I crossed the Atlantic on my way to Russia to attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup by way of Lufthansa business class. How exactly I ended up on this flight was a bit of a long story – I had originally booked myself on a Brussels Airlines flight using Aeroplan miles, although a schedule change to my European connecting flights caused a break in my itinerary.
There were no alternative options that had award space open, so Aeroplan offered to rebook me on a paid Air Canada flight. But since I've already reviewed Air Canada business class once before, I asked if they were able to book me on Lufthansa instead.
Having flown Lufthansa First Class last year, I figured it might be worth trying and reviewing their business class product, which I ordinarily wouldn’t get to try because of the high fuel surcharges associated with it. Was I right in my decision making? Let’s find out…
Lufthansa has 13 Boeing 747-400 aircraft within its fleet, and it was a pleasant surprise when I found out that my flight would be operated by this aviation classic. Although I’ve never been the type of hardcore aviation geek who can recognize a plane by the sound of its engines, I do relish when the opportunity comes around to fly on an aircraft that I haven’t flown before.
With no First Class on this aircraft and the business class cabin split across the two levels, I naturally selected a seat in the upper deck – Seat 81K in the bulkhead, at that. Therefore, after boarding the plane, I made my way up the staircase to get to my seat.
After that little thrill, I found myself in the intimate business class cabin on the upper deck, and I made my way to the front row to get to my seat.
At this point I think it’s worth deliberating a bit on the seat selection in Lufthansa’s 747-400 business class, because you really do have a myriad of options at your disposal. The below seat maps show the business class configurations on the lower deck:
As you can see, the lower deck has 31 seats in total. It first consists of four rows of seats arranged in a 2-2 pattern, followed by two rows of seats in a 2-3-2 pattern. Additionally, there’s one seat – Seat 4D – that sits on its own in the nose of the plane, occupying the space between the two sets of window seats in Row 4.
Any of the seats by the window would be a good fit if you’re travelling as a couple. Meanwhile, in most cases you’d want to avoid Seats 10E and 11E, since you’d be sandwiched between two other passengers and wouldn’t have direct aisle access. In my opinion, the only time when it might make sense to actively select one of these “middle seats” is if you were travelling as a trio.
Seat 4D – the only seat that doesn’t have a neighbour – seems ideal for solo travellers, although predictably it had already been occupied by the time I selected my seat for this flight. As a result, I thought the novelty of sitting on the upper deck would be appealing, which brings me to the upper deck’s seat map:
There are 22 upper deck seats spread across six rows (Rows 81–86) in a 2-2 pattern, with Row 86 by the staircase having only two seats. From reading other reviews, it seems that the footwells on Lufthansa business class tend to be rather restrictive, so it’s recommended to nab a bulkhead row (i.e., without other seats immediately in front of it) if you can. That’s exactly why I ended up in Seat 81K, the right-side window seat in the first row behind the cockpit…
The cabin finishes were nice enough, though nothing extraordinary. I liked the chestnut colour of the seat shells as well as the patterns on the pillows; however, I did find the dull blue-grey of the seat moquette itself rather uninspiring. The cabin was also starting to show its age somewhat compared to some of the newer equipment out there.
Taking my seat, I took note of the entertainment monitor, which in this row was stowed within the bulkhead. Below the monitor was footwell and legrest, which provided plenty of space for my legs in the lie-flat position and storage room for a personal item underneath.
The literature pocket was also positioned against the bulkhead, underneath which was a small compartment where the bottled water and amenity kit were kept.
The central armrest is where you’ll find the seat controls, sandwiched between a small surface for drink glasses and the armrest itself. These are basically the only surfaces available for you to put your knick-knacks during the flight, which I found to be a major design flaw (more on that later).
The armrest can be opened to uncover the entertainment controller and the tray table, which folds outwards from its stowed position.
On the opposite side of the seat, there’s a tiny storage compartment that’s designed for headphones. The armrest on this side can also be raised and lowered with the help of a button.
The power ports, located against the front of the seat console down by your legs, round off the seat features.
I had kind of wished that my seatmate would be caught in a traffic jam or something and fail to show up, but given that our flight was delayed by about an hour, that scenario was never likely to materialize. The posh German fellow in Seat 81H took his place a few minutes after me, and we made some light-hearted small talk.
The biggest problem with Lufthansa’s business class seats is the lack of privacy. Airlines with cutting-edge hard products typically mostly offer standalone seats with direct aisle access, and even if you are seated to another passenger, there’s usually a privacy partition that can be raised or lowered. Lufthansa’s business class cabin, on the other hand, has nothing of the sort and feels very open, which can make a real difference if you’ve become accustomed to flying the better products out there.
Moreover, if you’re seated by the window, you’ll have to step across your seatmate in order to access the aisle, and the flight attendants will also have to reach across your seatmate in order to serve you anything. This is basically an inconvenience for everyone in business class, no matter where you’re positioned (the exception being Seat 4D, the single lone seat down in the lower deck).
The upside is that if you can easily strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger, if you’re the type to do so. Posh German Dude and I clinked glasses as the welcome champagne was served. The in-flight menus were also distributed at this point.
The menu, which contained the options for both food and drinks, read as follows:
As the crew cleared away our glasses and we began our taxi, I flicked through the entertainment selection. With a flight duration of 7h40m that was further shortened to make up for our delay, I wasn’t planning to watch any movies, although I still found the collection of several hundred titles to be quite impressive.
As I typically do, I put on airshow for most of the flight – Lufthansa’s airshow software is pretty comprehensive, with satellite imagery and a variety of viewpoints.
The seat-belt sign was turned off shortly after we reached cruising altitude, and I had a peek at the amenity kit, which consisted of socks, earplugs, headphone covers, a dental kit, and a skincare kit courtesy of Greek apothecary Korres.
For what it’s worth, besides the eye mask and maybe the dental kit, I rarely find myself actually using the amenity kit during a flight. I’ll typically keep the kit with me and bring it home, meaning I now have a burgeoning collection of pouches, earplugs, and tiny bottles of premium skincare products in my closet.
The crew came by to take our meal orders. I ordered the charcuterie plate as an appetizer with the seared shrimp and scallop as my main course. Hoping to catch a few hours of uninterrupted sleep after my meal, I opted to go easy on the alcohol, selecting orange juice as my beverage. I was also asked whether I wanted to be awakened for breakfast before landing, and I said yes.
The drinks were served first, with my orange juice accompanied by a glass of still water and some mixed nuts.
Posh German Dude next to me had ordered a gin & tonic, and this is where my flight experience takes a turn for the worse. You see, I had been working on my laptop before the drinks had been served, and so left the computer positioned on my lap while I snacked on the mixed nuts.
My seatmate, meanwhile, had placed his glass of G&T on the armrest between us – a reasonable move, given the lack of surface space around us.
You can probably guess what happened when he then tried to open his armrest cover in order to pull out the tray table. Yep, the drink – lemon slices and all – spilled across my lap, coating my laptop and soaking me in a fizzy alcoholic mess. I was distraught at the damage my laptop might’ve suffered, but miraculously it survived the ordeal unscathed, most likely because the liquid had spread out over the top rather than seeping inside.
To his credit, my seatmate gave me his business card and graciously offered to pay for any damages. In the end, I was thankful that that wouldn’t be necessary. Having said that, I was in a pretty sour mood for the rest of the flight, having to endure the damp discomfort for the remaining five hours or so.
Nevertheless, there was still a meal service to be enjoyed, so I dabbed away some of the liquid and put my laptop away as the appetizer was served.
Given our delay in getting airborne, I was pretty hungry at this point, so I wolfed down the charcuterie pretty quickly. It’s hard to mess up salami and prosciutto, and I thought the wild rice and apple salad made for tasty accompaniments.
Next up was the seared shrimp and scallop with whipped potatoes. I’m a big fan of seafood and so I loved every bite, although the vegetables in this dish probably wouldn’t have been my first choice. Please accept my apologies for the lighting in these photos, by the way – the cabin lights had been dimmed, so I probably should’ve turned on the individual lights at my seat when taking them.
To finish off the meal, we had a cheese plate, ice cream, and fresh fruit served all together. While it might’ve made more sense to stagger the order in which these are served, I can understand the desire for efficiency – the business class occupancy is pretty huge at over 50 passengers, and this is the German national carrier after all.
I ate the delightful dulce de leche ice cream first, before nibbling on the cheese plate. Altogether, the meal was satisfying and ticked all the boxes for me, although it wouldn’t rank among the best business class meals I’ve had.
I paid a visit to the business class restroom, which was rather dirty – there’s only one restroom here on the upper deck, and it didn’t seem to be refreshed very frequently.
Given the quick overnight nature of this flight (and indeed most flights from the East Coast to Europe), passengers were eager to get some sleep shortly after the meal service, so the cabin lights had already been turned off by the time I returned to my seat.
After doing some more work on my laptop, I too decided it was necessary to rest – I’d be getting about three hours of sleep if I was lucky!
The lie-flat bed just about does the trick for a decent sleep. The seat cushion is a little on the hard side, though I personally prefer that. The footwell has ample room if you’re seated in the bulkhead, whereas the other seats might leave your legs feeling slightly restricted. The only real point of discomfort might once again be the lack of privacy and the resulting proximity to other passengers, especially if they’re a particularly loud sleeper.
As I tried to get comfortable in the bed, I felt something moist against my legs – what’s that? – oh, one last lemon slice from the guy’s drink. I was not a happy flyer!
You can imagine how groggy I was when I was awakened an hour and a half prior to arrival. The crew was already serving breakfast, and asked me what I would like to drink. Since I still wanted to nap later, I opted for black tea over coffee, in addition to orange juice.
Speaking of which, I’ve never been able to fly overnight to Europe without feeling extremely tired the day after. It’s probably because of just how short the overnight flights are, but I imagine there’s gotta be a better way for North American travellers to arrive in Europe well-rested. If the seasoned transatlantic travellers out there have any tips, please do let me know!
The breakfast tray consisted of another charcuterie plate, served with yogurt, fruits, and a pastry. The smoked gouda and Swiss cheese were excellent, their decadent flavours helping to perk me up a bit.
As we made our descent into the Frankfurt area, I couldn’t help but think how eager I was to get off the plane at this point, given all that had transpired.
Unfortunately, the earlier delays had meant that I was certain to miss my connection, so even after descending the staircase and marvelling at the one silver lining of the flight – the fact that I got to fly on the Boeing 747-400 for the first time – I was faced with the unenviable task of navigating through the absolute zoo that is Frankfurt Airport in search of the Lufthansa service desk.
Having read other reviews beforehand, I didn’t board this flight with very high expectations. Unfortunately, I still came away disappointed.
Even chalking up the drink spill as an accident and ignoring the fact that it could’ve easily been avoided with a better seat design, Lufthansa business class still left a lot to be desired. The seats are truly subpar – they have almost no privacy, and a lack of direct aisle access represents an inconvenience for the majority of passengers. The food, while palatable, was not really special in any way, and the attention of the crew members was spread thin over a large number of premium passengers, which meant that the service didn’t stand out.
I do regret choosing Lufthansa when I could’ve flown Air Canada business class, and I can’t see myself flying this product again in the future – in fact, I would actively avoid it even if it didn’t come with ridiculous fuel surcharges on award tickets. I’ll happily wait until the airline introduces their new business class seats in 2020, which actually look somewhat befitting of a leading global airline.
In the meantime, if I had to fly with Lufthansa, I might well do a few more flights in First Class instead 😉