Lufthansa European business class, Frankfurt to London Heathrow

Airline Review: Lufthansa European business class, Frankfurt to London Heathrow

Airline:
LH (Lufthansa)
Cabin Class:
Business
Aircraft Type:
Airbus A321
Flight:
LH910
Seat:
2F

service:

meals:

seating:

overall:

What's Hot

  • priority baggage worked

What's Not

  • dire lounge
  • hiking through Frankfurt
  • boarding scrum and bouncers
  • indifferent crew

X-Factor

  • incredible gastronomic tasting menu

Introduction

I find travelling around Europe in business class oddly frustrating. The "Eurobusiness" style seats, which are essentially what Virgin Australia used to have as its domestic premium economy, very rarely seem worth the price difference.

The benefit to travelling business class in Europe, therefore, is at the airport: swift check-in and bag drop, a pleasant lounge to get some work done, the chance to skip long queues, and priority bags at the other end so you can be sped on your way.

With this in mind, I flew from Frankfurt to London on Lufthansa recently, and was interested to see how the experience measured up to British Airways -- and to the numerous European low-cost airlines.

Check-in

Check-in was swift and painless at Frankfurt, though watch out for the mobile boarding passes...

I used Lufthansa's mobile phone online check-in, and received my 2D barcode to use throughout the boarding process. 

However, forewarned by having used it before, I asked for a paper version when dropping off my bag. Since it's just an image attached to an email rather than a separate app, it will rotate when your phone does if you tilt it for scanning. Which results in:

No way to scan the boarding pass in sideways mode, as I discovered. Nice idea, but back to paper I went.

Check-in was swift, with a single business class queue for a half-dozen or so business class check-in desks. (However, there's a queue-minder you have to get past first, which is problematic when people are trying to sneak their way into the business queue: you're stuck behind them while the queue-minder has to explain that this is the business queue.)

In theory, you're following the blue signs. In practice, it doesn't do you much good.

Bear in mind that there's no real fast-track through the airport for business class -- there's a slight shortcut at x-ray time, but it's still frustratingly slow. From the Airport Hilton (attached to the terminal by a walkway) to the lounge took me 45 minutes.

Lounge

Lufthansa's Business Lounge in Frankfurt was seriously below par.

The Business Lounge, which we're already reviewed and found wanting, is a no-announcements zone -- the staff tell you to watch the display monitors for boarding information.

The monitors in the lounge started showing boarding 30 minutes before departure, so I headed down (past the stinking smoking cabins -- how pleasant). The flight took another fifteen minutes to start to board, though, and it's only a two-minute walk from the lounge, so this is a lesson not to pay much attention to the boards.

When flying to the UK from Continental Europe, you have to go through a second passport check before you're allowed to board. Which, when I arrived at the gate, tailed back quite a way. Here's what it looks like when you get to the front of the queue.

However, Lufthansa is to my knowledge the only airline that outsources their passport checks to a third company, Securicor -- yes, the same company that does their lounge checks.

And this check is asinine: before boarding is called, a Securicor goon stamps your boarding card and then makes you mill back into the general crowd in the main thoroughfare. (There's a sign for first and business class, but the Securicor staffer certainly wasn't enforcing it.)

Feeling somewhat bemused by the process, and with nothing else to do while waiting for boarding, I observed the Securicor staffer, who didn't seem to be doing much checking of passports against faces. (You know, the way immigration looks down at the passport, up at you, then back down again? None of that: just a glance at the passport to match the name to the boarding pass.) Nor is there any obvious way for them to mark a mobile boarding pass.

I have no idea how this is supposed to enhance security, nor which regulations it's supposed to satisfy, but few things are more irritating to business travellers than pointless, useless security theatre nonsense.

Boarding itself is automated: swipe your boarding card on the reader and the gates swish apart to let you through. There are Lufthansa staffers on hand to assist you if it's not working.

As a result, I interacted with precisely one Lufthansa staffer (very helpful, at check-in) but two Securicor staffers (rude and surly, at the lounge and at boarding).

It's baffling that an airline thinks that outsourcing its interaction with passengers to a company whose staffers have no interest in creating a pleasant experience is a good idea.

Flight

With a relatively empty cabin, the flight was quiet and uneventful.

This was a pretty basic 1h20 flight: plane went up, plane flew, plane went down.

Nothing eventful to report, apart from my usual exhortation to anyone flying into London to sit on the right-hand side of the plane for that wonderful view over Parliament and up the Thames. It never fails to make me smile (assuming that it's not clouded over.)

Kudos to Lufthansa for making priority baggage work at Heathrow -- my priority-tagged bag was second off the carousel. That's something that British Airways has never managed at its home hub in Terminal 5 in my last half-dozen flights with them.

Seat

Eurobusiness: standard economy seat, but with a spare seat next to you.

Welcome to Eurobusiness! If these look like basic economy seats to you, well done: that's exactly what they are. They're Lufthansa's new slimline Recaro seats.

All you get for your business fare is a small table attached to the centre armrests instead of a middle seat passenger. (You can't lift the armrests to stretch out sideways for a bit of kip either -- they're locked in the 'down' position.)

My bulkhead seat was fine for a two-hour flight (and better than the second-row-back seat I'd flown over in, on a plane that didn't have the centre tables), with the real winner being the large table that folded down from the wall in front of me, perfect for getting some work done on the flight.

For reference, that's an 11-inch MacBook Air there.

The cabin was pretty empty -- three passengers for eighteen seats -- though the big cabin is likely a function of the aircraft's next flight, a business traveller rush-hour special from London back to Germany.

For a newly renovated plane, though, it wasn't in especially good condition: frayed carpets and obvious food particles on the floor from the previous flight.

Meal

Seriously, this was the best short-haul business class food I have ever tasted.

Lunch on board was oddly fascinating: everything apart from the bread was a jelly.

The purple one is an eel mousse with balsamic roasted cherry tomato (and there's a morsel of eel there too), the chunky orange one is a "gelled vegetable soup on spicy tomato chutney", the one in the pot is "elderflower soup with pink grapefruit and elderflowers" and the opaque orange one is "roasted carrot", topped with guinea fowl.

It was the strangest airline meal I've ever had -- but the eel mousse and carrot-and-guinea-fowl ones were absolutely delicious. (The elderflower soup, which was more an elderflower custard, was a bit sweet, though.)

After gumming my way through everything (is Lufthansa catering to the dentures market?) I decided I'd have been happy with the eel or carrot ones as an amuse-gueule at any top-notch restaurant. Lufthansa is to be commended for its efforts here.

Drinks were humdrum and basic, though: no interesting wines like on Lufthansa long-haul, and the sparkling was a pretty boring "Tridentum" Italian Trento fizz.

(At least it wasn't the German Sekt bubbles from the lounge. I'll just say that there's a reason why Germany isn't internationally known for sparkling wine and leave it at that.)

I switched to tomato juice -- my on-the-plane fave -- fairly smartish.

Entertainment & Service

With no entertainment, it's up to you to bring something with you.

Magazines were offered on boarding, but the only English language options offered on this flight to London were Newsweek and Time -- certainly not enough to keep you going for over an hour, but enough for taxi, takeoff and landing.

There's no entertainment on Lufthansa's European fleet, not even an overhead screen with the moving map. I paged through something brainless on my Kindle instead.

I did find it interesting that the crew were happy for a passenger to continue using his laptop with table down well past push-back from the gate until the plane was accelerating towards the runway.

While that's great for business travellers trying to eke out as much work as possible before turning things off for takeoff, I'm not sure it's an official airline safety policy.

And there seemed to be no real enforcement of the separation between business class and economy. I don't really care if an economy passenger wants to come use the forward business class lavatory, but when small children from economy are running up and down the aisles it's a little hard to concentrate on getting work done.

Don't bother pressing the call button...

Lastly, I tested the responsiveness of the cabin crew to the call button three times. (Which was really me just wanting a refill of my tomato juice.) Despite there clearly being crew in the galley area, nobody came to see why I'd pressed the call button either time, and passing crew simply walked by without a glance.

Summary

With an awful lounge, an unpleasant boarding experience, a relatively decent seat for Eurobusiness, fantastic food, humdrum drinks, and below-par crew, it's hard to pick an overall rating for this flight.

Parts of the trip were great -- and I loved the food -- but most of the important parts were disappointing.

If Lufthansa is serious about wanting business travellers to connect to European destinations from Australia via Asia and its main Frankfurt hub, it needs to seriously look at the business class passenger experience.

Our reporter was a guest of the airline.

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.
 

11 Comments

  • Rufus

    Rufus

    8 Aug, 2012 05:55 pm

    I think the second passport check is a UK Home Office requirement - BA has the same thing on its Frankfurt flights, although generally done as you're boarding (which in turn slows down that part of the trip).  

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  • Rufus

    Rufus

    8 Aug, 2012 08:15 pm

    (and the BA check is also done by Securicor)

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  • John Walton

    John Walton

    13 Aug, 2012 03:53 am

    Ah, yes, I should probably have been clearer about the reasons for my surprise: it's that this is done by an outsourced company of goons at the airline's main hub, as opposed to at an out-station like many airlines do. (And, in fairness, my criticism of BA's European contract staff is well on record.)

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  • Ksmith

    Ksmith

    10 Aug, 2012 09:59 pm

    Nice review. I have to agree the business lounges at FRA are fairly awful, thank goodness for Star Alliance Gold and the slightly better Senator lounges (which I've never seen Securicor staff on the door of). 

    With regards to it not being worth the price difference from economy, whilst I fully agree this is true if you are travelling on an discount economy ticket, I have often found that the upgrade from fully flexible economy tickets to fully flexible business tickets is often just a few Euros (on a recent trip business cost me 7EUR more each way!), in which case the upgrade is good value, and much appreciated.

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  • John Walton

    John Walton

    13 Aug, 2012 02:35 am

    Alas, the security goons were in place at the Munich Senator lounge and both Frankfurt Senator lounges I passed through a month or so ago.

    And I don't rate the Senator lounges significantly higher than the Business lounges: same grim aesthetic, and the Frankfurt Schengen (B24 or thereabouts) one I passed through was simply dire -- dirty, no seats available, with the only redeeming feature a decent runway view.

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  • Rufus

    Rufus

    27 Aug, 2012 08:27 pm

    Scarcely a single seat free in the Schengen A gates senator lounge when I was passing through on Friday.

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  • aMate

    aMate

    12 Sep, 2012 05:04 pm

    Oddly enough, I recently read Lufthansa is actually supporting dentists with their Miles&More programme. They came up with a cooperation between a dental laboratory and their credit card, so every time a dentists gets stuff there, they credit Miles to his account.


    Here you go - if you don't understand German, Google translate might be handy: http://meilenschwund.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/meilen-fur-zahnersatz/


    By the way: This blog is a lot to read, but very interesting. It started off with a law suit because Lufthansa devaluated Miles&More Miles, illegally, as the court ruled, and now covers a lot of customer service and interaction issues with Lufthansa.

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  • eddm_muc

    eddm_muc

    13 Sep, 2012 08:31 pm

    I wonder why you don't use the very good LH App instead of complaining about non working and tilting (which can be switched off in your phone) QR codes

    The middle seats in business class are blocked because international flight law says so. Simple reason: max amount of seats is higher than allowed PAX for the amount of crew. therefore 6-8 seats are blocked this way permanently.

    Complaining about German(sparkling) wine being served  on a German airline or in theier lounges is somehow weird.
    What do you know about German (sparkling) wine?

    The new seats are perfect and comfortable for the short inter-European flights, don't need anything else. They are lighter and thus save fuel and the environment.

    I have never seen Securicor staff at or in front of any LH lounge and never heard of it either.
    Also doubt your stories about the way entrance is granted to the lounges. Never met unfriendly staff.
    I guess its you..

    The extra security check for UK flghts is done by UK homeland security "partners" and a typical example for the typical British "Anti-European and non-Schengen behaviour" . It has nothing to do with LH.

    In general I consider all your posts regading LH kind of "blunt bashing at its best".

    I also note that you lack deep knowledge of European differences and certain laws, which is may be good enough for you, but not for well educated Europeans who question your stories.

    So please do better and be more "positive".

    And finally:

    A lot of the LH lounges are fairly old and its unfair to compare them with brand new "Virgin" clubs....
    I'm looking forward to read your most valuable review on the new LH FRA Term 1 A-plus or MUC facilities.

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  • John Walton

    John Walton

    14 Sep, 2012 10:13 am

    Thanks very much for your detailed comment -- I always appreciate the opportunity to hear from our readers.

    In answer to your questions, in order:

    1. Turning off tilting on an iPhone requires an irritating multi-step faff. I like (and have used) the LH app, but electronic boarding passes that don't work on the most-used smartphone in the world without downloading a separate app are problematic, and LH needs either to fix the email pass problem or to send passengers to their app more clearly. 
    2. I think you mistake law for staffing. Airbus A320 family aircraft are certified for a specific number of passengers, and certification is based on a high-density layout. If Lufthansa sold every seat on the plane in economy, they could fly that plane legally and safely. Depending on their staffing rosters, they might (or might not; I haven't crunched the specific numbers with the new Recaro seats) need to add one extra flight attendant if they sold more seats. This is neither unusual nor unique to Lufthansa.
    3. I know a fair bit about German wine, as it happens. Riesling is one of my favourite varietals, especially in the air: the balance of acidity and citrus is ideal for my palate. I also love cool-climate Pinot, AKA Spätburgunder, and I'm fascinated by some of the new Dornfelder that's coming out. Our reviews of long-haul business note that I'm pleased to encounter the excellent German specials in the Vinothek selection. However, one can't help but note that Sekt as an appelation is less complex and refined than Champagne. Even airlines with widely appreciated wine regions like Australia and NZ serve Champagne in-flight, and indeed Lufthansa's Eurobusiness sparkling is Italian.
    4. As economy seats, I really, really like the new Recaro offering, and I've said so in multiple articles. However, for people who don't come from Europe, the Eurobusiness seating is below business class expectations. 
    5. I've never not seen Securicor people at a Frankfurt lounge, and I've been in a good half-dozen within the last year. I suggest you look closely at their nametags.
    6. The separate passport-boarding pass checks for UK-bound flights are, in my experience of six Schengen-to-UK flights this year (from HEL, FRA, CDG x2, LYS, TLS) and innumerable flights in the past, solely a Lufthansa thing, carried out by Lufthansa's contracted Securicor staffers. It may be that it is required in order to allow the automated boarding gates at FRA, but since there's no "pen" after the check has been completed it's utterly useless: I could swap my boarding card for someone else's while we all mill around near the desk, board using the automatic gates and nobody would be the wiser until I got to London. There is no such thing as "UK homeland security"; the UK Border Agency (which is the relevant part of the UK Government here) and the security services are separate agencies.
    7. I -- and we -- don't "bash" any particular airlines; we have no agenda beyond the desires of every business traveller. There is much that's good about Lufthansa -- I think Munich is among the best airports in Europe, that the new business class is decent (but "footsie" is a problem), that their business class crews are great, that their business class catering out of FRA is spectacular (especially shorthaul), and that the FRA longhaul Senator lounges are decent enough. And I can't get enough weißwurst and leberkäse when I fly through MUC. But the rest of Lufthansa's seats, other lounges and the FRA experience leave an awful lot to be desired, especially when compared with the competition.
    8. The irony of your assertion about European differences is that I'm an EU national, fluent in French and with functional German, Italian, Spanish and Russian; I spend 4-6 months each year in Europe and have a European master's degree. I travel more in Europe than most Europeans, so I'm intimately aware of the cultural and legal (by which I assume you mean Schengen) difference than most Europeans. Sorry, but the "you're foreign so you don't understand" assertion simply doesn't wash.
    9. We're positive where positivity is deserved, and critical where criticism is warranted. It does nobody any good to be either a cheerleader or a sniper; rather, our opinions are fair and firm. 
    10. I'm not sure how it's unfair to compare across airlines when those airlines are competitors -- surely that's the point of any independent reviewer. We've been in the new and the old LH Business Lounges, and none have impressed me: that's the honest truth.
    11. I, too, will be very interested to see how LH FRA T1 A+ works -- I had a chance to talk to the designers earlier this year, so I'll in particular be interested to see how they solve the almost 1km-long length issue.
    Lastly, thanks again for writing in. Though we clearly disagree about some aspects of the Lufthansa experience, it's always informative -- and I always find it interesting -- to have that kind of discussion.

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  • HoKo

    HoKo

    21 Oct, 2012 05:28 pm

    Lol, intra-europe business class is such a joke. I avoid it as much as possible. Also, for future reference on the mobile boarding pass issue, you can take a screenshot of your current screen on iPhone by holding down top right 'lock' button simultaenously with the home button at the bottom of the phone.  This gives you a screenshot (accessible in the photos section of your iPhone) that can be used just like your actual mobile boarding pass.

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  • John Leslie

    John Leslie

    26 Jan, 2013 05:35 pm

    I flew LH Business class DXB FRA CDG.  DXB FRA was on a A340, with sloping flat seats which offered little opportunity to sleep (I am 192cm).  Worse to come, after a stand off arrival, a long wait for the bus to fill, and officious German border guards double checking passports, we were totally abandoned. There was no help whatsoever, nor guidance let alone any Business Class priority in finding one's way through the rambling maze of Frankfurt airport for the one hour connection.  (Therefore no chance to comment on the lounge.)  It was a combination of long queues, rude German customs and security staff, and then rush, rush, rush to firstly find where we were supposed to be going then getting there.  Altogether a totally negative experience.  Then the "Business Class" seating on an A320, as your correspondent pointed out, was an economy seat with a vacant seat beside - fortunately a very short flight to CDG.   Although it was a cheap fare, but I certainly would never use LH again, especially with a transfer through FRA.

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