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LH First IAH-FRA-IAH: airoli's trip notes

LH First IAH-FRA-IAH: airoli's trip notes

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Old Feb 20, 10, 3:38 am
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LH First IAH-FRA-IAH: airoli's trip notes

Introduction
Last week, I had the occasion to sample Lufthansa’s current First Class product on two flights, from Houston to Frankfurt and back. The flights were operated by 747s, which Lufthansa operates with a 2-2 configuration in First, offering a total of 16 seats on the upper deck.

As this product has been widely covered on FT and other discussion forums, I have decided not to write a traditional blow-by-blow trip report, but rather focus on a few impressions, thoughts and observations that came to mind.

I am typing this on board yet another flight across another ocean, so I don’t have the menus and wine lists at hand, but if it is of interest I can share them later on or in the respective menu thread.

LH441 IAH-FRA 11/FEB B747-400, 83A, First
For this flight, I checked in with United in Chicago, and I was already given a boarding pass for the LH segment which then let me use the UA International First Class lounge in ORD prior to my feeder flight down to IAH. The feeder flight was unspectacular and on time, arriving around 2.30pm. When I switched my cell phone back on, I received a text message from Lufthansa informing me of a delay for LH441 – the new departure time was now going to be 5.50pm instead of 4.35pm. I had not signed up for any messaging service, so this was a pro-active initiative by LH, using the cell phone number in my PNR.

I took the train over to Terminal E and found a sole LH agent working the gate through which we would be departing. After a short wait, she reissued my boarding pass (as well as the ones for the onward LH connections in Europe) and stuck them inside a “Lufthansa First” ticket jacket, while pointing out that the 5.50pm departure time was completely unrealistic, given that the aircraft was not supposed to arrive until 4.20pm anyway. Apparently, severe snow in FRA had delayed its departure. The agent also pointed out the contract lounge right next to the gate, but a quick look at it made it seem like a stuffy and unspectacular facility so I instead opted to check out the President’s Club in Terminal D. While a nice facility, it was absolutely packed and the internet connection was probably overused – it was slow and dropped frequently. In the end, I returned to LH’s contract lounge, which by that time had filled up considerably with passengers of the QR and EK flights also using it.

Much like the gate agent had assumed, 5.50pm came and went without significant progress, and boarding eventually started around 6.10pm. True to LH style, it was announced to be by rows and cabin classes, but the policy was not enforced and the usual zoo ensued – not satisfactory at all. I eventually made my way on board “Sachsen-Anhalt”, and the purser at the door directed me upstairs by bobbing his head.

I settled into my exit row window seat and one of the FAs soon offered to hang my jacket. There were two middle aged ladies working the cabin that night, and F filled up to the point where every pair of two seats had one passenger, except for my seat pair where there was actually a seat neighbor (I guess others know of the desirability of 83AB as well). Magazines and newspapers were not presented, but everybody seemed to know that you could walk back to the little table behind row 84 to help yourself there. The crew seemed big on Selbstbedienung anyway, for they put a trolley with the pajamas and amenity kits in front of our row 83, and gestured at it to indicate that we should just pick what we needed. I found that minimalist and lame, and struggled for a second to find out which of the two Bogner pouches was the male version.

Eventually, an FA offered me a pre-departure drink, and I asked for a glass of champagne. It came in LH’s “one-size-fits-all” wine glass, along with a little ramekin of cashews. Many posters on FT find the D de Devaux champagne to be sub-par, and I tend to agree. It wasn’t bad, just nothing special and so this remained the only glass of bubby on LH during the entire trip. While I was sipping it, the purser stopped by quickly to introduce himself and to inquire about connecting flights out of FRA. I was a bit surprised that he would not have this information on his manifest anyway. In any case, the purser promised to investigate overnight and update me prior to landing – which indeed he did after breakfast.

Once we were airborne, some 2.5 hours behind schedule, the dinner service quickly got into motion. When one of the flight attendants came to take my dinner order, she addressed me by name for the first and last time, reading the info right off the pax list onto which she noted my order. With 9 passengers only, I would not expect it to be too much to memorize your customers’ names for the duration of the flight?

Dinner was enjoyable in terms of quality, selection and quantity of the catering offered, I especially appreciated LH’s signature étagère of appetizers and the German Riesling, which I like. There is also a good selection of lose leaf teas. However, what I found a shame was the way the two flight attendants on this flight delivered the service: Not rude, but very much “undersold”. Everything was presented unceremoniously and matter-of-factly. Even the famous red rose was placed in its holder with a mumbled “…and here’s some flower, welcome aboard..” and without any personal touch. My requests for drinks were always met, of course, but the mere fact that I consistently had to ask instead of being offered seemed somewhat inappropriate for First Class. There also seemed to be a somewhat unnecessary rush: I tend to take a bit more time eating than most people, and would expect this to be accommodated in First. Instead, the FAs seemed annoyed by me being out of synch, and kept putting the next course in front of me the moment they cleared the previous plate. It reminded me of a busy American restaurant where the staff is eager to get you out the door again so that they can re-sell your table.

A sad highlight to this mad rush was when the flight attendants threw a little bag of chocolates onto my armrest while I was still enjoying my dessert, again mumbling something like “…and that’s the chocolates”.

As I reclined my seat into the horizontal and personally made my bed, I was left wondering if I had just gotten spoiled by flying First on Asian carriers, or if this particular crew was a bit too brash and pedestrian even for solid Teutonic standards.

After a surprisingly good few hours of sleep, I was woken up by an admittedly skillful and polite rub on the wrist, in time for the breakfast service that I had requested. My original plan had been to sleep through breakfast and then just get something on the ground during my 3 hour FRA layover, but our significant delay and the purser’s information led me to expect a mad dash to my connecting flight, so I ate something on the plane again. Breakfast was a decent affair, and I was pleased to note that LH now also offers Nespresso coffee on board, however the service attitude remained unchanged from dinner.

We eventually landed in snowy FRA, and the captain announced that much to his chagrin, operations control had assigned us an open stand. Oh, how I have missed the joys of Rhein/Main airport!

FRA ground experience – take one
There are not many major hub airports I can think of at which a severely delayed 747 of the hub carrier, full of connecting passengers, would be handled at an open stand. At least, the crew ensured that First passengers could climb down from the upper deck and disembark first, and a dedicated First Class bus was waiting for the nine of us. There was however no ground staff present, neither planeside nor at the bus arrivals section. On the bus, yet another message informed me that my connection to MUC was also delayed by more than an hour, and making my way into the bowels of FRA I noticed that it was even more of a mess than usual: Snow all across Europe had disrupted many itineraries it seemed. I ploughed through the crowds to the B gates Senator lounge, which was just as busy and bustling as the space outside. But at least there was a helpful agent available, who after some phone calls rebooked me on a direct flight to my destination LHR, instead of the originally booked but delayed connection through MUC.

Thus, I had a three hour layover at FRA after all, and in consequence decided to flee the frenzy of the main terminal for the calm and sophistication of the First Class Terminal. The fresh air on the quick walk through the snow, over to the grey FCT building proved reinvigorating, and soon I was cordially welcomed by a personal assistant. She took hold of my onward boarding pass and passport and guided me to the small security control. Well-drilled by the TSA, I started unpacking my liquids, but the elderly German security agent smiled at me and said “ah, we don’t need to do all this here”. How civilized! Seconds later, I had cleared security and followed my PA into the lounge area. I was asked if this was my first visit, and upon saying yes my PA proceeded to give me a little tour of this impressive facility.
I decided to take a shower, and the spa receptionist pro-actively offered shaving and dental kits before leading me to a shower suite. I was about to step inside when she asked me if I’d maybe prefer a bath tub instead? I was a bit flummoxed at first, but then figured that with three hours at hand, I might as well… In an excellent example of attentive and sophisticated service, I was offered a beverage of my choice before I settled in, and soon thereafter I soaked in my hot bubble bath. The hustle and bustle of the main terminal and the snow delays suddenly felt miles away, and I tried to remember how many decades ago I last bathed with a rubber ducky!

Thoroughly refreshed, I paid a visit to the small, but exquisitely appointed sit-down restaurant, where the lunch buffet appeared and tasted very high end, and my Wiener Schnitzel (ordered based on the suggestion of many LH board regulars) did not disappoint. Austrian caterers Do&Co did a very good job in my opinion, and the Austrian Grüner Veltliner wine my waiter suggested went well with the Schnitzel.

Shortly before it was time to leave, my PA stopped by to introduce me to a colleague, who would take over – again, a very sophisticated way of doing things. The new PA had a familiar-sounding name and accent, and soon we were chatting in Swiss German while descending to the departure gates, where a driver was waiting to take me out to my LHR flight. After a small complication (we ended up at a gate where no plane was waiting), we made it to the A321, and I left FRA impressed with Lufthansa’s First Class ground product. No wonder F traffic through the hub has picked up dramatically since the FCT has opened!

FRA ground experience – take two
Only a few days later, it was time to leave Europe again. I had spent the night prior to departure in downtown Frankfurt, meeting a friend and trying to escape the carnival festivities, and made my – now familiar – way to the FCT around 9am for an 10.30am departure. Security was as quick and harmless as on my first visit, for which I was particularly grateful given that I was headed for the US, with all the ridiculous measures and extra checks now in place for “normal passengers”.

I grabbed a copy of a leading Swiss daily, and had a few bites from the breakfast buffet while perusing it. I had also hoped to pick up the latest edition of the Economist, but much to my disappointment it was unavailable both at the FCT and later on board.  Many other carriers even have the magazine in Business Class.

Around 10am, lounging in a comfortable recliner chair overlooking an ugly parking lot, I felt a slight tickle and thus decided to have a quick look at the drinks menu, specifically the Champagne section. It turned out to be much more ample than what LH carries on board, and I thus treated myself to a very respectable glass of Ruinart before getting on a Porsche Panamera to my 747 back to Houston.

LH440 FRA-IAH 15/FEB B747-400, 83K, First
Given the previous experience, my expectations for this flight were not too high – and they were widely exceeded. As I climbed into the upper deck, I was warmly welcomed by one of the two younger FAs on duty, to whom I was introduced by my driver from the FCT. As I settled into my exit row seat, I was properly welcomed by the other of the two flight attendants, who asked me for my preferred size of sweatshirt, and then presented me with the VanLaack item along with another Bogner amenity kit (in a different design from the outbound). Shortly thereafter, while I was sipping on a glass of water (no more champagne on an empty stomach, please!) the purser came by to introduce herself, and unlike her colleague on the outbound flight was truly engaging and courteous, chit-chatting a bit while presenting me with the menu and wine list. She also made a point of recommending this month’s special wine selection, a red from Chile.

As we took off with a marginal delay, I felt very well taken care of and was looking forward to a fabulous flight. By 11.30am, lunch service preparations were well underway, and yet I felt anything but hungry. Coyly, I asked an FA if it was possible to postpone my lunch for a while, and my request was very happily acknowledged. Not a problem at all, I should just alert them whenever I was ready – the answer came with a smile and a warm welcome, as the signature red rose found its way into my armrest vase. I was asked to choose the dishes I’d like to have later on, and then left to my book as service for the other passengers unfolded. And so, for the next two hours or so, I read my novel, listened to some jazz, gazed at clouds and sipped on my “bottomless” glass of water.

When I finally did feel a bit puckish, I gave word and within 15 minutes or so, my personal lunch service started with both flight attendants working together enthusiastically. The other three passengers had long finished their lunch, so I was the benefactor of the FAs full attention, and it certainly showed. The lunch, in both its contents and execution, was absolutely sublime and proof to the fact that Lufthansa can, and does, in fact offer a very sophisticated and “festive” First Class product on board. Unlike on the outbound, I was invited to try a range of foods and drinks on offers (Would I like a shot of Vodka with my caviar? Wouldn’t I also care to try the German Weissburgunder and not just the Riesling? Would I want to try more than one main course?) , and was in the enviable position of having to decline the majority of these tempting offers due to limited stomach capacity.

What truly impressed me were some of the finer touches, such as the flight attendants noticing that I am a lefty when it comes to handing cutlery, and thus starting to position my utensils accordingly starting with the second course. And when for the cheese course, I mentioned my appreciation for port wine, what appeared was not just the 10 year old Niepoort from the wine list, but also an unlisted but tasty white port.

With such formidable service, I was more than willing to excuse the small disappointment of a broken Nespresso machine at the end of the meal. But the two FAs were so sorry for not being able to serve me proper espresso that they kept tinkering with the device while we crossed the Atlantic, and by the time we made landfall over Nova Scotia, they proudly came to my seat saying that they had managed to fix the machine for me! Ah, what better way to travel than with a strong espresso, a few chocolates and a view 38’000 feet down on my new Canadian home province…

The remainder of the flight, including the second meal service, was equally enjoyable, and by the time we began our descent and the purser returned to check on the First Class passengers, I had already picked up a customer feedback form to laud “my” two flight attendants. The purser seemed genuinely pleased when I handed her the envelope and told her that praise was clearly due.

We touched down in rainy Houston just slightly behind schedule, and I was almost reluctant to get off. After a flight such as this one, the contrast on my connecting United flight was almost unbearable!

In conclusion, and contrary to my previous perception, the Lufthansa service on these two flights turned out to be anything but consistent. I have probably been subjected to the two extremes in quality one can get, and have learned that the quality fluctuations I am familiar with from carriers such as AC and LX seem to be occurring on the Crane’s wings as well. While the IAH-FRA experience left things to be desired, the return for once lived up to Lufthansa’s advertising claim: There was no better way to fly…
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Old Feb 20, 10, 7:13 am
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very nice report!

First I even read those were your "strip notes"
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Old Feb 20, 10, 7:34 am
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Excellent report airoli, thanks for posting.
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Old Feb 20, 10, 7:42 am
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Very well written report airoli. Thanks!
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Old Feb 20, 10, 11:56 am
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Very good report! I enjoyed reading it and I found it very detailed.
Too bad about the IAH-FRA flight, but I'm glad the FRA-IAH was better. To me it sounded like it all came down to the cabin crew.

I couldn't help but notice you mentioned the IAH-FRA had two middle aged FA's, and the service was lackluster, but the FRA-IAH had younger FA's and the service was much better. I wonder if this is consistant.
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Old Feb 21, 10, 4:20 pm
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Thanks for the feedback.
Originally Posted by pilotboy1985YYC View Post
I couldn't help but notice you mentioned the IAH-FRA had two middle aged FA's, and the service was lackluster, but the FRA-IAH had younger FA's and the service was much better. I wonder if this is consistant.
I don't think so. On the FRA-IAH flight, the purser was also middle-aged, and she was just as excellent and forthcoming as her younger colleagues. IMHO, it really comes down to the individuals and the chemistry between the crew members on any given day, regardless of age or gender.
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Old Feb 21, 10, 5:55 pm
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Good to see you back in the air, airOli, especially up in First Class where you belong! I have always read reports of Lufthansa's First Class meal service with a fair degree of envy. The appetizer course in itself sounds like a real highlight.

As to those Flight Attendants working the First Class cabin out of Houston, I can't help but wonder if Lufthansa might have borrowed a couple of them from fellow Star Alliance carrier United. Sad to say, their approach to service sounded distinctly American.
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Old Feb 21, 10, 6:06 pm
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Thanks for this superbly written, descriptive report.
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Old Feb 21, 10, 11:26 pm
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Great report.
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Old Feb 22, 10, 12:16 am
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Thanks for an interesting trip report.
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Old Feb 22, 10, 1:30 am
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Thanks for the trip report airoli.

I have only flown LH F twice and both times the crew were fabulous, as was the food.

I am glad they redeemed themselves on your return flight.
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Old Feb 22, 10, 4:36 am
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Thanks for this report - it was a pleasure to read it.

Originally Posted by airoli View Post
(...)
IMHO, it really comes down to the individuals and the chemistry between the crew members on any given day, regardless of age or gender.
True - not only to LH but also to other carriers as well. I have had the luck to have on last two flights on LH and also on the one with LX (despite the fact, that they were all only in Business) a really good crew.
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Old Feb 22, 10, 6:13 am
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thanks for your report!
the return flight was very empty -- so maybe that helped.
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Old Feb 22, 10, 8:44 am
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Nice all around report. Thanks!
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Old Sep 2, 10, 2:00 pm
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I took the same flight from IAH-FRA-DXB and back DXB-FRA-IAH in December 2009 with the wife (I was in 83A and the wife beside me). Out of the 4 flights the service was inconsistent to say the least with the first flight (IAH-FRA) being professional, efficicent but without the personal touch that OP got on the retunrn flight from FRA-IAH.

The FCT in FRA was great - we used the FCT on the layover outbound and the FCL on the layover inbound. I didnt see any difference in amenities at the FCL compared to the FCT.

The best flight was FRA-IAH on the last leg. The FA (young, attractive lady) was extremely courteous and left no stone unturned to make the trip something to remember (remembered to address us by our names throughout the flight). We asked the lunch to be delayed and were given it 2-3 hours after the main lunch service ended. We also asked for the ice cream to be saved for dessert and although they did the best to keep it frozen on dry ice but it had melted by the time we got to dessert. The FA was profusely apologizing all the way till IAH for this. Most memorable is her energetic enthusiasm to sincerely ensure we were comfortable. I recall reclining the seat and she came and put the blanket over me and tucked me in - did the same with the wife. I don't think this is usual practice on LH First - although this might be the norm on some Asian airlines.

Worst experience was DXB-FRA - disinterested FAs and very impersonal service. The less written about it the better!
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