Saturday morning, March 1.

It was an early morning as I began my second international mileage run. My itinerary was Austin – Dallas/Fort Worth – Orange County, California – Chicago – Frankfurt – Chicago – Austin.

My first flight was out of Austin at 6 a.m. The alarm clock is not my good friend when it goes off before 3 a.m., but that is the price we pay for our mileage runs. :-)

Austin to Orange County
I checked in at the Austin airport, the agent asked where I was going and I replied, “Dallas, then Orange County, then Chicago, and then on to Frankfurt.” She looked at me like I was out of my mind (not an uncommon occurrence for mileage runners!) and said “I can get you a more direct booking.”

Ahh, I wish I had a dollar for every time that has happened. Some agents look at an itinerary like that and say “Looks like you are doing a mileage run today!” but some don’t get it. This agent did not, so I smiled and said “Thanks so much for the offer, but I have a business lunch in Orange County that I must attend.” That was acceptable to her and she gave me my boarding passes all the way to Frankfurt.

I had an uneventful flight to DFW, arriving at Terminal D, my favorite terminal. After a short layover I boarded the 737 for the flight to Orange County. I’m sure it was a nice flight but I can’t say for sure, I slept most of the way.

We came in for our landing at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport: as soon as the plane touched down it felt like the pilot was standing on the brakes! With full reverse thrusters we slowed down very very quickly (not sure if it makes sense to say we “slowed very quickly” but you get the idea haha!) — I assumed the pilot was trying to make a turn from the runway to the taxiway without going all the way to the end of the runway. Boy, was I wrong! When the plane made its turn I looked out and saw that we had used almost the entire runway!

I am accustomed to landings on a short runway: the old Robert Mueller Airport in Austin had a 7,000 foot runway. I asked the pilot how that compared to the John Wayne runway and he told me it was huge — the longest runway at John Wayne is only 5,700 feet! The pilot told me that I would find the take off to be very interesting.

Once I got off the plane my first stop was the Admiral’s Club. My next flight was to Chicago O’Hare, where I would have a very short layover, only 50 minutes. In fact, my boarding pass said that the Frankfurt flight would start to board only 5 minutes after my flight from John Wayne landed. I asked the AC staff if there were delays at O’Hare, if it looked like there might be a problem making my connection. They checked and said there were no problems. I was glad to hear this, but was still concerned about my short connection time.

I had a quick meal and looked around the airport. John Wayne Airport is unique in that it is located downtown: the business district is literally across the street from the parking lot. For people in Orange County, this makes it a very nice option when compared to Los Angeles International.

Orange County to Chicago
I boarded the 757 for the flight to Chicago O’Hare. My first class upgrade had gone through so I had comfortable seating and a good meal on the flight. I was wondering about the comment from the pilot about the interesting takeoff, and then I found out.

As we taxied to the runway, our pilot announced that “once the aircraft reaches 1,000 foot altitude, I will cut power to the engines by 70% as part of a noise abatement procedure. It may sound to you that we have lost power. We have not. Do not be concerned, this is a normal procedure for departures from this airport.”

We got to the end of the runway: the pilot set the engines to full power, then popped the brakes. He had a little bit more than a mile to get that 757 into the air. We raced down the runway and took off smoothly, and just as he said he would, the pilot cut power dramatically shortly after we took off. I was glad that he had made his previous announcement, otherwise I would have been very concerned by the sudden loss of power. Instead, I marked it up as another unique mileage run experience.

We had a smooth flight to Chicago and must have caught a tailwind, we arrived 20 minutes early. Good deal, that made it much easier for me to make my connection.

We landed at O’Hare and I called a friend from FlyerTalk. He and his wife live in San Francisco and were doing the same Frankfurt mileage run as I was. But this was the fifth time in six weekends that they were doing the trip. Serious mileage runners! They were at the American Airlines Flagship Lounge: this is similar to the Admiral’s Club, but better. Complimentary food and beverages (beer included). You have to have Executive Platinum Status to be a member. I met them at the Lounge and we chatted and got to know each other.

O’Hare to Frankfurt
After talking for a while we headed for our flight. It was packed, not an empty seat in any class!

I was in coach: the 767 has a 2-4-2 seating plan, I was in the aisle seat on the left side. The traveler in the window seat soon arrived: I thought I was sitting next to a football player. This guy must have been 6’4″, 250 lbs. Is someone missing a tight end? He could barely fit in the seat, and I really felt sorry for him. I also felt sorry for the lady in the seat in front of him, she couldn’t recline because his knees were wedged tightly against the back of her seat.

With a nine-hour flight, I tried to sleep as much as I could. After the meal I called it a night and dozed off.

The approach to Frankfurt
I woke an hour before our arrival at Frankfurt. Everything seemed to be going well, it even looked like we would land a few minutes early. And then things got bad in a hurry. About 20 minutes before landing the plane started bouncing up and down. This was not normal turbulence where the plan seems to shake, this was roller-coaster turbulence with the plane going from updraft to downdraft and back to another updraft. As we got closer to the airport, more and more people were reaching for the air sickness bags. I was getting queezy myself and looked forward to us getting on the ground. We were on a gradual descent and then, suddenly, the pilot gunned the engines to full power and we banked to the left. What happened?

A moment later the pilot announced “We were ready to land, but another flight had not yet cleared the runway, so we had to abort and are going to go around again.”

Go around again gave us another 10 minutes of turbulence, with even more people making use of the motion sickness bags. There were a lot of happy people when we finally landed.

Stormy skies above the Frankfurt airport made our landing very rough.

Germany had been hit by a bad storm the day before, Lufthansa had canceled over 70 flights at Frankfurt alone. We had gone through the last part of the storm. At least we did not have to deal with the high winds that a Lufthansa flight had had at Hamburg the day before, as captured in this video.

I joined my fellow mileage runners at the Admiral’s Club. Four of my friends from FlyerTalk were on the flight, taking advantage of the low fare to Frankfurt.

Four mileage runners from Flyer Talk at the Frankfurt Admirals Club: Mrs. Skydiver, Skydiver, Weinskkb, and Skye1.

We had a little bit more than 2 hours before we had to head to the gate and get back on the same flight for the trip to Chicago. I really would have enjoyed going into Frankfurt, but there was no way to do this on a two-day mileage run; it only would have worked if I had left on Friday.

Frankfurt to Chicago
After resting at the club we went back to our gate and boarded the plane. Thankfully I had an exit row seat this time with plenty of leg room. My friends from San Francisco were in the seats in front of me!

We pulled away from the terminal on time, moved about 300 feet and stopped. After a few moments we went back to the terminal!

The pilot announced that the coffee maker in the rear galley was not shutting off when it should and was flooding the rear areas. We sat for almost an hour until they could get it fixed. I was concerned by this, I knew Mrs. HappyFlier was expecting a call from me as soon as I landed at O’Hare and would be concerned when I did not call at the time she expected. Now I would be at least an hour late and there was no way to let her know.

We finally moved away from the terminal and then had to wait an additional thirty minutes before we were cleared for take off. Now I would be an hour-and-half late getting into Chicago.

At least I had the chance to take some photographs as we waited for clearance to take off.

TAP Air Portugal Airbus A-319 gets ready to take off.

This was the first time I had seen a plane from Etihad Airways, the National Airline of the United Arab Emirates.

An Icelandair 757 waits to take off as a Lufthansa flight lands on the far runway.

A Vietnam Airlines 777 climbs into the stormy skies above Frankfurt.

Everything went well on the flight. I had some a nice conversation with the lady in the seat next to me, and finished listening to some podcasts on my iPod.

As the sun prepared to slip below the horizon, we saw some spectacular cloud patterns above the North Atlantic.

We were chasing the sun and had the chance to see this beautiful sunset over the North Atlantic.

We got to Chicago without any difficulty, other than being an hour and twenty-five minutes late.

The delay at O’Hare
I called my wife to let her know I was okay and quickly cleared customs. I had a three-and-a-half hour wait until my flight to Austin, a flight that would not arrive until after midnight. I tried to change my reservation to an earlier flight that would go through DFW, but was out of luck, that flight was overbooked.

American Airlines, Sunday night at O’Hare. Thankfully, this was not Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and I did not get in trouble with security for taking this picture.

I went to the Admiral’s Club to rest and check on my flight, and that was where I got the bad news. My Austin flight was scheduled to depart at 9:25, but was going to be late getting in from Kansas City. They told me my new scheduled departure time was 10:09, arriving at Austin just before 1 a.m. Given the fact I had to be at work the next morning, this was NOT what I wanted to hear.

I ate at the AC, then asked to use the shower. After the long trip the shower was a wonderfully relaxing break. And then my phone rang. It was the automated American Airlines reservation system with an update on my flight. It said the flight would leave O’Hare at 6 a.m. the next morning! This was not good! I’d have to spend the night at the airport, and would be late getting to work Monday morning, in addition to being very very tired.

I asked the lady at the desk to check my status and give me an update about the 6 a.m. flight but she couldn’t. According to her, I was still scheduled to leave at 10:09 that night. This was getting confusing!

I relaxed for a while, verified that my flight was still set for 10:09, and headed towards the gate. I got there at 9:45, almost 25 minutes before the flight — the gate was deserted! No one was there other than the gate attendant. I asked if I was the only person flying to Austin, and she informed me that “We’ve already boarded that flight!” They had not only boarded, they had even locked the door to the ramp — this is very odd, I have seen that 10 minutes before departure but not 25 minutes before. She unlocked the door to the ramp and let me board.

I got to my seat and quickly fell asleep. I woke up just before we landed at Austin at 1 a.m. I drove home, arriving just before 2 a.m.

It was a long weekend, but I got home safely, albeit a little bit late.

26,434 miles posted to my account, and I paid a very very low 1.74 cents for each of those miles.
Mission accomplished.