Originally, this was meant to be the second segment of my Lufthansa first class journey to China. However, due to a mechanical issue, I found out about a few hours prior to departure that the plane had to be changed to a 747-400 without a first class configuration. It was a huge disappointment. I tried to see if they could rebook me on another route or a different carrier, but was told that was not possible. Lufthansa said only remedy was asking United for a refund of miles. I did some research on FlyerTalk as well as posted on ThePointsGuy Lounge on Facebook and One MIle at a Time's Ask Lucky page soliciting advice. After a lot of helpful (and unhelpful suggestions), I came to the conclusion that EU261 applied to my situation and I could at least ask for a partial refund of the second segment's miles cost. Originally I wanted to post this report after the resolution of this compensation claim, but decided to go ahead and post it anyways. I will update this report once I resolve that situation.
Update: After some back and forth between United and Lufthansa over the course of a few weeks (in which Lufthansa was absolutely non-responsive), United deposited 30k UA miles back into the account. This was what was offered initially on the phone with United on the first call. So despite all the issues with MileagePlus recently, I have the commend the UA agents that took care of this. They were prompt with their responses and seemed genuine. In the end, spending 90,000 UA miles to fly halfway in LH F and experience the First Class Terminal is worth it to me.
2019 January Trip
Lufthansa, ORD-FRA, 747-8I, First, United Polaris Lounge (Click Here) Lufthansa, FRA-PEK, 747-400, Business, Lufthansa First Class Terminal (You are here!) Air China, PEK-HFE, 737-8 MAX, Economy (Click Here) China Eastern, HFE-TPE, A320, Economy (Click Here) EVA Airways, TPE-ORD, 777-300ER, Business, EVA The Infinity Lounge (Click Here)
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
My flight from Chicago arrived early in the morning. I felt like I walked for forever before reaching immigration to exit the airport. I was wearing a new pair of Sperrys and my heels were killing me by the time I got outside. I think it took me roughly 20 minutes before I was outside. I took an immediate left and kept walking. Pretty soon the fabled FCT was in sight.
I took the elevator up and was surprised to find quite a few passengers arriving at the same time. There was even an entire family of four coming in. My personal assistant walked up to greet me. I handed him my boarding pass and passport and went through the short security process. After security, my PA escorted me in and asked if this was my first time. I told him yes and he offered a quick tour.
There is a duty free shop right outside of the doors to the lounge itself. I stopped by later, wanting to buy a model 747-8, to learn that they are separate from Lufthansa and do not offer those at the shop. In any case, I decided against buying a model on the plane because of space in my carry-on (and I wanted souvenirs from Taipei later). There is a case of the famous rubber ducks right next to the door as well.
The FCT is very large given how few passengers are in it at any given time. When I wrote earlier I was surprised at how many passengers were arriving, I meant that there were maybe 15 total passengers in the FCT. My PA gave me a quick tour of the different areas (these pictures come from different times during the day).
Immediately to the right is the bar and dining area. There is also a nice counter in the middle where the guestbook is. Of course, I signed it later.
There are many sitting areas, all arranged the same with the same assortment of snacks on them. There is only a single TV in the lounge, but I cannot imagine why you would want to watch TV instead of making the most of your time in here.
Across from the dining area is the cigar lounge.
To the far left there is a set of long lounge chairs with blankets that overlooks the Frankfurt airport. If the nap rooms are taken, this is where you want to go to rest.
In between the lounge chairs and the entrance, on a slightly elevated area, are individual offices for you to work in.
The bathrooms are located right next to the concierge for the bath and shower rooms. They were always kept very clean and even had a shoe-shining machine in the corner. There are no paper towels, rather it is a real towel that you deposit into the bin after washing your hands. It's a nice little touch.
I was feeling fairly tired at this point and told my PA I would like to eat breakfast before sleeping in one of the nap rooms. He immediately went to reserve one of the nap rooms for me as I took a seat in the dining area.
He came back a short while later telling me one of the rooms had been reserved and presenting me with a rubber duck. He must have taken note when I was taking a picture of the rubber duck display - gotta love proactive service.
A server came by shortly to ask for my order. It's a sign of how tired I was when I couldn't read the menu and fumbled around for a bit before she suggested the eggs benedict. It wasn't until she left that I realized I had been trying to read the German side of the menu. Here's the English menu.
The eggs benedict was delicious and hit the spot. Eating it was a little messy, however. I also requested a glass of orange juice along with the meal.
I ate fairly quickly because I wanted to nap and was shown to my nap room immediately. The decor of the room was nice, but I am not sure whether the light display along the side is practical in any way. There are two bottles of water in the room as well as an eyemask and earplugs. In a corner there are some racks for hanging your clothes. The bed itself was a little too firm for my taste. I'm also not sure why the bed isn't bigger - all that wooden surface that surrounds the bed seems to be a waste of space to me. As I napped, I could definitely hear footsteps from the outside, so at least that sound travels. If I had one criticism of the First Class Terminal, it would be the nap rooms could use a bit of work.
I passed out for a little more than 3 hours and woke up a bit before Noon. I went to reserve the bath and was told it would be quite a wait, I said that was fine since my flight did not depart until 5:20pm. Afterwards I went to the dining area again and took some pictures of the buffet before sitting down to order.
Here is the a la carte menu (I'll apologize now for capturing them in portrait rather than landscape - they were very long and narrow menus).
Here is the drinks menu.
For the appetizer I ordered the tom ka gai - it was delicious and filled with generous portions of chicken and mushrooms. Since I chose a soup, I did not immediately start with a drink.
For the entree I went with the steak and salad. I know some people will fault me for not ordering the Wiener schnitzel, but I had it several times before in both Germany and Austria and I simply was not impressed. The steak was excellent and a perfect medium rare. The salad was very good (and this is coming from a guy who dislikes salads). I had a glass of the 2016 St. Anthony Pinot Noir to go with it, it was decent, but not great.
For dessert, I had the vanilla ice cream doused with warm chocolate sauce - a simple delight with a beautiful presentation.
It was during the entree that my personal assistant came by with a somber expression. He apologized and said that due to a mechanical issue, the plane has been changed to a 747-400, which does not have a first class cabin. I was floored. I asked if there was anything that could be done such as rebooking me on another route or rebooking me on another carrier's flight. He regretfully said there was nothing that can be done and explained I should contact United MileagePlus for a partial refund of my miles. I know that it is an incredibly privileged problem to have: downgrading from first class to business class, but in the case of Lufthansa's cabins - the two classes are night and day. I've flown Lufthansa Business Class several times before and have found the hard product to be quite uncompetitive. I couldn't help but be rather irritated for a while, but figured that just means I need to soak it in (literally) while I can at the FCT. It also made me regret skipping breakfast on the ORD-FRA leg as it means I will not be able to review it on this trip.
I went to the bar after lunch - this is a part I had been eagerly anticipating. This is by far the largest collection of whisky I've seen. I am a scotch fan, but without too much experience. I told the bartender I would like to do a tasting and explained that I am rather fond of Macallan. He took it from there.
We started off with four:
The Balvenie 12 Years (~$47, TotalWine) Glenfarcas 25 Years (~$160, TotalWine) Glenmorangie Signet (~$210, TotalWine) Dalmore King Alexander III (~$250, TotalWine)
I enjoyed the Dalmore the best by far (and this is before knowing the prices). It was very smooth. You can tell by looking at the bottle that it is a very popular choice amongst FCT passengers.
The bartender shift switched after I was finished with the first four. I could overhear the new bartender asking the old one about my whisky preferences - so she could continue recommending different ones for tasting. Now that's good service! She was surprised to hear that I had never tried Japanese whisky before, so she recommended I taste these:
Glenfiddich Gran Reserva (~$190, TotalWine) Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master's Select ($250, JapaneseDrams)
The Hibiki was very good (the Master's Select is an interesting special release of the Harmony), but I still prefered the Dalmore over it.
While I was tasting the last two scotches, the bath/shower attendant came up to let me know the bath was ready. I ordered a glass of the Bollinger Special Cuvee ($60, Wine.com) to take with me. She led me to the bath room and told me to let her know if I required any additional amenities. The room also contained a shower (perfect for rinsing off afterwards) and its own toilet. I luxuriated for about an hour, grinning from ear-to-ear at the thought that I was sitting in a bath with a glass of champagne as part of a layover. I rinsed off in the shower and left to get a little work done.
I went over by the lounge chairs to work (no, not the most productive seat to work from) and to check to see if my posts regarding the downgrade had been allowed by the moderators - they had not, so I spent a little time looking up EU261 as well. Almost as soon as I sat down, a staff member came by to ask if I needed anything. I asked for a glass of the Louis Roederer Rose 2011 ($80, Wine.com). Out of the different champagnes in the lounge, this was probably my favorite.
After a while and chatting with a passenger who was returning to Canada, I went for another bite. It was ~45 minutes to the scheduled boarding and since I was downgraded I figured I might as well eat a little more in the FCT. I just had the Chilean sea bass, which was both on the a la carte menu and available from the buffet. It was very nicely done and delicious. I had a glass of the Ruinart R. (~$48, Vivino) with it.
I should probably add that I tried about 4-5 types of different still waters while I was at the FCT. I honestly could not tell the difference between them, but the FCT does have a large and varied offering of different still and sparkling water.
Soon it was getting close to departure time. The PA holds onto your passport and will come get you when its time (usually after boarding has begun). However, there is a departure board that shows only the flights on which passengers in the FCT are departing from. It's a short list.
Soon enough, a different personal assistant came to get me for boarding. She put me in the elevator before going down the staircase herself - I'm not sure why we go down separately.
Passport control took all of two seconds and I was introduced to my driver and the Porsche Panamera waiting to take me to my flight.
The driver offered to take pictures now or at the gate - I opted for the latter. He apologized that it was going to be a very short ride as the plane was parked very close to the FCT - another issue arising from the plane change: no planespotting while driving through the tarmac.
As he said, we were at the plane shortly. A 747, but not the 747-8I unfortunately.
The Lufthansa agent took me up the elevator to the area right next to the jet bridge. Something seemed a little off though, because I could see the gate area from the windows and there was a huge line, without anyone moving.
As we approached the door, the agent noted that there was no one waiting there and asked me to wait outside as he went onboard to see what was going on. He brought me in a short while afterwards and the cabin crew welcomed me to the cabin. I was the only passenger on the plane and will be for quite a bit of time. Apparently, there was a miscommunication between the FCT and the gate agents. I heard the purser make a call - I didn't understand it as it was in German, but I did distinctly hear "First Class Terminal" during the conversation. One of the flight attendants, Johanna, introduced herself to me and apologized for the plane change and subsequent downgrade. She told me she was sad as well because she was supposed to serve the first class cabin. Johanna was very good throughout the flight and always addressed me by name - though none of the other flight attendants did. She took my coat and offered a pre-departure beverage of some sparkling wine and almonds (for whatever reason I did not take a picture of the drink with the almonds, sorry!).
The nose of Lufthansa's 747-400 offered 17 business class seats in mostly a 2-2 configuration. It was a decently spacious business class cabin due to the shape of the nose. There is a single middle seat in row 4 that makes it a 2-1-2 configuration for that row. 4D is arguably the best seat in the plane because it is the only one where you have direct aisle access without anyone having to step over you. It is quite exposed however and is right next to aisle traffic on both sides. Personally I would prefer the bulkhead seats because their footwells are significantly larger than the footwells of other seats.
I was seated in 2C, the portside aisle seat in row 2. The seats looked like the standard Lufthansa business class seat, but the footwells were very tiny in comparison to the last time I flew a Lufthansa business class flight. Those seats were angled in towards each other though, with larger footwells that are awkwardly right next to each other. Either way, it is hardly a cutting-edge product. Even United's B/E Aerospace Diamond seats are better. There was a small, thin pad rolled up in a bag waiting on the footwell. A small storage compartment at the foot of the seat has an amenity kit already placed there. The armrest between the seats also had a small area for placing drinks, but the space is rather narrow. The space underneath the footwell is meant for placing your shoes, but was just large enough to accommodate my backpack.
Seeing the plane was empty for now, I decided to go take a picture of the staircase and the upper-deck cabin. I love staircases on flights. I forgot to take a picture of the second business class cabin on the main deck - I would try to avoid it. It is arranged in a 2-3-2 format.
The IFE screen seemed at most a little smaller than the first class IFEs (I did not actually measure them so I do not know). However, because the seat is much closer, it actually presents a better viewing. The headphones for the aisle seat were in a small opening on the side of the armrest. One thing to note: the headphones for the window seat is placed in an out-of-the-way opening along the fuselage. My neighbor did not manage to find them and had to ask me to help find his pair. The headphones were Bose headphones, but much smaller and nowhere near as comfortable as those in first class. One thing to note, however, the business class controllers, despite overall being simpler, has a little scroll function that allows for better control of whatever you're viewing. This allows you to save time by selecting where within the movie you want to jump to or just expedites the movie selection process since you do not have to click through each option. So overall I would actually rate the entertainment system as better than the one in first class. I chose to begin the flight by finishing Lincoln. It was a splendid film. I moved onto Dunkirk after that - a very powerful movie and very well done. I especially enjoyed the fact that they opted to not include any of the major historical figures in the film - it was just a film about different people trying to survive or help on that fateful day.
The flight was originally scheduled to depart at 5:20pm, but actual boarding did not actually begin until after 5:00pm. A voice came over the intercom to say, "Flight attendants prepare for boarding. Passengers in 1." It's rather rare to be onboard when that happens :) I received my menu much earlier than the other passengers as a result of my boarding so early, so here it is (my apologies for forgetting to take the pictures in landscape):
The flight was very full, with only one open seat in the nose cabin. My seatmate later told me that LH720 was the most popular flight for German expats living in Beijing. We finally pushed back at 5:47pm and took off at 6:07pm, more than 45 minutes after the originally scheduled time. Meal service began with a hot towel nearly an hour after takeoff, not sure why it took so long. Pajama tops were offered around this time. I thought the navy was a good color, but the tops were not fashionable in comparison to the first class tops. No bottoms (or scarves for that matter) were offered. Most people declined the tops, but I took one and changed into it for research purposes. The top was comfortable, but ever so slightly too short for my 5'8 frame. However, a large would likely have been overly voluminous given my build. I also opened the amenity kit to grab a nightmask and earplugs. The rest of the kit contained the usual - though I'm not exactly sure what the "precious cream" is for.
The business class bathrooms on the 747-400 are small, comparable to bathrooms on United's 777-200s. There was just enough space to change and turn around in. It also offered some standard amenities such as combs and mouthwash.
As I mentioned previously, meal service began with a hot towel:
Instead of wine, I went with Erdinger Weissbier - a decent wheat beer, but nothing compared to my favorite: Schneider Weisse.
For the appetizer I chose the prawn confit. It was actually better than the spicy grilled shrimp appetizer from the first class flight.
For my entree I went with the fish option again: a fried Artic char. The other choices were a roast beef (avoid on planes!) and a pork belly (the Chinese option). If this were an Asian airline I would have opted for the pork belly, but I've learned my lesson regarding ordering the Asian option on Lufthansa before. The fish was a little dry, but otherwise a decent meal for business class.
For dessert I chose the flummery of polenta - it was very good.
Meal service finished with a chocolate. I did not try it. Overall, service was attentive throughout, with Johanna offering refills or a new drink several times, but I declined and simply nursed my single beer. My issue is with the pace - it was roughly 3 hours after takeoff that the service ended. On a business class redeye you should be trying to maximize the amount of time for sleep, so this seemed excessive.
I am not sure if turndown service is offered, but the mattress "pad" was very simple, so I just did it myself. You simply lay the pad on the seat - there is no hook or anything. It doesn't even stretch the length of the seat. While I found the duvet comfortable, the pillow was rather thin. Moreover, due to how narrow the seat is and the tiny footwell, I felt both very constrained and also very exposed to the aisle at the same time - not a good combination. I slept on and off for about 3 hours - there was a crying baby in the first row. I put on noise-cancelling headphones and earplugs, but it wasn't quite enough to drown out the sound completely. I eventually gave up and picked another movie: Baywatch. It was silly, but funny enough.
Breakfast service did not all occur at once - flight attendants approached those who were sitting up offered them breakfast. I like this approach as it does not wake everyone up. I opted for breakfast a little more than one hour before landing. I went with the scrambled eggs option. The eggs were mediocre (as to be expected for airplane eggs), but filling enough - overall a passable breakfast. I was excited to see that they had laugenbroetchen once again and it almost as good as the two I had in first class - just a bit on the lukewarm side. I had a cup of tea and a glass of orange juice to go along with the meal. The tea was not good, but I don't expect tea to be great on a non-Asian airline.
We landed at 10:08am - nearly 40 minutes after the original 9:30am arrival time. The landing itself was smooth, but for whatever reason there was a really sudden braking action after landing that was quite a bit more jarring than usual. The plane slowed down far more abruptly than normal. We taxied for 19 minutes afterwards - I've noticed that at Beijing, the taxi time is always long or at least feels like it takes forever. After exiting the jetbridge, there was a young representative waiting for me with my name. He took my roller carry-on and escorted me through immigration. China has these new fingerprinting kiosks that you have to use before going through immigration. I'm not sure what the purpose of them are as you have to do another set of fingerprints when you come to the immigration agent. I was thankful for the escort because the first three kiosks I tried didn't work. We eventually got a machine to accept my passport and fingerprints though. The escort is a nice touch, but hardly necessary. It was just nice company as I walked through. Note that they are not Lufthansa employees but rather a service Lufthansa contracts in Beijing.
A family acquaintance met me at the airport, then we were off to Beijing.
Bonus : Click here displayhide
Quick Stay in Beijing
I met up with some friends for a lunch at Beijing Da Dong Roast Duck - it was pretty good, a lot better than the tourist trap Quanjude.
For dinner we had beef hotpot at a place whose name escapes me now.
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
Frankfurt - FRA
Beijing - PEK
Overall, the experience was very much marred by the downgrade, but I'm still thankful to have gotten to enjoy the FCT.
Lounge: The First Class Terminal was everything I expected to be. Service was consistent, attentive, and personalized. Everyone was more than happy to explain things to me as it was my first time there. The a la carte dining was phenomenal. The whiskey tasting was a great experience as well. As short as the Porsche transfer was, it's a thrilling way to board a plane. The only thing I would nitpick about is improving the nap rooms. I cannot wait to find an excuse to fly LH F out of Frankfurt so I can experience this again (and hopefully board an actual first class cabin).
Cabin & Seat: Lufthansa's current business class product leaves a lot to be desired. The soft product actually isn't bad. They rolled out quite a few improvements in early 2018 and it's noticeably better. You just expect a lot more out of the hard product from a Skytrax 5-star airline. Since the seat is everything in business class, Lufthansa's ratings take a hit here. I'm looking forward to 2020 when they get new seats in a 1-2-1 layout. It'll be a good trans-Atlantic product by then, I hope. Until then, for trans-Atlantic trips I would probably prefer United's product so long as it isn't the old 2-4-2 layout in business.
Service: In the past I've always found Lufthansa's business class service to be friendly and efficient. I would describe it as a bit assembly-line-like, but gets the job done, which is important for a 8 to 9-hour redeye flight where you're trying to maximize sleep. However, this particular flight the meal service took a really long time. The flight attendants were warm and friendly, but I'd prefer a faster meal service.
Meal & Catering: Surprisingly it wasn't so bad. It's far from the best business class meal I've ever had (that award goes to a Turkish Airlines flight I took almost 6 years ago), but everything was decent.
Bottom Line: The FCT is definitely an experience everyone should try to enjoy once. Lufthansa's First Class experience simply isn't complete without it. As for its business class product, it's definitely not my preferred business class on Star Alliance. The soft product has seen some improvements since I flew them last in 2016 though. I will definitely try them out again when they have the new 1-2-1 business class layout in 2020.
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