I took an extra day off at work and so had a three day weekend, so I thought I would enjoy it to the max of my abilities. I had recently cancelled a trip to Cologne, Germany for work, and regretted that, because I wanted to visit the cathedral in the city of Aachen, which isn't very far from Cologne. The reason for the visit was to see the cathedral and resting place of one of, if not the, most important figure from the history of the Middle Ages, Charlemagne. My second biggest hobby is history, and my favorite interest within history is of the Middle Ages. So, the quest for Charlemagne became my worthy goal. I must admit that things like weather forcasts and availability of flights had their impact on my decision where to go as well.
I got off work at nearly 6:00pm on Friday, and went straight to the airport for the 7:25pm 767-300 to LHR
. The plan was to spend two nights in BRU
with a daytrip to Aachen, Germany on Sunday. I would get there on AA DFW
and BA LHR
Finally, for once, I wasn't in a huge hurry going to the airport. I don't know why it always seems like I'm in a hurry to get there, but this time it wasn't a big rush. I didn't have so much time that I could go hang out in the DL
clubs, but I did manage to go to the AA
employee nonrev lounge to check my flight one more time.
Sorry, I didn't take any photos inside. There's not much to see. It's functional rather than elegant, and rather dark. The best features are the vending machines for $1 and the two computers for nonrevs to check flight loads.
For flight 78 to LHR
(767-300) it was booked 21/28 in J and I was #1 on the list. Only two other nonrevs were listed, and they were guests of employees (lower status) and requesting coach, which was wide open as well. It seems everyone who was nonreving got out on AA50 some two hours earlier. I don't blame them. I prefer the 777 over the 767 too!
So I hopped on the Skylink to take me over to Terminal D, where my flight was to depart, in the middle of the terminal at gate D25.
Once inside the terminal I noticed this for the first time (and I go to Terminal D quite frequently). AA
seems to be experimenting with "club seating."
The sun was setting, but there's my 767. N352AA.
Here's the gate display. It's pretty washed out, but you can see only one person left on the standby list...me!
And I was cleared about 40 minutes before departure. Seat 6A
in Business. I remembered from reading Mark (BA319-131's) trip report from HNL
, that he got that seat and it had a bad window. Beggars cannot be choosers when nonreving, so I of course accepted this seat and then boarded about 30 minutes before departure.
My seatmate was already in his seat 6B
, so he let me in. I was concerned about how confining a window seat in AA
's new J class would be, as it has gotten some mixed press on a.net at least. I was able to walk in to my seat without my seatmate getting up.
Here's a view from my seat. Folks still boarding this lightly-booked flight.
Business 75% full
Coach 40% full
My first time on AA DFW
. Several previous DFW
flights and I have flown BA DFW
. Also my first time on a 767 transatlantic with destination London. First time on N352AA, but my 11th flight onboard an AA
Here's a strange picture I took of the AVOD on the 767 in Business. I should have opened the screen, so here you only really see the guts! It was a much better system than I had expected. A little slow to start (you have to input your route and your name), but then it's touch-screen or you can use the remote control, and there are lots of choices.
Before pushback, here's the view out the window.
My window was OK
. Not ideal, but not really bad. Where I should have had two windows, I had the rear one, and the forward one was covered by wall. The one window I had wasn't so far back that I had a restricted view. So I was pleased that I was going to be able to see.
On this particular flight, I didn't take many pictures. My seatmate (from Germany) thought it was strange that I was taking so many pictures of the plane, so I toned it down a little bit from my usual.
And there's no takeoff video due to the night takeoff more than anything.
During the boarding process, I was offered my choice of the normal international lineup of Champagne, Orange Juice, or Water. One gentleman across the plane asked for something from the bar, but the flight attendant explained that he can have that once airborne, but there were the choices on the ground. I remember reading about the international duty free laws that control these drink choices, but don't remember the details enough to explain it coherently now. Just suffice it to say that the reason all airlines have the same choices in premium class on pre-departure beverages is more than just an old custom, but has to do with customs!
We were also presented with menus before gate departure. The only difference between the business class menus and the first class menus is that the first class ones say "First Class" on the front. The rest looks the same.
We pushed out a couple minutes early from D25 and taxied to runway 35L for departure. There was no waiting. Maybe we had to wait for one or two flights, but we were airborne swiftly.
After departure, the very friendly flight attendants started with a beverage service. They seemed very attentive and happy--sort of pleased to be at work tonight. Once the beverages were passed out, we were given a choice between a bowl of warmed nuts or a bowl of marinated cheese antipasto. I chose the cheese. It was squares of marinated cheese, drizzled with olive oil, and with a bit of tomato in there too. It's nice to have something different, even though this has been on the menu for a year or two now.
Another difference between first class and business. In First they will typically give you both choices, while in business you choose one. I'm sure if someone made a big deal about it they would hand them out, but I'm a nonrev, so I won't make a fuss!
After the beverage service, they came through with the hot towels, which is always a nice touch.
We were served our appetizer, which was smoked salmon with two marinated shrimp. It was nice. The salmon was accompanied by the toast points, capers, etc. It was good, neither one was fishy, and it tasted fresh.
That was followed by a nice mixed greens salad, where I got the oil and viniagrette for the dressing. It was bright and fresh. Not wilted or grey.
always has a nice wine selection. We had four choices. I chose the Chamarre Grand Reserve Pinot Noir.
For the main course, the choices were:
Stuffed Shells Pomodoro
My first choice was the pasta, as I wanted to eat as light as possible. But seated in the back row on an even-numbered AA
flight meant that I would be served last. AA
used the FEBO system for first class meals. Meal service and choices are presented to the front on even flights and the back on odd-numbered flights.
They told me and my seatmate that all choices were available except for the pasta. So I picked my second choice--the Tilapia. Sometimes fish is rather dry onboard, but it wasn't this time. It was restaurant quality. It wasn't too dry and was fresh. It was served alongside a saffron risotto and some chopped up artichokes.
For dessert, the choices were either an ice cream sundae or a cheese plate. I wanted the cheese plate, and was going to get the port to go with it, but my sweet tooth took over and i got a strawberry sundae.
After that was served, they walked through the cabin with a box of Lindt chocolates.
During the meal service I watched a movie. On planes I usually read, but it's hard to read while eating a prolonged several course meal, so I watched Appaloosa, which was a good flick.
As I said before, the video monitors were better than I thought they would be. I was expecting the same old DVD players with an album full of DVDs. This was actually a small hard drive that was loaded down with movies and TV
shows. Even a OneWorld movie (that lasted 61 seconds). It also had games. You have to load in your origin and destination and then your name. I found out why later, because I accidentally shut mine off, and once I entered my info again, it remembered me.
Once the movie was over, I brought out the book, and was getting ready to go to sleep. Then came the dreaded part. I wanted to use the restroom. How was that going to work in AA
's new 767 biz from a window seat? My seatmate (who had conusumed about three beers so far) all the sudden started moving things around and was obviously going to the restroom too, to freshen up before going to sleep for the night. So it worked out really well.
As long as the seatmate isn't in full sleeping mode, then it's easy to get out. The trick is that the tray beneath the video monitor needs to be folded up, and if you fold it up, it shuts off the video monitor. We were able to just hold it up as I passed by without shutting it off. There is more space than you would think in those seats. There's virtually no storage. In fact I noticed a big difference between the new 777 business class seats and the 767. There's less storage in the 767.
They do have a vertical slot between the two seatbacks that most people dont' know what you are supposed to do with it. It's to put your shoes in. They don't fit on the floor if you make your seat into a bed. So the space is very efficient, but very comfortable at the same time.
I was continually changing the seat around in different configurations, sort of experimenting with it. That inspired my seatmate to do the same.
I made it back from the restroom before my seatmate, so I had some time to take a couple of shots, like the seatback video one just above.
Here's the nearly-fully flat sleeping position. It's not quite all the way down, but pretty close.
And here's my last look at North America before going to sleep.
The bed was actually rather comfortable. It lets you keep the footrest extended, so you don't get the feeling of sliding down. I didn't notice the angle on the bed, but once during the night, I "pushed up" from the bottom of my seat. It's not noticeable really.
Also, once my seatmate was asleep (because I didn't want to be rude) I put up the privacy divider. I don't think most people knew it was there, because nobody else used theirs. It was nice to put that up and then you can't see the person next to you. It was odd before I put mine up, because my seatmate was in a sitting positon and I was in a flat position and he was looking down at me. Sort of awkward. The privacy divider flips up from the armrest (which you don't use when you sleep) and makes it such that you can't see each other.
Just as I was going to bed, they passed out a bottle of water to everyone, which was nice, because I get so dehydrated on planes.
I slept better on that flight than I had on the last several long hauls that I had flown on. Primarily because of two factors. Most of my long haul flights last year were in coach, and the only one in first class was JFK
, which is just too short to get any meaningful sleep.
I woke up about an hour before I would have liked, but I slept so well that I lasted until about 9pm that night and felt fine--not jetlaggy.
Breakfast was a beautiful presentation. Very fresh, large, and colorful fruit. A cheese omelet and some turkey sausage and a "scallion and sour cream potato timbale" which was really a high-tech hash brown!
Here is my first view of land. Ireland was clouded over, yet me made landfall at ORK
and flew across the south of Ireland before heading to southern England.
This looks like they are either building or demolishing an airport somewhere, I'd say near Stonehenge. I don't remember exactly where, but it was south of Oxford.
As we approached London, the captain announced a 20-minute hold, as if it was a huge shock going into LHR
. To me, it's a shock if you don't!
This isn't the best, but it's a view of central London as we held.
This is better. We held very close to Heathrow, just south of the airport.
As we turned south, this is the best view I got of Gatwick. With the foggy morning and looking toward the sun, there was no hope of a good pic, but there it is just the same.
While circling I made out quite a few planes, but couldn't get a shot of any of them. It just didn't work out. There was a VS
A340 just beneath us.
This link is the landing video at LHR
runway 09L. I completely missed Windsor castle as I was late with my camera and so instead of trying to hurry with my camera to get a late shot of it, I just enjoyed watching it go by.
The nearby planes as we parked at T3
On the taxi-in, I had issues with my new camera switching from video to picture mode, so I missed quite a few shots unfortunately. Here's a Biman Bangladesh. I certainly don't see them very often!
provided me with a fast track thing to get through the passport control line quickly, but I used Iris Scan, which I signed up for last May. In July I was going to use the Iris, but the machines in T4
were broken that day. Finally, now in January, I got to use it. It was great, you just walk up, look into a machine, and it lets you in the country. It did print out a slip telling me how long I was allowed to stay in the UK (though I only planned to stay for 3 hours).
I had to go through customs and immigration because I was a nonrev and therefore had no boarding pass.
Once I got through customs, I really had doubts about going forward with my plans to BRU
. I'm a bit too much of an Anglophile and wanted to stay in the UK, since I was already there. It was hard, but I eventually decided to go forward with my plans. When I landed I even saw the Renaissance, which has incredible views of LHR
, and is my favorite airport for plane-spotting.
It was about 11:00am once I had gotten through the customs and immigration process, and so I headed down to the Heathrow Express to take me over to T5
. Once I got there, I walked over to the new Sofitel to see how the hotel looks---it is nice! It might have good airplane views when the 9s are in use, but not with the 27s in use. The hotel lobby area and the lounge, etc, are first class. The best part is that it is connected to T5
, so that makes it convenient, however it is a long walk, similar to the length of the walk from T4
to the Hilton is.
After checking it out, I went up to the departures level outside of T5
, which is a great spotting area, especially when the 9s are in use (and they were). I started over by the arrivals on 09L, but then remembered it was about time for some A380 action, so I went over to the departures area by 09R.
In this next one, I wondered which one is faster, the 744 to KL
, or the A380 to SIN
Then I went inside to check in. I went ahead and saved the hassle by checking my carry-on. I checked it in the bag sizer and it was about an inch over, and they are always so strict in the UK, I didn't bother trying to see if I could get it through security.
The self-service machine allocated me a seat, and allowed me to choose my seat assignment. From the menu displayed, it was a rather empty flight! I chose 17F toward the rear of the A319, so that I would have a row to myself.
Here I am just through security, which was easy and rather quiet (the calm before the snow storm!).
I couldn't picture it as well as I would have liked, but just showing off here that LHR
is full of 747s!
Among those 747s is this new Logojet for BA
! I had some good luck spotting during my 3-hour layover.
Look at this! A really bad picture due to the glare, but let me explain. Look closely. That's N801NW, the DL
Eventually I made my way to my gate. Here's my plane G-EUPX
40% full in Coach. Booked light in Club Europe too.
My first flight on a BA
A319 (though I have flown BA
A320s and A321s before). My first flight to BRU
Sandwich wrap and drinks served on a 45-minute flight.
Here's the queue for runway 09R. In there is Icelandair! Also, not pictured, was USAirways N256AY, which I flew CLT
on Jan 2nd!
This link is a video from walking down the glass jetbridge to the plane. Not terribly exciting, but it's only about 10 seconds long anyway.
So, we boarded on time. BA
boarded all rows at the same time like they seem to do at London now. I got in the line early and the agents asked me what airline I worked for. They said they had been talking about me on the standby list because they couldn't figure out what the 56 standby onload code signified. They seemed to know it was from another airline, but were glad to have it resolved when I told them I was AA
Here's my view once onboard.
Then we pushed back and got a decent view of Terminal 5's south end.
The takeoff video from LHR
This is the "welcome aboard announcement," explaining the cabin service to be expected on the flight. BA
is always so proper and professional.
Once airborne, the monitors came down, displaying the flight status on a map, and the 4 or 5 flight attendants got busy serving a sandwich and drinks on this very short flight.
Here's the flight status showing us entering the North Sea.
And here it is.
And here comes the Continent.
Here is the status showing us at our top of descent into BRU
And the cabin is almost prepared for landing.
And the Brussels landing video!
After deplaning (and I never could get a decent picture of the plane) I headed for the customs and immigration area. The outside of the terminals looked nice and new with large windows, but the interior area of the customs looked a bit older. There was no line for passport inspection. The officer simply asked me (in English) if my final destination was Belgium. I said yes. He stamped my passport, and that was that.
My hotel, the Brussels Airport Sheraton was advertised as just a few steps from the terminal, and that was the case. All I had to do was cross a street where the taxi rank was, and I was inside the hotel.
I think I was already in my room at 4:02pm, and my flight was scheduled to arrive at 4:00pm (we were a few minutes early). The view from the hotel wasn't very good, but it was very convenient for getting to the airport grocery store, which sold bottled water, sodas, and even beer for prices between 0.50 and 1.00 (Euro), and it was convenient with the train to the city centre.
Shortly after getting my things settled, I went downtown (this means you aren't off the hook yet, because you're with me until we get to Charlemagne!).
Here are some pictures from the lovely and lively central area of Brussels, which is completely pedestrian, so that makes it a great walking city.
I am a big fan of trying the local foods, so in the two nights I spent there, I had 1kg of mussels one night and the other night I had Waterzooi. Both were good. I also tried the local trappist ales while I was there.
The next morning concludes my quest! I went down to the food court of the airport while waiting for a train to the south station (Brussels Midi). There's a self-service cafeteria style restaurant that advertises great window views of the airport, so I got some morning pastries and a coffee there. Unfortunately, the sun wasn't to rise until about 8:00am, so the few pictures I took were in the dark.
There are more A330s per capita at BRU
than any other airport! * this is a statistic I just thought up. Don't quote me on it!
I went down to the Bruxelles Midi (Brussel Zud) rail station and here is the platform advertising my 0825 Thalys train to Koln, which I would take to Aachen, Germany. The ride was to be 1:42.
Here it is!
And the meal service! Or meal car.
It made one stop at Lieges, Belgium. On the way out of Brussels, we went by the airport, so that was interesting. Then near Lieges, I saw a DFW
regular plane...a Southern Air 747 (a white-painted cargo 747). It was very low near Lieges, so there must be an airport with a big cargo facility there somewhere?
Look how fast the train got going. If you've made it this far, this video is well worth a look. The speed is amazing!
And here we are at Aachen.
The front of the train.
The rail station.
It had a sign that it wasn't open for tourism until 1300, and it was 1030, so I got on a "hop on, hop off" city tour that took about 90 minutes all over the area.
The bus tour stopped here, at this stone. I put my hand on that stone, and at that time, my hand was in three countries at one time! It marks the place where the borders of The Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany all come together!
Back in town.
Approaching the Cathedral. I'll do an extremely brief history on Charlemagne and Aachen. Basically he was the first really big uniter of Europe (and of course it fell apart after he died) and a case can be made that he was really the inventor, or at least organizer of Latin, because he wanted a common tongue that spread the expanse of his Empire. He lived in the 8th century and died in the early 9th century, sometime around 814AD.
Here is the oldest part of the Cathedral. The ceiling is gold and totally mosaic. The walls are marble, and were redone about a century or two ago.
Look at the stained glass! (All blown out in WWII where Aachen took a severe pounding and was mostly leveled).
And finally. Here's the goal of my trip! The reliquary encasing the remains of Charlemagne!
This might be my longest trip report yet. Sorry for the length. If you've made it this far, then you should be congratulated!
Thanks for reading. Comments are welcome.