Welcome to my twenty-second trip report, which details my experiences on Lufthansa from Europe to the United States and back earlier this year, in April and May of 2011. I hope you enjoy it. As always, feedback, comments and questions are greatly appreciated!
Eight months after moving from Washington, DC to Brussels, Belgium, the time came for me to return to America for a few days to deal with the rest of our belongings, which my girlfriend and I had left in a storage locker in northern Virginia near Washington.
In early April, I started looking for tickets to fly to Washington at the end of the month, when I would be able to take a few days off work on either side of a weekend. The best airfares were around USD $900, which was on the high end of my price range. I then explored award ticket availability on both Delta and United. At first glance, neither offered any low-level mileage awards. However, I did notice that United provided the option of searching for Star Alliance award tickets, including for Lufthansa flights. A quick look at my desired dates revealed dozens of options on Lufthansa for the “Saver” ticket price of 55,000 United miles, plus tax. I prefer Lufthansa to United anyway, so this was an excellent discovery. I surveyed the many routings available and eventually pieced together the following itinerary: Brussels – Munich – Washington Dulles on April 28, returning Washington National – Boston – Frankfurt – Brussels on May 2. Not only did this itinerary allow me to add one new airport (Munich) to my logbook, it also involved a new aircraft type for me (the A340-300), as well as four new routes (BRU
). The final cost came to 55,000 United Mileage Plus miles plus USD $123 in tax. In my opinion, this was a great value for a lot of great flying.
After booking my flights, I got in touch with a friend in Northern Virginia and arranged to stay at her house to save the cost of a hotel. I also booked a rental car from Hertz for four days, which came to just $90 total, while putting 1,400 miles back on my United account thanks to a promotional offer on car rentals of four or more days. With all the logistics in order, the day of departure soon arrived!
OUTBOUND TRAVEL – 28 April 2011
My alarm rang at 03:30 and after a shower and final preparations, my taxi arrived at the front door shortly before 04:30. Following a quick drive through the dark and rainy streets of pre-dawn Brussels, I arrived at the terminal around 04:45—plenty of time for my 06:45 departure to Munich.
Date: April 28, 2011
Flight #: LH2297
Aircraft Type: Airbus A320-214
Aircraft Registration: D-AIZA (Trier)
Scheduled Departure: 06:45 CEST
Actual Takeoff: 07:30 CEST
Scheduled Arrival: 08:00 CEST
Actual Landing: 08:43 CEST
Flight Time: 1:13
Distance: 599 kilometers / 372 miles
Seat: 25F (right-side window)
Load: Economy = 40% / Business = Unknown
My Logbook: 3rd flight on Lufthansa / 28th flight on the A320 / 276th airline flight overall
Upon entering Brussels’ departure terminal I quickly found the Lufthansa check-in counter and, after a ten-minute wait in the queue, was assisted by a friendly agent. Unfortunately the printer jammed while printing my boarding passes; the agent eventually wrestled one boarding pass free, but it came out wrinkled and missing a large chunk out of one corner. No problem, though; in five minutes she cleared the jam, reprinted my passes successfully and tagged my suitcase through to Washington Dulles, before sending me on my way.
Given the early hour, I cleared security quickly and proceeded to gate A45, where I arrived by 05:30. Boarding was scheduled for 06:15, but was a bit delayed and did not begin until 06:25. The passenger load was quite light, however, and once the process started I was one of the first to board. I found my way to seat 25F, a right-side window seat near the rear of the A320. By this time it had grown light outside, although the rain and drear continued. Another Lufthansa aircraft sat just off our right wing awaiting its early flight to Frankfurt.
This was my 28th flight on the A320, although my first on one of Lufthansa’s examples.
The seat pitch was not generous, but the cabin was clean and comfortable, sporting Lufthansa’s typical gray and white interior with yellow trim.
At 06:45, our scheduled time of departure, the captain made an announcement, first in German, then in English. He introduced himself and the first officer, welcomed everyone on board, and announced the good news that the door was closed and that we were set go. However, he also shared the bad news that our departure would be delayed because of foggy weather in Munich. He explained that arrivals into Munich were slower than normal due to just 200 meters of visibility on the ground there and that we would have to await a new slot from air traffic control. He promised to keep us updated and mentioned that the flight, once airborne, would last approximately one hour. I had a long enough layover in Munich so I was not too worried.
A half-hour later, at 07:15, the captain again came on the loudspeaker and announced that we had received our new clearance and that we were close to departure. At 07:20, we finally pushed from the gate, the tractor swung the aircraft nose-east, tail-west and the pilots brought the engines to life.
We made a quick taxi to the northeast corner of the airport. After holding short for one departing aircraft, we lined up on RWY 25R. At 07:30, the engines spooled to high power and we began a fast and powerful takeoff.
A few hundred feet off the ground, we entered the murk.
While still inside the clouds, we turned south and then east. By the time we emerged from the gloom into the blue above, we were already on a southeasterly course toward Germany.
The ride was smooth and comfortable as we climbed into the upper altitudes. The ground was not visible at all, but the clouds showed some interesting shapes and patterns below.
Exactly twenty minutes after departure, the flight attendants reached me with the food and drink cart. I asked for a coffee with milk and was also given a packaged Belgian waffle. The flight attendant was extremely friendly and asked me if I would like a cold drink in addition to my coffee; I declined this, but was nonetheless impressed at the fact that she offered a second beverage. The strong coffee was excellent and the waffle, despite being pre-packaged, was also tasty; I do like this “junk food” sometimes.
The ride continued over white cloudscapes consisting of vaporous canyons and crests.
At 08:10, about forty minutes into the flight, the captain made a short announcement that we would be landing at about 08:30 and that we should be at the gate around five minutes after that. By this time, we were already descending down and away from the grid of contrails in the flight levels above.
Ten minutes later, the captain again made an announcement and gave us the bad news that air traffic control had asked us to enter a holding pattern due to the continued fog in Munich. However, the good news was that we could expect a maximum of three turns, which would add, at most, another fifteen minutes. We soon entered the pattern and made a series of right-hand turns as we circled above the cloud blanket.
After several dips of the right wing, we assumed a level attitude and began the final descent toward Munich. Another Lufthansa jet joined us some distance off the right wing as it made a parallel approach to RWY 08R.
As we descended toward the clouds, the flaps dropped from the trailing edge of the wing.
The other Lufthansa jet kept its position off our wing as we made a synchronized descent.
Soon, we dropped into the fog and visibility dropped to near zero—even the tip of the wing could barely be seen.
Suddenly I spied the vague contours of the edge of the runway emerging from the fog. The ground was not visible until just a few seconds prior to landing.
We touched down smoothly at 08:43 on RWY08L. After slowing to a crawl, we exited the runway to the right. The visibility barely extended beyond the taxiway.
Once in the ramp area, one could only see the faint outline of nearby aircraft. It wasn’t until we neared the parking stand directly next to another aircraft that there was any depth perception outside the window.
Once parked at stand 244, the engines whined down. I exited via airstairs from the rear of the aircraft. On the ramp I grabbed a couple of misty under-wing shots.
From the stand, a bus took us to the G section of Terminal 2, where we arrived a little after 09:00. I still had almost two hours until boarding would begin for my flight to Washington, so I decided to wander and explore. In general, I found the Munich airport nicer than that of Frankfurt, which seems to be a bit rougher around the edges. After a couple of laps through the G gates, I followed the signs to the H gates, passing through passport control in order to exit the Schengen zone, followed by another security check prior to the U.S. departure gates. I easily found my gate, H14, although the inbound aircraft had not yet arrived. I passed the time snapping some photos of the ramp, which became increasingly visible as the fog burned off.
This US Airways A330 was bound for Philadelphia.
Date: 28 April 2011
Flight #: LH414
Aircraft Type: Airbus A330-343
Aircraft Registration: D-AIKO
Scheduled Departure: 11:35 CEST
Actual Takeoff: 13:00 CEST
Scheduled Arrival: 14:55 EDT
Actual Landing: 16:11 EDT
Flight Time: 9:11
Distance: 6,861 kilometers / 4,263 miles
Altitude: FL360 / FL380 / FL400
Seat: 40K / 40A
Load: Economy = 50% / Business = Unknown / First = Unknown
My Logbook: 4th flight on Lufthansa / 4th flight on the A330 / 277th airline flight overall
I stuck close to my departure gate, H14, and did some work on my laptop. Around 10:30, about twenty-five minutes before scheduled boarding, I noticed the gate had been changed to H02. There had not been an announcement, only a change on the screens in the terminal. I packed up my laptop and headed down the corridor to H02. Upon arriving at the new gate, I immediately noticed that departure time had been pushed back to 12:25, an hour behind schedule. I stayed close to the gate in case of any more changes and passed the time reading one of the complimentary newspapers Lufthansa offers throughout the terminal—a nice perk, in my opinion. After a half-hour, I got up to stretch my legs and snapped a couple photos of the airport facilities.
The fog had mostly burned off by this time, and the sun was beginning to emerge.
At 11:25, the inbound aircraft finally arrived at the gate and the agents announced that forty minutes were needed to offload and service the aircraft before boarding.
In the end, it took closer to an hour until boarding began. At 12:30, I finally made my way down the jetway and on to the massive twinjet. I was greeted by a friendly flight attendant in German at the door of the aircraft and directed to the far aisle in order to reach my seat at 40K, a right-side window seat. Once again, the cabin was clean and well-maintained.
However, seat pitch was somewhat tight for an upcoming flight of more than nine hours. The seat next to mine was soon occupied, which further limited my elbow room.
As boarding continued, the captain made a welcome announcement and apologized for the delay. He mentioned that the inbound aircraft had, in fact, just come from Washington Dulles, where it had left two hours late due to a mechanical issue. He also noted that the expected flight time would be eight hours and fifty minutes. One thing in particular I noticed about this captain was his accent. I could tell he was German and not quite a native English speaker by the way he formed his sentences and the way he pronounced a few individual words; however, his accent otherwise sounded almost perfectly American. He had clearly spent considerable time in the U.S. at some point in his life, or otherwise had personal connections to America.
Finally, once boarding was complete, the doors closed and we pushed back from the gate at 12:50, almost an hour-and-a-half late.
Even from my seat behind the wing, the noise was faint as the giant turbines were brought to life. After taxiing to the northwest corner of the airfield, we arrived at the threshold of RWY08L, the same runway on which I had landed four hours earlier.
After a short hold, we took to the centerline at exactly 13:00 and began the takeoff roll.
We smoothly rotated and the runway fell away quickly beneath us, although the sensation was not particularly powerful.
The aircraft soon entered a left turn before straightening once again on a northwesterly course. As we climbed, we popped through several levels of clouds.
According to the flight information presented on my personal screen, we leveled briefly at FL280 and again briefly at FL330 before reaching our initial cruising altitude of FL340 just north of Frankfurt. At that point, the seat belt sign was switched off. I noticed that both the window and adjacent seat in my row on the opposite side of the aircraft remained open, so I decided to make the switch. The passenger next to me let me out and I hurriedly made my way through the back galley and then up the opposite aisle, hoping to snag the two seats before someone else noticed them. I succeeded and soon settled comfortably into seats 40A and 40C. My new view out the window looked like this.
Approximately fifty minutes after takeoff, we passed over Amsterdam and also increased our altitude by another two thousand feet, to FL360. As we then continued over the North Sea, the flight attendants came though the cabin offering hot towels followed shortly by the first beverage service. I asked for a beer, which was quickly provided along with a bag of snack mix. The friendly flight attendant asked if I would like anything else to drink; I asked for a sparkling water. Once again, I was impressed by the Lufthansa service. I have noticed that on some carriers, especially those in the U.S., asking for two drinks can lead to an annoyed response from the flight attendant; on Lufthansa, however, it seems to be not only offered, but also encouraged.
We continued west-northwest and soon the English coast came into view.
I sipped my beer and enjoyed the view of clouds, land and water out the window. As we continued over England, I spied the occasional jet crossing our path here in the upper flight levels.
We soon reached England’s west coast, passing overhead Liverpool, as seen in the photo below.
An hour-and-a-half into the flight, the meal service began. The choices were either Thai chicken with rice or spaghetti bolognese. I opted for the Thai chicken and was not disappointed. The chicken and rice portions were somewhat small, but the quality was good and the sides included a decent salad with baby shrimp, a bread roll with butter and cheese and a piece of lemon cake. Overall, it was one of the better meals I have had in economy class on a European carrier.
Coffee and tea were offered immediately after the meal. I declined, however, and instead watched out the window as we reached Ireland and continued west over the green countryside.
Some minutes later the flight attendants again passed through the aisle offering either cognac or Baileys Irish Cream. A taste of cognac sounded about right, and the nice flight attendant quickly obliged by pouring me a generous portion.
Right behind the liqueur cart, another flight attendant followed, passing out U.S. customs and immigration cards. I sipped my cognac while filling out the necessary document.
Before I knew it, Ireland had slipped behind the wing and there was only open ocean and scattered clouds as far as the eye could see. So long, Europe, for a few days anyway.
About two hours and fifteen minutes into the flight, we increased altitude once again, this time up to FL380. Meanwhile, the flight tracking information on my personal screen indicated another 3,112 miles (5,008 kilometers) to Washington Dulles, which would take another six hours and forty three minutes. Our groundspeed at the time was listed at 520 miles per hour (837 kilometers per hour).
Out over the Atlantic, I passed the time napping on and off, while in between checking out the in-flight entertainment offerings. I ended up watching most of the movie “Little Fokkers,” which provided some mild amusement. I also took photos periodically; of course, for me, no trip would be complete without the obligatory zoomed-in wingtip shot.
Approximately every forty-five minutes to an hour, the flight attendants came through the cabin offering water and juice. At one point I took an apple juice.
The time passed quickly as the hours began to blur together. As we reached the western side of the Atlantic, the clouds below thickened into a monotonous, white blanket, which persisted as we crossed the Canadian coast over the island of Newfoundland.
Over the city of Corner Brook, Newfoundland, we hit a patch of rough air, prompting the return of the seatbelt sign. We also moved up to FL390, where the ride was smoother. The flight information on my screen indicated another two and a half hours until landing. Another round of juice and water was offered, but I asked if I could have a coffee instead. The flight attendant said she would come back with it in five minutes, but she never did. I did not care enough to find her and ask again, so I let it go.
Soon thereafter, the flight attendants began the pre-arrival snack service. This started out with a hot towel, followed approximately forty-five minutes later by a choice of either pizza or a hot dog. I opted for the pizza, which was quite tasty (even if the appearance was not exactly refined).
A full drink service came about 20 minutes after the snack service; the selection was good but the timing was annoying, as I would have liked a beverage with my food. Nonetheless, I finally got my coffee, as well as a cup of sparkling water, so no complaints. Again, the flight attendant asked if I would like both hot and cold drinks, which I thought was impressive compared to other carriers.
Meanwhile, we increased our altitude yet again, moving from FL390 to FL400. As far as I know, this was only the third time in my nearly three hundred flights that I have reached the 40,000 foot mark. As we continued to the southwest, the thick cloud layer below started to break apart, although still there was nothing visible on the ground.
As we jetted over the U.S. states of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont the clouds broke apart even more revealing the countryside below.
We then continued over upstate New York. The in-flight map provided only a zoomed-out perspective of our position, so at the time I, assumed the airport in the next photo was that of Syracuse. I later found out, thanks to Google Earth, that this airport is actually Griffiss International Airport near Rome, New York, approximately thirty miles (forty kilometers) northeast of Syracuse.
Even after eight hours in the air, staring out the window at that gorgeous wing did not get boring. This was my porthole to the outside world.
Still over the state of New York, we passed a small ski area holding on to a few remnants of the winter snowpack.
Thanks to Google Earth once again, I now know that I snapped a photo of the town of Horseheads, New York, just north of the larger city of Elmira in the south-central part of the state.
Immediately thereafter, the Elmira/Corning Regional Airport came into view. This small airport sees service with Delta Connection to Detroit and US Airways Express to Philadelphia, as well as Allegiant Air to Florida.
As we continued, the captain with the near-perfect American accent came on the intercom and gave an update, explaining that rough air and bad weather along the Atlantic coast had forced us to take a more inland route to the west of Syracuse, but that we were now turning back to the south-southeast on a course toward the Washington, DC area. He also noted that the weather at Dulles Airport was mostly cloudy with intermittent rain showers, gusty winds and a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit), with arriving traffic landing to the south. Meanwhile, over the mosaic farm fields of Pennsylvania, we began our descent from the lofty perch of 40,000 feet.
As we dropped lower, it actually appeared to be a rather nice day in the mid-Atlantic region, with only sporadic puffy clouds obscuring the fields below.
However, the storm front along the Atlantic coast, which the captain had mentioned, soon became evident in the distance to the east, off our left wing.
Nonetheless, we continued our gradual descent through mostly smooth skies.
As we approached the Washington, DC metropolitan region, we passed just west of Frederick, Maryland.
Frederick Municipal Airport came into view a few miles to our east.
After almost nine hours tucked away beneath the wing, the flaps began their downward march as we slowed and stabilized on final approach.
Meanwhile, the brown waters of the Potomac River, just north of Dulles Airport, passed below on their way toward the nation’s capital and the Chesapeake Bay beyond.
We glided lower and lower. To me, landings are bittersweet. They are an exciting and critical phase of flight, but also mark the end of the fun!
At 16:11 local time, after nine hours and eleven minutes on the wing from Munich, the tires of the Lufthansa jet made contact with the asphalt of Dulles’ RWY18C. However, the jet lifted back into the sky as the aircraft gained altitude noticeably. Strangely, it seemed we had touched down only to then initiate a go-around. However, the airframe then settled back on the pavement and began the normal process of slowing in the run-out phase. Despite the large and noticeable bounce, the whole landing felt relatively smooth.
Once we had slowed to taxi speed, we exited the runway to the left. As we made our way toward the terminal complex, I spied a newly-rebranded United 777 sporting the Continental livery. This was my first, in-person glimpse of the new United paint scheme. I am not a huge fan of the spaced-out U N I T E D lettering.
The big jet picked its way slowly through the tight taxiways. Soon Dulles’ characteristic main terminal and control tower appeared in my window.
At 16:19 local time, we came to a halt at Gate B45/47, which is served by two jetways. This nice Boeing from Vienna occupied the spot next to us.
Once off the airplane, I snapped a couple of photos of the bird that had just flown me across the Atlantic.
After a brief wait, I boarded one of the iconic Dulles “people movers” for the ride across the ramp to the main terminal. I always love seeing the ramp action from the vantage point of these vehicles; this time, I had some nice views of a beautiful Lufthansa 747 freshly arrived from Frankfurt.
After a quick ride across the ramp and a fifteen minute wait to get through immigration control, I claimed my single duffle bag and emerged into the arrivals hall. Following another quick shuttle ride, I arrived at the Hertz rental car facilities beyond the main terminal, where I soon received the keys to my rental car, a Toyota Yaris.
I drove the fifteen minutes to my friend’s townhouse near Reston, said hello and freshened up before heading to the storage unit to assess the task that awaited me. As it turned out, the next three days were extremely busy as I sorted through our belongings. I succeeded in selling our remaining furniture via craigslist and donated most of our other belongings to charity. In the end, there were some things my girl and I did not wish to part with, but that we did not want to ship to Belgium. So instead, I boxed them up and sent them to my mother in Montana for safe (and free!) storage in her garage.
On the final day of my stay in Washington, before catching my evening flight out of Washington Reagan National (DCA
) to Boston and onward to Europe, I took the opportunity to visit one of my favorite places—Gravelly Point. This famous aircraft spotting location was just a five minute drive from my former apartment in Arlington and was a place where I spent many hours pursuing my enthusiasm for aviation. It is a place for which I have yet to find a replacement. Here are a few photos from my brief, half-hour visit to Gravelly Point.
All too soon, it was time to make my way to the terminal to catch my 18:30 departure.
INBOUND TRAVEL – 02/03 May 2011
Date: 02 May 2011
Flight #: US2044 (originally scheduled flight) / US2042 (actual flight)
Aircraft Type: Airbus A319-112
Aircraft Registration: N730US
Scheduled Departure: 18:30 EST (originally scheduled flight) / 17:30 EST (actual flight)
Actual Takeoff: 17:38 EST
Scheduled Arrival: 19:57 EST (originally scheduled flight) / 19:03 EST (actual flight)
Actual Landing: 18:47 EST
Flight Time: 1:09
Distance: 399 miles / 642 kilometers
Load: Economy = 100% / Business = 100%
My Logbook: 9th flight on US Airways / 21st flight on the A319 / 278th airline flight overall
After leaving Gravelly Point, I quickly and easily dropped off my Hertz rental car at DCA
’s return facilities in the parking garage and proceeded through the covered walkway toward the terminal building.
I continued through the airport—one of my absolute favorite terminals—and paused briefly at several points to grab some photographs. What a beautiful building!
Upon arriving at the US Airways check-in area at the northern end of the terminal, I entered my confirmation number into one of the self-service kiosks. However, the screen instructed me to see a proper agent. After a short wait, I presented my passport to the agent at the desk, who seemed more interested in chit-chatting with her colleagues, which I did not find very professional. Nonetheless, she looked up my reservation and informed me that my 18:30 flight to Boston had been cancelled and that I would be put on the 17:30 departure instead; at this point, it was already 16:55, so I would have to hurry to the gate. I asked if it would be possible to have a window seat on my rebooked flight; she replied that the flight was completely full and that I would have to make due with a middle seat. I was disappointed, but knew that further discussing it would not lead to anything, and besides, there was not much time. I placed my two large suitcases on the scale and, fortunately, both came in just under the weight limit at 49 pounds (22 kilograms). The agent, who was still chatting with her colleagues about their personal lives, tagged both of the bags and tried to send me on my way. However, she had not given me my boarding passes—only my baggage receipts! She had forgotten to pull the boarding passes from the printer and, only after I had reminded her of them did she nonchalantly hand them over before returning to her conversation. I believe this was the first time I have ever checked in and had to specifically remind the agent to give me my boarding passes! However, there was a bright side to her incompetence. Normally, I should have paid $55 for my second checked bag. Apparently this was not on her mind, and I definitely did not bring it up. Of course, I was happy not have been charged. Still, I was not very impressed with the US Airways experience so far. There was no explanation for the cancelled flight and, although I ended up getting a seat on an earlier flight, the incompetency of this agent was astounding.
Fortunately, the security lines were extremely light and I was through in less than five minutes. I soon found my Airbus A319—still sporting the old, dark blue and grey fuselage—being prepped at Gate 45.
Shortly after arriving at the gate area, boarding began. The process went rather slowly for us coach passengers; with the aircraft boarding from the rear in intervals of just three rows, it took awhile for me, in seat 9E
, to finally head down the jetway. At 17:20, I made my way onto the aircraft and found my seat on the right-hand side. To my surprise, I had lucked out by receiving a “non-window, window seat.” Although I was still in the “middle” seat, there was no seat next to mine because I was in an exit row. I was not directly next to the window, but at least no one was sitting between me and my view. For having a middle seat, this was not bad at all! I snapped the obligatory leg photo—nothing special, but it is interesting to note that there were two safety cards in my seat pocket. Perhaps one was for the non-existent seat to my right?
As the final preparations for departure were being completed, one of the pilots gave an announcement from the flight deck welcoming everyone aboard and indicating an expected flight time of one hour. At precisely our scheduled departure time of 17:30, the aircraft pushed backward from the gate and the engines spooled to life. Based on my earlier spotting session at Gravelly Point and the stiff wind I had felt from the south, I knew we would be departing from RWY19. I had been hoping for a RWY01 departure with its great views of downtown Washington; but sure enough, we began taxiing to the north, which unfortunately meant a southbound departure.
After a quick taxi, we took to the centerline and the two engines screamed to full thrust. I felt my back push hard against my seat and we rocketed off the runway at 17:38. The Airbus climbed straight out for several minutes before making a wide left turn back to the north-northeast. Given that I was several feet from the window and that the weather was mostly cloudy, I did not snap as many photos as I normally would have. Indeed there was not much to see out the window; still, here is a photo of the gray wing slicing through a gray sky as we climbed out of the Washington area.
At 18:10, about thirty minutes into the flight, one of the pilots made an announcement informing us that we had reached our cruising altitude of FL330. He mentioned that we would cruise for about 20 minutes before beginning our descent at 18:30, with an anticipated landing time of 18:55. As he was making his announcement, the flight attendants reached my row with the beverage cart. As this was a US Airways Shuttle flight, beer and wine were complimentary; being one to indulge in such situations, I gladly accepted a can of cold, crisp Becks. The flight attendant serving me was extremely friendly and efficient. In this case, I was quite impressed; kudos to the flight crew and to US Airways.
I passed the time sipping my beer and reading the Washington Post, which of course was filled with news about the previous day’s raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden. Glancing around the cabin, scores of people were reading newspapers with Bin Laden’s photo on the front. It was a bit strange to be on an airliner seeing photos of Bin Laden all around me. At the same time, it was also uplifting to know that people were still flying, continuing to do the very things this terrorist had tried to disrupt. Somehow that thought made me enjoy my flight just a little bit more.
At 18:30, the pilot made yet another announcement, updating us with the latest weather in Boston. I always appreciate it when pilots are chatty and give their passengers as much information as possible. He noted that we had just started our descent and that our expected landing time of 18:55 was still on target. The weather in Boston was good, with ten miles (16 kilometers) of visibility, scattered clouds and a temperature of 58 Fahrenheit (14 Celsius).
The flight attendants collected the beverage cans and cups as we dropped through several layers of gray atmosphere. Eventually we dropped from the clouds and I spied the waters of Boston Harbor. I like this scenic approach, with the many islands emerging from the water.
We landed smoothly, and earlier than anticipated, on RWY04R at 18:47 after one hour and nine minutes in the air from Washington. The aircraft turned left off the runway and proceeded toward the B Terminal, where we arrived at Gate 18 just a few minutes later. On the way I had a nice view of the iconic control tower at Boston Logan.
As I had been in the front third of the aircraft, I deplaned quickly. Once in the terminal, I of course took the opportunity to grab a photo of the nice little Airbus that had delivered me to Boston.
I also took the time to grab a few photos of the local machinery—all US Airways from this vantage point.
The Boston skyline loomed in the background, which, combined with the setting sun, provided a beautiful view.
After seeing all the action there was to see from this part of the complex, I proceeded toward the exits, trying to follow the signs to the international facilities at Terminal E. Unfortunately neither the signage nor the layout of the terminals were particularly user-friendly, but after making my way through the parking garages, I found the way. As I already had my boarding pass for the Boston-Frankfurt leg, and as my bags were automatically being forwarded, I did not need to visit the Lufthansa check-in counters. However, I managed to snap a couple of photos of the nice, modern check-in area of Terminal E.
After a ten minute wait, I made my way through security and arrived airside at 19:45, still two and a half hours before my flight to Frankfurt. I knew I would receive dinner over the Atlantic, but I was hungry and needed something sooner. The food offerings were not extensive inside the secure zone, so I settled for O’Brian’s Pub. I ordered a Sam Adams and a chicken quesadilla, which hit the spot temporarily.
After eating, I pulled out my laptop at the table to do some work-related tasks. After completing a brief survey of my experiences at Boston Logan, I was entitled to an hour of free Wi-Fi—not a bad deal.
Date: 02/03 May 2011
Flight #: LH421
Aircraft Type: Airbus A340-311
Aircraft Registration: D-AIGH (Koblenz)
Scheduled Departure: 22:15 EST
Actual Takeoff: 22:18 EST
Scheduled Arrival: 11:30 CEST
Actual Landing: 11:38 CEST
Flight Time: 7:20
Distance: 3,669 miles / 5,905 kilometers
Altitude: FL350 / FL360 / FL370 / FL390
Load: Economy = 90% / Business = Unknown / First = Unknown
My Logbook: 5th flight on Lufthansa / 1st flight on the A340-300 / 279th airline flight overall
Eventually the scheduled boarding time of 21:30 arrived and I proceeded toward the gate, which was not far from where I was sitting. The gate area was extremely crowded with an A340-load of passengers all clamoring to get onboard. At 21:40, the process began with the upper echelons boarding first, followed by everyone in coach class without regard to row or seat position. Somehow the chaos worked rather efficiently and I soon made my way down the corridor and into the fuselage. I found my seat at 37K, a right-side window near the rear of the aircraft. As before, the legroom was tight but still acceptable.
I had selected this particular return itinerary in order to experience my first flight on the A340-300 and, for that matter, only my second flight on an A340 of any variant (the other being a LH
A340-600 I flew on from Chicago to Frankfurt in 2008). I had not been able to see the aircraft at all from the gate, so the writing on the safety card showed that I was indeed on the right machine, as did the slender-shaped outboard engine hanging from the right wing.
While still parked at the gate, the Captain made an announcement, first in German and then in English, welcoming us onboard and mentioning that our aircraft was an “Airbus 340-300.” He indicated that our expected flight time was six hours and fifty-five minutes and that our route would take us over Newfoundland, the Atlantic Ocean south of Iceland, Scotland and further toward Germany. Upon arrival in Frankfurt, the weather was expected to be similar to that of Boston—cloudy but no rain and decent visibility.
With the hatches buttoned and the passengers seated, we pushed back from the gate at 22:10, five minutes ahead of schedule. We taxied a short distance to the threshold of RWY15R and briefly paused for a British Airways 747-400 departing in front of us. At 22:18, the four engines spooled up and we began a lumbering takeoff roll, finally rotating into the night sky. The sensation was not especially powerful as we slowly climbed out over Boston Harbor before making a shallow left turn. Five minutes after leaving the runway, the flight tracker on my screen showed an altitude of just 3,000 feet (914 meters); after a full ten minutes in the air, we had climbed to only 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). The ride was easy and smooth, but we certainly were not setting any time-to-climb records with this big bird. Thirty minutes after departure, we leveled off at FL350 while plotting a course to the northeast toward Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Shortly thereafter, the flight attendants came through the cabin offering hot towels. Another forty minutes passed—which was approximately an hour and fifteen minutes into the flight—before they came through again with dinner and drinks. Unlike on my westbound, daytime crossing of the Atlantic a few days earlier, there was no pre-meal drink. Perhaps this was because of the late-night departure and the need for the crew to expedite the dinner service in order to allow passengers more time to sleep. However, the amount of time following departure that it took for the meal to arrive was approximately the same on both flights. So if the reason for not serving a pre-meal drink was indeed to expedite the dinner service, that strategy did not work. Granted, this flight was fuller than the one several days ago, which certainly affects the speed of the service.
When dinner arrived, the choice was either chicken and rice or pasta. I opted for the pasta, as I had chosen the chicken and rice several days earlier. Unfortunately, the meal was not as good this time. The salad was soggy, the pasta was dry and dull, as was the bread roll, and the chocolate brownie with too much whipped cream was mediocre at best. I took the food with a decent glass of white wine.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with this meal. Other than free wine, there was little to distinguish the quality of this meal from what is served on most US carriers on transatlantic flights. For a European carrier, I was expecting the food on this flight to be a notch better. And certainly, this meal was of a lower quality that what Lufthansa had offered on my westbound flight a few days before.
Shortly after the dinner trays were cleared, the flight attendants went through the cabin offering either cognac or Baileys Irish Cream, just as they had on the earlier westbound flight. This was most welcome, as I was looking forward to a post-meal cognac. However, the flight attendant passing by my seat seemed to not actually want to offer anything. He hurriedly walked down the aisle and I had to make an extra attempt to actually get his attention and ask for a drink; even then, he poured me a shot and handed it to me without so much as a word. He was not rude per se, just indifferent.
I sat back, relaxed and sipped my cognac while catching up on writing some postcards. Postcards may be old-fashioned in this modern age, but in my family they remain an important ritual!
Meanwhile, the big quad-jet headed out over the open Atlantic. I love crossing this ocean. No matter the aircraft, airline, direction, time of day (or night) or anything else, an Atlantic crossing is always special to me. With my postcards finished, I settled in, leaned back and contemplated this feeling, this flight and my transatlantic flights of the past.
I dozed off for a couple of hours, sleeping restlessly in my cramped seat. I woke up every 15 minutes, on average. Still, that is part of the experience and I am never one to complain too much!
About four hours into the flight, I opened the window shade and noticed the sun had begun to rise. The ride was smooth and peaceful as we jetted eastward through the dawn sky.
At this point, we were directly over the middle of the Atlantic, with about three hours to go until Frankfurt. In the meantime, we had moved up another thousand feet to FL360.
Despite the beautiful sunrise, I was tired and fell back into a restless sleep once again. When I awoke and reopened the window shade, the sun was high in the sky and the sounds of the breakfast service were beginning to fill the cabin. At this point we were almost six hours out of Boston and had a little more than one hour remaining until arrival in Frankfurt. As we continued east-south-east over Wales, we also made one final altitude increase, from FL370 to FL390.
Soon the Bristol Channel came into view just west of Cardiff.
The breakfast cart reached my row and I was offered a cardboard box with plastic-wrapped items. The pre-packaged presentation looked somewhat artificial and unappetizing.
Once I had removed all the wrappers, however, it looked more edible. The fruit was fresh and the bread roll tasted nice. A cup of hot coffee also hit the spot.
We soon left British airspace behind and continued overhead the English Channel. This narrow strip of water passed quickly and the French coast of the European mainland came into view.
The weather was clear and I enjoyed nice views of the port and city at Dunkirk, France, situated close to the Belgian border.
As the flight attendants cleared the last of the breakfast items, the flight map showed us directly overhead Brussels. Although this was my final destination, I still had a stop in Frankfurt, first. I do not mind backtracking—the more flying the better!
Soon thereafter, one of the pilots made an announcement that because of high winds in Frankfurt, aircraft movements were limited to one direction and that the flow of traffic was slower than normal. As a result, he explained, we were instructed to fly holding circles—likely for about ten minutes—while awaiting our landing clearance. He also noted that, aside from the windy conditions, the weather was nice with sunny skies and a temperature of 10 degrees C (50 degrees F).
We soon entered into a series of right-hand turns; the map showed that our holding altitude was FL190 (5,791 meters) as we traced ovals in the sky near Koblenz, Germany, northwest of Frankfurt.
After making two complete turns, we left the holding pattern and proceeded to the west of Frankfurt. We continued our descent toward the broken cloud layer below.
All of a sudden, I spied a fast-moving streak of metal outside and pushed my camera toward the window. I managed to get two photos of this Lufthansa 747-400 as it passed beneath us and quickly slipped from my field of view.
We eventually entered a left-hand turn and began making our way back to the east toward Frankfurt.
We descended through the broken cloud layer and the flaps began to extend. Soon the Rhine River near Mainz slipped beneath the wing perpendicular to our heading. The air was rough and jolted even our big quad-jet back and forth.
Immediately thereafter the city of Rüsselsheim came into view as we descended through the choppy air.
The forests just west of the airport filled my window as the aircraft dropped ever lower until finally, the perimeter of the field came into view.
The A340 crossed overhead RWY18/36 before settling into a gentle flare.
At 11:38 CEST the tires smoothly touched the asphalt of RWY07R after seven hours and twenty minutes on the wing from Boston. Despite the bumpy approach nearly all the way to the pavement, the landing was soft as could be.
We exited the runway to the left and taxied slowly to the terminal. We crossed the parallel RWY07L/25R before passing a number of heavy Lufthansa cousins on the tarmac.
We docked at the gate next to a British Airways 767 at about ten minutes before noon. With that, another transatlantic voyage was complete.
It took another ten minutes before I was able to get off the aircraft. Once inside the terminal, before continuing to immigration control, I found a nice view of my Airbus A340 and snapped a couple of photos. Thanks for the ride!
As I was not issued a boarding pass in Washington for the final Frankfurt-Brussels leg, I proceeded to the nearest transfer desk. After a five minute wait, the friendly agent issued my document and directed me onward to immigration, which was a considerable distance by foot down a series of long corridors. Thankfully, immigration itself was a quick affair and I then exited the secure zone and entered the main hall of Terminal 1. As my next flight was scheduled to depart from the A gates at the western end of the terminal, I continued to the opposite side of the main hall and proceeded directly back through security.
Date: 03 May 2011
Flight #: LH1012
Aircraft Type: Boeing 737-530
Aircraft Registration: D-ABIR (Anklam)