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The business traveller's guide to Frankfurt Airport

By John Walton     Filed under: Lufthansa, Europe, germany, travel tips, Frankfurt, airport guide

Travelling through Germany's main international hub at Frankfurt Airport? Our handy guide to help business travellers demystify this behemoth of airports is just what you need.

We've got the information you need explaining how the lounges work -- and where you'll find them -- plus how to get to and from the airport, how the airport wifi works and a stash of insider tips and tricks.

The basics

Frankfurt is Germany's mega-hub, a four-runway airport connecting Australians into Europe via Lufthansa and the Star Aliance.

The airport is just 12km to the southwest of the city centre, with excellent rail links to Frankfurt, the rest of Germany and into Europe. 

With concourses more than a kilometre long -- it's 1100m between business class check-in and the end of concourse A, with no peoplemover -- and a depressing, never-ending range of gray, low-ceilinged corridors, Frankfurt can an unpleasant airport at the best of times and a real misery if your travel takes a bad turn.

Wifi and apps

Frankfurt Airport has wifi provided by T-Mobile, with a 30-minute free option, but it's in German and it's an absolute faff, requiring you to receive a SMS with a code before you can use it. We've never yet managed to make it work in the time between landing and collecting our bags.

A much better idea is to hit up the O2 store in concourse B on the arrivals level for a blau.de SIM for your phone or pocket wifi device. Decent English is spoken. You'll need Euro cash, mind -- credit cards aren't accepted for blau.de products -- but there's an ATM close by.

The airport has a basic app -- with useful mapping so you know just how far your hike is going to be -- but it's a whopping 15MB for Android and 18MB for iPhone and iPad.

Major airlines

It's rare to find a major international airline that doesn't fly to Frankfurt.

Lufthansa's main hub is here, and as a result many Star Alliance airlines use the airport to funnel their passengers throughout Europe on Lufthansa's connecting flights.

Qantas currently flies to Frankfurt, but will cut flights from April 2013 as part of the Red Roo's new alliance with Emirates

Layout, terminals and connections

Frankfurt has two terminals, 1 and 2, with a third under construction and scheduled to open in 2015.

Terminal 1 is mainly Lufthansa and Star Alliance, whereas Terminal 2 is for oneworld and SkyTeam, with unaffiliated airlines split across them. Qantas and Emirates use Terminal 2.

Terminal 1 is split into four concourses: A (for Schengen Zone flights), Z (the level above A, for non-Schengen Zone flights), B and C. An extension to concourse A -- called A-plus -- opens in October 2012 for flights outside the Schengen Zone. Terminal 2 has concourses D and E.

Lufthansa/Star Alliance business class check-in is Terminal 1A. Lufthansa/Star Alliance economy check-in is 1B and 1C. The concourses are connected at the check-in/arrivals end, but it's trickier further in, so make sure you're going through the right security checkpoint.

Concourse A in particular can mean kilometre-plus walks, so make sure you leave enough time and wear comfortable footwear.

Of course, if you happen to be flying Lufthansa First Class -- or are a Lufthansa Hon Circle top-tier frequent flyer -- then you'll be using the completely separate First Class Terminal, which is set aside from Terminal 1 and offers direct rides (sometimes via a Porsche) to your plane.

Lounges

Terminal 1: Lufthansa/Star Alliance

Despite six tries in the last year, we haven't yet found a Lufthansa departure lounge remotely decent in Frankfurt, excepting of course the fabulous First Class Terminal for those business travellers senior enough to fly Lufthansa First Class and Hon Circle top-tier frequent flyers. They're drably functional at best, and too crowded to find a seat in at worst.

Note that Lufthansa offers paying business class passengers only the bottom-rung Business Lounges, while frequent flyers travelling economy get the slightly better Senator lounges. While there's nothing to write home about in either, the arrangement will seem backwards to the way that the rest of the world's lounge systems work.

You'll find Lufthansa's various lounges in Terminal 1:

  • First Class Terminal: direct your driver to Terminal 1 and turn right when you see signs for the First Class Terminal. From there you'll be driven to the plane when it's time to leave.
  • First Class Lounges (for Star Alliance first class passengers) are found near gates A26 and B22.
  • Senator Lounges (for Star Alliance Gold cardholders and Senator-tier Lufthansa frequent flyers) are near A26, B42, and C14-16. The C14-16 lounges offer direct boarding.
  • Business Lounges (for business class passengers and Frequent Traveller-tier Lufthansa frequent flyers) are near gates A26, B24, B44, and C14-16. The C14-16 lounges offer direct boarding.
  • The Lufthansa Welcome Lounge for arriving passengers in Arrivals zone B is pretty good -- though it's completely devoid of any natural light. It's available to first and business class passengers, but not Star Alliance Gold cardholders.

Terminal 2: oneworld and others

Oneworld passengers have several lounge options. Business class passengers and Qantas Gold/oneworld Sapphire cardholders are probably best off heading to the Cathay Pacific joint business/first class lounge near gate E7, although this is only open from 0600-1400.

First class passengers and Qantas Platinum/oneworld Emerald frequent flyers might prefer the more exclusive Japan Airlines First Class lounge near gate D5.

While not as good as the Cathay/JAL options Finnair passengers have access to the Air France lounge (near D26), while LAN passengers can use the Delta lounge (near D6). There's also an Iberia oneworld lounge near gate D27.

From April, Qantas passengers will be flying Emirates, which has one of its excellent lounges near gate E6.

Hotels

A Sheraton (with unremarkable rooms but a decent club lounge) is attached to the airport via a connecting bridge from T1, with a Hilton (which we find generally disappointing) and a Hilton Garden Inn (cheaper, with free wifi, and our pick of the three) via a further connecting bridge.

There's a supermarket and a range of convenient eateries in the "Squaire" building that holds the long-distance "Fernbahnhof" train station and the two HIltons. 

The airport vicinity also has a smattering of other hotels that require a shuttle bus transfer.

To and from the airport

Frankfurt's airport is 12km south of central Frankfurt, handily located at the junction of the A3 and A5 autobahn motorways and on a major high-speed train line that will whisk you across Germany and the rest of Europe.

To get into Frankfurt, look for the "Regionalbahnhof" signs in Terminal 1, which has entrances in the T1A and T1B concourses. When returning to the airport, you're looking for "Flughafen" on the map.

Long-distance trains -- for Cologne, Munich and other cities across Germany and Europe -- are found in the "Fernbahnhof" station, which is eminently reachable with luggage.

Insider tips and tricks

Frankfurt Airport can be a real hike -- frequently taking 45 minutes from check-in to gate -- so make sure you leave plenty of time to make it to your plane.

The Lufthansa "fast-track" queues only apply to priority security -- not to passport control, where you'll be stuck in the Other Passports queues. Follow the red and blue signs for first and business class passengers.

Bear in mind that if you're connecting from the UK or another European non-Schengen country, you may well be dumped out into passport control with all other non-Schengen passengers, which can be a real pain. You're also likely to be stopped for a customs check if you're carrying things like wine or cigarettes -- there are no limits beyond "personal use" when coming from non-Schengen EU countries, but you're in the queue with people from outside the EU, so the customs officers will pull you aside. Make sure you keep your inbound boarding pass handy to show them.

The brand new Hilton at Frankfurt Airport has a reputation -- which we can confirm, having stayed there twice -- for staff who lack knowledge (of such complicated questions as "when is breakfast") and rooms seemingly designed by people who never have to stay in hotels. (The designer taps and designer sinks that get water all over your trousers are a real winner, and who picks slippery stone for bathroom floors?) By contrast, we hear good things about the Hilton Garden Inn next door.

Be aware that Lufthansa outsources many of the people you'll deal with at the airport to the G4S/Securicor pub bouncer security guard outfit. Our experience has been that they're rude, don't understand about partner frequent flyers and don't really speak anything other than German. Expect to encounter them when you're heading into the Lufthansa lounges, and make sure that all your lounge access paperwork is in order or you may not be allowed in -- with no Lufthansa staffers nearby to help.

Lufthansa's flights to Cologne don't leave the ground: it books an entire carriage on the excellent high-speed ICE trains, which we've reviewed. Consider taking the train yourself if you're connecting to other German cities.

If you end up disliking Frankfurt's sprawling greyness as much as many business travellers do, consider connecting through Lufthansa's second hub at Munich, where the airline's minimum connecting time is just 30 minutes.

Heading through Frankfurt on Lufthansa? We've recently brought you:

AusBT reader tips

Are you a frequent traveller through Frankfurt? Share your thoughts and top tips with your fellow readers in a comment below!

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About John Walton

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.

 

Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 2/10/12 by Cranky

Having flown through Frankfurt 10+ times now over the past 5 years, I avoid it and try to fly through Munich! Munich is so much easier to navigate!

If you have a long transit in Frankfurt (and want to get away from all the dark greyness of the place), I can also recommend the Marriott Courtyard near the airport. If you go to the Hotels counter in one of the lower ground dens of the airport, they can book you a room and the hotel will send a shuttle bus to collect you (10 minute ride). It's an older well kept property, but for €80 well worth it!

2 on 3/10/12 by Colin

The Cathay Pacific lounge in Terminal 2, near gates D5-7 is basic, no food other than "pot noodles" that you have to ask for. Small bagets but made regularly so at least they are fresh.  Coffee from the standard "machine" but it was drinkable.

Layout, is fairly small, with the kitchen breaking the room into two sections, on the plus side the seats along the window (but facing in) have loads of power points.

It was quiet, and pleasant enough. It wasnt the best lounge I've been in, but it certainly wasnt the worst.

 

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