Flying the Lufthansa A380 Inaugural to San Francisco (Trip Report)

I know I said trip reports would only be on Wednesdays now, but I changed my mind. Lufthansa flew me out to Frankfurt only to come back less than 24 hours later on the inaugural A380 to San Francisco, all in business class. I’ll start with the flight out so you can see the differences between the 747 and the A380. Overall, I like what Lufthansa is doing, but I simply cannot sleep in that angled lie-flat bed. The good news is that a replacement is in the works.

Our A380 to SFO

[Full disclosure: Lufthansa paid for the flight and one night hotel on this trip]

May 8, 2011
Lufthansa 457 Lv Los Angeles 255p Arr Frankfurt 1035a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 104, Runway 25R, Depart 4m Early
Frankfurt (FRA): Gate C15, Runway 7R, Arrive On Time
D-ABTK, Boeing 747-430, Lufthansa White Colors (named Kiel), ~99% Full
Seat 1K
Flight Time ~10h20m

I arrived at LAX about 1.5 hours early so I could have some good quality timeBusiness Class Lounge Entrance in the lounge. Having grown up in LA, there really is nothing like entering the great hall of the Bradley Terminal to get you excited about going somewhere special. This time was no different, but I walked right past the ticket counter and headed through security quickly with my boarding pass I had printed online.

The new Star Alliance lounge in Bradley is nice, and most importantly to me, had a back room with a great view of the new concourse being built as well as all the departures. I grabbed some water, tried to ignore the thrashing the Lakers were The Greatest Airplane Viewtaking on the TV, and enjoyed the view. A rep came through about 45 minutes before departure and said that boarding would begin soon, so all passengers should start heading downstairs.

One of the other journalists on the trip (best known as Adventure Girl) just happened to have been seated next to me in the first row. Lufthansa is one of the few airlines that puts business class in the nose of the 747 instead of upstairs. I was happy to take advantage of seat 1K in the nose, where the fuselage is so narrow that only four seats across can Inflight Entertainment on the Bulkheadfit.

We pushed back on time and took off into the afternoon sun. It was an incredibly smooth flight most of the way. The flight attendants were friendly and were frequently coming up and down to tend to the customers. The seat itself was comfortable for lounging, so I got comfy and started watching movies. Meanwhile, the flight attendants came through with hot towels and a menu with our choices for dinner747 Business Class Seat. The food was actually pretty good, though I don’t like to eat much on those overnight flights. I picked braised short rib for the entree, and did enjoy it, but I couldn’t eat much because it was heavy. I thought it was strange that they bring out the entrees all on one serving cart, and then pull off the foil covers in front of you. That didn’t seem to fit the premium look

At this point, I popped an Ambien and tried to sleep. This did not work out as planned. The seat is one of those angled flat beds which, despite arguments otherwise, are REALLY angled. I could not get comfortable at all, but I did manage to snooze briefly. At one point, I woke up halfway down the seat, face down, with my legs kicked up on the bulkhead in front of me. I have no idea how that happened.

Eventually, I gave up and just watched movies in my drug-induced haze. The sun came up only a couple short hours later, and it was time for breakfast. Soon enough we were descending over the green hills of Germany into the Frankfurt Airport. I’ll cover the ground experience in Frankfurt in a separate post. But now, let’s look at the A380 return in comparison.

May 10, 2011
Lufthansa 454 Lv Frankfurt 945a Arr San Francisco 1205p
Frankfurt (FRA): Gate C15, Runway 7L, Depart 6m Late
San Francisco (SFO): Gate G101, Runway 28R, Arrive 8m Early
D-AIMD, Airbus A380-841, Lufthansa White Colors (named Tokio), ~95% Full
Seat 14K
Flight Time ~10h50m

This was the inaugural A380 flight to San Francisco, so Lufthansa definitely made a big deal out of it. A380 boarding in Frankfurt (covered soon in my airport post in greater detail) occurs on tGate Lounge in Frankfurtwo levels. From the top level, Biz and First Class passengers board directly from a lounge area that feeds two gates. With 8 First and 98 Business, this lounge fills up. Lufthansa does subway style boarding where you swipe your own boarding pass and then a gate opens for you to pass. Then, on the jet bridge, they check your passports before you board.

We boarded directly on to the upper deck. If you turned left, you would go into the very private First Class (another post, I promise). To the right is 98 seats of Business in what’s really 3 separate cabin areas. The seats are six abreast, and yes, theyA380 Business Class Seat are still those old angled flat seats with just a little refresh. Apparently, this won’t last forever. I spoke with CEO Carsten Spohr and he confirmed that they are committed to a fully flat seat. The seat has been picked and he says it’s very innovative, but it won’t be announced yet. Others told me that it will be introduced on the first 747-8 when it comes into the fleet early next year.

I quickly realized that these seats are much better when not in the bulkhead. On the 747, my screen came out of the seat and the magazine net was on the bulkhead, out of reach. When there’s a seat in front of you, the screens are better positioned as is the magazine rack. Other than that, I didn’t notice many changes. The controller was simplified a bit and the inflight entertainment system was faster. It still, however, was not touch screen. I’m told it’s a touch screen in economy but not in Business because people can’t reach it anyway. Not true. I would have preferred a touch screen over scrolling using arrows on the controller.

The best enhancement to the inflight entertainment? There were three cameras – one on the tail, one in the nose, and one underneath. I can watch that channel all day (or, um, at Seatback with Tail Cameraleast half the flight). The air show map is greatly improved as well with better detail on where you are and cooler views of the route. One other big improvement? Being on the upper deck means, as on the 747, there’s a storage compartment between the window seat and the sidewall.

As expected, the A380 was very quiet on departure. That long, slow takeoff roll just makes you think you’ll never get airborne, but of course, we did. We turned left and headed north . . . for a long time. We went along the west coast of Denmark and then up along the Dumpling Lunchcoast of Norway. Finally, near Bergen, we headed out to sea and went well north of Iceland and Hudson Bay.

I had a salmon appetizer followed by some traditional Swabian dumplings. It was very good. And every meal was accompanied by a pretzel roll. I cannot understand why they can’t make them in the US like they do over there. Man, those are so freakin’ good. After the meal, the crew came around with a cake to celebrate the inaugural, but I passed. I went exploring.

First point? There is nothing more fun than peeing while staring out the window. Every plane should provide that opportunity (and an increasing number do).

Our Business Class cabin was mostly reserved for invited guests, and having so many onboard, we had several opportunities to talk to people. I was able to speak with the A380 Product Marketing Director from Airbus, Lufthansa’s CEO, and several crew members. Just as on the previous flight, the service was excellent from the crew. As the flight wore on, I got tired. Having slept only a handful of hours in the last two days meant that I was getting loopy. I was able to nap for about an hour but not in the bed position. I had to treat it as a lounger and then I was ok. I Small Bins on Left, Large Bins in Centerstayed in the position to watch a movie and found it comfortable for that as well.

People like to talk about how big the A380 is, but it really doesn’t feel that large. Part of it is that it’s not particularly long, and you never see the other deck. Lufthansa has premium cabins upstairs and coach down below. The stairs are blocked off and people cannot go between cabins. (We were an exception since we were journalists covering the flight.) Because of that, it feels smaller than a lot of other, longer airplanes.

Later in the flight, they served a second, small meal which I followed that Barrier at Back Stairs Down to Economyup with some leftover cake from earlier. We had gone so far north that by the time we came down, we had great views of Mt Rainier, Mt St Helens, and Mt Hood. The winds were so light, and the flight was only a few minutes longer than the flight east. That was a problem. They had this timed for media coverage, so we had to circle for about half an hour before we came in to a cloudless San Francisco.

We got off the plane on the top deck again and then went through customs. Then we came right back to the gate for a celebration before I, Adventure Girl, and Johnny Jet headed over to our United flight back to LA.

May 10, 2011
United 274 Lv San Francisco 301p Arr Los Angeles 425p
San Francisco (SFO): Gate 72, Runway 28L, Depart 6m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 75B, Runway 24R, Arrive 8m Early
N482UA, Airbus A320-232, United White Top Colors, ~80% Full
Seat 18A
Flight Time 52m

That flight was uneventful despite a runway change before departure which made for an interesting dance to get airplanes lined up right. I’m glad Channel 9 was on for me to listen. But I promptly passed out once airborne from exhaustion and woke up on the way into LA.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Lufthansa service and the food. That seat, however, just didn’t work for me in a world of truly flat beds. It’s good to see that Lufthansa is recognizing this and will be making the switch next year. That combined with the service and food will make for a very serious competitor to just about anyone.

[See all photos from my trip on the Lufthansa A380 SFO inaugural]

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