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The business-class cabin upstairs on Lufthansa’s new Queen of the Skies (747-8) provides a spectacular option for flying between the US and Europe. The Pros: impeccable service, delicious food, solid Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment. The Cons: lack of all aisle-access seats, designed more for couples than solo passengers.
For years, The Points Guy has striven to maximize your travel by telling you how to earn free flights and providing reviews of your options for how to redeem miles. Now, we’re kicking it up a notch with head-to-head battles between airlines within the same alliance on the same route.
We’re starting off our inaugural Business Class Battle between Lufthansa and United on the route between Washington DC’s Dulles (IAD) and Frankfurt, Germany (FRA). Today, we present a full review of Lufthansa’s option on this route: the Boeing 747-8. Check back Wednesday evening for the United review and Friday evening for the official flight comparison.
As TPG has plenty of American Express Membership Rewards thanks to The Platinum Card from American Express, we first checked Amex transfer partner Aeroplan. While the round-trip would have cost only 110,000 Aeroplan miles (55,000 each way), the taxes and fuel surcharges would’ve cost about 852 Canadian Dollars (~$643 at the time).
Instead, we could book the same flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner United for 127,500 miles (70,000 for the partner business class outbound and 57,500 for the United business class return) plus $189 in taxes and fees. Flush with points from the 3x earnings of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, we decided to save the $454 out-of-pocket cost and book through United instead. While Aeroplan made it difficult to add connecting flights, we were able to book this award departing from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) — where I was for the RoboCup US Open — and returning to my home in Austin (AUS) at no additional cost.
Although we put the taxes and fees from this flight on a corporate card, I’d recommend booking a trip like this with the Citi Prestige Card. While the 3x ThankYou points earning is surpassed by the 5x Membership Rewards points you’ll get by using the Amex Platinum Card, I’d trade the 378-point earning differential for the Citi Prestige’s excellent trip delay insurance, which provides up to $500 worth of expenses after just a three-hour delay.
After booking, I logged onto the Lufthansa website and was able to snag a window seat with an empty aisle seat in the rear of the upper deck.
I checked in at Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and since I was flying first class on United from FLL to IAD, I was able to use the Premier Access line, but it didn’t feel “premier.” At the front of the line, there were two kiosks that passengers would use while a United agent stood there observing and taking checked bags without comment.
After I used the kiosk to check in, I told the agent that I was traveling internationally and might need a document check — he said that all of my information was in the system. As someone who likes to keep old boarding passes and prefers the thicker card stock, I asked the agent to reprint my boarding pass. He did so begrudgingly.
At Group 1 boarding for my FLL-IAD flight, the machine beeped when my boarding pass was scanned. Guess why? Docs check. Once the gate agents finally had my information in the system, Group 4 was boarding and they’d started asking for carry-on bags to be checked. Thankfully, I was able to convince her to let me try to find space in the first-class cabin instead.
Before departing Fort Lauderdale, I stopped by the United Club lounge hoping to grab a drink and a bite before my midday FLL-IAD leg. However, as a business-class traveler flying on a Star Alliance member, I didn’t have access to the United Club at my origin airport. According to United’s policy (see image below), “lounge access is only available “at the departure airport for their business-class flight.” However, if I had been flying in United’s business class for the international leg, I would have had access at the “departure, connecting and arrival airports.”
In Dulles, I was successfully able to enter the United Club in Terminal C before journeying over to Lufthansa’s departure Terminal B. The United Club agent seemed surprised that I wanted to spend time in this lounge, noting that I could visit the “much nicer Lufthansa lounge” in Terminal B.
Based on the location of the Lufthansa Senator Lounge and Business Lounges, it seems that Lufthansa usually departs from gates B45 and B47. About an hour before boarding, the aircraft was parked outside but no gate agents were available to assist with inquiries.
I hadn’t been disappointed by the United Club, so I was excited to check out the “much nicer” Lufthansa lounge.
At check-in, I received a new Lufthansa-labeled boarding pass. Double-checking my seat assignment, I noticed that the row number was far too low to be on the upper-deck, where the rows are 81 to 88. It seems that the upper-deck seat assignment I had selected online — which had also appeared on my United check-in reminder email — had been lost somewhere along the way. Using ExpertFlyer, I saw that seats 81A and 81C were open so I asked for 81A and hoped that 81C would remain empty.
The Lufthansa lounge has two parts: the Senator Lounge is on the terminal level, while the Business Lounge is a level down, on the same level as the tarmac. I was directed down the stairs to the Business Lounge.
The stairs open to the dining area.
In this area of the lounge, there’s a selection of self-serve warm buffet foods, cold sandwiches and finger foods.
For self-service drinks, there’s a selection of sodas, juices and bottles of sparkling and still water.
You’ll also find a bar with wines, beers (draft and bottled) and a wide selection of spirits. A sign notes that “the local liquor authority does not allow any self-service,” but I never noticed this bar actually staffed.
To secure my place as one of the first to board, I left the lounge early and headed to the gate.
Lufthansa has a rich history of naming its aircraft. Until 2002, all featured names of German cities and regions, but that changed when “Gander-Halifax” was christened onto the side of an Airbus A340 (registration D-AIFC) in honor of the Canadian cities’ assistance of Lufthansa passengers who were diverted after the September 11th attacks. Some A380s are named after cities outside Germany, too.
However, Lufthansa still is true to its roots. When an older aircraft named after a German city is retired, that name is passed on to a new aircraft. Our airplane today — one of 19 new Boeing 747-8s in Lufthansa’s fleet, registered D-ABYJ and delivered in June 2013 — was named after the northern German city of Hannover, a name previously given to a DC-10 retired in 1994.
Although the incoming flight had arrived in IAD just after 4:00pm, there was an announcement at 5:20pm that boarding was delayed to 5:30pm due to the “late arrival of the aircraft.” At 5:29pm, it was announced that boarding would be delayed again, this time to 5:35pm. Thankfully, that was the last delay.
Right at 5:35pm, first- and business-class passengers were welcomed to board through gate B47 and enter the aircraft through the first boarding door on the left side, 1L. From there, first-class passengers were invited to turn left into the first-class cabin in the nose of the aircraft, while business-class passengers were directed right into the main deck business-class cabin.
Those of us seated upstairs had to pass through this cabin to reach the stairs to the upper deck.
Once on board, a passenger I had spoken with in the lounge noted that passengers coming from the lounge were invited to board from a special entrance directly from it. Note that they were welcomed on board after those of us who had entered from the boarding gate, so if you want photos of an empty cabin, you’ll want to board via the gate, not the lounge.
Despite our delayed boarding, the main door was closed a few minutes early and we pushed back at 6:04pm for our 6:05pm departure. We ended up taking off at 6:35pm, experiencing a very choppy climb due to the poor weather.
Cabin and Seat
On the Lufthansa Boeing 747-8, there are three business-class cabins. The main deck cabins are arranged in a 2-2-2 format, so people sitting at the windows have to climb over their aisle-seated neighbors. There are eight rows of business-class seats on the main deck: six in the primary business-class cabin (see the photo above) and two farther back in a mini-cabin. While a mini-cabin might sound nice, there’s only a curtain separating it from the economy cabin directly behind it.
The upper deck is arranged as eight rows of 2-2 seating. The staircase is in the rear of the cabin with the flight deck in the front. Sitting farther forward in the cabin provides better privacy.
In addition to a smaller and more exclusive-feeling cabin, the business-class seats on the upper deck also feature large storage bins under the windows.
For row 81, I measured the rear bin to be 28.5 inches long x 9 inches wide x 14 inches deep and the forward bin to be 23 inches long x 9 inches wide x 22 inches deep. Just the rear one was big enough for my backpack as well as the amenity kit, bottles of water, menu and any other items that I wanted to stow right next to my seat.
Due to the inward-facing nature of these seats and the lack of a substantial divider between them, I’d say these are ideal for couples traveling together. However, they can be awkward for solo travelers, who will have to sit next to a stranger — especially if you accidentally “play footsie” when stretching out your legs into the footwell.
Under the footwells, there’s a cubby that’s ideal for storing your shoes. Outside this shoe cubby — toward the window or aisle — are small lockers where the amenity kit was stocked at boarding.
For row 81, I measured the footwell opening to be approximately 12 inches by 12 inches. The small locker opening measured 4 inches by 12 inches.
Each seat has an individual reading light built into the adjustable headrest.
Between the pairs of business-class seats, there are two vertically-arranged universal power plugs. If you’re using a grounded plug, note that the top and bottom plugs are arranged differently.
You can adjust the seat into a reclining or lie-flat configuration using the controls on top of the middle armrests.
The seat turns into a completely flat 76-inch bed, with the leg rest fully connecting with the footwell.
For a little more space, you can lower the armrest by pushing the release button on the armrest itself. When the seat is fully flat, the armrest drops to be flush with it.
The stowed tray table, the in-flight entertainment remote and the headphones, which are permanently attached to the seat, are under the armrest.
The temperature felt comfortable throughout the flight. However, you don’t have to take my word for it. After hearing horror stories of hot Lufthansa cabins ruining otherwise pleasant flights, I purchased a thermometer/hygrometer for this review. Here are some Fahrenheit readings during the flight:
- 1.5 hours after takeoff: 69.8° and 33% humidity
- 2.5 hours after takeoff (at lights off): 74.8° and 27% humidity
- Six hours after takeoff: 73.4° and 15% humidity
- Just before landing: 73.8° and 12% humidity
Food and Beverage
While passengers were still boarding but most of the upper deck cabin was already settled in, flight attendants passed through the cabin to offer a choice of welcome drinks: water, orange juice or sparkling wine.
Once these were handed out, the flight attendants passed through again with the dinner menus.
With everyone on board, the flight attendants made an announcement explaining that we’d receive an initial drink service, followed by dinner and later, another beverage service. The announcement also noted that you should let a flight attendant know if you wanted to be awoken for breakfast; otherwise, you’d be allowed to sleep until descent.
Once at cruising altitude, flight attendants passed through to hand out bowls of nuts (not warmed) and take apéritif orders. Along with a glass of water, I tried the Champagne option: Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top Brut.
For the appetizer, the menu displayed three options:
- Seared scallops and artichoke salad
- Charcuterie: bresaola, rosa salami and prosciutto with wild rice and apple salad
- Marinated feta cheese with sweet peppers
I chose the feta cheese and peppers.
For the main course, passengers had the choice of:
- Seared beef filet with Béarnaise sauce, root vegetable and whipped potatoes
- Seared scallops and shrimp, mixed vegetables and celeriac whipped potatoes
- Artichoke ravioli and sautéed spinach accompanied by grilled trumpet mushrooms
I chose the scallops. Although I was disappointed to get only one scallop, it was perfectly cooked and quite honestly the best scallop I’ve had on a flight. The shrimp were shelled and were delicious. The mashed potatoes were rich but flavorless, made better by the butter sauce.
For dessert, passengers had the choice of:
- New England cave aged cheddar, Rouge Affinee and smoked cheddar cheese
- Dulce de leche ice cream
- Fresh fruit
I chose the cheese plate to finish off the meal.
Overnight, a tray of apple juice and water was left in the emergency exit row in the middle of the upstairs cabin.
I chose to be awoken for breakfast, which consisted of fresh fruit, strawberry yogurt and chicken breast, turkey pastrami, brie and cheddar cheese.” In addition to the butter that was served on the tray, the flight attendant offered a selection of breads with honey, jams and Nutella.
Service was top-notch throughout the flight. The ever-efficient flight attendants struck a friendly yet professional tone. Each one I spoke with — both upstairs and on the main deck — seemed to use German as a first language but was almost perfectly bilingual.
At boarding, the German flight attendants seemed unsure what to do with me, as I excitedly took photos of the empty cabin. As I experienced on my first Lufthansa flight, they were happy to show off the cabin and even offered to take my photo.
While handing out welcome drinks, my primary flight attendant asked for my name. I responded with my familiar “JT” rather than my formal name. Later, when handing out menus, the same flight attendant — without consulting notes — asked if she could refer to me as “JT” during the flight. Although it wasn’t overused, she would occasionally refer to me by name in a way that came across as genuine.
A while after the lights were off for the night, at 9:09pm ET, I tested the call button. 25 seconds later — about the time it would take for someone to walk the length of the upper deck cabin — a new flight attendant happily inquired how she could help. I asked for an espresso. Just after three minutes from my initial call, my espresso was served. Shortly before landing, the flight attendant came through one last time to thank each passenger (by name) and wish us safe onward travels.
Each business-class seat has an individual 15-inch touchscreen, which can be tilted for a clearer view. However, the screen doesn’t tilt in a way to make it easier to watch if you’re fully reclined.
The wire of the noise-cancelling headphones is bolted to the seat well. While this means that your headphones are available the entire flight, from boarding to arrival, it came across as a little tacky. The headphones provided solid quality sound and had noticeable active noise cancellation, but I found them to be too small to fit over my ears. Larger headphones would have been better for sound muffling and noise cancelling. Note that if you want to use your own headphones, you’ll need to bring a two-prong adapter.
Near the headphone storage well under the middle armrest, was an IFE remote to keep you from having to lean forward to adjust the screen. It seems mine had taken a beating since being installed.
There was such an extensive array of entertainment options that I had a hard time deciding what to watch. I counted 135 movies in a variety of languages and genres, 70 albums and 52 music playlists. Movies start with just a 30-second advertisement. On my last Lufthansa review flight, I’d been excited to find one of my favorite German DJs had a Clubsounds mix listed in the IFE system. Unfortunately, I found the Clubsounds selections somewhat lacking this time around.
At boarding, each seat was stocked with a large multi-colored pillow and a thick plastic-wrapped blanket.
Inside the small storage compartment were the amenity kit and a bottle of water.
The amenity kit bag itself seemed more appropriate for premium economy, but inside, it was packed with goodies:
- Lufthansa-branded eye mask
- Korres pomegranate moisturizing cream
- Korres shea butter lip balm
- A plastic-wrapped toothbrush
- A tube of “maximum white” toothpaste
- An individually-packaged mint
- Disposable headphone covers
- Disposable earplugs
In the bathrooms, there were Korres soaps as well as a tray of individually-wrapped amenities, including a shaving set, combs and moist towelettes.
Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, I connected to the Wi-Fi service using my phone. Purchase options were one hour for 9 euros (~$10.09), four hours for 14 euros (~$15.69) and the full-flight for 17 euros (~$19.06). The full-flight option was good for up to 24 hours but only on this and connecting intercontinental flights. There was no data restriction for this plan.
You also had the option to buy the full-flight pass for 5,500 Lufthansa Miles & More. Considering TPG values these at 1.4 cents each, the miles option would cost around ~$77 of value.
While I was still going through the purchase process, I was surprised to have emails and text messages quickly rolling in, indicating some sort of free data allotment. During the flight, I was able to switch my full-flight plan from my phone to my laptop and run a proper speed test. The ping was slow — as can be expected from a satellite-based connection — but the download speed measured at a solid ~8Mbps.
The internet stayed active until about 12 minutes before we landed, displaying a convenient “connectivity on this flight” clock on the main Wi-Fi homepage.
Once you get to Frankfurt, the experience isn’t over yet. After clearing customs and border control, you can head over to “Arrivals Area B” to visit the Welcome Lounge. As we had arrived so early in the day — and I didn’t have any plans before checking into my hotel — I journeyed over to this lounge and worked from there until closing time at 12:30pm.
Inside, there are workstations, seating areas and an impressive spread of food and beverages.
The lounge was never more than a quarter-full when I was there, clearing out even more as closing time neared.
Even though this is solely an arrivals lounge that closes midday, it still had Champagne, wine, beer and several alcohol-free options.
Overall, I loved my flight on the newest iteration of the Queen of the Skies. Lufthansa delivered impeccable service, delicious food, wide-ranging entertainment options and solid Wi-Fi with reasonable pricing. The upstairs cabin felt exclusive and featured extra window-side bins to make storage easy. There wasn’t much more that I could ask for. The United check-in experience and Dulles lounge were the most disappointing parts, but weren’t enough to detract too much from the overall experience. Ranking near my Qatar business-class experience, this was one of my top business-class flights to date.
So, how did United stack up to this epic Lufthansa business-class flight? Check back Wednesday evening to find out — and Friday evening to see the official head-to-head comparison between the two.
Have you flown in business class aboard Lufthansa’s 747-8? Tell us about your experience, below.
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