Tag Archives: business class

On the road again to Rio: Lufthansa 747-8i Business Class Review

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


GIG airport isn’t exactly laid out in the most centralized of fashions- from leaving the Star Alliance lounge it was a further 10-15 minute walk to the gate. I reached gate C55 just in time for the commencement of boarding.

The flight that Saturday evening would be just over half full, I presume the bulk of the business travelers had flown out on Friday’s flight. I was surprised that premium loads to Brazil were still fairly decent given the country’s overall economic recession.

This evening we’d be on Lufthansa’s 747-8, the spiritual successor to the 747-400. This was Boeing’s stop gap answer to the A380, and although it’s sold fairly poorly (there are only 33 passenger versions in operation by Lufthansa, Air China, Korean Air. Oh, and this guy). On the plus side for Boeing, because the 747-8 was a derivative of the 747-400, it didn’t require quite the same amount of extensive R&D costs that Airbus ploughed into the A380. It looks increasingly likely that the best that Airbus can ever hope for on the A380 program is to break even. Twin engine, fuel efficient A350s and 787s are the future, it seems, and it’s sad that our generation could be the last to see any double decker planes in operation.

All LH aircraft have been upgraded to Lufthansa’s latest business class seat, a project that finished sometime in late 2015. The new business class class seat is certainly an upgrade of the previous iteration, but is already hopelessly obsolete.

Image result for lufthansa old business class
LH’s old business class seat. Can you feel yourself sliding off it?

Direct aisle access is the gold standard for business class, and given that Lufthansa does not intend to introduce a new business class seat until 2020, it looks like they’ll be playing catchup for a while.

There is a certain visceral thrill to being on the top deck of a 747, because of the privacy it affords. I believe there aren’t any bassinet seats on the upper deck, so you’re guaranteed not to have any baby noise. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a private jet experience (on account of the fact you’ve got 31 other people up there with you), but it’s way better than being on the main deck.

Lufthansa uses a 2-2 configuration on the upper deck (I often wonder how an airline would implement all aisle access on the upper deck of a 747- it’s way too narrow for a 1-2-1 configuration, and a bit too spacious for a 1-1 configuration. Maybe a 1-1-1 with somewhat squeezy aisles?)

As mentioned earlier, I had confirmed with the check in staff that the seat next to me would remain empty. This is critical to your enjoyment of a product like Lufthansa’s, because the design of the seat means that if you’ve got a seat mate, you better hope it’s someone you know.

The seat has absolutely no privacy from your seatmate. There’s not even a token privacy divider, the likes of which you’d find on many angled flat configurations (eg SQ’s A330s). You can turn to your right and see everything your seatmate is doing.

It gets better.

Yup, that’s where your feet go. Now imagine the awkwardness of playing footsie with a stranger, because that’s what you’re going to be facing the entire time you’re in this seat. When you go to bed, it’s more likely than not that your knees will bump your neighbour at least a few times.

I suppose the counterargument to that is this seat is great for couples. I know a few people (weirdos) who say that business class has become too solitary and insular. Those are probably the same people who like this cringeworthy ad by ANA about networking in the air. Or this absolutely horrible Tube Chat campaign (you have to love the riposte though). Why can’t the world understand that some of us prefer to be left alone and not have to make eye contact with other people. Go away, you.

The seat, in and of itself, isn’t terrible. It goes full flat and although it isn’t very wide, that wasn’t a problem for me (yet). The seat material may feel scratchy to those who don’t like sweaters though.

Seat controls are on the center panel with 3 preset configurations.

Each seat also had an amenities kit and bottle of water awaiting in the stowage area under the seat infront of it.

Inside the amenities kit you’ll find earplugs, a toothbrush set, some socks and creams.

LH’s amenities kit has improved from the last time I flew them (they previously gave this flimsy plastic piece of plastic. I wondered how the Germans, who are capable of great industrial design, could conspire to deliver something so shoddy)

Image result for lufthansa amenities kit plastic old
photo credit: onemileatatime

Lufthansa offers Bose headphones in business class. They’re not the fancy QC-15/25 version that airlines have in first, but they’re definitely excellent quality still. It’s certainly a step up from the horrible ones they have in premium economy.

Lufthansa hasn’t upgraded its IFE systems to the newfangled Panasonic touch screen controllers, which is just fine with me given how often those things hang. However, their existing controllers also seemed to have issues with sticky buttons- my controller wasn’t able to register inputs pretty frequently, and in the end I just gave up and watched my own Netflix.

If you’re on the upper deck of the aircraft and in a window seat, you get the added benefit of additional storage space below the window.

The crew came around with pre-departure drinks. Champagne was served too. There’s an increasing trend of airlines not serving alcohol on the ground to avoid duties.  While I understand that rationale, and haven’t hit the stage of alcoholism where I need a drink RIGHT THIS MINUTE, it still takes something away from the boarding process.

The champagne Lufthansa serves in business class is a Dual Leroy. I’ve been progressively learning more and more about champagne since I started drinking it a year or so ago, and one thing I know is that Dual Leroy is probably towards the cheaper end of the spectrum. I know because it always seems to be on sale when I go to the wine stores (I’ve seen it retail for as low as $50 a bottle in some places)

The crew lead came around to introduce herself. As a general note, Lufthansa’s cabin crew try hard, but they’re definitely nowhere near as polished as SQ’s. No passenger was addressed by name (I think LH’s service standards only require that in First Class), and it’s hard to think of any instance where they did something above and beyond what would be expected. Service was functional at best, and although the crew certainly wasn’t unpleasant, it does make you think if we complain too much when we say SQ’s service standards are slipping.

Nuts were served and meal orders taken after takeoff.

Here’s the menu

And the drinks list

Let’s get one thing straight- Lufthansa’s catering is horrible. No two ways about it. You might argue that it’s a function of the station we were flying out of, but I’ve now tried Lufthansa catering ex-FRA, ex-MUC and ex-GIG and I can say that I have never had anything resembling an edible meal. Heck, even my First Class meal with Lufthansa was rather icky.

So it was no surprise that this meal followed suit.

The starter of octopus cubes was a chewy mess that somehow managed to be slightly mushy within.

The salmon main was similarly unimpressive- mushy rice, vegetables that were so soft they turned into glop the minute you put any sort of pressure on them. The salmon was cooked so much that any semblance of flavor had vanished.

I gave up on the salmon and asked for the pasta instead. That was..somewhat unwise.

The pasta was nuked, totally soft and lacking any sort of flavor. It dissolved as you put your fork into it. And as a side note, if any Italian saw you cook pasta, then put sauce on the pasta afterwards as a dressing, you’d be sleeping with the fishes. Pasta is meant to be cooked in the sauce. It is, as my amorous Italian colleague has once told me with great conviction from the heart, the marriage of the sauce and the pasta that makes it true pasta. On another side note- what the heck is that white stuff on the pasta?

For desert I elected for the safest option- fruits.

I paid a visit to the washroom after the meal to get ready for bed. Lufthansa hasn’t done anything fancy with their loos, they’re pretty much as stock as they get. The tapes and flushes are no-touch sensors, which always appeals to the germophobe in me.

There’s a well stocked tray of non-alcoholic mouthwash, combs and wet wipes in the loo too.

Returning to my seat, I put the bed into full flat position and tried to get some rest.

And here’s the thing- I slept great. I’m sure this is all to do with having no seatmate, because if I did I’d have to deal with things like him/her having to step over me to get to the aisle, or light pollution from when he/she decides to turn on his/her reading light, or noise pollution if he or she snores etc. You’d be surprised how wound up people can get in a confined environment- I once had a seatmate glare at me and ask me to stop “making those noises” (I was sniffling, as I often do on planes).

I woke up with about 90 minutes to go to landing.

What Lufthansa does so much better than SQ is the timing of the breakfast service. You can get breakfast any time you want before you land. I opted for 90 minutes, but people who asked for it at the 60 minute mark were still accommodated. Contrast this to SQ, which insists on turning on the cabin lights full blast at the 2.5 hour mark prior to arrival.

To be fair, Lufthansa’s breakfast service is single tray, versus SQ’s where they’ll serve you fruit, then cornflakes, then the main course. But I’m pretty sure a lot of passengers would be more than happy with a one tray service if it meant maximizing sleep.

Not that it made the food quality any better though. The scrambled eggs were overcooked beyond recognition. I know people will tell me that I have too high standards for airplane eggs. But I’ve had poached eggs that were perfectly runny, in ANA economy class no less. So it can be done.

We were all set to land on time in Frankfurt, where it was currently 6 degrees. In my infinite wisdom, I had not brought a scrap of warm clothing with me and would have to hide in the airport hotel throughout my 24 hour layover.

Although LH has pretty snazzy ground services for first class passengers, and its first class hard product is as good as they come, Lufthansa’s business class product is clearly nowhere in the same league as SQ, ANA or Eva. It’s at best a middling hard product, and the service isn’t world class enough to make up for it. Catering continues to be a weak point for Lufthansa, and its business cabin refresh can’t come soon enough.

I now had a 24 hour layover in freezing Frankfurt as I sought out the safety of the airport Sheraton…

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
Image result for swiss business class
Swiss
Image result for turkish airlines business class
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.

20160902_191305

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.

Does buying a walk-up upgrade with Thai Airways make sense?

I read on Loyalty Lobby that TG had recently devalued their standby/walk-up upgrade pricing chart. This was news to me because I had never even knew it existed. Apparently, Thai has an official policy that customers can buy same day cash upgrades at the counter, space permitting.

Image result for thai airways business class

What was so awesome about the old system is that it did not discriminate among fare classes. That is, someone who bought a deep discount economy ticket would pay the same upgrade fee to business as someone with a full fare economy  ticket. So this would have been the perfect arrangement for someone trying to game the system.

That’s since changed, unfortunately. You can view the revised chart here, but I’ve copied it below for convenient reference.

Note that Business to First Class upgrades still don’t discriminate among fare classes, so if your company lets you fly Business (are you hiring?) you should give the Business to First chart a look over). I’ll just be talking about the Economy to Business Class options

That’s a lot of information to take in at one go, so let’s look at a Singapore-relevant example.

Singapore to Bangkok is a short flight and totally doesn’t need business class. That said, if you’re eager to try a very new airline product (or just want to booze up in the lounge prior to departure), Thai is still operating its A350s on the SIN-BKK route while it trains up crews. I believe I even spotted a Dreamliner operating certain days. I mean, look, I’m never going to be able to justify paying more for business class on such a short flight, but if you’re feeling indulgent you can get upgraded for as little as S$57 one-way.

That’s in theory, at least. Economy ticket classes Y and B on the SIN-BKK route can be upgraded for S$57.

But when I went to search for revenue tickets, I only found the following fare buckets available. (EDIT: Y/B is available for one way fares)

  • Super Save (V/W)
  • Saver (V/W)
  • Flexi Saver (K)
  • Full Flex (Q)

It’s a bit interesting that Super Save and Saver fares book into the same ticket class, because they have different rules regarding refunds- Super Save tickets are strictly not refundable but Saver fares can be refunded with a penalty. That said, I’m not exactly an expert on airfare ticket classes.

If you booked into a Super Save fare, you’d pay $213.60 for your ticket, plus $265 to upgrade for a grand total of $478.60. Note that this just gets you one leg in business class. If you want to do it both ways you’re looking at $743.60.

Or you could buy a more expensive fare bucket and pay less to upgrade. Paying $361.50 for your base ticket means you can upgrade for $185 each way, or $731 total.

How does that compare to retail prices? If you look for the same routing on the same day on the same flight, you can buy business class for S$761.

That’s not much of a difference between buying economy plus upgrading, plus you get the certainty. Of course part of the reason is that Y/B fares don’t seem to be offered ex-SIN (or at least not on the website). If they were, an S$85 upgrade sounds almost too good to be true and I’d definitely jump on it.

So my conclusion is that buying an upgrade would only make sense if

  1. Your company was paying full fare Y/B for you, and you wanted to top up a small amount to fly business
  2. You were flying to selected destinations in South East Asia or North Asia. Europe and Australia upgrades are prohibitively expensive, but upgrades to places like Shanghai and Beijing can be as low as S$150 potentially

In any case, I think it would make a lot more sense for Thai to adopt a system like Plusgrade where they’d be able to collect data on how much people are willing to pay a lot more scientifically, rather than relying on someone at the check in desk to process it properly.