Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Trip Report: Lufthansa (Deutsche Lufthansa AG), Aug/Sept 2016

A Trip Report: Lufthansa (Deutsche Lufthansa AG)
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I was traveling from New Orleans to South Africa, and through a travel website, I was able to book travel on Star Alliance partners from New Orleans to Houston, Houston to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to South Africa.  The Houston to Frankfurt leg was operated by Lufthansa, one of the five founding members of Star Alliance.  I have always wanted to try Lufthansa but I was never able to due to cost or scheduling.  Recently, Lufthansa has been increasing their American presence by adding additional routes and frequencies to existing routes.  They have also been advertising a lot of sale fares, and both of these combined allowed me to try Lufthansa from Houston to Frankfurt.

Lufthansa, known formally as Deutsche Lufthansa AG, is the largest German airline and one of the largest airlines in Europe (when combined with its many partners and subsidiaries).  The sector I was flying, from Houston to Frankfurt, is operated by an Airbus A380.  In addition to economy, Lufthansa also offers Premium Economy on certain sectors and includes access priority boarding, bigger seats, improved meals served on china, bigger PTV screens, and an amenity kit.  I had compared the economy vs premium economy, and while the additional legroom and bigger seats were tempting, it wasn’t tempting enough for me given the price difference so I stayed in economy – you also have the opportunity to upgrade at the airport and again on-board the aircraft, based on availability.  The one-way price to upgrade from Houston to Frankfurt was about $250 at the airport, and the price was higher on-board from Frankfurt to Houston.

As I was combining Star Alliance partners, I had booked my trip through a travel website.  I was able to manage my booking on the Lufthansa website, which was easy to use and navigate.  On the website I was able to select a special meal, see the upcoming IFE, as well as preselect a seat.  Lufthansa does charge to preselect a seat, about $30USD for each sector – Qantas and Singapore charge around $50 while South African charges $17 per sector (they have longer sectors though).  This charge is to preselect any seat, exit row seats are an extra costs.  I had no preselected my seat on the outbound, and was stuck in a middle seat for almost 9 hours so for the return I paid the extra fee to secure an aisle seat.  This was the only additional fee that was incurred, as for flights to and from the U.S. Lufthansa allows for a free carryon plus one free checked bag up to 23kg.
Since I was connecting to my flight, I did not experience the Lufthansa check-in process.  When I had arrived at the gate for my 3:55pm flight, the airplane was already at the gate.  The attendants came about an hour prior to departure, and soon afterwards boarding started.  Boarding was supposed to be by seat number, but it was extremely chaotic and nobody could understand the boarding system.  Lufthansa has different layouts for their A380, and this layout had business class, premium class, and then two sections of economy class on the lower deck; my return flight had a different layout and feel (more on that below).  While the d├ęcor and overall feel of the plane felt nice, the plane felt a bit older.  The seat pitch was average, not too tight but not too much legroom either.  The seat width was also average, not too tight but not too much room either and the seat was generally comfortable. 

The seats were already in a somewhat pre-recline so this offered some additional legroom, but this layout did not work when the seat in front of you reclined back, as they reclined almost in your lap.  The recline also limited the use of the tray table plus the PTV, both of which were at the back of the seat.  The PTV was a smaller screen and it looked a bit older, so it was hard to see sometimes, especially when the light hit it or when the seat in front of you was reclined.  The entertainment selection was decent, not brand new but not too old.  They did have a variety of movies and TV shows, and while not expansive as Emirates, it was enough to keep you occupied for the 8+hr flight. 

Each seat contained a blanket and pillow, and in the seat pocket were the airline magazine, the duty free magazine, as well as a pair of headphones.  The most annoying and badly constructed aspect of the design was the location of the control and USB ports.  On the right armrest, where most people would rest their arm or lean throughout the flights, that is where the entertainment controls are.  You can control the entertainment either through touchscreen, and it was pretty responsive, or through the controls – the only problem is that if you seatmate leaned on the controls then the screen would respond to that.  It was especially a pain when the seatmate was sleeping and leaning on your armrest and you wanted to change something, or turn on the light.  The USB ports was located underneath the control – yep to access the USB ports to you had to lift up the armrest, plug in your USB, and then put the arm rest down.  It was very inconvenient, and again a pain when your seatmate was sleeping and leaning on the armrest.  I am not sure who approved this design, but it is definitely a flaw!

Service on-board the outbound flight was very minimal – about an hour after departure drinks and crackers were distributed followed by dinner.  I had ordered a special meal, and those were delivered first followed by the regular meal which was an option of either chicken or beef.   After the meal, additional drinks plus coffee and tea were served.  After the meal trays were cleared, the lights were dimmed so people could rest.  Drinks and glasses, as well as some crackers were available in the galleys for passengers, and the attendants came by with water but it was a bit infrequent.  About an hour prior to landing, the lights were turned on and a light breakfast plus coffee/tea were served.  Overall, it was an average flight – the entertainment selection was not expansive but enough to cover the flight time; the seats were decent enough for the flight time, and the service was basic (better than others, not as good as others). 

For the return flight, the A380 was also used but the layout was different.  In this layout, the lower deck had
premium economy section followed by three regular economy sections.  All first and business class sections were on the upper deck. The flight departed at 10am and arrived into Houston at 1:50pm, again with a flight time of 10hr50min.  The feel and look of this A380 was newer, and the seats felt more comfortable.   Similarities to the outbound flight included an average entertainment section, small PTVs, and USB and remote locations which were inconvenient.  The on-board service included lunch after take-off and a dinner before landing.  The service on the return flight was a lot better, as the attendants were constantly in the aisle offering water or checking on passengers.  Also, midway through the flight they came by to offer granola bars snacks.  These snacks, as well as crackers, fruit and drinks, were also available in the galley.  I am not sure if there difference in level of service was based on the crew or the fact that it was a day flight – whatever the reason I appreciated the better attention to service.

We landed on time and taxied to the gate, deplaned, and went through customs and immigration.  The plane itself got ready for its 4pm flight back to Frankfurt.  Overall, it was an average experience flying with Lufthansa.  Some aspects were ok – the A380, the decent entertainment options, availability of USB ports, and decent legroom –while other aspects were bad – location of USB ports, old PTVs, inconsistent service.  In the end, I would fly Lufthansa again but they would not be my first choice.  I had gone out of the way to book this trip to experience Lufthansa, and based on the experience I received I would not go out of the way again – I would only book again if the price and schedule were convenient.    

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