First look: On board Lufthansa’s inaugural flight from St. Louis to Germany in business class
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St. Louis is officially reconnected with Europe.
The city’s first transatlantic flight to continental Europe in nearly 20 years arrived at Frankfurt Airport (FRA) in Germany on Thursday morning. The eight-hour and 27-minute flight from St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) was operated by the German carrier Lufthansa.
Lufthansa’s service is the culmination of years of effort by the airport and local business leaders to land premium transatlantic service.
The airport, once a major hub for Trans World Airlines, saw its service dwindle in the 2000s when American Airlines purchased and absorbed bankrupt TWA in 2001. The hub eventually closed at the end of that decade.
Over the past 10 years (the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding), the airport has seen a steady rebound in air service. Southwest Airlines now makes up 55% of the airport’s market share and its presence at STL is twice as large as it was in 2010. Now, the airport’s focus is on international air service.
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The airport briefly saw service to Iceland‘s Keflavik Airport (KEF) operated by now-defunct Icelandic low-cost carrier Wow Air in 2018 and early 2019; however, Lufthansa’s flight to Germany is the airport’s first service to continental Europe since October 2003.
Lufthansa will operate the flight three days a week using its Airbus A330-300, which features the carrier’s business-class and premium economy products, in addition to economy class.
The day was one full of celebration. Here’s what it was like onboard this inaugural flight in business class.
Lots of pomp and circumstance, and talk of ‘winning’
I knew ahead of time that this wouldn’t be a typical inaugural flight.
However, the sheer number of high-level speakers paired with the fact there were two different ceremonies for this flight illustrates how big of a deal this new air service is for St. Louis.
The theme of the day was winning — and how scoring this $5 million, two-year deal for Lufthansa’s service is a victory for the city, the airport and local businesses.
“There is a renewed sense of optimism, confidence and momentum that is unfolding in St. Louis right now,” said Jason Hall, the CEO of Greater St. Louis, Inc., the group of local businesses that was instrumental in landing the Lufthansa deal. “We are a resurgent city, and the winning partnership that secured this direct route, connecting two truly global great cities — St. Louis and Frankfurt — is evidence of that resurgence.”
“Thank you to our partners for getting this exciting work across the finish line,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said.
Attendees at the first event — a 30-minute long set of speeches staged largely for members of the media outside the airport’s international arrival facility — feasted on gourmet boxed lunches catered by Butler’s Pantry (a St. Louis staple).
Later in the day, a ribbon-cutting took place at Lufthansa’s gate — E29. The ribbon was actually cut twice: once by leaders and once by the flight crew.
Onlookers munched on cookies emblazoned with Lufthansa’s iconic crane logo as two additional dignitaries spoke.
“Based on the booking numbers, this flight is already a success,” said Frank Naeve, Lufthansa’s vice president of sales for the Americas.
Both events featured a photo wall with a light-up Gateway Arch, the city’s most iconic landmark.
Lounge access for some
One thing I wondered about ahead of this flight was lounge access — something Lufthansa takes seriously, even at outstations. For example, the airline operates a lounge at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW).
There was indeed lounge access, and it was convenient. Lufthansa’s gate is located directly across the concourse from the Wingtips Lounge (the airport’s only Priority Pass lounge) which business-class passengers can access. Today, the lounge was used to host dignitaries associated with the flight, and it was closed to Priority Pass members until the flight departed.
Inside was a spread featuring small sandwiches, bags of chips, baked goods and fruit. An espresso machine made a delicious-for-a-machine cappuccino, and craft cocktails were available for a fee. There were also some free cocktails set out for the occasion, along with a cheese board.
The sheer convenience of the lounge makes it a good option for business-class passengers and Priority Pass members to use, even just as a more comfortable place to sit before the flight.
Boarding Lufthansa’s A330-300
The inbound flight was slightly delayed, but once it arrived, it received a traditional water cannon salute from STL’s aircraft rescue and firefighting department. It also took additional time to reach the gate, as the A330 needed a tug to tow it the last few feet to its parking spot, due to the tight space.
It took longer to prepare the plane for departure than it normally would for a very simple reason: None of the ground staff had worked on a widebody aircraft before this flight. So the staff — cleaners, baggage handlers, fuelers, caterers — were learning as they went along, slowing the process down for this first flight.
The mood at the gate was largely festive, though some passengers were making connections in Frankfurt and began to get concerned about misconnecting if the flight was delayed. It also appeared some passengers booked this flight unaware it was the inaugural. I always find it funny when that happens.
Lufthansa’s hard-working STL station manager, Isabelle — who also is the airline’s station manager at Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) — allowed me to board the aircraft a few minutes before everyone else in order to take pictures of the empty cabin. While it seems I had arrived minutes after a whole lot of chaos took place on the aircraft, the cabin was pristine, and everything — pillows, blankets, amenity kits — appeared to be in the proper place, just as if the aircraft was serviced in Frankfurt. There were no commemorative souvenirs placed on the seats for this particular inaugural, as is sometimes common.
This flight featured Lufthansa’s latest amenity kit, which comes in a reusable nylon bag that has one of Lufthansa’s destinations printed on it — I got Rome. Inside were a pair of socks, a dental kit, headphone covers, a mint and a sampler of products from L’Occitane. The card inside directed passengers to the lavatory, which was stocked with eyeshades and earplugs.
Business-class on Lufthansa’s Airbus A330 — a dated product set to be replaced next year starting with the airline’s Airbus A350s and new Boeing 787s — consists of 42 seats laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration, with window seats lacking direct aisle access. My advice is to choose one of the four aisle seats in each row for the most comfortable experience — advice I did not heed for this flight when I booked window seat 3A. The seats recline into fully flat beds and feature fold-out tray tables. AKG-branded noise-canceling headphones are permanently attached to the aircraft (those headphone covers in the amenity kit are for travelers who might be more germ-cautious) and work well. Lufthansa’s in-flight entertainment system is also on the older end, though it serves its purpose well and features many titles available on-demand, along with a moving flight map.
For this flight, we redeemed 70,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles for a business-class ticket when they first went on sale in December; we also paid $36.45 in taxes and fees. While business-class availability is somewhat limited throughout this summer, it begins to open up in mid-October for this thrice-weekly, year-round flight. Saver economy class is available for 40,000 Aeroplan miles throughout the summer. Aeroplan is one of my favorite ways to book Star Alliance partner awards because it offers competitive award pricing and is a transfer partner with all the major credit card reward programs.
This aircraft also features 28 premium economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration and 185 economy class seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, for a total of 255 seats.
Once I settled into my seat, I selected a pre-departure beverage of Champagne. Unlike U.S. carriers, Lufthansa always serves pre-departure beverages in real glasses.
A historic departure
Lufthansa flight 449 departed STL’s gate E29 at 4:45 p.m. (exactly an hour late) and taxied to runway 29 for departure at 5:05 p.m. Perhaps there was some inadvertent symbolism there: Construction on this 9,001-foot long runway began in the late 1990s when TWA’s hub was still in full swing. By the time it was completed in 2006, American had already begun to wind down the hub, and the runway was largely viewed as unnecessary. The fact that this inaugural flight — the airport’s first to continental Europe in nearly 20 years — used this runway could perhaps be a symbol that the airport is “back.” (A more likely explanation is that runway 29 was what was being used for departures on Wednesday, as one of the airport’s other runways was undergoing construction.)
Soon after takeoff, I purchased a Wi-Fi package for the flight. The airline offers three tiers of Wi-Fi: a 7 euro ($7.46) chat package, a 17 euro ($18.11) email and surf package with a 500 MB data cap, and a 29 euro ($30.99) email and surf plus package that features a full GB of data.
I selected the mail and surf plus package because I’ve hit the 500 MB cap on previous flights. As I expected, based on my prior experience flying Lufthansa’s long-haul journeys, the speeds and reliability left something to be desired; however, the service was more stable later on in the flight when more passengers were sleeping, and there was less demand on the wireless access points. Download speeds during the first part of the flight clocked in at eight Mbps per second, later increasing to about 15 Mbps per second.
STL’s first business class meals in 20 years
I was perhaps most curious about that meal service on this flight: How would Lufthansa’s catering vendor, Gate Gourmet, execute an international business class service at an airport that’s lacked this type of catering for nearly 20 years?
The answer was quite well. However, there was some confusion about the way the aircraft was stocked which led to a slower-than-normal service as staff struggled to locate items. To his credit, the purser, Manuel, was apologetic about the slow service. (A word about Manuel: While he knew I was reporting on the flight — since it’s difficult for us to stay incognito on these inaugural flights — he really was a genuinely fantastic purser who made everyone feel welcome. He also came over later in the flight with a long list of activities to do in Frankfurt during my stay.)
Prior to takeoff, attendants presented a bound, printed menu, as is standard on Lufthansa’s international business-class flights.
Service on the flight began at 5:56 p.m. when drinks and pecans arrived. I selected the 2015 Château German, Castillo Côtes de Bordeaux — a fruity French red wine that nicely accompanied my meal.
To start, passengers could choose between seared scallops with artichoke salad, buffalo style chicken and zucchini eggplant on a caponata roll. I selected the scallops, which were served cold, and tasted fresh and flavorful.
For the main course, the choices were braised beef short rib, salmon or ravioli. I selected the beef, which is sometimes a risky bet on an aircraft. Although it was cooked a bit more thoroughly than I would have liked, I really enjoyed this dish; it was paired with a burgundy sauce, chorizo, broad bean cassoulet and Parisian potato.
For dessert, I enjoyed a berry crumble with raspberry coulis.
Staff cleared my place setting at 7:27 p.m. — just more than two hours after take-off — and turned off the cabin lights at 7:56 p.m. Thanks to my north-facing window seat, I could witness how the sun stayed up throughout this North Atlantic crossing; we passed south of Greenland and Iceland, so the sun never set thanks to the long hours of sunlight at higher latitudes during spring and summer months.
Lights came back on at midnight central time — about 90 minutes before landing — which meant the flight had just over four hours of darkened cabin time. Now, it was time for breakfast.
My main gripe about the catering was the breakfast, which consisted of cottage cheese and tomatoes. I didn’t eat this, nor did many others in the business-class cabin, it seemed. However, the fruits it came with — slices of kiwi, mango, orange and raspberries — were fresh and tasty. I also enjoyed the croissants and the coffee (which was some of the better airplane-brewed coffee I’ve had on my many flights).
Flight 449 touched down on Frankfurt’s runway 7L at 8:32 a.m. local time, ushering in a new era of connectivity between St. Louis — Lufthansa’s 25th U.S. destination — and Germany. When Manuel made his closing public address announcement in English thanking passengers for joining the inaugural flight, cheers erupted in the cabin. We arrived at a remote stand a short while later — as is often the case in Frankfurt — then journeyed to the lower level of Frankfurt’s Terminal 1 on a 10-minute bus ride across the airport.
Immigration was another 5-minute wait — not bad by Frankfurt standards — and soon I was off to the city.
St. Louis finally is back on the transatlantic flight map.
Featured photo by Ethan Klapper/The Points Guy.
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