04 June 2012

To BER or not to BER, that is the question

To BER or not to BER, that is the question

First, it must be noted that my compact camera broke the week before this, whilst on holiday in Corfu, so all photos are taken with my phone camera.

Towards the end of 2011, it became apparent that the new airport in Berlin Brandenburg was nearing completion, and it was suggested to hold an A.Net meeting on the opening day of operations. After some negociations with my wife, it was agreed that I would attend my first A.net meeting, as a day trip on the Sunday. Now with 2 small children, cash can be tight, so I decided to use some Avios one way, and some Nectar points on an Easyjet flight the other way. Parking at Luton is much cheaper than near Heathrow, and closer to home for the early start, so I booked the "inaugural" Luton - Brandenburg on Easyjet for £55 (minus some points value), and a return on BA to Heathrow. There was no availabilty on the afternoon flight in Traveller, so was forced to sit in the front, for 9000 Avios miles and £17 for the taxes.

Then just a few weeks before the big day, it was announced that the new airport would not be operating at all! Both airlines reverted to their original Berlin locations, so I would arrive at Schoenefeld, and depart from Tegel.

Thanks to www.gcmap.com for the map

The day of departure arrived, and I set my alarm for 3am (yawn). I spent a few too many minutes trying to open my eyes and finally put my car into gear at 3.30 for the drive to Luton. I stopped at a 24 hour McDo near Cambridge just before 5am hoping for a greasy breakfast, but they were still selling the "daytime" menu - the guy joked that I was an "early riser" rather than a "late reveller", to which I agreed, and bought only a cup of tea. I pulled into the car park at Luton Airport Parkway station, which only charges £2 per day on weekends, a bit more in the week (probably the cheapest parking near the airport) and walked to the shuttle bus stop. The bus cost is £1.50 single, £2.50 return.


Luton Airport station shuttle bus

Some of the shuttle busses have been modified to look a bit like a tram, with covered wheels. You're not fooling anyone, they are still busses. 

Traffic was very heavy, even at 5.50, on the airport approach road, but we eventually arrived. I had checked in online, so went straight to security. The queue was massive, though moving quite quickly its shear size meant it took some time. Periodically someone with a microphone would call out flights about to depart, and passengers on those flights could bypass the main queue. As luck would have it, Berlin passengers were called forward just as I reached the front. Security was quick, though I also had to take my Kindle out of my bag for the first time, like a laptop. I then foudn a departure screen, and headed to Gate 11.

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The queue was already building, and I joined, about 3/4 of the way back in the end.

On the way to the gate

 
Queuing at the gate

It turned out that Gate 11 was a bus gate, and that a bus full of passengers had already boarded, so I wasn't holding much hope for a good seat. I needn't have worried! A couple had taken an aisle and middle seat near the back, so I managed to get the window next to them. The flight looked like it was full.

Biz jet apron

Reg confirmation

Boarding

Tail on boarding

 
Still raining, view from my seat

The engines started up after the doors were closed, we pushed back and joined the queue for the runway. There was quite a long wait, but eventually we took off, and burst through the murk to the clear blue skies above the weather.

Obligatory legroom shot

Out of the window

View forward

Soon the service started. I hadn't eaten yet that day so I decided to have the Muffin deal, which means a £1 discount off a muffin and hot drink, yet the cost is still more than a McDo cooked breakfast ;)

Muffin and Starbucks tea

For those interested, the muffin was average, a little dry and crumbly but not overly so.

Soon enough it was time to descend. We passed over a lot of lakes, and forested areas, that looked quite pretty. We landed with a bump so slight I could barely feel it, until we started braking. The taxi to stand was quite long, and we came to rest beside a Norwegian neighbour.

Norwegian neighbour

I had arranged to meet user Akhmad at the arrivals, as he was staying in the Albergo hotel still, after many others had changed hotels for a city centre one. He was instantly recognisable from his photos, and we headed together to the station after buying a ticket to Tegel. The original (well, plan B) had been to head for a picnic at the Tempelhof park, but with bad weather forecast, it was decided to go straight to Tegel. We took a Regionalbahn to Hauptbahnhof, then the TXL bus on to the airport.

Hauptbahnhof

Hauptnahhof again

Plenty of people took photos at the meet, so I will try some that may or may not be repeated. As this was my first meeting, I was pleased to be made welcome into the group. I could not have hoped for a nicer group of people to spend a few hours with, and I hope I can make another meet before too long!

We met at the famous Ess-Bahn currywurst stand, before moving up to the Besucherterrasse - Viewing Deck. After a while, it was beer o'clock, so we found a cafe / bar inside the terminal for a cold one, before people made their exits.

The famous "Ess-Bahn" currywurst stand

The famous currywurst

Inside the airport hexagon - what should have happened today.

Did someone lose a hat? ;)

The earlier BA flight to Heathrow

An AB A330 taking most of the runway to lift off

The highlight of the day - Mongolian Airlines 767 from Ulaan Batur

Departure board from the bar

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As I had a Club Europe ticket, naturally I wanted to see the lounge - it would be only my 4th lounge visit. I bade my farewells, and went to the Terraces Lounge. I had my mobile boarding pass, and the attendant scanned the barcode on my phone, and a green light appeared. I found a comfy armchair with the nearest thing to a view the lounge has, as it is landside, and got a cup of tea, a couple of sandwiches and a boiled egg. I have to say the food selection was limited, there were also crisps, a couple of cakes, and small chocolates. The bar area, however, was well stocked. A shame as I'd be driving later and I had my one beer with the guys downstairs.

Food and view

Comfy seats

I needed to increase my caffeine intake thanks to my early start, so took a coke as well (pour your own glass from large bottles in the fridge). Unfortunately there was no bathroom, you had to exit, and go downstairs to the basement level, where there was a pay bathroom. I decided to leave and find my way to the gate.

Around the hexagon

FIDS over the BA checkin desks

The layout at TXL is unusual in that each gate or two has its own checkin desk, security, border control (if needed), holding room and luggage carousel (separated). I had already checked in, but couldn't see the way to security - I watched someone who checked in at the desk, and followed them through a small open doorway to the side of the desk (on the left in the photo above below the FIDS). It was not clearly marked, but most people seemed to know their way around. This was only my 2nd time departing from TXL, after a trip in 2006. In the holding room was a small cafe, duty free shop and toilets. I managed to catch the registration of the aircraft from the window here. Once it had arrived, the border control was right by the bridge, so the queue went back to the plane.The neighbouring gate area was also accessible, though no aircraft was docked there.

The holding area

Our tail

Our plane again from the neighbouring gate

Not much call for some of those types!

Before long 2 queues started to form, the left for Club and status passengers, the right for Traveller. I joined the left, but both queues were checked simultaneously, merging in the bridge to the door.

Legroom in seat 2F. I could stretch out!

View in front

Started raining

In Club the middle seats are blocked off, and there was noone on the aisle seat on my row. I had originally been assigned 2A, but changed to 2F on checkin, in case we did the approach over London. We didn't in the end.

Before takeoff, hot towels were distributed, but not drinks. I would prefer a drink to be honest. The load in Traveller looked to be full (explaining the lack of award seats in the back) whereas in Club, about 3/4 of the seats were taken.

After the safety demonstration, we taxied out and took off powerfully to the west, passing over more lakes and forests. The area surrounding Berlin does seem to have a lot of these!

Not long after that, I was asked if I'd like some food, to which I agreed. The tray was presented, and hot rolls offered. Following the steward, a stewardess offered drinks - I reluctantly decided not to go for champagne, but took cranberry juice instead. I expected some kind of desert offering as well, but there was nothing, and no further service offering during the flight.

Meal tray

Real metal cutlery - nice BA emblem. They all remained on board.

Clear skies after reaching cruising altitude

Looking back on the engine

We droned on, the cloud cover unbroken. At least the airshow was on the dropdown TVs. The light was very bright from outside, so beside periodically looking for other traffic (I saw none) I read a book on my Kindle: Days of Deja Vu by Jonathan Reid (about a guy who built his own yacht and sailed around the world). Highly recommended. Back to the flight: by now we were circling over Essex, which we did for 20 mins or so, until we went west over Watford, turning east to approach over Windsor. I only know this from the airshow TVs, as I couldn't see anything through the cloud. The TVs closed up, and famland was visible below, then some lakes and reservoirs (including one with an automatic waterskiing machine!) before crossing the M25 and touching down on 09L - another landing so smooth I almost didn't feel it. Then a long taxi to our stand on the south side of T5A.

Taxi past T5A

We all disembarked, heading for Arrivals and border control. After hearing horror stories about the queues, I was surprised to find that I was the 3rd person to arrive at the UK/EU desks, all 6 of which were manned, so no wait at all. I was soon welcomed back to the UK. I made my way out to the Tube station, for the long trek to Kings Cross.

TIDS at the Tube station

I found my way to the Thameslink platforms at St Pancras station, bought a ticket for Luton Aiport Parkway, and was soon heading back to my car, and the long drive home.

To conclude, I had a great day. It was great to see and finally meet everyone, for good conversation, food (if Currywurst counts!) and a beer. Special thanks must go to Suryo for meeting me at SXF and Blaz for the souvenir of Ljubliana! Until the next meeting...

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