As I wrote yesterday, I was invited by the kind people at Lufthansa to join them as they introduced their A380 service to North America. I arrived in Frankfurt on Saturday, in time to learn more about Lufthansa, the A380 and most importantly, to join the celebration as the fifth flagship plane in Lufthansa’s fleet made its maiden voyage to New York City.
I’m writing this in seat 69 H, in the heart of the mammoth plane’s economy section and honestly, I have never been so excited to fly in a plane before in my life. I described some of the many attributes of the plane yesterday, but today rather than just learn about the new plane and its features, I’m living it.
The day began early, with singing flight attendants, hearty German sausage and a general festive atmosphere at Gate C16 in the Frankfurt Airport. The huge, 526 passenger plane is nearly full, the flight manifest complete with a combination of excited plane enthusiasts, and general fliers who got lucky with their flight choice. A few minutes prior to boarding, Mr. Martin Riecken, Director, Head of Corporate Communications The Americas at Lufthansa, escorted us on a brief tour of all three classes on the new plane.
I have already detailed most of the First Class Cabin’s new features, but to see them in their full glory was an entirely different matter. The cabin is limited to just eight passengers, so privacy and seclusion is guaranteed by definition. If you desire even more alone time though, the seats can be converted so that a partition offers the maximum amount of privacy possible. Given the fact that today’s flight is a daytime flight lasting just a little over seven hours, not many people will take advantage of the fully convertible bed, but they should. We knew it was lie flat, but it is more bed-like than a usual lie flat elite class seat. The bed is the largest of any airline and the only person who might complain about its size would be an NBA basketball player.
Lufthansa probably won’t be thrilled with me highlighting this, but my favorite feature in the first class cabin was the lavatory, complete with urinals. This may shock some people, but it’s actually a brilliant addition. Not only does it add convenience for the male passengers, but it also increases the toilet area hygiene making the experience much more pleasant for women as well.
What I was really curious about though was the class of service where most of us will be flying, economy. My first impression was that the cabin, cabins really, are huge. The entire lower deck of the plane is entirely coach class, and it seems to stretch on forever. In total, the plane has an amazing 94 rows, but segmented in such a way that it doesn’t feel like you are flying in a mega-machine. That’s a key feature of the entire Lufthansa design actually, the conscious choice to segment all areas of the plane, careful not to provoke claustrophobia, but also creating a sense of intimacy at the same time. It’s a delicate balance that the Lufthansa designers thread well.
After the cramped Saturday flight on the 747, I was curious how the coach class would be improved on the newly minted plane. The first change is the roomier seat space. The A380 uses a special slim seat design that adds two extra inches of legroom, which is especially helpful when the person in front of you decides to fully recline, as is the case today.
In addition to the extra legroom, the seats themselves seem to be wider, and in general are a much more comfortable experience than most other aircraft used for long haul travel. The new economy class is more ergonomic and while the design is subtle, I was honestly amazed at how comfortable it was. After the lack of personal entertainment units on the Saturday flight, I was thrilled to see Lufthansa’s fantastic in-flight personal entertainment product. The unit offers a wide range of options, from the standard movies to TV shows to my personal favorite, three different cameras affixed to the outside of the plane: on the tail looking forward, downward looking and one I couldn’t figure out, but which seemed to always show clouds. Cloud cam.
I also carefully watched the passengers as they boarded and noticed that almost no one had issues storing their bags. Sure, there were a few dopes that felt the need to carry on enough luggage to scale Mt. Everest, but the average person was Sherpa-free and the massive overheads accommodated them well.
Maybe it’s because I’m really hyper and in a great mood, but even the lavatories in coach class seemed better to me. The doors were more sturdy, the bathroom was well lit and the sink even operated on motion sensors. I walked the full length of the coach cabin and at the back of the plane is an elegant, curved staircase leading up to the upper deck, home to 98 business class seats and those eight elusive first class compartments.
The flight was a good length and the little touches included in the Airbus really did make a tremendous difference in my flying experience. I can deal with 747s or smaller aircraft, they’re fine. They are a means to an end. I like to travel, but I am not going to pay $6,000 per person for business class, so I tolerate coach class to transport me efficiently to my destination. The A380 though is different. I was comfortable, relaxed and enjoyed every moment of the flight. I’m not saying I wanted it to go on forever, but I now understand why the A380 truly is the next generation of long haul aircraft. When you’re traveling for ten, twelve or even eighteen hours, the effects of small touches, both aesthetic and functional, are greatly magnified, for better or for worse. On the Airbus A380, those changes are most certainly for the better.
All good things must come to an end, and the inaugural flight arrived on time and to a flourish of fanfare and accolades. Even though the plane holds more than 500 passengers, disembarkation went smoothly and we were off in short order. Every aspect of the flight, and especially the aircraft, was a complete success.
Next to me on the flight was a small boy, probably four or five, who, at the beginning of the flight stood up on his seat, looked around and turned to his mom and said “This is the best plane ever!” I couldn’t agree more.