Friday, July 6, 2012

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

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