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Posts tagged First Class

By now I am sure you have seen Casey Neistat’s video documenting his recent experience in Emirates First Class after an upgrade. If you haven’t, I have embedded the video below.

I appreciate that Casey shared the experience via his vlog. Showering at 35,000 feet is one of the coolest features of first class Emirates (and now Etihad). That said, the episode was a little click-baity. The headline is definitely attention grabbing but what is the reality of people paying $21,000 for a first class ticket? The general assumption is that high level executives and the independently wealthy are the ones filling the best seats on the planes and while that might occasionally be the case, for the most part, people are not paying full price.

Airlines can price the first class cabin at whatever they want, the higher the price, the more of an exclusive feel. Behind the scenes though, airlines are discounting those seats for companies that have large corporate contracts and releasing the seats for rewards or upgrades. So yes, there might be a few people out there who actually pay full price for first class, but the reality is that a lot are paying far below the published price you will find on a website.

The video is definitely a great look at Emirates’ first class product and all of its features. Casey didn’t really know why he was upgraded and I wonder if it had something to do with his Boosted Board being confiscated by security at the Sydney Airport.

Edit, not too long after posting this story, Cynthia Drescher clued me in on a great theory of why Casey was upgraded:

I needed to buy a last minute ticket for work recently and Delta was the only option left that had seats and a schedule that matched what I needed. After I bought the ticket, Delta gave me an option to buy-up to first class. The price was right and I had wanted to compare what I had read about Delta’s first class product being great to what I had experienced on United, so I purchased the buy-up.

Time to examine the hype.

The App

For work travel, I rely heavily on airline iPhone apps to keep me updated and to do basic maintenance on my reservations (change seats, make reservations, etc.). The first thing I noticed using the Delta app is just how clunky it is. Sure, picking a seat is relatively easy, but making a booking in the app is a frustrating process. The app does validation before you submit a flight search and will pop up an error if your origin and destination are the same. So, if you need to reverse your search, you have to put in a third airport code to be able to switch the origin and destination without error. There are quirks like this throughout the app. It is the same thing for flight information as well. Some items are clickable and lead to more info, but there is no visual way to know that an item has that feature without clicking on everything so you end up sitting there, hitting random parts of the screen, looking for what you want. Compared to United’s app, which is powerful, yet relatively easy to use, Delta’s app seems to need some serious work.

The Trip

Before traveling, I had added my known traveler number to the reservation and on check-in received PreCheck. Knowing I have PreCheck allows me to show up at Portland’s airport about an hour before boarding and have plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee and do some work before getting on the plane, so that’s what I did. I walked up to the security area, opened up my mobile boarding pass and saw an orange icon indicating that my flight had been delayed. Knowing that an agent would be able to help me at the gate, I proceeded through security.

Making it through security, I look at the delay one more time and realize I will miss my connection because of it. I proceed to the gate and get in line to speak with the gate agent. An agent comes over and asks if I need something, to which I reply, “I believe my flight to Minneapolis is delayed and I will miss my connection”. She says, “I am closing out this flight and I’m not working that flight, walk down the hall and there are phones where you can call Delta”. Ok, that makes sense, so I walk down the hall and sure enough, there are phones. They’re all taken by people trying to fix their plans as well but there is a sign with a 1800 number so I dial it. The prompts ask if I am in the airport and when I reply yes, the wait is no more than 2 minutes to speak to an agent. The agent tells me that she cannot find any options on the same day but that she will see if she can find something on another carrier. A few minutes later she tells me my only options are to spend the night in Minneapolis or take a redeye via Atlanta. I ask if the hotel in Minneapolis will be covered to which she replies, “you would need to ask the agents in Minneapolis”. I am not willing to take that risk so I ask her to explore the American Airlines flight to Chicago that is showing an F seat for sale. She can’t find it. I run to the AA gate to see if they will simply sell me the seat (I’d refund the Delta ticket). Nope, they just cleared a standby into it. Sorry.

Back on the phone I accept the redeye option, simply because I was not comfortable spending the night and trusting that Delta would take care of the hotel (there was weather that night in the area). Well, time to head home because I have another nine hours before my new flight leaves. Here is what I originally booked (red), versus what I was rebooked on (navy).

Nine hours later I was back at the airport for the red-eye to Atlanta. I had hoped to review the meal options on the original flight but the delay squashed that idea. Now my goal was to get as much sleep as possible but I knew that would be a challenge. Onboard there was a bottle of water, a small pillow, and a blanket at the seat. The seat pitch was pretty standard but what I noticed was the lack of an adjustable headrest on the seat. It seems that most of the Delta domestic fleet is the same, missing the adjustable headrests that you can manipulate to rest your head to one side. The flight attendants come by asking if passengers would like anything before we take off. I order a whiskey and water, a nightcap if you will, and it’s quickly delivered.

The safety video comes on. It’s cute but man is it lengthy.

The pilot makes a quick announcement that he won’t be making any other announcements until our descent into Atlanta and that our flight time will be four hours (OUCH!). A few minutes later and we’re in the air. I put on an eye mask and attempt to get some sleep, but, to be honest, it didn’t go well. The seats are comfortable but there is not a lot in the way of lumbar support and without an adjustable headrest I can’t really lean one direction. The entire flight was spent with me readjusting to try and get comfortable and I ended up getting maybe 1-2 hours of sleep.

We landed in Atlanta on time and that gave me about 35 minutes to use the restroom, brush my teeth and make my connection. I walked from concourse A to concourse B and made it to the gate right as they were starting to board. I looked for a coffee shop nearby but there was nothing, the upside being I could try the much touted Starbucks coffee that Delta serves in first.

Legroom in First on the Airbus A320.

Onboard the flight attendant greeted everyone with a friendly “Good morning!”. She then came around first class asking if we would like anything before takeoff. A few minutes later and I was tasting the coffee. It wasn’t bad. Not great, but drinkable, which says a lot about airplane coffee. The taste was much more of what you expect in coffee and less of that metallic and chalky taste you sometimes get from airplane coffee. I was in the bulkhead seat on the Airbus A320 and found the legroom to be fine. There is a little cut out for your feet and that makes it comfortable. If I was a little taller the legroom would have been tight.

There was no overhead entertainment so the safety demo was done by the flight attendants and it went by much faster than the video shown above. A short time later we were in the air.

It was a quick flight to Milwaukee so the only service was beverages and a snack basket (I had a banana and some Biscoff cookies, if you were wondering). I tried to use the Delta Studio streaming entertainment but could not get it to work. Every time I connected I received a screen like below and could never get to the list of shows.

Failed attempt to try the streaming entertainment

An hour and half later and we were on the ground in Milwaukee and I was on my way to work.

Conclusion

Overall, there was nothing about the experience that blew me away making me want to switch permanently to Delta. The boarding process was just as chaotic as United’s, with people blocking the boarding lanes 15 or 20 minutes before the flight is scheduled to board.

Boarding. Just as chaotic as on other carriers.

The way the delayed flight was handled left a lot to be desired. I didn’t want to go into details above but the agent was not proactive in finding other options and I had to suggest a number of things. She also insisted on putting me in coach until I pushed back about being in first class. I am not an elite on Delta so I wonder if that had something to do with it.

For flying a relatively old fleet, the Airbus I was on is 23.3 years old, Delta does a pretty good job keeping the interiors clean and well kept. I didn’t see any panels loosely hanging or build ups of dirt and grime anywhere. The lavatories on both flights were the cleanest I have ever seen on an airplane.

I was happy to finally get to try Delta on a mainline flight in first. I am planning a few more flights on them since some of their schedules to certain destinations are better than what United offers. I am also flying Alaska back to Seattle at the end of this week and hope write a review about their new E-175 service as soon as I can.

The Financial Times on Why Luxury Air Travel is Taking Off Again

An interesting tidbit:

“Everyone thinks first class must be diminishing, but its quite incredible how more and more airlines are renewing their first-class offer and having more first-class seats on board,” says Nigel Goode, director of the design agency PriestmanGoode, whose recent projects include new first-class cabins for Qatar Airways, Swiss, Lufthansa and Air France. “There is quite a resurgence.”

And yet the picture isn’t straightforward. “Absolute numbers are up, but it’s the composition that is the really intriguing thing,” says John Grant, executive vice-president at OAG. Look at individual airlines and you see big discrepancies. In China, where flying first has traditionally been an important status symbol for executives and politicians, as well as in the Middle East, carriers have rapidly expanded their first-class offering. However European airlines, and US carriers on international routes, have tended to scale back.

Really, it is the Middle East and Far East carriers who are bringing the resurgence. Western carriers are simply trying to keep up and some are doing better at it than others. And I doubt we’ve seen the end of western carriers getting rid of longhaul first class cabins. Maybe the answer is for some western carriers to focus on the business class traveler experience and make it as comfortable and beneficial for flyers as possible while keeping the price in the range of employers.

Last week flying Portland to Washington-National airport via Chicago for work, I had a very strange experience with an upgrade that really wasn’t. 24 hours before my flight I checked-in online and noticed that I received an upgrade on Portland-Chicago. Great news! There were still a few seats open and I selected 1A. For my second flight, there were not a lot of good seats so I stuck with my bulkhead window.

On the day of the flight as I started to pack for the trip, I decided to look and see if any better seats had opened on my second flight between Chicago and National. That’s when I found my seats completely gone for both flights and if I tried to check-in again, an error occurred. I immediately called United as I was more concerned about not having seats than not being checked-in. The agent reselected my seats, confirmed I was in first class for the first segment and hung up. I was able to check-in with no issue and felt a little relief. I wanted to make sure everything was ok with my reservation so I logged onto United.com via my computer and sure enough, there was still an error telling me to call reservations.

The second phone call was a little more productive. The agent was able to see the problem, a note had been added by airport staff that first class may be oversold and that they would need to deal with it at the airport. I asked if she could preserve the seat choice I had made for the second flight and she stated that she could not but that they should be able to fix it at the airport. I finished packing and headed to the airport much earlier than I had originally wanted, throwing my afternoon plans with my wife off.

When I arrived at the United check-in desks and explained the issue, the agent saw the problem and called the gate. They stated that a first class seat was broken and that I was the only upgrade so I was downgraded. The check-in agent preserved my seat for the second segment but told me the gate would have to get a seat for me for Portland-Chicago.

At the gate the agent apologized and gave me a voucher for $250. That was definitely nice but led me to wonder what seat I was going to get as a result. The conversation after I said “thank you” went something like this:

Agent: hmmm, I can put you on a later flight to Chicago

Me: But then what time would I get to Reagan?

Agent: Oh, your destination isn’t Chicago?

Me: Uhhh, no. I have an hour connection to the last flight of the night to Reagan.

Agent: I see… Well, I can get you to Dulles at 1am by going through Denver.

Me: If there are no other options then I guess Dulles it is.

I was told later than I should have pushed harder at this point because it was painfully obvious that no one had actually looked at my full itinerary when making the changes and that’s what had messed up my connection seat selection. It was also obvious that the Portland-Chicago flight was oversold and this agent was looking for a way out.

The agent ended up giving me a middle seat from Portland to Denver and then first class from Denver to Dulles. She also provided me another voucher for $350. All told, the airline gave me $600 for the screw up and though I would have much rather gone to National, I was willing to put up with a late Dulles flight for the compensation.

Looking at the situation now I wish someone had paid more attention to my reservation when performing the downgrade. It would have saved them a little bit of money and me a headache. I also think they (United) got around the involuntary denied boarding by claiming ignorance about my connection and then offering me a different flight. Based on what I saw, they were out of seats completely in coach so there was nowhere to put me after the downgrade. In addition to that, I saw a young lady show up to the gate late and she was denied boarding since they had closed the door. So in reality, coach went out with an empty seat that I could have taken.

It all worked out but was a headache to deal with, especially having to get to the airport early to sort it out.

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.

Great Circle Mapper View of Our Trip

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.

On Thursday evening, while randomly looking at reward availability on united.com, I happened upon two first class reward seats on Lufthansa’s A380. The flight would leave from Houston on December 29th and arrive in Frankfurt on December 30th. For 235,000 miles I knew I could have a one-way first class reward with a return in business class for two people. That coupled with how rarely Lufthansa opens first class seats on the A380 I started frantically planning a quick trip to Europe.

The first thing my wife and I did was start looking at different cities in Europe that we would want to spend New Years Eve in. We have been to Frankfurt and while it’s a pleasant city, there is not a whole lot there to do. After looking at hotel prices in Paris, London, Leipzig, Salzburg, and Vienna, we settled on Nuremberg, Germany. We have visited before and enjoyed it, so New Years Eve there would be enjoyable. I made a refundable hotel reservation and jumped into “how to make this happen” mode.

I searched for flights to get us to Houston by Tuesday evening. I have a 7:30am work flight on Wednesday and needed to give myself some time to repack and be ready to go. Jessica is joining me in New York on a later flight and would need time to do the same. Sure enough, I found two business class seats on Lufthansa’s new Boeing 748i to Washington-Dulles with a two hour connection before the final flight back to Houston.

Our dog would need to go to the kennel, we would need to make sure we had our Christmas tree taken down, and a few household chores needed to be completed before we could leave. Jessica got to work on the tree and we hauled it to the tree recycling drop-off. I called the dog kennel and made sure they had space, no issues there. We finished up some chores around the house and then started doubting ourselves.

I’ll admit, the thought of this trip revolved mostly around the idea of trying out Lufthansa’s new first class product on the A380. Neither of us was sold on the idea going back to Nuremberg. It’s a great city and I recommend it to anyone visiting Germany, but we had already been and were kind of wanting to enjoy a New Years Eve celebration. I had looked up what the festivities were in Nuremberg and while they had fireworks it just wasn’t like a New Year celebration like Paris or Amsterdam.

We decided to sleep on it and on the morning of 29th, I made the judgement call to not go. Not going would give us more time to focus on planning our activities in New York and would relieve a little bit of stress on the quick repacking front. Plus, not being sold on the final destination made it a little easier to bear.

That led to a refund.

All is not lost. I still have the miles and I am sure first class availability on the A380 will appear again. Would have it been an awesome trip? More than likely. Would it have been worth it? For such a short trip, I am not completely convinced. I certainly would have enjoyed the plane rides, but the time in Nuremberg would have been too short to really cherish. For this redemption, the lack of a desired destination coupled with the short time of the trip meant it was the right decision to refund the trip.

The Frequent Fliers Who Flew Too Much – A look at American Airlines’ AAirpass and the negative consequences (Los Angeles Times) →

American Airlines offers different forms of an unlimited first class flying pass. When originally conceived its usage potential was not completely understood by American and it came back to get them.

Mike Joyce of Chicago bought his in 1994 after winning a $4.25-million settlement after a car accident.

In one 25-day span this year, Joyce flew round trip to London 16 times, flights that would retail for more than $125,000. He didn’t pay a dime.

There are people always willing to find the different ways of making programs, deals, etc. work for them. The users of the AAirpass were no exception:

Creative uses seemed limitless. When bond broker Willard May of Round Rock, Texas, was forced into retirement after a run-in with federal securities regulators in the early 1990s, he turned to his trusty AAirpass to generate income. Using his companion ticket, he began shuttling a Dallas couple back and forth to Europe for $2,000 a month.

“For years, that was all the flying I did,” said May, 81. “It’s how I got the bills paid.”

The problem is, some of these uses were against the terms of the passes. American had let their enforcement of such terms and conditions slip and now had to react swiftly to stop any further loss.

Cade was assigned to find out whether any AAirpass holders were violating the rules, starting with those who flew the most.

She pulled years of flight records for Rothstein and Vroom and calculated that each was costing American more than $1 million a year.

[…]

On Dec. 13, 2008, Rothstein and a companion checked in at Chicago O’Hare International Airport for a transatlantic flight. An American employee handed him a letter, which said his AAirpass had been terminated for “fraudulent behavior.”

The whole story is a fascinating read and I highly recommend reading it. It is further proof that travel is a bit addictive and being able to pack up and go somewhere exotic is very alluring. And such an attractive hobby means that there always people looking for ways to maximize their value, bend the rules, and skirt attention.

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.