I Wish It Never Ended: Lufthansa First Class From Chicago to Frankfurt on the 747-8
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I have been waiting for this moment: I have just crossed "fly LH F" off my bucket list. On a recent trip to Madrid, Spain, I got the chance to fly one of the most sought-after products in the sky — Lufthansa first class. And, even better, I found a seat right in the nose of one of the carrier's Boeing 747-8s, an iconic aircraft that I've been eager to try out ever since Korean Air so nonchalantly swapped a 777 in for the 747-8 on my first flight in first class some months ago. Others in the TPG office are no strangers to Lufthansa first, and have spoken very highly of it. Korean Air's first class pretty much blew me away, so I was eager to give another top carrier a try — and, of course, to collect one of those Lufthansa rubber duckies.
Finding a saver-level award seat in Lufthansa first is a labor of love. It's basically impossible to find awards through Star Alliance partners like Aeroplan and United more than 15 days before departure, but once you get inside that window, your chances improve considerably.
Things worked out well for me this time because I was very flexible — as soon as I knew that I'd be traveling to Madrid on this specific weekend, I began searching for Delta awards, knowing that I had the flexibility to redeposit my SkyMiles as a Platinum Medallion. I originally booked an economy award from New York (JFK) to Madrid (MAD) via Atlanta (ATL) for 30,000 SkyMiles and $5.60 in taxes and fees, and held onto that ticket until just a few days before departure when something bigger and much, much better came along.
I came across the availability while I was searching for a return from Spain — I'd already resigned myself to the fact that I'd be spending almost nine hours in a Delta Comfort+ seat on a Delta 767 (which, by the way, isn't bad if you're flying coach, thanks to the 2-3-2 economy configuration.) However, as I was playing around with United's award finder, I stumbled across a saver award in first class from Chicago (ORD) to Frankfurt (FRA), for 110,000 miles and $91 in taxes and fees.
I couldn't pass this one up, so we transferred the necessary points from Chase Ultimate Rewards to United and booked the trip from New York (LGA) to MAD via ORD and FRA as soon as possible. Remember, too, that if you’re short on United miles, they transfer instantly from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio, and it’s easy to collect UR points with cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card each offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening.
You can also book the same seat through Aeroplan for just 70,000 miles and around $600 in taxes and fees, but Aeroplan doesn't allow you to call and add on other segments to the flight (LGA-ORD and FRA-MAD in this case) like United does. If you want to go the Aeroplan route in the future but don't have enough miles to get you there, consider signing up for The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, which is currently offering a welcome bonus of up to 75,000 bonus points: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $10,000 and an extra 25,000 bonus points after you spend an additional $10,000 all on qualifying purchases within your first 3 months of Card Membership. If you don’t want to deal with such a high spending requirement, Platinum Card® from American Express is offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 within the first three months of account opening.
Another way to book Lufthansa first awards is through Avianca's LifeMiles program. Though it can be extremely frustrating to use, the program sometimes offers "buy miles" promotions that make first-class flights much more affordable. For example, the program recently offered a promotion through which you could buy miles with a 125% bonus, resulting in a cost of 1.47 cents per point, meaning you'd only need to spend $1,279 to purchase the 87,000 miles required for a one-way ticket between the US and Germany.
Check-in and Lounge
My journey began in a decidedly un-luxurious manner — at New York's LaGuardia Airport, where I checked in with a United agent and checked my bag all the way to Madrid. After an uneventful economy flight on an Airbus A319, I landed at O'Hare's concourse C, ready to check out a Polaris Lounge for the first time.
TPG's Zach Honig has reviewed the ORD lounge extensively, so I won't go into detail here, but I was very impressed by my experience. The food and drinks were excellent, the space was airy, smartly designed and it provided some killer views.
I especially enjoyed the cocktail known as the American Paper Plane, which came highly recommended from Zach — and it didn't disappoint.
I think United has a winner on its hands with its Polaris Lounges — they're up to par with what you'd find with top-notch international carriers.
After about 90 minutes in the Polaris Lounge, it was time to board. Once I arrived at the gate, I quickly realized that this was going to be of the low points (probably the lowest point) of my Lufthansa First experience. It was — in a word — chaotic. I had plenty of time before boarding was set to begin, but when I got to the gate, most, if not all, of the passengers had already lined up and were stretched far down the concourse — the 748 is a big bird! Plus, making things worse was that a United flight was also beginning its boarding process, resulting in a combined mosh pit of very confused people.
I had to very awkwardly cut through the lines to make my way over to the first and business class line — there was no separate line for first-class passengers only, which was a bit surprising to me.
After successfully navigating the chaos, I was set to board the gleaming Boeing 747-8, registration D-ABYK, which was delivered new to Lufthansa in 2013 and has been flying for the German flag carrier ever since.
Cabin and Seat
First class on Lufthansa's 747-8 is located in the nose of the aircraft — a truly unique experience. In the nose are just eight seats — three on either side along the walls and then two directly adjacent to each other in the middle.
If you're traveling with a companion, the two seats in the middle are ideal, but they don't offer as much privacy for solo travelers.
However, if you're traveling alone like I was, the seats along the walls are your best bet. I lucked out and got to select 1K, the most forward seat in the nose on the starboard side of the aircraft.
Each Lufthansa first seat measures in at a whopping 30 inches wide, and offers a bed length of 81 inches (6'9") when reclined fully — in other words, I had plenty of room to sprawl out.
As you could imagine, the low-density cabin provided for a lot of storage space. To the right of the seat are two slim compartments — one held the airline-provided noise-cancelling headphones, while the other was empty but could have been used to store any number of things. I chose to store my wallet, passport and AirPods on the shelf between the seat and the windows, though, because I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to dig those items out later.
The ottoman that was located under the IFE screen was the high point on the storage front, for sure. It opened up and was able to swallow both my backpack and my sneakers, something I appreciated immensely as I loathe being cluttered at my seat!
If you're traveling with a lot of gadgets, there's no need to worry. Each seat has two USB ports and two AC power outlets.
The (numerous) seat controls are located in their own compartment and were pretty self-explanatory. I found, however, that I basically only used two settings: fully upright for takeoff, landing and eating and fully flat to (attempt to) sleep.
I personally am a fan of the colors Lufthansa employs in its first-class cabins — the light walls with the dark brown seat covers create a smart and luxurious atmosphere. Even the two lavatories were luxurious — they were equipped with a window(!!) as well as a leather-padded bench for freshening up. Additionally, they were stocked with plenty of toiletries that aid in arriving at your destination as fresh as possible.
There's definitely something special about the view of the cabin from the very front of the nose — the bar area set with glasses for Champagne under the "vaulted" ceiling and the illuminated Lufthansa crane at the back create an oh-so-elegant look that's hard to forget.
Of course, a journey in Lufthansa first class wouldn't be complete without the carrier's signature rose — it's the little touches that make experiences like this so special.
Oh, and having three windows to yourself doesn't hurt, either.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
When I boarded the flight, there was nothing in terms of amenities waiting for me at my seat, so I assumed they'd be delivered to me before the flight got underway. However, nothing was given to me until I asked after we took off. I suppose I could be partly to blame for that, too, since I was furiously taking photos since I boarded the plane and may have thrown off the flow of the flight attendant who was taking care of me. Right after I got settled in, the the purser made his way over to my seat and introduced himself and asked a little more about my trip. He could tell I was absurdly excited to be there, and we chatted for a few minutes about the aircraft and the first-class experience.
A bit after boarding and before we took off, I inquired about the amenities — the flight attendant apologized profusely and I quickly received a pair of pajamas, a pair of slippers and an amenity kit.
The Braun Buffel-branded amenity kit contained a dental kit, a pair of socks, a shoehorn (one of my favorite things to find in an amenity kit), a comb, a pair of ear plugs and hand cream, ice crystal cream and lip balm from la prairie.
Like I mentioned earlier, Lufthansa first passengers get noise-cancelling Bose headphones, which I found to be excellent.
One thing I was slightly disappointed about was the size of the IFE screen — the seat is so far away from it that it actually feels small. It wasn't the sharpest screen I've come across on a plane, either.
That being said, I liked Lufthansa's IFE system. It was responsive, intuitive, and had plenty of content to choose from. I had no trouble selecting more than one movie I wanted to watch.
I purchased Wi-Fi for the duration of the flight, and it started off working very well, but then after a few hours only worked for messaging apps and I couldn't load any webpages — certainly frustrating after paying $22 for connectivity.
Food and Beverage
I can't recall any other meal in my life that was as lavish as the one I experienced in Lufthansa first class. It began right when I got on board, with a couple glasses of Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle Champagne, which retails for about $140 per bottle on the ground, and a bowl of warm mixed nuts.
After takeoff, the main meal service began with a hot towel that was served on its own plate with a rose petal — how's that for luxe?
Next up was a surprise — a seafood amuse bouche served with what tasted like a mustard sauce. I spent a good amount of time scouring the menu when deliberating over which meal I'd choose, and this course was nowhere to be found. This isn't a complaint really, since I'd consider a surprise course to be a good thing, but I do find it interesting that it wasn't listed on the menu.
After the amuse bouche was cleared, the flight attendant came to take my order for the rest of the meal as well as to give me several pieces of bread. For the appetizer, I could choose between five options:
- Caviar with traditional garnishes
- Pan-seared scallops and grilled shrimp with a papaya and cucumber salad and lime ginger soy sauce
- Black-pepper crusted duck breast, potato salad with white truffle oil and boiled quail eggs
- Red and golden beet puree with chevre pearl barley salad
- Salad with tomatoes and julienned radish and choice of dressing
As I've learned during my time at TPG, when you do international first class, you eat caviar. And that's exactly what I selected. Lufthansa's presentation was a little different from the one I'd seen on Korean, but it was just as decadent.
Instead of an individual serving like I got on Korean, the Lufthansa FA scooped the caviar from one large bowl — it was quite an impressive display of over-the-top luxury.
I asked the flight attendant if I could also have the garden salad in addition to my caviar, because I felt like I needed at least a little green in this meal. It was definitely one of the freshest salads I've had on a plane — it actually tasted like a restaurant salad.
There were also five options for the main course entree:
- Grilled beef filet with cabernet au jus, balsamic onion, sautéed baby spinach, blanched white pearl onion, grilled asparagus and mashed potatoes
- Pan-seared salmon filet with a ginger glaze, spiced eggplant, blanched gai lan and steamed jasmine rice
- Turkey roulade with pork stuffing and a burgundy demi glace, sautéed arugula and leeks, blanched wax beans with olive oil and saffron mashed potatoes
- Mushroom agnolotti with blanched Napa cabbage leaf, basil cream sauce, tomato plum concassée and sautéed zucchini
- Cream of celery root with sautéed corn and red bell pepper
I chose the filet, and was very happy with my choice. The meat itself was a tad overdone, but that's to be expected on a plane, frankly. In addition, the sides were cooked perfectly and very tasty. I was very satisfied — and very full — at this point.
There was no time to be full, though — it was time for dessert, and there were three options to choose from:
- A cheese plate including Dubliner white cheddar, Amablu blue cheese, Cacio de Roma, Camembert Le Conquerant, Rougette and fig pomegranate marmalade
- Raspberry compote dark chocolate Pot De Crème
- Warmed blueberry crumble with vanilla ice cream
I explained to the flight attendant that I was struggling to choose between the cheese plate and the Pot De Crème, so she brought me both... just what I needed! I couldn't even get close to finishing them both, but I had some of each dish and can report that they were excellent.
After a few hours of unsuccessfully attempting to sleep (this is not the fault of the hard product, as it was fantastic, but rather due to my excitement of being in Lufthansa first), it was already time to eat again. There were several items on the breakfast menu including:
- Fresh orange juice
- Homemade fresh smoothie
- Fresh fruit
- Muesli with milk or yogurt
- Fresh berries
- Milano salami
- Dubliner cheddar and brie
- Smoked salmon
- Scrambled eggs prepared fresh with bacon or chives
- Various breads, rolls, croissants, muffins and danishes served with butter, jam, honey and nutella
I ordered a plate of scrambled eggs with bacon — I wasn't very hungry considering dinner was just a few hours before, but I was very curious to see how freshly scrambled eggs tasted on a plane. I must say, they were pretty delicious — I'd consider this the best-tasting breakfast I've had on an airplane.
As you'd expect, Lufthansa has a full selection of beverages to choose from in first class. As I mentioned earlier, Lufthansa was pouring Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle for those who selected Champagne. In addition to the Champagne, there were several white wine options including a 2016 Siefersheimer Riesling from Germany; a 2015 Wormberg Pinot Blanc from Germany; a 2016 Raif Sauvignon Blanc from Italy; and a 2015 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from the US. Red options included a 2008 Château Laroze Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé from France; a 2012 Single Vineyard Dueto by Quinta de Quercus in Spain; a 2012 McLaren Vale Shiraz from Australia; and a 2013 Columbia Valley Col Solare from the US. For dessert beverages, the menu featured a Riesling Auslese from Germany, Tawny Port, and Baileys Irish Cream.
There were plenty of spirits on offer, too, including Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey Old No.7; Johnnie Walker Blue Label; The Singleton single malt Scotch Whisky of Glendullan 12 years old; Star of Bombay gin; Beluga Noble Russian vodka; Cognac Rémy Martin CM 28; Calvados Pays d'Auge AC, Daron; Jägermeister; and Walcher Williams Exclusiv.
Lufthansa First-Class Terminal
My flight landed bright and (very) early in Frankfurt and even though I was sad to get off the plane, I knew there was more fun to be had in the form of the Lufthansa First-Class Terminal. I've read much about this magical place on other blogs and heard rave reviews from other TPG employees, so I was thrilled to get the chance to experience it for myself.
First, though, I had to find it. The Terminal is really designed for travelers who are originating in Germany, as it's not the easiest to find if you're arriving at FRA. You have to exit the main terminal and walk along the road until you reach the terminal. Once you find it, you simply take an elevator up one floor to the main lobby where you'll find agents waiting to check you in as well as a security checkpoint (you get screened in the lounge and thus can be brought directly to your plane when it's time to board).
An agent in the Terminal takes your boarding pass and keeps it until it's time to board, at which point the agent comes back to find you and escort you to the Porsche that will bring you to your flight. Yep, you read that right...
First things first, though. The famous FCT rubber duck. Who knew a children's toy could make me so excited?!
Right after I claimed my duck, I headed over to the far right side of the space where there are two nap rooms that passengers are allowed to use. Since I didn't sleep at all on the flight over due to the early departure from Chicago as well as just being too excited to do so, I was delighted to have the opportunity to rest for a few hours — I purposely built in a seven-hour layover in FRA so that I could sleep and experience the FCT.
After a few hours of much-needed sleep, I inquired about taking a shower, as I wanted to freshen up a bit before my next flight. There was no wait for the shower room, which by itself wasn't much different than other shower suites I've experienced at other lounges, but the fact that I was showering after I got to nap in a real bed made it that much better.
Unfortunately, I was still full from my breakfast (and dinner, frankly) on the plane, so I didn't take advantage of any dining options (both a la carte and buffet) in the lounge.
However, I did help myself to some of the gummy candies that were available.
As promised when I entered the lounge, the agent came to find me once it was time for me to board.
She brought me down a floor to get my boarding pass scanned and to hand me off to the driver that would bring me to the plane in a brand-new black Porsche Cayenne Turbo. I had to pinch myself to remind me that this was indeed really happening.
The driver wasn't allowed to use even 1/10th of the 550 horsepower that the Cayenne Turbo packs, but regardless it was an unforgettable experience to be driven to my flight in one of my dream vehicles.
Even though not everything was perfect with this flight, it was an experience I'll never forget. Even though the taxes and fees are steep, I think it's worth it to book Lufthansa first again, though the next time I do so I'll try to book a flight that's originating in Europe so I can more fully experience the First Class Terminal and all the perks of the flight without being too exhausted. Despite having a decidedly average business-class product, Lufthansa offers in first a truly luxurious experience that ranks up there with some of the best in the world. So, let's do that again, shall we?