At long last, ladies and gentlemen, it's my pleasure to welcome you to this brand-new series, covering my first return home to the United States since January 2020! I had started planning this trip with my dad in May 2021, and while most of it went exactly according to plan, the beginning of the trip did not. I'll get into more details in the trip information section., but I wasn't actually meant to be on this flight until around 7 hours prior to departure. Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed to be 'downgraded' to Lufthansa for this flight, but all flights that were part of this trip were still memorable, especially the ones that I'll cover in installments 3-5. And now, let's head back to the United States, via Frankfurt first!
This trip consisted of 6 flights on 3 different airlines. All flights were flown on different aircraft types. Additionally, I'd be passing through 7 airports on that trip, all of which I had previously been to.
Originally, the first part of the routing was supposed to look like this:
July 23rd: TK1030 | Sofia → Istanbul | Airbus A321 | Business Class July 24th: TK289 | Istanbul → San Francisco | Boeing 787-9 | Business Class July 24th: UA2336 | San Francisco → Seattle | Airbus A320 | Economy Plus®
I found that itinerary on United.com. It cost 77k miles per person. My dad and I booked it. After all, what better way to say goodbye to pandemic-induced travel restrictions than 13-and-a-half-hours in Business Class on one of Turkish's new 787s? But as you'll read in this report, my Turkish Airlines Business Class experience ended before it even began. Instead, I ended up on a plain vanilla Lufthansa A320neo.
As with my last trip to the US, I'll reveal the routing as the trip progresses, to keep you all in suspense. At part one, it looks like this:
LH1429 - Business - Sofia → Frankfurt - Airbus A320neoYou are here
Our Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul was scheduled to depart at 9:25 PM, so my dad and I got to the airport around 7 PM.
Check-in took quite some time, as we had a rookie check-in agent who was a bit intimidated to see such a long itinerary (and to see an actual Star Gold costumer 🙈). It took around 15 minutes for our documents to be checked, and our boarding passes to be printed. Our bags were able to be checked all the way to Seattle, and we then headed to the security and immigration check.
vitosha aspire lounge sofia
Since the last time I had flown out of Sofia a month prior, a new priority lane had been added at the security checkpoint, which made the process go even quicker (clearing security in Sofia is always pretty chill, though). Immigration was also a breeze, and soon enough we were in the Vitosha Aspire Lounge, which we had all to ourselves.
The food spread included some small sandwiches, as well some mini pizzas, which I passed on.
The lounge offers a nice view of the tarmac.
sofia airport (sof)
I decided to take a walk around the terminal before boarding to do a bit of planespotting.
At the time, all indications pointed to my flight being on time.
Air France A319 getting ready to depart to Paris CDG.
LH1706 from Munich had arrived a bit earlier in the evening.
A Bulgaria Air E190 was parked…
…and so was one of Gullivair's 2 ATRs. I hope to be able to try them out soon.
On the other side of the terminal was a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't zoom, but if you look closely you can see what should have been my ride of the evening. I was ecstatic to discover that one of Turkish's newest A321s, TC-JTE 'Polatlı', had flown in from Istanbul as TK1029.
the rolling delay
I didn't take any more pictures from this point, but as we lined up to board, we kept on waiting and waiting. The boarding time came and left, and the ground crew did nothing but stay in the gate area on their phones. Around 15 minutes after we were supposed to board, I asked one of the agents if we were going to board. She said that there was a technical problem with the aircraft and that we'd have to wait. It would have been nice if they had made an announcement, but as I've come to learn European airlines tend to not keep passengers as updated as American airlines do (at least in my experiences).
At that point, all 6 Business Class passengers (including my dad and I) retreated back to the lounge to wait there. The flight was first delayed to 10 PM. I started chatting with two of my fellow Business Class passengers (a German man on his way to Düsseldorf, and an American service member on his way to Kuwait), and we did rounds to the gate every few minutes to see if there was an update. When I went to the gate, I saw a bunch of ground crew member and the captain (I assume he was the captain, as he was wearing a white shirt and had a Turkish Airlines vest on) surrounding the left main landing gear.
I had the idea of listening to LiveATC when I got back to the lounge in hopes of hearing if anything went wrong during the landing. Unfortunately, as the aircraft was taxiing off the runway, the tower reported that it had a flat tire. I had finally figured out what the cause of our delay was. As Sofia is home to a large Lufthansa Technik facility, I was hopeful that our tire would be able to be changed, and that we'd still be able to fly to Istanbul that evening.
The delay kept on getting bigger and bigger, and eventually the flight was scheduled for 11:25 PM. At this point I realized that it was unlikely that they would fix the problem, and I was hoping against hope that TK would send in another aircraft from Istanbul to pick us up.
the cancellation and rebooking process
Shortly after 11 PM, the only announcement over the airport PA came - the flight was cancelled and all passengers should make their way to the Turkish Airlines ticketing counter. My dad and I, along with the other Business Class passengers rushed out of the lounge to try to beat the queue at immigration, which we had to re-clear in order to re-enter Bulgaria. That was fairly quick, and our baggage was already waiting at baggage claim.
As we arrived at the Turkish Airlines ticketing counter, we discovered that there was only one person manning the station, and he was dressed in a T-Shirt in jeans. I later learned that this was the Turkish Airlines station manager (props to him for handling the situation so professionally - I hope someone from Turkish Airlines is reading this and can thank him). He told Business Class passenger and Star Gold members to form a line behind the counter.
A few minutes later, two more Turkish Airlines representatives (in uniform) showed up and helped him with the rebookings. Once the other two men showed up, the station manager moved to the back of the counter to help the premium passengers.
He was working as quickly as he could, and around 12:15 AM it was our turn to be rebooked. We were given 2 options - another Turkish Airlines flight to San Francisco the next day, or an option via Frankfurt. While at first the Turkish Airlines option sounded good for us, I checked ExpertFlyer to see what the loads on that flight were looking like. That's when I saw that the flight he was offering - TK79 - was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, with an inferior Business Class product. On top of that, the only seats left were middle seats. While I would have loved to experience Turkish Airlines' Business Class, my dad and I decided to go for the routing via Frankfurt and fly Turkish's 787 in Business Class another time rather fly on the 777. He had already flown the 787 in J earlier in the year, and I was sure that I would fly it sometime in the future. We made the right decision, and the station manager rebooked us on the 6:55 AM Lufthansa departure to Frankfurt.
As we were leaving, an Irish man in Economy Class starting making a huge scene about how awful Turkish Airlines is, and how he deserved to be rebooked. I chuckled and was relieved to see that scenes like that don't just happen in the United States.
We didn't need a hotel, and instead drove to our crash pad for a very short night.
the morning of the actual departure
After about 3 hours of sleep, it was time to head back to Sofia Airport.
I had checked us in online, and luckily there were still good seats left on the flights that we were rebooked on. As we entered the airport at 5 AM, there were still a few passengers who were meant to be on our Turkish Airlines flight the night before waiting to be rebooked. The station manager and his two colleagues were still hard at work. They deserve a raise!
At check-in, the Lufthansa (Swissport) agent was much more seasoned than the agent from the previous evening, and within 5 minutes our bags were checked, and we had our boarding passes in our hands.
Security was once again a breeze, and funnily enough the immigration agents who had processed our re-entry into Bulgaria a few hours earlier were the ones who processed our exit. That was also quick, and we headed back to the lounge for some much-needed coffee.
From the lounge, I spotted the A321 that was supposed to fly us to Istanbul the night before. She had been moved to a remote stand just beside the gate.
We didn't stay in the lounge for long, and before boarding I went to check out the A320neo which would fly us to Frankfurt.
boarding + initial impressions
Everything was alright with our bird, and boarding even began a bit early.
I managed to get a better view of our aircraft from the gate. Doing the honors that morning was D-AINH, an almost 4-year-old Airbus A320neo built and delivered new to Lufthansa in August 2017.
Heading down the jetbridge behind a pair of Atlas Air 767 Captains flying home after operating some US Military Charter flights out of Sofia.
A chipper, young flight attendant greeted everyone with a "Guten Morgen!" and a sanitizing wipe. I quickly found my seat, 3A. My dad was in row 5, the last row of Business Class.
Legroom at my seat was great as expected.
In the seatback pocket, the safety instructions card, an airsickness bag, and the Onboard Delights menu, which wouldn't be need for this flight upfront.
Cabin during boarding.
Antimacassar of the middle seat.
One of the Atlas Air captains sat next to me but moved to row 1 next to his colleague once boarding was finished, so I had 3 seats to myself 😃
lufthansa 1429 - sofia to frankfurt
With the doors shut and the jetbridge detached, Captain Stefan announced that we had received our clearance for the flight and would be departing toward the east, making a left turn after takeoff towards Belgrade then passing Lake Balaton, Linz, and Nuremberg before commencing our descent towards Frankfurt. All that information before takeoff? My favorite kind of pilot!
One interesting thing to note is that while the captain addressed us as "ladies and gentlemen", the flight attendant making the announcements adhered to Lufthansa's new gender-neutral announcements in German but not in English. Her German announcements began with "Liebe Fluggäste (dear passengers)", but her announcements in English featured no greeting, and she would immediately get to the point, which I found to be a bit odd. You can hear an example of that in the takeoff video starting at 3:10.
Our beautiful PW1127G starting up… music to my ears!
Taxiing towards the runway.
Looking towards the tower, and getting one last glance at TC-JTE in the distance. Hopefully she'd return to the skies soon.
Our flight attendant wasted no time in getting the service started, and by the time we were over Northwestern Bulgaria, the breakfast tray was served.
The tray included fresh(ish) fruit…
…butter, jam, and cream…
…and the main course, a plate of cheese, roast beef, a tomato, a single piece of celery, and some disgusting cheese spread. The flight attendant also proactively came around the cabin with the bread basket, though I only took a single croissant.
Proper silverware, as expected in Business Class.
To drink, I had a cup of coffee…
…as well as a glass of water.
…and Novi Sad.
Overall, the breakfast was quite tasty (with the exception of the cheese spread). My only complaint is that it seemed a bit light for a two-hour flight.
Overflying Pécs, Hungary.
I'm in love with that engine 😍
A look at my seat and the cabin.
With almost all passengers asleep, there wasn't much to hear other than the hum of the engine, which created a very tranquil environment in the cabin.
Over Austrian airspace now, looking towards the town of Leoben.
Once last look at my home of the past 2 hours and change.
I said goodbye to the flight attendant, who was holding a bin of chocolates at the door, and made my way to the bus that would take us all to the terminal.
One last look at our aircraft. Thanks for the ride, November-Hotel!
routing of lh1429
Nothing much to say here, we left Sofia via the OGOSTA 3S RNAV Departure, flew more or less directly to Frankfurt, where we flew the PSA 07 RNAV Transition to our approach on Runway 07R. Our cruising altitude was 38,000 feet.
The next report, covering my very first long haul flight in 18 months, will be posted in the next few days… stay tuned, the adventure is only just getting started! 😁✈️
Swissport Aspire Lounge - 2
Sofia - SOF
Frankfurt - FRA
Overall a pretty solid intra-European Business Class flight with Lufthansa
+ Friendly, professional crew + Newer cabin ± Mostly tasty (albeit small) breakfast - No entertainment/WiFi
While not the flight that I was hoping to be on, it was very pleasant, and flying Lufthansa always feeling like being in my European home. I've said it before, but I just hope that Lufthansa installs WiFi or Personal Device entertainment on their new A320neos.
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Ouch, bad luck with the technical issue, those things happen but it's always frustrating to have a change on your travel plan when it was planned a long time in advance and with the anticipation of a particular product (TK 789 in that case).
Lounge is not that bad, the mini flags on the open sandwiches are funny.
OK breakfast tray on board but a pretty average and firm seat.
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