AF 1223, 07.10-08.50
Airbus A320-211, F-GFKV Ville de Bordeaux, (built 1991; msn 227)
Photo © Laurent FAURE
After visiting my friends in Los Angeles in 2000 I decided to go again one year later. Air France had a good offer and so I took the chance and booked in the beginning of June 2001. I chose Air France in order to fly the B777-200ER (I had only flown B777 non-ERs) and to get the CRJ. The CRJ of British European was scheduled to operate CDG-Nuremberg and I booked that leg for the return trip. However, departure point was Munich on A320 so that I would have enough time for spotting at CDG. Sure, I had hoped for the A320-100, but I knew my chances were not good.
On departure day I arrived at MUC early, I still remember check in was fast and AF staff was friendly. For the LAX flight I chose a window seat in the second last row on the Triple Seven. Only minutes later I had passed through security and I walked to my gate.
The evening before I had already checked MUC arrivals on TV text and I knew I would only get a A320-200, not the -100 I had hoped for. So there was nothing spectacular about my aircraft, F-GFKV.
Departure was on time, and after take off I enjoyed the cloudless scenery en route to CDG. Breakfast was served, or better: what they called breakfast. They offered croissants, juice and coffee. Well, French breakfast...
Arrival was on time as well, even a bit early. We arrived at Terminal 2A, the LAX flight was scheduled to depart from 2F. In order to be able to log as many registrations as possible at CDG, I had chosen the second LAX flight, AF 068 at 14:00. The first flight, AF 062 already departed at 10:00. Too early for me! I wanted to start my spotting tour at Terminal 2A/C but when I tried to enter the gate area I was sent away: passengers are only allowed to enter the departure hall where the very own flight would actually depart.
So I went on to hall 2F where all different kinds of AF longhaul aircraft were parked. I took a seat and found out it was a nice place. I got almost all departing aircraft on the southern runway and also most arrivals on that side. Additionally, quite many aircraft taxied around.
Some minutes after 10:00 I watched AF 062 leaving the gate. I also remember that CO's B777 New York 2000 passed Hall 2F that day.
CDG-CDG (org. CDG-LAX), 11.09.2001
AF 068, 14.00-18.00
Boeing 777-228ER, F-GSPD, (built 1998; msn 187)
Photo © Bart Noëth
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
The hours passed very fast and at around 13:00 boarding calls for AF 068 were started. I soon realized that we had to enter one of the famous ADP busses which can be moved up to the aircraft so that passengers don't have to enter on stairs.
I spotted the aircraft was F-GSPD today, and as usual when entering a B777 on a remote stand, one can only stare at the huge engine...especially when it's a GE90 monster. I soon took my seat and I was very impressed by AF's nice interior. Blue comfortable seats with PTVs, so what else do you need? Next to me an older French couple took their seats. They were very nice, after realizing I was German they started to speak German, very well indeed, and the answer is they were from Alsace-Lorraine.
Though all passengers were seated a short delay was announced. On the left side of the rear Economy section four window rows had been flattened and a kind of bed with a curtain had been installed. Soon we knew why, an older sick man was brought to the aircraft in an ambulance. It took around 20 minutes until the man was laid down safely. A younger woman accompanied and him and took care of him, probably his daughter or a nurse.
Doors were closed and engines started, and 15 minutes later we lined up for take off. After only some minutes the two GE monster accelerated the aircraft and we took off for LAX. At that point of time it was around 14:00 at CDG, 08:00 o'clock in New York...
I was looking forward so much to Los Angeles and my friends and I really enjoyed the flight. I tried out several games, I chose my lunch, and I already had earmarked two movies. I was sure that the next 11 hours would be over very fast and I was already thinking of many upcoming spotting days at LAX.Two hours had passed very fast, and after leaving behind the last Northwestern British isles lunch was served.
Even today it's still very hard to imagine that within these two hours the whole catastrophe with all its horror took place...
Suddenly, all channels were interrupted as the captain addressed the passengers. First, he said it in French and I didn't understand what he had said - but I saw the reaction of the two flight attendants who were serving meals - the expression of their faces showed they must have been quite confused. Then my two neighbors talked to each other and also didn't seem to feel comfortable. And then he said it in English..."we have to turn back to Paris, the American airspace is closed" "WHAT?" In the first moment I was just totally confused and I didn't know what to think about that information - can that be true or not? I asked my neighbor, and he wasn't sure either. He said "no, the captain must be joking". I cannot remember how long I talked to my neighbor without looking out of the window, but when I looked at my PTV flight map I suddenly saw that the small aircraft image already pointing at Paris!!! However, I hadn't felt the aircraft turning - so intensively I must have been under the impression of the captain's announcement. I still refused to believe that we flew back, but then I got the final confirmation: a thick, white fountain suddenly sprayed out of the wing tip and I knew what it meant: fuel dump! The captain later announced that 40 tons of jet fuel had to be dumped.
On the TVs our arrival time at CDG was shown as 18:00, almost two hours to go. People were talking to each other, no matter if they knew each other or not. I talked to my neighbors and we tried to guess what could have caused the American airspace to be closed. What the hell could cause such a measure? A military strike seemed very unlikely, and so did a natural disaster. I remembered two days ago there was a light earthquake in California -probably the long awaited big one? But that wouldn't have affected the East Coast...well, we just didn't know. I realized the News channel in the entertainment program was off line...very strange I thought. Some time later a French man obviously had called from the plane and I heard him saying something like "Twin Towers, boom..." then I concluded the WTC must have been affected, but I rather thought of an attack as it took place in 1993...
However, I then started thinking of my trip. What would happen in Paris? When would we be able to go on? I thought of my two very heavy cases and how difficult it would be to carry all my stuff around. I walked to the galley and asked a flight attendant if they knew what would happene in Paris. I asked him so many questions, but he couldn't help me. He said he doesn't know what would happen on the ground. "I wish I could answer, but I just don't know either", he replied.
Meal service was continued, but I couldn't really enjoy it any more. Nobody knew what really had happened, but the atmosphere on board was tense.
At around 18:00 we had started our final approach to CDG and minutes later the aircraft touched down very hard - with both thrust reverser and brakes fully deployed afterwards. That definitely was a landing at heavy weight!
We taxied to a gate at Hall 2F and I saw some American aircraft parked - with police cars and guards surrounding them. I was still hoping that we might be able to depart again later today - but then cargo doors were opened and the aircraft was unloaded. There was an announcement that passengers should follow AF staff in the terminal, they would show the way to the baggage claim. Oh my god, I thought, with so many aircraft obviously in the same situation there must be a chaos in the hall - and it was. Since I had had some bad experience with AF in the past I wasn't sure if they would handle the chaos well, such as talking not only French - for that reason I just stayed with the French couple. It was a good decision: there were three flights assigned to one baggage carousel - and it would have been a serious problem to take care of one case and trying to catch the other. So we watched our cases each other and soon had our luggage.
We were then guided to the check in area in Hall 2F were hundreds, maybe thousands of people ran around like ants. Uncountable AF employees were in action, and many of them must have been called in on short notice - many wore regular clothes with AF IDs attached.
In front of each counter there were endless queues and the only thing we could do was to wait in row. Meanwhile two Germans from Stuttgart stood next to me, they had also been en route to LAX. I asked them what had happened, but they didn't know exactly. I remember one saying: "Three aircraft seem to have crashed at Los Angeles". I was quite shocked, though I couldn't really believe it.
I guess two hours must have passed until I arrived at the counter. Shortly after arrival I was full of hope that I might stay in a hotel for two days and go on to LAX. But then I started to realize that all the hotels must be full with Americans unable to fly home. And indeed, at the counter the AF employee said they just didn't know when US airspace would reopen again. "It can be two days, it can be ten days" he said. "What we can offer you is a return flight to Germany". "Or you can wait". Well, I decided to go home since I didn't know what was going on. Originally my return flight was booked to Nuremberg, but the last flight to NUE had already departed. So I was offered one of only few remaining seats on the late evening service to MUC. After receiving the ticket I was really glad that I could escape from all the chaos and the stress. The French couple had in the meantime watched my cases because it would have been impossible to take them to the counter.
I said thanks and good bye to them and started running to Hall 2A were my MUC flight would depart some 45 minutes later. At a counter in Hall 2A I checked in fast, and I was very impressed how friendly and helpful all the AF staff were.
After receiving my boarding pass there were about 30 more minutes until departure, but I still had to call home to make sure someone can pick me up at MUC later. Of course, I had left my mobile phone at home, I didn't have French money (thank god we have the Euro now) and didn't have a calling card.
So I asked at a AF counter where I could get a telephone card. However, a very friendly AF lady gave me her personal telephone card and explained how to use it. I first called my parents but as usual in such a case, nobody was at home. I called my brother, and after trying several times I finally got him. He first asked "Where are you?" "Have you heard what happened?" I said "No, not really". "The World Trade Center collapsed after two plane crashed into it and another one crashed into the Pentagon!" I couldn't say anything, I was paralysed with horror. I took a while until I could say something. Still confused, I then told him that I would fly to MUC now and someone should pick me up.
AF 1222, 21.15-22.45
Airbus A320-111, F-GFKQ Ville de Berlin (built 1987, msn 002)
Photo © PatrickB
After hanging up it still took me some minutes to digest the news and I then I walked through security. For the first time in my life, I didn't think about the upcoming aircraft, I always had to think of what had happened.
When I entered the gate area I realized that the flight was delayed by 30 minutes, obviously due to an aircraft change. It was very dark outside, I only saw an A320 parked at the gate, with cargo doors closed and the jetway away from the aircraft. I was expecting that they tow it away but then they started working on it. It seemed to be this flight's aircraft and for my statistics I went closer to read the registration. I saw KQ on the gear door...and slower as usual I started thinking...GFKQ...I then turned my head and looked at the wings - and indeed winglets were missing. I then remembered why I had KQ in my memory: it was the second built A320 series aircraft - the oldest one in active service (prototype 001 never has left Airbus). I couldn't believe I would fly that very special aircraft on such a day - I definitely couldn't enjoy it at all. Well, later of course I was glad being able to add it to my "flown list". Though it will always be connected with that sad day.
The flight itself was not very spectacular. The atmosphere on board was very strange, it was quiet all over, all passengers seemed to be shocked by what had happened. After eating a quite generous dinner I fell asleep until shortly before touch down.
I was glad my two cases had arrived as well, regarding the chaos at CDG. My brother picked me up and so I went home after that very uncommon roundtrip.
At home I called my American friends. They had called Air France all day to find out where my flight had been sent to. They told me AF062 which left at 10:00 had diverted to Montreal...so I was really glad I had chosen AF068. Thanks to my hobby!
Btw, the next day I called Air France and they offered me the full fare or another flight. First, I booked another flight one week later since I really wanted to visit my friends. However, I realized that spotting and everything connected to it would be impossible...so I decided to cancel, take the money and book one year later...