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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.