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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.