It’s on the way home that I like to take time at the airport. Munich’s has won a world reputation for variety, fun and comfort.
The day before my flight, I may stay at a nearby hotel — just to be safe. If there’s time, I’ll wander around the airport, which is like the little city the main train station used to be.
2022 was a special year for MUC, Germany’s second busiest airport. It was 30 years old. The birthday party was at Airbräu, the airport’s own brewery and beer garden.
Last year: chaos
Just a year ago, the airport was not fun and games. It suffered from long check-in and security lines. Three thousand pieces of lost or unclaimed luggage had piled up. Flights were canceled or delayed.
The government said airports were short more than 7,000 workers after many were laid off during the pandemic and then traffic resumed more quickly than expected.
Now travel is back to 90% of what it was before the virus struck, and the airport and airlines are recruiting heavily, automating check-in and security where possible and seeking other ways to ease congestion.
Before the pandemic, almost 50 million travelers a year flew in or out of Munich airport, a nearly $2 billion business (the city owns almost a quarter of it). The airport reported 7 million passengers in the first quarter, up 70% over last year.
The concourse was under surveillance by uniformed, armed police and less visible digital cameras.
The EU plans additional border checks for people coming from a country outside the union, and a new digital system is to replace manual stamping of passports. Germany plans to install self-service kiosks at airports, but the current fear is the digital infrastructure might not be ready when the hordes arrive, resulting in long waiting lines at control points.
As of a recent announcement, the system won’t be waiting for arrivals in Germany until the end of 2023.
Franz Joseph Strauss airport has two 13,000-foot runways and two terminals on about 4,000 acres. Flights go out every 10 minutes, and 88% leave on time. In 2022, the airport accommodated more than 31 million passengers. That’s down from 48 million before the pandemic, but still enough to rank it among the top of the world’s large airports.
A third runway would enable the airport to handle 120 flights per hour, instead of 90. But residents who want quiet and naturalists who fear for a nearby bird sanctuary have tied that runway up in political and legal disputes.
Terminal 1 handles flights involving the Schengen (European passport-less) area. Twenty-year-old Terminal 2, where U.S. flights come and go, is the “newer” one and handles just about all the rest.
Between the runways is the Airport Center mall and more than 50 restaurants, kiosks, cafes and bars, a grocery open from 5:30 a.m. to midnight every day and the beer garden. The airport claims the center is the largest “open-air, covered” space on the continent.
The press office says that at the airport you can play golf, try your luck at a casino, work out, get a makeover at a salon, take a shower, get a massage or just nap.
You can even pick up the groceries.
Finding your way is eased by 17 video terminals, where you can get detailed information or talk to an airport representative on a near-life-size screen. Wi-fi is free throughout.
There’s a glass-walled smoking zone at Munich Airport. Its message is in English to be understandable to as many as possible. “At Munich Airport, smoking is only allowed outside in front of the entrance and exit doors, at the outdoor area of the Munich Airport Center and in designated smoking areas.”
About one in three people smoke in Germany, according to recent figures, compared to about one in seven in the U.S.
Fun with planes
The roof of Terminal 2 features a viewing terrace with a wide glass balcony and a view of an aircraft apron. All travelers can reach it, and it’s free.
The airport also features an outdoor Visitors Park, one stop back on the regional train, next to Lufthansa headquarters.
The park is a hit with children who have energy to burn off.
On Visitors Hill, you can watch plane traffic. At the foot of the hill, three historic aircraft are on display. The site says you can climb in and explore, but the gate was closed and locked when I was there.
The airport used to display a magnetic levitation train that had been discussed as a means of linking the airport to downtown and other important destinations. But a staffer at an Information booth said the display had been removed after the suggestion failed to generate significant interest.
Since June 2022, the place to see the train that rides above its rails is in the Transportation Center of the Deutsches Museum, near the Oktoberfest site.
On the way
The airport continues to attract investors. In 2018, Munich airport announced plans to build a 100-acre, $400 million “city of the future” on airport grounds. Actually, a business hub of the future, in which “global players” could live in airport hotels and travel by Segway or scooter. If they needed to jet to another city, they’d be able to do it without a commute.
A news release spoke of 5,000 jobs and of appealing to some of the 150,000 people who move through the airport each day. Tenants would be high-tech in sectors such as aviation and space, digitalization, energy and mobility. Apparently, electronics giant Siemens has signed on.
Munich surfing doesn’t end at the English Garden. During September and October, the annual Surf & Style fills up that Airport Center area under the famous roof by architect Helmut Jahn. For three weeks, young and old can show off in the temporary basin that produces what’s billed as the world’s biggest stationary wave, more than 30 feet long 5 feet high.
About two years ago, an investor group made a big “splash” when they announced plans to build the largest surf park in Europe near the airport. Plans called for a basin of 10,000 square yards (180 yards by 60 yards) that could generate rides for 15 seconds for 60 people at a time. An amusement park was to accompany it. The opening was to be this summer, but so far, I haven’t heard more of it.
So much for the airport, and it’s time to get on the plane. This is the last post from Trip 2023.
Your comments enhanced the blog time after time and turned this year’s posts into a conversation. Much more fun that way. Hope you come along next fall. Thanks.