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This is second half of this trip report.

After a few weeks exploring all of Germany it was time to make our way home. The last city we visited was Munich and we would begin our trip home from the city’s airport, Franz Joseph Strauss International. Our return journey was slated to be MUCZRHJFK/EWRAUS. The long-haul Swiss flight, ZRH-JFK, would be on one of Swiss’s newly retrofitted Airbus A330-300s. It is the only aircraft in their fleet to be fitted with their newest first class seat.

Swiss

One thing I failed to mention in the previous post was the fact that Swiss is actually a Lufthansa subsidiary and operates as a separate airline. As such, the ground services, onboard product, food, and lounges are very different from each other and it is obvious that Swiss is catering to a subset of the Lufthansa market.

Munich’s Franz Joseph Strauss airport sits a good 45 minutes away from the city by train and at €10.80 is one of the more expensive airport trains out there (I’m looking at you London Heathrow). Once inside the airport, Lufthansa handles the check-in and baggage movement for Swiss and as a first class passenger on their subsidiary, one is entitled to use the Lufthansa first class check-in, security checkpoint, and lounge. Check-in was fairly smooth, though there was a slight problem with Jessica’s ticket, but it was fixed and the agent was very apologetic. Security was just as smooth, though I did experience something I’ve never seen before. One of the security officers stopped me, had me remove my camera from it’s bag, take a picture and prove that a photograph was taken. While over the top, it makes more sense than taking a giant x-ray of me.

After a slight chuckle over that fun experience we walked to Lufthansa’s first class lounge and were promptly greeted and given a quick tour of the facility. We were also informed that since our flight would be leaving from a remote stand a car would be arranged to take us to the flight. The lounge is noticeably smaller than the first class terminal in Frankfurt but the same amenities remain. We decided to have breakfast in the restaurant and enjoyed a number of items, including their granola and yogurt, and eggs cooked just the way you like them.

Around 10:00am a Lufthansa assistant came and escorted us to the car, a Mercedes S-Class. A five minute drive later and we were at the aircraft with the driver taking our hand luggage onboard for us. This was a short flight, maybe right at an hour from gate to gate but Swiss managed to serve a continental style breakfast and I think the flight attendant was a little disappointed that I was not hungry and passed on the offering.

On arrival in Zurich we walked up some stairs and followed the sign to the Swiss First Lounge. It’s a modern, bright, and airy facility that one does not have a problem envisioning as “Swiss”. There are not as many amenities as the Lufthansa lounges but there is still a restaurant, a full service bar, a self-serve bar, showers and bathrooms. The check-in procedure to the lounge is a bit strange, you show the attendant your boarding pass and then they ask you what time you want to proceed to your flight. Not knowing what to expect I chose the second to last time available.

A couple of hours later and we headed to the desk where the agent told us to be at our designated time. We were five minutes early and the agent said they weren’t ready yet and asked if we could come back in a few minutes. This struck me as odd but we went and sat down for a few more minutes before once again walking back to the front desk. This time there was a driver waiting for us and another couple and she escorted us down an escalator to a security checkpoint. Our luggage was checked and then we were escorted to a van that took us across the airport and dropped us off outside of a second checkpoint. So we were able to skip the train ride (that is inside of security) and instead undergo two security screenings? Something just seems weird about the way Swiss has that van system set up.

About fifteen minutes later we were boarding the aircraft. A friendly Swiss flight attendant greeted us and asked if she could help us with any of our items. A few minutes later and she was back with an amuse bouche and a beverage. The amuse bouche consisted of poached leeks, a lightly fried cheese, and a savory torte. My stomach was already getting excited for what was to come.

Pre-departure Amuse-bouche

Pre-departure Amuse Bouche

The new Swiss seat is a great way to fly. It has a large ottoman and an enormous video screen. If you are in the middle section there is a large divider that can be raised to separate you from the person next to you. With only eight people in first, it is a very private cabin with a very personal feeling service.

SWISS First Seat

Swiss First Class Seat

SWISS First Legroom

Swiss First Class Legroom and Entertainment

Our flight was right on time and after a climb that gave some impressive views of the Swiss Alps the flight attendants were quickly going through the cabin making sure that every passenger was taken care of. A set of pajamas were handed out in case we wanted to nap and the same flight attendant asked us if we’d like to dine together. On Swiss’s aircraft, the first class seat’s ottoman also has a seatbelt that allows it to be used as a second seat for dining with your travel companion. The table was then set and lunch service began, with large menus being distributed.

Table Setting

Swiss First Class Table Setting

Appetizers

Appetizers - Balik Salmon, Watermelon Gelatin, and Venison

Salad

Salad Course

The first two courses were great and I was having to pace myself. The flight attendants are constantly doing their rounds, filling up wine glasses, asking if we’d like more of a particular item, and just making sure everyone is happy. The soup was a cold gazpacho and it was flavorful, with a bit of heat at the end. For my main course I had chosen a Swiss specialty, Schnitzu. It is essentially schnitzel but the Swiss use pork rather than veal and bread it more delicately. Alas, they had only loaded two of that dish on board so I decided to have the rack of lamb instead. It was good, though a bit dry.

Chilled Gazpacho

Chilled Gazpacho

Rack of Lamb

Rack of Lamb

By far, my favorite course of the meal was the cheese course. The selection of cheeses was fantastic and the gruyere choice was particularly tasty. It was tart with that pungent bite that I love and I enjoyed it so much the flight attendant saved some for me for just before landing (I’m sure the immigration officer at JFK loved that).

Cheese Plate

Cheese Course

The dessert course was nothing spectacular, a chocolate cake with raspberry mousse. It was flavorful and sweet and topped off the meal, but it was not something I vividly remember like the gazpacho or the cheese course.

Around the time we made landfall over Canada the flight attendant offered us ice cream and I gladly accepted, along with a cappuccino. The inflight entertainment system is loaded with a disappointing selection so I made due watching Wall-E. There is a hook-up for your iPad or iPod but you need to have an s-video connector as they only have one on-board for the first class cabin. When they came around with pre-arrival snacks, the flight attendant brought me more of that gruyere that I was so enamored with and I thanked her.

We landed right on time at JFK and that was pretty much the end of the Swiss experience. There is no escort from the plane to immigration or holding back of other passengers. I didn’t really care as we were still some of the first folks off of the plane and only had a ten minute wait at immigration.

Overall, I would say that Lufthansa’s ground handling, especially at their hubs, outshines Swiss without question. Swiss’s new first class seat definitely beat Lufthansa’s old style first class seat, though with Lufthansa receiving new first class seats fleet wide I’m sure it will be a dead heat between the two. Food wise, there were things I liked about both airlines but I thought Swiss’s presentation was better and enjoyed my meal on them more than Lufthansa. Both crews were equally fantastic and I never had a moment where I felt the service lacked on either flight.

If you are looking for a way to spend miles in the Star Alliance and especially if you want to spend some time in Europe either to or from Asia, it is a great value for a great experience.

If you are looking for some help with a reward booking or want more information on the Swiss or Lufthansa products, feel free to contact me.

I have not written much in the way of trip reports from some of my business and first class experiences. There are a number of reasons but the main one has been a lack of time. After receiving a couple of e-mails from friends asking me to compare products and amenities, I figured a write-up was in order. This particular comparison is between Swiss International Airlines and Lufthansa, the national carrier of Germany. The actual flights took place in July of 2010 as part of a reward trip that I took to Germany. The cost was 135,000 Continental OnePass miles. The trip routing on the outbound was AUSIAHFRATXL and the return was MUCZRHJFK/EWRAUS.

I have split the report into two parts to make it a little easier to read.

Lufthansa

Route: IAHFRA
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seat: 83C

My wife and I actually started the trip in Austin after dropping off our dog, but had only checked our bags to Houston as I wanted to see what Lufthansa’s ground handling was like for first class passengers. To be blunt, it is nothing to write home about. Check-in was speedy and first class boarding passes get a nice, sturdy boarding pass holder.

The Lufthansa First Class boarding pass sleeve. It's slick.

Lufthansa First Class boarding pass sleeve

There was not much of a line at security and we were through in ten minutes. Terminal D at IAH is fairly quiet due to the times of departures being spread out. Amenities in the terminal are lacking and the Lufthansa lounge option, The Executive Club, is a terrible choice. It is windowless, has no bathrooms, and is just an all around poor lounge. The Terminal C Presidents Club is a short walk away and I recommend making that walk.

Boarding for the Lufthansa flight was called around 3:55pm. Chaos ensued. Even though Lufthansa has a separate line for first and business class passengers were pushing their way to whatever line they could and slowing down the boarding process. The gate agents originally tried to board “Children younger than 16 and those traveling with them” but that equaled most of the plane, so halfway through they stopped boarding and then opened it again to business and first class passengers. Down the jetway we went and as we entered the plane we were greeted with a “Guten Tag!” and shown the stairway to the upper deck on the 747-400.

Lufthansa is an oddity of sorts. They’re first class cabin resides on the upper deck, unlike other airlines, who put first class in the nose of the aircraft. I prefer the upper deck because it is quieter and there is a sense of privacy.

As we put our baggage in the overhead compartment and took our seats we were greeted by a flight attendant who asked us if we would like anything to drink. We went with Warsteiner and the flight attendant returned shortly with two glasses of beer, warm Macadamia nuts, pajamas (for which she had sized us up silently), and an amenity kit.

Lufthansa First

Macadamia Nuts and Warsteiner

By 4:45pm our flight was pushing back from the gate and we were on our way to Frankfurt. A long take-off roll and a slow climb later, we were cruising at 35,000 feet. The cabin crew sprung into action. Out of the sixteen seats in the first class cabin only seven were filled. Of those, only five opted for dinner so service was fast and efficient.

To start, the crew presented us with a duck terrine and a salad composed of watercress, arugula and oranges. The duck terrine was tasty but the salad had little flavor.

Lufthansa Appetizer

Duck Terrine

The salad course was nothing spectacular though the balsamic vinegar dressing was quite good.

Lufthansa Salad

Salad Course

For my main course I went with the steak. My wife had the gnocchi that was served in a curry sauce. Her dish was not her favorite but my steak was cooked a perfect medium and was flavorful. (Is there way to describe a steak more?)

Lufthansa Steak

Steak

A dessert course, followed by a cheese course were next. I had the raspberry sorbet, served with a mango chutney of sorts and few different cheeses.

Lufthansa Sorbet

Raspberry Sorbet

Lufthansa First Class

Cheese Course

After dinner the flight attendants asked if we’d like our beds made and when we replied, “yes”, suggested we take that time to change into our provided pajamas. After brushing my teeth and changing I returned to my seat to find it made into a lie-flat bed with a bottle of water sitting in a cup holder right by my head. I put the earplugs provided in the amenity kit and ended up getting a good six hours of solid sleep.

As our flight approached the English Channel, the flight attendants made their rounds one last time and asked if we’d like breakfast. I ordered eggs, bacon, coffee and orange juice. A short time later, the best breakfast I have ever had on an airplane, arrived. The scrambled eggs were fluffy and flavorful and the bacon was perfect.

Lufthansa First Class Breakfast

Bacon and Eggs

We landed and taxied to a remote stand, where buses are required to get passengers to the terminal. One nice thing Lufthansa does is provide a separate bus for first class passengers. It does not get rid of the mad house known as the “dungeon” at Frankfurt but it allows you to beat a large amount of the traffic to the immigration facilities.

A short time later and we were making our way to the First Class Terminal, a private facility for Lufthansa first class passengers located just west of Terminal 1. Inside the terminal there is a private immigration queue, showers, a full service restaurant, and a bar that has a very large collection of whiskeys, scotches, cognacs, and bourbons that are all free for tasting. You can learn more about the First Class Terminal in the video below (it’s even better if you speak German).

After a shower and meal of schnitzel and potato salad (is there a better meal to start off a trip to Germany with?) we were driven to our Berlin flight with two other passengers in a Mercedes van. The flight itself was uneventful, though they did serve ice cream sandwiches. Berlin-Tegel is a neat airport, even if completely outdated. As Schönefeld Airport comes online, Tegel will be closed (just like Tempelhof before it).

Overall, I enjoyed Lufthansa’s onboard service, even if their hard product, specifically the seat, is old. The ground handling in Houston needs some serious work but the First Class Terminal is an unmatched amenity that makes Lufthansa really stand out.

I ran across this article the other day and I can’t help but feel sorry for the woman involved. Lori Dorn is a breast cancer patient who had a bilateral mastectomy in April and, as a result, had tissue expanders inserted to make way for a later breast implant. During a TSA body scanner inspection at JFK these tissue expanders caused Lori Dorn to be pulled aside for “secondary” screening. She explained her situation and asked to retrieve the cards with the expander information. She was refused this courtesy and was told that unless she underwent the secondary screening of her breast area she would not be flying that day.

The TSA agents have a job to do, I understand that, but they should treat their jobs with the same dignity and respect that they would want to receive. It is ridiculous that this woman was not able to retrieve the card explaining the expanders, even though not being able to see your bags is a violation of the TSA’s own suggestions. There has to come a point where we say “enough” and rectify this situation.

My last few trips have shown me that more and more people are becoming comfortable with these TSA procedures, making it harder to ever change them.

 

[disclaimer] The article website contains language that is not suitable for young people and is fairly strong. [/disclaimer]