Last week I flew together with a colleague to Beirut. It was our first visit to Lebanon and we were quite curious what to expect:
17.October 2003, ME218 Frankfurt-Beirut
Airbus A321 F-ORMI (s/n 1977)
Photo © Charles Falk
The Checkin staff was from Lufthansa even though they were not at the usual LHStar Alliance Counters. It didn't take very long and we had our boarding passes for seats 6 A and C in Business Class, called "Front Class". After we got rid of our bags, we sent some 45min on the terrace until we saw our aircraft, ME's newest A321 F-ORMI, only delivered in May 2003, arriving. It had to wait quite a while until it could cross the northern runway to taxi to its off-terminal parking position.
Boarding at Gate B42 was well on time and we were brought to the aircraft by bus, getting a nice view on the airside of Terminal 2. Once inside the aircraft we were quite surprised by the very nice and spacious interior. I had expected convertible Business Class seats in a 2-3-layout like used e.g. by Lufthansa or Swiss on the 320 series. But ME has real longhaul Business Class seats in a 2-2 layout, with huge legroom, legrests, PTV with big screens in the armrests. The seats are made by Recaro and offer all electronic "bells and whistles" one could imagine. Our seats were at the first Emergency exits, which had the drawback that there was only one proper window, but this was more than compensated by the enormous legroom (couldn't touch the seat in front of me with the toe tips...).
Given the fact that MEs A321 only carry some 150 passengers, the amount of flight attendants was very high : I counted at least 5 stewardesses and stewards which all made a very professional yet friendly impression.
As far as I could see our flight was fully booked so it took a while until the last passengers were on board and we were finally pushed back. What followed was a sightseeing tour of the airport : First crossing both runways at the eastern side, then taxiing alongside the US Air Base and the hangars of Condor and Aero Lloyd, finally crossing both runways again at the western side to take off on Runway 18. We could enjoy this tour with a welcome Champagne in our hand.
Once airborne we turned towards Nuremberg, then Linz/Austria and onward via Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. Soon we got a menu card (a nice feature which is getting less and less in todays cost-sensitive airline business..) and saw our choice of dinner :
Darne de Saumon et Crevettes Cocktail
Smoked salmon and Crevettes ith Cocktail sauce
Supreme de Volaille á la Crème (Chicken)
Filet de Perche Sauce Tomate (Fish)
Tournedos Sauce Demi-Glace (Beef)
all served with Brocoli, Carrots, Potatoes, Rice, Salad,
followed by a small cheese selection, a desert and fruits
I took the fish (don't know what "perche" means in English, but it was very good!) and enjoyed a tasty Lebanese White wine with it.
Only too soon we were on Descent and the flight attendants gave us a small box with two pieces of "bakhlava" (spelling?) which are sweets with nuts and pistaches and a CD-Rom with impressions from Lebanon. Very nice, but without a computer I could only watch the Lebanon information when I was already at home...
On approach we could see the city lights of Beirut on our left side before we gently touched down on the relatively new runway 18, which has been built into the water to avoid aircraft flying over the city centre.
We disembarked at a jet bridge and went to immigration. As we only stayed in Lebanon for less than 48 hours, we only needed a free transit visa. Again, similar to the departure in Frankfurt, our passports were thoroughly checked for any Israeli visa. Nevertheless the whole procedure went fairly quick soon we were in the Arrivals hall, waiting for our bags.
The stay in Beirut itself was a very positive surprise. The city is very lively, with nice Cafes, Restaurants, shops... far from the usual clichees which still exist. I especially loved walking on the Corniche, Beirut's boulevard at the sea front. Unfortunately we had no time to see other parts of the country, but we will definitely come back to see more of Lebanon!
Too soon we had to get back to the airport for our return flight:
19.October 2003, ME217 Beirut-Frankfurt
Airbus A320 F-OHLO (s/n 760)
Photo © Markus Michalski
We checked in about 90 minutes before departure and got seats 4 A and C. During the remaining time we had a look at the airport and noted its very modern layout. At this time of the day, the terminal was not very crowded: There was a ME flight to Istanbul and a delayed Royal Jordanian A320 to Amman, other than that not many flights. After a short while our flight was ready for boarding. The aircraft was F-OHLO, the last remaining A320 in the fleet which will soon be replaced by ME's 6th new A321. Once on board, the difference to the A321 from the outbound flight was clearly visible : The Business class seats were in grey leather, had less legroom, no PTV, no leg rests, however still the 2-2 configuration.
Again this flight seemed to be pretty full and it took a while until we were pushed back and started our way to runway 15, passing several TMA Boeing 707, a private Boeing 777 (VP-BRH?) and an UTA Boeing 727. Takeoff towards the sea and soon we were on our way to chilly Frankfurt (Temperature in Beirut was appr. 26°C). This time we got a brunch :
Labneh - Cheese
Omelette with pepper, beef Frankfurters (?), Potatoes, Brocoli, grilled tomato
Knafeh (Lebanese speciality, quite tasty!)
Marmelade, Jam, Croissants, rolls, fruits
On top of the menu it said "Cedar Class" in contrast to "Front Class" on the previous flight. Does anyone know what this difference means?
Similar to the dinner on the outbound flight, the catering was very good, served by (again) a very friendly crew.
The movie shown on board (TV screens every few rows) was the "Italian Job" with Donald Sutherland and a blonde girl whose name I already forgot...
Anyway, we made our way towards Europe above thick layers of clouds. Somewhere over Austria we were overtaken by an Iranair 747SP...unfortunately too far to get a good photo. The flight took over 4 hours (1h time difference Lebanon-Germany) but it appeared much shorter than that and soon we saw Frankfurt airport on our left side. A tight circle around Mainz and some minutes later we touched down on Runway 25L and found ourselves at a jetbridge soon afterwards. Next to us was an Aeroflot IL96 (RA-96007).
Well, this was my report about my first flights on Middle East Airlines. As a conclusion, I found the aircraft to be in excellent shape and very comfortable, the crew was very friendly and did an excellent job. Overall product quality was better than what I experienced on my similar business class flights on Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and KLM (to Athens and Bucharest). All in alll a big thumbs up for ME!
Beirut itself exceeded all my expectations by far and is already on my list for a longer return visit!
This was (again) a pretty long report, I hope that at least some of you were brave and continued to read
[Edited 2003-10-26 22:30:28]