There was a ground crew member waiting at the jetway to escort all the Suites class passengers to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, about 100m away from the gate. It was a nice touch, but I didn’t really see the point given that (1) it’s impossible to get lost and (2) it’s exactly the same lounge that all *G passengers use, so it’s not like it’s exclusive or something.
Lufthansa has some confusing lounge access rules. The Senator lounge serves Star Alliance First Class and Star Gold members. The Lufthansa Business Lounge is for Star Alliance business class passengers. So you could have a strange situation where Star Gold members flying in Economy join the First Class passengers in the “better” lounge, while Business Class passengers with no status go to the “worse” lounge.
That would be a concern if one lounge were actually better than the other. It’s a moot point really, because the Senator lounge and the Business lounge are almost exactly the same in facilities (and this, in my opinion, is where First Class passengers get a bit shafted. Even the legendarily stingy SQ gives Star Alliance First Class passengers access to the proper First Class lounge in Singapore (albeit not The Private Room). You’re not losing out by going to one over the other.
The lounge entrance is on the first floor but after your boarding pass is checked you go up an escalator to the second floor.
Near the entrance there’s a business centre with printing and phone charging facilities.
There’s also locker storage. It’s a useful feature that I wish they’d add in the Silver Kris lounge in Singapore.
And before anyone says “but there are too many people transiting in Singapore”, consider Turkish Airlines and their gargantuan baggage storage area at their hub in IST. It can be done.
The lounge has an on-premise spa, but treatments are not complimentary, nor are they cheap.
Here’s the spa menu- a 60 minute treatment would set you back 120 euros. I don’t think I saw anyone in the lounge taking this up (for what it’s worth, if you recall my First Class Terminal report in Frankfurt this is the same company that provides spa services for all Lufthansa facilities. I didn’t see a treatment room in the FCT so I assume they cart you over here if you want a treatment)
The first order of business was to freshen up, so I asked for a shower cubicle. I sound like a broken record here, but dammit, I’m going to make noise until this gets fixed- why can’t SQ have individual shower cubicles in its flagship lounges. Hopefully when the Singapore lounges are redone in the new “Home” theme this will be fixed, but I’m not holding my breath.
Lufthansa’s shower rooms are quite spartan but get the job done. I suppose that’s a summary for Germany as a whole.
Amenities are on-request only, unfortunately. I much preferred the layout in the ANA lounge where everything you could possibly need (shaver, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb) was already waiting for you. Here I had to explain in broken German to the shower attendant that I needed a toothbrush. By which I mean I mimed every action.
The shower has nifty button controls, but the toiletries are pump dispenser material. Water pressure and temperature was great.
There is plenty of seating in the lounge and even though this was a peak period, it was still easy to find space
I ended up locating near the bar, which was already serving drinks in full flow despite the early hour.
I knew more great food awaited on the FRA-SIN leg so I didn’t want to fill up, but went over to take photos of the spread anyway.
The food was definitely breakfast oriented but there were still some interesting choices. I mean, if you want passion fruit cake at 9 in the morning who am I to stop you.
I don’t think anything particularly jumped out at me, not least the buffet. Staring at the gloopy mess in front of me, I suddenly understood why the Germans invaded France.
The drinks selection was much better, fortunately. There was a sunken chiller of still and sparkling water plus bottled beer.
But why would you want bottled beer when you can pour yourself a draft beer?
Fountain drinks were also served. I see more and more lounges moving towards using a fountain as opposed to individual cans to minimize wastage and discourage people from taking stuff out of the lounge.
Several white and red wines were available, including a sparking Riesling
The buffet may have disappointed but there were fun touches as well, like a kids corner.
A reader told me that I should check out the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge in Frankfurt because it was much superior, but I totally forgot about it in my jetlagged state. Do have a read of that trip report I linked to if you’re interested because it does look slightly better.
It was time to start the last leg of the journey back to Singapore, and see the Suites cabin in a different light. Morning light, as it were.
It’s relevant to consider this question even if your primary currency is Krisflyer miles, because of the several sweet spots we’ve discussed on the Star Alliance award chart. Also, if you’re a Lifemiles buyer, you might be in a position to choose between First and Business Class on the airlines below (and at 78,000 for a one-way business class ticket from Singapore to the States versus 99,000 for first class, it’s not always a simple choice!)
Here are some airlines where I’ve flown both First and Business Class and my observations on whether First Class is worth the premium.
Thai is a confusing one because it has 3 different types of Business Class products across its widebody fleet. If you’re on their A380s or 77Ws, you get a 1-2-1 full flat configuration. These are good enough seats in and of themselves, but because of the layout of the cabin you will have 2 couples seats every other row (see the second photo below) which can be super awkward if you don’t know your seatmate.
If you’re on the 747, A330, A340, 772 or 773, you get the old angled flat seat. This seat is definitely not worth redeeming your hard earned miles for. It is very open with little privacy, and you can just feel yourself sliding off it in the second photo…
If you’re on their newest 787 Dreamliner, you get a 2-2-2 full flat configuration. These aircraft do not offer First Class.
This is the same seat I reviewed previously on my IAH-GRU flight on United. I thought it was a comfortable enough seat but it scores no points for the loss of privacy from having a seatmate even at the sides. It’s definitely a step up from the angled flat product, and I would think long and hard about whether I’d spend my miles on this if it were my only option (and try to get one of the centre 2 seats so I’d have unobstructed aisle access)
Now, Thai only offers First Class on its A380, 747 and A340 aircraft (which, as per my understanding, are not flying anymore)
If you’re on the A380, you’ll get this
On the 747, you will either get the new First Class product (which, to add to confusion, is not the same as the First Class product on the A380) with 9 seats in the cabin. This is the product I reviewed recently on my journey to New York.
Or you will be suay and get the old “pod” version with 10 seats in the cabin. If it’s any consolation these are mainly operated on domestic routes- I’ve flown HKT-BKK on a 747-400 before.
Therefore, if you’re on any aircraft other than the A380, it’s a straightforward decision to go for First Class over Business if you want a flat seat. If you’re on the A380 you’ll need to decide whether you value the additional privacy and service of a Suite over the 1-2-1 business flat configuration.
As for other parts of the inflight experience- I thought the F&B experience in F was very mediocre. On an overnight flight to Tokyo this was the sum total of the dining experience. It is as every bit as appetizing as it looks. At least they served Dom…
Service wise I didn’t sense much of a difference between First and Business. It was perfectly functional, if not lacking the same warmth you find in Asian crews (it could have been the language barrier)
Of course it’s also relevant to consider the ground experience. Thai’s Royal Orchid Spa in BKK is split into 2 sections where J passengers get a choice of a 30 min back or foot massage, and F passengers get a choice of a 1 hour full body massage. Some people feel this is worth the one time splurge. I think it’s certainly novel to get a spa treatment in an airport, but if you’re in Bangkok anyway…
I like Thai on the whole, but I think their product just doesn’t have the same aura or premium feel that other Asian Airlines (SQ, NH, BR) has. If I had to choose between First and Business on Thai, I’d still try and spring for First, but I would ideally try and see if other airines with award space plied the route as well.
The new business class seat is a welcome step up from the old angled flat one, which I had the misfortune of encountering on a long haul flight from MUC-GRU.
It kind of reminds me of Thai’s old business class in a way.
The new seat, on the other hand, is a marked improvement over the old one.
However, as much of an improvement as the new business class seat is, it’s hardly industry leading. It’s in a 2-2-2 configuration, without all-aisle access. To make matters worse, the way the seats are designed make it inevitable that at some point you’re going to be playing footsie with your neighbour. If you’re in the window seat, it’s difficult to access the loo without waking up the person in the aisle.
Lufthansa is planning to launch a new Business Class product in 2020 which will be common across Austrian, Lufthansa and Swiss (all of which are owned by Lufthansa), and hopefully this should see them going with a 1-2-1 configuration
So even though Business is full flat, I still feel there’s a case to be made for splurging on First when it comes to Lufthansa.
Here’s the First Class seat for comparison
Lufthansa’s First Class seat is amazing- it has a full range of lounging positions and deploys into one of the most comfortable beds I’ve had in the sky (second only to the SQ Suites bed in my opinion)
F&B wise, in Business Class you’ll get hearty if unspectacular food. Here are some of the items I had from BOM-MUC and MUC-GRU.
That said, the culinary options in First Class are, in my opinion, only a marginal step up from Business. For instance, you’ll get Taittinger vintage champagne
And a full caviar service, with all the traditional garnishes
But the rest of the meal was very mediocre and unappetizing. Lufthansa could learn a thing or two about plating.
So I think that I’d only spring for Lufthansa F if it were departing out of FRA, just to get the FCT experience. That’s purely a once off thing, though. Subsequently, I think I’d be ok with Business if I were able to get one of the two seats in the centre or if I were flying with a companion.
ANA is one my absolute favourite airlines for travel in any class. And presents to me a rare conundrum- both the business class and first class are such great products that I could easily justify going for either.
Here is ANA’s business class (you can read full reviews here and here) seat.
The seat is extremely comfortable and private. It extends into a full flat bed. Every seat has aisle access. If your goal is to get there with a good rest, this product is good enough.
The catering in ANA business class is not to be sniffed at either. On my flight from Bombay to Tokyo the menu was designed by the Taj.
The champagne on offer is Canard-Duchene, but they also have a great selection of other drinks including premium Japanese sakes.
Service wise ANA is excellent in all cabin classes and I’d be hard pressed to say that First is necessarily much better than Business.
ANA First Class offers a sleeper suit, Krug champagne and caviar service at meals (albeit as condiment and not a proper course in and of itself, like on Lufthansa. Or maybe that was just the flight I was on)
Your meals will be multi-course Japanese wonders. To be honest I didn’t care for most of the items but that’s because I’m a philistine. I’m sure a true gourmand would appreciate them. Frankly I was happy enough with the simpler meals in Business.
Ground services wise is where there isn’t much of a difference. I don’t think ANA’s First Class lounge is a big improvement over their Business. They’re both perfectly alright but they’re not worth arriving early for. The photos below are the First Class lounge.
And these are the business class lounge photos. It’s pretty much the same, sans champagne.
For me, I’m happy enough with ANA’s J product to grab it immediately when I see availability on Lifemiles. I would splurge on F if it were a special occasion, but as good as that product is it’s really more like icing on the cake.
Let’s be honest- picking between First and Business Class is probably the biggest first world problem there is. But still, you’ve worked hard to earn those miles, so you might as well stretch them.
This is but a small sample of the products out there, but I hope it gives you a better idea on what the gap is between First and Business class on other airlines.
The Milelion is embarking on a round the world trip over the next 4 weeks to more than 10 different countries. En route I will be doing reviews of different airlines and hotels. This will be one really, really long trip report. Thanks for keeping me company.
After an amazing 3 hours in the FCT, it was time to sober up and head for Riyadh. Our driver had taken us right to the A330 on the tarmac, and after taking an elevator up to the aerobridge level we boarded the plane.
I’ve only flown first class with two airlines before, SQ and ANA. But based on those experiences I can already see why people would be willing to pay a premium over business class (or at least a miles premium, if not a cash one). The seat is definitely an upgrade over business class, as is the catering and service. I think the case is even stronger when the airline has a less competitive business class, as is the case of Lufthansa and its 2-2-2 business class.
Lufthansa recently finished installing its new first class on all its aircraft, which was more than overdue given how uncompetitive its old first class seat was.
Its new first class is a much more modern offering, with lovely wood finishes and a less dense seating configuration. The 747-400 version even features a separate bed in the upper deck, whereas on other aircraft the seat converts into a bed.
I was very intrigued to see how the Lufthansa first class experience compared to SIA’s. Would they be able to display the same level of obsessive attention to detail? How would cold German efficiency meld with the need to exude warmth and not rush the passenger? And would the catering in the air match that on the ground? I was about to find out.
We were greeted by the chief stewardess Astrid at the door. “Good afternoon Mr Wong! We’ve been expecting you!” Presumably the FCT calls ahead to let the aircraft know the passengers is on the way, but it was a nice touch nonetheless.
My colleague was spirited away to the relative squalor of business class where she would be tormented by 2-2-2 seating and non-vintage champagne. I’m a bit divided about Lufthansa’s business class- it’s a (relatively) new product but 2-2-2 just doesn’t cut it in today’s environment.
Plus, the design of the product is such that some seats will have footsie opportunities.
It’s a bit telling that Lufthansa has only just finished retrofitting all its aircraft with the new business class, yet they’re already thinking ahead to 2020 when they’re replacing the current generation of product. Hopefully they’ll go with a 1-2-1 configuration then.
Anyway, that wasn’t my problem today.
Astrid showed me to 1A and said “You’re the only passenger in First Class today so feel free to sit wherever you want”
I was delighted because this meant easier photo taking. It’s always difficult to take photos in a crowded cabin, because our post 911 paranoia has made it such that anyone taking photos of the seat power sockets must surely be a security risk.
Lufthansa makes a point of labeling each of its cabins with a sign upfront, so no one can make the excuse that they didn’t know they were in the wrong cabin. Presumably.
The cabin doesn’t look very private on first glance, because of the open nature of the seats (versus SQ’s first class design where it’s hard to take a cross cabin shot like this because of the high walls of each seat) However, the seats all have individual privacy dividers that can be raised which makes it much better.
Each suite has a foot locker that provides adequate storage for shoes or a small bag (mine had a bit of an ugly discoloration as you can see in the photo)
In one armrest was the seat controller, which has an optical trackpad but for some reason lacks fast forward buttons.
The other armrest had the seat controls
Each seat had 2 USB charging ports and 2 power plugs. Quite impressive considering I’ve never seen more than 1 power plug in an airline seat (or had need for more than 1)
The amenities kit was by a German brand called Bogner. I liked the weighty, high quality feel to the bag. The contents were rather lacking though- socks, eyeshades, comb, earplugs and toothbrush kit. It’s still much better than SQ’s disappointing amenities kits though, which only have cologne, lip balm, moisturizer and a wet tissue (yes, I know you can get toothbrushes in the loo)
Even though this was a day flight, PJs were offered. That’s a definite plus, I can’t remember if SQ offers PJs on daytime first class flights but i suspect they do not.
Here’s what the PJs look like on a very well-toned man.
Headphones are Bose QC-15, the gold standard for any airline. SQ has the same offering (although Finnair has QC-25s in their business class cabin)
Pre-departure drinks were served. The champagne on offer was a vintage Tattinger, 2007. This is of course nowhere near the Krug or Dom that is standard in SQ’s first class, but I honestly think if I tasted them all blind my palate isn’t sophisticated enough to tell the difference.
They served warm nuts while still on the ground, another nice touch.
I believe SQ doesn’t serve anything to eat until you’re in the air (Cathay has gone with an interesting little amuse bouche that they serve on the ground- see here)
The inflight catalogue was brought around. I’m a big fan of German design but most of the items were way out of my price range sadly. Apparently there are some good deals to be found on Rimowa luggage if you’re into that sort of thing.
A choice of magazines was offered too
In Bloomberg Businessweek there was a piece on the hilarious feud between Delta and Qatar Airways. No one trolls like Akbar Al Baker.
They would be serving a late lunch on this flight, although you have the option to dine any time you want.
Our captain came on the PA to apologise for a delay with the pushback because of some late-loading luggage. It really didn’t bother me because Astrid was liberally refilling my champagne glass.
While we waited we chatted about going to Saudi. It was the first time I’d been there and I’d heard the usual litany of horror stories about people getting arrested for having prescription drugs or mouthwash that had alcohol in it or bibles.
She assured me it was nothing like that, though the female flight crew would pretty much just shack up in the hotel during their turnarounds and wait for it to be over. No gym for them, no swimming pool, certainly no runs to the mall. She also advised me that they might check random people’s phones for, shall we say, intimate photos, and it would be a good idea to ensure such material did not exist. I still cannot decide if she was giving that as generic advice or she saw something in me.
We eventually pushed back and taxied about a 20 minute delay. It was surprisingly light traffic for FRA and we were airborne within another 10 minutes.
Immediately after takeoff Astrid came around and asked me when I would like to dine. I was really feeling those many glasses of champagne so decided to take a nap first.
She had the bed behind my seat set up in less than 5 minutes, complete with duvet and a big thick blanket.
She also brought around a bottle of water as well.
The bed was excellent. I still think the best bed I ever had on an aircraft is the SQ Suites one, but this ran a very close second. It’s always going to be hard for a seat that converts into a bed (Lufthansa) to compete against a purpose-built bed (SQ Suites), but I still had a very comfortable 2 hour nap.
After waking I went to the bathroom to freshen up. The bathroom isn’t particularly big, although this is a fault common to many airline’s first class. I get that there are space constraints, but when you see what Emirate/Etihad do for their first class bathrooms you wonder why other airlines can’t do something similar.
There was quite the bounty of toiletries inside, which I used to supplement my already full amenities kit. Those Evian sprays are lovely.
Astrid came around to take my meal order. She asked me what garnishes I’d like with my caviar. I honestly didn’t know what garnishes go with caviar, but I was not about to expose my uncultured ways. “Surprise me!” I said.
A small serving of what I think was guacamole and salmon tartare was served before the caviar.
Then the table was set up. The butter had a little first class stamp on it, which made it taste superior to butter with a business class stamp on it.
Then came a very generous portion of caviar, together with white onion, lemon, egg yolk, egg white and creme fraiche. So this is what people eat with caviar, I thought to myself as I used the wrong spoon to shovel it into my mouth.
I do enjoy the flavor of caviar. I mean, I’m not going to pay silly money to eat it outside of an aircraft, but I can appreciate it for what it is- overpriced fish eggs. For those of you who do enjoy such things, it’s worth checking out this episode of The F Word with Gordon Ramsay where he sees how caviar is farmed, and they open up a fish and there’s a ton of caviar inside. Quite food pornish.
My reading of other first class trip reports has led me to believe that all caviar must be served with a mother of pearl spoon. That was lacking here, but for the life of me I can’t remember if SQ has one either. It certainly didn’t diminish the experience for me, but I might just be a philistine that way.
Sadly the meal went downhill from there. I requested for the beef, which was described as
Tenderloin of Beef with Eggplant Ragout and spiced Potato Mash
Could we get a perfect medium rare, in first class, out of Lufthansa’s homebase with DO&CO support?
No, no we could not.
The steak was tough and chewy. The sauce tasted like someone had dumped a whole lot of red wine into the marinade. I gave up after a few bites and asked for the fish instead.
Fried Turbot with Cherry Tomato Confit, grilled Leek, marinated Bell Pepper and Orange Rice
The fish was similarly unappetizing. The rice was hard, the fish was way overcooked and the vegetables were limp. Something just seemed wrong about the two meals, and then it struck me- the plating was nowhere near the standards of SQ. Here are two similar-ish dishes from SQ
See how much of a difference plating and color can add? The Lufthansa meals just looked very unappetizing from the get go. And the flavor wasn’t great either. Really disappointing, considering the DO&CO connection.
First Harvest Strawberries, Barvarian Cream and Strawberries in various Textures
This was slightly better. I get the whole “strawberries in various textures” thing (there was a fresh strawberry, strawberry sorbet, strawberry jam, strawberry whatchamacallit) but I’d have been a lot happier with just fresh strawberries. The solid barvarian cream was interesting though, it reminded me of white chocolate.
A chocolate menu was presented to me after desert
It was time to check out the IFE. Lufthansa has an extensive selection of entertainment but it was nowhere as large as Krisworld. However, they do have Live TV (it wasn’t working on this flight) which is an innovation I’d like to see very soon on SIA. I believe during the 2014 World Cup it was indeed possible to watch Sport 24 and various live matches on SQ, but that hasn’t become a permanent thing.
None of the movies or TV programs really appealed to me, but I was happy to see they had the Fairly Oddparents under the kids section. I love the Fairly Oddparents, it’s probably second only to Spongebob Squarepants for subversive humour and subtle adult jokes. Unfortunately, this was entirely dubbed in German.
I ended up seeing out the flight staring at this awesome spherical thing while I sipped champagne glass number 25 (I lost count at this point in time)
Before long we were approaching the bright lights of that cosmopolitan metropolis called Riyadh. Ah, the wonders of oil wealth.
We landed slightly behind schedule because of our delayed pushback. One thing to note about Riyadh, for the benefit of those of you who will have the distinct privilege of visiting, is that the immigration queues are a joke. When I arrived the queue was easily 200+ people long. The trick is that there really are two lines- one for migrant workers and one for everyone else (read: white people). Just go for the white people line, even if it’s your first time entering the country (the line is labeled: re-entry only but there is zero semblance of a system). There is no priority queue for first/business class passengers, at least officially, but showing your boarding pass to the immigration people quells any objections. I’m glad that for the first time in my Singaporean life I did not follow the signs, because that queue was just insane.
My overall thoughts? In the air, Lufthansa First Class, as good as the hard product is, will not be challenging SQ anytime soon. SQ’s hard product is still much superior, as is its catering (both alcohol and food). I would say service was as good as SQ’s. Lufthansa has a clearly superior ground product to SQ, however. Its FCT is something that SQ can never hope to (and I believe doesn’t want to) imitate, and that really elevates the entire experience. I would strongly encourage everyone to try and experience it at least once in their lives. If you collect SQ miles, flying FRA-DXB for 35,000 miles in F can’t be beat.
While we were waiting for the aerobridge to open, the passengers from the business class cabin moved forward into first class (the nerve of some people, I say!) to deplane. A really cute girl in an abaya chatted me up.
“Wow, you were the only passenger in first class? Does everyone get a rose?” (she gestured to the roses in the vases next to each seat- see this photo taken earlier)
The baller thing to do would have been to take out the rose and give it to her. But because no cute girl had ever spoken to me (voluntarily) before, I was convinced that this was a sting operation by the Saudi religious police, probably looking to entrap gullible hormonal men. Nice try, Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice!
So instead I stared at my shoes and mumbled something along the lines of “meet to please you”.
And on that high note, we shuffled off the plane into the 40 degree night heat of Riyadh.