Let’s Call it a Fluke: Lufthansa (747-8) in First Class From Frankfurt to Newark
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[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="80" ground-experience="10" cabin-seat="20" amens-ife="12" food-bev="20" service="18" pros="Exceptional ground services, great food and beverage selection, comfortable seat and bed." cons="So-so privacy, forgetful flight attendant, dated IFE, sluggish Wi-Fi." /]
As a frequent Star Alliance flyer, I'm no stranger to Lufthansa first class. I've flown the airline's top-notch premium product on every aircraft but the Airbus A380. While not entirely flawless, it's consistent in flight, with good to great ground services to boot.
So in the process of re-reviewing some of the contenders for the Best International First Class product in the inaugural TPG Awards, I didn't hesitate to give Lufthansa another go, this time on a flight from Frankfurt (FRA) to Newark (EWR). There was just one big issue: We couldn't find any award space on the dates I could travel.
Normally, we'd just pick a different product to review, or wait until award availability popped up and plan a reviews trip around that, but with the TPG Awards looming, we had no choice but to book the ticket with cash.
In total, we paid $3,762 for the outbound from Germany booked in first class, with a return in May booked in premium economy. I'd already applied a United Global Premier Upgrade to that return segment, so I hope to score a bump to business class on the second leg of this trip in the spring.
Since this was a paid ticket, I was eligible for mileage accrual. I credited the flight to United MileagePlus, my Star Alliance program of choice, earning 7,740 Premier Qualifying Miles and a grand total of 11,610 redeemable miles, worth $163 based on our valuations.
Additionally, since we paid with the Platinum Card® from American Express, we earned 18,810 Membership Rewards points, worth $376. I'll also earn another 9,675 United miles for the premium economy return flight in May.
Had there been award space, booking options would have included Avianca LifeMiles (87,000 miles each way), Aeroplan (70,000 miles each way, plus very high fuel surcharges) and United MileagePlus (110,000 miles each way), among others. For more on how to book this flight using miles, see the Ultimate Guide to Lufthansa First Class.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Ground Experience" tpg-rating="10" tpg-rating-max="10" tail="D-ABYG" age="6" late="57" departure="14" departure-2="01" duration="7" duration-2="52" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Around 9:50am, I began my journey at the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, an entire building specifically designated for first-class passengers on Lufthansa and Swiss, plus a very select group of top-tier elites.
The First Class Terminal, or FCT, if you will, was such a special place that I dedicated an entire review to the food, booze and other amenities.
There was even a huge bathroom with a full bathtub, in addition to three separate shower suites.
You wouldn't go hungry, either, thanks to the full-service dining room — where everything was included, of course.
But perhaps best of all was how the FCT handled departures. When it was time to board — around 1:10pm in my case — your "personal assistant" would come find you in the lounge and take you downstairs to complete immigration formalities.
All passengers were then driven directly to the plane, in vehicles that included a Porsche sedan, for smaller groups, or a Mercedes van when a handful of FCT guests were traveling on the same flight, as was the case for me.
In the past, I've driven past dozens of planes en route to my departing aircraft, but this time our Boeing 747-8 was parked just around the corner, a mere 40-second drive from the First Class Terminal.
Interestingly, it seemed another passenger did manage to score a Porsche ride, perhaps driven directly from a connecting flight.
Our group then took an elevator to the second level, where we joined other passengers boarding from the main terminal.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="20" tpg-rating-max="25" configuration="1" configuration-2="2" configuration-3="1" width="22" bed="80" lavs="2" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
With a total of eight seats, Lufthansa's roughly in the middle of the road when it comes to cabin density in the nose of the 747. Korean Air, which also flies the 747-8, has just six enclosed suites up front. Thai, on the other hand, has at least nine on its older 747-400s.
Lufthansa's cabin looked fantastic, though. There were three seats on each side of the plane, plus one set of two seats in the center, ideal for couples traveling together.
The cabin was completely full on my flight, with six solo travelers in the window seats and a couple seated in the paired seats just behind the small cabinet/bar.
Personally, I might even opt for a window seat when flying with someone else — perhaps 1A and 1K, which were fairly close together.
Then there were two well-equipped lavatories just behind the cabin.
They were a bit on the smaller side, the norm for 747s, but there was enough room to change clothes and move around.
The lavatories also had a window — kinda fun in the air but potentially awkward if you forgot to lower the shade on the ground.
After changing into my supplied PJs (more on that shortly), I returned to Seat 2K, which I (correctly) assumed would offer a bit more privacy than those in the first and third rows, since it was next to a storage compartment rather than another seat.
The seat felt quite spacious. Even especially tall travelers would have no problem sticking their feet up and getting comfortable.
There weren't any overhead bins in the cabin. Instead, you could store a small bag under the ottoman, while larger items went into a designated locker near the galley.
There were also several storage compartments under the armrest, including one that was hiding tethered Bose headphones.
I found the seat controls under a panel on the opposite side, with more options than you'd see in business class — you could move the ottoman forward and back, for example.
That's also where you could control the slide-up privacy divider, which I deployed right after takeoff.
While you could do it yourself if you insisted, flight attendants were happy to provide turndown service, converting the seat into bed mode.
I found the bed to be very comfortable — the mattress pad and extra pillow I requested certainly didn't hurt.
There was also some slick mood lighting — a long sunset scene helped ease me to sleep.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="12" tpg-rating-max="15" screen="17" live-tv="Yes" tailcam="No" wifi="0.34" wifi-2="0.12" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Slippers and an amenity kit were waiting when I arrived, and a flight attendant came by with pajamas a couple of minutes after that. I'm 5 feet, 9 inches and of fairly average build, and a medium set fit me just fine.
The amenity kit was stocked with La Prairie amenities, plus a dental kit, eye mask, earplugs, a comb, a shoehorn, socks and ear covers for the supplied Bose noise-canceling headphones.
There was also a strange black tube of sorts, which a flight attendant explained was to hold a watch. I just happened to be wearing one, so I got to put it to use. Neat, but a little excessive, perhaps.
More amenities were available in the lavatories, including shaving sets, a refreshing spray and moist towelettes.
Each seat had a 17-inch inflight-entertainment system, loaded with a seemingly endless selection of movies and TV shows.
One reason the selection seemed to go on and on was how it was organized — or not organized, in this case. I had to scroll vertically through movie after movie, arranged in a list, rather than just the cover art you see on more up-to-date systems.
The moving map also felt incredibly dated — it was low-resolution and didn't offer any custom functionality.
There was live TV as well, but channels were limited to CNN International, Euronews and Sport 24.
Worst of all, the display wasn't a touchscreen. I had to make all adjustments using the arrow buttons on the wired remote.
Aside from the decent selection, perhaps the only real upside to Lufthansa's IFE was that first-class passengers got Bose noise-canceling headphones. They were comfortable and did a good job of blocking out cabin noise.
The same selection of live TV channels was also supposedly available via the Wi-Fi network, but I couldn't get any to load on my phone.
Internet connectivity was available at reasonable rates. A full flight pass cost $19, which wasn't bad for a roughly eight-hour trek.
Speeds weren't great, though. I was able to send text messages and load text-based email, but not much else.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="20" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals="2" champagne="Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle" dine-on-demand="Yes" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Normally I'd be beyond excited about getting to enjoy a delicious meal in Lufthansa first class, but it was lunchtime when we boarded, and I had already polished off two full meals at the First Class Terminal.
Still, I didn't hold back — gotta try it all for you, dear TPG reader.
Our food and beverage adventure began almost immediately after boarding, when a flight attendant made the rounds to offer a predeparture beverage. Lufthansa serves Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, so I requested a glass of Champagne, which was served promptly with macadamia nuts.
Shortly after takeoff, I noticed that all of the other seats had a fresh rose in the dedicated holder. I felt a little silly about it, but I decided to inquire about my own flower. The flight attendant was very apologetic when she brought one over; apparently I had missed a rose ceremony of sorts when I went to change into my pajamas in the lavatory.
About 35 minutes after takeoff, the main meal began with an amuse-bouche of smoked trout. I asked for more Champagne as well, and the flight attendant went to grab some from the console just a couple feet away. She got distracted, though, and never brought it over. When I inquired 10 minutes later, she seemed to have forgotten that I had even made the request, but poured me a glass the second time I asked.
There was a bit of a lull in the service, but things picked back up when a flight attendant took my entree order an hour into the flight. Choices included a lamb loin with teriyaki tomato jus and jalapeño polenta; sea bass with a saffron-vanilla sauce, a duet of goose with red cabbage and potato dumplings; and an "open lasagna" with pumpkin and cottage cheese. That last option sounded fantastic, actually, but I ended up going with the goose, given that it's Lufthansa's signature holiday dish.
My table was set 15 minutes after that, and I was presented with a basket of bread. Of course, I chose the pretzel — a German option on a German airline.
An hour and 40 minutes after takeoff, we finally began the appetizer course. The flight attendant asked if I wanted caviar. Well, actually, she asked, "Do you eat caviar?" as if expecting me to say something along the lines of, "Yuck, of course I don't eat caviar." Instead, she seemed surprised when I said yes, as if I were a young child asking my grandmother for a plate of liver and onions.
I do in fact enjoy caviar. I like it more when it's served with blinis, but Lufthansa only had toasted white bread.
With the flight attendant now fully engaged, following my shocking request for the caviar course, I figured I might as well ask her to take my picture.
A few minutes after the caviar, I spotted the flight attendant hopping around the cabin with an appetizer cart. I had noticed her serving passengers out of order earlier in the flight, but didn't think much of it. This time it was clearly intentional. I assumed she was trying to accommodate members of Lufthansa's top HON Circle elite tier first.
After 1A, 1K, 2A and 3K got to pick, she pulled up to 2K, and it was my turn to choose the next course from the tray. The menu didn't exactly make it clear how much or little you were expected to order, so I asked to try them all. She appeared to think that was just the silliest thing, of course, but here I am with all of my little salads.
It was too much food, but the appetizer plate had spots for three plates or bowls — it wouldn't have looked right if I had refused one of the courses, so I picked at each one.
The Black Angus beef with lemon cream was flavorful. I'm not quite sure about the grapefruit pairing, but it was a nice dish overall.
The flamed goat cheese was served cold, and was much more solid than I would have expected. I think it would have been delicious warm, instead.
The halibut, meanwhile, was far too salty, though I did really enjoy the walnut pesto on the side.
The unexpected highlight was the lamb's lettuce salad, served with tomato and walnuts and topped with pine nuts and an absolutely delicious potato dressing.
Not long after, about two hours and 10 minutes into the flight, it was time for the soup course. The menu described it as a topinambour cream, which I later learned is the French word for Jerusalem artichoke. I'd never seen the word "topinambour," so I was hesitant at first. The flavor was perhaps a bit too strong for a soup — I think it would have worked better as a sauce. I enjoyed the small bread dumplings, though.
My goose arrived about two and a half hours after takeoff. It didn't look very first class, but I was much more interested in how it would taste. There were two preparations: delicious tender chunks, which I loved, and then some meat on the bone, which I found to be a little dry. The dumplings and red cabbage were both great, though, and I loved the 2008 Chateau Laroze, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru the flight attendant suggested as a pairing.
The dessert cart came by 10 minutes after that. I went with the gingerbread cake and orange cream. It was light and not too sweet.
I also asked for a mix of cheeses, and I'm glad I did, since it was one of the best cheese plates I've had on a plane.
Finally, the flight attendant came by with a box of chocolate truffles, so I grabbed a couple to serve as a midflight snack.
About 90 minutes before landing, it was time to order lunch. The menu listed a variety of items, broken out into categories, as if they were part of a five-course meal: assorted fish (graved and spiced salmon, halibut, tuna and hot-smoked rainbow trout garnished with apple horseradish and dill-mustard mayonnaise); veal escalope, Frankfurt-style green sauce, Lyonnaise potatoes; crustacean soup, crayfish tail and chiles; fresh mixed-leaf salad, carrot julienne, fennel and saltimbocca skewer; and plum tart, mango and papaya wedges or fresh blueberries
I also got another pretzel. The flight attendant accidentally dropped it on my seat, then said, "Is it OK, or can I get you another one?" I asked for another one, but it all felt a bit awkward. Just offering another right off the bat would have felt a bit more first class.
It sounded like a lot, but I wasn't entirely clear on what I was supposed to order. Since the flight attendant wasn't of much help, I asked for the fish plate and the veal. She seemed a bit shocked, and said, "Oh! It's a lot, but I'll bring it to you." The fish was great — a very good dish, but not quite a full meal on its own.
She had forgotten about my veal, but she brought it right away when I asked. The fish was the far better choice — the veal was flavorful, but way too greasy. The cold green sauce was delicious, though.
I was also offered dessert, and requested the blueberries. It was just a small bowl of mediocre blueberries.
I asked for tea as well — Assam Special Broken, described as "a robust, elegant tea, harvested at the Brahmaputra River plantations in northern India." Perfect. Except it never arrived.
A few minutes later, the same flight attendant came over and just kinda stared at me for a moment, then said, "Oh, you wanted some tea didn't you? What kind of tea did you want?"
I placed my order again, but she brought something else entirely, which was listed elsewhere on the menu as Bio Relax Ayurvital.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="18" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="Yes" turndown-service="Yes" /]
I've generally had very good service in Lufthansa first class, so this particular flight felt like a bit of a fluke. While the flight attendant serving my row was friendly overall, she made me feel uncomfortable for misunderstanding the menu and ordering too much food, and repeatedly forgot to bring requested items. Turndown service was offered promptly, though, and Lufthansa's ground services in Frankfurt are out-of-this-world.
With our on-time arrival in Newark, another pleasant Lufthansa flight had come to an end. I love how consistent Lufthansa's first class is. While the lounge experience will differ significantly from one airport to the next, on board you find a virtually identical product on all of the carrier's long-haul planes.
I was let down by the inflight service, though. My flight attendant seemed especially forgetful, neglecting to bring Champagne, one of the dishes and my tea, and clearly didn't feel the need to hold back on her judgment, critiquing what I ordered and how much. It wasn't an awful experience by any stretch, but it also wasn't on par with the service I've received on previous Lufthansa flights.
Based on my other experiences, I'm happy to write this one off as a fluke. And my time at the First Class Terminal was pleasant as can be — if you're booking Lufthansa first class, I highly recommend beginning your travels in Frankfurt on at least one of the legs, if at all possible.