by Ron Bernthal
Sitting in Lufthansa’s Business Class Lounge at Frankfort Airport’s (FRA) Terminal 1, you would have thought it was perfectly normal Tuesday morning. Passengers were busy on their personal laptops (no free WiFi in the lounge), or using one of the four free Internet computers at the lounge work stations. A self-service buffet offered drinks, snacks, and hot soup, and a catering kiosk provided grilled ham and cheese sandwiches to order. Huge, slanted floor-to-ceiling windows provided a panoramic view of the tarmac, adjacent runways, and airport facilities.
What was different about that day, however, was that almost every flight on the electronic departure board was cancelled, except for Lufthansa’s long-haul flights to the U.S., South America, and Asia. Due to the closure of European airspace because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, Frankfurt, along with all airports in central and northern Europe, had been closed during the previous four days. Lufthansa was using all its wide-body planes to get stranded overseas passengers to/from their original destinations. The shorter flights to Europe and Scandinavia would not take off until the following day, giving airport traffic control more flexibility moving the wide-bodies in and out at a rapid pace. Those of us waiting that day for LH402 to Newark (EWR) were relieved to hear our scheduled 1:15 pm flight called for boarding at 12:40.
Boarding the 747-400, with the gate-sited automatic ticket scanners, was efficient and pull-back was at 1:30. Without the usual conga-line of departing aircraft delaying lift-off, we were wheels-up at 1:45 and quickly flying over the Rhine River and the historic, red-roofed German villages in minutes, climbing into a beautiful, cloud-free spring sky. Although Lufthansa offers 80 Business Class seats on the 747-400, they are split up into what feels like three separate cabins, offering lots of privacy and quiet in each area. There is a 2-2 configuration in the first section, and a 2-3-2 pattern in the next two. Thus, the first 27 rows of the aircraft, all allotted to Business Class, make up about half the entire length of the lower deck. The upper deck carries 16 First Class passengers.
In addition to the feeling of interior cabin spaciousness, all by design, the carrier is using the new Lufthansa silver and blue, “Lie Flat” shell seats in Business Class, with electronic controls that move the cushioned seat within the shell into a 57-60″ pitch. The same hand-held device that controls seat movement also controls the 10″ personal entertainment monitor on the facing seat-back, and every seat comes equipped with an adjustable reading light, headphone and personal storage area, and laptop power supply outlet in the center console.
It was easy to get comfortable during the scheduled 8:25 hour flight, especially with a soft, blue Lufthansa blanket over you, and the white, hygienic blanket lining was the first I’ve seen on any airline.
According to the in-flight menu, Lufthansa changes its First and Business Class meal choices every two months, hiring “Star Chefs” to develop new menu items. The chef who developed my lunch menu was Stefan Stiller, a German chef who operates a popular restaurant in Shanghai, and his culinary creativity with the Lufthansa menu included both European and Asian influences. Smoked mackerel with mango and papaya marmalade, with glass noodle salad and prawns was a great starter, following by filet of pikeperch with potato mustard mashed potatoes. Dessert was a Szechuan chocolate mousse and rhubarb with vanilla. Later in the flight, just prior to landing, a snack was served consisting of filet of Nori salmon with wasabi mayonnaise, Asian rice salad and prawns, and Chinese noodle salad with chicken, Satay sauce, and sesame. I made a mental note to visit Chef Stiller’s Restaurant & Cooking School in Shanghai (the address was provided, a nice marketing idea) if I ever get back to that amazing Chinese city again.
We landed at Newark International Airport (EWR) at 3:30 pm, after 7:45 hours in the air, a shorter than normal flight despite a slight adjustment in the route because of flight restrictions over the north Atlantic. Lufthansa’s cabin staff were attentive and friendly, and the carrier was able to provide a very comfortable and pleasing flying experience on their first day in the air after the prolonged shut down.
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