Boarding a plane like it’s 1962

Boarding a plane like it's 1962

Margaret and I spent the last nine days of August in Aalborg, Denmark. Aalborg is a far northern city in that small country in the south of Scandinavia, bordering Germany. The company I work for bought a small company there this year, and as we slowly integrate the companies the software engineers there came to report to me.

My boss said, “Would you like to go to Aalborg and get to know the team?” Why, sure! When I told my wife my boss was sending me to Aalborg, she said, “Correction: he’s sending us to Aalborg!” (Not at the company’s expense, to be clear!)

The flight over took about 14 hours, including layovers in Detroit and Amsterdam. Thank heavens we arrived at the Indianapolis airport plenty early, because we discovered there that one of our return flights had been canceled. The kind woman at the Delta counter rebooked our entire return flight on the spot, but it took about an hour to cut through a surprising amount of red tape.

We did not enjoy Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport. It was huge, signage was poor, and the queue to get our passports stamped was long and hot with attendants yelling at us to keep moving. At the gate for our flight to Aalborg, we were surprised to learn that we would not be boarding the plane there — instead we would board a bus that would take us to the plane. We boarded the plane via the pictured stairs. I’ve only ever seen that in old movies! Similarly, we deplaned via stairs in Aalborg.

I went to Aalborg primarily to work. Margaret took the opportunity to have a good vacation. We deliberately scheduled our time to include a weekend so that we could be tourists together for a couple days.

In days to come, I’ll have photos to show from Aalborg. I brought my Nikon Df and that 28-200mm zoom lens I bought recently, and my Pentax IQZoom 170SL point-and-shoot 35mm camera with a roll of Fujicolor 200 already inside (and partially shot back home), and a roll of Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow. I’ll have photos to share in the coming days!

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43 responses to “Boarding a plane like it’s 1962”

  1. Olli Thomson Avatar

    This is still quite common in a lot of European airports. Sometimes it’s down to too many flights and not enough gates with bridges available. Sometimes it’s because a low cost airline is paying lower airport rates and accepting reduced service levels. It can be quite interesting to experience the sounds and smells of an active airport and to get a closer look at aircraft itself. The downside is lugging your carry on up the steps and getting wet if it’s raining.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Makes sense. It was all new to me!

  2. J P Avatar

    I would prefer to think of it as boarding a plane like the President.

    And I like the way Margaret thinks.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We did resist the temptation to do a Presidential wave when we deplaned.

  3. Lone Primate Avatar

    Boarding by stairs? I can barely remember doing that as a kid back in the early 70s. I’m amazed that anywhere in the Western world still allows that, outside of, maybe, regional airports that handle short domestic flights. It strikes me as a huge security hole. Uh, not to jinx the trip you’re safely home from, of course. :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This was my first time. I didn’t know it was still a thing at any Western airport!

  4. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Very common to board planes like this, at least early in my flying career, in almost any second or third level city south of the Mason-Dixon line! You just wlak out of a door, across the tarmac, to the stairway.

    Also, a lot of “puddle-jumper” connector planes are made low to the ground now, so you just board from the ground at a fold-down door/stairway, and lest you think this is small airport action, this is/was (haven’t been in about 6 years now) the way you board the connector from Chicago to Milwaukee at O’Hare! You actually have to walk down stairs from the gate, to the tarmac, and walk across the tarmac to the planes folded down door (with your luggage, which an attendant may take from you before you board if it’s too big, and stow under the plane in a little hatch). Then you literally get off the plane and wait for the attendant to retrieve your luggage and put it on the tarmac, it doesn’t go into the luggage system.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Now that I think about it, I remember this being how it was done at the Terre Haute airport. But that was definitely a third or fourth tier airport.

  5. Jen Avatar

    My dad retired to St. Petersburg, FL, and anytime I went to visit him and flew into St. Pete instead of Tampa, I always boarded by stairs likes this! I hated it…very narrow and tough when juggling a carryon and/or a toddler, LOL. Can’t wait to see pics from your trip!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Interesting! I’m not a frequent flyer, so clearly my experience is limited.

  6. DougD Avatar

    I’ve done that bus thing several times, most notable in Toronto while they were building a new terminal. Being crammed onto a bus first makes you appreciate how much room you have once you get onto the plane!

    We should have a video conference sometime, I’ll tell you the secret of European vs North American customer relations.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds like appreciating a cramped prison cell after being in solitary!

  7. Shirley B. Avatar
    Shirley B.

    I’m sad and sorry you were treated so rude at Schiphol. Our national airport is one to be avoided this year. Post-covid, they suffer from a big shortage of security and airport personnel. One of the causes (so we read in our newspapers) is that security is in the hands of 6 different companies. Employees are paid poorly and are overworked. Same for luggage handling. As a result this year, many people had to wait hours to get past security and a lot missed their flights.

    We will fly to Italy soon, but because of this, we chose to fly from a regional airport.

    As for boarding by stairs, that may be because all bridges were full. And a City Hopper is a small plane, so less people to accommodate than in 1 of the larger aircrafts. We deplaned like this in Iceland, when their airport was under construction, but also when leaving for and returning from Budapest.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Shirley. I’ve had similarly bad experiences at Dulles and DFW, so it’s not like Schiphol is unique in the world. We found Schiphol to be enormous; we had to walk more than a mile to our gate. Signage was poor, as well. It took us 10 minutes to find a screen that told us where our gate was. Then to be yelled at in the passport line… We were pretty cranky and stressed out by the time we got onto our plane.

      It looked like the CityHopper planes boarded this way as a matter of course. It wasn’t a problem — it was just a new experience for us!

      1. Shirley B. Avatar
        Shirley B.

        Schiphol is large, indeed. A couple of airports in Europe are even larger (Frankfurt and London Heathrow, to name a few). At least you didn’t have to collect your luggage first, on entering Europe. That’s what we have had to do a lot of times on entering the USA. Go through Immigration, get our luggage, go through Customs and then drop it off somewhere else to get it in the baggage system to be on our connecting flight. I just read that it still works like this on Chicago O Hare International Airport.

        It would be nice if flying was a more relaxing experience. Nobody needs to be yelled at. So far, we mostly travelled to and from large airports. Time will tell if flying from a regional airport is easier.

        As for the City Hoppers: I thought the same, having been on them only once and having to board by bus.

  8. tbm3fan Avatar

    I was in Schipol back in June 1976. Way out in the boonies back then and not much of a crowd. As for boarding I have boarded and deplaned via stairs four times. Once in 1968 at Lindberg Field for a flight back to L.A. on a Lockheed Electra. Twice in 1980 into and out of Orlando. I remember the exit clearly as we left New York and it was quite cold. I deplaned in Orlando and felt the warmth for two seconds before the true heat and humidity hit me. I wanted to go back into the plane. Last in 1996 Cebu, Philippines. The plane was told to stay on the tarmac and wait for buses to bring us to the terminal. Only one bus back and forth for who knows how long in the now hot plane. I had enough, walked off the plane, walked the tarmac in the general direction of where the terminal was, past and under planes, back doors into the terminal, past luggage facilities, and finally out the front door to grab a taxi.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I imagine walking like that on the tarmac to the exit would get you arrested today!

  9. Keith MIlsark Avatar
    Keith MIlsark

    Jim, my wife and I are going to Prague in October, flying into Amsterdam from Atlanta and then on to Prague. Did you have to go through security again in Amsterdam? Or just get your passport stamped? I’m concerned about the long lines.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We did not have to go through Amsterdam’s version of TSA, but we did have to stand in long lines to get our passports stamped — both entering and exiting Europe.

  10. adventurepdx Avatar

    I’ve done the “stair board/deboard” a number of times here in the US. It’s pretty common with the shorter-haul Alaska flights in the west. Below is a photo when Emee and I flew out to Boise last year. We’re flying to Boise next week, and most likely we’ll be doing the stairs!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fascinating. Clearly I have limited experience here.

    2. tbm3fan Avatar

      Couldn’t get me to walk onto one of those twin prop engine planes unless I was personally familiar with the pilot. Like I said I flew a Lockheed Electra once, SD to LA, in the evening with turbulence and scared my 10 year sister to death. The plane:

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        I’m surprised to see them still in commercial use.

  11. fishyfisharcade Avatar

    I’ve done the “stair boarding” many times. I think it’s pretty commonplace in Europe, especially at smaller airports. It’s not nice when it’s raining heavily though!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, nothing like sitting wet on an airplane, I’m sure.

  12. Michael Avatar

    Guess you need to fly into smaller airports more often! It’s not as common now, but plenty of smaller airports aren’t going to pay for that kind of upgrade.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I don’t fly that often, so clearly my experience is limited.

  13. Katie Yang Avatar

    INTERNATIONAL TRAVELING! Very excited about the photographs!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes! Even though I was there nine days I worked seven of them, so my photos come mostly from the intervening weekend. But it was great to be out of country. I rode a bicycle pretty much everywhere! That was wonderful.

  14. Gert-Jan Avatar

    I can confirm what Ollie Thomson already wrote. In Europe it is definitely quite normal to board like this for regional and short continental flights.
    The last few years, I saw this a lot at the Paris CDG and Düsseldorf airports for example. These airports are big, but for smaller planes (sometimes still >100 seats) and short flights, it is cheaper to park further away rather than at the gate.
    Besides the weather, another inconvenience is the time it takes to board and deplane by bus. When deplaning, you may need to wait for the 2nd bus, and it only leaves the plane when the plane is empty. And then, the bus still needs some time to get you to the terminal.
    Sometimes there’s no bus, you simply walk from the terminal to the plane (lower cost flights, charter companies, or smaller airports).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We experienced the second bus phenomenon twice on this trip. It was kind of annoying but far less annoying than going through passport control.

      1. Shirley B. Avatar
        Shirley B.

        Going through passport control can be annoying all over the world. Waiting time to enter the USA by airplane for non-citizens was mostly 1 hour, sometimes 1.5 hours.
        And that was before covid.

        We read that things are bad at most major airports in Europe this year. There’s a shortage of personnel everywhere. I hope airports will be able to balance the number of flights with the personnel available. So that waiting will be less than it can be at this moment.

  15. Ben Cotton Avatar

    Interesting. I’ve never had that experience at Schipol. In fact, I’ve always found the passport control line a good experience. They’ve had staff pulling people to the front of the line to make sure no connections are missed.

    Now Paris-CDG… I don’t think I’ve ever used a jetway there. It’s a generally miserable place to be.

    Granted, all of this was in The Before Times™, so maybe things have changed.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Maybe we got to passport control at the wrong time, but that line was an hour long. That airport is enormous and poorly marked, too, and it took us a good long time to walk to our gate. Not a stellar airport experience.

      1. Shirley B. Avatar
        Shirley B.

        1 hour to enter the country used to actually be quite normal before covid. Any country we went to, at larger airports, at least 1 hour waiting time to go through passport control was normal.

        One reason for this ling waiting time is that it takes time to process the hundreds of passengers that exit an airplane. Another is that sometimes 2 to 3 big carriers arrive at about the same time. That slows the process down even more.

        Having to walk a lot at larger airports is something that is part of flying international. As a rule, international (and especially intercontinental) flights use larger airports. Having to walk around 15 minutes to get to the gate is considered normal. Some airports have conveyer belts (I know Schiphol and Toronto have some), and most airports have transportation for people who have a walking disability.

        Some larger airports have terminals that are miles away from each other. Usually there will be 1 terminal for arrival and departure of international flights and 2 or more for domestic flights.
        Some airports have a monorail running between them (e.g. Toronto and Frankfurt), some require you to travel by bus (Las Vegas).

        For me, getting myselve acquinted with the airport before we fly, helps. Less stress when I know what to expect, because I try to prepare myself mentally.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Thanks for the good perspective. We’re not frequent world travelers and so I guess you can say that through this we gained valuable experience. I didn’t mention, but it’s important, that we had 90 minutes from gate to gate and so we were stressed out because of time. Lesson learned: seek more generous layovers at the major international airports.

        2. Shirley B. Avatar
          Shirley B.

          Having 1.5 hours layover time can be tight.

          Someone told me years ago that every airport has it’s own minimal layover time.

          Since knowing that, I always try to find out how long that is, when booking flights. It can usually be found online, in the FAQ-section. Else an e-mail will get me this information.

          And as a rule we add at least 30 minutes to the minimal layover time, to be on the safer side.

          So many things can happen to add to your stress of getting to the next flight on time.

          I remember flying out of Las Vegas to Atlanta, to get on to a connecting flight to Orlando. This was domestic USA, we had a little over 2 hours layover time. Normally that would have been plenty of time.

          2 things happened to make it one of the most stressful connections we ever had.
          1. Our aircraft arrived late. It came in from Canada and their departure was delayed because of bad weather there.
          2. There were severe storms in Atlanta. So our departure was delayed because of this as well.

          We waited and waited and saw our layover time becoming smaller and smaller, to the point that we were afraid of actually missing our connecting flight.

          When we arrived in Atlanta, the captain requested that passengers with connecting flights would be allowed to exit the plane first and would the other passengers please remain seated? To this day I am grateful that this is exactly what happened.

          Luckily for us, the gate to our next flight was very close to where we exited our first plane. Nevertheless we ran, because we knew that boarding should have already started.

          We were very lucky that day, because boarding was delayed! So we got on the plane just fine in the end. And even our luggage made it on the plane.

          The point to my story is: do allow extra layover time. Most of the times you’ll be okay. And some of the times things may go wrong.

        3. Jim Grey Avatar

          Yipes, that was a close call. I’ve been fortunate to avoid a situation like that so far, but my wife has quite a story of running from one end of the Miami airport to the other.

  16. Ohgust Avatar

    How did you like Aalborg?

    I was in Aalborg last September to visit my good friend for four days. I explored not only Aalborg, but also took a train trip to Aarhus with Kika the friend, saw Baltic and North Sea in Skagen and visited Frederikshavn on my way back to Aalborg.

    The city was really nice, I remember seeing Aalborgtarnet, climbing boulders in Streetmekka and swimming (only a lap, the water was too cold) in Vestre Fjordpark in the fjord water for free.

    I hope for another visit soon, maybe to include Copenhagen and Malmo in Sweden.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      We liked it fine; it is a lovely town. It’s also very easy to visit as an English speaker as everyone speaks English.

      Margaret swam in the fjord! That wasn’t for me.

      Photos from Aalborg to come in the coming weeks here.

  17. […] reading Jim Grey’s post about his working vacation I had to write about my own experiences of walking on airport tarmacs not once but twice with […]

  18. Tom H Avatar
    Tom H

    Liking the picture and looking forward to some more, Jim. In 1990 I was driven out with my luggage to the plane at Leningrad’s airport across a bumpy field on a farm trailer by a tractor. I thought that was a touch of class! All the best, Tom

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Now there’s an experience you don’t soon forget!

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