Blizzard Business Travel: JFK to Munich in 48 Hours

By Jonathan Spira on 25 December 2009
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In good weather, the flight from New York (JFK) to Munich via London can take as little as 12 hours. Flughafen MuenchenIn bad weather, the trip can stretch to perhaps 15 or 20 hours. But the storm that last week buried much of the East Coast of the United States in a blanket of snow shut down major airports, closed thousands of businesses, and left tens of thousands of people stranded at places other where they wanted to be.

In my particular case, the storm, which set new records in many areas, took the 12-hour trip to London and turned it into a 48-hour marathon journey.

After departing a mere hour late Saturday night (which wasn’t bad with the impending storm looming), I settled in to my seat, 1D, on American Airlines flight 100, a very comfortable Flagship Suite.flagship suite We had to wait for de-icing and, as luck would have it, once that was completed, visibility dropped to almost nothing and the entire airport was shut down. As we began our slow return to the gate (snowplows were clearing a path for us), I gathered some necessities together for what I presumed could be a long and uncomfortable stay at the airport as I had no intention of driving home in the blizzard.

I left the aircraft with my Flagship Suite pillow and blanket, two liters of water, and a warm meal from the galley and headed to the lounge. I settled in to a relatively quiet corner and started checking weather reports and flight information on my laptop.

Essentially, everything was shut down and it was unlikely that any flights would resume until mid-morning at the earliest.flagship lounge2 I decided to remain airside (one of the many benefits of not checking any bags) as I guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that thousands of passengers would be at the check-in counters and baggage claim and that even going through security for the second time could take many hours, once the airport officially reopened.

With few passengers or airport staff present, the lounge and gate areas were an oasis of calm. I stayed up for a few hours talking to other passengers in the lounge but eventually went to sleep. At six o’clock in the morning, when I awoke and took a brief stroll, there was nary a passenger to be seen and one lone security officer.

No flights for London would leave until 18:00 at the earliest and, by 11:00, the first flight was already showing a two-hour delay. 777By then, the storm had subsided, driving conditions had improved, and most passengers scheduled for the next days’ flights appeared to be showing up, putting me on somewhat shaky ground given my status as a standby passenger at that point.

The first two flights went out full – without me on board I should add. But, as one is wont to say, the third time’s the charm and American found a comfortable business class seat for me on flight 132. We left the gate almost three hours later than originally scheduled but this time we did not turn back. Seven hours later, I was disembarking at London Heathrow’s Terminal 3. I quickly cleared immigration and walked to Terminal 2 for my Lufthansa flight to Munich.

The original flight, of course, had been for the prior day at 09:35. I was only 27 hours late for that one.kontinentallufthansa service Once again, I was a standby passenger but my patience was rewarded as I arrived at the gate and was handed a boarding card for seat 1A for Lufthansa 4757, scheduled to depart at 15:25.

Although the snow was relatively light in London (especially compared to New York), there were many delays and the cancellation of Eurostar train service hadn’t helped matters. We finally pushed back at 18:00 and arrived at the gate at Flughafen München Franz Josef Strauß.

My friend and driver, Rolf Raffelsieper, who operates a VIP Pickup Service for BMW European Delivery customers, was outside the baggage claim area waiting for me. My delays probably disrupted his schedule somewhat as well but he was nonetheless happy to see me. 45 minutes later, thanks to Rolf’s diesel-powered 3er Series Touring (wagon), we pulled up to the entrance of the Charles Hotel. My 48-hour journey had come to an end.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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