Welcome to Part 2 of my report, which features my travels from CDG
on Air France on October 17, as well as from FRA
on United on October 19. These flights constituted the return portion of my girl’s and my week-long trip to Europe. You may recall my recent posting of Part 1, which covered the outbound travel (DCA
); that report is located here:
Now on to the details—hope you enjoy!
Date: 17 October 2008
Flight #: AF
Aircraft Registration: F-GFKR
Scheduled Departure: 13:15
Actual Takeoff: 13:30
Scheduled Arrival: 14:35
Actual Landing: 14:25
Flight Time: 0:55
Seats: 23 E/F
Load Factor: Y 90%, F?
After 5 great days in France, it was time to continue on to see family in Germany. We left my girlfriend’s grandmother’s house near Limoges at 5:45 a.m. for the drive up to Paris. Our flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 13:15, but we had to return our rental car at CDG
by 11:20 (or else be charged for another day). As our Mappy directions were not at all helpful and we resigned ourselves to navigating mostly from road signs, we began to get nervous about whether or not we would arrive on time. Then, as we neared the Paris périphérique, we encountered a severe traffic jam. We crept along, bumper to bumper, the minutes ticking away. Eventually, the congestion eased and we arrived at CDG
’s Terminal 2 at 11:13—just in the nick of time! Here’s a picture of the Sixt lot when we arrived at the airport.
We made our way into the terminal and proceeded to the AF
check-in kiosks. However, the kiosk only agreed to print my boarding pass, although my girl and I were booked together, and instructed us to finish checking in with a gate agent. Unfortunately, all the counters were completely empty—so this was not the most impressive check-in experience offered by Air France. We proceeded to the opposite end of Terminal 2D
and found a check-in counter that was staffed. To their credit, the AF
agents managed the rest of the process quickly, gave us our boarding passes, and soon we were on our way through security and into the gate area. Here’s a shot once inside the safe zone.
We had more than an hour to spare before boarding began, so we grabbed a coffee, tea and some madeleines at the little kiosk, helped ourselves to some newspapers compliments of Air France, and passed the time reading. We are total political junkies (we are both involved in politics in DC), so we read all the commentary about the final U.S. presidential debate between McCain and Obama. We hadn’t been able to watch the debate, so it was good to catch up!
Before we knew it, it was time to board the flight to FRA
and we headed down the glass bridge to the waiting A320. Before stepping aboard, I grabbed a shot of the nose area. I’m of the opinion that the A320 family of aircraft are some of the best looking planes out there!
Once on board, we took our seats in row 23 on the right hand side. Here’s a picture out the window; the open door to the cargo bay is visible in the immediate foreground.
A few minutes past 13:00, the cargo door closed, the forward door did too, and we pushed back from the gate, the tug swinging our tail to the east. Here’s a pic just before beginning to taxi.
From Terminal 2D
, we taxied north toward RWYs 9/27. On the way, we passed the Concorde on display. Very cool. I only wish I could have flown on that aircraft…just once, even. Too late now.
After a 15 minute taxi, we reached RWY 27L. We taxied directly onto the runway and without stopping, began our takeoff roll.
After a quick acceleration, we smoothly rotated.
Here’s the end of the parallel RWY 9L
/27R as we powered out of CDG
As we climbed out to the west, we passed through a layer of scattered cumulous. The shadows of the clouds combined with the farm fields created an interesting visual patchwork on the ground.
Soon we banked to the right in a gradual 180-degree turn back to the east.
The ride was silky smooth as we continued to climb.
After a minute or two, the airport came back into view behind the scattered clouds.
Before long, the flightdeck announced we were level at approximately 7,000 meters (so I assume FL230), and that our flight time to FRA
would be about an hour. Here’s a zoomed-in winglet shot as we cruised along.
And another photo, this time showing the engine nozzle.
The flight attendants soon began their service. I had a white wine and a Perrier, while my girl had hot tea. And the snack this time consisted of a cheese sandwich. I was rather hungry and the sandwich actually tasted quite good—just a little dry, but I did, after all, have two drinks to wash it down.
After a short cruise, we began our descent. I had barely finished my drinks by the time the flight attendants came by to collect the trash. A few minutes later, we passed over this river—I assume it is the Rhein somewhere close to Mainz.
Next, the FRA
airport came into view as we proceeded eastbound on the downwind. RWY 18/36 is clearly visible jutting diagonally into the surrounding forest.
A few minutes after passing the airport, we began a right-hand turn on the base leg for one of the RWY 25s. The weather in the Frankfurt area was much like it had been in Paris—scattered clouds revealing alternating pockets of sunshine and shadow.
As we made our turn onto final, we passed over Hanau AAF
. This was a U.S. military installation until 2007 under the name Fliegerhorst Kaserne. Looks like there’s a helicopter landing spot located at the convergence of two taxiways.
We continued our approach, passing this bend in the Main River; Offenbach am Main is on the closer side of the river, while Fechenheim is on the far side.
And here’s a photo as we passed just south of Frankfurt’s downtown area; the skyscrapers are hidden directly behind the wing at this point. Meanwhile, the Taunus Mountains are visible in the background.
There they are…the towers of “Main-hattan.”
And here’s a zoomed-in shot.
Next, the Commerzbank-Arena, or Waldstadion, came into view. This stadium saw some World Cup action in 2006.
Some nice fall colors as we streaked the final distance to FRA
…and over the perimeter of the airport…
…and just beginning to flare.
We were wheels down a few minutes ahead of schedule at 14:25. The spoilers deployed and another great flight came to a rolling conclusion.
Our Airbus exited to the right and began the taxi back to Terminal 2. As we plodded along, a giant LH
machine arrived from some exotic corner of the world.
Finally, we rolled to a stop at the gate next to a visitor from Britain.
We deplaned and proceeded to the baggage claim, where our suitcases arrived about ten minutes later. From there, we hopped aboard the Skytrain to Terminal 1. Here’s a shot of the interior of Terminal 1 while descending the escalator into the main lobby.
From Terminal 1, we continued on to the long-distance train station adjacent to the airport, where we would catch our train to visit my family in Wuerzburg—about an hour and a half away in northern Bavaria. On the walk over to the station, I snapped a photo of the front of the terminal building. I guess it’s no secret who the dominant carrier is at FRA
A half hour later, we were on the ICE train speeding through the countryside. My sis, who was coming from Cologne and had arranged to be on the same train, met us in the onboard restaurant. It was great to see her; we drank a beer and chatted, and before we knew it, we were in Wuerzburg. It would only be a short, day-and-a-half stay before heading home to DC, but it was wonderful! Here are a few pics of the highlights.
On Saturday the 18th, we walked around town before eventually heading up to the Festung, or fortress. Here’s a shot of this great structure, seen here from the old bridge across the Main River.
And here are a couple of shots while atop the Festung. It was a perfectly beautiful autumn day.
And finally, here’s a nice view from the Festung looking back at the city.
Sadly, but not unexpectedly, our time in Wuerzburg passed too quickly. We woke up at 7:00 am on Sunday the 19th and caught the 8:56 a.m. train back to FRA
. The train was supposed to be a fast ICE, but was unexpectedly replaced by an older, slower train, and we were also forced to make a change at Frankfurt’s main train station. No matter, we still arrived at the airport by 10:30, which left us ample time to catch our 12:20 UA
flight to IAD
Date: 19 October 2008
Flight #: UA
Aircraft: Boeing 747-422
Aircraft Registration: N173UA (manufactured 1989)
Scheduled Departure: 12:20 (UTC
Actual Takeoff: 12:46
Scheduled Arrival: 14:59 pm (UTC
Actual Landing: 14:36
Flight Time: 7:50
Seats: 21 A/B (Economy Plus)
Load Factor: Y 90%, J?, F?
Check-in at the United counter was quick and easy, as was security. The line at passport control (for exiting the EU) was also quick, though the officer was a pain and actually refused to give me a stamp, even though he gave my girl one. And this was indeed a problem because I have faced huge hassles in the past when trying to enter Germany without having an exit stamp from a prior visit, even though I had made an entire trip, complete with entrance and exit stamps, in between. (In 2006 I was literally interrogated, threatened with deportation, and lectured about how it is my responsibility to secure an exit stamp, even if the officer protests). So, not wanting to face problems in the future, I politely asked for an exit stamp, and the officer actually refused again. So, I explained my previous encounters and told him that I was acting upon my supposed responsibility by demanding a stamp. Finally he relented and put some ink in my passport—but not until he rolled his eyes in annoyance. What a jerk. Why would German immigration NOT want to allow me to be able to show that I spent 9 days in Europe as a tourist and then exited to go back to the States? Whatever, we were on our way…
By this point, we had about 45 minutes until boarding began. We headed to a newsstand and grabbed some bottles of water and a couple of magazines for the flight. I also bought a beer mug for my father; every time I’m in Germany, I get him one—it has become a sort of tradition. Then we headed to the gate and entered the crowded pen of passengers behind the ticket counter (the “boarding pen” seems to be a feature of FRA
At 11:30 or so, boarding began. After the First and Business passengers were let through the door, we UA
Premier members in coach were allowed to proceed. We followed stairs down to ground level, where we boarded a waiting bus to take us to a remote stand. I always enjoy boarding this way, as it affords much better views of the aircraft! Here are a few pics from the bus while en route to our aircraft. This is an Alitalia MD
Next, we passed a UA744 in the old paint scheme—not ours though.
And then another 744, this time LH
And finally, our gigantic 744, also in the old paint scheme, came into view.
The bus circled around to the port side and came to a halt almost below the winglet. We exited the bus and queued up in the line for the rear entrance. For some reason, the crew wasn’t quite ready for us to climb aboard yet, so we stood there for five minutes or so—no problem, I was very happy to be standing around under the wing of a 747! Here are a few pictures from the ramp and from the stairs to the aircraft.
We entered the aircraft at the rear and made the long walk up the aisle to the Economy Plus section. Upon finding our seats,21 A and B on the left-hand side, however, I was disappointed to see that our views would be extremely limited. The window behind us was far enough back that even with my seat reclined, I could not see out; meanwhile the window in front was barely useable when the seat in front of me was in its upright position, and completely unusable when reclined. Not cool. I suppose it was still better than a middle seat…
Here’s the legroom…E+ is certainly nice to have on a longhaul!
I was able to maneuver the camera to get some shots out the forward window. As mentioned, I couldn’t really see outside (or through the viewfinder for the most part), so I was basically shooting blind. Still, the photos turned out okay; here are a couple pics while still parked at the remote stand. In the next one, you’ll see a fellow UA
aircraft, this time a 777, parked next door.
I experimented with the camera a bit more and found that when I really contorted my hands, I was able to grab a pic looking back at the massive wing extending out toward the winglet.
Here’s a shot of the forward stairs, still attached to the aircraft.
Boarding concluded and unfortunately it was a full load—so no seat swapping to find a better window. C’est la vie. We pushed back from the remote stand at 12:25; this Iberia A340 came into view as our own massive turbofans began churning away in preparation for taxi.
And here’s a looooong, LH
A346. What a great aircraft.
After a very short taxi to RWY 25R, we held for a couple of minutes, then crossed onto the stripes.
We began our takeoff roll at 12:46, lumbering down the asphalt with the nose pointed west. Here’s a shot just as we began our gentle rotation skyward.
We climbed out over the western end of the airport; part of RWY 25L/7R and RWY 18/36 are visible in the next picture.
And here’s a view looking down 18/36 to the south.
Another shot of RWY 18/36 looking back along the leading edge of our wing.
We continued our westward climb over the Mainz area, forward slats still deployed.
Approaching the Rhein, I believe…
Good views of the terrain with just a few scattered clouds.
At 13:05—about 20 minutes after takeoff—the First Officer made an announcement, which consisted of the standard “welcome on board,” as well as our estimated flight time (8:09) and our initial cruise altitude (FL320).
As we approached the Atlantic coast, the view below clouded up.
About an hour after liftoff, the hot meal was served. The choices were pasta with a white cream sauce, or chicken breast with gravy. My girl ordered the pasta, while I asked for the chicken. As it turned out, the pasta was delicious, and the chicken was good, but not what I would call excellent. The vegetables and potatoes served with the chicken were actually pretty good, as was the dessert—some sort of cobbler. The salad and bread served with both meals, however, were not too impressive. The meal on LH
on the outbound flight the week before was much better by comparison. At any rate, I had a coke to wash it all down; we also used some free alcohol vouchers and each had a white wine.
We soon cruised over southern England, though thick cloud cover obscured any view of the ground. Clouds can be quite nice to look at too, though. Here are a few pics.
After the meal trays were collected, the flight attendants passed out U.S. customs and immigration forms. My girl and I filled them out right away to get it over with.
Before long, the cabin crew came through again, this time offering post-meal coffee, tea, or water. I took a coffee with cream, pulled out the laptop, and began sketching an outline of this trip report.
Meanwhile, my girl passed the time reading and watching the movie on the collective TV
screen mounted overhead (no individual monitors on UA
744s in coach). I have no clue what the movie was, but fortunately for my girl, the monitor was working properly. The unlucky folks in the middle section, however, had a permanently green screen due to some sort of technical problem. The cabin crew apologized to the affected passengers and said there was nothing they could do. Here’s a pic showing our screen on the left and the green screen on the right.
About 4 hours and 20 minutes into the flight, one of the movies ended and the flight tracker appeared on the screen. We looked to be about 100 miles south of the tip of Greenland, and in the meantime had moved up to FL360. The headwinds were rather light at 22 mph (35 km/h), so our groundspeed reached 529 mph (851 km/h)—not too bad for a westbound journey. The time until touchdown showed 3 hours and 44 minutes. And then the map disappeared and another movie began. Such is the nature of collective onboard entertainment; I guess not everyone is as fascinated by the flight tracker as I am.
An hour or more quickly passed—I sort of lost track of time. At one point I headed to the lav. In contrast to the nice, modern, and well-stocked bathrooms on LH
on the eastbound trans-Atlantic flight, these WCs were visibly dated and not stocked with any amenities (unless one considers paper cups an amenity). The empty amenity holder only seemed to exaggerate the impression that the airline was skimping on service here. But what can I say—the economic times are tough, right?
We continued westbound over the Atlantic and eventually the overcast gave way to scattered clouds. It was an almost surreal view—clouds, their shadows, and the open ocean stretching uninterrupted to the horizon, and, I assume, beyond.
Some more time passed, the miles slipping away as we flew into the bright afternoon sun. Finally, the first specks of land, in the form of many tiny islands, appeared on the western horizon—the coastal islands of Labrador. From our distance, the land could almost be confused for clouds. Here’s a photo.
As we drew closer, the contours of land grew sharper.
And here’s a zoomed-in shot.
Thanks to Google Earth, I now know that we made landfall close to Cartwright, NL
. The large body of water extending inland is Sandwich Bay.
As you’ll see in the next pic, there was already a dusting of snow on the coastal hills.
The landscape was quite beautiful, the low light reflecting off the many little lakes and rivers.
Soon we came upon the Gulf of St. Lawrence, which is visible in the next photo as the golden plane of water in the upper part of the frame.
Here’s a shot as we passed over the Gulf, roughly where it begins to narrow toward the southwest as the Saint Lawrence River. That’s Quebec on the opposite shore.
This next photo is my attempt at artistically (or lack thereof) capturing some geometry. Here we have some nice angles thanks to the terra firma of Quebec, the water of the St. Lawrence, and the wing of our Boeing 747-400.
As we neared the U.S. border south of Quebec City, the pre-landing snack was served. It was actually not bad—a little heavy on the junk food, but the sandwich was quite tasty. And I do like Chio Chips! And besides, I got my health food from a can of tomato juice.
We continued southbound over eastern New York State. In this next photo, you can see the Hudson River in the foreground, while Long Island Sound is starting come into view in the distance.
Here’s another shot a few minutes later. The convergence of the Hudson and Long Island—otherwise known as New York City—is visible, though covered here in a bit of haze.
It’s a bit difficult to see, but in the next photo you can see the skyscrapers of Manhattan close to the center of the frame. We passed perhaps 30 miles (~48 km) west of NYC.
Next, I played around with the camera a bit and took this zoomed-in shot of the writing on the wing. Remember, given the awkward window position, I couldn’t really see through the viewfinder as I took the photos. It took me several tries to get a shot of the lettering. I wonder how many hours those tiny letters have spent in the cold, upper atmosphere high above remote corners of the globe?
Soon it was clear that we were descending. And before long, the Potomac River came into view flowing eastward toward the nation’s capital.
Here’s another shot of the Potomac, this time split up into several channels. Washington, D.C. is visible in the distance—and in fact, the Washington Monument is barely visible as a tiny white spike emerging from the gray-colored downtown area.
Meanwhile, we were dropping lower and lower over the fields east of Dulles Airport.
Here’s a zoomed-in shot of Tysons Corner, roughly half-way between DC (to the east) and Dulles (to the west).
Given the visual cues, I concluded we were on the downwind leg of our approach and would soon be making a right-hand, 180 degree turn for one of the north-facing RWY 01s. Indeed, here’s a shot of the massive wing a minute later, just as we began to make the turn to the right.
After a smooth u-turn, the aircraft leveled its wings on a northbound heading. Here’s a photo looking west with the Shenandoah Mountains visible in the distance.
We dropped closer and closer to the fall-colored forest. Just a few more miles to go…
The massive 747 barreled in over the southern perimeter of IAD
. The building visible in the next photo is the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. This wonderful building contains the original Boeing 707, an Air France Concorde, and even the Space Shuttle Enterprise. If you’ve never been there and have the chance to visit, you must do it!
We passed over the threshold of RWY 01R and began to gently flare. Just a few more feet to go…
The rubber hit the asphalt at 14:36 after 7 hours and 50 minutes on the wing. Touchdown was smooth, though the almost 20-year old aircraft rattled rather loudly—perhaps as protest for being forced out of its natural environment and back to the hard reality of the runway.
As we slowed to turn-off speed, I snapped a pic of the terminal at Dulles with the landmark control tower in the background.
After a short taxi, we parked at Gate C3
Here’s our Flightaware map showing our route across the pond (at least most of it).
We deplaned fairly quickly and headed toward the dock where we would catch the mobile lounge over to customs and immigration. Unfortunately, everyone had to wait about 20 minutes for the next mobile lounge to arrive—Dulles always seems to have problems such as this. Finally, the lounge arrived and we made our way over to the main terminal. Here’s a shot of a UA
777 just after we left the dock.
And here’s a picture of the tower seen from the mobile lounge.
After a 5 minute drive, we arrived at the immigration queue. It was a quick process and the officer was very friendly. Our bags arrived after a minimal wait and we were soon on the way home. It was a beautiful autumn day here in DC, so after we arrived at our apartment, I shook off the jetlag by going for a run along the perimeter of Reagan National Airport (DCA
). It was also a great chance to reflect on our wonderful trip.
I hope you enjoyed this trip report, and thanks very much for reading it. As always, comments and feedback are most welcome and appreciated!