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Saturday, March 04, 2017

Lufthansa Airline Premium Economy Experience

I had my first flight with Lufthansa recently. Lufthansa competes with middle east based carriers for India outbound traffic and they claim their Product is different. With a gulf based carrier, you usually board late night in India, still arrive in Gulf hub (Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi etc) half asleep (about 4 hour flight), then catch a connecting flight middle of the night/early morning and hope to complete your sleep on the onward flight. With Lufthansa, you can board at night, eat some food, sleep strong for 6-7 hours, complete your sleep, have another serving of food, change flights in Frankfurt in full day time for any destination in Europe, usually just an hour or two away from Frankfurt. This way Lufthansa's value proposition is different and it makes sense. Lufthansa also did lots of India targeted marketing activities last year- TV campaigns, social media contests etc. Another advantage with Lufthansa over Emirates/Qatar/Etihad is that as long as your India-Frankfurt flight is ontime (or even minor delay), you will still reach your destination in Europe same day (due to multiple short haul flights to EU cities), where as middle east carriers, you might end up losing a day in some scenarios where there's only one flight and you miss it.


So far I never had an opportunity to fly them. All my trips were with other carriers. Recently when I had a work travel and Emirates was fully sold out, I was offered Lufthansa. Though they had several strikes last year, I was told operations are normal now. I got my tickets and created an account on Lufthansa website for frequent flyer program.

Pay for your seats:
There're two kinds of airlines- the budget ones which sell tickets dirt cheap but charge extra for almost all services such as check-in bag, seat selection, meals etc and there're full service airlines, which charge higher fare but include all critical additional services. I thought Lufthansa is a full service airline- My first disappointment surfaced once I realised that they are acting like a half service airline, by not letting me select my seats, unless I pay a substantial amount (About 5.5k INR, which was about 10% of flight ticket cost). You either play a budget role or full service role- this "Posing like full service airline  but trying to trick passengers to cough up more" approach was very irritating to me. If I have to sit 10 hours on a plane, I need the freedom to select a seat I feel best suited. I may want to select a window seat so that I can sleep peacefully, I may wish to avoid certain bad seats like ones near toilet, ones without recline etc. By taking that freedom away from me, Lufthansa is inducing lots of uncertainty into my in-flight comfort. I need to wake up middle of night previous day (Web check in opens 23 hours prior to departure- Air Asia gives 14 days) Many other full service airlines also have started resorting to similar tricks which is annoying.

Also Lufthansa airline doesn't disclose this extra charge upfront. During booking time there is no indication that seat selection is chargeable. You will realize this only after you pay for your ticket. This causes disappointment because had I known this earlier, my pre-booking comparison would have been different. Even if other airline is expensive by a few thousand rupees I would have probably preferred that.
 No disclosure upfront that seat selection is not complementary.
There are many online complaints where despite paying for seat selection Lufthansa couldn't guarantee it. Check this post

I tweeted to their handle about it but didn't receive any response. (Many brands reply only when convenient) This was my first encounter with Lufthansa- I had just got my tickets, was looking for ways to maximise my comfort and hit a roadblock asking for money. Neither there's a default seat assignment (which if decent I don't have to change) nor the charges were only for extra leg room seats (some airlines let you select from standard seats at no cost, only some select rows like rows in front/rows near emergency exit are charged extra).

I couldn't specify my meals preference either. There was no option to specify Veg meals (Website ticket management section had some option that didn't work, no prompt to specify it during web check-in. This is a big risk for pure vegetarians. Infact crew did run out of Veg options on both occasions. During Chennai-Frankfurt they ran out of veg breakfast in Premium Economy- I asked them to get me one from economy. I am sure someone in Economy had to manage without breakfast that day. During FRA-MAA also the crew ran out of veg breakfast (even though I was sitting in 18K, one of the front seats). After I refused the non-veg option, after 10 minutes I was given a veg meals- probably after checking every food cart for any remaining veg meal). How hard it is to capture this preference earlier and adjust the numbers accordingly?

Food as such was great. Lufthansa prides itself on being "More Indian than you thought". At least on food department that is true. I am fully satisfied on their food experience.
Above; Economy veg meals. Raita was served with rice which was good gesture (many airlines miss that) Premium Economy customers get a dedicated menu explaining what will be served. Economy passengers don't have such a privilege. I couldn't figure out what's special about Kanjivaram Upma.. Though menu looks like lots of items, it is only 1 idli, sambar on top of it, little bit upma, little bit rice and other stuff.

The aircraft:
Lufthansa was launch customer for Airbus A340 when they were introduced in 1991. A340 production stopped in 2011. Lufthansa has deployed the A340 for FRA-MAA route- they could be aged anywhere between 6 to 26 years. I am just hoping their thought is not like "Ok, let us put all the old planes on India route" like I have observed with many other airlines. I learnt that they are introducing new A350 on Delhi-Munich route. Probably over time A340s will be replaced by A350s. Aircraft good. No complaints.

Also for the first time I saw de-icing in action.



The Premium Economy Experience
I have already experienced Premium Economy on Air France earlier. During my MAA-FRA leg I got an upgrade to Premium Economy. I lost my window seat to a middle seat but I accepted it due to other benefits of Premium Economy like more room, bigger screens and better food.
Lufthansa Premium economy doesn't offer an over the shoulder reading lamp that Air France had. Otherwise the service and facilities are similar. Premium Economy guests also get a welcome drink before take off, not offered to cattle class.
In-flight entertainment
Was good. The choice was nice, including good number of Hindi movies. Cabin announcements are made in 3 languages (German, English and Tamil) and the movies pause during these announcements- will be good if it can be paused only once for the language user has selected.
In-flight flight video is definitely made in summer, as the view showed on screen and view outside the window in winter were different.


Thoroughly enjoyed viewing snow covered peaks over my window during the return journey.
All 4 of my flights had gate change. Also noted that Lufthansa has painted last 2 letters of Aircraft identifier code on the top of tail fin- helps in easy identification for control tower folks I guess.

Even after one week of completing my trip, my Miles and More account is showing Zero miles. Not sure when I will get my miles or how much. Update: When I wrote to LH India customer care, I got a reply that process (to credit miles) will take 4 to 5 weeks... Should have been instant and automated.

In Frankfurt while boarding, gate staff announced that economy passengers can upgrade to Premium Economy for 249 Euros. (Around INR 18000). I saw many people going to the counter to purchase the upgrade or inquire about it. One seat in premium economy was empty- 14E- no one was upgraded to it.

Do check on MMT for Air India code share fares once-might be cheaper sometimes.

Paid WiFi: Lufthansa offers paid in-flight WiFi. I didn't purchase it, but once I connected to the network, Facebook worked for a few minutes (I guess it works for a few minutes so that guests have time and connection to make a payment)

Lufthansa Experience Summary:
Pros:
  • Good sleep
  • Good food
  • Less risk of losing a day due to missed connections
  • Got an upgrade
  • Option to take train from Frankfurt airport to various EU cities
  • If you have schengen Visa you can go out of airport into city. For Dubai/Qatar etc additional Visa is needed to leave the transit area
  • WiFi option (Paid though)
Cons:
  • Couldn't specify meals
  • Charges for seat selection
  • Miles not yet credited
  • Twitter handle replies only for favorable updates
  • History of sudden pilot strikes resulting in cancellation
  • Second leg in Europe served by smaller planes- if flying business/first class you won't feel the premium experience in an A320
  • Was given 2 boarding passes, not a paper wallet to keep them like Emirates or Srilankan do
  • No live cameras
  • No convenience kit for economy passengers (Emirates gives one afaik, unless discontinued recently)
Overall a good experience.

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