whole month – which is somewhat limited, especially for someone who would be flying on LH long haul more than once a month.
I dosed off for about two hours (into a very deep sleep). I love 9+ hour flights as they give you a chance to eat, sleep and watch movies with no pressure. This contrasts to the 6-8 hour sectors to Boston. The crew was constantly passing through the cabin with drinks (orange and apple juice, along with water and diet Coke) and they made it clear a number of times that passengers can make their way to the back galley to get more drinks. As the person in the last row I was always able to take two drinks!
A snack was served about one and a half hours out of Charlotte. This was again preceded by a hot towel service – I don’t remember getting two hot towels on the way to Boston. Maybe this has to do with the length of the flight, or again, with the €850 mil. profit! By this time we were just flying over Boston. Our route on this flight was rather southern, hitting the East coast just above Boston, then passing New York, Washington and then down into Charlotte. The second meal choice was pretty disgusting – I had the “vegetable-bun” which didn’t taste much like vegetables at all. The other main choice was a “Bavarian hotdog” which consisted of bread filled with “Leberkäse” a sort of German mystery meat (although not as bad as Spam!) I can’t imagine that this is a very popular choice amongst most travelers.
Pre-landing snack - a rather unappetising vegetable bun (I miss you OS!)
We descended about half an hour out of Charlotte and landed very smoothly on time in 35ºC weather. The VIP treatment continued on the ground where we got to skip the entire immigration line because of my grandmother!
All in all this was a great flight. Lufthansa is a great airline and, together with transfer via Munich, can result in a very enjoyable flight. The new PTVs are great; however, the choice should be improved to bring it on par with the systems of competitors. Also, LH really needs to work out their food as it is pretty disgusting. Maybe they could learn something from Austrian?
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Stay tuned for my upcoming VIE-FRA-SIN-DPS trip report with SQ on a brand new 777-300ER. I will try and get around to writing this as soon as possible - this was one of the most exciting trips of my life!
Thanks for reading!