Lufthansa plans new business class for 2011

6 Oct 2010 by BusinessTraveller

Lufthansa hopes to satisfy critics of its existing long-haul business class when it unveils a new fully-flat product late next year.

That welcome development, along with plans to change the short-haul seating in the economy cabin were revealed to Business Traveller during an interview with Marianne Sammann, the GM for Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines in the UK and Ireland.  

Although details are still under wraps it is expected Germany’s national airline will finally bite the bullet and adopt fully flat bed seating on its long-haul business class flights rather than the angled lie-flat version currently in service.

Initially the plan calls for Lufthansa to install the new seating on the 20-strong fleet of B747-800s (an updated version of the venerable jumbo jet) when they enter service towards the end of 2011.  

Readers of our online forum had criticised Lufthansa’s decision not to install the latest business class in its fleet of A380s which are currently being delivered.

This contrasted with rival A380 operators such as Emirates, Qantas and SIA. They all took the opportunity to install their latest premium products on the super jumbo from day one.

Why did Lufthansa not do likewise? “It is because the A380 was delayed [from Airbus].” Says Sammann. “Perhaps with hindsight we would have considered an alternative, but at the time of ordering the A380 our existing seat was the right product.

“Our existing seat is not at the very top of the market compared with certain [business class] seats offered by some carriers. But our passengers continue to rate it [the existing seating] highly. Ultimately our A380 passengers will not lose out because when we launch a new generation of seat we always retrofit and install it across the fleet.”  

Sammann acknowledged however that, “this could take a few years,” owing to the size of Lufthansa’s fleet.

Short Haul Economy

Lufthansa is also expected to unveil details of a new short-haul economy class product later this year. As we exclusively revealed last year (see online news November 19, 2009), Lufthansa wants to improve the economics of its European flights. And it intends to do so by adding more seats and simplifying the catering.  

The idea is that passengers should not notice because the seats will be of a new ergonomic design allowing virtually unchanged legroom. As at present, on-board food and drink is expected to remain free of charge.

The carrier reports “a fantastic year” for its UK business with a good growth in passenger numbers and, crucially, average ticket price.

“We are now seeing a return of business class passengers on short routes,” says Marianne Sammann. “Companies are allowing more business class travel because they see the value. Certain business trips do require the product as [the better conditions on the ground and in the air] make it a good investment.”

As in the case with other mainland European carriers, a good number of Lufthansa passengers departing UK airports use the carrier’s hubs to reach the outside world. “The number of transfer passengers varies from airport to airport,” says Sammann. “Some 36 per cent of our passengers out of Heathrow will change planes in Germany whereas from Manchester the figure is 63 per cent.” 

Canny travellers have wised up to new transfer possibilities available from Lufthansa Italia (the carrier’s Italian subsidiary). When flights between London Heathrow and Milan Malpensa first started in March last year they were geared to passengers flying solely between these two cities.

But as the Lufthansa Italia network has grown (it now serves 13 destinations out of Milan), passengers departing Heathrow can now change at Malpensa for onward points.

While not all the connections are handy the Milan routing works well for destinations in the South such as Palermo (Sicily), Olbia (Sardinia) and Bari. That is because these places are not well served from the UK by traditional airlines.

And while airlines are highly critical of the German government’s introduction of a “eco” tax on departing flights next January (see online news September 3, 2010) the airline must be thankful that this new tax will not be levied on transit passengers (provided the plane change is under 12 hours).

“We strongly oppose this tax,” she complains, “I do not see the ‘eco’ in it.  It will simply make travel more expensive and discourage hub operations in Germany.”

Finally there is good news for Bmi customers. As the airline integrates into the Lufthansa family it means more benefits for passengers in the form of being able to accrue Hon Circle miles [a top Lufthansa tier in its Miles and More FFP]  when flying Bmi. The carrier is also now included in Star Alliance’s Miles and More Company Plus scheme for SMEs.

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Report by Alex McWhirter

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