Freitag, 29. Dezember 2017

Delayed at Munich Airport? Frankly, I can't think of anything nicer.

There's something almost romantic about Munich Airport by night. 

‘Coat off, darling. And put it in the tray’. 


‘Because we’re going through security control’.

‘Yes, but why?’

‘Ahmm, because, well, we’re at the airport. That’s why’.

‘But daddy, we’re not going on holiday’.

We're doing a family outing, as you do with so much freetime on your hands between Christmas and New Year. But our daughter seems slightly disappointed. She says “going” as if we’d promised her a holiday and now she’s discovered it’s all a great hoax. 

In a sense it is a hoax. Because we’re not flying off anywhere at all. We’ve elected to stay at home this Christmas. And yet I’m actually quite excited about just being here at Munich Airport. We’re booked on a night tour of the second busiest passenger airport in Germany. We’ve paid over 20 euros for the one-hour “Lichterfahrt", or Light Tour, but thirty minutes later and we’re still queuing at security control

Security finally cleared, we board our bus, ready to start the tour for real. I’ve been on scores of airport buses which have made us wait ages until all passengers are finally on board. And all that just to ride 500 meters to the plane. But right now our behind-the-scenes tour doesn't seem to be going anywhere at all. Apparently one of our fellow passengers has been pulled aside by security guards and is currently being interrogated about the contents of her handbag. We can’t leave without her. Monika, our guide, livens up the wait with facts and figures about Munich Airport. Her on-board commentary feels more like snippets of conversation eavesdropped between cockpit and control tower: ‘2015 – 34th busiest airport in the world. 2016 – 42 million passengers. Over 248 destinations worldwide’.

The coach finally moves off. The first part of the tour follows a stretch of periphery road also used by the public. Suddenly a black sedan overtakes us, tyres screeching. It’s a 30-km zone and the vehicle must be travelling at least 70 km/h. Last-minute passenger, no doubt. ‘Hurry up’, quips Monika ‘your plane’s boarding at Gate 20!’. Next up, we’re off public and onto private terrain. After courteously stopping to let a plane pass, our coach gently meanders around the “apron”, the area of the airport where aircraft are parked, loaded or unloaded, refueled and boarded. It feels odd overtaking moving aircraft. When we suddenly pass a Boeing 777-220, I almost feel like the coach is readying for take-off too.

After a while I get used to our guide’s clipped and curt, but also highly comical commentary. As we roll past the Satellite terminal, an extension of Terminal One, Monika motions to a wide-body aircraft, noting ‘Boeing 747-8. Destination Singapore. Lots of carrot juice on board!” This Boeing is second largest passenger plane in world. ‘1500 liter kerosene and 10% extra. 13-hour flight. Long haul!’, Monika adds, pointing to a line of supply trucks parked up alongside. As from March 2018, the world’s largest commercial passenger plane, the doubledecker Airbus A380, will also fly from Munich. To deal with the demand, Munich Airport is hiring 1,000 extra flight attendants. ‘Anyone fancy a nice secure job?’, asks Monika. Flashing a smile to two young girls in the front seats, she adds ‘flying sure beats working’. 

A little further down the apron we pass a Lufthansa jet festooned with pictures of FC Bayern players and the world-famous logo. ‘Carried our boys two years ago. Loved the deco so much we left it on!’. By “our boys” I assume she means FC Bayern and not her own sons; by “we” I take it she means Munich Airport rather than her own family. But you never know. Monika’s been working on the ground here for over 30 years. I suspect she almost blends in with the backdrop. In an aside she tells us her best experience to date was a stand-by, last-minute trip to Hawaii. Underscoring the happy memory, she adds ‘And only 150 Deutschmarks, ha!’.

I’ve been in and out of Munich Airport almost as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. But tonight I'm seeing the place from a totally different perspective. Monika is a formidable fountain of knowledge and insider information. That the airport, for example, has parking spaces for 200 planes – and that they sometimes have to put a “full” sign up at the entrance. Or that kerosene comes from the Greek word “keros”, meaning wax. It’s also interesting seeing the LG Skychef catering vans right up close as they dock onto the planes. The largest airline caterer in the world, LG supplies over 590 million meals a year. That’s a mighty mountain of grilled chicken and shrink-wrapped potato salads. Today I also learn why the highly controversial Berlin-Brandenburg Airport is taking slightly longer than the 13 years they needed to build its Bavarian brother. Monika commentates the issue as if it were part of her routine in a stand-up comedy act: ‘800 building alterations already submitted to contractors. Ready by 2020? I think not!’.

Everything we’ve seen today testifies to how Munich Airport has earned itself the title "First Five-Star Airport in Europe". I feel blessed having a world-class airport on my doorstep. After the tour we call in at the Winter Wonderland Market where we go ice skating. Well, Bea and Matilda do. I prefer to spectate from the side. But not before I’ve queued up for Bratapfel Glühweizen, a hot wheat beer laced with cinnamon and apple. It tastes absolutely divine.

I was interested to learn that this area known as MAC Forum is a massive draw in summer too. Having ripped out the skating rink and wood huts, the arena doubles up as Europe’s largest roofed-in Biergarten next to the airport's very own brewery, the fabulous Airbräu. There's even a maypole tree if you fancy swinging a dance leg before take-off.

Thumbs up for Munich Airport's Winter Market

Heading back home, bellies bulging with gluhwein and Nutella crepes, it strikes me that the Munich Airport experience is not merely just about flying. Spanning two terminals, MAC Forum is accessible to non-flyers too. And if you’re actually thinking of catching a plane, this is probably the one airport in the world where you might just want to be delayed.

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