Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Trip Report 3 - Part 3 - Lufthansa FRA-BHX

Coming off the very tidy, very modern and exceptionally ugly railway station, it is wise to reprise the rules of Frankfurt.

  1. Always follow the signs
  2. Don't assume you know where you are going, they have bound to have changed it since you were last here
  3. Always check your gate frequently, they'll change it
  4. Always follow the signs
The passage from the long-distance station to Terminal 1 isn't quite perfect, at one point you end up going outside for about 10m and I noticed that the snow was still falling, but using my best dungeons and dragons mapping skills I managed to make my way to the check-in on concourse B. Shiny case was despatched to the baggage hold and the check-in lady informed me that the gate had moved from the dungeon of B55 to the slightly better bus gate at B32 and we were 20 minutes late but "Es kann mehr als das, die meisten Flüge sind um eine Stunde verzögert." Hmm, I might just be able to make my meeting, but it will be pushing it - a taxi from BHX will be needed.

B security was fairly vile. They have, I think 10 machines, there - 4 were operating, one for Business, First and Star Gold and 3 for the rest of us. B security has the advantage they you can see outside onto the A/B apron area and it didn't look too good. Security took about 15 minutes to get through, liveable with, but could do better. The process itself was fine, no Nude-O-Scope or groping at FRA.

Anyway, after a quick stop to buy a book and some Weihnachts-Chocolade, I proceed to the Business Lounge down at the B40's. The lounge wardens looked busy and harassed, looking at the board, I could see why, there were still undeparted flights from two and three hours before. Luckily, this is a large lounge and there were still seats available and I plonked myself down for what could be an extended stay. Sadly, the sossidges and soup that can be found were not to be seen and the usual potato salad had been replaced with Honig-Senf Quark (uuuuuugghh) to go with the usual horrid Kräuterquark. There was also some flaccid Green Bean salad. Not feeling like a gummibear binge, I settled for some bread and butter, coffee and water.

Looking out the window, the odd flight was taking off and landing through the snow and the mist, but not usually as busy as Frankfurt is. Also, my flight was slipping first to a 40 minute delay, then an hours delay, at this point I sent an email to give my apologies for the meeting, I wasn't going to make it and I could have flown back through DUS. Grrrr. The gate also changed to B30 and then to B33 (see rule 3).

Finally, the boarding light flashed by the Birmingham flight and we were set to board a mere 1hr 30mins late, except it was the usual bait and switch, having gone to the gate there was no sign of boarding. We had a plane, but our crew, it seems were still at Brussels. I was just about to slope off back to the lounge, but decided to check the gate again after a quick ciggie and found that boarding had started, A different crew had been found.

The bus took us out to the aircraft on a very remote stand fairly quickly, a Boeing 737-300 which was about 80% full. I was pleased to have a vacant middle seat between myself and my seat opponent, it's always nice and today turned out to be quite vital. The captain introduced himself and told us, it would be a short wait for our turn at the de-icers and then we would be off. Hurrah, with flights being cancelled left, right and centre, I was just pleased to be off. 

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work that way. After half an hour, the captain told us that, the de-icers would be another half-hour. After an hour, he said, they would be yet another half hour and the crew did a water and juice run. After an hour and a half, he said "I've been told it will be 20 minutes, but I don't believe them". Gulp. At the two hour mark, the sandwiches were distributed and the bar was unofficially open, the captain came out to talk to passengers and generally have a chat. That vacant middle seat was becoming a great boon. 

As it went onto three hours, an announcement was made that, a bus was coming in ten minutes to take anyone off who no longer wanted to wait. About a dozen people took this option and their bags were unloaded. By this time I was nearly through the book that I had purchased five hours or so previously. By this time, visibility was very low and ominiously we could no longer hear aircraft taking off and landing, personally, I was starting to wonder about the crew going out of hours. Just as we were coming up to four hours, there was a very ominous PA from the captain, the crew would be out of hours in 45 minutes but he'd been told that the system for de-icing had changed and we were next in the queue. We all laughed at that. We also had to be refuelled as the APU had used up so much fuel keeping us warm and with the lights on.

However, it seemed that FRAport had finally woken up to the weather and decided to actually do some sensible things, after about 4 hours and 20 mins on the aircraft, the engines started to a big cheer and we moved forward to be de-iced at the entrance to one of the runways. 10 minutes after that, we finally took off for Birmingham. The captain gunned it somewhat, we did the run in 1hr 10mins (it's usually 1hr 25ish), I suspect he had to make the Birmingham turnaround and get the crew back. We had an official bar service and the last few sandwiches were offered to those who wanted them. We eventually got in just over 6 hours late. Sadly, this was at the same time as the Emirates had landed and immigration was overwhelmed. In addition, UKBA were being politically correct - there were six agents, three for non-EU (about 40 pax) and three for EU/EEA (about 400 pax) - 35 minutes to be grunted at and the passport given  a cursory look. I really ought to sign up for Iris. Luckily, this did mean the bags were off and therefore straight out to the taxi rank, but not for my meeting, but for home.

I like to say that I thought our cabin and flight crew were brilliant. They communicated well, engaged with the passengers and kept us cheery. I'm not so convinced at LH Ops and FRAport, I understand that in bad WX conditions, it's important to have passengers on aircraft ready to go, but the priority was always going to be the longer flights. I think they should have kept us in the terminal for longer until there was a decent chance of getting us out of there.

There you go, another Lufthansa Cont Y trip - the last one of the year, but not the last trip of the year. Watch this space.

No comments:

Post a Comment