Lufthansa A380 business class: below-par seat but great service

Airline Review: Lufthansa A380 business class: below-par seat but great service

Route:
Frankfurt to Singapore
Airline:
LH (Lufthansa)
Cabin Class:
Business
Aircraft Type:
Airbus A380-800
Flight:
LH778
Seat:
25G

service:

meals:

seating:

overall:

What's Hot

  • quiet A380 cabin
  • Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones

What's Not

  • uncomfortable seat
  • disappointing entertainment system
  • no midnight snacking options

X-Factor

  • smartphone boarding pass
  • great crew

Introduction

Lufthansa's A380 is the airline's flagship, and Australian Business Traveller was invited aboard its inaugural LH778 flight to Singapore this week to try out business class on the route.

My expectations were fairly low: Lufthansa hasn't upgraded its business class seating for some years now and still uses an angled lie-flat seat rather than a more comfortable fully flat bed, even aboard its longest flights on the A380.

(A new business class seat is in the works -- as Australian Business Traveller reported recently -- but won't be rolled out until Lufthansa gets its Boeing 747-8 fleet in 2012.)

I'd flown from Singapore to Munich on the same bed (minus the incremental A380 updates to entertainment and a less noisy seat motor) and hadn't been impressed by the sleeping position in particular, so I was keen to see whether the minor updates made it a more comfortable ride.

Check-in

Lufthansa's web check-in is simple and swift, and without hold luggage I chose to email an electronic QR-code enabled boarding pass to my smartphone.

Once at the airport, I whizzed through the priority security lines, flashing my mobile boarding pass with no problems, and headed for the lounge.

It was a typical Frankfurt hike through the soulless terminal corridors to get to the far C gates that Lufthansa uses for its A380s. A staffer later explained that there are electric buggies that will take you if you flag them down, but none were obviously for regular passenger use when I arrived.

Lounge

Yes, this is the business class lounge seating.

For A380 flights out of Frankfurt at its Terminal C gates at the far end of the airport, Lufthansa has gate-specific lounges for business class passengers and its frequent flyers.  

But the lounges are too small, noisy and remarkably poorly equipped, so don't plan to spend much time relaxing before your flight.

For all the gory details, head on over to our review of the Frankfurt Gate C16 Business Lounge.

Flight

LH778 is timetabled to take just under 12 hours from Lufthansa to SIngapore, leaving just after 10pm and arriving just before 5pm at this time of year.

Since this flight was over the weekend of the Qantas shutdown, every seat on the plane was taken, with more than a dozen passengers on the standby list, multiple overbookings and Lufthansa offering €1500/A$2000 for business class passengers to fly in economy.

(That's not a great deal if you'd paid for your own flight: a return business class fare is around €3500/A$4700, while return economy is around €700/A$930.)

Boarding at Frankfurt is through the separate upstairs airbridge for premium passengers, where you turn left for first class and right for business.

Inside the A380, the business class cabin is mainly blue and grey, with decoration limited to the blue seat covers.

The cabin layout is 2-2-2, and I had picked one of the centre aisle seats near the back in the smaller rear cabin for quiet and to avoid anyone needing to climb over me during the night.

Halfway through the larger forward cabin, there's a screen, presumably to break up the space and stop it feeling quite as cavernous as other airlines' cabins.

The flight itself was swift and uneventful, with an appreciably lower noise level on the massive A380 compared with the older Boeing 747 planes that used to be scheduled on this Frankfurt-Singapore flight.

Seat

As expected, Lufthansa's business class seat was disappointing.

Not only is it a last-generation angled lie-flat seat, the support for the lower legs is at a steeper angle than the rest of the seat.

We explain why angled lie-flat seats are problematic in our exposé of the lie-flat lie.

That means that unless you sleep on your back, your knees are bent at an uncomfortable angle unless you wad up multiple pillows and blankets underneath.

I've slept on plenty of these lie-flat seats, and Lufthansa's is one of the most uncomfortable for this extra angle reason.

There's a lack of storage space too. The magazine rack above the TV is full of magazines, so your only spot to stash your things (apart from a shoe cubby in the centre console) is a shoulder-wrenching reach behind the seat to a small rectangular slot.

A bottle of water and the amenity kit fill the slot before you sit down, and I only just about managed to stash my ultralight 11-inch MacBook Air and phone in the slot once I'd removed the water and amenity kit.

If you want access to your things during the flight, pick one of the window seats: they have a pair of useful storage bins right next to them.

The mechanism for tilting to the angled sleeping position is also odd: the seat pan raises in a strange S-hump motion, going up and forwards before it slides down at the angle.

That means that the legrest portion feels less high in "sitting" mode than in "relaxing" mode, which is counterintuitive. It takes a while to figure out the intricacies of the seat.

Overall, the point of spending the money for a business class seat on an overnight 12-hour flight is for a decent night's sleep. On these uncomfortable, uncompetitive seats, you're unlikely to get it.

Meal

I decided to play to Lufthansa's European strengths, with a delicious paté and Riesling to start.

This overnight flight gets two meals: a full dinner was served shortly after the 10pm Frankfurt time takeoff, with a breakfast before the 5pm Singapore time landing.

(I always find breakfast at 4pm local time to be an odd choice on these flights. Surely a brunch-style meal would be more sensible?)

Pre-departure drinks were offered, with a medium-range Piper-Heidsieck champagne, juice and water on a tray.

A comprehensive A4-sized menu was presented during the departure period, and I picked a delicious paté en croûte with slaw to start, followed by traditional Swabian meat-filled dumplings.

Lufthansa presents the starter and cheese course with flatware together on a tray, then removes everything but your knife, fork and cheese course before the main arrives. 

It's a slightly odd way to do it, since the flight attendant has to pick your flatware and cheese course off the tray and put them on the tablecloth.

The wine options were solid, with two German Rieslings, a French Chardonnay, and German and Australian red. The flight attendant was keen to recommend the excellent special Riesling on board as part of Lufthansa's "Vinothek" range, which was superb. 

Being tired, I declined dessert (which looked delicious) in favour of a glass of an average ruby Port and extra time to try to sleep.

During the night, the crew passed through the cabin quietly with drinks, but I was surprised at the lack of a midnight snack option beyond instant pot noodles.  

Breakfast was served seven hours or so after dinner, just over an hour prior to arrival in Singapore, consisting of birchermuesli, a warm roll and a choice of hot breakfast or cold Continental-style plate.

I picked the hot breakfast, which was scrambled eggs (surprisingly good), spinach and absolutely delicious potato rösti cakes with sesame seeds.

The coffee was good and strong, just how I like it, but I wish Lufthansa followed some other airlines' example and used larger mugs -- the small airline style ones are really only good for a mouthful before it's time for a refill.

Entertainment & Service

Small and not touch-sensitive, the entertainment screen is distinctly out-of-date.

The entertainment system -- while a welcome upgrade from the older, laggy version used on Lufthansa's other long-haul aircraft -- still doesn't hold a candle to systems offered by Emirates, Singapore Airlines or Qantas.

The screen is surprisingly small, there's a weak selection of content, and it's not touch-screen either. The remote control is fiddly, with navigating backwards up the numerous menus counterintuitive and frustrating.

The screen is also at an odd angle, below where you'd normally look in a seated or reclining position, and it doesn't angle forwards for when you're lying down either.

On the plus side, decent Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones are provided and are pretty good, although either the system quality or the headphone quality crackled during loud sections of music.

There's also a power point at every seat, which delivers US-style 110v power up to 150 watts. (That's enough for even the most power-hungry adaptors like the ones for the extra-large 17 inch MacBook Pro, which sometimes trip the fuses on lower-watt points.)

Whoever designed it, though, decided on an cover that slides upwards, so it's a two-handed affair just to plug in.

The in-flight service was cheerful, efficient and consistent, with one flight attendant in particular looking after my section of business class.

She remembered the little details like which wine I was drinking, how I took my coffee and whether I preferred still or sparkling water. Top marks.

My jacket was whisked away from me before departure (although the crew are still used to taking boarding cards to affix to jackets, which is tricky in the era of smartphone barcode boarding...) and delivered before arrival.

The purser greeted high-status Lufthansa and Star Alliance partner frequent flyers personally -- in English, French and German, as far as I heard.

Summary

Lufthansa's seats simply aren't in the same league as its alliance partner Singapore Airlines on this route, and a woeful lounge at Frankfurt just adds to the difference.

If you start adding in the one-stop options on Gulf airlines Qatar and Emirates, the service disparity becomes even more clear.

It's an improvement on Lufthansa's older A340 flights, but it's hard to understand how the airline can justify charging A$1000 more than Qantas for similar angled-flat seats (currently being upgraded to fully flat beds) and A$900 more than Singapore Airlines, which has fully flat beds where everyone has direct access to the aisle.

(Price differences based on flights for mid-February 2012.)

Lufthansa plans to upgrade its business class seats in early 2012 once it receives the new Boeing 747-8, with seats resembling the Sicma Cirrus business class fully flat beds used by Cathay Pacific appearing in an investor document. But as an interim offering, this is one to miss.

John Walton

John Walton (John Walton)

@thatjohn

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.
 

7 Comments

  • Rufus

    Rufus

    22 Nov, 2011 01:46 am

    Minor nit-pick - the A380 replaced the 747s on this route, not the A340s.  Lufthansa still flies the A340 from Munich (which has also taken over the Jakarta tag).

    Haven't been to the C-gate lounge, but agree that the Business lounges in FRA are generally awful. 

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  • John Walton

    John Walton

    22 Nov, 2011 06:50 am

    Oh good Lord, that's typotastic of me! And I had been talking about the 747 vs A380 noise profile in Singapore to Lufthansa just the same day. Thanks for the catch!

    The frustrating thing about the Business Lounges is that the Munich one is actually quite decent. Sigh.

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  • Mark Trim

    Mark Trim

    24 Nov, 2011 01:40 pm

    Lufthansa's seats might not be in the same league as Singapore Airlines but neither is their price so that's not a great comparison to draw. You can do a Lufthansa RTW using Qantas A380 to LA and Qantas/Singapore Airlines A380 from Aus-Singapore with LH legs to/from Europe. This fare prices around $6800-7400 with taxes depending on the cities. This is half the price of a full alliance RTW and only $500-800 more than a QF premium economy RTW! Even if you spend some of the difference on some internal flights that the full alliance fares include you're still well ahead. So whilst the lie flat beds aren't perfect surely it's good value for money compared to a premium economy ticket on QF? Whilst I think for return tickets the SQ/EK/EY/CX fares at ~$8k are good value people are so focussed on the bottom line in today's market and if you can get a $6-7k deal on a lie flat people are taking them in droves. I'd still prefer to see a cheaper, angled business class product and then a reasonable first class product like LH do it. SQ, CX, EK all have expensive busines class f/flat beds and nothing else between that and economy. Their beds in business almost makes the concept of first class redundant...so keep fully flat beds to first class only and offer a cheaper alternative for business class on an angle. Not all airlines need the same business model, so it's not necessarily about 'a good nights sleep' as you mention, it's about having a more comfortable experience than economy without paying through the nose for it.

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  • VA Beats QF

    VA Beats QF

    20 Dec, 2013 09:54 pm

    Totaly agree mark economy 6 inch recline. PE 9 inch 38 inch legroom. Business class angled. First class flat bed

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  • KS

    KS

    3 Dec, 2011 02:36 pm

    Excellent review, John.  Lufthansa is one of my favourite airlines but I'd have to agree their current long-haul Business Class is now outdated and can't compare with the best in the industry.

    However, your comment that "Lufthansa's seats simply aren't in the same league as its alliance partner Singapore Airlines on this route" isn't quite accurate.  Singapore flies B747-400 and B777-300ER aircraft on the SIN-FRA route and only the B777s have Singapore's latest flat-bed Business Class which you seem to have in mind.  On the B747s you'll find the old Spacebed seats which are an angled lie-flat product not significantly better than Lufthansa's offering.  This will change on 15 January 2012 when Singapore puts A380s on the route.

    What I like about Lufthansa is its policy is generally to have a consistent cabin product throughout its widebody fleet.  So yes the current LH Business Class is not the best but at least you can be sure what to expect on any long haul flight, whether on a B747, A330 or A340.   For all the praise for Singapore's new Business Class, it's only available on selected routes (admittedly, the most popular/lucrative business routes) operated by B777-300ER, A340-500 and A380 aircraft.  You won't find it on their A330, B777-200 or B777-300 planes, some of which have a dismal old-style cabin.  Similar comments apply to Emirates - their latest lie-flat products are confined to select routes and aircraft.

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  • AirportParty

    AirportParty

    31 Jan, 2012 06:44 pm

    Good morning afternoon and midday ladies and jellyspoons, we are hoping we can delay the down time for a further 3 months. Please expect the services and falmunctions to be fully functional by the end of the period we have stated the malfunctions will be non operational. Server 5534.3 has uncounted a error cause network 455 (#5522) to close down and shut off network 344. (#420) Due to this we are unable to provide the assistance you may be. Although we will be unable to answer your request/tickets, please feel free to send them.

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  • Alvin Tse

    Alvin Tse

    22 Mar, 2014 02:47 am

    Check the sentence "My jacket was whisked away from me on arrival (although the crew are still used to taking boarding cards to affix to jackets, which is tricky in the era of smartphone barcode boarding...) and delivered before arrival."

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3 Dec, 2016 04:57 am

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