After my last and very dreadful experience in Frankfurt, when I was on my way to Oman in January of this year, I swore I wouldn’t ever travel via Frankfurt again. Ever. And yet, here I am, the eternal glutton for punishment, at 04:50 in the morning, on the airport bus, on my way to Basel airport to catch a connecting flight to Malta via Frankfurt. But let me explain. First, there is the fact that the Lufthansa morning service to Malta is convenient. It operates daily and is one of the earliest possible arrivals on the island if you’re coming from northern and central Europe – bringing you in to Malta just before noon. Second, I figured the transfer in Frankfurt couldn’t possibly be that bad again – mainly because I would be transferring from one Lufthansa flight to another and also within the Schengen area.
Boarding the Flight to Frankfurt
When boarding is called in Basel, I figure I might as well wait until the end. I mean, on Lufthansa it’s not as though you’re missing anything much if you board last. And there are only about forty passengers on the aircraft. As I pass through the gate and the agent scans the boarding pass that I received from Lufthansa by SMS yesterday, an alert goes off. The gate agent informs me that I’m not checked in, and because I’m late, I won’t be allowed to board… Say, what now?
I tell the guy that I still have the SMS I got from Lufthansa yesterday with a time stamp on it, just in case he wants to make a legal case out of this whole idiotic conversation. He thinks about it for a moment, then relents, prints my boarding passes and then ghosts me.
Transfer in Shitho… furt
The rest of the trip to Shitho… furt is uneventful. Except perhaps, that it’s kind of weird that the crew don’t pass through the cabin to collect any of the trash before landing.
We transfer to the terminal building by shuttle bus, which is a bit like being given a complimentary guided tour of that garbage heap you never knew you needed to visit like you needed a kick in the head.
I arrive on the A concourse and make my way to the Senator lounge, where there’s a long queue of passengers waiting to enter. Ironically, Vranckx – the CEO of SWISS – is also in the queue, looking as despondent and dejected as everybody else there. I’m kind of tempted to ask him if he thinks this is good customer service. But I’m trying to be nice, so I relent.
Inevitably, the lounge is very busy. So I don’t take any pictures. The food selection is quite good and has a nice variety of dishes. Beside that, I think airline lounges are a fascinating study in anthropology and intercultural interaction. There are are the closeted alcoholics, guzzling white wine even before nine o’clock in the morning under the pretence of being so heavily jetlagged that they couldn’t possibly tell the time… And then there are the businessmen in their immaculate suits with a colour coded hankerchief in their breast pocket and shiny leather loafers. They glance upon the other visitors to the lounge with a fleeting sense of disdain. I would say they’re probably upper management. And then there are my favourites. The eager looking young men in their pseudo designer suits, no tie, collar button open, and… white sneakers or trainers. Definitely lower management. Middle management at best. I’m guessing they’re going for a kind of Steve Jobs vibe. You know, unconventional but driven and ambitious. And of course, there are also the totally relaxed hippsters with their messy manbuns, trying really, really very hard. And then of course, there’s me: tired and still too seriously undercaffeinated to show even the remotest bit of goodwill for the brotherhood of mankind.
Boarding the Flight to Malta
My flight to Malta is being operated by an Airbus A 321, which arrived back in Frankfurt from Gothenburg earlier in the morning. The flight is boarding from gate A 36, which is a contact stand towards the end of the A pier.
I approach the counter to ask if I could possibly have my hand luggage checked in and put into the hold, so I won’t have to carry it. I have two slipped discs and the pain from carrying the suitcase is killing me. Apparently, the flight is full and the gate agent seems euphoric to have found somebody willing to have their luggage checked in.
When boarding starts, an announcement is made that the aircraft is still not fully catered, and therefore passengers in boarding groups 1 (HONs and Business Class) and 2 (Senators) should proceed to the bottom of the stairs, then cross the ramp and board the aircraft through the rear door. While the other passengers grudgingly make their way to the bottom of the stairs, I’m more or less doing a little happy dance and grinning like the Cheshire cat. I love being on the ramp next to the aircraft (and taking photos)!
The only problem is that while we’re all walking towards the rear door, upstairs in the terminal they’re received information that loading the catering is now over and that therefore, all passengers can now board through the airbridge at the front L1 door. Inevitably, boarding turns into a mess, as the Business Class passengers sitting at the front of the bus try to push past the Economy Class passengers trying to get to their seats at the back of the bus. Still, at least like this we didn’t have to endure the unsighly sight of catering containers being loaded. What a relief!
There are seven rows of Business Class on this flight for a total of 28 passengers. The flight is either full or nearly full in both cabins. I am seated on row 7, which is the last Business Class row.
The pitch is good, and the empty middle seat means that I can park my yellow rucksack under the seat in front.
The crew seem friendly enough. But I think they’re not really into it. The guy next to me patiently asks for the boarding completed announcement before pressing the call button. When the cabin crew arrives, he asks if he could have a cup of water. To which he is told that it will have to wait until after take off. So no water. Unlike SWISS, Lufthansa does not provide any passenger-crew interaction before departure. There are no refreshing towels in advance and no still water.
Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, the guy next to me stops one of the passing cabin crew and asks if he could have a cup of water. The cabin crew tells him later, because the crew will be starting the service soon. So still no water.
The breakfast consists of a large plate with slices of cheese, some veg, an egg salad and some cold cut. Then there is a bowl of joghurt with pineapple sauce, and then crew pass through offering croissants and buns from the breadbasket. Much to my surprise, the crew have obviously checked the frequent flyer programme status of passengers on the manifest, becaue when the cabin crew addresses me about breakfast, he start with ‘Hello Mr A., it’s good to have you back with us‘. To drink I have an apple juice and coffee.
After the meal, the crew pass through the cabin offering apples and then later on also chocolates.
The other three passengers on my row are all Indian, and apparently all vegetarian. They inquire about the vegetarian option and are informed that there isnone. One of the passengers asks how this can be, given that his food preferences are saved in his profile and he received a vegetarian meal in the previous flight. To which the cabin crew explains that any preference that is saved in the profile is only applicable automatically on long-haul flights, whereas on short-haul European flights it is not, and therefore vegetarian meals need to be ordered. I mean, fair enough, if that’s how Lufthansa wants to do it, that’s their business. But I also agree with one of the Indian guys who complained that it was rather confusing. It’s also true that many other airlines usually have a vegetarian option on board.
Arrival in Malta
We land in Malta just before noon. It’s quite a bumpy approach. The airport is very busy, we’re the ninth aircraft to land and the ramp is full. Even so, the arrival goes smoothly. We’re bussed to the terminal, and by the time I reach the luggage belt (via detour to the loo), my suitcase is just coming around the corner.
This wasn’t a bad experience with Lufthansa. Sure, the gate agent in Basel was having a bit of a bad hair day, but you can’t really blame Lufthansa for that. And I guess you can’t fully blame them for the fact that Frankfurt is a rathole, although the lounge situation is a bit of an issue. The passenger experience with Lufthansa wasn’t bad as such. It’s just really very, very bland and exchangeable. And that’s the problem. Where there wasn’t anything memorable about this flight that made me think I’ll definitely fly them again next time, to me Frankfurt airport clearly is a reason not to fly Lufthansa. Still, at least they still have Munich, which is a much more pleasant experience.