Saturday, October 27, 2012

Helsinki – Munich – Tokyo Lufthansa Business Class A340-600 and A320 Review

After an enlightening conversation about customer experience management, I was heading from Helsinki to Munich and then off to Tokyo.  Lufthansa recently implemented a new strategy to upgrade the intra-European flight experience, upgrading seats and meals in business class and coach.  The improvements are a stunning innovation in the inflight experience.  The seats are super slim line; the seat backs have been redesigned to create more room for your knees.  The seats are comfortable too, at least for the two hour flight.  The rows are actually closer together than before (with one or two more rows on board), but it feels like there is more space in the cabin. The business class seats are the same as coach in size in pitch (distance to the row in front), but you have an empty middle seat every time (the flight wasn't full, so I had an empty row).
Lufthansa A320 Business Class Seats
Everyone gets something to eat, even in coach.  Lunch in business class was really tasty and had a great variety of flavors.  The portions were not large, but it felt more filling and satisfying that the standard large United offering.  The meal consisted of tatar of smoked trout on beetroot slices, ragout fin with mussels and basmati vegetable rice, and lime-blossom pudding with mulberry jam (yes, they included a menu).  All were delicious and accompanied by attentive service.  I doubt these are much more expensive or more difficult to prepare than domestic meals and I wish United will follow Lufthansa’s lead.
Lufthansa A320 Business Class Meal
The Munich Airport ground experience (in the new international terminal) has a great visual design with a modern German look, but it also includes an excessive amount of walking.  I first had to walk to customs to leave the EU (there is an elite lane at the far end).  I then walked a bit to the Lufthansa Senator lounge.  I enjoyed some pleasant German snacks and some local beer.  The lounge is a great place to relax even if for only 15 minutes, like my travels for example (tight connection + excessive walking).  I grabbed an ice cream to go, did some duty free shopping (got a cool poster by of all the different planes that fly out of MUC), and arrived at the gate just in time for the start of boarding.
Lufthansa Senator Lounge - Munich
The seat map online showed the rear business class cabin only had four other people in it.  This is great news because the plane wouldn't feel crowded like on my flight from Denver.  I had open seats all around a sense of privacy.  I would be the last for dinner and drink service, so I risked some options not being available, but I think it is worth it for the secluded environment.  
Quiet family on other side of cabin and many open seats
The business class seats (ditto first class) on Lufthansa's fleet of A340's and A330's are dated. So much so that Lufthansa has started to slowly replace them.  I was not fortunate enough to fly in the new layout, but instead became very familiar with angled lay flat seats.  They can be a comfortable chair, but they are awful as a bed.  The seats are a little too firm and are at a ~30 degree to the floor, so you slide out of them.  The tv is a good size and full of movies and shows you actually want to watch (it did break for about 20 minutes, the seat controls are on the same system and were inoperable).  Luckily Lufthansa's service is superb, so the flight was enjoyable.
Lufthansa A340-600 Business Class Seats
Lufthansa A340 Business Class Leg Room
Broken AVOD Screen, the Seat Controls Also Froze
I wanted to start my transition to an Eastern mentality on the flight and (daringly) ordered the Japanese meal to start.  The flight attendants brought me a fork too, I didn't even need to ask.  When the tray arrived I felt a little perplexed with what was in front of me.  I must have looked perplexed too because the flight attendant offered to explain what was before me and how it worked.  I also got a few pretzel rolls (and more Johnny Walker Black) just in case.  The meal was very tasty and there were some new flavors and textures for me.  The eel (upper left) was outstanding.
Lufthansa Business Class Japanese Meal pt 1
After reading the menu to know what I just ate (best done after eating Japanese food, not before), I was looking forward to my next course.  I was hoping to have the Western meal for my main dish, but was told I couldn't switch half way. I was a little disappointed that this wasn't mentioned when ordering, but resigned to a fate of further adventure.  I wasn't keen on the soup, but the fried duck and rice were excellent.  I went farther outside my comfort zone than planned and enjoyed the experience.  
Lufthansa Business Class Japanese Dinner pt 2
After a movie and less than comfortable rest, I opted for the Western breakfast before landing.  It was all very good and my last safe meal (or so I thought) before I landed in LA three days later.  
Lufthansa Business Class Western Breakfast
Once I landed and cleared customs, I headed to buy a ticket for the Narita Express train.  Cabs are crazy expensive, so the train is the way to go.
Narita Express Train

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