It’s Boxing Day. Another six days left before 2012 draws to an end and I’m down to my last five flights of the year, which will bring be to 112 flights by the time I arrive back in Frankfurt on 31 December 2012.
I’m travelling from Basel via Frankfurt to Narita and then on to Sapporo with Lufthansa and ANA. From Sapporo I will return via JAL to Haneda and then from Narita to Frankfurt on ANA.
Aircraft: Canadair CRJ-700
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 2D, window, right side
The beginning of this report finds yours truly sitting – yet again – in the Swissport Skyview contractor lounge at Basel airport. There aren’t many people about – the usual state of affairs here. In fact, the place is so quiet that the buffet on the lower level has been closed down over the Christmas period and only the top floor of the lounge is open for customers.
Since the lounge was taken over, the food options have improved considerably and now also include a small selection of warm items throughout the day.
Boarding for my flight starts on time from gate 35. I am the last passenger to board the flight. Much to my surprise the flight is showing quite a healthy load, despite the holiday. There are two and a half rows of Business Class (row 1 only has the A and C seats as the toilet is located across the aisle where 1D and F would be), with a total of five passengers in the premium cabin this morning.
The crew consists of two German females. One in her late twenties I would say and not overly friendly, and the other, the purserette I believe, in her forties and very amicable and attentive. As soon as I reach my seat on 2F she approaches me and offers to hang my jacket.
The cabin on this aircraft has been recently refurbished. Those horrible light grey seats have made way for a much darker grey and I think they must have redone the upholstering as well while they were at it. The bulkhead has that funky chrome-like appearance that – I must say – I find rather cool.
Departure is to the south towards the city of Basel. As soon as we get airborne we bank right to execute a 270 degree turn, which brings us back over the airfield before crossing the Rhine into Germany.
The meal served on this flight is something in between breakfast and lunch. There is a bowl with some sort of yoghurt and fruit, a small dish with cheese, ham and a few slices of bell pepper and a bun. To drink I have a cup of coffee and a glass of mineral water. The meal is perfectly adequate for a 10h40 departure. My only grippe is that the presentation of the meal is somewhat unappealing, particularly the coffee served in a cardboard cup, surely a real mug or a cup won’t break the bank!
Instead of the usual chocolate at the end of the flight, today we get a special box with season’s greetings and two pralinés in it.
Our flight time is only 40 minutes and before long we’re descending through the murk towards Frankfurt. As we break through the clouds it’s snowing and raining simultaneously. What horrible weather!
We pull onto our stand and I am pleasantly surprised to find a black Porsche Cayenne expecting me. Lufthansa’s First Class pick up service is somewhat unpredictable in Frankfurt and does not always work. I’m guessing they’re not so busy today due to the Christmas holiday.
Transferring in Frankfurt is never fun and today’s experience is certainly not going down in history as one of Lufthansa’s finest moments. The driver drops me off at the Terminal B arrivals. From there I follow the signs to the Z concourse, which is the non-Schengen area of the newly opened A + dock – a trek of some 15 minutes. I go through immigration and even manage to find the Business Class and Senator lounges. I inquire at the desk about the whereabouts of the First Class lounge and the friendly lady there informs me that the First Class lounge is one floor down in the Schengen area. I will have to go through immigration again. I’m not really sure what the point of all this is, after all, as far as I know, Lufthansa does not offer First Class on any of its European routes. So why put the First Class lounge in that sector?
By this time I’ve had enough and I have no desire to spend the rest of my time in Frankfurt wandering about trying to find this new lounge. So instead I head for arrivals in Terminal A, from where it is just a short walk to the First Class Terminal.
To: Tokyo Narita
Aircraft: A 380-800
Cabin: First Class
Seat: 2A, window, left side
As soon as I arrive at the First Class Terminal I am assigned my own personal assistant and guided through security. My boots trigger the scanner’s alarm. It’s moments like this that make you understand the benefits of flying First Class: without any hassle or hurry the guy doing the screening kindly asks me to step aside and take a seat on a plump leather sofa. There I remove my boots and wait while they are rescanned.
The process is a swift and pleasant one. Even the security staff are friendly, all smiles and even wish me a happy holiday and a safe journey. My assistant takes my passport and informs me that he will come to pick me up when it’s time for boarding.
Lufthansa has obviously done its homework with the First Class terminal in that it really makes a very pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the main terminal complex, which is not very user friendly for the customer. It’s just a pity it’s so complicated to get to the First Class terminal if you’re transiting through Frankfurt – which is a bit unfortunate given that transfer passengers are likely to spend more time at the airport than those whose journey starts in Frankfurt.
The terminal is not really very busy when I arrive but it looks quite untidy – there are empty glasses and used plates standing around. But never underestimate German efficiency: shortly after I find a place to settle down, the cleaning crew launch an efficient and merciless offensive and have the place tidied up in no time.
At around 13h00 my assistant comes to pick me up. There are two other gentlemen in the lift with me as we head one floor down to immigration. From there we head outside where some enormous looking thing with a Mercedes star on it is waiting to take us to our aircraft.
It just a short ride before eventually we pull up at the aircraft’s stand, the driver opens the door for me and I step outside and I come face to face with the beast carrying me to Japan today. The A380 is of course always a sight to behold, but it is even more impressive when you’re actually standing in front of it at ground level.
From the car we are ushered into a lift and taken up to the third floor, from where we have direct access to the upper level of the aircraft. Our driver leads the way to the aircraft’s door, where the crew is already expecting us. She introduces every passenger to the crew by name and we are then individually escorted to our seats. There is a fourth passenger who is already on board when we arrive. This means that the load in First Class on this flight will be 50%, with all the window seats occupied.
The cabin on this aircraft is really beautifully appointed and the beige and brown colours are worlds apart from older First Class cabin with all that blue and grey. The designers of the cabin have paid a lot of attention to detail. The walls of the cabin for example are covered in some material that has the look and feel of soft suede leather.
The first thing that strikes me is how well conceived the cabin is: it is as attractive as it is functional: there are no overhead bins, which gives the cabin a very airy and light feel. Instead of the bins every passenger has his own personal full size locker. Each locker contains hangars and a suit cover. Additional storage space can be found under the ottoman.
The seat itself is comfortable and offers a lot of space and privacy: there are screens in the shell of the seat that can be raised automatically.
Another nice touch is the red rose at every seat – even at those unoccupied during the flight – for which there is a purpose built holder. A small lamp right above the rose gives quite a dramatic effect when the cabin lights are dimmed.
The windows have these really funky automatic blinds that you could play with for hours – I know, little things please little minds…
And finally, the toilets: there are two up front on each side of the stairs, and here too I am quite impressed by the functionality and clean design. Rarely have I come across a First Class toilet on a plane that provides such ample space and is evidently also intended as a changing room. On most carriers you more or less have to be a contortionist to be able to change your clothes!
The toilet is well stocked with shaving kits, combs and toothbrushes and toothpaste, all of which are neatly stowed in their respective drawers.
There are two young women working the First Class cabin today. They have the usual stereotypical German efficiency about them and yet they are both very charming in their manner and endearing in their handling of the passengers. As they pass through the cabin on different errands they make a point of stopping regularly to have a chat about this, that and the other, which makes for a very personalised service.
Once I am settled in my seat I am handed the amenity kit, slippers and pyjama. The new pyjama is another vast improvement over the previous one in that it is made of thinner material and thus doesn’t make you seat so much while you sleep.
I am also brought a glass of sparkling water and some warm nuts. Then the purser comes by to introduce himself personally and hands out the menus.
As we depart, we get a good view of a substantial part of the Lufthansa fleet that has been parked up for the holidays, including eight MD-11s stored behind each other.
Immediately after take-off, one the seatbelt sign goes off I am handed a scented hot towel.
To drink I order an ‘Apfelschorle’: apple juice with sparkilng water.
We begin with an Amuse Bouche of warm smoked salmon with Dijon mustard and cucumber. It takes a while for it to arrive and the purser explains that for some reason or other the food was still frozen solid when catering delivered it to the aircraft. Subsequently it had to be warmed in the oven first (…and tasted accordingly). To be honest I think I wouldn’t even have bothered.
Next the table is set up for the meal: despite the fact that I have chosen the Japanese menu, my table is decked out with a small bowl of First Class embossed butter, a side plate and salt and pepper shakers. There are also some rather cheap looking chopsticks.
Contrary to what it says on the menu, the first course is not the caviar service but a selection of cold Japanese dishes.
After that comes the caviar service. At the risk of sounding like a snob, I really do think Lufthansa would be doing itself a favour to get rid of the caviar as long as they are unwilling or unable to provide a larger portion and all trimmings. As it is, the small plate looks quite forlorn on the large table.
After that all the dishes are cleared away and I am brought the main course: the beef in a Japanese sauce with steamed vegetables, which comes with miso soup, mixed pickles and Gohan – Japanese sticky rice.
To end the meal my intention had been to just have a bit of cheese. But when the trolley appears, the flight attendant talks me into also trying the sweet chocolate and raspberry dessert. And indeed, it really is very tasty and very rich – to the extent that I am unable to finish it.
And then, finally, comes the coffee, which is served with two small pralinés and a Father Christmas.
After the meal the crew distribute water bottles and Christmas cookies. And then the lights go out.
I manage a good five hours of sleep, although I’m rather unsettled – I suspect I’m suffering with indigestion.
About 80 minutes out of Tokyo the lights go on again somewhat abruptly – there’s no mood lighting on Lufthansa – and the blinds on the left side of the aircraft are raised automatically to reveal a beautiful sunrise.
The crew bring me another refreshing warm scented towel and a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
For breakfast there is a warm and a cold option, although the warm option on offer is not the one that is on the menu. Apparently, as one of the flight attendants explains, Lufthansa is having problems with one of its kitchenware suppliers. But it does not matter as I opt for the cold breakfast anyway.
During breakfast there are no refills for the orange juice and it is a bit unusual that no preserves are offered with the breadbasket. I have to ask the crew, who bring me a selection of jams and marmalade straight away.
Once the meal is over we’re already nearing Tokyo. The mighty A380 gently dips its nose and we start our descent. The cabin crew pass through the cabin distributing landing cards for Japan and take the opportunity to say goodbye to every passenger individually.
Outside it’s one of those typical lovely winter days you get around this time of the year in the Tokyo area. It’s only minus 6 degrees Celsius and the sky is cloudless and clear.
We arrive at the terminal and squeeze into what looks like an amazingly tight stand for an aircraft the size of the A380, with an ANA B767 on one side and a Singapore Airlines B777 on the other. I bid the crew farewell and thank them for their service. And with that I disembark. It’s nice to be back!
The only real draw back with flying the A380 to Tokyo – allow me to do some nit-picking – is that the only stands equipped with three airbridges are located at the very end of the concourse. As a result it’s quite a trek from the aircraft to immigration.
Next stop: Sapporo with ANA.
The Lufthansa First Class experience is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the hardware on the A380 is simply amazing. I still think the A380 is undoubtedly one of the ugliest aircraft ever built but even so I cannot help but be impressed by the level of comfort its size allows for the passenger and what Lufthansa has managed to do with the available cabin space.
On the negative side, the transfer in Frankfurt is a messy and a tedious affair. From the Porsche Cayenne pick up service, which sometimes is there to meet you and sometimes not, to the unsatisfactory lounge situation for transfer passengers.
The service on the flight was good in that it was very personable and friendly. The crew took good care of me. Even so, I also think their service lacks polish and attention to detail in many areas. It’s little things: because I ordered the Japanese meal, I was given chopsticks but no cutlery, which then also meant that I did not receive a napkin – because that is wrapped around the cutlery. Of course when I asked for a napkin the crew were apologetic and promptly brought me a nicely folded one. But should I really have to ask? The absence of preserves during the breakfast service I have already mentioned. It’s the same thing really: when asked the crew were more than willing to oblige, but when travelling in First Class I think these are basics that one should not have to ask for.
The meal was okay but certainly not outstanding. First of all, the quality of the food was rather average and tasted a bit bland. More importantly, the sequence in which the meal was served was unorganised and chaotic. It would have made more sense for example, to serve the caviar first, which, incidentally, is also how it had been intended according to the menu.