Friday, July 6, 2012

Flying the 747-8 Intercontinental - Part 2

Part 2: Return Flights – 747-8i to DC and home to OC via Chicago

View from My Room

I had a little difficulty sleeping through the night trying to quickly adjust to the time change.  The bed was comfortable, the air conditioning worked, I was feeling tired but I still woke up after only a few hours of sleep stayed awake for a couple and took a nap for a bit more.  Eventually I was able to fully wake up and head out for the First Class Terminal, the first highpoint of the day.  The walk to the terminal was much quicker than yesterday's trek to the hotel.

The Squaire

The FCT staff welcomed me once I walked inside and proceeded to take my passport and escort me through security into the building.  They keep your passport until you depart for your flight but they will bring you your boarding pass.  The terminal includes a restaurant (all free), cigar bar, sleep rooms, shower rooms, full bar, lounge, and work cubicles.  I went to the restaurant for breakfast and helped myself to the fresh orange juice and buffet with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, tomato, and breads.  Options to order food include pancakes, omelets, etc. 


The food did hit the spot and the fresh baked breads were good.  After I finished eating I went to the lounge area and relaxed a few hours before my flight.  From time to time I went back to grab some breadsticks or olives to snack on as well as downed a few glasses of dessert wine – it was 5 o’clock somewhere!  As the morning went on they switched out the breakfast items for lunch items including desserts and I grabbed some apple pastry with a cream sauce.  A perfect way to spoil my lunch J 


One of the best aspects of checking in at the FCT is that they will drive you right to your plane for boarding.  Thirty minutes before departure, the staff member that checked me in found me in the terminal and took me downstairs to head out.  Passport control is just before you get in the car and it took a few minutes for the border agent to find my passport which scared me for a second.  Once my passport was stamped, I was in a Mercedes with another passenger heading to the 747-8i flight to DC.  This ride is perfect for an airline geek as you drive along the tarmac by all the planes and you see A380s, A340s, 747s, and 777s all from a multitude of airlines.  As we were driving along I kept looking around for the telltale front or wings of the 747-8 so I could spot where we are headed.  It took maybe 5 minutes and then we pulled up alongside the airplane named “Brandenburg”.  I got to walk outside the airplane and take a few photos before heading up the elevator and boarding the plane. 

Car Ride

The 747-8!

The 747-8!

The first class cabin was just to the left of the jet bridge on the main level of the aircraft.  Eight seats are situated in the nose with a brand new first class cabin configuration for Lufthansa.  The seats and finishes are similar to what I experienced on the A340 over and earlier on the A380.  The ceiling of the cabin with recessed lighting and new overhead bins flow along with the shape of the aircraft.  My seat was 1A, the very first seat on the right side.  The seat was great – comfortable, spacious, and with just enough privacy.  One difference from other flights I’ve been on is that the 747-8 requires a shoulder strap to be attached to your seatbelt for takeoff and landing.  I think I like the cabin feel (and plane) better than the A380.  There is just more elegance to the aircraft and cabin than the Airbus, which is just a bus packing passengers in. 

First Class Cabin

The "A" Side Seats

Center Seats and "K" Side Seats

Pre-departure champagne, macadamia nuts, amenity kits, and pajamas were passed out as the rest of the passengers boarded.  Before we took off I changed into the pajamas so I wouldn’t have to be in the same clothes all day long.  Unlike the A380, the 747-8 has overhead bins and a half-height locker for storage and hanging clothes to prevent wrinkles. 

View from My Seat, TV, and Champagne

I turned on the airplane nose camera as we pushed back from the gate and took off.  One of the amazing qualities of the 747-8 is the quietness of the aircraft.  Even with the surge of power from the engines rolling down the runway, the noise in the cabin was minimal.  In fact, the air circulation systems were the most present noise during the whole flight.  The cabin humidity, pressure, and noise were better than what you would experience on other aircraft and didn’t bother my sinuses or ears. 

Food Menu

White Wines

Red Vines

Drink service commenced upon reaching cruising altitude and I started off with 2007 Chateau de Rully.  The amuse bouche was an interesting shrimp cannoli with cauliflower puree.  The cauliflower was good but I could pass on the shrimp. 

Amuse Bouche

The appetizer cart was rolled out and I grabbed some caviar, guinea fowl and basil vinaigrette, and tomato salad.  All were quite good with the guinea fowl being my favorite.  I also had some of the garlic bread and pretzels for some carbs. 


The salad course was next with a tomato vinaigrette (not pictured) followed by an excellent cold soup of beetroot and pistachio oil.  It was rich and sweet and had a tomato quality to it. 

Beetroot Soup

I was a bit adventurous with the entrée course and selected the saddle of reindeer with curry lentils and plums.  It was a very interesting dish that also came with a béarnaise style sauce.  The lentils were al dente and you definitely tasted the curry.  The reindeer was very gamey and perhaps a bit well done, but with the sauce it was very good.  I think I prefer kangaroo over reindeer.  I switched out my white wine for red and enjoyed a glass of the 2005 Montemareto Countacci. 

Reindeer and Lentils

Dessert was a warm chocolate brownie, with pineapple sauce and an olive ice cream.  The brownie would be perfect with a cold glass of milk.  The olive ice cream was a weird, but good flavor.  It had an initial sweetness on the tongue which then transitioned into olive across the palette.  I had a couple of glasses of the same Beerenaulese as the prior flight with dessert as well.

Brownie and Olive Ice Cream

The IFE options were more expansive than on my Munich flight (still no Top Gear) and I watched “Sherlock Holmes 2” while having dinner.  It was another movie which I missed when it was in the theater.  When I finished eating I asked for turn down service and laid down to sleep for a few hours.  While the privacy of the first row of seats is great, a downside exists in that the closet where all of the bedding is held is right in front of the seats.  I was able to sleep for an hour or so before waking up and then dealing with the passenger across from me snoring loudly.  I couldn’t get back to sleep.  He just kept going and going.  I was almost ready to throw something at him when the pre-arrival service was starting. 

The salad with olives, feta, peppers, and veal Wiener schnitzel in champagne vinaigrette was very good.  Pretzel bread was served too.   The dessert was a weird tart that reminded me of a Jell-O salad. 

Pre-Landing Menu

Salad, Veal, and Dessert

We arrived into DC earlier than I was expecting, about 30 minutes early.  The approach brought us on a path where we could see the city and monuments on the horizon, passed Dulles, and then into land.  We taxied to terminal B and quickly deplaned.  They separated passengers with connections and those stopping in DC into separate busses.  The busses were parked next to the 747-8 and provided a great opportunity to take picture of the aircraft and it looked great.  The bus shuttled us over to Terminal C where customs and immigration are located.  A few minutes later I was waiting the security line to head to my next flight to Chicago. 

Nose of the 747-8

Sleek Plane and Raked Wingtips

Stretched Upper Deck

I was initially worried that my 85 minute connection would be problematic if the customs hall was busy but thankfully I had plenty of time to get to the next gate.  The flight to Chicago was on an internationally equipped 767 and I was seated in a Global First seat / suite.  It was very comfortable and could go into a full flat position.  I hope my parents have this seat on their flight back from London in a few days.  The flight was short so there wouldn’t be any meal service although snacks were provided.  I was able to watch “John Carter of Mars” all the way through by the time we reached our gate at ORD. 

United Global First Suite

United Global First Suite

I had two hours in Chicago to relax in the United Club before my final flight to Orange County.  Thankfully, the Club was adjacent to my departure gate.  I headed over to the gate prior to boarding and there were already plenty of families waiting to board – oh, joy.  Boarding was taking longer than scheduled due to some late arrivals.  The flight was on a standard A320 with domestic first class, nothing special but I still appreciate the seat width and leg room.  We did receive a “snack” service with a cold pasta salad and chicken breast which was surprisingly peppery.  It also came with a fruit bowl and triple chocolate brownie.  I enjoyed a couple of glasses of chardonnay with the meal and then resorted to water for the rest of the flight to hydrate myself as much as possible. 

Overall, this was a great experience and I loved being able to try out the latest commercial airliner.  All of the quick planning and use of miles to get a first class round trip ticket was worth spending more time in the air than actually on the ground.  I can’t wait till the 747-8 starts flying on the LAX routes and can find an opportunity to ride the plane again.  I have to try the new lie-flat business class seat on it as well! Now, it’s time to be back in my own bed.

Flying the 747-8 Intercontinental - Part 1

Part 1: Outbound Flights – LAX to Munich to Frankfurt
This whole trip was rather last minute.  I was trying to capitalize on my banked miles and a free weekend or holiday with a trip in first class somewhere.  The difficulty in planning a trip like this is the availability of first class is hard to come by, until a few days before a flight – Lufthansa and Swiss are particularly difficult with this.  Thankfully, all the components fell into place the week before the 4th of July – I found first class availability out to Frankfurt and back which allowed me to fly on the brand new 747-8 Intercontinental, and try out the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt again.  The 747-8 is a stretched and greener version of the iconic 747 and Lufthansa is the first airline to fly it using it on their FRA to IAD route.  In the end, I was leaving LAX at 9pm on a Tuesday and returning home around 10:30pm Thursday – a quick trip with more time in the air than on the ground at my destination. 
I booked Supershuttle to LAX as I would be returning to Orange County Airport and therefore arrive very early for my 9pm flight to Munich.  The International Terminal at LAX has a decent lounge for business and first class passengers which I knew I could relax in until my flight was ready to board.  Check-in and security was a breeze and the lounge was nearly empty.  Between the holiday and the late hour I suppose most people were at home or had already departed.  You used to be able to look out of the terminal at the airport but with the expansion of the terminal, the windows were all boarded up confining the space a bit.  There was a decent selection of alcohol and snacks including butternut squash bisque and a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. 
Star Alliance First Class Lounge

Hot Buffet Items

Alcohol and Other Snacks

Pre-Flight Snack

I headed over to the gate for my flight about 15 minutes prior to boarding time.  I would be flying on one of the long-haul workforce aircraft of Lufthansa, the Airbus 340-600.  I have flown in business class before on this Munich bound flight and was looking forward to trying out first class.  I was expecting the older style first class seats, blue and grey motifs which turn into a flat bed but lack some more contemporary first class comforts like enhanced inflight entertainment and larger screens.  I knew that Lufthansa had started upgrading their first class cabins to something very similar to the A380 I flew in February and was hoping I could have that on this flight.  Lucky enough for me, I was able to enjoy the new seats. 

My Seat - 2A


The cabin feels very airy with the middle section of overhead storage removes and the materials and finishes used for this section are quite pleasing.  I much prefer the earth tones over the blue seats they used to have.  The seats do feel a bit narrower and closer together than the A380 due to the cabin width.  The seats themselves have integrated controls for movement as well as the moveable ottoman.  The IFE remote can be pulled out of the seat as well.  There are a number of compartments on the side for storage of small items like your passport, wallet, and headphones.  One downside is that there are no air vents for you to control so you have to ask the flight attendants to adjust the temperature of the cabin. 
Interior Signage
Cabin Interior

Shortly after sitting down and getting settled in my seat I was offered champagne and macadamia nuts as the rest of the plane boarded.  Only one other passenger was seated in first class even though the cabin accommodates eight.  I was also given an amenity kit with toothbrush, earplugs, hair brush, etc. along with a pair of pajamas which I changed into before we took off.  The bathrooms are the same size of all the rest on the aircraft although they are appointed with better finished and even a leather covered bench which folds down over the toilet seat. 
Champagne and Nuts

Once boarding was complete, we quickly taxied to the runway and smoothly took off.  I explored the IFE offerings a bit and the movie and television content was decent with several films I have yet to see.  I was surprised however that there was no Top Gear in the TV section.  Almost every flight with on demand programming has had at least one episode of the show…  I decided to watch “Hunger Games” first which I liked.  I don’t know if it I would say it lived up to the hype around it but it was enjoyable. 
The meal service started about 30 minutes after takeoff.  Both the food and wine menus for the flight looked good and I started off with a nice, sweeter Riesling.  I was wondering if they would give us the full first class service as it was a late flight and there were only two of us in the cabin, but they pulled out all the stops and all of the attendants were proper yet friendly.  I didn’t get any of the German arrogance which can be associated with Lufthansa staff.  An amuse bouche of orange slices and mango started off the meal.  The appetizers were then rolled out on a cart for our selection and I decided to try it all – caviar with the traditional fixings, citrus cure scallop with avocado puree, teriyaki glazed beef skewer, and tomato and cheese plate.  Since I wanted to try it all, the attendant left the whole stacking rack at my seat.  The scallop was my least favorite of the dishes due to the cold temperature and texture.  The avocado puree was good as well as the beef skewer.    The bread basket also came by and the garlic bread is amazing – greasy, garlicy goodness.
Amuse Bouche
Appetizer Selection

The salad was up next with a bit too much arugula and parmesan for my taste, but I finished it all. 
Seasonal Salad

The entrée course was next and I opted for the pork tenderloin with sweet potato and leek with ginger-plum chutney.  I also switched wines to a fairly mellow Haut Medoc / Bordeaux.  The pork was a little dry, but overall a very enjoyable dish.  And very filling when I added in a few more pieces of garlic bread.   The chutney had an interesting sweetness to it and I don’t think I would’ve guessed plum was the main ingredient. 
Pork Tenderloin

All of the desserts were brought out on a cart after my place setting was cleared with a variety of options available including cheese and crackers, green tea layer cake, and banana bread pudding.  I selected the bread pudding and vanilla ice cream and had a glass of an excellent 2009 Bacchus Beerenauslese.  The dessert wine I had on my flight to Tokyo in February was better, but this one was still very tasty. 
Banana Bread Pudding

As I was eating dinner, the cabin crew set up the seat across the aisle from me as my bed for the flight.  The seat was lowered into its flat position and a mattress pad was added along with a comforter.  The privacy screens which wrap around the head area of the seat as well as between seats were raised to provide a more secluded environment.  Even with all those screens up, the cabin maintained an airy atmosphere.  Once I finished my movie and another glass of dessert wine, I got into my bed for the night and got about four or five hours of sleep.  The extra bedding and padding makes all the difference in sleep and being able to sleep on your side or back.  
My Bed for the Night

About two hours before landing I woke up and headed over to my original seat.  I started watching “This Means War” as the flight attendants prepared breakfast.  I liked it for an action / rom-com – but Reese Witherspoon is hard not to like.  A variety of cold options was offered, again on a cart, and I selected some fruit and asked for some scrambled eggs and bacon which they cook fresh on the plane.  The eggs were great and hit the breakfast spot although the bacon could’ve been cooked a bit longer.  Breakfast was served with freshly squeezed orange juice as well. 

We landed a little late into Munich and deplaning was easy.  Customs and Immigration outside of the US is so much nicer.  There were no lines, the staff were friendly, and it was just one stop for the passport check.  The departure level for my connection flight was one story down and I headed into the first class lounge there and waited.  I didn’t know that I could’ve gone into the lounge on the upper level and they have their own passport control inspection station in the lounge.  Next time I will remember that.  The lounge has the same finishes as the first class terminal, but is much smaller.  One big plus for the lounge was the glasses full of gummy bears and gummy colas. 
Arrival in Munich

I was only in the lounge for about 45 minutes before heading over to my gate for the flight to Frankfurt.  The distance between Munich and Frankfurt is pretty small and the flight time was less than 50 minutes.  I was booked in business class on the flight (they technically don’t have first class on intra-Europe flight) and the seats are the same as economy class but they keep the seat in the middle open.  The plane was perhaps 75% full as we took off from Munich.  I managed to sleep for most of the flight and missed the meal service which typically is a smaller snack, but much more than what you receive in US domestic first class on short flights.
Landing at Frankfurt was smooth but we taxied a long way around the airport and eventually ended up at a remote stand.  We had to walk down stairs and board buses to get to the terminal.  While somewhat tedious, the upside is you get to see a variety of planes from other airlines up close.  The bus ride to the terminal took a few minutes and then I was outside the airport walking to my hotel. 
Landing at a Remote Stand

Finding your way to the Sqauire where the Hilton hotels are located is a bit difficult as you turn and go down numerous hallways until you finally reach the buildings.  The check-in process was quick and I was headed up to my room which was on the top floor facing the airport.  I could make out the runways and several aircraft parked in the distance from Qantas, Virgin Atlantic, Vietnam Airways, and Thai Airways.  I was in a very similar room my last time through Frankfurt and it was nice to be staying here again.  The staff also recognized that I was from America and left me a muffin with an American flag in it for Fourth of July.  That was a very nice touch for customer service. 
Perfect for an American in Germany