Flight review: Lufthansa first class on the Airbus A380
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The Airbus A380 offers unrivalled passenger amenities. Its sheer size makes it, however, uneconomical to operate during the COVID-19 crisis. Airlines have grounded most of them, and Lufthansa in particular has decided to keep its A380s parked until 2022. To celebrate an aeroplane we at TPG love, and to offer our readers a glimpse of what they can expect from one of the best first-class products in the world when travel returns, we are republishing this review that originally appeared in October 2019. It has been lightly edited from the original.
Please note that, for a period, Lufthansa stopped offering first class on many flights due to the drop in demand caused by the coronavirus, however, it has resumed first-class ticket sales. The ground and onboard experience will be significantly different as well.
Dedicated first-class ground escort, recently refreshed amenities, oversized bathrooms.
Subpar international first-class lounge in Shanghai, seat not fully enclosed, aging inflight entertainment system.
Some people fall in love with a sports team during their childhood. For others, it’s a particular movie or music album. For me, it was Lufthansa first class.
When I started collecting miles and points at the ripe age of 16, I stupidly hoarded them. I didn’t want to “waste” points, so used them sparingly … until I needed to travel home from Europe one summer. I couldn’t find much business-class award availability in August 2011, so I splurged for a Lufthansa first-class award. I remember landing in America, wowed by the entire experience.
While not that much has changed with Lufthansa first-class since then, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, there are more exciting and private first-class products, but after a flight from Shanghai to Frankfurt, I’m still in love with Lufthansa’s first-class product, especially on the Airbus A380.
I booked my ticket as a multicity journey from Kiev, Ukraine, as part of a fare sale. My outbound flight from Kyiv (IEV) to Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH), to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK), was aboard Swiss’s flagship first-class product, and this return trip was from Shanghai to Frankfurt and back to Kyiv. We paid less than $2,500 (about £2,000) for that multicity ticket, a relative steal.
The good news about Lufthansa first class is that you don’t need to go searching for fare sales and mistake fares. It’s easily booked with miles and points, as long as you know what you’re doing. Here at TPG, we’ve dedicated numerous posts to helping you redeem your miles for Lufthansa first class. I won’t rehash the details here, but be sure to check out our ultimate guide to booking Lufthansa first-class awards.
It’s easy to tell how much an airline cares about its first-class passengers by looking at how much they invest in the ground experience at outstations. For instance, Emirates operates its own lounges in most destinations to completely control the ground experience. Even though Lufthansa doesn’t operate a lounge in Shanghai, they’ve clearly invested in making the first-class ground experience as seamless as possible.
After arriving at Shanghai Pudong (PVG) Terminal 2, I found signs for Lufthansa. I needed to clear a preliminary security check to enter the terminal and, once inside, made my way to Check-in Area C for the Lufthansa Group check-in counters.
While the economy and business-class check-in lines were quite long, there was no wait for first class. There was an agent at the front of the first-class line verifying eligibility before I was allowed to approach the counter.
Check-in took about five minutes, and once I had my boarding pass in the signature Lufthansa first-class red paper jacket, I was told to wait on the side. Initially, I thought I did something wrong, but then it became clear I needed an escort to take me to the lounge.
After the escort arrived 90 seconds later, we began our dash to the lounge. The escort took me to the front of the special passport control line. Once my passport was stamped, I was escorted to a VIP security lane. Security didn’t take long, and the agent walked me to the lounge where she bade me farewell 10 minutes after meeting me at the check-in counter.
Lufthansa first-class passengers had access to Air China First Class Lounge No. 71 in Shanghai.
There was a small business centre and luggage storage just off to the right of the entrance.
The centrepiece of the lounge was the bar and buffet, which was set up with an assortment of western and Asian specialities.
Hot foods included fried rice, “prok” chops, steamed vegetables and sole fish with herbs. There were some cold items like a sushi platter and charcuterie board, but nothing looked especially appetizing.
There was also an a la carte menu, but given the way the buffet looked, I decided to save my appetite for the plane.
There were plenty of seats arranged in alternating configurations with power outlets at each of the lamps. Just past the lounge area were two media rooms that were eerily dark without a TV playing.
Restrooms, showers and relaxation rooms were just behind the media room. The shower rooms were small, and the relaxation rooms reminded me of my twin-bed college dorm. If Air China wants inspiration for version 2.0 of their relaxation rooms, they should look no further than the Swiss first-class lounge in Zurich.
My biggest issue was the lack of views. The lounge was completely interior-facing, so I left well before boarding to enjoy the views from the massive terminal.
Boarding began just a few minutes behind schedule, with first-class passengers invited to board first via the upper-deck jetbridge.
Though the personal escort was definitely the highlight of the ground experience in Shanghai, I fell in love again with the Lufthansa First Class Terminal during my two-hour connection in Frankfurt. Editor-at-Large Zach Honig wrote an in-depth review of the terminal in December, so I’ll only share highlights here.
Even though I was just connecting in Frankfurt, I cleared passport control and exited the airport to make my way to the first-class terminal. The first-class terminal was purpose-built for people originating in Frankfurt, but there was a small entrance on the arrivals level of the terminal, about a five-minute walk from Terminal 1.
I was immediately welcomed into the terminal, cleared security in a private security channel and made a beeline for the shower. I loved the large shower rooms. There were plenty of towels, a bathrobe, slippers and toiletries by Etro.
I spent a few minutes in one of the two relaxation rooms, which featured a really comfortable twin bed.
I was quite hungry at this point, so decided to have dinner in the lounge’s restaurant. There was a large buffet, as well as an a la carte menu. Catering was provided by Do&Co, and everything I ate tasted great. Especially the soft pretzels.
The drink selection was one of the most extensive I’d ever seen. Not only was there tons of top-shelf liquor, but there was also a dedicated gin-and-tonic menu (with over 40 gins and 10 tonics) and a water menu.
My stay in the lounge ended too quickly. At least I left in style — with a personal, chauffeured drive to the plane in a Porsche Cayenne.
Cabin and Seat
I was the first passenger to board, and the purser was waiting at Door U1L — the forward left door on the upper deck — to welcome me and escort me upstairs to my seat.
All of Lufthansa’s first-class cabins feature eight armchair-style seats, and the bones of the seat are the same across the entire fleet.
I love Lufthansa first class (have I mentioned that?) and particularly love the tan and beige finishes across the cabin. I’m also fond of the signature Lufthansa first-class branding and roses at the front of each seat. The six-year-old Airbus A380 was still in great shape, but I did notice pen marks on parts of my seat.
The eight-seat cabin was in a 1-2-1 configuration spread across two rows. Including myself, there were six passengers in the first-class cabin. Three were German, and the other two were Chinese. I was originally sitting in Seat 2K but moved forward to 1K when I noticed that the centre seat next to it, 1G, was unoccupied.
Although there was no sliding door to create a suite, there were privacy shields that could be raised throughout the flight (excluding taxi, takeoff and landing). Even if there’d been a passenger sitting across the aisle, I found that these privacy shields were high enough to create a private cocoon.
For solo passengers sitting in the middle seats, there was a much larger privacy partition between the centre seats that was raised once we were airborne.
The seat itself was incredibly comfortable for relaxing and sleeping. While relaxing, the seat measured 21 inches wide, but when sleeping, the armrest lowered to add 10 more inches to the bed width, which helped create one of the most comfortable beds in the sky.
Each window seat had three windows with shades that could be individually lowered electronically. There were two shade options, an accordion shade and blackout shade.
Due to the width of the A380, the window seats also had a massive counter on the window side of the seat. There was plenty of space to store all my belongings, but there were also two deep, enclosed compartments on the window side of the seat.
The movable, 28-inch-wide, 12-inch-deep ottoman doubled as a storage compartment. I found this to be the perfect place to store my shoes during the flight.
The massive rectangular tray table also extended from the window side of the seat. Although the tray table didn’t fold, it moved forward and backwards in case you needed to use the restroom during the meal service.
The seat controls were on the armrest closest to the aisle, while the inflight-entertainment remote was on the armrest closest to the window.
There are two features unique to first class on Lufthansa’s A380s that make this my favourite Lufthansa plane to fly. For one, there aren’t any overhead compartments, making the cabin feel and look more spacious. Instead, each seat has an individual locker for carry-on bags, either in front of or behind the cabin.
Secondly, the bathrooms. There’s a bit of dead space at the front of the A380 upper deck. Some airlines use this space for an onboard lounge, and others use it for a private bedroom. Lufthansa, however, created two massively oversized bathrooms. The bathrooms are so large that there’s a vanity area, a bench and a separate toilet and even a urinal.
The bathrooms even feature a bunch of extra amenities like Evian facial spray, shaving sets, makeup remover and moist towelettes. The only thing missing is a shower.
Amenities and IFE
While the bones of the first-class seat have largely remained the same over the past few years, we’ve seen Lufthansa quietly update the soft product every so often.
The bulk of those improvements come in the form of first-class amenities. Firstly, the new Cumuli first-class slippers are a huge improvement over the previous pair. They were so incredibly comfortable on my flight that I was tempted to trade my Allbirds for these slippers.
The branding of the amenity kit also rotates every so often. In the past, I’ve seen Lufthansa hand out Rimowa and Braun Buffel (among others) amenity kits. On this flight, I received a Van Laack amenity kit filled with the same goodies that Lufthansa’s been handing out for years. I really like their eye mask and find the 5-milliliter La Prairie samples to be great (but too small). I’ve received a Van Laack amenity kit in the past, but this version of the kit doubles as a tablet holder.
The design of the Van Laack first-class pyjamas have also been updated recently. Gone are the days when you’d look like you were about to enter a hospital ward when dressed in Lufthansa first-class pyjamas. The new navy-and-white look matches well with Lufthansa’s new logo.
The last improvement that Lufthansa’s made to the first-class amenities is the introduction of one free Wi-Fi voucher per first-class passenger. Lufthansa’s Wi-Fi network, FlyNet, now charges $34 (about £27) for 24 hours of internet access with a 1 GB limit, so the voucher definitely came in handy for me.
I’ve heard reports from friends and colleagues that Lufthansa’s Wi-Fi hasn’t been working nearly as well as it used to, but I found speeds and coverage to be great throughout my flight.
The remainder of the first-class amenities and IFE haven’t changed in a while. The seats still feature a 16.5-inch IFE screen that’s beginning to show its age. These screens were quite good when they were originally launched, but a lot has changed since then.
Even though the screen may not be great, I was guaranteed to get a very good sound experience, since each first-class seat had a pair of Bose QuietComfort 35s attached to the seat.
The actual content was extensive. With 177 movies, 34 TV shows, plenty of audiobooks and some podcasts, there was enough to keep me occupied throughout the flight.
AvGeeks would have rejoiced at the three tailcams, and sports aficionados would’ve appreciated that the one channel of live TV was Sport24. One sign that the IFE user interface hadn’t been updated recently, though, was the looping airshow.
And finally, each seat also featured two AC outlets and two USB ports, providing enough juice to power all my hungry devices.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
I didn’t eat anything in the lounge because I was so excited for what was to come aboard. As a
foodie OCD flyer, I made sure to check the menu for my flight a few days ahead of time. Let’s just say it would’ve taken a lot for me to have a real meal before stepping foot on the plane.
Service began the moment I stepped aboard with a celebratory glass of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Cuvée Alexandra rosé Champagne, macadamia nuts and a hot towel. I was surprised to see the rosé Champagne offered right off the bat, since the drink menu had the Champagne listed as Cuvée Grand Siècle.
Turns out that Lufthansa only catered one bottle of the rosé Champagne, and the other Champagne was an off-menu bottle, a 2000 vintage of Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs brut.
Both Champagnes were quite good, but I slightly preferred the rosé, so I was sad to see that bottle finished on the ground. Once airborne, I had a glass of the Henriot along with an amuse-bouche of cheese and a spring roll.
Shortly thereafter, heaven came rolling down the aisle in the form of the caviar cart. I was offered a generous portion of caviar along with the traditional garnishes of lemon, chopped onions, sour cream, fresh herbs and pieces of hard-boiled egg. Not a bad way to start the meal.
The meal only got better when I was presented with a trio of appetizers. I skipped the egg shrimp roll and chicken breast and foie gras ballotine but really enjoyed the bocconcini with dried grapes, persimmons and truffles. The only thing missing was extra truffles.
Next up was the salad, topped with tasty red quinoa and feta cheese. I loved how I was presented with bottles of olive oil and balsamic so I could dress the salad to my liking.
With each course, the flight attendant brought out a bread basket and offered me a piece of bread. Unsurprisingly, I had way too many pretzels.
While the caviar was great, the highlight of the meal was the scrumptious seared cod filet with miso-orange sauce and bean casserole. I thought the sauce added amazing depth to the already delicious fish. What a perfectly executed dish! I asked for mashed potatoes and sweet potato gratin on the side but was getting so full already that I didn’t even bother finishing them.
Along with the fish, I switched from Champagne to the Riesling, a 2017 Dhroner Hofberger that perfectly complemented the main course.
I don’t shy away from desserts on planes, so I decided to go all out and try both the chilli-mango sago soup and the Black Forest almond cake. The two desserts couldn’t have been more different in terms of flavour, but they were both excellent in their own way.
Good thing the flight lasted some 11 hours, because I only started getting hungry again at the very end of the flight.
I really appreciated that the rest of the food after the first meal was served on demand. Instead of forcing all passengers to wake up at the same time, this menu concept allowed each passenger to enjoy varying amounts of sleep. (Note to other airlines: Please adopt a similar policy).
Dine-on-demand works well when there are lots of options, and Lufthansa deserves credit for their 12 dine-on-demand offerings. Though I could’ve had something more substantial upon waking up, I decided on soup and salad.
The pumpkin ginger soup was served with whipped cream and toasted pumpkin seeds and was as delicious as it sounds. More airlines should be serving soup in the air, since it reheats well and often tastes good at cruising altitude.
The gourmet salad was essentially a mixed green salad with grilled salmon and bell peppers.
Service on this flight was excellent. From the moment the flight attendant greeted me with a glass of the rosé Champagne, I could sense that this was one of Lufthansa’s better crews. The two dedicated first-class flight attendants worked the entire flight with smiles and kept asking if there were anything else they could do for me.
The professionalism that the flight attendants displayed was similarly commendable. Every piece of silverware was placed in the right position, and anytime I went to the bathroom, my napkin was folded and placed on my tray table. Furthermore, I was addressed by last name the entire flight.
I noticed that the other first-class passengers preferred a slower-paced meal, and the flight attendants did a great job of keeping up with my pace while also slowing down for my fellow passengers. They were also responsive throughout the entire flight, answering the call button within two minutes.
I love Lufthansa’s bedding and turndown service, which made for an excellent six hours of sleep. When the flight attendant finished making my bed, she gave me a 1.5-liter bottle of water instead of the smaller bottle. She explained that she saw me drinking lots of water and wanted to be sure I was hydrated during the night. That attention to detail is what distinguishes the best flight crews.
I continue to be in love with Lufthansa first class. Even though I was departing from an outstation, Lufthansa set the bar high for the ground experience with a personal escort from check-in to the lounge.
Though the seat itself isn’t necessarily revolutionary, it’s still incredibly comfortable and reasonably private. The amenities recently got a refresh, and the food and beverages were delectable.
All in all, Lufthansa first class continues to be a great and comfortable way to fly. The fact that you can book the seat with miles is just the cherry on top.
All photos by the author.
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