Friday, 15th July 2011
It's been a funny sort of day. I set my alarm for 3.30 a.m. so that I could walk my dog, Tai. He was quite unfazed at going out so early and chose an old favourite route, along part of the canal towpath and back through the village. My friend Marion was to collect him later. When I have a holiday, Tai moves to his 'second home' with Marion. I was ready for 5.00 a.m. when Alan picked me up for the transfer to Birmingham Airport.
Check-in for my Lufthamsa flight to Frankfurt was mainly do-it-yourself followed by Bag Drop, but there was one Business/First conventional check-in counter. Unfortunately, the previous customer took over ten minutes to check in. The gentleman appeared to be moving home, taking his wife, his young son, a baby stroller, a carry cot and three of the largest suitcases I've ever seen. I imagine the kitchen sink was in one of them. My own check-in was completed in seconds. The friendly lady confided that the previous passenger wasn't even travelling business class but the bag-drop desks, seeing what a complex check-in it was going to be, referred him to the experienced lady on the business check-in!
Servisair are the handling agents for Lufthansa at Birmingham and there was time to pop into the Servisair lounge for an orange juice before making my way to the departure gate. The flight was being operated by BMI with a fairly-presentable A320. As we taxied out to runway 33, I looked across at the original terminal and thought about my early flying experiences departing from that tiny terminal.
The flight was uneventful and a satisfactory breakfast was served. Approaching from the air, you get a good idea of just how huge Frankfurt is. We landed and taxied to our stand some distance away from the terminal. I took the waiting transfer 'bus but we hadn't gone far before we came to the end of a traffic jam on the airport road. To serve these remote stands, they've put an airport road across the apron, parallel to the taxiway and runway. But every aircraft crossing to or from stands attached to the terminal by airbridges has to cross the airport road, repeatedly holding up the road traffic. Eventually, the 'bus arrived at the terminal and joined a queue of vehicles setting down passengers. After a few more minutes, I was inside the terminal but things were no better. The area was heaving with passengers who were only very slowly making their way around the corner and, in the dimly-lit area, I couldn't see any signage for transfers. As I shuffled past an unlabelled lift, the doors opened and a very quietly-spoken airport girl said "Transfers - take the lift". I was lucky to get that clue! Emerging from the lift, I identified the departure gate and located a nearby Lufthansa Executive Lounge. I only had about 15 minutes in here but, being one of Lufthansa's major airports, the range of food and drink here rather put the Birmingham affair in the shade.
The flight to Moscow was a proper Lufthansa flight, accessible by airbridge from the terminal. It was operated by an A321 with a charming, mainly male, cabin crew. Unfortunately, six passengers had gone missing after checking-in hold baggage, so we had to sit on the ground while the baggage handlers extracted their bags from the hold. We must have been about half an hour late departing. They served a very acceptable lunch which occupied a lot of the flight time.
Unfortunately, there were air traffic delays arriving at Moscow so we had to stooge around for a while before landing. Heavy braking allowed us to take the high speed turnout and we were soon attached to the airbridge and walking through fairly deserted corridors until we came to immigration. That's where all the people were! Why is immigration always in an airless, windowless, low-ceilinged room with only half of the immigrations desks staffed? Three quarters of an hour later, I was through immigration and into baggage reclaim, where my checked bag had been patiently waiting for me for some time. Into the arrival hall, with the usual crowd of meeters and greeters, most displaying signs of variable readability. The girl from AMA Katerina (the boat I'm joining) had a large professional sign so I was soon part of the small flock of passengers she'd collected.
We had to wait around for the remaining passengers and then she conducted us outside the terminal to wait for the coach. We all had to maul our own luggage and then had to wait around in the hot sun for our coach to arrive, which did little for our health and temper.
After ten minutes or so, the coach arrived and we were allowed to load our own luggage into the hold, whilst the driver looked on, disdainfully. We were then warned that, because of traffic congestion, our trip to the 'water station' (as they rather nicely termed the ship's mooring) would take around two hours.
All my Moscow pictures are here.