The Milelion’s RTW Trip 2016: Trip Planning
Introduction: Around the world in 28 days
EVA Air B77W Business Class Singapore to Taipei
EVA Air B77W Business Class Taipei to Los Angeles
Avenue of the Arts Costa Mesa
Sheraton Gateway Los Angeles
United A319 First Class Los Angeles to Mexico City
Le Meridien Mexico City
United A319 First Class Mexico City to Houston
United B767 Business Class Houston to Sao Paulo
Sheraton Sao Paulo WTC
South African Airways A330 Business Class Sao Paulo to Johannesburg
Ten Bompas Johannesburg
Turkish Airlines A330 Business Class Johannesburg to Istanbul
Turkish Airlines A319 Business Class Istanbul to Zagreb
Croatia Airlines A319 Business Class Zagreb to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt
Lufthansa A330 First Class Frankfurt to Riyadh
Four Points Riyadh
Air India B77W Business Class Riyadh to Mumbai
St Regis Mumbai
ANA B787 Business Class Mumbai to Tokyo
Asiana A330 Business Class Tokyo to Seoul
Westin Chosun Seoul
W Walkerhill Seoul
Asiana B744 Business Class Seoul to Tokyo
ANA B787 Business Class Tokyo to Singapore
Visiting the Lufthansa First Class Terminal is a watershed moment for anyone who does what I do. It was my white whale, my El Dorado, my hyperbole. It would make all those hours spent planning, scheming and executing worth it. It would singlehandedly vindicate what I do. It would solve my crippling self-esteem problems and the strange recurring pain in my right arm. And today, it would finally be mine.
My flight from Zagreb had done its part, arriving at the gate ahead of schedule. Once the doors to the plane opened, I knew a countdown clock had started. My layover was slightly over four hours and those bubble baths weren’t going to take themselves.
Here’s a quick history lesson for the boffins among us. The Lufthansa FCT was opened to much fanfare in December 2004. It cost a surprisingly modest $39M to construct and was originally intended to handle 350 passengers a day (a figure I’m sure has since gone up many times). At the time, a BNP analyst who clearly had not discovered the miles and points game had this to say-
“It’s a service for pop stars and for the lucky few,” who can afford to pay €6,200 for a return ticket from Frankfurt to New York or €10,130 for a flight to Tokyo, said BNP Paribas analyst Nick van den Brul.
Now, it only cost me 28,000 miles to get access, but to be fair, that opportunity only existed because I was on a business class fare. Still, the FCT experience isn’t only reserved for those with deep pockets. For example, you could get access with 60,000 Lifemiles for a one-way FRA-BOM ticket. At 1.375 US cents per Lifemile, that’s about US$825. Is it the cheapest way of getting from FRA-BOM? Of course not. Is it totally unattainable? I would say no.
In typical German style, the FCT has one of the dullest websites you’ll ever see.
Seriously, whoever is doing their web design needs to get fired
The FCT was not originally designed for transit passengers, who are expected to use the First Class lounges within the transit area.
I’ve read trip reports of visits to the first class lounges in Frankfurt and they look good and everything, but it’s not what people pay to see. Besides, the only way to guarantee getting a ride on the tarmac to your plane is to go to the FCT (the lounge will provide it if you’re departing from a remote gate/ faraway gate in a different satellite). Therefore, I needed to clear immigration first.
So naturally, the line at FRA immigration was one of the longest I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, the immigration officials were of the same opinion, because they quickly opened up a few more booths and we were through in 20 minutes. It was now 1110 and time to start jogging.
My colleague was game enough to jog with me. I had beguiled her with numerous tales of the FCT and was starting to worry that I’d oversold it. But then again, she’s based in Boston and normally flies with United, so the concept that an airline would actually do something to increase the comfort of its passengers, let alone build an entire terminal, was entirely foreign to her.
There is a lot of construction going on outside Frankfurt Terminal 1, and if you don’t know where you’re going it can get messy. Fortunately I had watched a video beforehand with walking directions to the FCT
You exit the terminal from area A. Keep looking for signs for “A”.
Exit is on the arrivals level. Once out the door, turn left and keep walking. You’ll be walking against the flow of traffic. At some parts you’ll need to walk on the road because the passageway is blocked.
On your left you’ll see the taxi waiting area
You know you’re almost there when you see the taxi driver cafe on your right.
And lo and behold, it appears. The Lufthansa First Class terminal. 1,800 square meters of bliss.
I wept, I cried, I sang songs of jubilation. Then I crossed the road carefully, because to get hit by a car right now would probably be the Murphiest Lawiest thing that could happen.
Don’t expect anyone to greet you on the ground floor, because remember, this isn’t the official way to get to the FCT. Those who depart from FRA will drive up to the driveway on the second floor, where they’ll be greeted by the host.
Instead, you get into the lift and go up one floor to the reception. This is where the magic happens.
The receptionist was bubbly and chirpy. She saw the tissue paper boarding pass I had been given in ZGB airport and said “no, no, this will not do” before printing out a proper Lufthansa cardstock one.
She then apologetically asked us if we would wait 2 minutes for our host to come out and fetch us. That gave me time to look at some of the memorabilia on the wall, including this
Our host came out of the lounge to welcome us. She escorted us to the security checkpoint, which exists purely to serve the FCT.
After security, just before you get into the lounge there’s a duty free shop and a duck display to the left of the sliding door. What I would pay for a bridal duck. Our host was very proud of the duck collection and said she’d get one for me as soon as we were seated. Unfortunately the Euro 2016 ducks would not be in for another week.
And then, with a flourish that rivaled Richard Attenborough’s “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, she opened the sliding doors and led us in.
As I entered, a thought struck me: does this report really need to be written? I asked myself. There are so many first class terminal trip reports in existence that you could click every word in this sentence and only cover a fraction of the total reports. What value can my report possibly add?
Well, how about a map?
Because the link to the floorplan on the Lufthansa website is busted, I’ve tried to map out the FCT in as much detail as I can remember. I may have gotten some minor details like the number of shower cubicles wrong, but I think everything else is pretty much there.
My first impression was that the place is a lot smaller than I originally envisioned. I guess I wasn’t reading all the other trip reports carefully because I kept thinking of a multi-storied building with different whims and pleasures satisfied on each floor.
Instead, the entire terminal has two floors. The ground floor is where you board your car to go to the aircraft, and you don’t really go there until the very last part. The entirety of your lounge experience is on the 2nd floor, where you can walk from one end of the terminal to the other in perhaps 40 seconds. That’s by no means a criticism; the place didn’t feel crowded at all the whole time we were there. It’s just that things are so often larger in your mind (giggity).
Here’s the view from the entrance. To the left are the work cubicles, to the right is the dining and relaxation area.
The first stop was the dining area, given that I purposely didn’t eat breakfast at the hotel or on the plane in anticipation of the FCT’s bounty.
We were seated and the menu was brought to us, along with VOSS water, the water that costs so much because you pay for the fancy glass bottle.
I was really surprised to find out that 90% of the items on the menu were actually on the buffet. I mean, don’t get me wrong the buffet was good quality, but I thought more items would be prepared on demand.
Here’s a runthrough of the buffet items. It was a really good spread, to be fair.
There was bread (fresh baked on site) with many different kinds of olive oils and dried fish/other traditional snacks
Some excellent house cured smoked salmon
And even a parma ham slicer
The hot food section had a choice of
- Fillet of beef tipps with pepper
- Homemade gnocchi with oven roasted tomatoes and sage
- Black cod with sauteed soy and tomato vegetables
- Spicy chili chicken with basmati rice and pineapple chutney
- Linguine con Gamberetti
A very substantial desert section too
I put together two plates for myself to sample all the offerings. The cod in particular was great, flaky and oily.
Similarly, the prawn pasta, beef tips and asparagus was excellent. No one does it like DO&CO.
The only item that was prepared to order was the soup though. It’s an asparagus cappuccino which tastes as fancy as it sounds.
And because I am pathologically boring, I skipped all the fancy deserts and went for vanilla ice cream.
I was very happy with the food quality, but the service in the restaurant was lackadaisical. Drinks glasses went empty for long periods, only refilled upon request. The waiter told me a particular dish on the buffet didn’t have cheese in it when it later did (I’m not allergic to it, I just don’t like it, but I could see this being a big problem for someone who was). And in general the staff there were nowhere as pleasant as the ones at the reception. I mean they weren’t rude by any means, just cold. No smiles, no personal introductions, no suggestions.
While we were eating, our host came back with a duck. Unfortunately I got a garden variety silver one. But I still decided that he was very special to me and I would give him a snooty name like Mr Duckford.
It only seemed appropriate to offer Mr Duckford a drink. So we requested the bar menu. It was about 30 pages long and started with a choice of 15 types of water
I’m going to post each and every one of those pages so you understand the sheer magnitude of choice available.
I decided right then and there that it was my solemn duty to try each and every type of the 5 champagnes available.
The first was the grand daddy of them all, the only vintage champagne on offer, Ayala Blanc de Blanc 2007. It was a full-bodied and bright brut, with subtle hints of French migratory patterns and an aftertaste that evoked memories of a long history of successive defeats in global conflicts.
Then a rose by Louis Roederer, also a brut from Reims. This one had a lush and floral bouquet, with an ethereal hint of fresh violets and a concluding note of Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
I shifted to the bar in anticipation of the third glass.
The third glass arrived, Ruinart “R”. At this point in time I couldn’t be bothered to make up descriptions anymore, so I declared this glass to be bubbly. But the good kind of bubbly, not the kind that fat people use to describe themselves. I’m allowed to make that joke because of my ever expanding spare tire.
In between the third and fourth glasses, I surveyed the bar. Here was a drinks selection to end all drinks selections. There was so much available they couldn’t even fit it all on the display shelf
There was also a huge gummy bear selection
While I sipped the fourth glass, Bollinger Special Cuvee, I wondered why SQ wouldn’t even consider having something like this. Yes, their hard product in the air was superior to Lufthansa’s, but their ground services were sorely lacking.
Even TPR could not compare to the FCT. They didn’t even have self-contained, private shower cubicles in their lounges (the showers are within the toilets itself). Their alcohol selection was nowhere as good as the FCT. To be fair, TPR’s catering was probably just as good (if not slightly better than) the FCT, but SQ’s attitude towards the whole thing was more of a “oh well everyone’s doing it” rather than something truly innovative. TPR was opened long after the FCT did, and for the first few years wasn’t even available to award passengers. It is still not available to SQ’s top tier elites (versus how the FCT is available to HON members). My wishlist for SQ’s first class lounge in SG now has spa, airport transfer, dine on demand for all (instead of just TPR) and games room on it. Yeah, I’m still tipsy from the champagne.
I decided to take the fifth and final glass, Louis Roederer Premier, by the window to enjoy the view.
The view was absolutely stunning. I was inspired by the Brutalist architecture, the angular boxes, the straight lines, the vivid statement the view was making on our reinforced concrete society. The artfully placed carpark reminded me of our simultaneous obsession with status and mobility, and the green chain-link fence was obvious social commentary on the divide between the haves and have nots.
I was completely high at this point in time.
Fifth glass done and mission accomplished, I thought it was a good idea to take a bath in my current tipsy state. Alcohol always leads to good ideas, kids.
The first bathroom I was given didn’t have a tub. I was horrified. I thought all bathrooms had tubs in them but apparently not. I have marked the offending cubicle on my map. A quick word with the attendant rectified the situation and a proper spa cubicle was obtained.
The spa cubicles are really large and spacious. They’re equipped with toilets too, and everything was done in very subtle marble finishes.
The toiletries are Etro-branded. Apparently this is a big deal because these are the same toiletries you’ll find at the Four Seasons and other upmarket properties.
There was a new duck waiting for me, whom was dubbed Mr Duckford the Second, esq.
I turned on the tap and started to run the bath. Protip: it takes about 15 minutes to fill up, so you’d best make it the first thing to start when you get into the room.
The tub full, I sank into the hot water. All was well with the world. I took a few more photos in the tub but the Federal Communications Act of 1987 and various indecency statutes forbid me from publishing them. Maybe I’ll start a paywall with a members only section.
On the center table that separated the bar from the rest of the lounge was a selection of fruit. Cherries were in season, delightfully.
There was also a guestbook, which I signed. There’s a prize awaiting whichever Milelion reader can snap a photo of it. The prize may or may not be the bathtub pictures.
On the left hand side of the terminal there were work cubicles. I was shocked that anyone would actually be able to do work here, but apparently there are many Lufthansa Senator members who fly out of FRA for work every day. I once read that the true mark of a baller was someone who goes up to the bar in the FCT and says “just water please”.
There were many areas to sit and lounge. I was having trouble connecting to the WiFi network. I asked one of the staff for help but after poking around a bit he couldn’t do anything either. Which is fair enough, he’s not a tech guy by training, but the least I would have expected him to do is call someone else who is to come over and try and fix it, not just apologise and walk away. That was again another jarring experience considering that this was supposed to be the mecca of service.
There were two day rooms in the FCT for anyone who wanted to take a nap.
If there’s one thing missing from the FCT, it’s a spa. I found a spa menu lying on one of the tables, but the treatments are on a paid-for basis and I assume they need to drive you to the main terminal for this. Which was a shame because I was long overdue for a waxing.
I paid a visit to the duty free shop which has the usual assortment of clothing, luggage, fragrances and of course alcohol
20 minutes before our flight was due to depart, our host came to find us. It was time to head down to the first floor and board our ride for the aircraft. She asked me how our experience was. I told her it was amazing, my colleague said she could never fly with United again.
As mentioned before, you get driven to your plane on the tarmac from the FCT. There are two transportation options- a Mercedes S Class and a Porsche Panamera. Everyone tries to go with the Porsche but I didn’t really have a preference. It’s not like the driver can do donuts on the tarmac or floor it anyway.
Our driver was really cheerful and told us it’d only take about five minutes to get to the aircraft. I told him to drive slowly. He laughed.
Access to the tarmac is through a gate just besides the FCT. It was sort of surreal to be driving on the tarmac with A380s and 777s taxiing around us. I snapped plenty of airplane photos and the driver obligingly halted at various points on the tarmac when I wanted to snap something.
All too soon, we arrived at our A330 that would bring us to Riyadh. I was beginning to wonder if I should have had that 5th glass of champagne.
I managed to snap a photo with a Turkish Airlines jet in the background before we entered the jetbridge through a lift.
The Lufthansa FCT was on the whole an excellent experience. However, there were several service issues that prevented it from being flawless, especially in the dining department. And deep down I suspect that it might get a bit boring if you had to stay more than 5 hours (although there is the very excellent option to rent a Porsche 911 for 99 Euros (gas included) for 3 hours that I would definitely have taken up if on a longer layover.
I sincerely hope all of you have the opportunity to try the FCT at least once. Try and work it into one of your trips, if you’re ever in Europe. Apart from the Lifemiles method I mentioned earlier, you can also redeem one way First Class from Europe to the Middle East for only 35,000 Krisflyer miles. FRA-DXB would be a good idea, perhaps? Remember that Lufthansa First Class space is pretty reliable within 2 weeks of departure.
Now it was time to see how Lufthansa’s First Class experience stacked up to the SQ gold standard.