Lufthansa’s first class service has been a permanent fixture in the list of aviation’s most exceptional flying experiences alongside other heavy hitters such as Singapore, Emirates, and more recently Qantas’ A380.  While first class in any of these airlines is a crash course in indulgence, Lufthansa is known for excellence and restraint, rather than opulence and spectacle (Emirates, I’m looking at you!)  Like sex, or perhaps pizza, there are no truly bad first class flights, there just happen to be some that have more goodness than others.  And a flight onboard Lufthansa’s first class has no shortage of goodness.

Flight: Lufthansa Flight 492 (FRA-YVR)
Class: First
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400 (mostly)
Seats: 83C
Date: May 20, 2014

Tattainger Champagne

Taittinger Brut Champagne, 1 of 2 offerings available

But what is flying first class all about?  On a 10 hour flight to Frankfurt, the move from an economy seat to business is a change from woe and misery to comfort and productivity.  However, upgrading from business to first is a huge leap from comfort and productivity to extravagance.  There are three main differences between business and first class: the “seat”, the food & beverage offerings, and the service and personalized attention.  Bonus feature: photos of the legendary Lufthansa First Class Terminal at the bottom of this post.

Left: A330-300 First Class cabin; Right: 747-400 Upstairs First Class cabin

Left: A330-300 First Class cabin; Right: 747-400 Upstairs First Class cabin

Part one: the “seat”

I quote “seat” because this space is more like a small apartment than an airplane seat!  I flew onboard two different planes featuring the “new” first class, the newer style Airbus A330 and the older Boeing 747-400.  The A330’s suite is much more typical of what Lufthansa will offer moving forward; in fact, the 747-400’s unique full time bed is being phased out and will disappear as soon as these planes are converted for other uses.

Lufthansa First Suite Comparison

Left: A330-300 “New” First seat 1K; Right: 747-400 “New” First seat 84H

Both of these suites offer some distinct advantages and disadvantages.  While the A330 seat converts to a nice flat sleeping surface, the 747’s bed is certainly superior with a completely flat design and no uncomfortable joints.  However, while the 747 I flew in had been updated to Lufthansa’s attractive blonde wood and stark white colour scheme, it is immediately obvious that these seats have been in service for some time.  In addition, the more modern inflight entertainment unit in the A330 is dramatically superior with both a better screen and easier control interface.

Part two: feed me and keep my glass full please!

The food in economy class needs no introduction – prison food repackaged for high altitude.  Food in business class is a different animal, and the most often thing I think when eating in business class is “this is pretty good for being on a plane!”

The first thing about food in first class is that I actually found myself being more critical of what I was receiving – “the Venison is cooked to medium well when it should be medium rare, the scallop was sliced too thinly and therefore couldn’t be seared hot enough to create a crust without overcooking it.”  But after I started thinking these, I realized that I wasn’t ending these thoughts with “… for being on a plane.”  The food is good enough that you stop considering it was prepared for service on an airplane, and begin comparing it with the best restaurants you have ever eaten at, and perhaps more shockingly, it puts up a good fight!

The second thing about food in first class is the sheer volume of it.  A typical Lufthansa large meal service looks like this:

1) Amuse Bouche
2) Traditional caviar service with accompaniments
3) Trio of appetizers
4) Salad or soup
5) Hot entree
6) Cheese course
7) Plated dessert
8) Truffles

Keep in mind that you are also encouraged, to have champagne upon boarding, a cocktail when first at cruising altitude, a different wine pairing with virtually every course, a dessert wine, and of course an aperitif to finish the meal.  There is no shortage of alcohol onboard, I assure you.  The wine list was identical between my two flights and featured some standouts including a 2004 Veuve Cliqquot champagne (which I preferred to the 2003 Taittinger also on offer), a truly superb German Reisling from Steigerwald, and a wonderful 2008 Burgenland from Austria.  They also carry a nice selection of other liquors including Grey Goose vodka and Johnny Walker blue label whiskey.

Part three: the service

It’s exceptional.  A request for a glass of water is met with “certainly sir – would you prefer still or mineral, chilled or room temperature, with or without ice, and with or without mint, cucumber, or citrus?”  And more impressively yet, when you stagger out of bed after a relaxing 6 hour sleep and ask for a glass of water, they will remember which you selected and prepare it correctly without asking.  Some people describe the Lufthansa crew as being a bit less than friendly – I would describe them instead as being very German in their delivery of service.  There are no superfluous words – everything they do is solely focused around delivering whatever you want in the most efficient manner possible.  But the details are impeccable – you are not just going to eat, you are going to eat with a red rose setting the table – classy!

Bonus feature: the Lufthansa Frankfurt First Class Terminal

There are no words to describe the First Class Terminal (FCT) experience.  In theory, it’s mostly like a lounge, but the experience couldn’t be any further from that.  One of the ways Lufthansa enforces this is by making it incredibly difficult to get in, relative to most lounges.  There are no credit cards, memberships, or other ways in – the only way in is with a Lufthansa or Swiss First Class ticket.

From start to finish, the experience oozes sophistication, class, and exclusivity.  When you first walk in the door, you only make it 20′ before being met by your personal attendant for the day who takes your passport and ticket, and describes the process.  She then walks you through the private security screening (photo below) where the helpful (!!) agent cheerfully gets you through the process with the absolute minimum hassle possible.  Take my shoes off?  “No need sir, we don’t want to inconvenience you.”

Once you are inside, your attendant takes you on a brief tour – full service restaurant, spa style private shower facilities, cigar room, the incredibly well stocked bar, business centres, and public social areas.  She explains that she will let you know when it’s time to head to your plane, and will make sure the private passport control office is available so you don’t have to wait, and then escort you directly to your private car, to head directly to the plane.

Left: Driving through the Frankfurt airport; Right: The 747-400 I will be taking back to Vancouver, from the tarmac

Left: Driving through the Frankfurt airport; Right: The 747-400 I will be taking back to Vancouver, from the tarmac

In closing, the entire Lufthansa First Class experience has lots of goodness, but the terminal’s goodness levels are absolutely out of control.  Despite being large and well equipped, it feels intensely personalized without ever being overbearing or intrusive.  Everything you could ever need, nothing you didn’t need.  (Lets be serious – I needed a water bar with 27 different varieties of sparkling water from around the world!)