One would think that flying is flying. Whether that be in an airplane or a helicopter. But taking a ride in a Zeppelin proved to me that all flight is not created equal. Fans of flight, technology and those simply seeking an adventure gather in Friedrichshafen, Germany at Zeppelin NT‘s hangar for pleasure rides in the lighter than air vehicle.
A Brief Background on Zeppelin NT
Since its founding in 2001 by Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei, Zeppelin NT has offered passenger flights for enthusiasts. The gondola of the Zeppelin has seats for 12 to 14 passengers plus the pilot and a flight attendant. Every seat has a window. For 2017, they offer flights of 30, 40, 45, 60, 90 or 120 minutes. The area covered varies, obviously, based on the length of the flight. Earlier in spring they flew flights over Munich while longer flights may head across Lake Constance to Switzerland.
Last month, my husband and I took the 30 minute flight around the city of Friedrichshafen. From the very moment you walk into the Zeppelin Hangar it’s a first class experience, really. Passengers are required to check in an hour before the flight. During that time you’re issued a special flight ticket and go through a simple safety briefing. Because we don’t speak German (fluently, anyhow), we received a special English language briefing separate from the other passengers.
Zeppelins aren’t quite the same as airplanes or helicopters. They don’t really “land” in order for boarding. In fact, when passengers go to board the Zeppelin, it’s essentially hovering above the ground and always moving. For that reason, it’s very important for passengers to pay attention, be aware and follow the instructions of the Zeppelin flight crew. Passengers enter and exit the Zeppelin in pairs. As two people get off the airship, two more get on in order to maintain an equilibrium.
Ready for Take-Off
But once you’re on board, it’s a whole new world. The Zeppelin “takes off” by simply turning the propeller on the side and up and away you go. Once at cruising altitude, passengers aren’t restricted to sit. You can walk around, look out windows, take photos, or strike up a conversation with the pilot.
The pilot, by the way, is Katharine Board. She’s currently the only female Zeppelin pilot in the world! Besides making the flight look effortless, the English pilot was also extremely friendly and informative. She answered every question passengers threw her way and posed for every photo. She even struck up a conversation with us when she heard we were “the English speakers” and shared stories of when she flew a blimp in the United States. It should be said that, like Board, all of the employees were extremely professional and friendly.
A Flight in a Zeppelin
Flying in the Zeppelin is a totally unreal experience. Where airplanes tend to be a bit rough, especially on takeoff and landing, the Zeppelin seems to simply, well, float. There is some noise, mostly from the side propellers, but it’s not terribly loud. Two of the windows on board even open up. We flew on a nice day and got to enjoy plenty of fresh air along with the beautiful, scenic view over Friedrichshafen and Lake Constance (the Bodensee). It is a “pleasure ride” in every sense of the word.
The Zeppelin flies just high enough that you can still see the cars and the people down below. You float over the orange-tile roofs of the local community. I was able to pick out the Moleturm, an observation platform along the waterfront, and the dual onion-topped towers of the local church, Evangelischen Schlosskirchengemeinde Friedrichshafen. And as you fly over the lake you can enjoy the picturesque view with the boats setting sail.
Coming Back Down After A Flight in a Zeppelin
Before you know it, the flight is over. I’m still not sure when the Zeppelin turned back, the flight is that gentle. But it did turn back and we “landed” at the airport in Friedrichshafen. This isn’t the end of the adventure. Once back on solid ground, all passengers receive a personalized certificate signed by the pilot. There’s also a celebratory toast with sparkling wine. Even with the language barrier, everyone is still giddy from the experience of the flight and the drink is a really nice, fitting end to the adventure.
Even if you aren’t taking a flight, you can visit the Hangar’s restaurant and lounge. It’s a modern and open area complete with a full bar. The restaurant and lounge also has a great outdoor terrace that’s right on the runway. You can sit back, relax and enjoy a drink or a meal while watching the airship flights come and go. Not a bad way to start or end a day.
What It’s Like To Ride In A Zeppelin
A flight in a Zeppelin is for many a bucket list item or a once in a lifetime experience. Zeppelin NT realize that and really make the experience special. As if that weren’t enough, the flight on the Zeppelin is everything you expect and more. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s thrilling. A ride in a Zeppelin is exactly what you expect and totally unexpected at the same time. And it’s worth a special trip to Friedrichshafen to visit the folks at Zeppelin NT. You won’t be disappointed.
There is parking available on site at Zeppelin NT. The company shares a large tarmac with the Friedrichshafen Airport which also has a train stop. While it is possible to walk from the train station to Zeppelin NT, it’s a rather far distance as you have to go around the perimeter of the tarmac. Buses are also available.
We stayed at the nearby Holiday Inn Express Friedrichshafen and had a room that looked out onto Zeppelin NT, which was pretty neat.
Zeppelin NT generously offered a discount for the flight. All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.