Lufthansa's new business class -- with its much-improved fully flat beds -- has been flying for just a couple of months on the Boeing 747-8, the next-generation jumbo jet.
Following our first impressions from the on-the-plane tour in Frankfurt, I crossed the Atlantic between Frankfurt and Washington Dulles on the 747-8 to properly roadtest Lufthansa's new business class for both daytime and overnight (Washington to Frankfurt return) legs.
I'd checked in online and had a mobile boarding pass ready on Lufthansa's app, but since I needed to drop my suitcase I had to queue up at the main check-in -- no fast bag-drop here.
Lufthansa has its own check-in at Washington Dulles' single terminal, rather than partnering with its Star Alliance partner United at the latter's Dulles hub. Only one staffer was taking care of all of first and business class -- over 100 passengers -- and I had to wait about five minutes before being called forward, despite the economy class line being processed right next to me.
Without wanting to sound overentitled, it seemed odd that economy took precedence over business when I could easily have been called over to the next available economy agent.
The check-in itself was swift once I got to the agent, and I headed through to Dulles' security. Bizarrely, the premium security line fed in at the back of the existing regular passenger security line, which felt eminently pointless. Of course, that's not exactly Lufthansa's fault.
Once you take the underground train out to the B concourse, the Lufthansa lounge is obvious by its gold frontage.
I made the most of access to the Senator Lounge (available to Star Alliance Gold cardholders and Lufthansa first class passengers), which differs from the Business Lounge on the floor below mainly by virtue of having windows.
Although it's one of the best lounges in a US airport, it pales in comparison to international lounges in Europe or to Virgin Atlantic's JFK Clubhouse, which I reviewed recently.
A mechanical problem with the aircraft was handled poorly by Lufthansa, and we were several hours late departing Washington as a result.
The flight was first delayed, then cancelled, with business/first class passengers queueing in the lounge and economy passengers sent all the way back to the main terminal.
Half an hour later, just before I got to the front of the queue to be rebooked, the flight was reinstated because the mechanic managed to figure out a fix. Of course, the economy passengers had passed back into the terminal, and had to be recleared through security, meaning that the flight was further delayed. Luggage, naturally, also had to be redirected from the terminal to the plane.
I'll admit to playing a bit of armchair airline manager here, but given that there weren't many available seats on other airlines to Frankfurt, it's baffling that Lufthansa called a cancellation as early in the maintenance process as they did. A more sensible solution would have been to have called a delay of three hours, asked passengers on a tight connection to approach the desk to rebook, and to wait for the fix.
Lufthansa schedules 7h30 for this flight, but it's really a 6h30 flight with a lot of schedule padding -- which is why it has a relatively high on-time rating. Bear that in mind if you're worrying about a tight connection in Frankfurt: you're relatively likely to make it even if the plane is slightly delayed.
Once we took off, the flight itself was uneventful apart from a beautiful sunset over the US eastern seaboard.
A whimsical addition to the TV monitors in front of you are the two onboard cameras in the nose, one pointing downwards and one pointing forwards. It's a real trip to watch your plane taking off on the screen as well as out the window.
Since this is the first plane that Lufthansa's new business class seat -- which is to be rolled out on all long-haul flights across the Lufthansa network -- I'll spend more time than usual analysing the new seat, especially in sleep mode.
Once I eventually made it on board, I crossed the plane and turned right to my lower deck business class seat, 10K, at the front of the second business class cabin.
This is the basic new Lufthansa business class seat, seen on all the window-aisle pairs on board, upstairs and downstairs.
The centre pairs are set slightly further apart from each other, and have extra room in the footwell area, making them ideal for an overnight flight like this one.
But since there are only 20 of those centre pairs in the 96-seat business class sections, I picked a window to get a feel of the seat most travellers will be experiencing.
Considering things overall, the new seat is a great improvement on the old angled-flat Lufthansa business class offering, which was below-par for an overnight flight.
The most important change is that the new seat goes fully flat, which makes for a much more comfortable sleeping position.
Check out our guide to lie flat vs fully flat seats to figure out why the lie-flat lie is such an airline fib.
The downside to this arrangement on Lufthansa's 747-8 is that your feet point towards the feet of the person next to you, separated only by a thin and flimsy divider.
I've previously called this the "footsie problem", and despite the lack of an aisle seat neighbour, I remain skeptical about having to avoid someone else's feet and knees all night.
While the fact that I'd picked a window seat next to one of the worst aisle seats on the plane meant that I didn't have a seat mate, I heard the couple sitting behind me apologise twice to each other for an inadvertent kicking when turning over in bed or shifting position.
And, of course, the way that the seats angle together means that it's a devil to get out of the window seat if your aisle compatriot is in bed mode. I reclined the seat next to me to give it a try, and ended up having to stand right by the window (since there's no space between the seats).
I'll leave you to imagine my graceful, hippopotamus-like vaulting effort across two seats into the aisle. Once you've finished laughing, take away the fact that it just doesn't work.
When in bed mode, some other airlines' long-haul business class offerings, there's no extra mattress pad to soften what is a fairly firm cushion base, just a thin blanket and a whimsically cheery pillow.
That's something of a problem because the area around your calves doesn't raise entirely flush with the footwell, which means that pressure is put on the rest of your legs where it shouldn't be. Top tip: if you have a seat next to you (and can snag the blanket, or can find an extra blanket) fold the blanket in half down there to make the fully flat seat fully flat.
A big plus for the seat is storage: large carry-on bags can go in the expansive next-generation overhead bins, which take even American-sized rollaboards with ease.
Smaller bags will slide underneath the footrest area, which is also a handy spot to keep things secure while you're asleep.
There's a magazine storage rack that would also take a small laptop, and inside the arm the space where your headset would go could store the contents of your pockets.
While the crew was keen to hang up my jacket for me, I could have easily hung it on the fold-out hook on the seatback in front.
And, when I was in an upstairs window seat on the outbound flight, I had the large side bins to play with as well.
During my day flight, and for dinner and breakfast on the overnight, I was pleased by the range of sitting positions the seat provides. You can sit up like a grownup or recline as if you're having dinner on your knees in front of the TV, and the table position is flexible enough to allow both.
Once the meal service is over, the flexibility of the seat (and the headrest's angle-forwards option) means that you're very well supported for a spot of reading or TV-watching.
However, do take care to fold the table away in the exact reverse of the sequence in which you unfolded it: it's actually remarkably easy to get it stuck pointing towards the ceiling if you fold it the wrong way.
So, overall: I'm still not convinced by the angled-together "footsie" arrangements, but the seat is a real improvement on the previous Lufthansa business class. I'd be very surprised if any other airline takes this up, though, since it's well behind the likes of Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and the Middle Eastern carriers in terms of comfort and aisle access.
While the meal from Frankfurt to Washington was absolutely excellent, the return dinner service wasn't up to as high a standard. That's not entirely surprising given that Frankfurt is Lufthansa's main hub, and I'll run you through the outbound meal since it was more interesting.
I did a double-take when the starter was presented, since it looked like an economy meal box. In fact, this is the "Special Moments"-branded box that your intra-Europe business class snack-meal comes in.
But it was one of the best airline starters I've enjoyed in some time. Perfectly flavoured salmon, and delicious tandoori chicken, together with your choice of an almond-capsicum cream, mint yoghurt, raz el hanout or herb salt to mix and match. The almond-capsicum cream was out of this world, and the mint yoghurt went really well with a Lufthansa pretzel roll.
For my main course, I chose the pike-perch (Zander in German; it's one of those fish that you don't really see much of outside Europe) with hazelnut amaranth (sort of like quinoa), romanesco and carrots. The fish was perfectly tender, the amaranth nutty and delicious, and the vegetables perfectly al dente.
I picked the cheese for dessert, since the yogurt panna cotta with grapefruit and avocado didn't appeal (I'm not a grapefruit fan). The cheese was great, but the fig mustard was a real keeper.
Before arrival into Washington, the snack was served: I chose the very tasty Westphalian sausage salad over the curried chicen salad. The spiced cream cake with cashew nuts for dessert was also tasty and moist, which is a bit of a challenge in dehydrating airplane air.
Lufthansa's wine selection in both directions was disappointing, although the Duval-Leroy champagne is a lovely drop, even in the air.
A sharp German Sauvignon Blanc and an equally sharp Italian Pinot Bianco were unappealing, while neither the French Médoc nor the Chilean red blend took my fancy. It's rare that none of the selections on a wine list appeal to me, but this was well below the competition (and my previous Lufthansa experience).
Equally disappointingly, there was no "surprise wine" selection from Lufthansa's Vinothek programme on board either of the flights.
Entertainment & Service
The new Lufthansa inflight entertainment system is also a real step up from older Lufthansa systems, and is now competitive with other airlines.
I enjoyed the range of movies on offer, including some travel classics like Lost in Translation, and as a fan of choral music I appreciated two fantastic CDs from the Thomanerchor in Leipzig, focussing on Bach's music.
Last time I flew Lufthansa I bemoaned the lack of emphasis on Germany's rich musical heritage, so I'm pleased that it's being rectified on the newer planes.
Lufthansa has really missed a trick with the monitors, though: they don't extend to come closer to you. They just swivel on one end to change the angle. Since they're a fair distance away, that means that the decent size of the monitors doesn't feel any bigger than economy.
In terms of service, I was surprised to be scolded by a flight attendant about putting my shoed feet on the footrest. Given that the footrest is a tough leather surface, I'm pretty sure that my zip-up tan leather boots (familiar, I hope, to all frequent readers) wouldn't be doing it any damage.
Apart from that, the service was pleasantly efficient, with no obvious errors or omissions. (On the outbound day flight, though, I have to say that the crew were absolutely fantastic, passing through the cabin frequently yet unobtrusively, so that passengers could catch their eye for a refill or other request.)
Lufthansa's business class amenity kit is a bit lacking too, with a unisex kit in dark blue or brown containing socks, earplugs, eye mask, toothbrush/toothpaste, headphone covers (for the seriously germophobic) and a small container of lip balm. While moisturiser and mouthwash were available in the lavatories, it felt like the kit was a bit sparse.
At the end of the day, this is better than the old Lufthansa business class -- but, unfortunately, that's it. It doesn't match up to Qantas' second-generation Skybed or most other fully flat bed seats because of the angled-together aspect and the difficulty for window passengers to vault over their aisle neighbour.
I'm led to believe that Lufthansa is reconsidering this /\-shaped angled-together layout on the 747, and is planning to have \\-shaped parallel seats instead. Overall, that would be a plus, but the lack of direct aisle access is still an issue.
John Walton travelled as a guest of Lufthansa.