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Plenty of storage, a phenomenal crew and exclusive feeling flying on the upper deck of a 747.
Awful Wi-Fi connection and lack of direct aisle access at every seat.
I had heard tales of Lufthansa’s premium offerings being some of the best, from caviar and roses in first class to impeccable service in business class and even in economy. Add that you could be on a Boeing 747, and suddenly Lufthansa business class joins your bucket list.
That’s how it worked for me. On a recent trip to New York, I decided to fly back home to London via a stop in Frankfurt (FRA) just for the sake of testing out business class with Lufthansa on the Queen of the Skies. But would my first time in LH biz live up to the hype?
Lufthansa business class can be pricey. And that’s where points and miles can come in handy. Flying in the upper deck of a 747 with a top-rated carrier would be out of reach for many, but when paying with points, it’s accessible to far more people.
Because Lufthansa is a member of Star Alliance, you have plenty of options for booking award tickets. Of course, there is Lufthansa’s own Miles & More program, but because it’s not a transfer partner of any of the major point currencies, it can be hard to accumulate enough miles.
Thankfully, Lufthansa awards are easily bookable through the airline’s partners. While you can sometimes get good value when booking through United MileagePlus, I found the best value for my trip through Avianca’s LifeMiles program, mostly because it tends not to charge exorbitant taxes and fees on award tickets.
For my one-way journey from New York-JFK to Frankfurt and continuing on to London Heathrow (LHR), I paid a total of 60,000 LifeMiles plus $65. Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, 60,000 Avianca LifeMiles are worth $1,020. Given that Lufthansa business class can cost several thousands of dollars, my points were a great value.
LifeMiles is a transfer partner of both Citi ThankYou and American Express Membership Rewards programs. Often, American Express offers bonuses for transfers to Avianca, making redemptions even more valuable.
About three hours before the flight’s 4pm scheduled departure, the entire check-in area for the Lufthansa Frankfurt flight at JFK’s Terminal 1 was nearly empty for premium cabins and economy.
The somewhat unfriendly check-in agent ushered my checked bag around the carousel and out of sight. He said I would not need to collect my bag in Frankfurt for my onward flight to London.
The process was seamless, and I was checked in and ready to head to the lounge within five minutes. Additionally, because of the flight’s 4pm departure time, lines at the notoriously crowded T1 security area were nowhere near as bad as I’d seen in the past.
Once through the security checkpoint, it was just steps to the Lufthansa Lounge.
Because both the check-in and security processes took so little, I had several hours to get to know the lounge, which is accessible to biz class passengers flying with Lufthansa or other Star Alliance carriers.
When I first entered the lounge, it was relatively empty.
The lounge is rather open, bright and airy with massive floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the tarmac.
The bathrooms didn’t feature showers.
Because LH401 was an afternoon departure, there were light lunch options at the buffet, from pasta to grilled vegetables, a salad bar and selection of desserts. I found the buffet to be well-maintained the entire time I was at the lounge.
There was also a self-serve beverage area fully stocked with Saratoga water and a selection of wine, Champagne and juices. Like the food selection, the beverage station was well-maintained, even when the lounge got much busier closer to boarding time.
Overall, I found the service in the lounge to be exceptionally friendly and welcoming. When I first entered, the receptionist was extremely polite — a nice change from my experience in many US lounges.
The check-in agent and my boarding pass said boarding began at 3:30pm for the 4pm departure. Thinking that was a bit late, I went to the gate at 3:10pm and found boarding had already begun. There was no queue for premium cabins, but a large one for economy.
The gate windows provided passengers with an amazing look at the Queen of the Skies that would soon whisk us to Germany. Our 747-8, registered D-ABYT, was just four years old and painted in Lufthansa’s retro livery. Swoon.
About 15 minutes after I took my seat, the captain came over the intercom to thank passengers for being on time. Because of the quick and efficient boarding process, we were able to pull away from the gate about 10 minutes early.
Cabin and Seat
Upon entering the aircraft, passengers were greeted by a welcoming crew. Because we had boarded through one of the front doors, all passengers were directed toward the rear of the aircraft with the exception of those flying in first class, which turned left to head toward the nose.
Because of the configuration of the Lufthansa 747, all other passengers were required first to walk through the lower-deck business-class cabin. Business class on the Lufthansa 747-8 is split into three cabins:. The configuration I flew had 80 biz seats: 48 on the lower deck divided into a 36-seat main section and a minicabin directly behind with just 12 seats, plus 32 on the upper deck. (Lufthansa also flies another version of the 747-8, with even more biz-class capacity at 92 seats.)
In the two cabins on the lower deck, the lie-flat seats were arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration. While less than ideal since not all passengers had direct aisle access, the cabin did feel modern and fresh.
On the upper deck, where I was sitting, the 747 is a bit narrower. And because of that, the 32 lie-flat seats upstairs were configured 2-2. While still less than ideal for window-seat fliers who need to step over the aisle seat to get out — especially awkward when the seat is in its lie-flat bed mode — the cabin felt more intimate.
Because of the design of the upper deck, with the galley and staircase at the rear of the cabin, the forward seats have the most privacy and quiet. There are two lavatories at the front of the cabin and one at the rear.
Regardless of upper or lower deck, LH business-class seats on the 747-8 all feature 64 inches of pitch and 20 inches of width. Compared to other business-class products, the 20-inch width is rather on the narrow side. Still, I didn’t find it to be an issue either when seated upright or in lie-flat position.
My seat, 86K, was at the window. A firm pillow and blanket, both in Lufthansa blue and yellow, were already on the seat.
The bright gray and white of the interior were offset perfectly by the clay-colored divider and the navy of the inflight bedding.
Next to each passenger’s head was an extendable reading light.
Two universal power outlets were between the two seats.
Each window seat on the upper deck had a large storage compartment next to it. The bins were big enough to be able to store multiple personal bags, shoes and nearly anything else you wanted out of the overhead bins. I was able to fit my tightly packed Longchamp bag without any issue.
The storage compartments that were flush against the windows were only available on the upper deck of the 747-8. On the lower deck, where seats were arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, there were no storage units. Instead, window seats were flush against the cabin wall.
At each seatback was even more storage. Underneath the ottoman was a small space that was perfect for storing shoes.
And underneath the inflight entertainment screen and the literature pocket was a small, pop-out cubby. Each of the seats’ container was already open when I boarded, displaying a full-size bottle of water and the Lufthansa business-class amenity kit.
The functionality to control the seat was built into the central armrest, with each button in Lufthansa’s old, iconic yellow. Along with the three preset positions — upright, lounge and lie-flat — the different parts of the seat could also be customized.
Underneath that center armrest were the tray table and handheld remote for the inflight entertainment. In the deep well were the headphones, which were permanently attached.
When in its lie-flat position, the bed measured 78 inches long. Taller travelers might find the seat as a whole — between the width and bed length — to be a bit cramped. At 5 feet, 7 inches, I found the seat to be rather comfortable. You could give yourself a few extra inches of width by lowering the opposite armrest.
Lufthansa biz class is good for couples traveling together, but with seats angled inward and without a privacy divider, the product could be uncomfortable if you’re seated next to a stranger. Luckily for me, the upper deck was on the empty side and I had no one seated next to me. I’m sure that had I had a seatmate, my take on the hard product would have been different, as a 2-2 (upper deck) and 2-2-2 (lower deck) configuration isn’t competitive with today’s best products.
Overall, the cabin on this four-year-old aircraft felt new and welcoming. It didn’t show many clear signs of wear and tear, which was quite remarkable. I was impressed most with not only the aesthetically pleasing nature of the cabin — loved the blue, brown, gray, yellow and white combinations — but also with how much storage there was on the upper deck. Because of that, I’d recommend the upper deck over seats on the lower deck. Not only will you have more storage, but as a whole, the cabin feels more intimate and exclusive than either of the two cabins on the lower deck.
Amenities and IFE
As mentioned before, each seat in the business-class cabin was outfitted with a blue-and-yellow sleep set. I loved the design of the pillow and blanket with just a touch of yellow — like Lufthansa’s new livery. During the night, I didn’t find the blanket to be too hot, and the pillow was perfectly stuffed to make for comfortable sleep.
Each passenger got an amenity kit inside the small pop-out container below the seat in front. Inside was a standard amenity kit — socks, eye mask, earplugs, dental kit and Korres lip balm and lotion.
Underneath the armrest was not only the tray table and handheld remote for the inflight-entertainment system, but also where the headphones were stored. I found the Bose headphones, which also were emblazoned with the Lufthansa crane logo, to be of good quality. While not the most noise-canceling devices I’ve used in flight, they worked well for blocking out the standard airplane noises.
The lavatories were well-stocked with L’Occitane products, moist towelettes, shaving sets and combs.
The inflight-entertainment system featured a 15-inch touchscreen built into the seatback. While the screen did have some tilt, it was not perfectly visible if you were in the lie-flat position. In addition to the touchscreen functionality, which I found to be very responsive, there was also a small handheld remote stored underneath the armrest.
On this flight, there was a load of options to keep passengers entertained, including 222 movies and 188 TV shows. There was everything from new releases to classics. You would be hard-pressed to find nothing to keep you entertained.
The plane was outfitted with Wi-Fi. I chose the Flynet email and web-surfing package, which cost $20 for the entirety of the flight. Though it was advertised as being “best suited for browser-based email, messaging throughout the entire flight and light web browsing,” I found it dismally slow. In fact, a speed test showed that my download speed was just 0.09 Mbps, while my upload was 0.24 Mbps.
Food and Beverage
As we boarded, cabin crew came around the cabin, introducing themselves and handing out a menu and a beverage. I asked for sparkling wine, which was served in a crane-embellished glass. Other choices included water or orange juice.
Shortly after takeoff, cabin crew promptly came around again to take orders for meal service. Along with the meal order, crew also took orders for a premeal beverage. The friendly flight attendant highly recommended the chenin blanc from South Africa, which retails for about $10 per bottle. The beverages were prepared in the middle of the cabin. I wasn’t let down by the FA’s recommendation, which had pleasant citrusy and fruity notes.
I loved the ubiquitous Lufthansa crane branding. The wine was also served with nuts, which were not warmed.
Crew came around the cabin distributing hot towels before meal service.
Shortly after the premeal beverage and nuts were delivered, the crew served the appetizer. I got prosciutto, Parmesan, vitello tonnato, Caprese salad and prawn. I enjoyed the variety and found everything to be fresh — especially the Caprese salad and prawn.
Other choices for appetizers included salmon tartare with wasabi crème fraîche, or Mediterranean grilled-vegetable salad.
Each passenger was also served an arugula-and-mixed-lettuce salad with fennel, roasted tomato and Parmesan. The salad was the worst part of the meal, with wilted lettuce and a sad-looking presentation.
For the main course, I got rigatoni with slow-roasted tomato sauce, zucchini and eggplant. I found if flavorless and skimpy on the zucchini and eggplant.
Other main courses included braised beef cheek and grilled lamb chop with gnocchi and Café de Paris sauce and roasted broccolini; or pineapple prawns with yogurt rice and five-spice beetroot.
The meal service was capped off by a fantastic dessert. I got the homemade chocolate bar, which was divine. The bar was smooth without being too rich, coated with powdered chocolate and accompanied by fresh raspberries. As a sweets lover, I found this the highlight of the meal.
Barely an hour before landing, we were offered breakfast (our landing at Frankfurt was scheduled for 5:30am). Instead of making us choose, the crew gave us both breakfasts on the menu. The first, buckwheat muesli with goji berries and dried apricot, was tasty. The second was smoked turkey breast, beef salami, cottage cheese and cheddar cheese.
Breakfast was also served with fresh fruit and a croissant. I found the food overall to be good. The fruit was fresh, and there was a good variety.
Overall, the food on this flight was good but not great. While I definitely didn’t go hungry, I felt some of the dishes lacked true flavor. That said, there were bright spots in the meal — the brightest of which was the homemade chocolate bar.
What really helped to set this flight apart from other business-class experiences I’ve had before was the service. I’d heard fantastic things about Lufthansa crew before, and this flight did not disappoint.
From the moment I boarded, the flight crew was welcoming and seemed genuinely happy to be doing what they were doing. A friendly flight agent noticed I was taking a lot of pictures and instead of demanding I stop, which has happened before, she offered to take a picture of me in the seat.
When it came time for meal service, the tablecloth that was first placed on my tray table had a hair on it. The flight attendant was extremely apologetic and got a new cloth. Service can either make or break a flight, and in this case, it was the former.
Lufthansa’s business class is still a solid way way to get across the Atlantic. Despite the objectively dated hard product, I had an extremely friendly crew, comfortable amenities and decent food. If I’d been seated on the lower deck with a seatmate, I probably would have had a much different experience, but since I was seated in a relatively empty upper deck with no one next to me, I really enjoyed this flight.
Adding in the fact that you can get spectacular value from your points and miles, Lufthansa biz becomes an even more appealing option. It’s something every AvGeek should have on their list.
All photos by the author.
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