Aviation is a funny business. It has this habit of making you feel very comfortable with the aircraft types in service, almost to the point of boredom. Before you realise it the types that were once commonplace are retired and sit in the desert, to face being chopped up to make tin cans, before you've even had the chance to set foot on one.
The venerable 727, the beautiful Tristar, the trusty DC9, the ear popping BAC 1-11. All once commonplace, but before you know it, they are all gone to face their fate, leaving a world of A320 and 737 clones in their wake.
I was determined not to let this happen with the MD-80. The type was never particularly common in Europe, but in the last few years even its European operators have been getting rid of them in favour of newer models. The only remaining operator in January 2012 was SAS, and even they are already getting rid of them in favour of the A320. I had to get on one of these birds if only for one flight, and soon.
The MD-80 is only regularly used on two routes to the UK now, Manchester (occasionally) and Birmingham (scheduled). What's more, occasionally the aircraft is downgraded from the MD-82 to an even rarer MD-87. There are only three of these aircraft left in SAS's fleet, which are also the last three in Europe. I had to get on one of these before they were shipped off to Outer Mongolistan, or even worse the scrapyard.
I noticed an MD-87 had been scheduled to operate the BHX-CPH flight on 6 Feb 2011. Knowing SAS's penchant for filling an aircraft, upgrading the aircraft, filling those seats and then upgrading again as the flight gets closer, I decided to leave it until a week out to book the flight. Hopefully there wouldn't be much more room to move, but even if it did get upgraded it would hopefully be to an MD-82, not the -87 but still an MD-80 nonetheless.
I called BMI's Diamond Club line to book a redemption flight, and for the princely sum of £100.30 for the taxes, I bagged the following flights:
The CRJ900 is also a new type for me, I've never flown on a CRJ at all so this would also be a nice addition.
22 hours before my departure, I visited flysas.com and checked in for my flights. I had been aiming for seat 24A on the MD87 and 23A on the CRJ, however all seats between row 18 and 24 were blocked out for online check-in. There was one, solitary seat available at the back, which was 25A. This wasn't ideal as I had read fellow A.net trip reporter LXM83's trip report, which showed the engine coming across the window. Nevertheless, the only alternative was to sit over the wing, not the best place on an MD. However for the CRJ I was in luck, and being number 1 to check in was able to choose from any seat, and grabbed 23A.
The day before my flight, the UK was hit by a large snow storm coming in from Europe. Most airports were closed for at least a few hours, including Birmingham. Heathrow was worst affected, but my flight still showed as scheduled, and although Birmingham Airport were advising to check with the airline before travel, SAS were only showing delays and cancellations into London Heathrow.
And so it dawned, the day of my flight. After a few hours' sketchy sleep, I left the house, de-iced the car and set off along snow covered roads for Birmingham Airport at 6.25am. I didn't need to be at the airport until 9.30am, but decided that the hour journey would probably take a lot longer on the snow covered roads. I was glad I did, an accident on the M1, people driving like Schumacher on icy roads and almost careering into me, and another accident on the M42 meant I didn't arrive at the airport until 8.05am.
I parked in the long stay car park as an Aer Lingus ATR came down the approach to runway 33. It was a very foggy, damp, miserable morning in the West Midlands. The cloud layer was overcast at just 100ft, and visibility was down to 800 metres, with a temperature of -1C. I walked the 15 minute hike to the terminal, passing the ramp on the way, taking a few photos.
I entered the terminal at 8.20am. The terminal at Birmingham has changed from being two separate terminals to just one, with shared security and departure lounge. The security experience was seamless. There was no queue, which at this time on a Monday morning in a UK airport is nothing short of amazing. There was a choice of around 10 machines to go through, I just picked the closest one and was met by a friendly lady who asked if I had any liquids or a laptop, before waving me straight through. The machine didn’t beep but the chap on the other side wanted to pat me down anyway, not a problem as I had nothing to hide.Once through security, in typical UK airport style, one is ejected into a shop, in which you have to dodge displays of overpriced alcohol and novelty sized chocolate bars in order to get through to the departure lounge. Departures this morning was a quiet affair, it was very quiet today. I walked past one of the guys trying to sell expensive raffle tickets with the chance to win a posh car. “Would you like to win a car?” he enquired. “No thanks, I’ve already got one” I replied, leaving him slightly baffled as I went to find a seat.
A couple of delays and cancellations this morning
Next was to find somewhere for coffee. I headed to Costa Coffee, but wasn't going to pay £2.50 for a cup of coffee. Burger King was next, but it was still £2.15. I was about to concede defeat and grab a Coke from Boots, when I spotted a Pret a Manger with a sign advertising their coffee for just 99p a cup. Far more reasonable, so I grabbed one and took a seat. I checked Flight24 to see what aircraft was on its way. SAS have three MD87s with only one in full SAS colours, SE-DIP. OY-KHU is in Star Alliance colours, and SE-DMK is in a hybrid scheme of all white with a simple SAS logo stuck on the tail after a lease to City Airline. Presumably the airline sees little point in painting this back into SAS colours with their imminent retirement in a few months. Today's aircraft was this aircraft, which had already flown Helsinki-Copenhagen this morning, and was now en-route to Birmingham. At least it was the MD87!
I went to a window to take a few photos over the ramp, cautious not to get stuck as I did at Heathrow a couple of months ago. No further checks needed, I went straight to the windows and took a few photos.
Ryanair's fleet not very productive this morning
Before too long, a familiar set of lights was visible through the fog on approach. It was definitely an MD, and it was my ride to Copenhagen arriving.
She taxied in and pulled onto the stand near to where I was standing.
Good timing then, I wouldn't have to go back through to check the screens for a gate as she was already here. A few minutes later, passengers started to file through to the gate so I was sure this was the right gate. Sure enough, before too long we were welcomed to this Scandinavian Airlines and Star Alliance flight to Copenhagen.
People had started to gather at the gate area for boarding, but an announcement was soon made asking everyone to be seated for the announcement. Boarding would be commenced by row, with anyone in rows 26 through to 18 invited to board first. Business Class customers and Star Alliance silver and gold members were welcome to board at any time. I made my way forward and showed my passport and boarding card, before making my way down the steps where we were held further. We stood on the stairs for around 10 minutes before the door was opened at the bottom, and we could walk into the cold morning air to the aircraft. Unfortunately, the rear steps were not in use today, so I made my way with the other passengers to the front steps.
I climbed the steps and was greeted by a Danish flight attendant. "God morgen" I said, "Hej!" was the response.
6 February 2012
Birmingham Intl (BHX)
Copenhagen Kastrup (CPH)
McDonnell Douglas MD87
10:35 / 10:42
13:25 / 13:20
Immediately I noticed the aircraft had that 'old aircraft' smell that vintage aircraft often have on boarding. The interior was a little tired but still in good condition. I found it interesting that the MD80 has a grab rail beneath the overhead lockers to hold onto, as you would find on a Metro. Hopefully there would be no standing passengers on this flight!
I headed to the back and found my seat, and as anticipated the view was partially obstructed by the engine. Never mind I thought.
The seat wasn't in the best of shapes, it was one of those where you sit down and the back starts to flex backwards. There was an ashtray in the arm of the seat, a sign of times thankfully long gone. The overhead panels were yellowed with the old fashioned big red and amber buttons to press to call the flight attendant, and retro lights and fan units. This was like flying several years ago, and sadly will not be around much longer.
I heard an interesting conversation in the row behind me, from a group of colleagues travelling on business. 'They say the back is the safest place to sit' said one lady. 'Yes but the engine's right next to you, and downside is it's the first place that goes up in smoke' replied her colleague!
My seat companion turned up, a Danish lady who was travelling back home with her family. She noticed my camera. 'You have a nice camera' she said, 'you like to take photos of the flight?'. 'Yes' I responded. 'But you have the engine and the wing outside, you should tell them you want another seat'. I toyed with explaining my strange reasoning for wanting to sit next to the engine, but she seemed like a rational, intelligent person so I decided to just reply with 'Its OK, I will manage'.
The captain came on and welcomed aboard, first in Danish and then in English. He said the weather in Copenhagen was fine, and we would be on our way shortly. He asked us to pay attention to the safety briefing that would follow. After this, a 'Boarding Complete' announcement was made, and a few seconds later the doors were closed.
We pushed back as the safety briefing commenced, bang on time at 10.35. Engine 2 was started initially, but interestingly we taxied out on one engine and engine 1 didn't start until we were taxying.
The cabin crew took their seats, and we headed straight to the runway where we were number 1 for departure. We lined up on runway 33, and paused while the engines were ran up with the brakes on. Without further delay the brakes were released and we were rocketing down the runway.
Takeoff Video: http://www.youtube.com/embed/RiO-ndADWe0
Now whether it was down to me concentrating on filming the water being sucked into the engine, or my mind racing with thoughts of what would happen if the engine exploded next to my ear, but I didn't find the takeoff as powerful as I had expected. I had flown a 717 back in 2000 and found it was more powerful then, although the climbout was pretty steep just as I remembered. Looking forward as you climbed out seemed like you were looking up a flight of stairs! We climbed straight into the low cloud and emerged a few minutes later into a beautiful sunny morning. This is my favourite moment of flying, leaving a miserable day behind on the ground to emerge into a beautiful sunny day just a few moments later.
The engine noise was deafening, and I began to wonder whether I could take another 90 minutes of this almighty din. I couldn't hear the music of the engine at all, just a loud, deep humming noise that varied in intensity depending on how much welly the crew were putting in.
We made a number of right turns, taking a southerly departure before heading out across Suffolk towards the North Sea. We climbed to our cruising altitude of FL350 as the crew began the service. To be honest I couldn't hear any of the announcements above the racket from the JT8D on full bore just a few inches from my left ear. The crew came round offering a buy on board selection, which I declined. 'Te og kaffe', the flight attendant asked. 'Nej takk' I replied, not realising it was free until the return flight. Never mind.
Signs of this aircraft's former livery!
A brief break in the clouds reveals a snow-covered Suffolk
Heading out over the North Sea
Once we reached cruising altitude, the noise from the engine subsided slightly, meaning I could now hold a conversation with my seatmate without shouting. The cloud below cleared, revealing a snow covered Suffolk below us. Soon, countryside gave way to the sea, as the cloud started to roll in again. As usual, we passed a few fellow aviators as we headed across the busy North Sea towards Amsterdam. Notable today was a Ryanair 737 at the same altitude that we flew alongside for some time, and an Austrian 767 that passed across us that I took a photo of in the few seconds I could see it.
Austrian 767 OE-LAX en-route to New York as OS87, 1,000ft below
My seatmate looked at my photo and looked concerned. ‘I never saw another airplane that close before’, she exclaimed, before asking how close I thought it was. ‘Probably a good couple of miles or so’ I replied, ‘Nothing to worry about’.A little later in the flight the captain announced that we were now to the north of Amsterdam, on track for an on-time arrival in Copenhagen, with around an hour left to go. Weather in Copenhagen was still looking good, but he would keep us informed if that changed.
We passed several ships crossing the North Sea, and soon began to see wind farms signalling our imminent arrival in Danish airspace.
Wind Turbines - we must be close to Denmark!
Before too long the Danish coastline came into view, and to my surprise was completely covered in snow.
We headed inland and after a short time, the engines throttled back giving my ear some much needed rest, and we began our descent towards Copenhagen. We initially descended to FL290, before later being given a further descent clearance.After this second descent began, the captain once again came on to let us know we had began our descent into Copenhagen where the weather was fine, with snow showers and a temperature of -7C.Before too long it started to get cloudy and we descended into the cloud as we began our approach for runway 22L. The cabin crew started to secure the cabin for landing, clearing away cups and rubbish, before the flaps started to extend and we began a number of turns. This is always the exciting part about a flight, after a long period of straight and level, you are now closer to the ground and the aircraft ‘comes alive’ as you bank left and right heading through banks of cloud.The seatbelt sign came on and passengers returned to their seats. The cloud was pretty bumpy as we descended, but the best was yet to come. Once the crew had become seated and the lights dimmed for landing, we began a visual approach to the airport, through some very windy air. The aircraft was flung left and right, banking left, then right, all the way down to the ground. At a few hundred feet on final approach the aircraft did another bank to the left, all the while the engines being spooled up and down. This was by far one of the bumpiest approaches I’d ever done. After a similar incident over the airport perimeter I thought we would be going around, but the pilots pulled it off and as I braced for a bruiser of a landing we gently kissed the tarmac. What an amazing job. The aircraft took a long while to slow down, but we were soon exiting the runway to the right and beginning our taxi in.The video of the last 30 minutes of the flight is here. It includes everything from passing the Danish coast to engine shutdown, including air traffic control. If you just want to skip to the final approach, skip to the 19:00 mark.
Descent, Approach and Landing:http://www.youtube.com/embed/UMhwfAsvyT4
We were welcomed to Copenhagen as we taxied towards the terminal, and one engine was shut down to taxi in on the left engine only this time. We taxied past a BA 767, a Thai Airways 747 and an Emirates 777, before pulling on stand next to a SAS A321.
It took a while for us to begin to exit the aircraft, but we were soon on our way and leaving the aircraft onto the jetbridge, the captain saying goodbye to everyone as we left the aircraft.
I took a walk up into the terminal, grabbing a snap of our ride as I went.
My ride from Birmingham on stand in Copenhagen
I was last in Copenhagen in October 2004, and the terminal seems to have changed a lot since then. I followed the signs for arrivals, and headed through passport control where there was only a short queue. With a nod I was through to be unleashed on Denmark! I walked through the baggage claim area and through customs, into the arrival hall.I had three hours until boarding for my next flight back to Birmingham, and decided in this time I would finally take a trip to Sweden. I have seen Sweden several times, from Denmark, Norway and Finland, and flown over it as many times again. However I have never once set foot in the land of IKEA, so thought with my few hours today I'd take a ride over the Øresund to Malmö.I purchased my ticket for the machine for a reasonable 168kr and made my way down to the airport station.
As luck would have it a train was just entering the station, and I boarded the Øresundstog.
Funny looking train to Sweden
It was very busy this morning, with many Swedes just having arrived on the Emirates flight, and carrying all manner of sporting equipment (surf boards, even canoes). We made our way out of the airport and into the tunnel, before emerging on the island of Peberholm (so named as the next island along is called Saltholm), and onto the Øresund Bridge, the longest road and rail bridge in Europe at almost 8km into Sweden. We touched land a few minutes later, stopping at the newly opened stations of Triangeln and Hylie (pronounced ‘Hoolia’). After a 20 minute journey we arrived in Malmö central station where I walked out into the freezing cold air. It was -9C in Malmö, and light snow was falling.
Not much river sightseeing going on today!
Weird viking troll!
Lots of bikes
I like the sound of this place!
OK so its officials - Europeans are a funny bunch!
I wouldn't fancy walking on that ice.....
I took a walk towards the centre of this pretty little town, to have a look around. I was very impressed by this lovely little town, there are lots of old buildings and interesting things to see, and it only took me around half an hour to walk around the entire town. By the time I’d finished I was very cold, and headed to Burger King where I purchased a meal for 49kr, which I thought was pretty reasonable.I then headed back past the railway station to try and get a glimpse of the Turning Torso tower, the tallest building in Scandinavia at 190m (623ft).
Old and new towers
English pub in Sweden!
Airways traffic overhead
After this I decided to catch the train back to the airport, so headed back into the station where an Øresundstog was waiting on the platform. A few minutes later we departed, on the reverse journey of the one I’d done a couple of hours previously.
Yup definitely on the right train!
We headed back across the bridge and into the tunnel, emerging into Copenhagen Airport where I got off the train and headed into departures.
Security was once again a breeze, with friendly, jovial staff. The lady asked the chap in front of me if he had a laptop. ‘Yes, and an iPad’ he said. ‘Excellent’, she said, ‘One for business and one for pleasure!’. I was up next. ‘Do you have a laptop’ she asked. ‘No’ I replied. ‘Are you wearing a belt?’ I lifted my jumper slightly to show her no, ‘Ah excellent’ she said, ‘Go right on through then’. I emerged straight through, noting the belt that split into two after the bags had gone through. If all was clear it went straight down to collect, if they wanted to investigate it took a right turn and went to a separate desk where you were invited round to chat to them. Mine went straight on and I collected my bag. Immediately after departures is another thoughtful touch – a large bench where you can get your belongings together again before heading into departures.Airside had changed significantly since my last visit, I barely recognised the place I spent 6 hours trying to while away the hours a few years ago.There wasn’t much to do here, so I went through to the non-Schengen gates where there were a couple of flights heading off to Manchester and London. I wandered around taking a few photographs, before my gate was announced.
Preparing for her flight to Oslo
Arch enemies alongside each other
I checked out where my gate was, it was to be C15 which was downstairs in a little basement area. I decided to stay upstairs until closer to the time of my flight as there were no views of the apron down there.
Pushing back for Oslo
My ride from Birmingham, arriving back from her next flight to Gothenburg and back
Two Swedish heroes
At around 5pm I decided to make my way downstairs to the gate where a few people were waiting. A gate agent arrived to open up the gate and let us through to the gate area. There was a selection of complimentary newspapers, mostly Scandinavian but they had the i which I took a copy of to read. There was a bus waiting outside, and soon the doors were opened and we made our way out into the freezing air to the bus at 5.20.Once everyone had piled on the driver got onboard, and tried to start the engine. The lights went off, the bus made a resounding clunk and the lights came on again. This happened several times, as people started to get frustrated standing around on the cold bus. The driver radioed something in Danish, before going out and opening a flap on the outside, and wriggling something inside. He closed that, came back inside, and once again the lights went off, there was a loud clunk and the lights came on again. He stood up and said ‘I’m sorry, we have to change buses. We will go to that one down there’ pointing to an identical bus around 50 yards along.We all filed off the bus and boarded the next one along, which was even colder inside. The driver got onboard and the bus fired up first time, much to the relief of the passengers. We reversed out before the driver attempted the world land speed record onto the apron, following the taxiways to a remote stand, where a shiny CRJ900 was waiting.
Now one of my best photos was of a SAS CRJ OY-KFC a few years ago, landing at Birmingham after this very flight.
I loved the registration, reminding me of the restaurant. I’d been secretly hoping for this aircraft, and as we pulled alongside the aircraft, lo and behold this aircraft was indeed OY-KFC!As the doors opened the cabin crew opened the front door and prepared for us to board.I was one of the first off of the bus, and I climbed the steep steps and was welcomed aboard.
6 February 2012
Copenhagen Kastrup (CPH)
Birmingham Intl (BHX)
17:30 / 17:44
18:30 / 18:13
I made my way to the rear of the aircraft and took my seat in 23A. This aircraft was very smart inside, with gorgeous LED lighting, comfortable seats and very pleasant decor. Most importantly the windows on the CRJ are HUGE, coming right above your head and making for excellent visibility. A passenger was seated behind me, the stewardess approached him and asked if he might like to move forward. 'I'm OK here' he said, 'It's nice and quiet back here'. 'You won't be saying that when the engines start' she replied!
The captain welcomed us aboard this evening's flight, which would take around an hour and a half. We were expecting an on time arrival into Birmingham.
A PA was made 'Boarding Complete' and the safety demonstration began in English as we pushed back and one of the engines was started. The recording was then played in Danish, however the crew by this time were rushing to their seats for departure as we were taxying out to the runway. The second engine started as we taxied out, SAS seem to be the masters of the single engine taxi!
The lights were dimmed for take-off and we lined up on runway 22L. A couple of minutes followed while we waited for some traffic to cross the runway ahead, before the engines spooled up and we were on our way.
Taxi and takeoff: http://www.youtube.com/embed/BwpV2MR0hpY
Take-off was very powerful and I was pushed right back into my seat. The engines make an incredible sound when powering up as well, the whole experience was amazing and once again left me with a huge grin on my face! We rotated about halfway along the runway and rocketed into the clear night sky. We made a few right turns on track for the UK, and climbed to our cruising altitude.It had just got dark by the time we departed, but once at cruising altitude it began to get light again as we headed southwest from Copenhagen.The cabin crew began their service, with complimentary tea and coffee served throughout. I was fortunate to have the seat next to me empty for tonight’s flight, which was only around half full. I was able to stretch out a bit more, although the leg room was far more comfortable than on the MD87 anyway.I took a black coffee and settled down to enjoy the view. My view was entirely over land for this evening’s flight, as we headed to the southwest towards Hamburg, across to Groningen in the Netherlands, and down to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam we continued down to Rotterdam, before turning west across the North Sea to London. All of these cities looked beautiful on this clear night, Amsterdam particularly so, with the entire city, and the airport, perfectly lit.The cabin crew remained seated behind me for most of the flight, chatting to each other in Danish. We flew overhead London where it had started to cloud over, but it was still possible to see the Thames cutting through the city. At this point we encountered some pretty bumpy air, our little jet bouncing around in the evening sky.We turned right on track to Birmingham, flying overhead foggy towns and cities, their lights just visible as a blur beneath the fog. Suddenly there was a strange chime and the engines throttled right back. Both flight attendants immediately stopped talking and hurried towards the flight deck. This sudden activity caused some concern amongst the passengers, many of whom leaned from their seats to look down the aisle to see what was going on. I must admit that even I was a little concerned at this point, but after several minutes they re-appeared, and started preparing the cabin for landing.Our descent was pretty rapid, the cabin crew rushing to prepare the cabin. The speedbrakes were deployed on the wings and we descended very quickly. The captain announced that we would soon be landing, and asked for us to return to our seats and cease using electronic equipment.The crew took their seats and dimmed the cabin lights as we continued our approach. We said goodbye to the glow from the setting sun above the clouds, and entered the dark clouds. We eventually emerged from the clouds as we passed the M42 on our final approach to runway 33. A few seconds later we crossed the A45 for a smooth landing on runway 33, with just a little reverse thrust applied.
Landing Video: http://www.youtube.com/embed/AXN9ECNf7Xk
We exited the runway to the right for our taxi in, and we were welcomed to Birmingham Airport. As we taxied in, the aircraft began to ice up on the outside, rendering any view out of the window impossible! The only time I’ve ever experienced this sort of effect was in very warm temperatures at Singapore, where the aircraft misted up, but this time was the opposite end of the temperature scale!We pulled on stand at exactly the same stand we left from in the morning, and the engines were shut down. The doors were opened and I overheard the conversation from the chap behind me, who had just returned from 3 weeks working in Sweden. The flight attendant was going to stay in Birmingham for a short break (although I can think of more interesting places to spend a few days!).Before too long the line began to move and I made my way to the front of the aircraft. I bid farewell to the flight attendant and captain, and struggled to negotiate the very steep steps out of the aircraft. The handrail was very low and the steps very steep, so I struggled to manage, but safely made it to the bottom. The ground agents had bought some big steps to the aircraft, I overheard one of the ramp guys explaining that they were expecting an MD80 so were surprised when a CRJ turned up. Surely they only had to check the schedule!
Once inside the terminal I called my wife to let her know I was back, and I made my way to passport control, where I was able to use my electronic passport to skip the queue. This process was very smooth, and consisted of placing my passport on the reader, stepping through and looking at a camera, and going through a barrier, all within 30 seconds or so. Very efficient.It was then out through customs and time for a 15 minute walk back to the car, which was made all the more difficult as I had completely forgotten where I’d parked. After 15 minutes of walking around looking for it, I finally found it and made my way to pay the £22 (!) for 8 hours parking.
One last photo
Fortunately the roads were clearer at this time of night, and I was home in a little over an hour.So then, the synopsis of my day.SAS were excellent as always, I have never yet been let down by them in six flights with them now. The MD87, well to be honest, I thought it a little over-rated. I was glad to tick it off my list, but I wasn’t overly impressed, and to be honest I can see why people can’t wait for them to be retired. The CRJ on the other hand, I was totally impressed by this aircraft. It has overtaken the ERJ-145 in my eyes now as my favourite airliner to fly on, the combination of comfort, sportiness, the huge windows and excellent looks, without a shadow of a doubt I am in love with the CRJ!