Over Spring Break we flew to Europe. By the time of our trip, the routing had changed to Houston-Frankfurt-Berlin in Lufthansa first class on the A380, returning Berlin-Frankfurt-Dallas, also in Lufthansa first class. The outbound was unbelievable. I have not flown a lot of international first but Lufthansa’s A380 first class is now my favorite “hard” product flying. The crew was stellar, providing prompt service and making sure that everyone on-board did not have any needs that were not met. The return longhaul flight was close to being a polar opposite.
Between Frankfurt and Dallas Lufthansa operates the Airbus A330-300. These particular planes, the ones based in Frankfurt, are just now undergoing conversion for the new first class seats. I knew this when I booked the tickets but ignored it because we needed to get home. Seats aside, the service from the crew was a 180 degree difference from what we experienced on the way to Germany. One flight attendant was attentive and helpful but the one who spent the most time in the cabin was as nonchalant and lackadaisical as they come. After lunch I had asked that the seat be made into a bed so that I could take a nap. The flight attendant put the seat into “lounge” mode rather than “flat” mode and kind of just tossed the mattress pad onto it. She didn’t take the time to make the bed or even get out the pillow and blanket. I searched through the overhead bin and found both. To top it all off, the food choices were not very good and the food itself was actually of poor quality (surprising since the flight was catered in Frankfurt).
One last thing. In Dallas, our flight was met by a Lufthansa representative holding a sign with a few passenger names. We saw our name and stopped to speak with her, thinking maybe we’d get taken to a quicker immigration line. She asked if we had checked luggage and said we would wait for a couple more passengers. After more standing around, the representative turns to me and remarks, “I can’t escort you to an expedited immigration line, you might as well go”. Well that’s a let down. What is this person’s role? To simply see if you have checked bags and put them to the side so you don’t have to wait for the carousel?
To be clear, I understand how fortunate I was to be flying in first class. I was simply a little surprised in the contrast between my outbound flight and the return. The flight crews were on opposite ends of the service spectrum. Had I known the service was going to be so poor, I probably would have saved the miles for first and just flown in business class. Will this keep me from flying Lufthansa again? No. Their A380 product out of Houston is certainly one of the best first class experiences in the sky. I file the whole experience under the crew having a bad day and the catering just being off. In the world of travel this is one of those, “sometimes you just have to realize you’re hurtling through the air in a metal tube” moments. It happens. It makes for a less than desirable experience but there is always the next flight.
Around the U.S. the “tradition” of spring break has begun. Back in September I had made reservations for my wife and I to travel to Seoul, South Korea and onward to Singapore during this timeframe. We were going to do it in style, using my United miles to fly Asiana’s new business class to Seoul and Singapore’s first class from Singapore to Moscow then home. Due to circumstances with my work, I was required to be in Maryland (where I am writing this now) over part of our vacation. I cancelled the reward tickets and had settled on not doing much over spring break. As I started thinking about it, I really wanted to take a vacation, if even a little one. I’m sure my wife would appreciate a small break from Houston as well.
As I sat in the airport on Thursday morning I did a random search for reward seats from Houston to Europe and happened upon two seats on SWISS in business class. I grabbed them, flying us from Houston to Chicago to Zurich. Now, Zurich certainly is not a cheap city and has not really been on my radar to visit so I started exploring other European destinations, as well as a way to get home.
My mind immediately went to where would be easy to reach from Zurich. I looked at Croatia, which has been at the top of my “to visit” list for a while now but all of the connections would arrive later than 5pm which essentially wastes a half day of enjoyment. The story was the same for most of eastern Europe. Where could we go in western Europe that interested us and was somewhere new? Seth’s write-up on Hamburg peaked my interest. He explored the city in just 26 hours and I figure with a little more time my wife and I could really get to know it. I found a decent connection out of Zurich and had the reservations updated. We’re halfway to a full reward!
The hardest part in all of this was finding reward seats for the flights home. There was absolutely nothing available back to Houston. I could get us to Detroit or Newark but that’s as far as the flights would take us. A random search then brought back Frankfurt to Dallas-Fort Worth in Lufthansa first class. Now that’s an option I like! Then, when I decided that that was what I would book, it disappeared. United has a problem of showing ghost availability on Lufthansa (and others); It looks like the seats are there but really do not exist. I figured the seats disappearing was a ghost availability issue but the next day, there they were again! To double check that they were really there I used the ANA tool. Sure enough, there were two first class seats available on the Frankfurt-DFW non-stop. I called United and added the return.
I am still missing a flight from DFW to Houston but my “worst case scenario” plan is to have a one-way rental car reservation made and just use that to get to IAH. If a flight from DFW opens or a non-stop from Europe to Houston opens, I’ll grab that as soon as I can and cancel the rental reservation.
It’s a little stressful planning these last minute trips but fun at the same time. The best part is being able to salvage some of the vacation time with my wife.