An epic journey off to an... interesting start: OSL-MUC on Lufthansa's A321
Welcome to the first installment of my latest trip report, which will cover my recent flights from Oslo to San Francisco! This was the latter half of a multi-city itinerary I booked to visit my Norwegian side of the family over my winter break from college. I might cover the outbound trip in a different report at a later date.
After some browsing, I found a very attractive Premium Economy fare on Expedia, whose return leg routed as follows: OSL-MUC Lufthansa Airbus A320
MUC-ORD Lufthansa Airbus A340-600 (Y+)
ORD-SFO United B757-300
This itinerary really appealed to me as it would give me the opportunity to finally fly on the elusive A346. An added bonus would be getting to fly on United's B753, an equally rare type that I had only logged once back in 2011. Finally, I was very pleased when the OSL-MUC leg was switched to an A321, meaning that I would be flown to San Francisco by a "Pencil Jet" trio: the A321, A346, and B753, all in one epic routing. How cool is that?!2 January 2020
As do many of my trips, this one began with a excited wake-up after a restless night. However, I wasn't in the best of spirits, and part of me was seriously dreading the day ahead. I suppose I should explain why.
The previous evening, I had gone to the movie theater. When I returned to the house where I was staying in the Oslo suburbs, I slipped and fell on the ice as I sauntered back from the tram stop. Seeing my 6''7' frame prancing around in the middle of the road, desperately fighting for balance, before collapsing in a heap must have been a marvel to behold... thankfully no one was around to witness it. I instinctively stuck out my left arm as I saw the pavement approaching with alarming speed, protecting my head and back, so my shoulder took the brunt of the impact. All things considered, I wasn't too badly hurt, but my shoulder was left with a persistent ache whose intensity increased significantly whenever I moved it. After trying to soothe the injury with some ice, I went to sleep desperately hoping that the pain would subside in time for my marathon 24-hour journey to California the next morning.
It didn't. Making matters worse, my carry-on of choice happened to be a heavy backpack, nor was I thrilled by the prospect of lugging my heavy suitcase to the nearby railway station then around Gardermoen to the check-in desk. My father kindly agreed to accompany me to the airport in a taxi and help with my suitcase, which came as a tremendous relief. I was also very happy to realize that wearing my backpack didn't cause my shoulder much additional pain, as long as I was careful. Just before 9 AM, we were in the taxi speeding smoothly down the icy highways around Oslo, treated to views of a lovely, chilly sunrise. After a rocky start to the trip, things were looking up.
After a quick forty minute ride, we pulled up to the familiar Gardermoen curbside then stepped inside the busy terminal.
Conveniently, I was able to print out all three of my boarding passes at the e-kiosk, and dropped off my checked bag within a few minutes at the quiet Lufthansa check-in area. I had about an hour to kill before scheduled boarding, so my father and I decided to grab breakfast at one of the landside cafés, before we would part ways for the next few months.
As I was munching on a delicious parma ham sandwich, the vibration of my iPhone in my pocket alerted me to a text message:
Uh oh. UH OH. A 1 hour and 15 minute delay to my flight, seemingly out of the blue. A quick browse of Flightradar24 confirmed that the inbound aircraft was very late out of MUC, having taken off a few minutes prior. This was not good. Like--REALLY not good. My already tight layover at MUC had now been reduced to a mere 44 minutes. If this had been an intra-Schengen transfer I would have been optimistic, but for an EU-US connection it seemed virtually impossible. Naturally, the first thing I did was walk calmly (actually, it may have been more of a panicked sprint, but I forget) back to the Lufthansa check-in desks to inquire about my options. The young woman apologetically explained that she couldn't do anything for me (which, in hindsight, I should have known). She advised me to call the Lufthansa customer service hotline, since there wasn't a single Lufthansa employee at OSL who could help me since the check-in staff work for a contractor.
As it turns out, she gave me the wrong number by mistake. Once I eventually got through to the right hotline, the woman I spoke with explained that my connection time fell four (4!) minutes short of the 40-minute benchmark that makes one eligible for re-booking... I may have been secretly hoping for a spot on the direct MUC-SFO A380 flight later in the evening... but never mind. In other words, my only option was to fly to Munich--praying for no additional delay--then run like hell.
So, with an uncertain day ahead of me, I bade farewell to my father and anxiously headed to the busy security checkpoint. With trademark OSL efficiency, I was through in only a few minutes. Another glance at Flightradar24 provided a small silver lining to this fiasco of a morning: D-AIRO
was inbound from MUC to pick me up. At 24 years old, she's one of only a handful of Airbus A321-100's in service worldwide, and this would be my first ever leg on this particularly elusive type. Only 91 were produced, and most have either been retired or converted to A321-200's. As best I can tell, the only differences between the -100 and -200 are fuel capacity and slightly different engines. They seem to be identical from a passenger experience perspective, but c'mon... we're all Avgeeks--logging subtly different aircraft types is what we're all about!
Once airside, I lounged around the gate area, taking the opportunity to get up close & personal with a beautiful Dreamliner parked outside. LN-LNJ had just arrived from Fort Lauderdale, and would leave for Krabi, Thailand in a few hours. Gotta love Norwegian's eclectic route network!
Meanwhile, I impatiently tracked D-AIRO as she made her way up from Munich.
I began to suspect that the weather in Munich was responsible for my aircraft's late arrival: 800m visibility + freezing fog + subzero temperatures = de-icing delay central. Here in Oslo, meanwhile, it was a beautiful winter morning. Before long, I caught a quick glimpse of my A321 touching down on runway 19L, and she pulled into stand 38 (or gate E8) at 11:48, 23 minutes past our original departure time. Alright Lufthansa, get me out of here!
--is still in Lufthansa's old colors. She first flew in November 1995, was delivered to Lufthansa a month later, and has faithfully served the German flag carrier ever since.
FIDS. My flight is the first one listed.
Boarding began at 12:12--hardly a record-breaking turnaround, but still impressive for a legacy carrier imo!Lufthansa LH2453 / DLH9KV
Scheduled Departure (Actual) : Oslo - 11:25 (12:41)
Scheduled Arrival (Actual) : Munich - 13:50 (14:56)
Seat : 4F (Economy)
Flight Time : 2 hours
Cruising Altitude : 36,000 feet
Aircraft : Airbus A321-131
Registration : D-AIRO - 24.2 years
I was quickly onboard, and made my way to my window seat in row 4. Today I was sitting in the first row of Economy, directly behind the curtain that divides the Y/J cabins. Lufthansa have allegedly configured their A321 with 205 identical seats, and the size of the business cabin varies by demand. I had only heard negative reviews of the hard product in Lufthansa's short haul cabin, and, of my three flights today, this was the one I was least looking forward to. However, upon taking my seat, I was immediately impressed by the legroom and general seat comfort. Seatguru reports that all Y/J seats on Lufthansa's A321 aircraft are packed together with a tight 30 inches of pitch, but I can say with confidence that this is not the case--at least in the first few rows of the cabin, which are regularly sold as Economy seats. At 6''7', I had plenty of room. The seats were slim but comfortable, and I found the seat colors to be stylish and subdued.
Legroom shot (again... I'm very tall)
Wifi instruction card (wasn't expecting that on this ancient A321!)
I also noticed the vague and oddly pleasant smell of beer around my seat, and deduced that someone on the inbound flight must have had a drink mishap... or perhaps spraying the cabin with this scent is customary for flights to Bavaria... to set the mood?
Anyway, the "boarding complete" announcement at 12:27 came like music to my ears, and you know what that that means... empty middle seat! The captain soon made a brief announcement, confirming my suspicion that the delay was caused by de-icing queues at Munich, and announcing an imminent departure once some last-minute paperwork was completed.
An easyJet A319 soon arrived from Berlin TXL and parked on an adjacent stand. For some strange reason, the arriving passengers were stuck waiting in the jetway and couldn't enter the terminal for quite a while! I've never seen this happen before--maybe simply a malfunctioning door? Poor passengers... what a welcome to Norway!
Soon, the boarding door was closed, we pushed back 1h16min late, and I finally began to relax. It became clear that there wouldn't be any additional delays, and I realized that sitting so close to the front of the aircraft gave me the best chance of making my connection to Chicago. As we taxied quickly to 19L, I admired the awesome views out the window, and finally let myself feel that familiar sense of relaxed exhilaration one gets at the beginning of an epic trip.
Some heavy jets hanging out. All three will leave for Asia later in the afternoon.
We briefly held short for a landing SAS B737-700 from BRU, then lined up and took to the sky at 12:52.
At the front of the cabin, the typical Airbus buzzsaw engine roar was wonderfully loud, and the views of snowy Gardermoen were equally impressive. As usual, I've linked the takeoff video here!
The views of central Oslo were nothing short of spectacular.
As we climbed over the North Sea and set course due south, a thick cloud layer set in and cabin service began. It consisted of a nice chocolate cookie (which the lovely FA thoughtfully placed on the seat next to me as I dozed off with my earphones in), and my drink of choice was a diet coke.
What a peaceful view
We reached our cruising altitude of 36,000 feet, and I spent most of the flight listening to music and gazing out the window, looking out for the contrails of the many aircraft that crossed our path.
The cloud cover broke over northern Germany
I decided to try out the onboard Wifi. Connectivity wasn't available until we reached Germany, at which point I bought access for 5€ to monitor the status of my connecting flight... and, of course, to follow our progress on Flightradar24!
I found the speed to be quite good, and I even managed to have an uninterrupted Whatsapp conversation with my father (not sure that's technically allowed... but I was quiet)!
After an hour of cruise, we began our descent towards a very foggy MUC at 14:15, or 1h25min before the scheduled departure time of my connecting flight to ORD. The weather hadn't gotten much better. The METAR was reporting very low visibility (still well within limits) and freezing fog: EDDM 021320Z VRB02KT 0600 R26R/P2000N R26L/1900N FZFG VV/// M02/M02 Q1028
The purser made an announcement: all passengers connecting to BUC, MXP, BSL, SFO, MUE, GRZ, DUS, BCN, TRS, BOS, ORD (and probably a few more places!) were kindly requested to proceed to their gate "as fast as possible!!!!"
That sure got my adrenaline pumping. The captain came on a few minutes later confirming the atrocious weather, and forecasting fifteen minutes to landing. "It's gonna be cold down there," he warned. "Enjoy the sun while you can!"
As the thick fog layer below came closer, the Alps ominously appeared in the distance, making for some extraordinary views.
Before long, we joined a right downwind for runway 26R then turned onto a long final. Our final approach was quite surreal, and unlike any I've experienced in a long time.
The smoke from a factory rising through the fog
We remained above the cloud layer until very short final, then broke out just feet above the ground, performing an absolutely beautiful landing on 26R after exactly 2 hours in the air. I've linked the landing video here
. It was definitely among the most exciting approaches I've ever flown--I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Vacating at the first high-speed exit... look at that eerie fog!
We taxied at breakneck speed across the apron, pulling into Terminal 2's gate G40 at 14:56--1h06min behind schedule.
We parked next to this gorgeous A350, which had just arrived from KIX and would shortly leave for ICN.
Impressively, our gate arrival time perfectly coincided with what Lufthansa had predicted when they first announced the delay. I suppose I need to give them some credit for precision!
Now, 44 minutes until departure. I need to get from the G pier to the L pier. Here we go.
Okay--while I'm impatiently waiting to deplane, I might as well grab a shot of Lufthansa's "business" cabin on their A321.
As expected, I was one of the first off. I stumbled through the jetbridge and up the escalator into the terminal. On the nearest FIDS, I noted that my flight was on time (rats) and would leave from gate L21, which was predicted as a 19 minute walk away. Okay, that's rough, but doable. I was cautiously optimistic. Kind of. And off I went!
After a brief turnaround, D-AIRO would fly to LHR, still heavily delayed.
Signs for the L-gates eventually led me down an escalator to the transit train. I took a moment to catch my breath.
The shuttle was quick and efficient, and within a minute I arrived at the H/L pier. The next hurdle was passport control, as I entered the U.S. departure area. My European passport meant that I could use the automated passport control and skip the growing line at the manned counters, saving me a few precious minutes. It was now about 15:15. In my haste, I didn't realize that I still needed to go to a manned counter to have my documents reverified (for some reason?) immediately after having gone through the automated check. As I walked right past him, a very annoyed (and rightfully so) border control guard yelled at me to come back, checked my passport, then threw it back at me, glaring. I muttered a lame excuse. Sorry Munich, I'll be more careful next time.
I emerged, flustered and a little embarrassed, into the L pier, and was greeted with a long line for document verification for U.S.-bound passengers. I breathed a tentative sigh of relief, knowing that there must have been a number of fellow Chicago-bound pax waiting, and they wouldn't just leave without half the passengers... right? IIRC, there were flights to ORD, BOS, SFO all leaving from the same small gate area--with my flight to ORD being the first one due out.
"Chicago? Chicago? Chicago??" Lufthansa agents quickly walked down the line and handpicked the ORD pax, sending us to a much shorter line, which I suspect was usually reserved for premium pax. As I readied my boarding pass for inspection, my heart sank as I noticed the dreaded SSSS
. I was half-hoping the agent wouldn't see it. At first, it seemed like he didn't; he smiled wordlessly and beckoned me through. Yet, as I walked on, he silently nodded at his colleague and pointed at me, and I was whisked away into an intensive screening area... where a line had already started to grow.
I chatted with some fellow college-aged guys in line, who were looking just as anxious as I was, and we traded stories of our adventures through the airport. It was 15:25. 15 minutes. I was very aware that there was a good chance that the cabin door was already closed. The security check was painfully slow, and when I eventually made it through, I searched desperately for gate L21, only to realize I had gone the wrong way.
"Chicago?!" some guy yelled as I ran past. "That way!" Thanking him, I ran down a short corridor and finally emerged into the gate area, and was overjoyed to find a small number of passengers still trickling through the automated gate. I had made it. Both my shoes were untied, I had probably come a bit too close for comfort to getting in trouble with the German border authorities, and there was a real chance that my bag wouldn't make it, but I was finally 100% sure that I was heading stateside that afternoon, and would likely be home with my mother and grandmother by evening.
I snapped this picture of the gate area as I collected myself.
Within only a few seconds, it was my turn at the (unmanned) boarding turnstile, and I scanned my Y+ boarding pass. I noted the seat number: 27K, which I had carefully selected at check-in the day before. With a quiet buzz, a small printer spat out a slip of paper on the right side of the turnstile. Okay? This is unusual. I hadn't notice this happen to anyone in line before me.
"Oh god," I thought. "Has my seat been given away? Did LH assume I wouldn't make the connection? Have I been offloaded?"
I looked at the slip of paper.
The gates opened, and I walked through.