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On the road again to Rio: Lufthansa Premium Economy Review

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Lufthansa Premium Economy GIG-FRA
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


We had a 2 hour layover in Frankfurt before boarding LH500 to GIG. Ever since SQ terminated its GRU route it’s been very difficult to get to South America without doing a massive layover in Europe. Lufthansa is one of the few airlines that offers a reasonable connection (Turkish has reasonable options to GRU but not GIG).

Flights to South America seem to depart from the furthest satellite terminal there is- all in from disembarking SQ326 to reaching the lounge my colleague and I walked 20 minutes and went through 2 (!) security checkpoints. Who said Germans were the masters of efficiency?

Fortunately, there is a satellite Lufthansa lounge at the C gates, where we were departing from. The lounge was packed with passengers heading for Sao Paulo, Rio and Buenos Aires

The lounge had a great selection of things to drink

The mandatory beer taps made an appearance

There was a good selection of German wines and bubbly.

As good as the drinks were, the food options were pretty basic

Hot food options were limited to three dishes, one of which was rice.

I figured it’d probably be a good idea to freshen up before another long flight so I went to find the showers. The lounge only had two shower cubicles but both were empty at the time.

There were basic amenities provided like a toothbrush and shaver. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again- SQ really needs to introduce private shower cabanas in their new lounge.

One cool feature is the ability to board from the lounge. It’s not quite an aerobridge that leads from the lounge to the plane (as I hear EK has in Dubai), but it’s pretty close. When the time comes to board a flight, the lounge attendants unlock the double doors at the rear of the lounge and you exit to the area just infront of the aerobridge.

This would be my first time on a 747-8 and I was really excited. It’s a shame that the age of the super jumbo appears to be over, what with the poor sales of the 747-8 and the A380.

Lufthansa launched its premium economy product in 2014, 1 year before SQ entered the fray. The product was first available on the 747-8s, before being retrofitted onto the A340-600s and the A380s. Lufthansa PY seats have 38 inches of seat pitch and are 18-19 inches wide. The hard specs are pretty similar to SQ’s PY seats, which have 38 inches of seat pitch and are 18.5-19.5 inches wide, depending on aircraft.

Lufthansa’s made quite a few bold claims about their PY product I thought I’d go over. From Lufthansa’s PY press release-

Image result for dwight schrute false

I mean, this is what separates the premium economy cabin from economy. Not a separate cabin, but a half height divider across the back row of PY seats.

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Lufthansa premium economy back row B747-8

I’ve heard suggestions that this is deliberate, because Lufthansa aggressively sells upgrades to PY onboard. The idea is to get passengers in Y to see the posh life in PY and shell out the buy on board price to upgrade. Whatever the reason, it certainly isn’t a private cabin like what SQ has. I found SQ’s PY cabin private and quiet. By comparison, LH’s PY cabin is really only distinct from regular Y by the seat. This screen at the rear of the last PY seat hardly counts as “a clearly identifiable separate compartment”

By the time I boarded, the cabin was absolutely packed. It was near impossible to get a good shot of the seat. So please settle for this YouTube screengrab.

Image result for lufthansa premium economy seat

On the plus side I have this great front and back shot of the seat.

The seat material is definitely not as luxurious as SQ’s PY seat. SQ uses a leather finish, whereas Lufthansa has a cloth like covering. This means the LH seat is not as assuringly firm as SQ seat too, and if you’re the type who prefers a firm backing with more support you’d definitely prefer the SQ one.

The headphones in LH’s PY are just plain awful. I believe they’re the same as those in Y. SQ on the other hand offers the same headphones they use in business class in premium economy- noise cancelling

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Each seat also had a scratchy and thin blanket. The pillow is the same as economy (PY on SQ has a larger pillow than Y), and they ran out of additional ones.

At least welcome drinks were served. There was no choice of beverage however, everyone got the same mango tasting cordial. And to my horror, there is no champagne in LH PY. SQ serves a very acceptable Ernst Rapeneau.

Every seat had a full bottle of water waiting. I’m quite amused by how many airlines (SQ included) love to include that in the marketing materials- as if a full bottle of water has become some sort of amazing perk.

One area where LH’s PY was better than SQ was the provision of an amenities kit, which you’ll find in the side pocket.

Image result for lufthansa premium economy seat

Even business class passengers on SQ don’t get any amenities kit. Sidenote: I’ve never really understood why SQ doesn’t provide one for passengers. I imagine a lot of cosmetics firms would love the chance to advertise to SQ clientele and provide sample sized toiletries that would defray the overall cost of offering it. And the bag itself is a nice keepsake and constant brand reminder. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me about my Rimowa Eva Air amenities kit, and come away saying “hey Eva Air is really nicer than I thought”

The amenities kit had eyeshades, earplugs, a refreshing towel, socks and a toothbrush kit.

There unfortunately is a lack of storage areas in the seat- apart from a small notch infront of you for storing your phone and maybe some wires, and the seatpocket for storing a laptop, there wasn’t much in the way of side storage. 

The flight was completely full without a single empty seat in The full load was no barrier for the 4 mighty engines on the 747-8, of course, and before long we had started our 12 hour voyage to Brazil.

The crew started meal service shortly after take off. Unlike SQ, No menus were issued for LH PY passengers, which I thought was a poor touch. Even a one page menu card would have been better than the attendant having to repeat the options at every row.

There were two options- chicken with spaghetti, or some sort of cheese pasta. Let’s get a few things clear. Germans should have nothing to do with pasta. This cheese laden disaster with a smattering of tomato paste on top would make la nonna turn over in her grave.

There was some cold bread, a salad and a brownie to go with the meal. I’d also like to point out that LH serves meals in premium economy in the foil tray, instead of on proper cutlery like SQ does. Meals were served from a cart as well, versus the arrangement in SQ where the crew take meal orders individually and bring them to your seat.

One major saving grace was Lufthansa’s Wifi service. Lufthansa’s wifi packages start at 9 Euros for 1 hour and max out at 17 Euros for the whole flight. The charges are obviously structured in a way to encourage you to buy the whole flight. However, they’re still way cheaper than SQ’s OnAir options because they’re not volume capped.

There’s also the option to pay 5,500 miles instead of 17 Euros (really poor value)

A quick glance at the screen reminded me we still had a long way to go…

After finishing up some work, I managed to catch a fitful 2-3 hours of sleep in the maximum recline position. I think I dreamed of a wonderful world where premium economy finally had lie flat seats. I mean, 30 years ago you’d never have thought business class could go lie flat right? But who knows what the future holds?

The crew turned on the lights and started breakfast service about 90 minutes before landing. For some reason SQ has this obsession in starting meal services as early as possible, which really eats into sleeping time. I might understand this in a high volume cabin like economy, but there’s absolutely no reason why meal service in business class needs to start 2-2.5 hours before landing.

Breakfast was an omelette with spinach and cheese. Ze Germans must really love their cheese, I thought, as I took one bite and passed on the rest. There seems to be some inconsistency in the service standards as this meal was served in a proper plate (recall that dinner was served in tin foil).

After breakfast I briefly toured the IFE system. Lufthansa has quite a substantial collection of TV shows and movies, although ever since Netflix allowed the option of downloading content to watch offline I’ve never really bothered with airplane IFE.

There was live TV available. I wish SQ had this feature, because it’d be awesome not to have to miss things like sports and such just because you’re in the air. I still remember watching part of the French Open from the cabin of an Eithad 787 and it was such a surreal experience.

Service wise I didn’t think the crew were anything fantastic. I saw call lights frequently go unanswered, and although the crew made occasional passes through the cabin with drinks while people were resting, you definitely shouldn’t expect anything near the polish of an SQ flight. SQ has clearly tried to make premium economy a more personalised experience, with individual meal orders and being served one at a time. LH’s service routine in PY is more akin to that in economy, the main difference being a better seat and perhaps an “upgraded” meal choice.

My overall thoughts are that LH Premium Economy cannot hold a candle to SQ’s product.  Hard product wise there’s not too much wrong (apart from a lack of storage space) but it’s really everywhere else where it falls down. The lack of a separate cabin is probably the most glaring difference, although it’s also small touches like the lack of menus, poor quality headphones, serving meals en masse instead of individually and the lack of champagne.

I think the main thing that LH has going for it is price. To fly from SIN-FRA in PY with LH would cost you S$2,600 versus S$3,200 with SQ. SQ’s PY is really overpriced in that respect, which may account for the poor loads and the need to launch a bid to upgrade program, something that would have been unthinkable for “we must protect the exclusivity of our cabins” SQ.

That said, I take the point of view that economy class, premium or otherwise, is still economy class. It might offer some additional creature comforts and if the price difference were really small I’d certainly take it, but I wouldn’t be willing to pay a premium out of my own pocket for the product. My miles are reserved for business/first class award redemptions, and where those are not possible I’d rather hump it in economy than pay for something slightly better.

On the road again to Rio: A review of SQ’s new business class

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Lufthansa Premium Economy GIG-FRA
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


map

My trip to Rio was broken up into 2 legs- the first a 13 hour flight to Frankfurt, the second a 12 hour flight to Rio. For the first leg, I had managed to upgrade my premium economy ticket to business (as per SQ’s new upgrade policy, upgrades to business are only possible from premium economy, unless said aircraft does not offer premium economy). For the second, absolutely no space had opened up in business class so it looked like I’d be front loading my champagne intake…

The T3 SilverKris lounge was deserted when I got there, because amazing people would rather choose to visit relatives on the 2nd day of CNY than fly off to exotic locales. There were a few special items for CNY on the buffet spread, so I helped myself to some fishball noodles (probably the best fishball noodles you’d find in public that day) and made myself at home infront of one of the festive plants.

There’s been some redecorations done around the lounge ever since the Rio Olympics with SQ looking to milk every bit of its involvement

Oh hai Joseph Schooling call me maybe.

I’ve written before about the static displays that SQ is setting up in its lounge to partner with advertisers. I know that some people find these tacky but I’m fine with them insofar as they give guests the chance to try some new product or service. I mean, this was way better than the inoperable clothes steaming closet SQ had in its T2 lounge the last time I flew that was just standing there taking up space

Boarding started on time and I was one of the first to board. There was time to snap a quick photo of 9V-SWB.

9V-SWB, of course, has SQ’s latest cabin products including the 2015 Premium Economy seat and the 2013 Business Class seat. You can always refer to this thread on SQTalk that details which cabin configuration each of SQ’s aircraft have.

SQ has 48 flatbed seats in business class on this configuration of the 77W, in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Note that unlike the older 77Ws (without PY), there isn’t any mini cabin at the front anymore. I mean, there is, but it’s now 12 people instead of 8.

new configuration, front “mini” cabin
old configuration, front “mini” cabin

I arrived at my seat, 18K, only to see this sticker placed on the seat. I asked a cabin attendant about it and she removed it and relocated it one seat behind. In any case, the cabin that day would be more than half empty so seating wasn’t exactly at a premium.

The 2013 Business Class seat is an incremental evolution, rather than revolution, of the 2006 seat that came before it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the 2006 seat was truly ahead of its time when it first debuted.

Aesthetically, the seat is a beauty to behold. The finishings are classy and elegant, unlike Emirate’s ridiculously OTT bling. I love the neutral tones of the upholstery. You can really see JPA’s design philosophy behind this seat.

There’s plenty of storage space in the seat

To me, the best feature about the cabin is the amount of privacy it affords.  Compare the SQ seat to business class cabins you’ll see in other airlines-

Lufthansa
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Swiss
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Turkish Airlines

With other airlines, you feel very exposed. You can stand up and see practically everyone else in the cabin. Turn to your left and you see your seatmate in all his/her dehydrated glory. Walk down the aisle and you’ll see your cabin mates prone in their seats sleeping.

Not so with SQ’s design. Stand up, and all you can see is the high walls of every other business class seat. Lie down, and it’s like you’re the only person on the plane. When moving up and down the cabin you can’t really see other passengers sleeping unless you make an effort to lean into their suite. It’s incredible, and more akin to what you’d expect in first class than business.

Even if you snag one of the 2 seats in the middle, you’ve got excellent privacy from your neighbour. I think SQ expanded the privacy divider in the 2013 seat because when it’s extended you’d have to lean very far forward to see the person next to you.

For people like me who are deathly afraid of eye contact with strangers, this seat is a godsend.

Seat controls are on the panel next to the aisle. The seat design still isn’t one for reclining- you’d be better off flipping it into bed mode.

An oversized pillow is provided at each seat, with one more for sleeping located behind the seat (in the nook where you unlatch the seat and flip it over into a bed)

As expected, each seat had the usual assortment of connections, chargers and in-seat power.

And SQ’s high quality Phitek noise cancelling headphones were available too (I’ve noticed on some J routes they’re using the older cup around ear non Phitek design)

The crew came around with pre-departure beverages. I read, with much amusement, this entire thread on Flyertalk complaining about how SQ was stiffing customers by doing smaller and smaller pours of pre-departure champagne. I guess my glass was slightly less than half full, but I never knew why that’d be an issue. I mean, it’s not like Oliver Twist right?

The captain came on the PA to announce the flight time of just under 13 hours. We pushed back on time and taxied to the runway. Unfortunately there weren’t any exotic airlines to spot en route.

After takeoff, the crew started taking meal orders. I took out my tray in anticipation, only to find this-

There was some disgusting sticky residue on the latch for the table and inside the area where it was stored. It immediately awoke the hypochondriac in me, because if they missed cleaning that, did they even bother to clean the rest of the table?

I moved across the aisle to the seat in the middle and checked the table, where I found this.

I wasn’t in the mood to change tables again, so I called the crew over. They cleaned up the table as best they could and promised they’d report it to the ground staff. I’d just pass it off as no one really wanting to work during CNY.

The crew served drinks and warm nuts before the meal started. SQ is still serving Charles Heidsieck champagne in business class.

SQ had a special CNY menu for the February period

There would be two meals served on this flight- lunch would be served after takeoff, and dinner before landing in Frankfurt.

Normally these meal services start with satay, then a salad type dish, then the main, then dessert. Today, however, I realised there was no satay service, and wondered if it had anything to do with the caterer running a tighter ship manpower-wise during CNY.

There was a passable rendition of yusheng served. Unfortunately no chopsticks were provided so I couldn’t see how high in the cabin it was wise/prudent to toss the contents.

For  the main, I ordered the steamed cod fish Thai style, a dish I really enjoyed on my SIN-BKK flight a few months ago

Steamed Cod Fish Thai Style

A traditional dish of cod steamed with spicy lime sauce, served with shredded white cabbage, carrot julienne, Chinese sliced celery, fried garlic and steamed rice

However, the minute it came I knew the caterer had goofed up the order. This is what I got-

And this is what the dish should be.

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What I was served instead was the Chinese Style Cod with Fried Rice (Served with seasonal oriental vegetables, Chinese black mushrooms and egg fried rice. Designed by Singapore Airlines International Culinary Panel Chef Zhu Jun). I know because I had the exact same dish on a different flight.

I mean, the cod was still excellent, but I was confused as to how the order got messed up. I would imagine all these things are automated behind the scene and each dish has a unique ID tag. It’s not like someone telling the chef- “prepare a cod dish” and the chef is confused because he doesn’t know which one. It’s more like a manifest is printed with the exact ID number of the dish to be made, and some alert should go out if the wrong dish is loaded. That at least would make sense to me.

I really didn’t fancy any of the dessert options on offer so I asked if the crew could get me some ice cream from economy class. I do remember when SQ used to serve Haagen Daz in economy class…

The fruit cart came by and I helped myself to some grapes and melon. Pralines were also offered.

Bottles of water were distributed after meal service as most passengers prepared for a nap.

Not me, though. I had work to do. And so I connected to the Wifi in the plane, only to discover to my horror it was the dreaded OnAir and not the T-Mobile Wifi.

OnAir charges based on volume, unlike the T-Mobile hotspot passes which are based on time.

The basic plan starts at US$7 for 15MB, but seriously, what is 15MB. I think the typical Milelion trip report is probably larger than that.

So I went with the pro at US$20 for 50MB. Which I needed to renew 3 times during the course of my 4 hour working session. SQ’s OnAir Wifi offerings are simply not competitive with other airlines, and it needs to fix that asap. Volume-based Wifi is unnecessarily punitive towards customers

It was now well past the midway point of the flight. I don’t think SQ’s snack menu is particularly great (it’s basically variations on instant noodles plated nicely), so didn’t request for anything mid-flight. Had I opted to, I could have chosen from the following

Instead of ordering, I wandered to the galley to check out the snack basket. And I’m glad I did, because that’s where I met Gerard.

Gerard was the chief steward on the flight that day. I sympathized with him for having to work on CNY, a sentiment he reciprocated for me.

I soon found out that he was an SQ veteran, with 18 years of flying experience under his belt (I guessed 5 years, flattering him immensely). To put things in perspective, he was here even before the Big Top and Mega Top days- he was rated on the A310, an aircraft that disappeared from SQ’s fleet around 2001.

Image result for a310 singapore airlines

Here’s the only interior photo of SQ’s A310 cabin I can find.

Image result for a310 singapore airlines

Anyway I had a great time geeking out about all things aviation with Gerard. We talked about the impending launch of SQ’s new cabin products, about the older SQ fleet, about pretty much everything SQ related.  He had such a passion about him for making passengers happy, and I guess you really need to have that to stay in a job that requires you to be away from home 2/3rds of the month for 18 years. After a lovely chat, he loaded me with SQ paraphernalia  (playing cards, postcards and two more bears for my collection) and suggested I catch some rest before slumming it in PY for the next leg.

I went back to my seat and made the bed for a nap. The new business class seat mirrors the 2006 version in that you need to flip it over to convert it into a bed. I personally prefer a seat that allows you to select exactly what angle you want to recline at, but there’s nothing wrong with SQ’s execution either.

I find the padding on the 2013 version of the business class seat slightly better than the 2006. However, if you have large feet, you might find the cubbyhole where your legs go a bit cramped. If you fall into that category you might want to consider one of the bulkhead seats where you can lie straight, rather than at an angle

The crew woke us up 3 hours before landing for dinner. Personally I thought they’d have let everyone maximise their rest and start proceedings 2 hours before, but I wasn’t really sleeping much anyway. According to Gerard, it’s the prerogative of the inflight supervisor when to start meal services. If they’re getting a lot of requests from passengers for snacks, they’ll assume it means people are hungry and shift the service up a bit.

The second meal was termed “light dinner”, although it didn’t look any different from the regular dinner service SQ does on long haul routes.

It’s kind of funny because you can really see the caterer trying to simplify the menu for the festive period. The starter was a trilogy of salmon, featuring smoked and poached salmon (plus one other indeterminable style). The smoked salmon was the base ingredient used in the yusheng starter. Indeed, for quite a few of the meals you could see repeats of ingredients used elsewhere- the lounge was serving fishball noodles, and sure enough that was one of the items on the lunch menu.

There were no mistakes with the BTC this time- I got my chargrilled soya beef. I keep saying I’m swearing off airline beef for good, but keep coming back believing that this time’s the time my luck changes.

I wouldn’t say it was the best beef I ever had on a plane, but it was at least still moist and juicy, as this cross section shows.

I did opt for the dessert this time, having a rather excellent chocolate cheesecake.

By the time the meal was over it was time to prep for arrival. I remembered that I absolutely needed to take a photo with Gerard. Before that, however, he insisted that I take one with his crew. Who was I to refuse this request?

And so it was that this photo came into being.

And at this moment it dawned on me, that I had not elected for the life of a ruffian, but instead the life of a ruffian did choose me.

Once Gerard took the first photo, I insisted he join for the second. And because I felt awkward sitting down like some sort of dowager, I decided to get up.

“I stand up for SQ girls”, I said, before realising that came out wrong.

SQ326 landed on time in FRA, and although I was dreading the next 12 hours, I did feel well rested enough to take them on.

Although there were some issues with the catering and cleanliness of the aircraft, Gerard and his amazing crew more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the quality of SQ crew is becoming more hit and miss now (I’ve been on other J flights where crew don’t do basic things like memorizing passenger names), but this crew was exceptional. And I’m not saying that just because 4 pretty stewardesses agreed to take a photo with a balding guy.

It’s thinning. Not balding.

Why would I want Delta Skymiles status?

Many of you will never set foot on a Delta aircraft your whole life. And that’s just fine, you’re not really missing much. Granted, I’ve only ever experienced the airline’s short haul economy product, and although its new business class seat looks pretty sweet, I’d rather not subject myself to the legendary wonders of American airline hospitality any more than I have to.

But some of you will. Maybe you’re visiting the States and Delta’s offering the best point to point prices on a domestic leg. Or maybe you won’t fly Delta, but you intend to fly one of its Skyteam partners.

Image result for skyteam airlines

If that’s the case, and if you already have status on some other airline, you might be interested to know that Delta has a status match/challenge program.

Simply register for status match and if approved you’ll get Delta status  (see below for what tiers map to what) that lasts for 90 days. To extend it beyond the 90 days, you will need to earn a certain number of MQMs within that 90 days.

During those 90 days, you’ll enjoy the full fledged benefits of Delta status. Assuming you have Krisflyer Gold (and I’m guessing this will get matched to Delta Gold-see below), you’ll be able to enjoy perks on Delta like a free bag, priority boarding, luggage and security.

When flying on Skyteam partners, you’ll get lounge access and priority luggage.

Image result for skyteam lounge
Skyteam London lounge
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Skyteam Istanbul Lounge

Delta has listed the following airline programs and their corresponding status match on their webpage

Delta SkyMiles Medallion Status

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Air Canada Altitude Status

Prestige 25K,

Elite 35K

Elite 50K

Elite 75K,

Super Elite 100K

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan Status

MVP

MVP Gold

MVP Gold 75K

All Nippon Airways Mileage Club Status

Bronze

Platinum

Diamond

American Airlines AAdvantage Status

Gold

Platinum

Executive Platinum,

Platinum Pro,

Concierge Key

Asiana Airlines Asiana Club Status

Gold

Diamond

Diamond Plus,

Platinum

British Airways Executive Club Status

Bronze

Silver

Gold

Copa Airlines ConnectMiles Status

Silver

Gold

Platinum,

Presidential Platinum

Japan Airlines Mileage Bank Fly On Status

Crystal

Sapphire

Premier,

Diamond

Lufthansa Miles & More Status

Frequent Traveler

Senator,

HON Circle Members

United Airlines Mileage Plus Status

Premier Silver

Premier Gold

Premier Platinum,

Platinum 1K,

Global Services

This list is not exhaustive, however, as the page also says “If you have status with another airline not listed above, you may still be eligible for this challenge. Please submit your information below to confirm eligibility”

I’ve dropped them an email about whether they’ll be matching Krisflyer status and if so, what tiers map to what. If they do, I imagine they will map PPS/Solitaire PPS members to Platinum, with Krisflyer Golds and Silvers mapping to Gold and Silver respectively.

So if you’ve got 5 minutes and simply want to avoid paying a bag fee, or if you’ve got an upcoming Skyteam partner flight coming up, why not take the plunge?

(HT: Damien)