So, where to begin. Let’s first say I booked this trip in early May. My mother lives in the Netherlands, so it is always a must for me to visit her at some point during my holidays. Lufthansa was not the cheapest option, but since this one was the yearly ticket the organization my mom works in pays, I decided to fly with them. Some of my friends consider me a “mileage whore”, because I always end up flying on Star Alliance airlines because of being a Lufthansa Senator – Star Gold – member.
Anyway, this tale’s first chapter starts at five o’clock in the morning of July 15th. After somewhat of a goodbye party with some friends, I got home. I was planning to come back earlier, but every conversation topic turned into another one, and every time I said “well guys, I’m outta here”, they’d reply that was impossible. I can’t complain – I had a great time.
Without making too much noise in order not to wake up my father, I finished packing and checked whether I had what I call the “three Ps” – “Plata, Pasaje y Pasaporte”, or, in English, “Money, Ticket and Passport”. I did have them all, so I decided to catch some sleep, although I knew that would be unfeasible, as I’d have to wake up again in less than an hour. I slept for half an hour or so, and my mobile phone alarm started to ring at 6:05 am. After having a shower and two large cups of coffee, José – my favourite taxi driver – rung the bell at seven o’clock, just like I asked him a few days before. By this time it started to rain as hell, and I quickly managed to put both my bags and myself inside his Renault Mégane without too much trouble. It took us some forty minutes to reach Ezeiza, following all signs at the motorway which said “Cañuelas – Ezeiza – Aeropuerto Internacional”. I took my bags out of the car, paid José, and then entered almost-empty Terminal A.
There were a few people already checking in at the Lufthansa counters, but that didn’t scare me – I proceeded to the First Class counters, which can also be used by Senator members, no matter which class they fly in. The girl at the counter was no other than Lufthansa’s Ezeiza Base Chief, so we had a nice talk about how the route was performing, etc. She said they wouldn’t be doing any courtesy upgrades today, because the flight was half empty. However, she offered – and of course I accepted – to put me on row 56, where the Jumbo becomes narrower and there are rows of two passengers only, and block the seat next to me. She also printed the boarding passes for both legs, and sent my luggage all the way to Amsterdam.
I paid the eighteen-dollar airport tax, which at Ezeiza is not included in your ticket price, at the special counter. Then I bought a newspaper and had some breakfast at Café Fenoglio, located just ahead of security. I was fairly worried because they usually are really expensive, but this time I paid about the same than at any other café in Buenos Aires. After that, I went to the small counter of the DGA, the Argentine customs authority, so as to declare my digital photo camera and my MP3 player; otherwise, they would think I bought them in Europe and would charge me the 21% local VAT when returning home.
Security took no time, and passport control was also empty. The young girl there saw my birth date at the passport and said, laughing, “You look older than what you really are!” At 8:33 am she stamped my passport, thus officially left Argentine soil and entered so-called No Man’s Land, until next morning when arriving to Frankfurt.
Once on the airside, I went to United’s Red Carpet Lounge, which is also shared with Lufthansa’s First Class and Senator passengers. The man at the entrance asked for my boarding pass and my Senator card, and, after making a note of both, welcomed me and told me to help myself, which I did.
United’s Red Carpet Lounge is actually a nice, cosy place. Leather seats are really comfortable and the beverage selection goes from alcoholic aperitifs to sodas, coffee and tea. I had another cup of coffee, an orange juice, a yoghurt and some Madeleine pastries. I took a one-day-old Financial Times and started to enjoy the privileges of being a frequent traveller.
Some fifteen minutes before boarding time I left the lounge for the common waiting area. As usual, some passengers were already queuing at gate 6. God, I’m starting to really consider queuing is, together with football, Argentina’s national sport. I walked by the Free Shop but bought nothing, and heard the announcement calling for boarding, in Spanish, German and English.
Priority boarding for First, Business Class and Star Alliance Gold members begun, so I walked to the gate, showed my boarding pass and my Senator card and made my way inside the Jumbo. At the entrance there was a good selection of German and international newspapers, so I picked a Frankfurter Rundschau. I exchanged some “Guten Tag” with the crew, and proceeded to my seat, at the very end of the aircraft.
For those of you who like to know each airplane’s history, D-ABVM (c/n 29101/1143) is a Boeing 747-430 named “Hessen”. It was delivered to Lufthansa in 1992, and has been flying with the “Kranich” ever since.
By now I was feeling really tired, so I just dozed for a while, and was woken up by the engines sound while taking off. We didn’t see the usual nice view of Buenos Aires because it was still raining, but oh well.
Some minutes after take off, service started. It consisted on some sort of cold brunch, which was very nice and really appreciated, since I was feeling hungry. I will not detail its content, because “an image is worth a thousand words”, or so they say.
I took another nap, which ended up lasting almost an hour. However, I still had some time to check out my seat, and all I can say is both the seat pitch and the legroom are simply ridiculous. I am 181 cm tall (that’s about 6 feet) and thought there was more room in my local bus seat. I also remembered the check-in agent, and thanked her a lot for blocking the seat next to me.
Before landing at Guarulhos, the captain did a nice detour over downtown Sao Paulo, which could be clearly seen due to the perfect blue skies, whether it was done on purpose or not, I have no idea. Although Buenos Aires, my hometown, is 12 million inhabitants, Sao Paulo looks simply huge. Having heard lots of things, both good and bad, about that city, this convinced me I have to go there sooner than later.
During our stay in Sao Paulo we were not allowed to leave the aircraft, and the purser announced and re-announced it as much as he could. This is something stupid and does not help either Lufthansa nor Infraero, the Brazilian airport authority. Prohibiting your passengers to disembark not only bothers the whole cleaning and refuelling process onboard, but it also does not allow people to buy a cup of coffee, a Coke or a newspaper at the airport. I have heard this measure is a sort of revenge from Varig, whose passengers continuing to Amsterdam cannot leave the plane during the stop-over in Paris. This one being a flight to Frankfurt, Germany operated by a friend and fellow Star Alliance airline, with which Varig codeshares in tons of flights , I don’t understand at all the meaning of the whole thing apart from penalizing us passengers for having chosen Lufthansa.
However, I managed to spot some planes passing by our position while seating in my seat. Those were, as you may see, a Copa Airlines 737-800 to Panama City and a Lan Chile 767-300 either heading back home to Santiago or continuing its journey to Rio de Janeiro. Since there were not many things to do, I decided I wouldn’t mind taking another siesta, and I woke up only as we were taxiing to the runway.
Some minutes after take off, still flying somewhere over Sao Paulo state, the new purser (there was a crew change at Guarulhos) announced service was about to begin. Funnily, the purser had a really strong Brazilian accent, no matter in which language he spoke. The Spanish announcements sounded more to “Portuñol”, a half-Spanish, half-Portuguese hybrid very common in Brazil and Argentina, than to proper Spanish, using some expressions that reminded me any badly-translated Brazilian soap-opera they show on TV back home.
So, regarding dinner, we could choose between meat and pasta, as usual. I opted for the pasta, which was penne rigatti with vegetables and tomato sauce. We also got some salad, a flan, and a (cold) piece of bread. I believe the food, without being great, did the job of keeping me away from starvation. The omnipresent plethora of soft and alcoholic drinks was available, but I got my classic Diet Coke. The cans were those ridiculous 15-centilitre things, so I asked for two and the flight attendant did not mind at all.
I took my MP3 player, choose to listen to Soda Stereo, a rock band which I think doesn’t need to be introduced, at least to Latin American members. I also took out of the seat pocket a copy of “Lufthansa Magazin”, the airline’s onboard magazine which was originally baptized by some genius of marketing, who must have studied at the same school than those who granted Germany’s most traditional charter airline, Hapag Lloyd, the idiot name of Hapagfly.com. Either both names lack of freshness at all, or I am not the sort of man they target with those titles.
After Mr Wolfgang Mayrhuber wished “they could continue to serve my well-being” on the Magazin’s page 2, and subsequently having asked myself what the hell does that mean, I realized we were now about to leave South America through somewhere in Ceará state, near Fortaleza, at least according to the route map we were showed. Even though I have crossed the Atlantic more than once, it was the very first time I could see ourselves entering the ocean, which meant I had to take a picture of that. And so I did.
Nothing to write home about happened during the following hours. We were shown two movies, but I didn’t watch them, preferring to sleep in order to avoid any kind of jet-lag when arriving to Holland. I believe the crew came quite often offering water and juices to the awaken passengers, but since I spent my time sleeping I cannot be sure of that.
Next thing I remember is being woken up by the purser with the Portuguese accent, which hoped we “had some nice sleep” and told breakfast was about to be served. I settled myself so as to snooze a little bit more, but soon after the Captain greeted us “from the flight deck”…perhaps he did not want to mention the word “cockpit”, which he felt is a word that has got some sexual connotation. He gave us the route plan, which included entering Europe by Cadiz, then flying over Spain, the Bay of Biscay, Brittany, Paris and then straight onto Frankfurt via Strasbourg.
Breakfast was the typical egg roll with potatoes, hot bread and croissants, and a fruit salad, the latter being completely disgusting for some reason. Since US members always like to point this out, I feel forced to say the cutlery was all in metal, including the God blessed knife. I had a glass of water and a cup of coffee, and both were refilled twice by the crew.
Afterwards, I had another good hour of sleep, and then some really nice views of the French and German countryside, followed by other nice views, this time of Frankfurt’s skyline.
Landing at Rhein-Main International Airport was fine, even a few minutes ahead of schedule, passing by lots of planes from all over the world, from tons of Lufthansa Regional aircraft, being prepared for short hops across Europe, to a Qantas Jumbo, just arriving from the other side of the Earth.
Leaving the aircraft took, to my surprise, no time, and at the gate, instead of those ugly Bundesgrenzschutz agents randomly asking to see some people’s passports, there were some Lufthansa employees who spoke Spanish and Portuguese, willing to help anybody who did not know his or her way. That was actually a nice change.
As for my way, I headed for passport control, and had a good laugh with the agent over there. I gave him my German passport, which states I live in Argentina, and he said: “So, you live in Argentina! And how’s the weather right now in Argentina?” “Oh, it was raining when I left”, I replied. “Raining? That sounds more like Germany! Anyway, welcome home!” It was the first out of dozens of times they acted so nicely at passport control anywhere.
I checked LH 4670 to Amsterdam’s status on one of the screens, and it showed departure time 9:00 am at gate B7, so there was actually a gate change, as my boarding pass had gate A10 printed on it. Being as curious as I am, I thought there’s no way I’d leave Frankfurt before checking out the new Senator Lounge, no matter how far it is from my departure gate. While walking there, I passed by one of the many Relay newspaper and bookstores, and a sign caught my view – “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price Sold Here!” The little kid inside me said I had to buy it, so I entered the store and got my copy for 23 euros, which was about the same price they sold it at any bookstore throughout Europe.
When I finally reached the Senator Lounge, in front of gate B42, the lady sitting there said “But your departure gate is B7, so…” I interrupted her “I know, but can I stay here”. “Yes, sure”, she replied, and I made my way to the right, where the entrance of the Senator lounge is, just opposite of the Business Class lounge. I put my stuff on a leather armchair and picked up a café-crème, a pretzel bread, some ham and a copy of the Financial Times, which had got nice information regarding airlines and aviation. I especially chose my seat in order to watch all the planes passing by, as you can see.
At around 8:20 am I left the lounge for my departure gate, and figured out it wasn’t as distant as I had thought. Whilst walking I paid a look to my boarding pass, and only then I saw the small black note which said “Operated by CityLine”. Hey, that was a great thing. My last flight on a regional jet had been ages ago, when Southern Winds still flew the CRJ 200 in Argentina, thus I was eager to get into one of those smaller aircraft.
Boarding had not yet begun when I reached the gate, which is located upstairs, somewhere Fraport AG apparently doesn’t know it exists, because of its run-down look, in contrast with the rest of the airport. Only after I had started to read my Harry Potter book, somebody announced through the loudspeakers “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, Lufthansa would like to inform you boarding for flight LH 4670 to Amsterdam has begun. On behalf of Lufthansa, we wish you a nice flight and a nice stay in the Netherlands. ‘Auf wiedersehen’ from Frankfurt”.
We had to go downstairs and hop into the buses that would take us to our aircraft. A Canadian-built CRJ 200? Or perhaps a British-made Avro RJ-85? The mystery was soon to be revealed…
Suddenly, the bus stopped. And it stopped in front of D-AVRI, which I thought was an appropriate registration for an Avro RJ-85. A Dutchman said to his friend at the bus: “Look at that, the young boy with four engines”. We had to wait for a moment until a black Mercedes E-Class had left a passenger, who obviously was coming from the worldwide famous First Class Terminal. I decided to enter the aircraft through the back door, which was less crowded than the other one. Before that, I saw the aircraft carried a small sign saying “Operated by CityLine”, and had got no name at all. Is it that Lufthansa Regional planes are, unlike their older brothers, not baptized?
I was greeted “Guten Morgen” by a young flight attendant, put my stuff in one of the overhead bins (notoriously smaller than those of any Boeing or Airbus) and proceeded to my seat.
Welcome and security announcements were done in German and English, with a recorded tape in Dutch being played afterwards. Every time we were thanked for having flown with them today, it was “on behalf of Lufthansa Regional and the Star Alliance”, even in the Dutch tape.
I couldn’t help but notice the Ryanaresque configuration Lufthansa installed on its Avros. 3 seats per side should not be allowed by IATA or ICAO, since the corridor becomes simply too narrow then. The middle seat on my row remained empty, which was really appreciated considering the joke of legroom the aircraft had.
The route we followed was the classic one, flying over Wiesbaden, Düsseldorf, Möchengladbach, Venlo, Utrecht and finally southern Amsterdam.
Before I said the legroom was a joke, well, so was the food. We got a cheese and lettuce sandwich the size of two 2-euros coin put together which, worst of all, was dry. I understand the industry is passing through hard times, but this is simply unacceptable considering the fares Lufthansa charges for such a short flight. The same marketing guy who named the “Lufthansa Magazin”, also thought it was really clever to put a sticker with the word “Enjoy” on the package. Personally, I found such a legend to be almost hypocrite. I had a Diet Coke and, again, got one of those 15 centilitre cans.
The rest of the flight went uneventful, and we landed on the Kagbaan runway at Schiphol, which meant distance to the gate was almost none. Baggage came quite quickly, and in no time I was on the public area with my mother, who picked me up.
Now, as for the verdict, I guess I will be quite harsh. Having flown more than 20 times with Lufthansa during the last five years, I believe I can judge them. The service is deteriorating little by little every time I fly them, especially on intra-Europe segments. Flight attendants continue to be cheerful and sympathetic, but both the seat pitch and legroom are obnoxious, especially on a flight such as Buenos Aires – Frankfurt, which is more than 14 hours long. They certainly maintain the worldwide famous “Deutsche Zuverlässigkeit” (“German Reliability”), and get both you and your luggage from point A to point B on time and without incidents, but some minor touches, such as eliminating one seat on the Avrolino or adding one single inch to the seat pitch should not kill their final revenue, and may make them a better choice for passengers other than those who choose them because of being sometimes the cheapest option. The good old days with Lufthansa are long gone, but I have a little bit of hope, and maybe, and only maybe, we might see them changing (for good) in the future. At least let’s hope so.
This tale about travel from South America does not end here, and it also comprises an Alitalia flight to Rome and the return to Buenos Aires via Frankfurt in Business Class. However, I am somewhat busy at the moment, so those reports will have to wait for a while until being published.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed your reading and, as always, bear in mind English is not my mother tongue, so excuse me for any mistake you may find. Questions and comments are, of course, really appreciated.