All good things must come to an end – in fact, things were so good that I had long been toying around with the idea of paying the rebooking fee so I could delay my departure (my flight home was part of the same round trip itinerary from part 3), but eventually I had to decide against that for practical reasons – my visa going invalid and me needing to look for a summer job/internship back home.
However, I had originally planned to return to Chicago a few days ahead of my flight from ORD back to Europe. I kept procrastinating booking the flight from RDU up to Chicago in denial of the onsetting reality but eventually realized that I would only be hurting myself more (financially) if I didn’t make a move soon.
Still, I broke with my original plan and booked the domestic segment for just one day before my intercontinental flight. Reasons for that were plentiful: I wanted to fly Southwest because upon returning from winter break, I had brought a second suitcase Russian doll-style and by flying WN domestically I would only have to pay the additional bag fee once. Southwest’s best offers fell on a morning flight on May 14, meaning I’d still get to spend almost two full days in Chicago.
Moreover, over the course of the second semester I became very close with my roommates and started dating a girl I met at that university, so I wanted to spend as much time around them as possible instead of roaming around the Windy City sad and alone.
It ended up working out well because a friend from one of my classes was there around the same time for his grad trip and offered me to spend that one night in the Airbnb with him and his friends, so, in the last week of April I settled on an itinerary.
About two weeks later, the dreaded day of departure had arrived. After a final dinner and a round of beer pong on our porch the night before, I woke up around 5:45 and my roommates drove me to RDU, where we arrived curbside Terminal 1 at 6:20am. After a tearful, incredibly hard goodbye I made my way inside and checked my two complimentary bags. There was no line to speak of at check-in, although TSA took some time, but I was airside by 6:45, 30 minutes ahead of scheduled boarding time.
A last glimpse of campus
The sun started to rise during the 25-minute drive
Terminal 1 curbside, looking good since the renovation
Southwest's check-in counters and the stairs up to TSA and the departure gates
I felt pretty miserable and could not stomach any food, so I just took a seat by the window and let all the great memories I had made flash by.
Boarding began 5 minutes after schedule and since I had checked-in online and gotten position A55, I was among the second block of people to be let onboard this retro-liveried 737, having no problem finding a window seat. I chose 19F, just behind the wing.
Two Southwest planes - the newest and oldest livery around
14/05/2019 – Southwest Airlines flight WN1141
RDU – MDW
Scheduled flight time
- 07:45 – 08:45 (2hr 0mins)
- 07:51 – 08:26 (1hr 35mins)
- Boeing 737-7H4 (N714CB), 20.9 years at time of flight
- 19F, Window, Economy
Cabin view during boarding
View from the seat I chose, 19F. I really liked the painted flap track fairings and the retro color of the winglet
The interior of the plane showed its age, this must have been one of the first 737NGs around – the F/A at the door remarked to another passenger that this plane had never worn a different livery than Southwest’s desert gold. Nonetheless, boarding concluded quickly, in just 15 minutes, probably due to Southwest’s efficient boarding procedure and helped by the fact that the load factor that morning was maybe 80-85% at best.
At 7:45, the scheduled departure time we pushed back and engines were started up swiftly, followed by a brief taxi over to runway 23L (on all other flights into and out of RDU so far I had used 23R), from where we took of little later at 7:51, having waited for one other departure.
A final goodbye as we're about to start our takeoff run
Climbing out over the lake close to RDU and the ever-growing suburbs of Cary and Morrisville
Highway 15-501 connecting Chapel Hill to Durham - I drove on that road countless times. Even though I was educated to despise Duke , Durham as a city is very interesting and has a cool, distinct culture
The departure route took us on a right hand turn overflying my (former) second home town of Chapel Hill one last time. After that, we continued over VA, WV and OH, before entering Indiana south of Fort Wayne, at that point already descending toward Midway. We initially climbed all the way up to FL400, cruising a while up there before descending to a lower cruise level at 38000 feet. Once in the air, the flight attendants came through with the usual domestic US snack service, including a coffee dearly needed after the early departure.
Snack and beverage service
The Ohio river (I believe) as the clouds cleared up again
Already left the cruise altitude somewhere over Indiana
About an hour after takeoff we left the final cruise altitude, descending from FL380 toward the southern shores of Lake Michigan. The approach into Midway was quite scenic, overflying South Bend, Gary and South Chicago, before taking a sharp right turn just a minute or two out from landing to align us with the arrival runway 4R, where we landed at 8:26 CDT, ahead of schedule. So much in fact that we had to wait 10 minutes for our gate to be vacated.
Lake Michigan making an appearance, I was seated on the right side for good views today
The lake shores of Gary and East Chicago featuring some pretty nasty looking industrial areas
Turning toward MDW with Chicago's skyline in the distance
Just arrived and turned off the runway, we had to a wait a bit before we could pull into our gate next to a bunch of (Canyon) blue siblings
After deboarding I made my way to the baggage claim where I could collect both my suitcases after a reasonably short wait before heading over to the Orange Line station, heading north to the Airbnb apartment in Wicker Park.
A last look back on today's pretty looking retro ride
MDW Orange Line station
I got to the apartment by 11am and spent the rest of the day, as well as the majority of the following day exploring Chicago, a city that I found very interesting and absolutely worth the trip. A few pictures below:
Willis Tower as seen from the street and looking back down
The skyline seen from a corridor in the Art Institute of Chicago that connects the classical with the modern art wing built over the South Shore Line/Metra Electric District's tracks into Millennium Station
A classic shot down the loop line from Adams/Wabash station
And the Riverwalk
At around 5pm though, it was time for me to leave the loop and I took the L out toward the apartment where I had my suitcases stored. It was located about a mile from Damen station on the Blue Line. Once there, I packed up some last things and hopped under a quick cold shower before calling a Lyft to bridge the gap back to the station. My driver was delighted when he saw that I had suitcases but didn’t want him to drive all the way out to O’Hare as that would just mean parking on the Kennedy Expressway. Instead, I boarded an outbound Blue Line train at 6:25 from Damen and arrived at O’Hare half an hour later.
My train at Damen station
and after arriving at O'Hare
Departure screens in the connector tunnel over to Terminal 1
After walking over to the Lufthansa counters, I got checked in and paid for my second checked bag in no time and I could go through TSA with about 2 hours left. Once airside I settled into the waiting area at my gate, charging my phone and watching the activity outside, eventually seeing D-AIXA, LH’s first A350 being towed over from the international terminal where it had arrived.
Terminal 1 airside - I found the architectural style pretty interesting, nice and airy.
Views from the gate
My ride has arrived - D-AIXA "Nürnberg", LH's first A350
Boarding for this flight began exactly on schedule at 8:50pm and was concluded incredibly fast, within less than 20 minutes.
15/05/2019 – Lufthansa flight LH435
ORD – MUC
Scheduled flight time
- 21:20 – 12:55+1 (8hr 35mins)
- 22:01 – 13:05+1 (8hr 4mins)
- Airbus A350-941 (D-AIXA), 2.5 years at time of flight
- 36A, Window, Economy
The new cabin on the A350 was a big improvement over the hard product (seats, IFE) LH had on its 747-8 I flew in December. Especially the mood lighting and décor was very classy.
Boarding through L2
First impressions of the economy cabin - the shades of blue get progressively darker from the middle block middle seat outward
I liked the illuminated handles on the overhead bins
View from 36A over to a United Triple 7
After everyone had settled into their seats, a safety video was played before we pushed back one minute before scheduled departure time and began taxiing out toward runway 28R, were we stopped at a taxiway intersection close to the threshold. That was one the captain came on the PA and, referencing the runway clearly in sight on the other side of the plane, informed us that even though we had “almost made it to takeoff” they were just informed by ATC that we were #19 (!!!) in line for departure. Therefore, we sat there, watching other planes roll past us and take off for almost half an hour until it was finally our turn, by now over 40 minutes delayed. I was astonished by how quiet the A350 actually was, for the first time ever I could clearly hear the landing gear retract.
Shortly after takeoff
Overflying the lake shore close to Evanston
After lifting off toward the west, we performed a right-hand almost 180° turn setting us on course to climb out over Evanston and into the darkness of Lake Michigan before crossing over the lower Michigan peninsula, Ontario, southern Quebec and the northern tip of Maine, reaching the Gulf of St. Lawrence and eventually the Atlantic on a rather southern tracking on an initial cruise altitude of 37000 feet. Later we climbed to FL390 enroute. About an hour after takeoff, the crew served dinner which was again pretty tasty (I chose the “barbecue beef” option).
The cabin in cruise, about to go dark
After dinner, the cabin was dimmed and I tried to get some sleep, however to no avail. I ended up listening to some music and keeping my eyes closed hoping to get some rest at all. Flight attendants asked passengers to keep their blinds closed, as the sun rose pretty soon into the TATL crossing and therefore I only got to open mine when we were already close to Ireland, about 90 minutes before arrival. Around that time, the mood lighting switched to morning mode and they served breakfast, identical to the one I had received on LH403 back from EWR in December.
The cabin awaking again, the illuminated Lufthansa logo was a very classy touch in my opinion
First glimpses of the beautiful wing in already bright daylight west of the Irish coast
Legroom was fine, by the way
After crossing over the Midlands we entered mainland Europe over the Dutch coast. 8 hours into the flight we left our final cruise altitude, close to Frankfurt and began descending toward Munich where we touched down on runway 08L half an hour later, with a slight delay, at 13:05 local time. I watched us breaking through the low cloud ceiling on the front wheel camera, a very nice feature of the IFE system.
Already above Germany now
When passengers began to open their window shades, the cabin started feeling incredibly open and airy
About to touch down
The front camera coming in handy in pinning down the arrival runway
Now, my flight to FRA was supposed to leave at 14:00 and by the time I was off the plane it was quarter past one and I was in the satellite terminal, so I started rushing a bit to get to my connecting gate. Since I was able to use the automated immigration gates though, I made it over to the Schengen concourse and my gate G20 swiftly, arriving there shortly before boarding started as planned.
16/05/2019 – Lufthansa flight LH109
MUC – FRA
Scheduled flight time
- 14:00 – 15:00 (1hr 0mins)
- 14:11 – 14:53 (42mins)
- Airbus A319-114 (D-AILE), 22.5 years at time of flight
- 08F, Window, Economy
The plane operating this flight - an A319 as it turned out after two downgauges
This flight must have been vastly underbooked – originally, this flight was scheduled to be operated by an A321, then, when I checked in online the day before, it had been downgauged to an A320 and when I arrived at the gate, the ride turned out to be an A319. But even this little Airbus was at best 70% full and thus, boarding concluded in 15 minutes and we pushed back at 2pm sharp. The seat middle seat in my row remained vacant. After a quick taxi out to the runway I had just landed on not even an hour before, we lined up and took off at 14:11 local time.
Looking over to the satellite terminal during taxi out
Goodbye Munich - it was a short but pleasant stay!
After a quick climb and having leveled off for maybe 3 minutes, during which the F/As did a swift drink service, we already began descending and joined a lengthy arrival pattern by which we flew west past FRA for almost 70kms (45miles), deep into neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate, a distance we had to backtrack before this very quick intra-German hop marked the ultimate end of my trip with a smooth landing at 14:53 on FRA’s runway 07R. The taxi in took another 10 minutes, after which I made my way to the baggage claim and then out to the arrivals level, where my parents awaited me.
Passing by to the south of FRA
Coming in over the Rhine river
Back at Terminal 1A in Frankfurt, where it had all begun.
I had a lot of mixed feelings in that moment – on the one hand I was happy to see my family again. On the other hand, I was already missing my newly made friends.
What had made leaving them behind so hard was the uncertainty – my departure from RDU was an indefinite one.
Whereas last summer when I left behind my home in Germany I had already known the date of my return, now I only knew that I wanted to come back eventually, as soon as possible. But when that would end up being – no idea.
So on this note, I'll end this series. At the moment I’m about to finally start an internship and with some luck I might make enough money over the summer to return some time in fall.
I’m already excited for the next time I step off a plane at RDU.