Ok, I'll start this with a quote from a very wise and well-travelled man:
"The longer you put off writing a report the harder it gets."
I just noticed that, but finally here it is, the report about my trip to Beijing, finished after just about *cough* 9 months *cough*
I'm sure you all know this situation: You get a newsletter from one of your preferred airlines informing you of a special offer for flights to a certain destination. And when you have a look at their website, it is hardly possible to find these special fares, and if you find them, they are only valid for dates when you cannot take advantage of the offer.
So when I received the Lufthansa Newsletter with offers to Beijing starting at 499€/519 CHF, I thought to myself 'Certainly...'. Nevertheless, I had a look and to my surprise there were lots of dates available. Thinking to myself that I would be stupid not to take this chance, all I had to do was to get approval from my group leader at work. Luckily, for the desired dates everyone else was in office, so I was free to go and I booked the flights directly from the office. Absolute bargain from my point of view: ZRH-FRA-PEK-FRA-ZRH for 519CHF, as advertised. To add to the experience, the Beijing flights would be on the A380. Time to experience the lower deck after I had already flown the Upper Deck on SQ from Singapore to Zurich on their A380 inaugural.
Plane: A320, D-AIQB "Bielefeld"
So here I was, the Saturday before Pentecost. The flight to Frankfurt would leave around noon, so for once I did not need to take the early morning bus which also includes a longer walk. Instead I just walked 100 m up to the nearest bus stop, after a 10 minute ride I arrived at the train station and a mere 25 minutes later I was at what my friends call my second home: Zurich Airport. Check-in 3 was the obvious choice for me and courtesy of my *G card, I could use the Business counter to drop my bag. I wanted to grab a real boarding pass, so for now I did not use the new Self-Service Bag drop machine. Something to try later...or not, apparently it is gone by now. Everything was handled quickly by the friendly check-in agent, including my request for a window seat on the first leg. I had preselected a seat on the A380 and the high number caught her by surprise. "Row 80? What kind of big plane is that?"-"The A380" was my answer, trying to give the most indifferent look to it. "Ah, ok," she answered with a smile. Apparently not too many people connect to an A380 flight from Zurich yet, and the SQ flights are handled by different personnel. So no reason to blame her for anything.
With the bag tagged and sent away and my boarding passes in hand, I made my way to Check-In 1. Boarding pass control at Check-In 2 was crowded as well as the one at Check-In 1 lower level. Luckily there is another checkpoint for First and Business as well as *Golds, and as expected, there was no line there so I was through in no time. Always good when you know "your" airport well and thus can avoid most queues Anyway, since the opening of the new security check building, I lost this advantage...
I paid a short visit the lounge to have a small bite, leave my usual Facebook comment about being in a lounge somewhere and call a friend whose birthday it was on that day. After that I made my way to security which was once more a breeze and staffed with friendly personnel. This wasn't even related to using the fast lane, as the queues were rather short everywhere. Another thing I like about ZRH: no matter how long the lines, security is always quite fast and the security personnel always answers when you greet them.
The Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt was a pretty standard experience. The crew friendly with rather mature staff this time did a good job and the cabin was in a good shape - although that wasn't too hard as it was equipped with the new economy class. The seats are relatively hard as mentioned by others before, but for me that's absolutely ok. Legroom was also more generous than in the old cabin.
Snacks (Milka bars) were already distributed at the door which I found strange at first, but given that ZRH-FRA takes only about half an hour in the air, I think they are already struggling with the drinks service, so every little helps. Indeed the attendants had just finished serving us in the back when descent started and they returned to the front directly after to collect the trash.
We landed on one of the 25s after 40 minutes in the air and for once taxied to an A gate. A rare pleasure for me.
The flight to Beijing would leave at 1715, so lots of time today to get to the C gates. I have to say I like that much better than the rush I had last year to catch my flight to Charlotte. It’s a long way to Tipp… no, to the top if you wanna… no, to the C-Gates. Yeah, that feels right.
The C gate area is tidy and quite bright. Just I think I somehow missed the direct connection with the A gates as I went out to the public area and back through security again. Well, that's FRA for me, I just can't manage to find the shortest way there...
Security was a standard FRA operation, i.e. my camera had to be checked for explosives. Strange somehow, this only happened once to me at HAM and every time I go through FRA. Whatever, the guy was nice, talking to me about DSLRs while we were on the way to the special check place and the check was fast as usual. Just it's located a bit awkwardly behind the passport check, to which I had to return afterwards. Anyway, shortly after I was looking for my way to the Lounge and when I thought I had found it, the Lounge Agent informed me that I was about to enter the Business Lounge but I could also go to the Senator Lounge. I found it at the place she described and entered that one. Basically it is a standard LH Gold Lounge with decent food and drink offerings and an additional area with two TVs showing news channels. And you have a good view over the apron, which also isn't the case in all lounges. My plane was nowhere to be seen and I already feared a downgrade to the 747 which stood at the next gate, but some 45 minutes before departure a tug appeared, towing D-AIMG "Wien" to the gate. The newest LH A380 in service at that time. She looked good in the broken sunlight. At least as good as a whale can look when on the ground
Plane: A380-800, D-AIMG "Wien"
When it was time for boarding, I tried to leave the lounge, but the doors leading to the gate were locked. There is a specialty here with the LH C gate lounges: At C14 and C15 you can get to the gate area directly from the lounge, so no need to leave it before boarding. The order is such that the Business lounge doors open first and when most of the passengers there have left, the doors from the Senator Lounge are opened and you can go to the plane through the Business Lounge. The exit leads directly to the Upper Deck, but there are also stairs to the Lower (Economy) Deck. Well, I hadn't minded to go down the stairs on the plane, but no need to block any aisles from my point of view, so I boarded as intended by LH and was greeted by a friendly crew. I read quite some trip reports and other opinions in which LH was judged as being below par for long haul. Something I cannot second for my flights, although the crew on the return flight was a bit better than this one.
Seat 80A is just at the trailing edge of the wing, which is my favourite place. It’s an amazing wing on the A380
The plane was full, when I walked around later, I saw no more than a handful of empty seats. Apparently this route attracts way more Chinese/Asian people than Europeans. I would guess that the distribution was 70/30. So both seats next to me were taken as well. The guy next to me had hardly settled, when he already claimed the armrest directly and complained about "Too few room at the shoulders". I think someone should've booked at least Biz Class... Anyway, I was satisfied with the seat and the legroom.
So I ignored his comment and he didn't bother mentioning anything again for the rest of the flight. Since I had the window seat, there was some space between the wall and the seat in front of me, just perfect to put my shoes there later in flight. Seat, cabin and windows were in good shape, but I didn't expect anything else from a plane that's in service for merely a month. Blanket, pillow and headset were on the seat when I arrived.
All announcements and information were given in German and English from the machine and additionally in Chinese by a crew member, assisted at all times by the PTVs. We were pushed back and made our way to Runway 25R (by now 25C). The captain came on the speakers and informed us that our takeoff weight was calculated to 504 tons. Not completely to the max, but still an impressive number. A short wait for a Condor 767 to land and then we could enter the runway.
During the takeoff run the characteristic vortices appeared from the engines and over the wings and soon we lifted smoothly and not long after we were in a right turn heading north and later northeast. Right in the middle of the turn, some wind hit the wings and it was fascinating to see how the wingtip bent down, thus flexing the middle of the wing up and shortly after the same thing happened in reverse order.
We made our way to the Baltic Sea, passing between the German cities of Gifhorn and Peine. I would've liked to see my study town from above, but it lies a bit further to the east, so no luck with that. Drinks service came pretty quick with immigration cards being haded out at the same time and I went for a beer with my salty snack. LH still serves Warsteiner, which isn't exactly the worst, but there are many better beers in Germany. I would favour a change in brand here. Trying to make some artsy picture with the bottle and it's reflections, but only partly succeeding:
The route took us further to Estonia and the South of St. Petersburg. Somewhere over Russia I caught this nice sunset - unfortunately I wasn't able until today to locate exactly where it was.
The meal service started some time later. I had pre-ordered a "No fish" meal, as I'm not particularly fond of seafood. However, in this case "no fish" was equal to "no meat". I didn't fancy this, but to be fair with Lufthansa, the meal wasn't bad at all, equally tasty and filling. Coffee and a choice of teas were offered in separate runs. I chose a Chinese Jasmin Tea which was quite tasty - although I missed the chance to compare to some Chinese made stuff... When I walked around the cabin later, there were snacks and drinks available in the galleys and the cabin crew was also doing drink runs every now and then. I also saw some of them chatting with other passengers, to which I wasn't in the mood.
The IFE system offered a very decent number of movies and albums/radio stations, so there was no chance of running out of something. Unfortunately it didn't seem possible to have the Flightshow and Music runnig at the same time.
Only disappointment was that the games and education items only seem to work with an additional controller. There was no word from the crew whether these were available and I also didn't see any in use. Anyway, I was contempt with my movie choices (No strings attached and something else I don't remember – yes Petteri, I know, I should write earlier ) and before going to sleep I tuned to some ZZ Top. That already worked well on my USA trip and did so again now. I had bought eyeshades and brought my earplugs since I knew these wouldn't be available in Eco. Unfortunately, the eyeshades didn't really fit and had a strong "new" smell, so they weren't too comfortable to wear and I woke up every now and then. I then checked the route map and noted that we were passing the cities of Karpinsk and Abakan over Russia before heading Southeast over Chinese soil. Another meal service commenced some two hours before landing, again a decent meal, although not overly exclusive.
A first sight of Chinese mountains came into view:
Soon after we were passing Beijing on the West and then turned to the North to line up with the runway. The skyline was visible in a light haze, but as I learned later, this was quite fair visibility. It decreased substantially during the next days.
Seeing the A380 deploy its mighty spoilers is amazing for me every time again. It looks like they are flowing from the wing and the stream just won't stop. Only a few minutes after our giant bird touched down very gently, even smoother than experienced it on lots of flights with smaller machines, followed by substantial breaking using the huge spoilers:
We made our way to the gate, which I followed on the tail camera:
Deboarding was quite quick and so I had my first impression of PEK airport. Looks good, although somehow empty in this area.
Lines at immigration were fairly long, but moved quickly, a pretty efficient operation here. Then finding the way to the Skytrain and moving to the main Terminal. Baggage claim was also a quick affair, assisted by a priority tag I picked up some money from the ATM and then was ready to catch the Airport Express to the heart of the city.
This was part 1 and 2 of the trip report.
Lufthansa had a very decent product, so far I had no major complaints. Ok, the food thing wasn't exactly as expected, but still far from bad. Apart from that, the staff both on board and on the ground were friendly and did a good job. It's no Asian-style top-notch product, but still a very good one.
Some impressions of Beijing before we turn to Parts 3 and 4 covering the return portion of the trip:
Jing Shan Park, Karaoke on Sunday
Inside the Forbidden City
My hostel, excellent value at 5€ per night in a dorm. Although I might spend a little more next time…
Certainly, a Brauhaus established in 1308?
Not sure what this sign in a toilet wanted to tell me
A very traditional Chinese restaurant at the Chinese wall…
Marco Polo Bridge
Stay tuned for the next part which will appear soon.
Of course any questions and comments are highly welcome!