BACKGROUND Lufthansa is the first airline to fly the B747-8, dubbed the “Queen of the Skies”. It entered operation in June on the daily Frankfurt-Washington Dulles service. The aircraft plies the route on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, with the other two days served by a B747-400. The B747-8 has since been added to the airline’s Delhi and Bengaluru services, with Los Angeles to follow later this year when a fourth aircraft arrives. Lufthansa is set to take delivery of 20 B747-8s by 2015. The aircraft has the carrier’s new fully-flat business seat, also found on select A330s.
CHECK-IN I through-checked in at Heathrow for flight LH418 from Frankfurt, to depart at 1300 (note this flight now leaves at 1235). I touched down in Frankfurt at a remote stand at 1105 and was bussed to Terminal 1, where I took the well-organised fast-track security lane.
THE LOUNGE I proceeded through the new A-Plus pier – open since October for Lufthansa and Star Alliance carriers – to reach the non-Schengen Lufthansa business lounge Z (there are five lounges in the new pier – two business, two Senator and one first class). It was big and bright with runway views, plenty of seating, a self-service bar and buffet – at this time offering hot dogs, soup and cold bites – and a work zone with PCs.
BOARDING This was from gate Z52, about five minutes’ walk from the lounge, and I was pre-boarded with the rest of my group a little early so we could take a peek at the first class section – an attractive area with large, comfy seats in the nose of the aircraft. We then walked through the larger business cabin on the main deck – configured 2-2-2 – and up to the smaller business cabin on the upper deck via the B747-8’s wide new staircase (the entrance area has been designed to resemble a hotel reception, the airline says). I was welcomed warmly and offered champagne, juice or water.
THE SEAT Lufthansa’s B747-8 has 362 seats – eight first class, 92 business (60 on the main deck and 32 on the upper deck) and 262 economy. The upper deck business cabin has eight rows (81-88) in a 2-2 configuration (A-C, H-K), with the emergency exit separating the first three rows from the other five. I was in aisle seat 81C – I had originally been in 86A but was politely asked, along with the person next to me, if I would mind moving so a couple could sit together.
The seats are in a “V” configuration, angled towards each other in pairs, with footstools next to each other (separated by a partition) and shoulders further apart. It’s nice if you are travelling with someone, but does make you feel a bit more duty-bound to speak to the person next to you if you are on your own, as there is no privacy screen to divide you.
Seats are comfortable and upholstered in grey wool with leather armrests. They have three preset positions – upright, reclined and fully-flat – and you can also adjust the seat via buttons in the central armrest. It meets with the footstool in front (built into the bulkhead in my case and in row 84) to make a 77.9-inch (198cm) bed. Next to the footstool is a 15-inch in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen, which can be angled towards you, and next to it is a magazine rack.
Passengers in window seats on the upper deck benefit from big storage cabinets along the cabin wall (see picture, right). There is also a smaller storage cabinet at floor level – this is smaller in some rows, such as mine, and didn’t allow room for much more than a bottle of water and amenity kit. There was room under the footstool to put my small handbag and boots.
The central armrest stores the IFE control and headphones (during the flight I kept my notebook and small items in here) as well as the fold-out tray table, which is stable for eating and using a laptop. I had trouble stowing it on occasion and my neighbour had to help me. There is also a drinks holder, a reading light, a coat hook, and a universal in-seat power point between the seats. All seats had ample overhead storage space courtesy of the B747-8’s newly designed, deeper pivot bins – Boeing says the 747-8 holds 50 per cent more carry-on bags than the B747-400. Cosy blankets and pillows are provided. One of the attendants gave out booklets explaining the features of the seat but this was in German and they didn’t have any English-language ones on board.
As with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and B737 Sky Interior, the B747-8 features a smart, sleek design and LED mood lighting, which is softer and changes subtly during the flight to create a relaxing ambience – avoiding “extreme contrasts between bright and dark”, the airline says. The lack of barriers between the seats and the curved contours of the walls, ceiling and overhead lockers help to create an open feel.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The upper deck feels more exclusive. Window and aisle seats come with their own pros and cons. Passengers in the former will need to climb over their neighbour if they are reclined to reach the aisle, but have access to the wall storage bins if they are on the upper deck. Passengers in the latter have direct aisle access but will have people climbing over them. The front row (81) is nearest the washroom – ditto row 88, which is also nearest the galley (especially seats H and K, which are set further back), so you may suffer disturbance. Being in the front row facing the bulkhead meant that I didn’t benefit as much from the mood lighting, as I didn’t have a view of the cabin. Row 84 may feel a bit more open as there is a space for the emergency exit. The back rows disembark first.
Downstairs, business class is split across two cabins (rows four to nine and ten to 14; no 13). Centre pairs D and G are a good shout if the climbing/being climbed over aspect bothers you, as each has unimpeded access to the aisle on either side; these seats are also positioned in a wider “V” shape so you will have more space between you and your neighbour. Rows nine and ten are nearest the business washrooms and galley, and row 14 is in front of the economy washrooms.
THE FLIGHT We pushed back on time and took off 15 minutes later. Menus and hot towels were handed out, with the friendly attendant addressing me by name – service was excellent throughout. After 45 minutes drinks were served, followed half an hour later by the meal service.
The menu explained that Lufthansa changes its premium menus every two months, with the dishes created by “star chefs” from around the world. My chef was Austria’s Armin Leitgeb, who combines Asian influences with those of his home country. The starters were marinated Chilean shrimps with yuzu jelly and black rice, beef salad with bell pepper and kaffir lime sauce (full of flavour), or mixed leaf salad with shiitake, cherry tomatoes and cashew nuts. The mains were chicken leg “satay style” with bell pepper and jasmine rice (tasty with a nice kick), sepia pasta with prawns Bolognese, and schlutzkrapfen ravioli filled with spinach. There was a choice of cheese, fruit salad or curd mousse with plum compote (lovely) for dessert. An express service comprising a starter, cheese and dessert can also be served.
The wines were Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaique, Schloss Vollrads Riesling Kabinett 2011, Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley 2011, Château La Raze Beauvallet Médoc Cru Bourgeois 2008, and Max Reserva Blend Vina Errazuriz 2009. The attendant suggested I try a port with my dessert, a Graham’s 2007, which was delicious.
I watched a film on the audio-video on-demand IFE system. It included 50 movies (not a huge selection of new ones), a wide range of TV, audio and music, and was easy to operate. I then did some work before briefly trying out the fully-flat bed – as this was a day flight, I didn’t sleep, but I lay down for a while and found it comfortable. There is a concave area under the central armrest that creates more shoulder room when you are in a sleeping position – the airline says this provides a maximum of 26.4 inches (67cm) of width at shoulder height – and the outer armrest also lowers to provide more space. Later on in the flight, a choice of an Austrian or Singaporean snack was served.
ARRIVAL We landed slightly early, disembarked quickly and took a shuttle to immigration, where there was a big queue. It took an hour and 20 minutes to clear, followed by another 15 to get through customs. I had no bags to collect.
VERDICT A very enjoyable service. While Lufthansa’s new seat doesn’t offer the same degree of privacy as some of its competitors, and the “V” configuration and lack of aisle access for all may not please everyone, it is a big step up from its previous angled lie-flat product – the B747-8 was also a pleasure to fly.
- Departure time 1300
- Flight time 8 hours 50 minutes
- Plane type B747-8
- Configuration 2-2-2/2-2
- Seat width 19.7in/50cm
- Seat length 77.9in/198cm
- Seat recline 180 degrees
- Price Internet rates for a return business class flight from Frankfurt to Washington DC in February ranged between €3,433 and €5,059 depending on flexibility.
- Contact lufthansa.com