The Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Twenty Years of Paris – Part I
Working the system using a combined 55+ years of travel experience, the best option for free Business Class seats on our 20th anniversary trip to Europe for the dates we needed turned out to be via Washington, D.C. So our trip began with a flight from Atlanta to D.C. where we would make our connection to Amsterdam on a KLM flight.
Taking full advantage of our passionate belief that the journey IS the trip, we booked a morning flight to DC so we could enjoy the day in our nation’s capital. Flying in to Washington-Reagan and out of Dulles meant an expensive transfer between airports so it only made sense to rent a car and make an event out of changing airports.
Having done the Smithsonian Museums, toured the White House and covered the Mall from the Capital Building to the Lincoln Memorial, we decided to take advantage of our rental car and the amount of time we had to visit the Smithsonian Institution’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport where we could see the space shuttle Discovery and a retired Air France Concord jets like the one Ken had the pleasure of flying before they were taken out of service.
As amazing as technology remains today and given that no other commercial aircraft has ever touched the altitude and speed at which the Concord whisked passengers from the U.S. to Europe, in just under 3 hours, the aircraft itself was a bit underwhelming to see up close. The fuselage is very narrow, along the lines of an old 727, with a basic 2-2 seating configuration inside. As interesting as it was to stand next to, I couldn’t help but feel that the videos and photos I had seen on television made the craft seem much grander than it appeared in person.
The space shuttle, on the other hand, was very impressive in its stature and size. At the time, a television display’s resolution was very limited and the site of a space shuttle’s take-off or landing was amazing enough. Seeing the spacecraft up close and personal revealed how prominent each and every individual heat shielding tile was.
I remember the discussions about how the Columbia had lost some of its tiles during take-off and that ultimately cost the craft and its occupants their lives. Seeing the burn marks on the tiles of the Discovery immediately brought back memories of that ill-fated mission.
The museum is located right next to Dulles Airport and we were lucky enough to see one of Lufthansa’s new 747-800 planes landing as we walked to our car. An hour or so later we were boarding our KLM flight to Amsterdam.
It’s unfortunate that KLM’s Business Class product is far below American standards and was less than a “premium” customer experience. For instance, KLM now only offers water or orange juice as a pre-departure beverage in Business Class. No more champagne. How poor of them. After spending hundreds of thousands of Skymiles for Business Class tickets, the experience was a disappointment.
A quick meal and a decent night’s sleep later, we awoke prior to landing in Amsterdam. An inflight breakfast was served and our late departure from the US has really paid off allowing us 6 hours of sleep and a local arrival time of just after Noon. By the time we took the train to Central Station and walked to our hotel, our room was available for immediate check-in.