I recently flew aboard two Lufthansa Boeing 747-8s. In doing so I was able to cross off a longstanding item on my AvGeek to-do list. Like most (all?) AvGeeks, I have long had a passion for the 747. Sure, there are plenty of great planes flying today, but there’s something about the Queen of the Skies that is inexplicably special. Despite having admired the 747 for the greater part of my life, this was the first time I flew aboard one. Did I mention it was upstairs in business class, both ways? This is the stuff AvGeek dreams are made of. I had extremely high expectations from years of envy and admiration. Let’s discuss how the queen held out, shall we?
We have a lot of great 747-8 content here on AirlineReporter, including multiple posts about Lufthansa’s own. We have pieces about pre-delivery, coverage of the delivery, the inaugural intercontinental flight, and 747-8 business class reviews from three different writers, but nothing from the perspective of a first-time 747 flyer. I think that’s where I come in.
Eagle-eyed readers may recall I hinted at saving up my United MileagePlus miles for a trip aboard Lufthansa’s 747-8 in my MileagePlux X review late last year. When AirlineReporter offered the chance to travel to Frankfurt (and Malta!) to cover the launch of Lufthansa’s newest IFC product, I knew this would be a big opportunity. What I didn’t know at the time was that I would be flying in business both ways, which was a major score.
Lufthansa 747-8 Business Class Review- Departing Washington Dulles:
While this was my first 747 flight, I have a good bit of wide-body experience in various classes. One fun quirk about boarding twin-aisle planes is that often times two gates are used. To my delight, this is the routine for the Lufthansa 747-8 at Dulles. The majority of the plane would board via sections at one gate, while business and first class passengers would board via a separate gate. I managed to score seat 84H, which at first glance sounds like it would have been way in the back. However, the extremely high row numbers on the Lufthansa 747-8 are assigned to the upper deck, affording passengers an extra special experience.
Being among the first to board a 364-seat plane afforded sufficient time for our flight attendants to provide two rounds of pre-departure beverages. When it came time for the flight attendants to take their seats I was surprised to see them in rear-facing seats directly in front of me, in row 84. Note: The crew was great, but folks may want to avoid the 84 H&K seat cluster to avoid awkwardness associated with exchanging “I’m trying to not stare at you” glances back and forth with the crew during their various “down” periods. After all, in Germany, people stare at you.
The weather up and down the east coast was poor this day. My fianc had departed Dulles for Boston on a narrow-body a few minutes before us and complained of turbulence. Another perk of flying on a wide is that turbulence is subdued. Despite the generally terrible weather, our takeoff wasn’t bad. Rather than the jerkiness one would commonly associate with turbulence, this felt more like a large boat masterfully slicing through the waves. It was an interesting experience, to say the least.
Sitting near the front of the plane, and up top, the noise from the Lufthansa 747-8’s four engines was muted. The sound was almost lost to background white-noise of air moving across the fuselage which the upper level of the 747 is noted for. For comparison, this is similar to the sound of the wind against a window in advance of a storm. Not scary, but certainly noticeable.
Once airborne I was anxious to explore my seat and the in-flight entertainment. First thing’s first: Find the headphone jack. But where? It wasn’t in any of the obvious places one would intuitively think to look. An announcement overhead said to see the magazine for entertainment options. Despite great detail about the wide variety of entertainment content available, the magazine failed to mention where the headphone jack was, or provide even basic familiarization detail about the seat or controls. I spent a good bit of time looking for the headphone jack (as did some of my fellow passengers) but then the lights in the cabin went out. The passenger service unit above my seat seemed to support light, but how to get the lights to turn on wasn’t terribly obvious. No button, that’s for sure. It was well past sunset so I found myself (and others) using smartphone flashlights to illuminate our various personal exploration missions.
The oldest Lufthansa 747-8 birds are only a few years old. There didn’t appear to be a remote for the IFE. I assumed tapping the screen would summon the user interface and provide an opportunity to view a tutorial about the seat, how to control the lights, and where the ever elusive headphone jack might be. The screen didn’t respond to touch. After a solid 15 minutes of pure confusion (most of it in the dark) I gave up, embarrassed and defeated. I’m an accomplished AvGeek, but this non-intuitive and completely undocumented seat had gotten the best of me. I would have rung the flight attendant call button in an effort to “phone a friend,” but that too seemed hidden.
When the cabin lights were brought back 45 minutes into the flight I noticed the fellow across the aisle had a remote control lying across his chest. Armed with the knowledge that a remote control existed I began my hunt, more focused and determined than before. I found the remote hidden under the armrest. Finally! This single discovery was the key to all of the features I had been looking for, including USB power and the headphone jack that had been missing long enough for the search and rescue mission to have long been called off. My USB plug was loose and provided no power. I had brought my own power, though, so that was the least of my concerns.
I prearranged for a vegetarian or pescetarian-friendly meal for my original outbound leg, but weather challenges prevented me from making that particular flight. This worked to my advantage because Lufthansa seems to have put a lot of thought into making their standard offerings flexible to the needs of a variety of passengers. While not the best meal I’ve had on a plane (that goes to Star Alliance-partner Turkish Airlines) this food was flavorful, aesthetically appealing, and was served at the correct temperature with well-timed cadence. I can offer no criticism other than to say it doesn’t compare to the over the top gluttonous service offered aboard Turkish. The meal and the service very much held its own and was still far ahead of what I have personally witnessed and read about aboard our home-grown U.S. carriers.
Post-meal I returned to exploring the IFE system with the aid of the ever-crucial remote control and found plenty of content to keep me entertained. One note, the screen seemed to be lower resolution than I would have expected on a new plane. The flight info menu, in particular, was fuzzier than modern-day expectations and technology should allow. Not a deal-breaker but another quirk added to a growing list of missed expectations.
A major redemption to the hard product was the comfort of the lie-flat seat and the ability to lower the armrest. This made for a comfortable nap as we made our trek across the Atlantic. Before I knew it, the lights were raised again and it was time for a quick breakfast.
Breakfast was a one-size-fits-all offering, or as I would call it, WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get.) Even after discarding the meat, breakfast was satisfying. While I would have preferred some choice, I was not disappointed. The bread selection (which was not noted on the menu) was a real redeeming quality. The Germans are known for efficiency and fine cars, but somehow their expertise in baked goods seems to have been overlooked.
Lufthansa 747-8 Business Class Review- Frankfurt to Boston
I boarded my flight back to the states armed with the crucial knowledge of how the hard product worked. I couldn’t help but feel that I had been “read into” a secret, and was excited to exploit my newfound expertise. Headphone jack? Check. USB port? Check. Remote that controls the world? Check!
This flight was a mirror image of the one in, only the frustration of a non-intuitive and undocumented product was no longer an issue. By now I was a self-proclaimed expert and a master of an overly-complex product. For the flight home, I had a window seat which came with an unexpected advantage: A large cubby hole. Note: Not all Lufthansa business class seats are created equal. Go for the window, you’ll enjoy more room and be treated to an incredible view too.
At this point, I should note the excellence in service from the Lufthansa staff on both flights. They were present when I needed them (except during my confusion at the beginning) and left me to photograph every aspect of the flight with no interference say for an occasional look of amusement or confusion. In any case, the crew executed efficiently and flawlessly, as per expectation.
The vegetarian-friendly meal that I pre-ordered was fine, but I don’t think compared to the standard offering that I would have selected had I not been overly cautious. Now understanding the flexibility of the standard offering, should I find myself in business class I’ll take the minimal risk in hopes of unlocking great reward.
Lufthansa 747-8 Business Class Review: Final Thoughts
I was pleased to have the opportunity to experience a Lufthansa 747-8 in business class, upstairs, both ways. In many ways I left with my expectations met. However, in other ways I felt let down. Perhaps all of the AvGeek hype over the 747 led me to unrealistically high expectations, or perhaps my training in usability and human factors gave me an extra-critical lens through which I viewed the hard product. It’s worth noting, I was not alone in my confusion which really focused on a well-hidden console housing all of the in-demand ports as well as a remote control which was key to operation of every element of the passenger experience. This first-timer confusion is something that could easily be addressed by Lufthansa’s interaction designers in a number of ways and I encourage them to further study the product.
Disclosure: Travel and lodging for this trip were provided by Lufthansa. Our opinions are always our own.