Business Traveller, which reported the story, has some “interesting” insights into why Virgin Atlantic is shifting the flight.
Another, perhaps more important, reason is the possible yield (earnings per seat) and the fact that the low-cost carriers haven’t made as many inroads into the West Coast as they have with the East Coast market.
I am not really sure how they come to that conclusion. Carriers like Condor and Norwegian have inundated the west coast and focused heavily on the leisure markets. Because of this, transatlantic fares from places like San Francisco have fallen dramatically. British Airways is even trying to get in on the act by adding a flight to Oakland on one of their high density Boeing 777s.
The reality is that the transatlantic market is overall pretty weak right now and Virgin probably can’t get a lot of connecting traffic in Chicago. In Los Angeles they have their partnership with Delta, giving them great connections all over points west of the Rockies. Delta is also building a new terminal LAX and I’m sure that’s a big draw as well.
Personally, I’m not sure Virgin Atlantic will be successful with a third flight to Los Angeles but only time will tell.
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 AUS–IAH–FRA–TXL and the return was MUC–ZRH–JFK/EWR–AUS.
I have split the report into two parts to make it a little easier to read.
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
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.
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.
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.
The salad course was nothing spectacular though the balsamic vinegar dressing was quite good.
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?)
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.
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.
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.