Helsinki Vantaa – Frankfurt Main
Lufthansa LH 3101
Economy Class, Seat 7C
Photo © Krzysztof Skowronski [epwa_spotters]
Photo © Georg Noack
I was in a bit of a rush to get to the airport after having to attend a university lecture in the morning. I got to the SAS check-in area at around 1pm, 55 minutes before departure. I checked in at the self service machines, and luckily the Lufthansa system had pre-allocated me 7C in the second row of economy. A message was also displayed that the flight would be delayed by fifteen minutes. Only other seats left on the seat map were a few middle seats. I learned something new again; SAS agents can’t change the seats for connecting LH flights – you get your pre-assigned seat or whatever the LH computers have allocated to you. At least that’s what the agents said when I tried to change to 32BC/HJ on the FRA-AA), China">PEK leg. As LH only allocates exit row seats at check-in, you can easily see another wonderful feature of the LH/SK partnership...
The SAS lounge was absolutely packed; I had trouble finding a seat actually. Food was the usual rolls, cream cheese and some cold cuts. The drink selection consists of just wine, beer and soft drinks, which is a far cry from the Finnair lounge selection next door. LH 3100 landed twenty minutes late, and with my luck, it was naturally operated by “Quebec Mike”. I had the pleasure of returning on this aircraft from my Asia trip last month.
I went to the gate about ten minutes before the new scheduled departure time, and it was a ridiculous scene. The delayed flight was overbooked, and the two SAS agents were busy with requests from a group of American backpackers to be seated together. That’s not exactly the first priority in such a situation I would say. About half of the group were booted out of the flight due to overbooking, and the agent proceeded to look for their alternative routings. How about boarding the plane and letting the transfer desk do the work?
Boarding only started half an hour after the scheduled departure, and took for ages. Doing a general boarding call for an overbooked, delayed A320 isn’t the right thing to do I can tell. The doors were finally closed an hour late, and the crew apologized for the additional delay due to “boarding procedures that took very long time here at Helsinki.”
We were quickly de-iced, and taxied to 22R for takeoff. The A320 took off with no delay for the rather short two-hour flight down to Frankfurt am Main. The flight was naturally full, 145/145 seats taken, and two home-bound LH cabin crew in the rear galley jumpseats.
Service started soon, and it was the usual cold plate, warm rolls, German rye bread and a chocolate bar. Drinks were served twice by the friendly and cheerful crew. My second serving of Baileys was a full glass without asking for double. Inflight shopping was offered afterwards. The flight was uneventful with cloudy skies all the way, and we landed on Frankfurt’s 25R 35 minutes late.
A natural gate choice was A38, pretty much as far away from everything as possible. I absolutely hate the A-concourse and the distances there. It was a good twenty-minute walk from there to the Senator/First Class lounge B. I asked if the exit row would still be available – nope, economy class is all checked in with six empty middle seats and business class is currently overbooked. Oh well. I had a bulkhead before they switched the 744 version on this flight.
13 February 2004
Frankfurt Main – Beijing Capital
Lufthansa LH 720
Business Class, Seat 14H
Photo © B. Amratisha
Photo © Don Boyd
I headed to the gate about half an hour before departure, and inquired if there are any upgrade seats available or if business was still overbooked. “Yes I have seats but I can’t do ANY free upgrade.” I always find the Frankfurt ground staff a bit rude and this time was no exception. Her mood changed though as I told her to take the miles if she has aisle seats left. Obviously enough people ask for free upgrades so that she made the assumption that I wanted one too. Anyway, with 50,000 miles less in my account, I had a new boarding pass in hand with 14H printed on it this time.
After the usual visa check, I tried to get around all the Chinese economy class passengers queuing up even though only First and Business had been called. That didn’t take too long, and soon I was walking down in the quietness of the jetway attached to door 1L of “Schleswig-Holstein”. I believe that D-ABYM, a B747-230B, carried this name as well before it was retired.
I was greeted by the door and told where my seat is as usual. My seat was located in the second last row of the second business class cabin. “Victor X-ray” has 99 business class seats, with the cabin extending all the way to doors 3L/R. Doors were closed on time, and luckily the guy in 14K decided to move to row 16 where he got an empty middle seat next to him. The load today was F 10/16 C90/99 Y228/234 according to a sheet that I saw at the gate. Pre departure drinks were offered, sparkling wine or orange juice only. Proper champagne before departure would be appreciated. Amenity kits were in the seatpockets as usual, the same old bag with just a headset, eyeshade, toothbrush and paste and a pack of tissues. It’s a very poor one and doesn’t even have earplugs.
We were pushed back exactly on time, and taxied to runway 25R while the safety video was played in German and Chinese, with an English note that we should study the safety card. We were number one for takeoff, and the Finnish purser was a bit late in her announcement for the crew. “Cabin crew, please take your seats. We are….. on takeoff!” As the flight time was only 8 hours 45 minutes, the Jumbo took off after a rather short roll, and made a sharp right turn after takeoff. We were heading towards the Baltic Sea, and would continue over Riga, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Ulan Bator to the Chinese capital.
Service started with the usual bag of almonds and drinks – refills were offered three times. I chose some champagne, Duval Leroy Fleur de Champagne Brut. This one has been the LH business class champagne for ages and I don’t particularly like it. Hot towels were given out next. Menus were distributed as well, and the meal service soon began. Here’s the menu:
Lufthansa Business Class
Frankfurt – Beijing/Shanghai LH 720, 728
With great pleasure, we present you true masters of the trade. Today, Dieter L. Kaufmann and Thomas Martin will pamper you with their kitchen artistry.
Shrimp Galantine served with Potato Salad
and Cucumber Cream
Roast Beef flavoured with Porcini Mushrooms
accompanied by Bean Salad
Lollo Rosso, Frisée, Radicchio
and Bell Pepper Julienne
presented with herbed Yogurt Dressing
Bread Rolls and Butter
Medallions of Lamb enhanced by Gremolata
with sautéed Bell Peppers and Polenta
Red Mullet in Lime Ginger Jus
offered with Leaf Spinach and Wild Rice
Stir-fried Breast of Duck
with Water Chestnuts, Baby Corn and Rice
Cheese and Dessert
Bavaria Blue, Camembert and Allgäu Cheese
with Pumpkin Cracker and Grapes
Blood Orange Tartlet on Nougat Sauce
Fresh Fruit Salad
Yogurt with Honey and mixed Grains
Cold Plate featuring
smoked Beef, roasted Breast of Chicken,
Camembert, Vegetable Cream Cheese
Roll and Croissant
with Butter and Preserves
filled with Gruyère Cheese and Herbs
Last Minute Breakfast
Coffee or Tea
Appetizer, salad and breads were served on a single tray as usual, with the appetizer choices being presented to me by the crew first. I chose the shrimp and it was excellent. The rather large bowl of salad was ok as well, but the bread selection does lack variety. I would appreciate warm garlic bread, served in LH F but in C on many other carriers. Water and champagne refills were plentiful. My aisle was served by a young Chinese lady and a young German one, they worked hard.
The trays were later cleared, and main courses were served from the first class style service trolley. I chose the lamb. It was quite good, but I have had better in Lufthansa business as well. The cheeses and desserts came out next; I opted to skip the cheese and took the orange tart which was delicious. If you opted to take the cheese at this point, the dessert cart made one more appearance, this time with coffee, tea and liquors as well. I just got the chocolates, they used to be Mozart Kugeln at some point, Gubor pralines after that, and now it’s a simple Milka chocolate bar. I tried to get Baileys with the first dessert round and found the Chinese flight attendant’s comment “It will be served later” inappropriate for a premium cabin. Sure, 99 people is a lot for business class, but service was quite inflexible and all from the carts on this flight. The food was good though.
There was also a funny situation between the Chinese flight attendant and a Chinese guy in row 12… He insisted that he gets the fruit salad first. After that he told the crew that he’s finished, and decided to take a walk in the cabin while service was underway. Then he decided he needs the main course as well. After getting a new tablecloth, it was promptly served. Again, he was most definitely finished, and told the crew to take all the stuff, including the tablecloth. He went to the lavatory, and when he came back, he requested the appetizer. The face of that flight attendant was priceless, and she was clearly extremely pissed off when she went to get the third tablecloth. The mainland Chinese in premium cabins are terrible, and think they own the whole plane. In economy they still demand all sort of things and are loud as hell. Granted, I haven’t been on a flight to/from India but I don’t know if it can be any worse. There was exactly this sort of behaviour on my FRA-AA), China">PEK last year as well.
After finishing the meal, I put on the eyeshade, reclined my seat, and woke up as breakfast service was underway. The Lufthansa business class seat is very comfortable for sleeping in my opinion, and I’m not looking forward to those sloped flat beds after a disastrous experience with Swiss. Hopefully LH managed to design better ones. However, in the current configuration with 48” pitch, it’s impossible to get out of window/middle seats without waking up your neighbour.
Breakfast was quite good, although I wasn’t particularly hungry. The omelette was very hot at the other end and completely cold at the other… Breakfast service was too early for my liking, no need to wake up passengers two hours prior to landing. But it just seems to happen on every airline that I have flown. The scenery was quite nice as we were now over Ulan Bator.
Descent soon started, and we flew by the airport and city first, and then turned onto approach. Landed a few minutes early and parked next to Finnair’s OH-LGC and a United triple seven at the international terminal. There was no queue for the health declaration standpoint (whatever the point of this is, I don’t know), but immigration had quite long lines. After about 20 minutes, my passport was stamped. None of the officials said anything of course, had a very bored face, and the atmosphere just reminds me of a Russian immigration checkpoint. They should be sent to a customer service course by the Singapore Immigration I suggest.
Getting a metered taxi to my hotel was impossible, as the two drivers who I talked to claimed to have no idea where the Renaissance Beijing Hotel. Both tried to talk to me in Chinese and then said “no” a few times in English… So, off to a so called “hotel taxi”. “Have meter, cheap cheap, nice car, only about 100 yuan and highway money, maybe 200 total (note: the expressway toll is RMB 10)” Yeah right. I was so close to telling him to f*ck off, but the taxi dispatcher spoke no English, and neither do the regular taxi drivers I suppose, and I didn’t have the hotel’s address in Chinese… So off to his Audi in the parking lot.
Knowing it would be the quoted 200 anyway, I asked where his meter is located. “Kilometer, kilometer.” Well I couldn’t help laughing. On top of that, the speedometer was broken. Anyway, I arrived in the hotel in no time at all, as he drove like crazy all the way.
Renaissance Beijing Hotel
This 5* hotel opened last year, and is located in Chaoyang district, next to the Air China Plaza. It is actually owned by Air China as well. I asked for a non-smoking king room, that request caused lots of confusion… “Sir you requested smoking double before.” Maybe this agent could show me where to choose room preferences on Priceline, I’d be interested actually. As a matter of fact, all Priceline reservations show “No room preferences were selected” at Marriott.com. I got a king bed, but on a smoking floor. Luckily it wasn’t a problem in a new hotel like this one.
The room was very nice and large, 39sqm according to Marriott’s website. There was a sitting area, work desk and a king bed. The bathroom wasn’t overly large, but nicely appointed and featured a bathtub and separate shower stall. The shampoos were the same crap as in the Renaissance Paris, obviously that’s the brand that they use worldwide. Generally, I find the Marriott toiletries very sub par to those offered by Intercontinental, Westin and Shangri-La for example.
The room featured everything you would expect from a 5-star room, including bathrobes and slippers for two, an electronic safe and high-speed internet. The staff need some serious training though, no turndown service was provided even though it was listed, and the concierge guys have no clue about anything. They speak hardly any English and got me to a place about three miles from the Oriental Plaza Mall and Grand Hyatt where I was heading. The room was superb though, and I would possibly return although the hotel is hardly convenient for any touristy stuff.
16 February 2004
Beijing Capital – Frankfurt Main
Lufthansa LH 721
Boeing 747-430 SCD
Economy Class, Seat 27D (Bulkhead)
Photo © Tom Mousel - Luxembourg Aviation Photography
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
I took a regular taxi back to Capital airport – it cost me a mere RMB 57. I made it to the Lufthansa check-in desks at around 10:20am, ten minutes before check-in would be closing. The first class desk was manned by a totally disinterested Air China agent. My request for exit row was met with an interesting comment that I have a seat assigned already. All check-in positions seemed to be staffed with Air China agents.
Health check and passport control were quick and painless, but the security check was a total joke. My can of beer was confiscated and the very rude agent requested me to open the Coke can. Needless to say, that one found its way to the nearest trash can immediately.
I then went to the Air China First Class lounge. This one makes the Lufthansa lounges look good actually. There were sandwiches and instant noodles available, as well as whisky, gin and soft drinks. There were two computers with dial up connection, one of them broken. Hopefully I’ll never find out how the business lounge next door is, my guess is something along the lines of the fantastic UA/AA lounges in the continental U.S…
Boarding was from gate 13, and the Air China staff made no effort to call business/first/elites first, so there was a line of about 300 people already. The flight was booked F5/16 C52/78 Y274/274. My seat was in the first row of economy with not bad legroom, but 28ABC/HJK have much more. This was actually my first LH longhaul in economy since the exact same flight a year ago. The crew was the same as on the way to AA), China">PEK, and they all seemed to recognize me. The Chinese girl asked what I was doing in economy class… Oh well, it was a day flight and I felt like saving the 50K miles.
We were pushed back on time, and took off with no delay after an Air China jet. The routing was exactly the same, but flight time was one hour longer due to the winds as usual. Service started soon with hot towels, drinks and menus. These China flights seem to get very special service in economy class. Later, the Finnish purser came to greet me as a Senator, and we chatted a bit. She would cater come by a few times to check that everything was ok, which was a nice touch.
My section of the cabin was mostly served by a very friendly German lady. She had no problem getting me Baileys from the galley even though it wasn’t officially offered during the first drink service. The first meal service soon started, here’s the menu:
Lufthansa Economy Class
LH 721 1/04-2/04
Marinated Breast of Chicken
with Onion and Corn Salad
Roll and Butter
Smoked Loin of Pork
enhanced by Mustard Sauce,
Broccoli, Carrots and Mashed Potatoes
Szechuan-style Tenderloin of Beef
complemented by Chinese Greens and Noodles
Black Forest Cake
Sweet and Sour Pork
with Bell Peppers, Pineapple and Rice with Eggs
Tagliatelle accented by creamy pesto,
Broccoli and Shrimp with Tomato Concassée
Red Currant Cheesecake
I chose the pork for both meals, the first one was very German style, and rather good. The rolls were warmed, and refills of wine and water were available. I had some Baileys to finish the meal as usual. Two movies were scheduled for the flight, The School of Rock and The Medallion. I watched them both. Drinks were offered numerous times during the flight, as well as a movie snack of chips and chocolates and later a mid-flight snack of cup noodles and sandwiches. This was much better than the SQ offerings on daylight SIN-FRA/LHR flights.
The purser later came to inform me personally that she’d be playing another movie as we still had more than two hours to go. It was very much appreciated, as these daylight flights always feel so long. Dinner was served an hour and a half out of Frankfurt, and service started with hot towels again. As the second meal, it was served on a smaller tray as usual, with just main course and dessert. This approach is used at least by LH and TG on long flights in economy.
Finally, at around 2:10pm, “Sachsen-Anhalt” left the cruising altitude, and landed a few minutes early on 07R. The purser came to thank me for choosing Lufthansa again during descent, just a small touch but it makes you feel like a valued customer.
We taxied to gate B25, and I made my way to the very empty Business Lounge just outside the gate. There was no waitlist for showers for once!
16 February 2004
Frankfurt Main – Helsinki Vantaa
Lufthansa LH 3104
Economy Class, Seat 10ABC (Exit Row)
Photo © Kai-jens Meyer
Photo © Stephan Tophoven
The Schengen A Senator Lounge was the usual madhouse – I have never seen that place with more than one or two empty seats. On the other hand, Senator Lounge B was a standing room, and I left after a few minutes. Something needs to be done about the lounge situation in Frankfurt. Star Golds could use the Business Lounges for example and the Senator Lounges would then be for First and Senators only.
LH 3104 was boarding from A23, finally a gate close to the lounges. Usually the Helsinki flights use something like A10 or A01… We were bussed to D-AIQK, on a remote stand as far from Terminal 1 concourse A as possible, near the far end of terminal 2. The load was very light, around 30-40 people on the A320 only. I had the second exit row all for myself (these seats recline unlike rows 8 and 9), and the crew offered to store my duty free bottles in the business class closet as they’d just move around in the empty overhead bins. Lufthansa Technik people were working in the cockpit – never a good sign…
The captain soon informed that there is a problem with the outside lights of the aircraft and that a switch would be changed. It should take another twenty to thirty minutes. Meanwhile, drinks were served in the cabin and newspapers were offered. The switch change didn’t help, and the crew informed that they are in the process of getting a replacement aircraft for our flight.
We were bussed all the way to gate A20 after an hour after scheduled departure time, and boarded D-AIQN via the stairs so there was no need to re-enter the terminal building. Baggage and catering were transported as well of course. The crew did a good job preparing the new aircraft, and we pushed back just ten minutes after boarding.
Takeoff was from 07L, right after a Thai International Boeing 747, operating TG 922 from Chiang Mai and Bangkok had landed. A Finnair A319 would be tailgating us to Helsinki. Service was the usual for Helsinki flights – the cold snack. The purser apologized for the delay numerous times, and made some funny announcements like “Now you can relax the next two hours after a long day here and enjoy the fact that nobody may disturb you as your mobile phones should be switched off by now”. Overall, the mood onboard was good, and the delay was handled well in my opinion.
I slept the rest of the flight after the meal service, and only woke up as we were on approach for Helsinki Vantaa’s runway 15. A remote stand was used at Helsinki as well, as the Airbus would be spending its night in Finland before returning to Frankfurt the following morning. My duty free bags were waiting in the forward galley, and the purser commented “Here are your bottles, don’t worry – we didn’t drink any of them. Have fun and a good night.”
I waited what seemed an eternity for the remote car park bus in the cold Vantaa night… I have used that car park, as it is cheaper with Finnair Plus discount. I had previously no clue about this particular discount, but it was suggested by one of the staff as “I probably have a Finnair Plus card as I am paying with American Express”. I used to park there weekly or at least twice a month last year, and most of the staff seemed to recognize me. The cashier this night was particularly rude and demanded to see that Finnair Plus card. I don’t carry that useless piece of plastic as there are more than enough cards in my wallet anyway and I use AA for oneworld mileage accrual. So it cost me exactly the same to park there as in the far more convenient FCAA domestic parking lot. I was tempted to enquire how many Finnair Plus cards she’d like to see, I could have taken the shuttle back to the terminal and picked up a bunch of applications from the AY desks…
Due to the delay, I only arrived at home well past midnight, having been up for about 24 hours. Overall, Lufthansa had good service on all flights, and the economy class service on AA), China">PEK-FRA was a pleasant surprise. It was my second time in Beijing, and I’ll probably pick other Asian cities before I’ll return. The LH W fare was just EUR 398, but with taxes and visa fees, it still came to around EUR 500 total.