There is no lack of imagination for those in pursuit of an extra frequent flyer mile–or two.
Mileage runs are where the miles meet the skies and there is no other better example of this than the now infamous Star MegaDO which took shape and flew in early November. The idea was hatched on FlyerTalk by three members of that travel community: Tommy777, oliver2002 and xyzzy (actual names are never important). There was instant interest and despite several changes due to the complexity of chartering, catering and planning an event spent mostly at 30,000 feet, all was well when things kicked off in Chicago.
Taking shelter in a United Red Carpet Club at O’Hare International Airport, those starting this up-in-the-air adventure were treated to a personal send off by the president of United Mileage Plus, Graham Atkinson, and several other representatives of United including Captain Denny Flanagan who has befriended many a FlyerTalk passenger and who was the pilot from Chicago to Newark. Free gifts from United and various behind-the-scene tours of operations and ground services seemed to deem that this was the best place to be that day. Off on time toward Newark, there’s nothing like a group of passionate people, all sharing stories and camera clicks. If Kodak still offered film, their stock price would have risen with photos being taken of the crew, passengers, meals, and of course, the wings of the plane. United treated everyone to a complimentary Active snackbox making other passengers assume that United always feeds these “FlyerTalkers” for free.
The landing at Newark was met with even more passengers joining the festivities and we were all handed off to new Star Alliance member, Continental Airlines, who offered their version of behind-the-scene tours (many commented on how the two airlines took different approaches to the same operations), snacks and goodies including metal key rings with “FlyerTalker” engraved on them (nice touch). Then the sky became a bus as in Greyhound style as passengers were ferried across the river to JFK and were handed off to Lufthansa, another Star Alliance member who probably made more friends during this trip than any airline ever. The Germans were at the top of their game as hosts for this segment. It was a party in the lounges with enough champagne to toast New Year’s and in no time at all, we sailed to the front of the boarding line into a 747 whose crew was well versed on who these passengers were. But once airborne, the predicted party in 1A really never got off the tarmac as the excitement of the day forced many to seek eye shades and rest.
But there was no rest for the weary at landing when the FT crowd was off to the Sheraton Hotel at FRA at the start of a new day. Lufthansa was the host and host they did with tours of just about everything including select passengers getting to go through an abbreviated flight attendant training class because the organizers had arranged that several volunteer moderators of FlyerTalk would serve as in-flight crew–though at times it seemed more like in-flight entertainment.
Dinner that night was hosted by the Star Alliance and each passenger was afforded the chance to meet, mingle and make friends all against a backdrop of wonderful food and drink–and the promised tickets for the next day’s private charter flight around Europe.
Back to the buses and an alarm clock that went off before some even set it prepared us all for a 5am flight call. Again, Kodak would have been proud but Nikon and Canon filled in admirably with pictures for all. Flying a charter was a hoot as members got to visit the cockpit and enjoy a full catered hop to Oslo (Americans just weren’t sure what to do with all this food on board!).
Arriving in Oslo during a snow storm was magical and no one could have been prepared for the hospitality that SAS put forth. We were greeted by airline executives, more food, more lifetime experiences and more entertainment the SAS way. A highlight was a surprise singing performance by a flight attendant of SAS (Fly Me To the Moon) whose performance would have easily won any version of American Idol. A fabulous voice–and later a Norwegian folk music and dance troupe performed.
Out into the cold to the charter was difficult after the warmth of the SAS greeting. Next stop, Toulouse, France where the Airbus factory waited for everyone. More entertainment in-flight and more anticipation as many passengers would get a chance to see their first glimpse of an A380 double-decker airplane.
And there was a surprise on the way. After preparing to land and getting to about 50 feet above the landing strip, the airplane captain did a flyby and stayed at 50 feet all the way down the runway, wiggling the wings of the Boeing charter jet and then punching it at the end and heading for the sky and coming back around to officially land. I really don’t think any of the 229 passengers had ever been part of a real flyby such as this before.
Then we were at Airbus where everyone got to visit the factory floor and see up close at least three A380s in final preparation for delivery (Air France, Lufthansa and Emirates). Passengers also got to visit the actual mockup of the plane and see for themselves what it must be like to be a passenger–and they could even view the famous “shower in the sky” that the Emirates version is famous for. It’s a big plane and was the hit of the day.
Hospitality by Airbus included many more goodies including a scale model of the A380 for everyone. Then, we were back on board and headed to Frankfurt with more food, drink and surprises.
The organizers were extremely generous with their time in putting this fabulous event together and arranged to raffle off chances to win everything from fresh ground Kona coffee to iPods and more on the flights. All the funds raised in the raffle were later given to charities and there was over $5,000 raised from passengers who had already shelled out for this experience of a lifetime. A private party in one of Lufthansa’s airport lounges closed out a perfect day. The following day was another full of special presentations by Lufthansa and personal greetings by the airline’s CEO. Never before had this group had so much personal access to airline executives.
Afterwards, some flyers scattered across Europe, others went right back home and yet others, well, we don’t really know where they disappeared to. But all of them took home memories of a once-in-a-lifetime experience–all from what can only be referred to as the “Star MegaDo Mileage Run”. Oh yes, that little spin around Europe in a single day? Earned everyone 15,000 frequent flyer miles. Now you know what it was all about.