Background (please read)
f you asked around in the forum, you would be probably not surprised by the great variety of professions/types of work, etc. of its members. Lawyers, nurses, a pimp here and there... But how many of us, who are not working directly or indirectly in the aviation field are frustrated pilots? I am sure there is a great number of us who for whatever reason ended up doing somethng different, unrelated to what we really wanted to be.
Me? I am a chemical engineer because my father pressed me to be an engineer. But if you look at the pictures of my childhood, every time we would be at an airport, I would be the only one not looking at the camera, but rather at the airplanes. I am almost 37 now and with age there has come the realization that I will never be a pilot. Also, the airplanes I grew up with and that were part of my dreams are all dissapearing one by one: Boeing 727, L1011, A300, DC10 are all planes that I loved as a kid and that are now pretty much gone.
The MD11 was always a favorite plane of mine. It was a beautiful version of the DC10. For whatever reason I love 3-holers and although I have done almost 700 flights that I can remember, the MD11 had managed to steer clear of my list.
In February, I noticed some incredibly cheap fares across the Atlantic from Madrid where I now live. We (me an my partner) had already decided on NYC when I discovered while playing with my flightradar24 application that KLM was flying the MD11 to San Francisco, where my twin brother lives... what perfect opportunity.
Of course it was not as cheap as NYC, but a quick case presented to the ministry of finance of my household (my partner) was approved on an emotional ground that it would be, probably, my last and only chance to ride on the MD11.
As the date approached, I realized that this trip would serve in a way to say goodbye to –in my opinion- one of the most beautiful planes ever built. But also, a farewell to my childhood dream of becoming a pilot. Why the drama? Because sometimes it takes a simple thing like a special flight to realize time is relentless and you just have to learn to smile.
The adventure begins
will only focus on my way to San Francisco and hence, my first ride on the MD11.
We booked a very early departure from Madrid to our connecting flight in Amsterdam. The flight is actually the first one to leave Barajas, so we had to be at the airport at 4AM. This is what Barajas´ ugly T2
looks like at 4AM on a Sunday Morning:
Check in Counter:
We had, of course, done our check in on line, so it was just a matter of dropping off our bags, which we did quickly. We then went through security, and slowly made it to our gate:
Our plane already visible:
There she is:
Boarding started around 5:30 and it was handled quickly:
Legroom shot. It looks small, but having flown on Iberia express so much lately, it felt I was in business class:
I have no recollection of our take off, or most of our flight. We had slept only about 2 hours so we pretty much slept on the plane the whole way. We landed smack on time in Amsterdam.
By the time we started deplaning, I started to get anxious. If you have red my trip reports, you will remember I don´t handle sleep deprivation too well, and will remember an embarassing moment prior to boarding my first A380 ride. Today would be no different, and as we made it through the terminal on our way to the E gates, I knew I was in trouble.
And there she was.... my first MD11 ride. Amy Johnson would be taking me to San Francisco today, and in the way, would remind me why I fell in love with airplanes in the first place. Knowing this, I sighed slowly fighting my tears.
How can you not love this model? I am no airline, so I don't care if she is fuel thirsty... I just loved the sleek lines... the imposing engine on the tail...
I started to become more agitated as the boarding time approached. I feared a cancellation, an equipment change... an alien invasion. Luck was on my side that day and boarding started right on time.
I stood there for a second and then I stepped on:
I was smiling even when I sat down:
And then something amazing happened. I looked at the window shade. I was actually marvelling at how large the windows are. And then I realized that the shades were old DC10 shades:
This was too much for me and this is when I shed a tear. I didn't mind that the guy sitting next to my partner was looking at me funny. He couldnt understand even if I explained it to him. My partner said nothing... he know.
Then a moment of horror. The pilot comes onto the PA system to say that a door is not closing properly. A sinking feeling that erased all my sapiness and emotions and turned them into fear. Here is the local maintenance personel looking at the door:
Luckily the pilot came back and said we were good to go! Ground personnel doing the final baggage loading:
We taxied slowly to runway 36L, which of course took about 2 years and 2 days.
And then... we were set to go. Long take off roll, marvelous engine sounds... A gift from me to all of you:
Long way to SFO
I am not going to bash the entertainment system, but it was quite old fashioned:
KLM is one of those airlines I have a soft spot in my heart for. They just can´t do no wrong. Flight attendants are usually pretty even if old, they are happy and cheerful, and have resisted Air France culture. I am sure the service was just as good as any other flight, but to me it felt friendly, nice, charming. Right after take off we were offered drinks:
And then lunch. I went for the pasta:
My partner went for the beef:
How was it? It was actually quite ok. They served warm bread which is something I truly love.
Bathroom was tight but well kept:
After a few hours of flying we were over Greenland:
They served a snack as well:
And about an hour and a half to go, we were offered a second meal. I think that “delicious pizza” is a bit pretentious, but the cous-cous was nice:
All good things must come to and end, and we started descending into SFO
It was a beautiful day, so the pictures I took as we overflew SFO
turned out quite nice:
We made a beautiful approach and landing. I think this is one of my best videos so far. Dramatic, stunning... perfect:
We slowly proceeded to the international terminal and my adventure was over. Luckily, and as opposed to my flights to SFO
from europe with LH
, my bags made it OK
My flight on the MD11 was everything I hoped it would be. It is a beautiful plane although I do see it´s old (the bins are way too small). In the end this trip served as a bit of closure to me. Bring on the boring 2 engine planes. That´s life now... and I am ok with it. In part because I got to fly her, and fly on Pan Am, and Eastern, and when I was very young a great airline now long gone, Viasa. The world and sometimes our lives chang fast and we must adapt. But I got the memories now.
And the aurora borealis? On our flight back we caught it while flying over northern Canada. Magical, no?
I leave you with two more videos. Our take off and landing on our way back from SFO
Thank you for reading!