Apr. 9th, 2011

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Flying a German Airline

I am writing this while enroute to Frankfurt on Lufthansa Flight 451. This is my first trip to Europe, and it's been an interesting experience already.

I checked a bag at the counter upon arriving at the airport. All the Lufthansa gate agents have nametags that indicate what languages they speak (aside from English, which is assumed at the Seattle airport for obvious reasons.) Everyone there had either German or French, with some having both. I dropped off my bag, and met my first surprise for the trip -- no charge for checked baggage, even with my presence in economy class.

I went through the ever-inefficient TSA security checkpoint, declining to be exposed to low-speed ionizing radiation from SeaTac's shiny new irradiating nudatrons. After the mandatory groping, I gathered my stuff and went on to the gate. Boarding was typical, aside from all the announcements being made first in German then in English (usually by different announcers.)

In the jetway, there were a selection of complementary American and European newspapers in German, French, and English. I picked up a copy of the Financial Times (basically the European equivalent of the Wall Street Journal, only with less Rupert Murdoch.)

I sat down in the very last row of economy, conveniently located next to the only empty seat on the aircraft. Every seat contained a package with a pillow, blanket, headphones (hey, another thing American airlines make you pay for), and the standard ad-filled in-flight magazine. I explored the monitor on the headrest, and it has the typical flight-tracker that displays a map of where you're flying. From this I learned that the Americans and English are not alone in randomly mutilating foreign place names into our own language -- at least, I'm pretty sure the occupants of Mexikostadt and Grosser Slavensee do not call their homes by these names. The blanket has proven very useful as the flight has been freezing cold the whole way.

Food service has come by twice so far. The first time was with pretzels and drinks (alcoholic beverages -- no charge. I had a glass of fair Syrah.) The second is enroute as I write this, and consists of an actual hot meal (no charge.) I would not be so surprised by everything being free had the original ticket been expensive, but I've paid more than this in airfare to fly to Las Vegas. (Although the $900 of taxes and fees bring it up to much more, of course.) At this point I'd like European airlines to start offering American domestic routes.

Sadly, I can't post this yet as the in-flight WiFi does not appear to actually work, and thus this will all get put online after I land and get back to my hotel. As of now it's 3:45 in Seattle, 4:45 where we are (in the sky north of Calgary), and 12:45 AM in Frankfurt. Despite the lack of WiFi, I've spent the time on the flight so far writing and revising my presentation (yes, the one I'm flying off to give), and it looks to be in good shape and ready to submit, as are the rest of the work-related tasks I brought that don't depend on the WiFi working.

(It's too bad it doesn't work, too. While normally I think using open (unecrypted) WiFi is almost insanely dangerous, since I'm on my work laptop I have a DirectAccess tunnel back to work -- kind of like an always-on VPN with split tunneling -- and can actually safely do real work with sensitive data on open WiFi. But only open WiFi that, you know, works.)


It's now 6pm Seattle time, and we're north of Hudson's Bay, making local time around 9pm. It's still a little light out due to the altitude. Dinner was served shortly after my last entry -- pasta primavera, Caesar salad, a rosemary dinner roll, tiramisu, and a glass of Syrah. Once again, no charge, and there was real metal cutlery -- assuming you consider the stainless-steel spork to be one of the three traditional dining implements. After dinner, they came around with Congac. Yes, seriously. I watched True Grit on the in-flight entertainment system -- well, the pan-and-scan, profanity-and-blood-free version of it, at least. It was actually pretty good, albeit compromised by the fact that I could only understand Jeff Bridges so well between the roar of the engines (the back of the plane is loud) and the relatively crappy headphones (the plug is a dual-mono-jack arrangement so you can't use your own headphones -- presumably a sop to airlines that do charge you for them.

After dinner, they turned off the lights, so I'm considering trying to sleep. On one hand, I've never managed that on a plane, but on the other, it's dark, I'm in the last row, it's a smooth flight, I have a pillow and a blanket, and I just had a glass of Congac, so it might be worth a try. The fact that my body thinks it's only 6pm may make this challenging, though. If it doesn't work, I'll listen to German tapes for a while. Inasmuch as they're tapes when they're just digital files on my iPhone (which iTunes thoughtfully rearranged into random order for me. Thanks, iTunes.)

5 1/2 hours to go on the flight, at a ground speed of 566 miles per hour. It's interesting watching the map on the seatback display -- due to the fact that it's a Mercatur projection, it looks like we're only about 1/3 of the way there, instead of almost half way. We're about to fly over Greenland (or as the Germans call it, Godthab.) Still no WiFi, alas, so I cannot send IMs to my wife.


I'm now north of England, flying over the North Sea, with less than two hours to go -- 10pm in Seattle, 7am in Frankfurt. I tried sleeping, but it didn't work so well -- I dozed enough for my mind to wander to strange topics, but didn't get any actual sleep. Finally we got to a level of turbulence that was not bothersome so long as I was doing something, but was rather distracting for lying there in the dark, so I decided to watch Megamind on the in-flight entertainment system. It actually turned out to be quite good (much better than the summer's other supervillain movie, whatever it was called) and entertained me for another 90 minutes. They just brought by the second hot towel service a few minutes ago (mmm, warmth), so I'm guessing they'll be bringing breakfast here in a moment.

Hopefully I'll have WiFi on the train, but then, I've got a window on the train so I might end up looking at Germany instead of using my computer anyway. I just need to upload all my work files. So far I'm not too horribly tired... which I guess makes sense since my body thinks it's only 10pm, and I wouldn't be tired at 10. I'm looking forward to being on the ground and eating German food, though. Despite the lousy schedule it gives me on the way back, I'm glad I decided to take a train for the second leg of the trip instead of a connecting flight -- I don't really want to spend any more time on an airplane today. Of course, I say this assuming I will actually make it onto my train and not be stuck in Frankfurt.

I think I've watched everything I could possibly want to on the in-flight entertainment system, which is unfortunate only because I'll be on this same airplane flying back on Wednesday. I guess I could watch The Name of the Rose again. (Of all the weird choices for in-flight movie...)
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So, I did in fact miss my train, though I'm not stuck in Frankfurt. Actually, I never had it at all, as my ticket was from the wrong Frankfurt station (I wanted Frankfurt Flugh. instead of Frankfurt Hbf.) However, for about 30 Euro I got that worked out and got on a train that went where I needed it to. There have been some very nice views from the train windows.

Unlike the Frankfurt airport, the rail system has all signage, tickets, documents, etc. in German only, so it is proving considerably more difficult to navigate. I'm sure I'll manage, though. Also, like the airplane, the WiFi on the train doesn't work very well -- I got on long enough to make my previous post, and was unable to connect again for the next hour. It's a T-Mobile Hotspot, so it's not free anyway.

Once we got out of Frankfurt (a pretty standard-looking heavily industrial city), Germany looks... about like I expected it to look, really. Rolling hills, lots of small to medium-sized towns with many tile roofs, surrounded by pasture and farmland. We also passed a vineyard a moment ago. I like it, though it would be prettier a month from now when the foliage has all grown in; right now the trees are still pretty sparse.

I spent about an hour talking to a German musician on the train about our lives, differences and similarities between our countries, etc. His English was sufficient to hold a conversation with occasional playing of charades (and in any case vastly better than my German, which pretty much ends with "Guten tag" and "Danke.") It's kind of isolating to be in a country where you can't necessarily communicate with the people around you, and I'm finding it an interesting experience.


However, here's where things go sharply downhill. Read more... )


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