Hi everyone, this is the first leg of my journey from ORD to PEK on Lufthansa. This is part of an overall trip to visit my grandparents in Hefei, China. Originally I was booked on a different UA award ticket, ROA-ORD-YYZ-HFE, the main leg on Air Canada's 777-300ER business class. I had never flown Lufthansa First before and was over-the-moon excited when I found availability for the trip on United's website. I used 120,000 United miles to book the ticket ORD-FRA-PEK with a 9 hour 55 minutes layover in Frankfurt. Looking on Google flights, ORD-FRA-PEK in first would have cost me $11,229. However, an unforeseen disaster would change the second segment for the worse (yes, I am being melodramatic, stay tuned).
I notice that flight reviews on any website tend to vary based on any particular traveler's past experiences and expectations. I figure it might be helpful for folks to know a little about my past experience in international premium cabins so they understand where I am coming from. I have only flown international first class 3 times, all on the old United GlobalFirst product. In terms of business class, I have flown internationally several times on United, Lufthansa, and Turkish. In other words, Lufthansa First figured to be quite a treat and a significant upgrade over what I have flown before.
2019 January Trip
Lufthansa, ORD-FRA, 747-8I, First, United Polaris Lounge (You are here.) Lufthansa, FRA-PEK, 747-400, Business, Lufthansa First Class Terminal (Click Here) Air China, PEK-HFE, 737-8 MAX (Click Here) China Eastern, HFE-TPE, A320, Economy (Click Here) EVA Airways, TPE-ORD, 777-300ER, Business, EVA The Infinity Lounge (Click Here)
Check-In at Chicago O'Hare Airport
Lufthansa and ANA check-in at O'Hare do not open until 1pm. I arrived a little early so I had to wait for a while. At precisely 1pm, a crew of Lufthansa employees came out to man the counters - exactly what you expect from German precision. The representative at the first class counter went back inside after starting the computer to grab a nice rose - an excellent touch and foreshadowing what was to come. She was a bit apologetic that there was no Lufthansa lounge at O'Hare and told me to use the Polaris Lounge. There was no escort offered to the lounge (not that I need it), but she told me that at around 3:30pm a representative would come to lounge to get the first class passengers. She also told me that I was welcome to ignore that and come board at any time - just tell the gate agents. For once, I did not have any hiccups catching a flight from O'Hare - let's hope this is the new trend.
United Polaris Lounge
I have been a loyal United flyer for a long time, but never had the chance to visit a Polaris Lounge. I had an opportunity in February 2017 shortly after they opened, but my connection was rather tight and in a different terminal. I was quite excited to see the substantial upgrade from the old Global First Lounge.
The lounge is located right next to Gate C18, straight up from the pathway that connects Concourses B and C - a very convenient location in my opinion.
It was somewhat busy in the ~2.5 hours I was there, but there always were open seats. The lounge has quite a bit of seating, varying from tables and couches along the side to the booths in the center. After my meal I spent most of my time in one of these booths. They are excellent for solo travelers or people who need to get some work done - very private with a nice little retractable table to put your laptop on. They also have a little hanger rack on the side for your jacket/coat. If you're sitting in this area, though, it was not very quiet as people constantly moved about in front of you. If you are seated near the a la carte dining area, it is much more quiet.
The bathrooms are along a hallway shortly after the entrance. I quite liked the starry lighting for the hallway. However, the bathroom itself was not very clean - there was quite a bit of trash left over from one of the previous occupants.
I did not take any pictures of the shower room - it's right next to the buffet area. There’s a desk with an agent at the entrance and I believe you have to request a shower room if you want one. The buffet area is fairly well stocked with both cold and hot options. I would grab some smoked salmon from it later.
I went straight to the dining room. It seems like you seat yourself as I did not see a host podium (at least from where I entered). A short while later a server, Isabel, came to bring me the menus. I asked for a champagne to start, but they were out! I decided to wait to read through the menu before deciding what I wanted to drink.
I was tempted to try the pho, but went with the beet carpaccio; pho as an appetizer seemed a little odd to me. The carpaccio was quite flavorful. I asked for the pinot noir with it, but was told a minute later they were also out of pinot noir. 0/2 on drink selections so far. Isabel recommended The Prisoner, a red blend (~$44, Wine.com). It was quite decent and a good suggestion.
For the entree, I chose the salmon . It was decent, not phenomenal, but above average. The portion was a little small though.
For the dessert, I chose the brownie. At this time I requested a port (not sure what exactly it was) to go along with it. The brownie looked amazing, but was a little hard. The port did not suit me at all and I did not finish it.
Overall, the presentation on the items were excellent and each course was delivered a few minutes after I had finished the previous course. I was a little disappointed they were out of several drink items already. It was only a little after 1pm! Overall it was a good meal - a bit on the light side, but that's a good thing given I was about to stuff myself on the plane. I went to the bar afterwards and ordered a Paper Plane. It was delicious. There were few people staying at the bar while I was in the lounge - for the most part people seemed to order a drink and take it back to their seat.
At around 3:15pm, a Lufthansa agent walked around asking for First Class/HON Circle passengers for LH431. The agent, Marieke, explained that because the plane was full and boarding looked like it might be hectic, she wanted to come get the first class passengers early, but no rush if we did not want to go early. Even though the cabin was 4/8, I was the only one that took advantage of the early boarding. This was perfect since it would allow me some unobstructed pictures of the cabin. It was a little awkward as several business class passengers came up to join us, but was politely told this was for first class only.
Marieke walked me from the Polaris lounge to the gate. It was a nice walk and we chatted about our favorite planes – both of us are big fans of the 747s (for me, it’s because that is the first ever plane I ever fly on an international flight. We also chatted about the new planes that Lufthansa was scheduled to get with their new business class product – she said it was a bit disappointing that there will be no first class cabins on the new A350s and wished they installed at least a 4-person cabin. I agreed. When we arrived at the gate, sure enough, the queues were very long already. Pre-boarding had just started. Marieke spoke to the gate agent and told him I would like to pre-board. At that time, she shook my hand and went back to get the other first class passengers.
LH 431, ORD-FRA
As I mentioned, I was among the first to board and the first passenger in the first class cabin. I was greeted by name upon seeing my ticket and shown to the cabin. It wasn't a long walk to the left. I had a huge grin on my face as I walked in. I've probably read a million flight reviews about this cabin, but it's just different to experience it in person. Upon mentioning I'd like to take some pictures, the flight attendants stayed out of the cabin for a minute or two as I snapped some quick shots of the gorgeous cabin. Lufthansa does not have a flashy cabin like Emirates, but I absolutely loved the minimalist design and the roses. Come to think of it, it's such a silly thing to care about the rose when it literally adds zero physical comfort to the flight - but I absolutely loved it. The seats are arranged in two rows of 1-1 and one row of 1-2-1. My seat was 1K, the bulkhead seat on the starboard side. I have never sat in the nose of a plane before - this was a first. There is a little closet in between 1A and 1K where the bedding is kept. The load for this evening was 4/8, with seats 1A, 1K, 2A, and 3K occupied. The two center seats in the third row are best for traveling companions.
The seat provided more than enough space for my small 5’8 frame. There's an ottoman at the front of the seat to store things such as a small personal bag or your laptop. There is also a thin storage behind where the headphone storage is. It's quite good for storing things like your phone, passport, etc… My bulky backpack was too large for it, however. There was a pillow waiting at the seat. The seat controls were relatively basic, but I tend to prefer fewer buttons to more (so long as it does not mean the seat position could not be customized). The seat is fairly open, however. There is a privacy partition that can be raised after takeoff, but I believe this is one of the more open first class seats out there. Personally, I don't mind it and do not put as much of an emphasis on privacy as many bloggers seem to. I just need the seat to meet a certain threshold and Lufthansa's seat meets that threshold once the privacy partition is up.
Shortly, Carolin introduced herself to me, she was one of the two flight attendants taking care of the first class cabin this evening. She took my coat and asked if I had take enough pictures and if I wanted any pictures to be taken of me. I thanked her and said maybe in a little. For my departure beverage, I chose champagne (of course!) and it was served with some nice macadamia nuts. This flight had two champagnes. The Pommery was served as the pre-departure champagne. I quite enjoyed it.
The other flight attendant (sorry, I did not catch her name), came by with all of the amenities: an amenity kit, pajamas, and slippers as well as the menus. The slippers were very comfortable and I almost asked for a pair to take home (but I have quite a bit of traveling ahead and need to maximize the space in my carry-on for more important things). I'm not the biggest fan of the all-brown look, but otherwise the Van Laack top is quite stylish and does have the scarf (which I love but do not quite understand - do people sleep with scarves on?). The bottoms look like medical scrubs, very comfortable, but not exactly a fashion statement. The amenity kit was not the large sack that I had seen reviews of lately, but rather a small, soft Jacob Jensen case with zippers down the middle. It contained all the usual: socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, eyemask, etc… The lip balm and lotion were by La Prairie, as was the ice crystal cream (not sure what it's for). There was also a little book that described Jacob Jensen and some of its products. Note: I took the pictures of the amenity kit and pajamas later at home.
Soon enough, the purser, Serena (sorry if I mis-remembered the name, but I am confident it started with an S), came by to introduce herself to and to welcome me aboard. I asked for a few pictures of myself at this time and she was delighted to take a few shots (also, props to her for good photography, all three shots were excellent). I switched into my pajamas afterwards. The lavatory was much more spacious than the ones you'd find on a 777, but much smaller than the ones on the A380. It even comes with a little window. There is a cover on the seat that you can sit on for changing. The bathroom also stocked all the necessities such as a facial spray and razors. Just as a personal note, I would never shave on an airplane - unexpected turbulence could make quite a mess. When I exited lavatory, Carolin immediately offered to hang up the clothes I changed out of.
I was busy posting to Instagram this whole time, so before we knew it, it was time collect the champagne flute and prepare for takeoff. I always forget about the shoulder strap in first class (to be fair, the placement of Lufthansa's shoulder strap is not very noticeable when sitting down). Carolin came by during her safety check and buckled that strap in for me. The gentleman in 1A also forgot, so I was not too embarrassed. We pushed back at 4:13pm, 2 minutes ahead of schedule.
I should note that 1A seemed much better for plane watching than 1K. I did not manage to catch much during the taxi. I thought it was funny that most of the planes I saw were by budget airlines - an interesting juxtaposition with my current position.
We took off at 4:31pm. Again, because of how we were turning, the views from 1A were no doubt better than mine. Note that during takeoff and landing, the nose gear is directly below the first class cabin. You really feel and hear the gear when its raised or lowered.
I switched to the IFE at this time. Lufthansa's system is not the best, but passable. The screen is approximately 15 inches, but because of how far away the seat is from the screen - it actually feels quite small. There was a standard flight view where you can track the progress of the flight. The movie selection was decently large, with some international options as well. However, there did not seem to be too many movies that were the latest releases. I chose to watch Crazy Rich Asians - a fitting movie for first class. One annoying thing about the UI is that I did not find any option to be able to skip ahead (not just fast forwarding). The headphones were a nice pair of Bose headphones. Not quite as good as my own Bose QuietComfort 35, but still a very good pair. I did not bother to take my own out.
The Wifi card was given out before takeoff. I loved that Lufthansa offers complimentary Wifi for its first class passengers. The Wifi itself was a little slow, I could not upload anything to Instagram, but could use it for text chat and checking email.
Service began approximately 30 minutes after takeoff with a hot towel and the cabin lights were dimmed shortly afterwards. In what may be the most first world commentary ever, I noted (to myself) that there was no rose petal along with the towel like I had seen in some flight reports.
Carolin asked me which champagne I would prefer with the amuse bouche. I told her I wasn't sure and asked for her recommendation. She promptly brought out two glasses and both bottles. The 2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (~$180, Wine.com) and the Pommery Cuvee Louise (~$150, Vivino) were both fine champagnes. I think the Taittinger is a limited time offering, because it was an insert sheet into the wine menu rather than actually bound with the rest of the menu. I actually prefered the Pommery - just goes to show that more expensive does not necessarily mean more preferable. I finished both glasses (of course!) before Carolin poured me my third glass of the Pommery.
Here is the full Vinothek:
Here is the menu:
The amuse bouche was a chicken spring roll. It was decently flavorful.
A selection of bread followed - I chose the laugenbroetchen, which was excellent and had me asking for another.
That was followed by the caviar presentation. This was actually my first time having caviar - I was quite curious regarding it. The presentation was magnificant, but they could use a mother-of-pearl spoon instead of the metal one. I quite enjoyed it - but I doubt I will be paying the price for premium caviar on my own anytime soon.
Next, Carolin brought out a sampler of all three appetizer choices. They were a bit lackluster, however. The spicy grilled shrimp was not at all spicy and the rest of the dish was a bit disappointing. I did not enjoy the broiled goat cheese with artichoke, though the char grilled and roasted bell pepper tasted good. The prosciutto with various tomatos was nothing to write home about either.
For my main I opted for the halibut. It was a good choice. I was tempted by the veal medallion, but I am always apprehensive about ordering beef on an airplane - I have never had a good experience with it. The only issue I had was deciding which wine to pair with it. Since I chose fish, I wanted white wine to go with it. When I asked Carolin, she recommended the Riesling, but suggested I try them all to decide. What a wonderful idea! I tried (not in this order):
I ultimately chose the Lergenmuller white burgundy. In terms of the wines by themselves, the "21 Gables" Chardonnay was my favorite, but a bit too powerful to pair with fish. Carolin suggested it would be a great wine to get drunk with.
The halibut was flavorful and quite delicious. It paired nicely with the white burgundy.
I skipped the cheese plate - I'm usually not the biggest fan, but did take a picture.
Instead, I went straight for the dessert and asked for both creme brulee tart and the bread pudding. Both were absolutely delicious. I chose to have some dessert wine with it. It was a 2014 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes (~$52, Wine.com) - an excellent choice to accompany the dessert.
After that, I ordered a decaf cappucino. Carolin offered some chocolates to accompany it. I picked the tiramisu and roasted nuts brittle nougat, both were great. When I finished, Carolin offered more, but I politely declined.
I was absolutely stuffed at this point and asked Carolin to make my bed for me approximately 2.5 hours into the flight. Lufthansa adds a thin pad so the bed is somewhat firm. The duvet was very comfortable and I appreciated the additional pillows. Earlier in the flight I requested not to be woken for breakfast because I intended to maximize sleep and eat in the First Class Terminal.
The bed was very comfortable due to the width of the seat and private enough thanks to the privacy partitioner. However, to no fault of Lufthansa - the flight was very choppy at this point and it was hard to fall asleep. I slept for maybe one hour before waking up and having trouble going back to sleep. I've noticed that is always the case with me on trans-Atlantic flights. Plus, given the time, I was trying to fall asleep at 7:00pm Central Time. Given that I had stayed up to 2am just two days earlier for New Year's Eve, it was quite impossible for me to sleep much at all. Eventually, after much turning and tossing, I gave up and began watching Lincoln. The other flight attendant noticed immediately and asked if I wanted anything. I asked for a glass of water. After a while, Carolin stopped by and asked if I had reconsidered breakfast. I was still stuffed at this point, so I regretfully declined breakfast again, but asked for the green tea. The presentation of the tea was excellent, but the tea itself was very so-so (I should add that I am incredibly particular about my teas, so this is perhaps unfair to Lufthansa).
Shortly before landing, Carolin brought me my clothes and thanked me for flying. Her seat was rather far from the First Class cabin so this was our goodbye. She suggested that next time we go through all of the reds. I can't wait!
The purser also stopped by to thank us before landing, after the cabin lights were turned back on. It was at this time that I noticed the automatic window shades all were simultaneously raised - kind of cool to watch.
When we arrived in Frankfurt, everything was still dark. We landed at 7:17am and arrived at our gate 20 minutes later. After grabbing all of my belongings, I was off.
United Polaris Lounge
Chicago - ORD
Frankfurt - FRA
This was absolutely the best flight of my life so far.
Lounge: United has done a great job with the Polaris Lounge - I feel like it's competitive with top international business class lounges. The menu looks small, but I feel like it's just the right size - there really isn't any need to have a massive menu for a business class lounge. The shortage of champagne and wine was a problem though. I'm not sure what the issue was with two wines already being out when I arrived, but that should not be the case at 1pm.
Cabin & Seat: Lufthansa does not have the most cutting edge product, but there is a timeless elegance about it that I love. The seat has just about everything you could ask for. My only quip would be to add a bit more privacy during takeoff somehow, have a larger IFE monitor and update the UI for it.
Service: The service was magnificant, from the start when I was individually escorted to the gate to service throughout the flight. Carolin was absolutely a delight: precise, professional service along with fun conversation. Moreover, she was very proactive throughout - exactly what you are looking for in first class.
Meal & Catering: The desserts were probably my favorite course, though the entree was quite good as well. The appetizer was the weak part of the meal. The wine selection was very nice. I did not partake in the liquor selection - saving that for the FCT.
Bottom Line: I know there are more aspirational redemptions out there, but I think Lufthansa's First Class cabin (along with the FCT) should be on everyone's redemption bucket list. I can't wait to be able to do it again.
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