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

Lufthansa, Trip Reports, United

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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36 comments on “Flying the Lufthansa A380 Inaugural to San Francisco (Trip Report)

  1. Nice trip report! Just out of curiosity, any idea why Lufthansa would be buying new 747-8’s when they seem so commited to the A380?

    1. Well, they actually are very different in size. The A380 has 526 onboard. The 747-8 is expected to have about 380 for Lufthansa. So it wanted something to fill the need for routes that don’t need as much capacity.

  2. Funny, I find that the LH J-class seats are among the few I can actually sleep on (even compared to true lie-flat J-class seats). But I do think that this is actually a problem with the new-style true lie-flat seats, in that different people have very different opinions about each style. The only one that I have heard uniformly positive experiences about (and experienced the same for myself) is the Virgin Atlantic upper class seat which actually flips over to provide a flat bed. Of course, even this style has a down side, which is that in the seated position it is much less configurable (no independent control between the leg rests and the seat back).

  3. Dang Cranky your lucky Business class on the A380 for free to bad I will never be able to fly on her on any airline. I will live with my sometimes 777 to Maui or 767 on United I mean Continental Airlines operating as United or at least that the way its shaping up to be There Using Continental’s paint, bording ques. While all United Lovers Like Me get is The Name Ch9. according to Jeff will stay I emailed him(Nice Guy apperintly he reads ever customer’s email), Hemispheres, E+ but still it will never fell like it’s truly United. But wow you must gave felt Like some very Rich Man lol.

    1. You really don’t at all. You board and deplane from your own level at both Frankfurt and SFO and the stairs are blocked off during flight. So you really never even know that the other deck is there.

  4. Nice trip report and thanks for the plug. It’s funny I had many of your same feelings – especially about the pretzel bread and looking out the bathroom window.

  5. Couldn’t agree more about the peeing while looking out a window comment. Reminds me of the EMB flights from DEN to the mountain cities on SkyWest. The forward lav configured AC had great views of the Rockies as you bounced along taking a leak!

    1. You’re a brave man for trying to stand up and pee while flying over the Rockies in a turboprop. I hope you brought a change of clothes.

      1. I have had the SkyWest EMB 120 experience also. You have to keep the knees slightly bent and flexible. The airline I work for now has windows in the A340 lavs. I enjoy the experience also, much less claustrophobic. Most of the time I enter the lav, the shade is down. I guess some folks are too shy to pee in front of an open window, even at FL390!

  6. Am I seeing this right? Was there only 1 jet bridge? With all those open doors, I still suspect that everyone will board with one entrance. We never seem to get this one right. I have been on planes that used two doors. Southwest used to use front and back door.

    1. No, there were multiples. In Frankfurt, there was one for the top deck and one for the bottom. At SFO, I believe they had 3 bridges.

  7. “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.”

    I also use Ambien on long haul flights, and it is a very powerful drug; it is entirely possible that you actually left your seat, and ended up in that position after you returned. My travelling companions have told me I have done similar things; but Ambien will often erase those short-term memories.

    1. I think that while he was asleep Adventure Girl and Johnny Jet rearranged him and then took funny photos of him to post in their blogs or as black mail evidence for later use…

    2. Well, Johnny Jet wasn’t on our flight out (he was already in Europe), but it’s entirely possible that Adventure Girl was doing something sinister. I highly doubt that I got up, however, because I would have woken Adventure Girl up – you can’t really get out of the window very easily.

  8. Interesting strategy on the boarding, although it seems like it uses more employees than the standard check them at the boarding door. I wonder if Lufthansa does this with their short haul flights as well?

    1. I believe Lufthansa does this everywhere. There were a greater number of employees around than normal because it was an inaugural flight.

  9. Great post. I’m so looking forward to eventually flying the A380 sometime. That seat does not look good. Will be interesting to see what config they change to. The food from FRA looked better than the outbound.

  10. Brett,

    I think serving from the cart is only on the 747. We were on a 346 2-cabin flight from BOS-FRA and entrees were not served from the cart, but trayed in from the galley. Our return FRA-LAX on the 747 was cart service like you had. I think it might have something to do with the galley location and size of C.

      1. There’s several factors involving the decision to either hand serve all the trays OR cart them through the premium cabins. One issue is the number of seats in the cabin versus the number of flight attendants dedicated to that cabin. I’ve worked business class where we’ve hand served the trays, but carted out some of the presentation, ie. dessert service, cordial service..etc.
        Service procedures are definitely considered due the size of the galley’s and the location as well. Generally speaking, it’s not consistent because of the different size aircraft/cabin configurations and the number of flight attendants per aircraft.

  11. Great report. I was just wondering, I will be flying the Lufthansa A380 from SFO to Frankfurt in a couple of months. Did they tell you when the new flat bed seats in business class will be installed?


  12. I’m with you on the pretzels/pretzel bread. Apparently in Germany they dip the dough into a lye solution prior to baking it. Due to the dangers of lye that is not common in the US. My GF and I tried a couple of recipes but so far we have struck out.

    I don’t know how you guys do a west coast to Europe R/T in a day or two. It takes me a good week to recover (whether in coach or 1st class).

    1. I can’t speak for the West Coast to Europe R/T, but I took a West Coast to Central time zone weekend trip once. The bottom line is as far as time zones you don’t ever get onto the one you’re visiting, and it does just tire you out a bit..

  13. After WWII, in 1946, we crossed the country by Greyhound with stops along the scenic way. Ever since, I am used to sleeping in reclining seats and would feel awkward in flat seats.
    Glad to hear that the A380 did not feel like a mob scene upstairs. Wonder what downstairs was like.

  14. hi, about 14k, thats a window seat,over the wing, what was the view like out the plane? im booked in the same seat, but worried the view will be just the wing.


    1. The wing is huge, so it certainly can have an impact. But you’re higher up on the top deck so it’s not nearly as much of an issue as if you were on the bottom.

      1. thanks, thats great to hear. i was actually thinking of moving to the back, but didnt want to be stuck behind 90+ people getting off the plane

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