Midnight at the Oasis: Emirates 777-300ER from Hamburg

My time in Hamburg had been rewarding. Visits to Lufthansa Technik and Airbus and extra time on a Junkers Ju52/3m flight had made the journey worthwhile. I'd been able to fit in a couple of other things that I wanted to do and the time had come to return to Perth. This report covers the first stage: Hamburg to Dubai with Emirates on a Boeing 777-300ER.

When I arrived at the check-in counter, an abaya-wearing woman was organising the weighing and labelling of enough bags to equip the 2nd Light Horse Brigade. Eventually, the assortment of packages for the woman and her companions, who were seated some distance away, would be cleared. I decided to join the queue for Business class as this was moving quicker and shortly after was invited forward.

The passport was checked and boarding passes for both the Hamburg to Dubai and Dubai to Perth sectors were issued. Fast track through security was indeed fast and I was soon on the escalator up to the Emirates Lounge. The lounge is a good size and divided into distinct areas for sitting and dining. There is a business centre and a prayer room for those who like a moment of quiet contemplation. From the sitting area there are views over the plaza and various retail outlets.

The dining area offers views over the apron. In the past, the Emirates flight has typically departed from gate C05 but construction work has seen it move to B52. Today's flight would be operated by A6-ECC, an aircraft delivered on 2 October, 2007 and leased from GECAS.

Also present was D-AIUM. Built in Finkenwerder and delivered to Lufthansa on 27 April, 2015, four months later this aircraft was involved in a fumes incident. Departing Frankfurt, a strong smell of kerosene was noticed in the cabin. A short time later a flight attendant noticed a burning sensation in her respiratory tract, headache, dizzyness and muscle pains. The aircraft landed safely in Düsseldorf and subsequently continued its schedule. However, blood tests carried out by Hamburg's Zentrallabor für Arbeitsmedizin und Maritime Medizin revealed abnormally high concentrations of Isopropanol, n-Hexane, n-Octane and n-Decane.

Getting under way was an Aeroflot Russian Airlines A320-214, registered as VQ-BKT. Configured C20Y120 and first flown as F-WWBR, the aircraft was delivered on 26 May, 2011 and is named after Vladimir Vernadsky: one of the founders of geochemistry, biogeochemistry and radiogeology; and founder of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

A look along the counter and bar showed the usual abundance of choice in food and drinks. I decided to have some of the Thai Red Chicken Curry and to accompany it, a glass of Pouilly-Fuisse from the house of Louis Latour. There was a tempting Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte but I went for the blueberry and almond cheese cake instead.

Before going through passport control, I visited Destination Hamburg to make some vital purchases. Once in the boarding lounge I was able to take a couple of more shots of the Emirates Boeing 777, including one of the GE90-115B engines. A conversation started when a passenger asked whether I maintained a blog. It turned out that he was an engineer, travelling to southern India where he works.

"Passengers on Emirates Flight EK59 to Dubai, shortly we will be commencing boarding by zones. Please remain seated until your boarding zone is called. First and Business class passengers, as well as Skywards Platinum, Gold and Silver tier, may board at any time."

Scanning the boarding pass, the gate agent bade me a pleasant flight and I made my way along the airbridge to the plane.

Flight: Emirates EK59 HAM - DXB
Aircraft Type: Boeing 777-300ER | Seat: 01A
Aircraft ID: A6-ECC
STD: 16:25 | ATD: 16:42
STA: 00:50 | ATA: 00:49

At the door, a cheerful "welcome back, Mister Smith" from purser Nadim, who asked Tomo to lead the way to the suite. Nadim apologised for the fact that all the crew in the cabin were guys. "You never know," I quipped with a smile; "I might prefer it that way."

The usual offer to hang the jacket and bring a drink was made. Once more, I chose orange juice. While the latter was being brought, I snapped a couple of shots of the cabin and popped my head into the still empty Business class cabin.

Nadim noticed the camera and offered to take a photo. While he was there, I thought I'd ask whether it was possible to visit the flight deck although I appreciated that it was a busy time. Nadim went to ask the Captain and came back with an invitation to come forward.

Captain O'Donnaill said not to mind the clutter on the floor. I expressed amazement that they still had so much paper instead of everything being digital. The Captain explained that they were changing out a bit of carpet that was soaked through but invited me into the cabin to chat with the FO. The latter had previously been flying with LATAM. He kindly offered to take my photo as well, so I hopped into the left-hand seat.

Back in the cabin some suites were empty. The lady in charge of the equipment for the 2nd Light Horse was asking Nadim whether she and a couple of her party could use them. Yes, they could either pay for an upgrade or use Skywards Miles was the reply. The lady said she would do the latter but it seems that there were insufficient available, so the suites remained empty. It's a shame that she and her companions missed out but I can understand why Emirates adopts the approach it does.

On this aircraft, the ICE was of an older style and had a wired remote control. As usual I set it to "Today's Flight", where it would remain throughout the journey. This would give access to the onboard cameras and the moving maps.

A pair of slippers and an eye-shade were brought, the newspapers and magazines presented and the pre-departure coffee and dates were offered. From the flight deck came words of welcome, an apology for the slight delay, details of flight times and conditions, and the usual commands:
"All ground personnel, please leave the aircraft."
"Cabin crew, prepare doors and cross-check."

Passengers were requested to watch the safety video that was now screened. "Your bags should be placed under the seat in front of you or in the overhead locker."

"Put your mask on first and then help others."

"There are ten emergency exits on this Boeing 777-300."

As the crew made the final pass through the cabin, the seat belt signs were on, the toilets locked and the galley secured.

The Boeing was pushed back and reversed into position for the final checks before taxi. The push bar was detached and the man on the ground communicated that everything was OK to proceed.

As Charlie Charlie taxied out, I could see at a stand D-AIZA. Named Trier, this Airbus A320-214 was built in Finkenwerder, where it first flew as D-AVVF. Originally configured CY156 but now with a more cosy CY168, it was delivered on 18 November, 2009.

At the end of the pier were a couple of Airbus A319s with easyJet. The nearer of the two, G-EZDH has CFM56-5B5/3 engines and is configured Y156. It originally flew as D-AVVM and was delivered 14 April, 2008. The other one is older, having been delivered on 24 May, 2006. Its registration while at Airbus was D-AVYH. It is powered by two CFMI CFM56-5B5/P engines.

On a remote stand was a Bombardier BD-700-1A11 Global 5000. This private charter jet was formerly part of Amira Air/ Lauda Air, and now is flying with Vienna-based Avcon Jet as OE-IXX.

The Boeing held a while at Bravo 3 as an Airbus A320-212 prepared for take off. D-AICE has been switching back and forth between Condor and Thomas Cook. Built in Toulouse as F-WWDI, when Airbus delivered it on 23 October, 1998 it was configured to seat 174 passengers in an all economy cabin. Since then it has become extra "gemütlich" and seats 180.

"Cabin crew, please be seated."

Charlie Charlie was given clearance and entered Runway 33. As it rolled forward I was able to capture two final specimens; D-ABGM and OE-LCB. The first was in Eurowings livery but leased from AirBerlin since 3 March, 2017. This Airbus A319-112 previously was operated by Belair as HB-IOX.

The second, an Airbus A321-211, was transferred to Niki on 19 January, 2017. It previously was with AirBerlin as D-ABCB. With all the creative shifting around of assets prior to AB's insolvency, it will be interesting to see where both aircraft ultimately end up.

The Boeing raced forward, chewing up the available runway in Hamburg before lifting off the ground and into the sky above Schleswig-Holstein. To the west lay the Wendlohe Golf Club and views to Schnelsen and Bönningstedt. We passed by Parkplatz Bönningstedt on the E7 where some motorists were breaking their journeys.

On screen, our path was shown with heading, speed and outside air temperature. Through the windows, the clouds looked dark and ominous as the Boeing 777 continued to climb, passing near Quickborn and Ulzburg-Süd.

The display map changed scale and language as the flight continued. A series of virtual guages appeared, indicating Mach, air speed, altitude and vertical speed. The view through the windows was briefly shrouded in white and then we were above the clouds.

Nadim came by and handed me the in-flight menu and wine list, asking whether I was familiar with the dine-on-demand service. He also offered to bring some wine and suggested some canapés. An amusing name jumped out from the wine list and I thought, "why not?"

It was Tomo, an engaging young man from Japan, who brought the wine. First the label was presented and a sample poured. Once the glass was filled, Tomo said he would return with the selection of canapés.

The canapés consisted of smoked trout with horseradish cream; some cougette and mozzarella involtini; and a beef kofta described as being served with pomodoro sauce. I'm not sure they were right about the sauce (looks more like pesto to me) but it was a very pleasant snack to go with the Pinot Noir from the Macedon Ranges of Victoria.

There wasn't much to see at this stage. Central Europe lay under a band of cloud so I decided to discover some more about the aircraft. On 19 June, 2014 this Emirates Boeing 777-36NER operating EK424 Dubai to Perth was diverted to Alice Springs due to fog in Perth. The following morning it flew from Alice Springs to Adelaide as EK424D and in the afternoon continued Adelaide to Perth. The aircraft then operated the previous day’s delayed EK425 Perth to Dubai as EK425D. I don't suppose the passengers were all that excited about the extra "scenic tour" but hopefully such diversions will become a thing of the past as Perth upgrades to CATIII.

Tomo came by a few times to check on me and we conversed about a range of things, including haiku; an unrhymed verse form having three lines containing five, seven, and five syllables respectively; and usually having a seasonal reference. During one of his visits, I accepted to his offer to bring something to eat.

The table was laid and Tomo moved the carafe of Curly Flat within easier reach. Then he brought out a plate with smoked duck, resting on a bed of pumpkin chutney, with sun dried tomatoes and pesto. It was delicious!

Outside, some of the cloud had cleared and I was able to see the changing landscape of Romania and Bulgaria below. Mountainous areas gave way to fertile plains along river banks.

Meanwhile, Tomo had cleared the appetiser away and brought out the main. Served with morel mushroom jus, ratatouille and polenta cake, the grilled beef tenderloin proved to be very tasty and succulent. I guess that the carafe had been topped up while I was looking out of the window.

I don't usually request a dessert but I was intrigued to see what a Dominostein looked like. It was an odd concoction (not overly sweet, I'm pleased to say) made from an apricot jelly and almond mousse on a ginger biscuit base, topped with a smidgeon of dark chocolate. It was served with a raspberry coulis. Not too bad but I think that I'll pass, next time.

By now we were over the Black Sea and the sun was sinking behind us. I decided to read for a while. During previous visits to Hamburg, I had purchased in German translation works by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. During this one, I was pleased to find a copy of the latest in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series: El Laberinto de Los Espiritus, translated as Das Labyrinth der Lichter. I was soon engrossed, breaking occasionally to look out into the darkness. Here and there, the lights of a town or village broke through the night sky.

Nadim came by to see if everything was alright. It was and would get even better with a cognac. It seemed a good moment to pass on a commendation of Tomo's work, which I found to project a positive attitude.

The Hennessy Paradis, brought by Tomo, appeared with a cup of espresso and a glass of water. Tomo mentioned that Nadim had passed on my comments.

Today's Flight showed that we were over Iran and about to head over the Gulf to Dubai. We had already commenced descent and were at about 27,000 ft. For those who might wish to say a prayer, the screen served as a virtual mihrab, indicating the Qiblah – the direction faced when a Muslim performs salat.

The lights of villages along the Gulf broke through the darkness as Charlie Charlie continued along its path. Provided there were no delays with air traffic control, we should be arrive on time.

The cabin lights changed colour. It is thought that these colour changes help people adjust to different time zones and deal with jet lag. The colours are pretty but I'm sure not sure how effective they are, particularly if the cabin changes from purple through orange to all lights on and then you step out into darkness.

On screen, as the earth revolves the area of night is illuminated by the lights of cities along the route we have followed.

Information about being at connecting gates in time is shown. Flights and departure gates are provided – mine would be leaving from B13 so no need to take the train. For those ending the journey in Dubai, the carousel from which to collect their baggage was indicated as number 7.

Pre-arrival announcements were made, requesting passengers ensure their bags were securely stowed, their seats were in the upright position and seat belts fastened. As Wi-Fi was about to be turned off, any calls should be ended and electronic devices placed in flight mode.

The lights of Dubai appeared and were growing nearer as the aircraft descended. We were fortunate today that we were not placed in a stack and could make an uninterrupted descent.

The forward camera showed the approach lights and moments later we were over the threshold and down on the runway.
"Welcome to Dubai where it's a quarter to one in the morning and the temperature is 42⁰."

The Boeing 777-300ER passed the engineering shops and followed the green to its stand. In the distance I could make out the terminal concourses. The ground in between was a profusion of colour: red, yellow, green and blue, each providing guidance to the pilots in command of aircraft.

Finally we entered the area where Charlie Charlie would park, passing a recent arrival. A queue of buses were waiting to take the disembarking passengers to the terminal.

On arrival at the remote stand, it took a few minutes before there was any sign of the steps being brought to the aircraft. Finally they were moved into position, although it might have been a trainee doing it as a number of attempts were made to correctly align them.

After thanking and saying goodbye to Nadim and Tomo, I was able to descend to the waiting bus. The other passengers in First, and the lady of the 2nd Light Horse Battalion, followed in boarding. On the bus, a recorded message was being played, explaining to passengers why a bus was being used.

As the bus made its way to the terminal, the other passengers said to me, "Welcome to Dubai."
"Shukran," I replied and a conversation ensued during which the reason for their mound of baggage became clear. They were a family of Emiratis who had spent three weeks on vacation in Germany and done a bit more shopping than they had expected to.

Welcome to Dubai, indeed. Although the visit would turn out to be longer than anticipated, it would still be brief. In the next report I shall cover the transfer and flight to Perth on the Airbus A380.