First flight! 747s around-the-world – JFK to FRA on a Lufthansa 747-8!

Here we go for my most ambitious and longest trip to date: Around-the-world flying only on 747s!

Trip 1 is JFK to FRA (New York to Frankfurt) but as I live in Toronto, it meant positioning to JFK. Since this entire trip was booked one flight at a time, there is no responsibility on the part of the airlines to take care of me if I miss a flight, as would be if I booked all or some of the connections as one ticket. LH401 with Lufthansa was due to depart just after 4pm, I needed to be at the airport at least several hours beforehand.

Obviously, the weather in the Northeast in March can be very unpredictable and I had to book early to guarantee myself a seat, not to mention avoid paying last-minute prices. So I went with Delta, which flies the most connections between Toronto and JFK. I didn’t want to spend the night so to be safe I picked the first flight, leaving right at 6am. Surprisingly, I was able to book Delta Main Cabin, giving my 6’5 frame a comfy seat for not much more than Economy. I also booked my return flight, hoping beyond hope that all went well and I’d be returning on my Qantas flight into JFK in 22 days!

A wet, chilly morning departure from Toronto…I used to fuel airplanes here! So much fun…

I don’t know about you, but I’m usually very tense the night before a flight, and knowing I had to get up around 2am made it even worse. Basically, I got no sleep whatsoever, due to last-minute packing and taking care of my pets.

The other main time-sink was attaching all the vintage airline stickers to my new Pelican case! I’ve seen how the standard sticker glue isn’t sufficient to stand up to hardcore travel and airport luggage systems, so I was determined to not lose any decals this time around. I used a can of 3M spray adhesive, which worked very well, except for the overspray which thoroughly coated my hand with sticky goo that quickly turned black and lasted for well over a week into my trip! Definitely not something to leave to the last night before traveling but I just had no time to get it done sooner.

I spent all night gluing down all my decals…and they all survived! Who doesn’t love stickers 🙂

So I rolled into Pearson airport just after 4am and managed to check-in with not too many issues. Paying a little extra for Delta Main Cabin gave me priority boarding and that was much appreciated, as I was traveling with a large camera backpack carry-on that I could not check under any circumstances. And as this positioning flight was an RJ, the Delta staff were already hunting for bags to check into the cargo hold.

Once onboard though, I had the single seat on the left-side and spent the flight watching the hazy high-altitude clouds between Toronto and New York. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally touched down on the hallowed tarmac of runway 22L for my first visit to JFK!
After collecting my bags, I had to move from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1, all the while stopping for a few quick shots of the foggy ramps and runways. I wish I had more time because it’s not often you get great views and terrific haze!

El-Al 747-400 “Jerusalem” being prepped far away from the gates…El Al is always safe and secure from bad guys

After taking the people train to Terminal 1, I quickly realized that Lufthansa was not opening for check-in until around noon. I missed a lot of shooting time! But after a Chinese brunch upstairs, I found myself talking to a new friend Frank in the check-in area. Frank, fresh out of Texas, was an aspiring video producer returning to his home in Nigeria, so I was able to talk cameras and stories from my old career as a union camera assistant in the movies. It’s nice to have a friend during a long layover!

Finally after checking in, we passed through security and I was able to run into the Lufthansa lounge for a quick bite.

Who doesn’t enjoy free food and drinks at the airport when you get the chance?

The view from the lounge is expansive but it’s into the south which means deep shadows all around. But it was fun to watch a Korean A380 depart to make room for 777s from China Eastern and Aeroflot.

Lots of action but lots of shadows when the sun came out directly ahead of me…

Once I left the lounge, I headed down the terminal arm, as there are decent views towards runway 31L. Taking pics from inside the terminals is one of my goals as you get operational action that is impossible to capture from the fence-line. The major obstacles are generally dirty or multiple layers of glass, as well as sun placement. Today was not bad, although 22L is due south of the Terminal, so you have to pick your moments and exposure carefully. Also, as it got busier with passengers, it was more chaotic to move from one window to another, especially across the narrow terminal. But thankfully there were lots of 747s to choose from!

It’s all about the size, baby…there’s my ride in the back!

The one thing that’s never happened to me, however, happened to me in Terminal 1 at JFK. I’ll post about it separately, but in brief it involved a run-in with a joke of a security guard while I was taking photographs. Ultimately I was in the right but it dampened the mood of an otherwise epic start to my epic trip.

Anyway, as an extra bonus, I was able to shoot “my” 747-8 as it arrived at the gate. This was my first 747-8 and I couldn’t wait to look inside!

My first 747-8!

Once boarding began, I made my way to the upper deck. This is about my favorite place to be, having flown up there exactly one time from Toronto to Frankfurt 😉 . I picked seat but got to switch to seat for the taxi and takeoff as I could tell that departures had switched to Runway 13R and I wanted to get a view of the airport as we took off. Additionally, there were a lot of planes behind us that were pretty cool!

Ahhh…a refreshing drink and a strange new seatbelt design I’ve never seen before!

This takeoff was extra memorable, however. And not just because it was the official start of my around-the-world attempt. Once we were airborne, I noticed we weren’t gaining altitude very quickly at all. The hop to Europe is pretty short by long-haul standards, so we weren’t super-heavy with fuel, but the aircraft was barely climbing. I started wondering if there was trouble with an engine. Eventually we kept climbing and I decided things were okay. It turned out to be a reduced-performance takeoff which was very cool! After a great sunset view of Manhattan it was quickly night-time for the ride across the Atlantic. Check out my video from the gate to climb-out!

So as usual, Lufthansa did a great job and it was a very comfortable trip with an early-morning dark landing in Frankfurt. I love the idea of all of Lufthansa’s 747’s returning to the nest every morning! And Frankfurt is such an exciting, active airport! I was so excited to be back in Germany!

The last surprise was an invitation up to the cockpit once we had parked and shut-down! Both Captain and First Officer were so gracious and kind, I was overwhelmed. I don’t think I’ve been up to the cockpit of a real airliner since I was maybe 10 or 11 years old back in the early 80s! Kudos to Lufthansa!

A terrific Lufthansa Captain was gracious enough to invite me into the cockpit and his friendly First Officer offered to take pics. Lufthansa rocks!

After such an adrenaline-charged first leg there was no time to check-in or rest: it was straight to the car rental agency and out to the perimeter road for some shooting!

Oh, but first thing’s first!

The perfect end to every flight, no?

Next post: Airliner pics from Frankfurt and the Lufhansa 747-400 simulator!