Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Frankfurt to Malta

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Introduction

I’m on my way to Malta for this year’s edition of the Malta Marathon. I shall be running the half-marathon with a distance of 21.1 kilometres, which is in fact longer than the width of the island!

I confess I’m a bit of a wuss, I’ve never been able to bring up the cojones to attempt a full marathon. That’s still one for the bucket list. Others of course, like my friend the valiant M., probably do a nippy full marathon every morning, just to work up an appetite for breakfast…

But I digress. Again. So yes, last year I flew with Lufthansa via Munich and I must say, I was hardly impressed. But given my recent, rather positive experiences on SWISS, I figured I might as well give Lufthansa another chance. There’s also that fact that their schedule is the most convenient for my purpose.

Getting to the Airport

Just to give Lufthansa a bit of a head start, I shall not regale you with a full trip report of the Basel to Frankfurt sector. Suffice to say it was not so nice. My biggest complaint is the aircraft. Those Canadair RegionalJets really are stinkers! Everything is really tight and cramped and the bins are simply too small for all the hand luggage people take on board these days.

Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

The bus from the aircraft to the terminal ejects me somewhere in the bowels of the A concourse of Terminal 1. From here I take the stairs one floor up and make my way to the Lufthansa Business Class lounge.

The lounge is nicely designed and very bright, using a lot of white paint and light wooden panelling. The views of the apron are quite spectacular too, despite those pesky stripes that run along the width of the windows.

It’s just too bad there hardly any place left to sit. There are people everywhere and I’m left wondering if all these good men and women really have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than hang around an airport lounge. But it doesn’t matter. I only have about 15 minutes in the lounge before it’s time for me to head for gate A 36, from where the flight will be boarding.

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Boarding

Only, getting to the gate may prove to be a bit trickier than I thought. The queue of passengers for Schengen emigration is so long that it’s blocking access to the A concourse, which is in the opposite direction from the non-Schengen area. But eventually, after a long stream of ‘uh…sorry…hello…’tschuldigung…was that your toe, sorry…excuse me’ I finally get through and reach my gate just as boarding is about to start.

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The Cabin

Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 321. I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. On this side of the aircraft, row 2 is the first row of Business Class, there is no row 1. Whereas on the opposite side there is.

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The leg space is excellent on the bulkhead row. Other than that though, the seat is very hard, with little or no cushioning and – and I know I keep saying this – the grey metallic finish of the panelling really makes the cabin look rather dark and gloomy.

In total, there are 14 Business Class seats on this service. Occupancy is at 50%, with six human beings and a rather regal looking feline who looks as though he owns the aircraft. And Lufthansa actually…

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The Crew

The maître de is a woman in her fifties, I should say. What strikes me about her is the eloquence and ease with which she makes her announcements. It seems unrehearsed, but it comes across as being very polished, charming and approachable.

The service only begins really once the aircraft is airborne. Until then, unlike SWISS or KLM, there is no welcome drink, refreshing towel or anything of the sort.

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The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins. Despite the fairly long flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes it is obviously not foreseen that there should be a drinks service before the meal.

The meal is cold and consists of:

  1. a very nice yoghurt, the content of which I was unable to make out, save for the slice of orange and the pistachios,
  2. a plate of cheese,
  3. a plate of cold meats,
  4. a bowl of fruit,
  5. a selection of buns and croissants that are served warm and nearly burn your fingers,
  6. the bread is served with unsalted butter and Hero strawberry jam,
  7. cream, sugar and a towl are also on the tray.

As the flight attendant passes through the cabin with the bread basket, she encourages the passengers to take as much as they like, insisting that there’s really more than enough. All in all, the meal is rather tasty and hits the spot nicely.

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Arrival

It looks like it’s my lucky day today. Landings and take-offs are towards the north, which means that passengers seated on the starboard side of the aircraft are treated to a spectacular view of the island.

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The airport is fairly busy when we arrive, but seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m already on the X2 bus to St. Julian’s within just 15 minutes of landing.

Conclusion

5 Star Airline – I don’t think so…

So what about my Lufthansa experience? First of all, to be fair, I think I should say straight away that this experience was by far much more agreeable to the flight from Munich to Malta last year. Where last year’s crew were a right bunch of nasty old witches, this lot was a more accommodating and willing to interact in a professional and friendly way with the passengers. On this flight I actually felt welcome, and not like I was a burden.

On the down side, and I know this is something Lufthansa has only limited control over, the experience on the ground in Frankfurt really is a nightmare. The airport is a rat hole, with long journeys by bus to and from the aircraft, seemingly endless corridors to walk along and people everywhere that make it difficult to get through.

The inflight product on the other hand, is something Lufthansa very much can control, which makes it all the more unfortunate that precisely this is the carrier’s weakest point. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what passengers are offered on board in Business Class, it’s just that it’s quite obvious that every attempt has been made to cut costs. I don’t in principle think there’s anything wrong with that. After all, the airline is accountable to its shareholders. But even so, I think the passengers should never be allowed to see the cost cutting.

Other than that, throughout today’s flight there was a constant stream of passengers coming through from Economy Class to use the forward toilet. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them, given that the crew left the curtain between Business Class and Economy open throughout the flight and actually encouraged passengers to use the forward loo. Again, this is in itself not a big issue. But it certainly makes me wonder wherein exactly Lufthansa sees the selling point of its European Business Class product: it’s not the lounges, because they’re too full to be enjoyed anyway; it’s not the catering; and the seat is the same one they have installed in the back of the bus. Which leaves what exactly?

So in the sum of all things, yeah this flight was not bad. But honestly, if anyone at Skytrax seriously thinks Lufthansa is deserving of its 5 Star ranking, then I suspect they probably also still believe in Father Christmas.

Reaction from Lufthansa to my flight experience Ancona – Munich

Shame on you Lufthansa!

I’m on my way back from Ancona to Munich on LH1959. I am seated by the window on 6A. Across the aisle on 5F a gentleman is sitting on his own. The aisle seat next to him on 5D is empty. Once the cabin crew announce that boarding is completed, another guy appears from the back of the aircraft and asks the gentleman on 5F is perhaps he might store his large North Face rucksack next to him, seeing at the bag won’t fit in the overhead bins of the tiny CRJ900 and the crew have obviously not been particularly accommodating in assisting the passenger to stow the large bag.

But of course the bag is so huge that it won’t fit under the seat. And so the owner of the bag wedges it in, de facto blocking the guy on 5F’s access to the aisle. I worked as a flight attendant long enough and I think I travel more than enough to know that the reason they ask you to store your bags under the seat in front of you is to ensure they will not obstruct your escape path in case of an emergency.

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At some point Mr 5F tries to get out of his seat to get something out of his own bag in the overhead bin. As he clambers over the obstructing bag he nearly ends up falling on one of the flight attendants who happens to be passing. She looks down at the huge rucksack, smirks and then waltzes off. Quite obviously she either doesn’t realise that this is a violation of a safety rule or, she quite simply couldn’t give a shit.

The bag is still in the same place as we go thundering down the runway on our take-off roll.

Forty minutes later we’re already descending through the clouds towards Munich. The crew pass through the cabin to make their final cabin check. The same flight attendant walks straight past the bag wedged in between the seats and just ignores it. By this stage they guy next to me, who has also noticed the bag, is getting concerned so he uses the call button for the flight attendant. A short while later the purser appears from the front of the aircraft. He points out the bag to her and asks if that is seriously the way the bag should be stowed. She explains that her colleague must have missed the bag on her check. I then explain to her that the guy had nearly fallen on to the flight attendant before the flight and that she simply hadn’t done anything about it before take-off, to which the purser only replies ‘dann hat sie’s wohl vergessen’ – then she probably just forgot – in a tone of voice suggesting that this is all no big deal and I am only being persnickety. The guy next to me asks her what the cabin crew’s name is, to which the purser replies that she doesn’t know but think her first name is Lisa. Seriously? And then she walks away and eventually we land.

Surprisingly there’s a bit of a hold up deplaning because the owner if the bag is still waiting in the rear of the aircraft, while the poor gentleman on 5F is having trouble getting out of his seat because the bag, which is now stuck and obstructing the aisle…

I find this incident simply unacceptable from Lufthansa. I can accept bad service, rude cabin crew, crap food, delays, you name it. But safety on board is simply not negotiable. I appreciate that Lufthansa has to watch its costs. But if that means cutting down on crew training and compromising safety, then I think this airline definitely has a problem. Furthermore, the fact that the purser apparently didn’t know the name of her colleague is either a blatant lie and indicative of a highly unprofessional behaviour, or it highlights just how dire the training situation at Lufthansa is. If you don’t even know the name of the person you’re working with, what exactly does that say about your crew resource management?

Air Dolomiti, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Munich

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Introduction

I’m on may way to Recanati on Italy’s Adriatic cost to attend a meeting on language training for the military. The best option for me to get to Recanati is to fly with Lufthansa via Munich to Ancona. In Munich I shall meet my colleague, the flying Dutchman P. who has rented a car from Ancona airport. Originally, I wasn’t going to post on the flights, seeing as they are in Economy Class and both are fairly short sectors. But…

Check-in

I know I probably sound like a grumpy old bastard. A grumpy old bastard who just really, really dislikes Lufthansa on principle. But that’s definitely not the case. You’ll have to take my word for it. Honest, I’m not old…

In any case, it just struck me on this trip that Lufthansa keeps making changes to its frequent flyer programme and introducing new brands and new rules and fare conditions. One would like to think that all these changes and ‘improvements’ were introduced for benefit the airline’s customers. But that is hardly the case and while their new fare structure may make sense on paper, in practice it simply lacks transparency and leaves you with the sinking feeling that the customer was actually the last thing Lufthansa had in mind when the changes were implemented.

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I arrive at Basel airport about an hour before departure. Our secretary has booked me on an Eco Light fare with no check-in luggage allowance. But I’ve decided to take a small suitcase and a rucksack with me after all, so from my research on the Lufthansa website I’m guessing this means I’ll have to pay to check in one item, which is fair enough. Only, the website and the app will not allow me to purchase a checked luggage allowance. In fact, the app won’t even allow me to view my booking because it was done via our travel agent and not directly with Lufthansa.

Apparently, you can always pay for checked luggage at the airport when you check-in, although that is then quite a bit more expensive. So as I approach the check-in counter, I’m fully expecting the check-in lady to want to charge me the higher amount, even though I think it’s hardly my fault if Lufthansa’s website and app don’t work. Only, that’s not what happens. Instead, the lady explains that I am entitled to take both pieces into the cabin ‘because it’s such a small aircraft’. Is that even supposed to make sense to the customer?

Boarding

Boarding is from gate 32, which is in the non-Schengen sector of Basel airport, seeing as the state of emergency imposed by the government of the department Haut-Rhin in France remains in place. The result of which being that flights to and from some Schengen countries, including the Netherlands and Germany, are treated, de facto, as overseas flights.

The Cabin

Today’s flight to Munich will be operated by an Embraer 190 of Air Dolomiti, which belongs to the Lufthansa group and the Miles and More programme but is not, if I understand correctly, a member of the Star Alliance. The carrier operates a number of flights on behalf of Lufthansa. These are mainly wet leases rather than code-share flights, which is also why the Basel to Munich flight only operates with a Lufthansa flight number but not an Air Dolomiti one.

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The cabin design and seats are similar to those of the Lufthansa Embraers, with the exception that everything in the Air Dolomiti cabin is green.

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Another shot of my popular hairy legs, cunningly disguised as a photo to show off the seat pitch…

Service

I am greeted at the door by a friendly young lady. The first thing she does, is to shove a small cake with a good dusting of icing sugar in my hand. Which is a bit unfortunate because I’m holding my suitcase in one hand and the rucksack, my boarding pass and a bottle of Coke Zero in the other. So I decline. For Lufthansa this means that in doing so, I forfeit my basic human right to be served a snack on this flight, because the service protocol does not foresee distributing food, no matter how insignificant, after take-off.

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Once we’re airborne, the crew do a drinks round with a full bar service. Here’s another thing I don’t get about Lufthansa: how can a large organisation like the Lufthansa group be so inconsistent and careless in the treatment of its own brand? Despite the fact that this flight is being operated as a Lufthansa service, the catering is entirely Air Dolomiti branded, which really does not make any sense to me at all.

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Arrival

But at least it’s a lovely day for flying and eventually we land in Munich after a flight time of about 35 minutes.

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Conclusion

For a flight of only 35 minutes duration the performance Lufthansa gave here was okay. I was not expecting them to roll out the red carpet. But flying Lufthansa has become a bit of a pain, at least for me, because somehow you’re never really quite sure what you’re letting yourself in for. The website is not intuitive, the interface with other reservation systems simply doesn’t work properly, check-in online didn’t work and between the fees for check-in luggage, fees for reserving a seat and so on, the experience is really not very enjoyable.

And I really don’t see why the crew can’t at least wait for all passengers to be seated before distributing the snack.

Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Munich to Malta

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Date: 04 March 2017
Departure: 09h35
Arrival: 11:40
From: München
To: Malta
Flight time: 2 hours 5 minutes
Seat: 2F, window

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Introduction

A while back I figured it might be a fun idea to participate in the Malta half marathon on Sunday, 5 March 2017. The 21.1km race begins in Rabat, just outside the city gate of Malta’s elegant old capital, Mdina. From there the course takes you all the way down towards the east coast of the island, past Mtarfa, through Mriehel and Marsa to Floriana. From il-Bombi the route branches off to the left, down to the water’s edge at Sa Maison for the last five kilometres, which run along the shoreline of Marsamxet harbour, through the outskirts of Gzira, Msida and Ta’Xbiex to cross the finish line at il-Ferry in Sliema.

Transfer in München

And so I find myself in Munich on an early Saturday’s morning. It’s just gone seven as I step off the Bombardier CRJ-900 that has brought me here from Basel. I really think Lufthansa should get rid of these little airplanes. I mean, I love flying but those things are just so narrow and awkward that even I start to get claustrophobia.

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Normally I make a point of flying Air Malta when I travel to the island, mainly because you’re never quite sure if perhaps it might be your last flight with them, given the financial state they’re in. But I only have the weekend to make the trip. I have to be back in Basel by Sunday evening. So on this occasion, Lufthansa was simply the best choice and allowed me to arrive in Malta at noon on Saturday and leave again the next evening after the race. As the German saying goes, in der Not frisst der Teufel Fliegen!

I check in using the Lufthansa app, which works nicely. I also think Lufthansa do a very good job in keeping you up to date on the status of your flight, sending you notifications of gate changes by mail and by text message.

The Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

My first stop is the Lufthansa Business Class lounge. It was still early when I left Basel this morning so I only had a coffee at the airport and some still water on the flight to Munich.

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The lounge in Munich is pretty nondescript. Essentially it is just one big cavernous room with a somewhat anonymous, nondescript atmosphere. It gives the appearance of somebody having really made a gargantuan effort to strip the place of any character it might have had. Who designed this place?

I don’t try the showers but the toilets are definitely starting to look a bit rough around the edges. They’re not exactly in the cleanest condition either.

The food options are okay. There is a buffet with typical breakfast fare – a good selection of different breads, cheese, cold cuts, cucumber and tomato. There is also Müsli, fruit salad and scrambled eggs.

Boarding

Boarding starts at 09h10, fifteen minutes behind the time advised on the boarding pass. The initial call is for Business Class passengers and status card holders to board first, although from what I can tell nobody is really paying attention and the gate agent doesn’t seem too bothered about that either.

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The Cabin

The seat and cabin have been stripped to the absolute minimum level of comfort. There are no power plugs at all and from what I can tell there is also no inflight entertainment system either, which is okay because the flight attendant doing the safety on board demo seems to be having a whale of a time pretending she’s on the catwalk in Milan or Paris…

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There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin this morning, with eleven of the twelve seats occupied. Originally, I’m the lucky guy with a whole row of three to myself. But after take-off Mr 1C moves across to sit next to me on 2D. I suspect he’s probably had enough of the crew tripping over his feet every time they exit the galley.

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The Crew

The crew are nondescript too. Not overly gushing but not rude or impolite either. As far as the service is concerned though, I think I’m starting to see a pattern here. In fact I think the service is about as lackluster as the lounge and the crew and the cabin of the aircraft. There are no welcome drinks and no refresher towels. After take-off there is no drinks service ahead of the meal service either.

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The Meal

So essentially, this means the service on this flight consists of a unmotivated flight attendant unceremoniously parking a tray before you with grub on it. And what a frugal meal it is! There is a small bowl of some passion fruit concoction, which does, admittedly, taste rather nice. Then there is a small plate, a really small plate, with one slice of some sort of ham, one piece of hard cheese, a blob of cream cheese and more fruit. And that’s it. For a moment I wonder if perhaps somebody I know is trying to give me an oh so subtle hint that I should loose weight by ordering the low-calorie meal for me. But no such luck.

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To drink I have coffee which is tepid and bland and probably even too weak for an American.

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The crew come through the cabin with a large breadbasket, which has more than enough bread in it for the eleven passengers in the Business Class cabin. However, it is quite apparent that seconds from the breadbasket are not encouraged and actually frowned upon by the crew.

When the flight attendant comes to remove my tray she asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink. For a moment I consider giving her my best puppy eyes and asking her, with a shaky voice and trembling lips if ‘please Ma’am, can I have some more…’? But then I decide against that, figuring she probably wouldn’t know Dickens anyway. Besides, I think it might cause her physical pain to smile and I’m not that cruel. And so she saunters off in the direction of the galley looking mightily pissed off. A few seconds later she returns with the bread tongs holding one single piece of bread. After all, we wouldn’t want any of the other passengers getting funny ideas now, would we?

I smile and say thank you, to show her I appreciate her effort. But alas, as the saying goes, there’s no hell on earth that’s like a woman’s scorn and my flippant trespass shall not be forgiven so quickly and so the snow queen simply gives me an icy glare before she silently glides away.

The rest of the flight passes just as unspectacularly uneventful as the boring meal service. The woman behind me sounds like she’s got a serious bout of hooping cough, which apparently is alleviated by not covering your mouth when you cough to achieve maximum exposure to your germs for all the passengers in the immediate vicinity, which can be quite a few people in the confined space of an airplane cabin.

Arrival

But all of that recedes into the background as we leave the Sicilian coastline behind us and the captain initiates the descent. We get some spectacular views on the approach. The islands look so green around this time of the year.

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Eventually, we land slightly ahead of schedule. As I step down onto the apron I am consumed by a mix of emotion – wondering what on earth I was thinking to register for the race tomorrow, feeling happy to be back home again and making a mental note to never ever again waste money on a Lufthansa Business Class ticket.

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Lufthansa, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Frankfurt

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Date: 08 February 2017
Departure: 18:45
Arrival: 19:25
Aircraft: Airbus A 320
Flight time: 40 minutes
Seat: 20 E on the starboard

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Introduction

After the snow the rain came. And then after the rain the cold returned. Only the grey remained – a mournful, dark and dreary, gloomy veil hanging over the landscape like a curse. And so I decide the time has come to move on to greener pastures and head south where the weather is not so cold, not so wet and hopefully a lot easier for me to deal with.

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train
Journey time:
13 minutes
Departs from:
Winterthur main station
Arrives:
Zürich Flughafen.
Cost:
CHF8.80 for a single one way ticket, 2nd class
Ticket purchase:
Online, via the SBB app or at the ticket machines at the station. There is also a ticket office, but the queues there tend to be rather long.

Check-in

Terminal: 1 or 3
Counters: Check-in 3 is the area right above the platforms of the railway station, Check-in 1 in the dedicated terminal of the Lufthansa group. As you enter the building, Economy Class is on your left, while Business and First Class and the SWISS ticketing office are on the right side of the hall.
Web check-in:
If you are flying with Lufthansa from Switzerland, you will automatically be redirected to the SWISS page for check-in.
You can also check in via the Lufthansa app, which is not very intuitive. If you want to add the boarding pass to your Passbook, you have to select ‘save pass to app’ first. The icon to upload it to Passbook will then appear, but you have to scroll to the bottom.
Self-service check-in:
Available in Check-in 1 and 3.

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There are separate entrances for the security screening area for First and Business Class passengers and Economy Class passengers.

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The SWISS Business Class Lounge

Location: Upper level of the Airside Centre
Type of Lounge:
SWISS Business Class and Frequent Traveller lounge
Toilets & Showers:
Available in the lounge
Food & Beverages: There is a selection of sandwiches (tuna or cheese), snacks like popcorn or gummibears and one hot dish, which is macaroni with a meat sauce that is served with a healthy dollop of apple sauce. It is a typically Swiss dish and goes by the name of ‘Älplermagrone’.
Connectivity:
A wifi code is issued at reception.
Newspapers & Magazines:
There is a selection of English and German language newspapers.
Comment:
For a change the lounge is not so busy. But judging by the amount of trash lying around, I think I might have just missed the mad rush. Bananas seem to have been very popular today… Other than that, the lounge is starting to show some serious signs of wear and tear.

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Not my rubbish…
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Boarding

Business Class, Senators and Hon Circles are invited to board first using the personalised gate. The riffraff can use the automated gates to board.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 3 + 3
Seat Layout: There are a total of 168 seats on the aircraft, although the maximum number of passengers varies on the size of the Business Class cabin, where the middle seat is kept empty.
Pitch: 30 inches
Width: 18 inches
Comment:
I think what strikes me the most about the aircraft as I enter is just how bland and boring the cabin looks. Everything is kept in murky shades of grey. Pretty much like the weather outside. The carpet is blue, but it is a very dark colour too that does not do anything to lighten the atmosphere in the cabin.

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Now that looks seriously uncomfortable.

The Crew

The crew are rather nondescript on this flight, pretty much like the cabin of the aircraft actually – dull and grey. The ‘service’ consists of a packet of greasy potato chips that you are handed at the entrance to the aircraft and that you are then expected to hold in your hand during take-off or demolish as soon as you take your seat. There is also a drinks service once we get airborne. All in all, the whole experience really is nothing to write home about. Admittedly, the flight time is announced as being only 45 minutes, so you can hardly expect Lufthansa’s catering to go all out in Economy Class.

Arrival

Eventually we land in Frankfurt after a flying time of only 40 minutes and for a change even the taxi to the apron is not too long.

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In summary, this was a rather unspectacular short intra-European hop. In a way, an airline like Lufthansa does not really stand a chance against the low cost carriers on such a short route because there simply are not enough possibilities for them to set themselves apart from the competition with their product. With that in mind, they might as well adapt their business model to that of the low cost carriers and at least save some money in the process.