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TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen set off for his month in Southeast Asia earlier this week and the first leg of his journey was aboard a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 in first class. Here’s his review.
Although I’m based in LA, I was planning to leave for Asia from New York. I started looking for award tickets back in June, and one of the first itineraries I found pretty much immediately was by searching United.com – 70,000 miles and $39 for an itinerary from JFK to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and then continuing from Frankfurt to Bangkok on Thai Airways.
There was just one snag – the first leg of my trip on Lufthansa would be in business class aboard a 747-400 – so the old angled lie-flat business class – and the second (longer) leg to Bangkok would be in first class aboard the airline’s A380. Now, that Thai redemption was enough to get me to plunk down 70,000 miles instead of 60,000 miles for business class all the way through, though this did involve taking a gamble that a first class award seat would open up on one of the Lufthansa flights out of the New York area on my departure date so that I could just call United and change the ticket at that point. To prep for it, I set an ExpertFlyer alert and bided my time. I also figured, it would cost me 67,500 miles to get to Europe in first class one-way anyway (well, until the United devaluation occurs next year), so for an extra 2,500 miles, I was getting that first class Thai Airways ticket.
Sure enough, just four days before I was supposed to depart, alerts I had set on three different Lufthansa flights were sent to me letting me know I could rebook that portion of my award in first class so I immediately called up United and changed my ticket. It took about 5 minutes altogether and $75 since it was a close-in booking change and I don’t have elite status with United, and I was confirmed. I did have to call Lufthansa to get a seat assignment, but that took another 2 minutes.
The Lounge at JFK
I got to JFK a little early so I could have some time to work in the Lufthansa lounge there, which is in Terminal 1 and contains 3 floors. The first floor is the business class lounge. The middle floor is for Star Alliance Gold, Senator elites and first class passengers, and the third floor is a small lounge and dining room for first class passengers and HON Circle elites (Lufthansa’s top tier).
When I checked in, the desk agent took me over to the elevator and entered a key code so that I could go up to the third floor where there is a little sitting area with a self-serve bar, a buffet and a small dining room with two- and four-top tables with a server on duty.
The buffet bar had salad ingredients including mixed baby greens and arugula, plum tomatoes, shredded carrots and grilled chicken breast; as well as an antipasto selection with dill gravlax, grilled artichokes, olives, mushrooms, grilled asparagus and assorted cheeses; and then hot buffet items including herb-marinated breast of chicken in citrus velouté, seared salmon with green lentil salad and mustard herb vinaigrette, and spinach-sweet potato cake with smoked carrot puree and fresh kale.
You could also order off an a la carte menu with items like vegan tomato-lentil soup, roasted black bass with wilted spinach and hen of the woods mushrooms in a carrot reduction, and the slow-cooked petite tenderloin with charred eggplant puree, roasted squash and peach mostarda which I had. It was decent – good not great, and not that flavorful.
For dessert, there was an assortment of petits fours, pastries and larger dishes like chocolate bread pudding, sweet corn flan with caramelized figs and assorted macarons and cookies.
The bar spread was actually quite impressive with a diverse selection of whiskies and scotches including The Glenlivet, Woodford Reserve, Laphroaig, Highland Park and Ardbeg, as well as various rums, tequilas and vodkas, Moet brut and Nicolas Feuillatte rosé champagne, several beers on tap and three red and three white wines. Closer to the table section there was a selection of digestifs like cognac, ouzo, Fernet and more.
I dropped my bag at a table and went back downstairs one floor to use the restroom where there were also two shower suites. When I got back, I found a glass of Pellegrino had already been poured for me, and I helped myself to a glass of rosé and tried the chicken entrée on the buffet. Then, just because there was plenty of time and I was settling in to get some work done, I also ordered the tomato soup and the tenderloin to try – all in all, the meal service took about 20 minutes, pretty quick and well timed as my plates were being cleared just as the boarding announcement was made.
I went downstairs into the terminal and found a long line snaking from my gate down the hall, which was where the economy customers were waiting, while on the other side of the gate was a shorter line where elites and business class customers as well as first class passengers were all boarded together. I got in line and went through the front door of the plane, passed through one of the business class cabins and went right upstairs where I was greeted by name by the purser.
I was supposed to be in seat 83C, but there were only four of us passengers at that point so the flight attendant suggested I move back a row to 84 (the last row in the cabin) so I could have some privacy though a final passenger did board and sit across the aisle from me. I would actually have preferred staying in 83 since it was a little farther from the galley and less noisy with service noise and clinking.
The first class cabin on the 747-400 has just eight seats – four rows with one on each side of the plane. Although this is not the newest first class product on the airline, which you can find on the A330, A380 and 747-8, it’s a lot of people’s favorite thanks to the fact that it feels super exclusive up on the top deck, but more importantly, each seat has a recliner and a bed – it’s not just a seat that reclines to flat and becomes a bed, so it’s almost like you have your own little suite. I was really looking forward to it, and I was not disappointed.
Each of these enormous seats has 90 inches in pitch and is 21 inches wide, while the bed portion was 79.1 inches long and almost as wide as a twin bed. The 17-inch entertainment screen is in front of the chair portion of the seat, so it’s easier to watch from there, but you can definitely enjoy movies from the bed side as well. I will say that the handheld remote was a bit wonky and unresponsive, but not bad enough to ruin the experience. The selection of movies was actually kind of small, but still had decent options and new releases like Superman: Man of Steel.
The other part of the seat I really liked was the footlocker where I could stick my belongings for takeoff and landing – the ones I didn’t want to stow in the overhead – and I appreciated the universal adapter outlet as well so I could charge up my computer and phone during the flight.
One other thing to note is that the plane was equipped with WiFi and I had been planning to get a little emailing done on it, but it wasn’t functioning for some reason, so if you’re counting on connectivity, that’s something to consider.
I want to preface this by saying the flight is at a sort of weird time, departing JFK at 3:50pm and arriving in Frankfurt at 5:35am. That’s great for folks who want to get in and have a whole day in Europe, but it does make this a tough red eye since you’re landing at 11:35pm New York time – before a lot of us would even be going to bed – and because the flight is short, meal service takes up a big portion of it, so you’re looking at maybe 3 hours of sleep if you’re lucky or if you skip part of dinner or breakfast. My other option would have been to take the 10:20pm flight, but with that one, you’d probably either have to skip dinner or eat dinner until about 1:00am and try to get a little sleep after that before getting to Europe around noon.
We pushed back right on time, but as soon as we had, the captain came on to inform us that there was a strong tail wind and our flight time would only be 6.5 hours instead of the 7 hours and 45 minute scheduled so we would have to wait at the gate about 30 minutes in order not to land in Frankfurt before the airport opened at 5:00 am. They let us keep our phones on though, so there was time for a few last Instagram uploads.
Almost as soon as I had been seated, I was given my Rimowa amenity kit, which I actually thought was a bit sparse for a first class product of this caliber, with generic toothpaste and a flimsy toothbrush, eye mask, ear plugs and comb as well as slippers, a set of grey cotton pajamas with a button-down shirt and scrubs-like bottoms as well as slippers. There was also La Marin face cream.
Once the flight took off, service started about 20-30 minutes in with beverages. The menu included Lufthansa’s signature caviar cart service with all the fixings – perfect with a glass of the 1999 Pommery Cuvee Louise champagne they were pouring.
Next up was a quartet of appetizers including citrus-cured scallops, seared beef tataki with papaya salad and roasted peanuts, beef ravioli with balsamic glaze, and fresh salad with yellow roasted tomatoes.
The main course was a choice of five different dishes:
Tenderloin of beef with plum chutney, roasted Yukon potato and leek
Butter-poached lobster with butternut squash and fingerling potatoes
Stir-fried egg noodles with eggplant
Roasted chicken breast with sesame glaze and bok choi and quinoa
Pumpkin stew with ginger chicken
All of the meat dishes sounded delicious, but who could turn down lobster at 35,000 feet? So that’s what I got.
Finally, for dessert, there was a selection of cheeses including parmesan, gruyere, cambozola and Humboldt Fog; warm chocolate cake, or crème caramel flan with orange segments. I chose the warm chocolate cake, but it wasn’t that great, so I only took a couple bites and settled for a glass of Niepoort Port instead, as well as some of the chocolate truffles they handed out after meal service.
The wine choices for the meal included Weingut Robert Weil Riesling, DeLoach Chardonnay, Salwey Grauburgunder and Moutonne Grand Cru Chablis on the white list, while the reds included Chateau Laroze from Bordeaux, Peter Lehman “The Futures” Shiraz from Australia, a Toscano called Calasferro, and Galpin Peak Pinot Noir from South Africa. Along with cheese and dessert they served Von Buhl Auslese Riesling from Austria, and Lustau Sherry.
Because the flight was so short and I wanted to get as much sleep as possible before a long day in the First Class lounge in Frankfurt, I asked not to be woken up for breakfast if I wasn’t already awake. However, there were three breakfast options:
Fitness Breakfast: coffee or tea, orange juice, fresh fruit and muesli
Continental Breakfast: coffee/tea, OJ, yogurt, and pastrami, cheddar, brie and walnuts
American Breakfast: coffee/tea, OJ, fresh fruit and a farmer’s market frittata
After dinner, I finished watching a movie and then slid over to the bed. The cabin was pretty warm, actually, and I had asked if they could lower the temperature (there are no individual climate controls), which they said they could, but it was still very warm the whole flight, so rather than sleeping under the duvet, I just slept on top of it and the mattress – which was actually comfortable, like having a pillow-top, though I’m not sure why it stayed so hot up there.
I enjoy first class seats that recline all the way into a bed, but I have to say, it made a really big difference to have a separate, actual full-length bed to lie down in. Even though it was a bit narrower than a twin-size mattress, there was still plenty of room and it was really long making it one of the most comfortable first class products I’ve been in and I only wish the flight could have been longer so I could have really taken a nice snooze.
So my first flight was down and a success, and I had a layover in Frankfurt and a second, longer flight on Thai to get to, so stay tuned for further trip reports about my day in the Lufthansa First Class Lounge (not the Terminal) and my flight on Thai.