BACKGROUND Lufthansa deployed its eighth A380 on the Frankfurt-Singapore route on Sunday, October 30, 2011, adding to a portfolio of hubs – New York, Miami, San Francisco, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Beijing – that are already served by the superjumbo.
The carrier expects two more of this very large aircraft to arrive in 2012, with seven more to come from a firm order of 17. It has five on option as well. Next year, it hopes to receive the first commercial Boeing 747-8 as the product’s launch customer.
CHECK-IN Our group was due to depart for Singapore at 2205, and since we were to spend a few hours in Cologne and return in the mid-afternoon, we checked in our luggage at the Lufthansa AIRail counter at Frankfurt Airport an hour before our 57-minute journey on the high-speed ICE train. I informed the staff that I was proceeding to Hong Kong from Singapore on an Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) flight, and they checked my suitcase through to my final destination. They reminded me though to inform the SIA ground team about this arrangement just to make sure the bag’s movements were monitored.
We boarded the car designated for Lufthansa passengers and sat in the business class compartment behind the driver’s cubicle.
The Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn partnership marks 10 years of offering travellers a speedy and alternative way to reach Frankfurt Airport from either Cologne or Stuttgart. The service, which features several frequencies during the day, has been so successful that it prompted Lufthansa to stop operating flights between Cologne and Frankfurt. The airline is able to put its brand on one of the ICE cabins and boarding passes, besides affixing a Lufthansa code on the service and outfitting certain porters and stewards with Lufthansa uniforms. Despite a slight delay on the return journey – a rare incidence in the German railway system – we made it back in time for our group’s last appointment, which was to meet Frankfurt Airport executives.
THE LOUNGE I left my companions after a few drinks at Kaefer’s at Terminal 1 to finish up some work at the dedicated business class lounge for A380 passengers in the C concourse. (First class travellers have their own terminal and are chauffeured right up to the aircraft). Those who have achieved Lufthansa’s Senator status and Star Alliance Gold Card holders can use the nearby Senator Lounge that’s accessed by escalator and boasts an excellent view of the apron.) After clearing immigration, I spotted an electric buggy and requested the driver to ferry me to the lounge, which he did in minutes. There was x-ray scanning to clear though and another check by Lufthansa staff of my boarding pass, followed by a short walk to the lift that had the sign saying “Lufthansa Business Class C 6”. Another Lufthansa clerk stood by the entrance acting like a gatekeeper.
This exclusive holding area is brightly lit and seats 100, with easy chairs placed alongside the floor-to-ceiling windows, some chairs and tables near the F&B counter – offering mostly sandwiches and fruit – and some rows of chairs in the middle of the room, arranged curiously as in most departure gate areas. A work area accommodates three persons, but there are no computers available, although wifi is and comes at no charge. Several clocks on the wall tell the time in different zones. Completing the picture is the staff counter and ticket reading lanes that save premier passengers from having to queue elsewhere and allow quicker access to the superjumbo.
BOARDING This being the inaugural flight Frankfurt-Singapore, Lufthansa was eager to show our pack of visiting journalists the features of its latest acquisition, and thus, we were permitted to board, taking an escalator down to an aerobridge, about 10 minutes before the rest of the travellers. On the way to business class, which takes up most of the upper deck, we were invited to the cockpit to meet our navigators for the night, Captain Ulrich Hohl and his co-captain. Captain Hohl is an A380 veteran, having been one of its test pilots during the early years before it was allowed to fly commercially.
Instead of the usual steering wheel on the dashboard, we saw instead a keyboard, which Captain Hohl said was used to communicate with the command centre as well as airport authorities. His junior pilot showed us a small joystick beside him used in take-off and landing, telling us that these procedures were still crucial enough that they needed to be done manually, despite the bank of computer controls the men were surrounded with.
As I quickly dumped my belongings on my seat to quickly take pictures, a flight attendant offered to hang my overcoat.
THE SEAT Frequent users of Lufthansa’s business section will find the same seat product they have been using all along, and configured 2-2-2 in two cabins occupying the upper deck (98 seats), along with first class (8 seats/1-2-1). In the main deck is economy class (420 seats/3-4-3). In 2012, Lufthansa intends to introduce a new business class product to be gradually rolled out across its fleet.
The airline’s current offering is lie-flat and slopes down when fully operated. I had a bit of a problem with this particular Recaro design when it was time to hunker down to sleep. It took me a couple of tries to find the right position as there seemed to be something lumpy behind my back when I lay flat on it. Lying on my right side made the most comfortable choice. Blame it on fatigue, but I missed finding the storage compartment for small personal items, which was pointed out to me later on, located under the armrest bordering that of my neighbour's. There was a crevice on my left side, which held bottled mineral water and a small washbag. Instead, I placed my spectacles and ballpen in the space left after popping up the TV monitor. There was a compartment at the bottom of the seat, near one’s ankles, but I thought it wise not to put anything there,lest these be forgotten in the usual rush to disembark.
The IFE, branded “Lufthansa Media Program” seemed a bit limited compared with the vast offerings of Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, but as I planned to catch up on sleep, I hardly tinkered with it, except to watch Woody Allen’s charming Midnight in Paris with his usual eclectic choice of actors. My seatmate, who did some work, needed to ask the stewardess for a European-style adaptor to power her laptop.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? I was in 22G, first row of the second cabin, with more than enough legroom with an upright seat. However, being directly behind the galley, my companion in 22D and I were exposed to constant curtain flapping from all the cabin crew movements. A window seat will afford more privacy. My condolences went to the gentleman in 28G in the last row, which is almost directly beside the washroom. Avoid this seat at all costs. For tall individuals, rows 22 and 26 by the emergency exit will provide the best stretch.
THE FLIGHT I was extremely drowsy by the time the meal trolley rolled around that I requested to partake of just the appetiser, which was a yummy Pate Baden-style with Waldorf salad and lingonberries, and dessert – a mango tart and a trio of cheeses. Although I was tempted to nibble at one of the offered mains, Swabian dumplings with caramelised onions, I couldn’t handle another minute of being awake. Douce Steiner was the featured talent in the “Star Chefs Menu”. For wine lovers, there was a 2010 Mosel Riesling aus der Steillage, Peter & Peter from Germany and a 2007 Chateau Mazails, Medoc Cru Bourgeois from France, among others.
There was some turbulence along the way but not enough to rattle any cups (or make me anxious, for that matter).
ARRIVAL There was tremendous traffic congestion at Changi Airport, which kept the aircraft in a holding pattern for some minutes and prevented our pilots from making the 1655 scheduled arrival. But eventually, we were cleared and the “big ballerina” – as I like to call the A380 for its imperceptible take-offs and landings – did not disappoint again. I hardly knew it when we touched down on Singapore soil.
VERDICT The A380 performed to expectations – it was so quiet in-flight that many times I didn’t feel I was thousands of feet in the air. The service was impeccable and drinks seemed to come around just when I was about to push the button to ask for one.
View our in-depth analysis of other carriers' A380s, click here and here.
For more details, visit www.a380.lufthansa.com
Margie T Logarta