One of the most enjoyable things for me as a parent is seeing the world through the eyes of my children. I have many fond memories of travel as a child and even more as an adult. Bringing my children somewhere I’ve been in a foreign country and seeing it through their eyes is akin to being a kid again (with less hair and stamina, mind you). I’ve divided up the trip report into the likely posts I’ll write but these are subject to change once I get into documenting the meat of the trip.
1. Lufthansa Business Class To Paris Via Frankfurt
2. Park Hyatt Place Vendome
3. Walking Around Paris, Angelina And The Pont Des Arts Bridge
4. Eiffel Tower
6. Café K? Trocadero and The Eiffel Tower At Night
7. Lufthansa New Business Class, Upstairs On The 747-8i
When things went crazy a few months ago on a small Norwegian travel website I spent the weekend hunting for places I could travel with our kids. In those situations when tickets are abnormally cheap you have to act fast since the deals may disappear. I made a list of places on a pad that I thought would be fun to see and started hunting. Paris was high on the list for my daughter as well as my wife and I, none of us had experienced it yet. Since I could only find trips on a long weekend my wife and I made the decision to leave our 3-year old son at home, figuring it would be tough for him to adjust to the time changes in that short of a period of time.
The tickets we booked were in coach on United and shortly after I booked them I decided life was too short and rebooked us on Lufthansa using award miles. It only cut our time short in Paris by one hour and we would get to try out the new Boeing 747-8i. We’d be a lot better rested for our trip being able to sleep comfortably in a lie-flat bed than in a coach seat.
It just wasn’t meant to be that smooth.
A couple days before we left I was checking on our flights and noticed that though our assigned seats indicated we were on the 747-8i, an external flight-tracking app (FlightTrack) was showing we were flying on the older 747-400. Sure enough, the Lufthansa flight status function showed a 747-400. However, Lufthansa’s own website still showed a seat map for a 747-8i. A quick call to Lufthansa confirmed that, beyond every reasonable doubt of the agent I was speaking to and her supervisor there was just some sort of glitch and of course the 747-8i would be our plane. They confirmed the tail number of my plane, which sure looked like a 747-400. I was even able to get some assistance confirming this on Milepoint.
I stood pat and checked again the following morning. Now the Lufthansa website showed the seat map of a 747-400 we needed to re-work our seats as we weren’t sitting together. It was also something of a pretty decent bummer since the 747-400 is one of the few Lutfhansa planes flying back and forth between Germany and the US that still has a much older business class seat, one that’s not a flat seat for sleeping. Now, this is a bit of an eye roller for some folks and a decidedly awesome problem to have. But, flying the 747-8i was something I was really looking forward to and the 747-400 was a step down. I’d have gladly traded the itinerary and had the 747-8i on the outbound redeye flight when we wanted to sleep. Oddly, this wasn’t in my control. If only wishing made it so.
Some more time on the phone with Lufthansa and they promised to send a note to the airport to assist with seating us together. They assigned us 9A, 9C and 10C (two aisles, one in front of the other and a window). The 747-400 has 3 seats in the middle section and my daughter likes to look out the window when we fly, so these seats would work out well for us, minus the one detail I missed when they assigned them to us. More on that later. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the Lufthansa website to print out all our boarding passes. It printed out both of Michelle’s boarding passes and the Frankfurt-Paris boarding passes for Catherine and I.
We set out for the airport earlier than most folks would but later than I normally do. I’m a bit obsessive about being at the airport early in case of unforeseen circumstances. With the proliferation of wicked fast LTE and wifi, as well as airline clubs, it’s easy to work remotely so I’d rather play it safe. In this case, Dulles airport was closed for a decent amount of time the day before. We arrived at the airport to more bedlam than I’d ever seen before. Thankfully the line for business class at the Lufthansa ticket counter wasn’t that bad. Not the same for security. The line for TSA PreCheck was a couple hundred people deep (at least)and the line for normal security snaked back and forth upstairs just to get to the escalator downstairs.
With security longer than normal we only had a short time before boarding. Since we were flying business class we had access to the Lufthansa Business Lounge and headed there for a quick bite. We enjoyed some corn chowder and a plate of cold cuts and cheeses. Michelle and I enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine while Catherine enjoyed a glass of sparkling water. We were off to the gate shortly after.
We boarded quickly through the front (1L) door into the business class cabin, and that’s when I remembered our seats were at that door which meant Catherine was seated in an exit row. Oops. That took a few moments to sort out and someone was willing to switch with us. Shortly after that, we were taxiing for take-off. It may sound silly to those of you without kids (and maybe some of you with kids) but my daughter and I have a tradition where we count down from 10 as we speed down the runway for take-off. It started as a way to calm her anxiety when she was younger and just kind of stuck. Our timing was a bit off based on the lumbering 747, but we were on our way. Shortly after take-off, Catherine had a glass of mango-guava juice with her feet kicked up and exclaimed, “Oh, Daddy. I could live this life forever!”
For our meal service, my wife and I both went for another glass of Champagne and the shrimp cocktail appetizer. The shrimp was well-seasoned and tender and disappeared quickly. Looking at the meal choices I quickly realized we had an issue finding an entrée our daughter would enjoy. As a well-prepared parent I had picked up a bunch of healthy snacks for her. Some snippets of the menu in case you’re interested:
We asked the flight attendant if we could serve my daughter the breakfast meal of turkey breast, ham and cheese, which was perfect. And, we learned an important parent travel tip on Lufthansa.
You can request a kid’s meal ahead of time traveling on Lufthansa.
Our flight attendant was nice enough to suggest this for our return flight. Side note: this was an easy call to Lufthansa. We also learned during this call that United didn’t have our daughter listed as a child on the reservation despite the fact that I tagged her as such when making it and her date of birth is correctly listed in my United profile.
I chose the duck leg confit and Michelle picked the miso cod. The duck was quite flavorful and went well with the Zuccardi Malbec. This was an interesting positive for me on a Lufthansa flight as all my previous Lufthansa business class flights featured German red wines. Those really aren’t my speed so I was happy to see something from Argentina on the list. The duck was slightly tough but a solid choice overall. The potato walnut puree was an interesting accompaniment.
My wife enjoyed the cod. I tried a few bites and did as well, though the soba noodles with the ginger soy sauce were the winner on this plate. Shortly after dinner it seemed like a good time to get our daughter ready for sleep. During dinner service, one of the flight crew had been stricken ill and was being attended to by some doctors. While there was genuine concern for her condition early on she seemed to be stabilizing. We got about an hour East of landfall out over the Atlantic when it became apparent she wasn’t in as good shape as expected. I thought the plane might be turning slightly and confirmed as such on the in-flight map. Shortly thereafter the pilot informed us we were turning around for medical attention. We would land at St. Johns, Newfoundland.
We explained that to Catherine and that we would likely be getting to Paris later than we planned. That’s the sort of thing that could disappoint a little girl with her heart set on Paris. Pretty obvious from the video below that wasn’t the case.
The pilot let us know that we would be landing in some wind so he wanted to make sure we were buckled in.
As an aside, I was curious why we doubled back to St. John’s as opposed to heading to Reykjavik or Heathrow. I don’t consider myself an expert on this info but I did some research. We were about an hour East of St. John’s (YYT), which likely put us 2-3 hours from Heathrow. But, when I looked at the track on Flight Aware we definitely appeared much closer to St. John’s than it looked from the in-flight maps.
Interestingly, the longest runway at St. John’s is listed at approximately 8,500 feet. I couldn’t find an official landing length for the 747-400 but according to some data I found it looks like it needs just shy of 10,000 feet at maximum take-off weight (MTOW). No idea what our weight was on take-off, but we used all of the runway to land.
Our daughter actually fell asleep on descent (around 11pm, way past her normal bedtime). They opened door 1L right beside our seats and safely transported the ill crew-member (now stable, thankfully) to a waiting ambulance and the pilot went about checking on our refueling. The door was left open and I got a great perspective on how awesome the pilot did landing the plane. It was an extremely soft landing, and as you can see from the video while we were on the ground it was in what seemed to be some pretty rough conditions.
While we were on the ground I called Lufthansa to rebook our connecting flight since we originally only had an hour on the ground in Frankfurt. The agent helped me get a 12:15 pm flight to Paris booked. If we landed at our newly scheduled time, we’d have about 75 minutes to make our flight which likely wasn’t a problem.
We were on the ground for a total of two hours. The pilot took us all the way down to the far end of the runway and turned the plane around. Looking out the window I could see the lights at the end of the runway right beside the plane, so he was maximizing every foot he could. He cycled the engines up pretty high before we began take-off and still managed to clear the end of the runway with a bit more leeway than I expected.
Off again, my wife and I quickly joined Catherine in restless slumber on the slanted business class seats, waking up shortly before landing in Frankfurt about 3 hours behind schedule. Once we were off the plane, we had a long walk from the far end of the Z concourse, followed by a quick run through passport control. Germans are known for their efficiency and I always expect things to move smoothly but I don’t normally expect them to be more welcoming than folks in the US. And yet, when the officer realized my daughter loved stamps in her passport he invited her into the booth to put her own stamp on her passport.
We bought a couple things in duty free, grabbed some drinks and breakfast to head to the gate with and hit the bathrooms. We approached the gate shortly before boarding was supposed to startto get new boarding passes per our rebooked confirmation I had received but the agent didn’t have our reservation. My stomach dropped as I realized I had broken one of my cardinal rules.
When you have IRROPS (irregular operations, flight cancelations, etc) always make sure you get to the gate early to make sure everything is okay.
The agent politely informed me that our flights to Paris had been canceled. Don’t worry, she would try to resurrect them. She tried for about 2 minutes and then said she couldn’t and told me I had to head to a service counter for assistance. At this point, we were 30 minutes prior to departure and I was pretty sure we were going to miss our flight.
She directed me to the service desk about 3 gates down and I took off in a mad dash. I learned afterwards from my wife (who stayed at the gate with our daughter and our luggage) that the agent started boarding the flight as soon as we left. When I arrived at the service center it was closed, with one employee standing out front helping someone. It became clear I wasn’t getting help here so I asked where the next closest service center was. He directed me back past our departure gate and I set off running again, now really fast (faster than most of you think I can move). I got to the next desk and there was a long line. I promptly ignored it and asked the person directing traffic to help me. She directed me to a self-service kiosk which wouldn’t do anything for me. I then just walked to the front of the line now barely able to breath and asked the person in the front of the line if I could butt the line since we were now at about 20 minutes prior to departure.
She begrudgingly said yes and I explained my issue to an unoccupied agent. She promptly told me I had to go to the back of the line. I felt things slipping out of my grasp at this point, since we started with about 40 hours total in Paris for our trip and were now already down to close to 30. I politely but firmly walked back through everything with her, showing her the e-mail confirmation for my rebooking. She started hammering away at the keyboard and a few minutes later spit out 3 boarding passes. Dead sprint for me again, showing up at the gate 13 minutes prior to departure (3 minutes prior to the door closing) and the gate agent said, “Oh, I’m glad you made it.” Don’t get me wrong, Lufthansa has always been wicked accurate on previous flights with me, but with boarding passes, seat assignments and canceled rebookings, this one was far from perfect.
We hurried down the jet bridge to a half empty flight, stored our bags and collapsed for the short flight to Charles de Gaulle airport.