After viewing a post on a Polish aviation forum I impulsively checked the web page of LOT Polish Airlines.
Indeed, a promotional flight to Budapest with Boeing 787 Dreamliner can’t be overlooked: July 7th, departure at 8.10, return at 16.40. Do I want it? YES! I’ve been selling a little of my old stuff lately so the funds are easy to gather. I began the reservation. Already from the start the system suggests a Premium Economy seat for about 260 zlotys (around 60 USD), which I quickly accept and choose a window seat (5A). Only return flight left (not so super, because in Economy and no window seat – 9B) and I pay… Boom, finished! No regrets, it’s not easy to fly in a wide-body aircraft for less than 250 bucks, let alone for this price (you would have to be very fortunate)…
July 7th arrived slowly, preceded by a very mixed weather, experiences of Three Sea Congress and Donald Trump’s visit to Poland, and arrival of second cat Trixy to my home. It started with a big and potentially expensive screw-up. I was done preparing the previous day: power cells charged, gear packed, the documents and passport gathered, cats fed. At 4 AM I’m woken as usual by Patchy – he’s hungry and wants to go outside. It’s early, I’m not in the mood for aircraft spotting so I go back to bed. Trixy pleasantly purrs to my ear, sun slowly rises over the horizon and… I wake up at quarter to six!
That’s just great! In express mode I glance over my apartment, pack and run out. At 6.16 the train is arriving, and I’m already checking for quickest route with an app on my phone. Looks like I’ll be fine, I should arrive at the airport at 7.18, whole 20 minutes before boarding. The train driver seems to have other plans though – the train seems really sluggish today. I look with horror as subsequent connections become unavailable as delay grows. In the city center a quick run to the bus and race against time – which I seem to be loosing. Eventually I arrive at the airport two minutes before opening of the gate and unceremoniously reach security checkpoint.
After five minutes everything ends, I quickly find my gate, and, because of my premium status, I can use fast track. Phew, I made it. In addition to assigned pilots and crew, the passengers are greeted by Piotr Lipiński (AllOver) – one of the most known Polish airline pilots. He didn’t recognize me – too bad, but no matter. At last I can sit back, relax and enjoy the view… of the engine? I’m testing wide-angle lens and in deed, the engine will be the most prominent element of my photographs. Shooting everything else, including the distinctive wing, will require truly acrobatic skills. Beside us there is a good old Boeing 767 of TUI fly, which will leave Warsaw soon, most likely for good. Just in case I fire few parting shots at him. In a little while “tuyka” will push back from its stand and will be on its way before us.
Hustle and bustle around me, people I know or I’ve seen for the first time walk back and forth. A Hungarian man takes a seat next to me – a press photographer. For a little while he lets me hold his Canon 1D Mk II. We’ll talk a little during the flight and I’ll let him use the window to record movies.
Our Dreamliner is SP-LRG, the newest addition to LOT’s fleet, and only since 27 days in service. From the start it was apparent that forum-users bought around one sixth of the plane.
Sitting in Premium Economy is comfortable. Seats are wide, soft, with leg- and footrests. Wide armrests house tray table and IFE screen. There’s a gift: in a nice tiny vanity case there are socks and miniature toiletries. There’s a mess-up however – even though the inside of the plane is relatively clean and cared for, in the tray holding area you could see old food and pieces of tissue. After snuggling down in the armchair I cursorily “scan” the IFE. The collection of movies and TV programs is “solid” – a few blockbusters, a whole lot of series, but uninteresting music – in my opinion at least. There are a few games (among them Asteroids, Bejeweled) and ability to chat with passengers (on the backside of the attached remote there is a small alphanumeric keyboard). Cord rollup breaks down: often it does nothing to suddenly pull the remote out of the hand and slam it onto the armrest, to where it goes.
Push-back and engine startup. Wow, it’s quiet! Even despite sitting literally next to engine, it’s noise only slightly stands out from the sound of air conditioning. Even though I didn’t fly with all widebodies, but only the most popular ones: Airbus A340-600, Boeings 767-300 (surprisingly the quietest of them in my opinion) i 777 (200 and 300ER versions), but the Dreamliner leaves them behind if noise is concerned.
A short taxiing and, at last, take-off from runway 15 in beautiful sunlight. I and my new Hungarian friend put cameras aside and stack our smartphones by the window to film take-off run and climb, after that I try to take a few pictures. I’ve made a huge mistake – I should have bought a seat by the right window – beautiful sunshine almost immediately becomes my nemesis, as the camera sees my reflection and every highlighted spot in the double-pane window.
As welcome gifts, stewardesses give away candies with cherry filling (or plum, never got to taste it, because I hid it in my pocket only to be reminded of it when it turned into slimy mess). Breakfast is being served: cold drinks and sandwiches – very tasty I might add. It should be mentioned that CC, as expected, performs superb – however, being entirely honest, certain English-spoken announcements were difficult to understand.
After our Dreamliner climbed to cruise altitude and one could finally stretch their legs, I decided I should “professionally” document my seat. After a few trials and errors it came pretty well, I think.
A nice surprise shortly after: Premium Economy passengers got additional meal – an omelette or pancake with meat – I chose the latter. The appetizers: salmon with apricot cream and cheese, and bouquet of fruits. The meal was splendid: very tasty and fresh. To that: warm bread and Lindt Lindor candies.
Soon after the meal we started our descent. The captain informs passengers about something, which wasn’t a secret on the forum, but now is officially confirmed: before landing we will make a low pass over the airport. As far as I know a low pass over the Danube (alike the Wizz Air on Nagy Futam) was “on the table”, but in the end no agreement was made. We slowly approach the city – you can see the airport from the distance. We will approach runway 13R, so we make a little slalom over Budapest. And so, the third screw-up! Again the best view will be for those on the right side of the plane, as during the descent and after a go-around they will observe the city center. I will have to make myself content with industrial district, Csepel and Újpest.
The low pass and landing are a different story. I wasn’t able to take photos, but instead I took out my phone and recorded a few movies, which I publish later. After landing we went to the cargo terminal (old terminal 1), where we were given a traditional water salute.
Our Dreamliner will be staying on remote stand – we will be taken to the terminal with buses, while the VIPs of politics and business will visit the aircraft and praise LOT for starting the flights from Hungary over the ocean. We meanwhile shoot the last photos. I ask stewardesses if I can take a photo of the cockpit. They doubt that, but the captain puts these to rest quickly. And since I may, I quickly move inside. Unfortunately the first batch of photos turns bad, because the sun is shining at the airport and the aircraft stands with its tail turned towards it. The cockpit is dim and I don’t have a flash lamp with diffuser. It’s difficult to take photos by hand with without leaving big flare from built-in flash on 15-inch screen… In short, no photos are good enough, even despite several attempts and two trials.
I gave up. I came down and got on one of three buses, which departed shorlty after, on its way passing a Boeing 747-400 of AirBridgeCargo preparing for departure. Already in the terminal, with a couple of buddies (in real life and on the forum), we plan our short stay in the city. Because me and my friend Damian, who inspired me to do weekend flash-trips abroad, have already visited greater part of the Hungarian capital, I’m not eager for sightseeing. I suggest visiting Aeropark Budapest, a small Hungarian aviation museum, which since not a long time ago has moved to a new location a bit further from the airport. Before we leave however, meschiash (in real world known as Tomasz Tomkowiak, the administrator of lotnictwo.net.pl forum) gives away the commemorative ID cards.
A few things have changed here since my last visit. There’s a new, small restaurant with pavilions, a kiddie park, but most importantly new exhibits: in Ilyushin 18 there are new cabinets with airplane models and souvenirs after Malév – the national airline of Hungary. There’s a new AI-25 engine from Yak 40 and new airport service cars. After “clearing” the formality of entrance tickets, I and my namesake Marcin (sopho56 in the forum), together with a few people we knew from the forum, go on to take photographs. The weather blesses us, our attempts are complicated by non-spotting-friendly setting of light poles, information plates and stairs around the aircraft. The main attraction, the Tupolev 154 cannot be taken with a clear shot. The other big craft similarly. It goes better with the smaller craft: I can successfully frame Ilyushins (14 i 18), Lisunov Li-2 (even though I eventually resign because of people walking around and restoring it), Yaks, Mi-2, the Turbolet and one of An-2’s.
Cockpits are worse. As with the Dreamliner, the beautiful weather outside does not help – I can choose between heavily overexposed view outside or almost dark inside. There’s always bracketing, but it’s difficult to hold the camera still by hand for three pictures. Even though they look nearly ideal on preview, I’ll see how hard it is to make a perfect exposure blend from them at home. Marcin to the rescue, he lets me borrow his lamp. The first test is made in the cockpit of Yak-40 HA-YLR. The picture comes out quite all right, but then the lamp… discharges the batteries. Now it comes back to me – I have forgotten about the warning Damian gave, when he was selling this camera to me: using external lamp will completely lock the built-in flash out. To fix this, you need to take the hot shoe apart, and that’s impossible here. Still though I’m satisfied, I have made a lot of photographs that satisfy me.
Bartek, one of the colleagues from the forum, causes a little “incident” with one Yak 40 – as he was explaining himself he “spotted a lever, so I pulled it”. FYI: the aforementioned “lever” unlocks the stairs in the tail (of the Yak, not Bartek). Having no pneumatic booms the stair slammed to the ground to horror of some, and laughter of other bystanders. Fortunately no one (including the aircraft) suffered – as a result we could get inside, since now it was open. And later to the other ones planes…
At half to three we prepare to head back to the terminal. The quick security check is both a blessing and a curse – the extra time will pass with us fanning out in all directions. From a distance one could already see our Dreamliner slowly towed towards B1 gate, usually used for non-Shengen traffic (durning my and Damian’s last visit, an Emirates’ Boeing 777-300 was parked there).
Stuff of interest: Turkish on 737-900 parked at our gate, I pull out the camera as it pushes back from the stand. After that nothing what wouldn’t be available in Warsaw – Lufthansa on A321, KLM on 737-800 and omnipresent Wizz Air. The pictures come out well, although clouds get thicker by the minute and it gets darker. Eventually our Romeo Golf slowly moves in towards jet bridge accompanied by clicks of shutters. Before boarding I exchange a few more words with other forum-dwellers and Tomek. The boarding itself was mediocre – even though three zones were designated, very few people observed them. Eventually I followed the queue.
Seat 9B, on neighboring 9A female forum user elza030 – who writes her own report “live” on the forum.
For the end it’s the right thing to describe “the sardine class” in the Dreamliner. The chairs are somewhat flat, not as bad as in the new “Wizzes” or “Ryan’s”, I have doubts whether I could sit through an entire transatlantic flight – most likely not. The IFE system is almost identical as in Premium, with the only difference being the displays mounted in preceding seats’ backs. IFE content the same as well. The remotes are “single-sided”. There’s no alphanumeric keyboard, but a “game pad”. Committed, I fill in the service satisfaction questionnaire and then, bored, spend almost entire flight playing Bejeweled. During meal service a funny situation happens when I ask for an “ice tea”. The stewardess starts to talk to me in English until I admit I can speak Polish. Everybody laughed. Before landing we are informed by the captain that, even though we will park by the jet bridge, we will be transported by buses, because our gate is in non-Schengen zone. Our previous gate will be occupied by Qatari A330 (there’s no relation between these two, I just wanted to mention it).
Even before the descent I ask the stewardess whether our plane does next turnover and may we take photos of the cockpit again. It turns of that, while the answer to the first part is affirmative (Romeo Golf will go to Toronto in a few hours), the captain has already reserved time for photos, so it won’t be a problem. We slowly descent over Warsaw and land on runway 11 in foggy sunlight. I have already prepared my camera and make several tries with different settings – it’s not “all the beauty”, there are however a few properly sharp ones, from which I will choose the best.
When leaving the aircraft I quickly snap a picture of the fan which was windmilling sluggishly. Already in the terminal I say farewell to the people present and catch the 148 bus, that just conveniently arrived to the stop.
Dreamtour officially over. Next voyage in September.