While recently trying to determine my best airline option for a European Christmas Markets river cruise, it came as somewhat of a surprise to realize that I had never flown with Lufthansa, and had also never traveled by air to, from, or through a city in Germany. In my twenty years as an airline specialist for Frontiers I’ve had the opportunity to visit airports in many European countries on some of the world’s best airlines, but somehow both Germany’s flagship carrier and its two main air travel gateways had managed to elude me thus far. Both of these oversights were rectified when I secured tickets to travel to Germany on Lufthansa with my 82-year old father in their new business class cabin. Our routing would take us from Washington’s Dulles airport into Berlin via Frankfurt, and we returned from Nuremberg via Munich back to Dulles. In addition to experiencing the airline and four of Germany’s airports, I would also get to see first-hand how both the carrier and the airports handled travelers with limited mobility issues.
We got off to a good start at Dulles with a quick and friendly check in at Lufthansa’s business class ticket counter where we were issued boarding passes for both flights in our connecting journey to Berlin. After completing check-in, we hit a slight snag with the wheelchair I had requested for my father. (Dad is still quite mobile but walking long distances is difficult for him.) Although there were many wheelchairs in close proximity to where we were directed to wait, it took over 30 minutes for an attendant to arrive to escort us through security to the business class lounge. This delay was irritating, and could have compromised our departure had we not arrived at the airport a few extra hours in advance of our flight. Unfortunately, long waits for transport would become the norm at almost every airport we visited. However, we determined this was a failing of the airports rather than the airline.
Our moods improved significantly once we were comfortably ensconced in the Lufthansa Business Class lounge. As is frequently the case, the amenities of Lufthansa’s lounge put the lounges of US carriers to shame! Although the facility is a bit on a small side, it was nicely equipped with comfortable seating options offering both easy chairs for relaxing and café-style tables and chairs for dining. Complimentary hot and cold food items (including salads, sandwiches, soups, chili, pasta, chicken wings, and assorted desserts) were offered on a self-serve basis along with non-alcoholic beverages. Beer, wine, and spirits were also available without charge at a tended bar that was located opposite the buffet. Free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TV’s, and a supply of magazines and newspapers rounded out the entertainment selections. All in all, this lounge (and the others we visited like it) provide a delightful environment in which to spend that last hour or so before departure.
Contrary to our experience at the check in desk, the wheelchair attendant was right on time to collect Dad from inside the lounge and escort us through the boarding gate to the door of the aircraft. We were welcomed on board and directed to our seats in the rear business class cabin. Lufthansa’s new business class product can now be found of most of their long haul aircraft (a few 747’s still await refurbishment) and offers fully flat sleeper seats in a 2 – 2 – 2 configuration. The new seats are spacious and comfortable, offering large bi-fold tray tables and personal seat-back monitors for the extensive entertainment system. A wide variety of movies and television shows are available on demand, along with audio books, video games, and the ever-present flight tracking system.
We settled in for our evening flight to Frankfurt and each enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine prior to take-off. Dinner was served shortly after we reached cruising level and I have to say that both the food and wines were some of the best I’ve ever had on an airplane. A choice of three appetizers, one salad, three main courses, and three desserts were offered with the dinner service, along with a selection of three red and three white wine pairings. After enjoying a fine meal we both only managed to fit in one movie before succumbing to the temptation of the sleeper seat!
Flying with Lufthansa was my first experience with a business class configuration that requires your feet to go into a narrow space underneath the seat in front of you, and I have to admit this is not my favorite design. The “foot cubby” doesn’t leave much room for movement, and depending on a passenger’s size, height, or preferred sleeping position the traditional recliner position of the seat may actually be more comfortable for sleeping. My recommended seats on both of the long haul aircraft we experienced (Boeing 747-800 outbound and an Airbus A330-300 returning) in order of preference for the amount of foot space would be the bulkhead center seats, bulkhead window-and-aisle side seats, non-bulkhead window-and-aisle side seats, and lastly the non-bulkhead center seats.
Morning came quickly and with it a traditional Continental breakfast that was served just prior to arrival and included juice, fresh fruit, yogurt, and cold meats and cheeses. A more extensive hot buffet breakfast was available at the arrivals lounge for passengers terminating their trip at Frankfurt and leaving the secured area. We disembarked the aircraft expecting to find a wheelchair at the door of the aircraft. Disappointingly, this was not the case. Fortunately it was not a long walk to the gate area. There we found an agent with a clipboard identifying wheelchair passengers and directing them to a bank of seats to wait for electric carts. Again, it took close to half an hour for the first cart to arrive, which ended up not being ours, so we waited another few minutes for the next cart. There were empty seats on the second cart so I was able to ride along with Dad. My gratitude for the luxury of motorized airport transit grew with each passing minute as we drove for what seemed like miles through a building that appeared to be deteriorating right before our eyes! What began as a spacious, clean, and modern terminal had devolved into a dark cavern of exposed duct work and bare wires by the time we finally reached passport control. Definitely not what I was expecting of one of Europe’s largest and busiest airports, this is obviously still in a state of transition.
The entire process of making our connection took so long that we didn’t have time to visit the business class transit lounge in Frankfurt, and we proceeded directly to our connecting gate for our ongoing flight to Berlin. This is where things got interesting from the limited-mobility aspect of the experience, as Dad was escorted from the gate area by wheelchair to a waiting vehicle that transported him directly to our connecting aircraft. After spotting our plane, it was obvious that we were boarding through another jet way and I was concerned about how we would get from the vehicle to the aircraft. Much to my surprise, the entire cab of the vehicle rose up to meet with a doorway onto the jet way. Problem solved, and in a way that was definitely a first for me!
Our return journey from Nuremburg via Munich was very much the same as our outbound, including an extended wait for transport at the connecting point and a very long drive to our gate. There were no nifty hydraulic trucks involved with our visit to Munich, but we did experience our first airport elevator that was purpose built to accommodate the electric carts. We almost missed our connection due to an extensive search for the wheelchair needed to make the final journey to the door of the aircraft, but ended up arriving just under the wire before the gate closed – not an ideal way to begin the final leg of an otherwise amazing trip. Fortunately we were delivered once again into the peaceful refuge of the business class cabin (with awaiting cocktails!) and the stress of the close connection quickly slipped away.
Overall my first experiences with Lufthansa were overwhelmingly positive. Their service at every step of the way was exemplary, lounges were a wonderful benefit, and their new seat products for the most part provided a very comfortable in flight experience. My biggest take way from our flight experiences was the need to allow plenty of time at the connecting points. Transiting both Frankfurt and Munich were definitely eye-opening experiences for me, especially traveling with a wheelchair passenger. Prior to this trip I was comfortable booking relatively short (60 to 90 minutes which the airline considers “legal”) connections there, but no longer. My new minimum connecting recommendation will be no less than two hours for flights transiting Germany’s largest airline hubs regardless of what the airlines feel is sufficient time, especially for passengers with any sort of mobility challenges.