Welcome to Part 1 of my trip report, which features my travels from DCA
on a combination of UA
/LH/AF. This routing, on October 10-11, 2008, was the outbound portion of my week-long trip to Europe; a report for the return flights, from CDG
on October 17 and FRA
on October 19, will be posted separately as Part 2. Briefly, the purpose of the trip was to have a nice getaway with my girlfriend, for both of us to take a much-needed break from our jobs in DC, and to visit family and friends in France and Germany. Now on to the report—hope you enjoy!
Date: 10 October 2008
Flight #: UA631
Aircraft Registration: N*****
Scheduled Departure: 19:48 (Eastern)
Actual Takeoff: 20:09
Scheduled Arrival: 20:56 (Central)
Actual Landing: 20:40
Flight Time: 1:31
Seats: 7A/B (Economy +)
Load Factor: Y 90%, F 100%
My girl and I left our respective offices in downtown DC a few minutes early on Friday, October 10 and met at the Foggy Bottom metro station, luggage in tow. We hopped aboard the blue line metro to Reagan National Airport, where we arrived shortly after 18:00—plenty of time for our 19:49 departure. The convenience of DCA
, especially when coming from work, was one reason we chose to forgo a Dulles-Frankfurt nonstop and instead connect through ORD
. (And as you’ll see later on, I had other reasons for selecting this itinerary).
At any rate, after printing our boarding passes and scanning our passports at the self-service kiosk (no bags to check), we moved on to security. Ten minutes later we were in the safe zone and heading toward the food court; as we still had an hour to spare before boarding, we treated ourselves to some burgers at Fudruckers. I also treated my shoes to a shine, which turned out to be the best, most thorough shoe-shine I’ve ever had (and it only cost $3.50). And of course, I snapped a pic of the ramp area as the sun began to set.
At 19:15, boarding commenced and we made our way down the jetway. We quickly found our seats, 7A and 7B
, in the Economy Plus section on the left-hand side. Here’s a shot of the legroom—standard E+ on United.
And here’s a photo out the window while parked at the gate.
At 19:50 we pushed back, the engines spooled to life, and we began our taxi to the southern end of the field. I snapped a photo as we rolled along; the Washington Monument is visible as a white spike towering above the other lights.
I was excited, as a stiff wind from the north called for one of my all-time favorite departures—a takeoff from RWY 01 followed by a powerful climbout and sharp turn to the left almost directly over the Pentagon. First, however, we held short at the end of the runway while several RJs made their approach to RWY 33. And then it was our turn. Here we are taxiing over the piano keys, about to swing the nose to the left. Apologies for the blur.
We lined up at 20:09 and the engines roared to high thrust, the brakes still restraining this powerful ship, all too eager to be on its way. Then, in the span of a second, the tension released and we rocketed down the runway. Liftoff was smooth and the nose raised steeply into the night. I snapped away with my camera—again, this one is blurry, but I rather like the artistic effect.
As expected, we immediately banked steeply to the left. One of those lights behind the wing is our apartment building in Crystal City.
Next, we assumed a westerly course out over the suburbs of northern Virginia. Here’s a photo while continuing our climb, the forward slats still deployed.
A few minutes later, the Captain made an announcement welcoming everyone on board, informed us of our flight time (1:32, he estimated) and cruise altitude (FL380), and switched off the seatbelt sign.
Shortly thereafter, the drink service began. My girl and I of course felt that the beginning of our trip called for a little celebration—a bit of wine. We had a couple of UA
vouchers for free alcohol that we had been saving; at least it would be an inexpensive start to an expensive trip!
The flight attendants began their march with the cart from the rear of the aircraft, meaning it would take awhile for them to reach us in row 7. Meanwhile, the purser attended to the First Class cabin in front of us, and within a few minutes, finished the initial round of drinks up front. At that point, he came back to our row and asked if we’d like anything. My girl asked if we could turn in our vouchers for some white wine, to which he replied “no,” before returning to the front. A moment later, he appeared once again with two real glasses and filled them directly from the bottle. He handed us our wines and told us to hang on to the vouchers for another day. We graciously thanked him, clinked our glasses together and said “cheers,” then sat back and relaxed. While free wine may be expected in coach on non-U.S. airlines, for being on United this was a real treat! And to make it even better, over the course of the next 45 minutes, the purser, whose name we learned was Juan, kept constant watch our wine glasses. In fact, he popped back from the First Class cabin three times to refill them. Even after we began our descent, he offered us a fourth refill; feeling a bit buzzed, we politely declined. Thank you, Juan, for the truly excellent service!
Before long, the lights of south Chicago came into view.
We passed just to the north of Midway Airport, which is visible in the next photo. As you can see, the field itself was an island of black in the otherwise bright city. Only the floodlights of the ramp and gate area gave it away as an active airport.
Here is another shot just before MDW
disappeared beneath the wing.
A minute later, we began a descending, right-hand turn to the north and then east. At 20:40, we streaked over the perimeter fence and the aircraft settled gently onto RWY 10. Here is a photo of the flare, just an instant before touchdown.
The same engines that were eager to launch us skyward at DCA
now assumed the reverse role, slowing us to speeds the wings could no longer overcome.
We exited to the left and taxied back to the B Concourse. Here’s a shot as we pulled into the gate.
As my girl and I were near the front of the aircraft, we quickly disembarked. On the way out the door, we thanked Juan again for the excellent service; he replied “of course, have a great weekend guys.” We wished him the same and headed into the terminal.
Here is the Flightaware map showing our route from DCA
. Indeed, we flew 612 miles (985 km) in the opposite direction of Europe; but it resulted in some extra mileage in my UA
Mileage Plus account—one more reason why the round-about itinerary was fine by me!
Date: 10-11 October 2008
Flight #: LH433
Registration: D-AIHU (Delivered 30 May 2008)
Scheduled Departure: 22:00 (CDT)
Actual Takeoff: 22:15
Scheduled Arrival: 13:30 (EDT)
Actual Landing: 13:15
Actual Flight Time: 8:00
Seats: 39 H/K
Load Factor: Y 95%, J?, F?
After a quick bathroom break at ORD
, we walked the short distance to gate B17 for our LH
flight to FRA
. Although we still had about a half-hour until boarding even began, there was already a long line (and by this I mean in the hundreds) of mostly German passengers. Perhaps some would disagree, but I have noticed on many occasions that, in general, Germans have an affinity toward lining up, even when it is not necessary. We skipped the queue and headed for the half-empty seating section next to the gate.
As we waited for boarding to begin, a LH
agent came over and told us we would not be able to carry on our rolling suitcases. She didn’t explain why, and I didn’t bother to ask—I assumed it was a space issue. She mentioned our bags would be stowed with the crew’s luggage and that ours would be among the first to arrive at baggage claim in FRA
. Then, she gave us claim tickets and took the bags away. Though we had decided not to check our bags earlier so as to avoid waiting at baggage claim, I was actually happy to be free of them for a while.
At 21:35, general boarding began. This was a moment I had been waiting for and was the final reason why I wanted to fly this particular itinerary—my first time aboard an A340 (LH only operates 744s and A330s to Dulles)! And even better, this A340 was the biggest of them all, the –600 version. We entered the back of the line, but as our row was in the second section of rows called for boarding, we bypassed a large number of queued-up passengers and headed down the bridge. Upon entering the aircraft, the flight attendant welcomed us aboard and pointed through the galley, directing us to the starboard aisle. We quickly found our seats, 39H and 39K on the right-hand side. We were greeted at our seats by nice, crisp monitors.
Unfortunately, the seat pitch was fairly poor for a long haul, especially as I am accustomed to United’s Economy Plus.
But never mind, I was here for the A340-600, not for the legroom. A glance at the safety card confirmed this was indeed the aircraft I wanted (it hadn’t been possible to get a view of the aircraft from the terminal).
Boarding concluded and we pushed back a couple of minutes past 22:00. The engines quietly purred into action and our massive bird began its slow and careful taxi to the runway. The giant, swooping wings hung far beyond the outer lines of the taxiway and it was apparent that ground maneuverability is not the strongest feature of the A346. Very cool, though!
At 22:15, we took to RWY 32R, lined up on the centerline, and in short order were hurling down the asphalt.
The aircraft rotated gently and began a slow but smooth climbout to the northwest. A minute passed and we began a right-hand turn back to the northeast. Here’s a shot of the lights of Chicago off the starboard wing. The inky black of Lake Michigan appears behind the bright lights of downtown.
As we crossed over Lake Michigan, I tuned my screen to the flight tracker. I’m not much of a movie buff anyway, and especially when flying—watching the gradual progress of the flight is entertainment enough for me.
We leveled off at FL370 shortly after crossing the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. I thought back to the old days (i.e. the 1990s) when flying a similar route from DTW
on Northwest’s DC-10s—as I recall, those heavy old tri-jets often leveled off at FL290 initially. Clearly a trans-Atlantic hop is on the short-side of the A346’s range and fuel capabilities; but even so, I was quite impressed that we reached the upper flight levels so quickly. We hadn’t even entered Canadian airspace yet.
Soon, the Captain, with a very understandable but think German accent, announced we could expect smooth air ahead and extinguished the seatbelt sign. He also gave a rough overview of our route—Nova Scotia, across the Atlantic making landfall over southern Ireland, continuing across the southern U.K., Belgium, and finally on to Frankfurt.
In the meantime, the very professional flight attendants had begun the initial drink and snack service. I asked for a beer and was quite pleased to receive a real glass bottle. And though Warsteiner is by no means my favorite beer, it tasted excellent. I also had a little pack of crackers.
About twenty minutes after the initial beverage was offered, the main meal service began. The choices were pasta and chicken; my girl and I both ordered the chicken. It tasted quite nice—far better than any food I’ve had in coach on United’s trans-Atlantic flights. The chicken was very tender and well-flavored, the salad had a tasty vinegarette dressing, and the bread was served warm. Good job Lufthansa. I washed it all down with a second bottle of Warsteiner.
Here’s a view of my screen about an hour into the flight. Still 6:48 to go.
As a result of my two bottles of Warsteiner, it was soon time to use the lav and I made my way downstairs. I really like this arrangement, with the WCs tucked in the lower level. First, it provides more space for people waiting for the toilet; second, it provides relief for those passengers who would otherwise be seated near the toilet with crowds congregating around them; and third, the lavs themselves were noticeably more spacious than the typical airplane bathroom. Here is a shot of the downstairs area.
And a picture looking back at the stairs leading to the main level.
Finally, a photo inside the lav. I like the lighting and sleek, modern design.
Back in my seat, I slept for a few of hours. As this was a late-night departure, my girl and I were quite tired. Unfortunately the seat felt extremely cramped and uncomfortable, and I woke up every ten minutes or so. At one point, I woke up and peered under my partly-closed window shade. Dawn was breaking, so I grabbed a few shots.
Day came quickly as we flew into the sunrise, and it was worth staying up for—the trans-Atlantic sunrise is one of my favorite events. And this particular morning did not disappoint, with some beautiful colors and textures in the clouds below.
After passing over southern Ireland, we entered U.K. airspace, charting a course up the Bristol Channel. In the next photo, the southern shore of the channel is visible close to the town of Ilfracombe (thanks, Google Earth).
Here’s another shot as we continued roughly parallel to the shore of the channel.
I also grabbed an up-close photo of the fuel-dumping nozzle—fortunately, I did not get to see it in action.
A short while later, we passed closed to London.
My porthole to the outside world.
Before long, breakfast was served. While the dinner a few hours earlier was very good, I was not as impressed with breakfast. Keep in mind we were in coach, and even so it was not bad—but it was no better than what I would have expected on United or any other U.S. carrier. And the presentation, I think, is lacking when everything is wrapped in plastic. The coffee tasted good, though.
Meanwhile, we were jetting over the English Channel at its narrowest span. Here’s a shot of the French coastline coming into view close to Calais.
After crossing onto the Continent, we continued across Belgium and the Rhineland.
Soon the Captain announced that we had begun our descent; however, he said that because of thick fog in the Frankfurt area, air traffic was backed up and we would therefore enter a holding pattern north of the airport. He said we’d likely only have to make one loop and that the extra maneuvering would add no more than 15 minutes to the flight. Sure enough, we soon began a series of broad, left hand turns.
Here’s another shot while flying one leg of loop.
And another one, this time with just a bit of speedbrake and some velvety-looking clouds below.
Sure enough, in accordance with the hopes of the Captain, we completed one 360-degree turn before assuming a southeasterly course toward the airport.
As we approached the Frankfurt area, the weather seemed to be much improved and I assumed the fog had burned off. We made a right turn to the south, then west, before settling onto a final approach for one of the RWY 25s.
The flaps extended as we glided downward.
Then, within the span of a few seconds, it became apparent that the fog was still very much there.
Granted, some of the fog I was seeing was actually condensation above the wing, so I assume the actual visibility looking forward was not nearly as poor as it appeared out my window. Still, it was a gray, misty afternoon in Frankfurt. Here we are over the threshold.
We touched down on RWY 25R around 13:15 local time after about 8 hours in the air. Here’s a shot with the spoilers up.
We exited the runway to the right and taxied to a remote stand west of Terminal One. Welcome to Frankfurt!
And here’s a shot after reaching our final parking position.
And finally, here’s the Flightaware map showing our route from ORD
(or at least half of it).
We disembarked via airstairs at the front of the aircraft and were directed toward the waiting busses. I didn’t have my camera handy, but the views of our A346 up close were spectacular. What a massive piece of machinery!
A few minutes later we arrived at the terminal and proceeded through immigration, which took about 30 seconds. Next, we headed to the baggage claim; sure enough, just as the agent in Chicago said, our bags were among the first off. We collected them and walked quickly through customs and into the main arrivals hall.
Date: 11 October 2008
Flight #: AF1919
Scheduled Departure: 15:55 (EDT)
Actual Takeoff: 16:20
Scheduled Arrival: 17:15 (EDT)
Actual Landing: 17:15
Actual Flight Time: 0:55
Seats: 16 A/B
Load Factor: Y20%, F0%
We had a couple of hours to spare before our Air France flight to Paris, so we meandered casually toward the Sky Train for our ride to Terminal 2. I had checked in on the AF
website the day before, so upon arriving at Terminal 2, we headed straight to security. The line was minimal, and after a good pat-down by the security officers, we were in the safe zone. Concourse D, from where our flight would depart, was under construction and there were no restaurants or shops (save for the giant duty-free shop); too bad, as we were getting hungry. Also, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for plane spotting, as all the windows to the ramp were blocked, either by plywood and construction equipment, or by the terminal building itself. Still, the time quickly passed and it was soon time to board. Once inside the waiting room for our particular gate, I got a glimpse of the little A318 that would take us to Paris—my first ever flight on the littlest Airbus!
Boarding began on schedule at 15:30 and we were soon on board. The flight attendant greeted us with “Bonjour” at the door and we made our way to seats 16 A/B on the left-hand side. After a few more minutes, the forward door closed with only a couple dozen passengers on board. The forward section of the aircraft was sparsely populated, and we were the only ones in the back half. Here’s a shot of the emptiness.
And here’s the legroom situation.
Shortly before pushback, I grabbed this shot of the wing, and in the background, a massive Lufthansa neighbor.
At 15:50 we rolled backward before the tail swung to the west, the nose to the east. Then the engines hummed to life and we began what I assumed would be a short taxi for a RWY 25 L or R departure.
However, we taxied past the end of Terminal 2 before proceeding along the far eastern perimeter of the airport. Then, we turned right and began the long drive back to the west along taxiway Sierra past the cargo area (and the former U.S. Rhein-Main Airbase). This was quite interesting, as I had never seen this part of the airport up close. I grabbed a view shots of the fire/emergency training sites.
Here’s a pic of the cargo area.
And here’s one of the general aviation ramp.
And next, a LH
And finally, a bunch of unused jetways laying on the grass. As I was engulfed in a frame-of-mind that revolved around the U.S. election, I couldn’t help but think of these as “bridges to nowhere.” Thanks Sarah Palin.
Finally, after our 15 minute scenic tour, we came to a halt just before RWY 18. Here’s a map on which I traced our interesting taxi route.
We held short for a few minutes while a Korean Air Cargo 744 departed RWY 18; it barreled quickly down the runway and through my field of view before disappearing completely into the fog—I can only assume that it actually lifted off into the murk! And then it was our turn for blast off. We crossed onto the runway (already about 1/3 the way into its 13,123 feet (4,000 m) in length) and pointed the nose to the south.
We accelerated quickly and after a short takeoff roll, rotated into the misty sky.
The empty little Airbus rapidly gained altitude; here we are about to enter the thicker clouds hovering above the murk.
And after a few seconds of gray, we popped out into bright sunshine.
The sensation of skimming the cloud tops lasted only briefly as we continued our climb, all the while making a broad turn to the right. I like the crisscrossed contrails in this next photo.
Eventually we assumed a west-southwesterly course; the clouds themselves constituted an interesting “landscape” below.
At one point, the overcast subsided enough to offer some views of the ground.
But just as quickly, the clouds returned.
Soon the seatbelt sign went off and the Captain made a brief announcement, first in French, then in English. He didn’t mention our altitude, but did say our flight time would be 55 minutes. The flight attendants also began the beverage/snack service, which took hardly any time given the light load. My girl and I, despite being rather sleepy, couldn’t resist a glass of white wine (this was, after all, Air France). The flight attendant also asked if we’d like a hot drink in addition to the wine, so my girl accepted a tea. In addition, we each received a pack of two lemon cookies and some crackers. I recall several years ago receiving more and better food on a similar AF
flight—but certainly in comparison to U.S. standards, the offerings were rather nice.
My girl and I sipped our wine and I enjoyed the view out the window. Here we are crossing paths with the remnants of another airborne traveler.
Just as we began our descent, the clouds began to break up.
And as we neared Paris, they disappeared entirely. It was a clear and beautiful day in the French capital.
We proceeded to the west past the airport before beginning a left-hand bank to the south, and then east.
Soon the flaps began their descent as well.
Here is a sequence of shots while on approach for RWY 9L
We touched down very smoothly at about 17:15.
The spoilers popped up and I grabbed a shot of the innards of the wing.
We exited to the right and began our taxi, first along the eastern edge of the airport, then turning back to the west toward Terminal 2. Here’s a shot of Terminal 2F with a Japanese visitor parked in front.
I think CDG
has some interesting architecture, at least from the outside.
Finally, we came to a stop at a remote stand across from Terminal 2D
We quickly disembarked and were bussed to the terminal. A half-hour later, we were in the shuttle van on our way to our friend’s apartment in the city center.
As I am of the opinion that a trip report should highlight the destination as well as the travel, I’ve included a few pics of our time on the ground. On Sunday, we spent the day in Paris taking in all the sights with some old friends of my girl. One of the highlights was an aviation display at the Place de la Concorde. Here’s a shot of the forward section of an old Caravelle.
And here are a few pics of the Airbus models on display.
And finally, the Eurofighter.
We also spent a few days driving through the Loire Valley taking in the beautiful sights and castles. We also visited my girl’s Grandmother in her tiny village near Limoges. Here are a few pics of the highlights.
Well, that’s all for Part 1; I expect to post Part 2 within a week. I hope you enjoyed this report, and as always, I welcome and appreciate all comments and feedback! And if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!