I recently found out that Lufthansa had great offers on their newly introduced “warm water flights”. These new services are scheduled for the duration of this summer timetable in order to maximize the block hours of their short haul fleet, which would otherwise sit idle during mid-day. The new services connect regional German cities with destinations around the Mediterranean. One of the offers was a day-return trip to Palma de Mallorca for just 98 Euro, an offer I just could not refuse. As it turned out, I got much more out of these 98 Euro than I deserved. So please follow me along on my brief afternoon ride – “Mallorca for an hour”.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
Duesseldorf International Airport
I had already checked in for my outbound flight by telephone the evening before and got assigned seat 7F, which is relatively close to the wing root. Unfortunately, this is about the only row on Lufthansa’s B737-300 without a direct window, because some sort of wiring or hydraulic pipes are running through the fuselage at this position. My only chance to peek out of the window was to stretch very much forward. So let this be a warning for you next time check in for a Lufthansa flight!
My problem was the check-in for my return trip –due to my very short stay in Mallorca (just an hour), I urgently wanted to check in for my return flight already before my outbound departure. But much to my disappointment and to the unpleasant surprise of the very friendly and competent check-in staff in Lufthansa’s dedicated Terminal A at Duesseldorf, it was not possible to call up the seat map for the return leg. The final explanation was that a third party handling company would be responsible for checking in Lufthansa’s passenger’s in PMI and that the two systems were incompatible. Instead the girls recommended I should contact the crew on my aircraft and ask them to call the station in PMI in order to already check me in.
Photo © Manfred Biel
I spend the next hour inside Lufthansa’s pier A, which was renovated only a few years ago and offers a surprisingly good collection of fashion, souvenir and travel value stores as well as several bars and bistros. Traffic was fairly tranquil during this lazy Saturday afternoon; the first wave of charter flight arrived back from their morning rotations to destinations around the Med. The Lufthansa gates, however, were almost deserted, with only a sole A320 departing for MUC and another A321 flying the short 25-minute hop to AB) (FRA / FRF / EDDF), Germany">FRA.
Photo © EDDL Photography
While I was wandering around the terminal, I noticed our Boeing 737 already sitting alone at Gate A80 in the “A Hof”, the apron between the northeastern side of Pier A and the hangars. A few baggage carts were unloaded and suitcases and bags transported into the front baggage hold. A catering truck arrived, loading goods into the aircraft through the 1R door.
In the meantime, the gate area already filled up with travellers, most of them being either older couples, young couples with young children or groups of young and middle aged men travelling to Mallorca - most likely to partake in the infamous drinking contests at “Ballermann”.
Boarding started twenty minutes before scheduled off-block time and within ten minutes, everybody had made their way into the Baby Boeing, myself among the first passengers to arrive on board.
The flight (DUS-PMI)
Duesseldorf International Airport (PMI) – Palma de Mallorca Sont San Joan (PMI)
Flight number: LH4406
Scheduled block time: 1235h – 1500h
Take-Off: 1255h (RWY 23L)
Touch-down: 1447h (RWY 24L)
D-ABEP „Naumburg an der Saale“
delivered: February 13, 1992
Seat 7F (Economy Class)
Photo © Jan Szidat
I quickly walked through the empty passenger boarding bridge and entered the cabin of “Naumburg an der Saale” (i.e. the name of the city, which is godfather to the aircraft). The purser, a brown-haired middle-aged man, welcomed me onboard with a very friendly smile, but was very irritated when I got him out of his sweet Saturday afternoon routine with my rather unusual request to call the station at PMI. He asked me for my boarding pass and my return and promised to try the best he could. After thanking him profusely for his dedication, I quickly made my way to my assigned seat in order not to hold up the boarding process.
The cabin of our 12-year old Boeing 737 was in remarkably good shape and looked much better than the worn out Lufthansa 737’s I had recently travelled on. While my fellow travellers boarded the plane, I took the chance to look around the cabin. D-ABEP was one of the Boeing 737-300, which was recently reconfigured by Lufthansa into a “high density configuration”. By removal of the rear galley and the installation of new, thinner seats, another two seat rows could be added, increasing the revenue potential of these planes. Another interesting trivia fact about this subfleet is that these aircraft are based on regional German airports for tangential routes, i.e. those flights not serving one of the hubs in F R A or MUC.
Having never flown on one of the reconfigured “high density” birds, I have to admit that all the fuss and bad criticism about this very controversial Lufthansa strategy is just about right. Instead of the comfortable and very cushy grey leather seats, which are standard on the rest of Lufthansa’s “Kont-Fleet”, this 737 was fitted with the worst seats I have ever come across.
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
The seats are covered with a cheap-looking grey fabric, the seat backs and bottoms are rock hard, which isn’t surprising at all considering that the back is now only about 3 centimeters wide and the seat pitch has been reduced to Ryanairesque proportions. Dreading the next two hours of travel time on this aircraft, I finally accepted my fate, digging the Lufthansa Magazine out of the seat pocket. While I was reading a few articles, the purser finally announced that boarding was completed and that we would be off-block a few minutes late because of a slot shortage in PMI.
By 1242h, we finally went off-block, the trusty CFM-56’s spooled up with their characteristically dry belch, and a few minutes later, after the pushback tug was disconnected and our flight “waved off”, we were on our way, taxiing alongside the deserted LTU hangar to the threshold of RWY 23L.
After letting another Air Berlin 737-800 take off in front of us, it was finally our turn for departure, so our little “Classic 737”, slowly turned onto the active runway, the engine sound increased to a deafening roar and we thundered and rattled down the runway, rotation followed and with one minute, our wheels lost contact to terra firma and we were on our way across the lush green banks of the River Rhine to warmer climes.
About twenty minutes after departure, we executed a sharp right and left hand turn before finally ascending continuously to the south under a beautifully clear blue summer day A message from the flight deck introduced Flight Captain Kroeger and his crew: “Welcome about this afternoon’s flight so sunny Mallorca. Our flight path today will lead us from Duesseldorf via Krefeld to Liege, where we have made a left turn towards Luxemburg. We are currently passing west of Strasbourg and will continue our flight towards Geneva, Marseille and, finally, Mallorca. Cruising altitude today is 35.00 feet at a speed of 500 miles per hour.”
Unfortunately, there is neither audio nor video equipment on board Lufthansa’s continental European fleet, so there was no AirShow available for the duration of this trip. Thankfully, and quite different to all my more “business-like” flights with Lufthansa before, the cockpit crew really made their best efforts to inform their self-loading freight about sights along our path. From my impression, the captain really seemed to enjoy having a somewhat different and colourful passenger load this afternoon instead of the usual grumpy men (and very few women) in dark suits or costumes.
Not so enjoyable however, was this flight from the perspective of the cabin crew, which was definitely overwhelmed by today’s lively crowd. After making a few futile attempts to block Peasant Class passengers from using the Business Class restroom in the front, they finally gave up and started cabin service.
Talking about cabin service, today was my first contact with the new “enhanced” (that’s Lufthansa lingo for “reduced” service concept: instead of a small cold plate and salad, the only food available for Peasant Class was either a cream cheese bagel or a ham baguette, which I chose.
The quality of this baguette was, to be very honest, rather limited. The bread was dry and hard like a rock, so it was a fortunate coincidence that two drink runs were performed by the crew in the course of the flight, which made swallowing down the flour brick somewhat easier. On a comparable flight with any German leisure airline, the food usually is much netter and more substantial, usually consisting of a small plate with cold cuts, fruit salad, some bread and a cake – items a “quality airline” obviously deems to be below their standard.
The rest of the flight went by fairly quick. We passed along Lake Geneva, with a snow-covered Montblanc in the background, crossed the Rhone river and finally traversed the port city of Marseille on our way to the Balearic island.
Photo © Stephane Moitry
About 25 minutes before scheduled touchdown, throttles were pulled back and descent initiated. The cabin crew struggled to secure the cabin for landing, which was almost a comical experience to watch. The two female flight attendants and the male purser were certainly overwhelmed and had quite a rough time trying to calm the rather rowdy crowd of young (and slightly loaded) men in the rear part of the cabin. Guess, they are used a different audience on their “business flights” during weekdays!
With ten more minutes until touchdown, the purser came back to my seat and handed back boarding pass and ticket with a gesture of apology – it wasn’t possible to contact the handling agent at PMI about my return, so I would have to make my way to check-in as quickly as possible. Lucky for me, our Boeing glided across the brownish and barren plains of the Mallorca interior without any delays and we touched down in typical Lufthansa fashion – earlier than planned. A few minutes of taxiing alongside a plethora of British and Spanish holiday airliners ensued, before our bird finally came to a halt on the apron adjacent to Terminal A in the middle of the searing Spanish afternoon sun.
Two more minutes of waiting until the boarding bridge finally arrived, and we were off the plane, entered the “Iberia” bus and drove to the arrival hall at the main central terminal.
Palma de Mallorca Airport
PMI is the epitome of an airport in a holiday region – struggling to keep with an onrush of travellers during high season (April –October), it is bustling with activity during June. Seriously. I have never experienced such a crowded place ever before, even Malaga during August is no comparison to this beehive!
Photo © Manuel Marin - IBERIAN SPOTTERS
There are several hundred check-in desks available in the spacious entrance level, however, it took me only a minute to find the check-in counters for the Lufthansa flight back to DUS. At this point I was rather nervous about getting stuck on the worst seat in the house, because I was certain to be among the last passengers to check in for the flight.
All my stress vanished within split seconds and turned into the warm and fuzzy feeling you most likely last experienced during Christmas eve as a small kid: being sequence number 125 for check-in, there was no seat available in Peasant Class anymore, so with a gesture of apology, the friendly check-in lady bumped me to – Business Class! Nice one!
After purchasing some stamps from the “Tabacco” in the landside terminal hall, and perusing through the Aldeasa (Spanish chain of Travel Value stores) offers, I made my way to airside via one of the two open security checkpoints.
Photo © Julio Ribeiro - IBERIAN SPOTTERS
Once inside the sterile portion of the huge H-shaped terminals, I decided to stroll around for a while in order to learn more about the functionality and architecture of the terminal (this is the nice aspect about merging your hobby and professional interests). The mood inside the terminal was hard to describe – PMI is made from polished beige limestone with relatively few indows and fairly massive walls in order to isolate the inside from the searing heat of the summer months. There were flights arriving and leaving at virtually every gate, but thanks to the very wide internal architecture with very few obstruction, the place didn’t seem to be overly crowded.
Photo © Julio Ribeiro - IBERIAN SPOTTERS
Within a few minutes after my arrival at gate A18R, boarding commenced for the flights back to Germany.
Just like after our arrival an hour before, we were again bussed to our aircraft. With my miraculously achieved “ticket to heaven” firmly in my hands, I suddenly could hardly wait to be back inside the Lufthansa bird – not having the perspective to be stuck between some rowdy vacationers at miserably seat pitch and with another baguette brick being hauled at you certainly helps to raise one’s mood!
The flight (PMI-DUS)
Palma de Mallorca Sont San Joan (PMI) – Duesseldorf International (DUS)
Flight number: LH4407
Scheduled block time: 1600h – 1830h
Take-off: 1615h (RWY 24R)
Touch-down: 1815h (RWY 23L)
delivered: February 13, 1992
Seat 3A (Business Class)
Photo © Mario Aurich
Once inside the aircraft, I said “hello!” to the purser, who reacted with a big grin –he certainly must have remembered the weird guy with the one hour stay in PMI from the inbound flight. Putting my backpack into the overhead bin, I slid into my seat row and took a look around the cabin, while our engines started up and we sluggishly made our way to the active runway amidst several Spanair MD-80’s and a few charter birds from all over Europe.
The quality of the seat is just the same as in Economy Class – which wasn’t a surprise to me, because this flexible cabin layout is standard among virtually every European carrier. Seat pitch, however, was a few centimetres better – this is again pretty much standard on European flights, most airlines are configuring the front of their aircraft with a slightly better seat pitch because this is where their Business Class passengers are likely to travel.
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
The only comfort bonus on Business trips with Lufthansa inside of Europe is the vacant middle seat – although I wouldn’t necessarily call this the greatest invention since sliced bread, I certainly appreciated after being stuck in a crowded Economy cabin on the inbound leg.
Before our cabin was finally secured for take-off, our purser welcomed everyone of the eight Business Class passengers, wished us a good flight and offered us a selection of free magazines and newspapers (this is only available to Economy Class passengers free of charge at airports within Germany and at selected European airports).
Finally, with a few minutes of delay, it was our turn to taxi onto the runway, and with a spirited performance, our little bird lifted off, soaring across the azure blue and yellow shoreline of Palma before making a gentle right hand turn in order to continue climbing towards Barcelona.
After we had reached our cruising altitude of 35.000 feet some twenty minutes after take-off somewhere between Barcelona and Toulouse, cabin service started. On offer today were some snacks from the “Taste Europe” program, the recently introduced new catering service on Lufthansa’s short haul flights. Although the quality of the fruit salad, the cold cut, fried potato patty (“Roesti” and smoked salmon was certainly very good, and the warm and fresh baguette roll highly appreciated by everyone of my fellow passengers and myself, the quantity of the meal service can be described as somewhat minimalist. There were no additional rolls offered.
The only real advantage was the seemingly unlimited bar service –every few minutes, one of the flight attendants would make the effort to ask every Business Class passengers for his or her drink wishes, the available collection including several kinds of wines, spirits and – above all – Champaign. The cabin service could be described as attentive and very professional. Although the crew made their best efforts to actively ask the passengers for their desires, one did not get the impression that this was an intrusion into one’s privacy and relaxation. Thumbs up for this very good service training!
The rest of the flight went by fairly quick, which isn’t surprise considering that I now had slightly more space to stretch out my legs, a filled stomach and a very good Spanish red wine to my side. Sometimes you just have one of the few surprising and rewarding moments in life – this was certainly one of them.
Photo © Tim Feise - APO Photos
After we had travelled across most of central France under a clear blue sky with an almost perfect view of the ground, clouds finally began to appear on the horizon, and a few minutes after we had touched the outskirts of Paris, descent was initiated and the nosecone of our –300 pointed into the clouds, obscuring the view until we were already very low on the downwind leg just south of DUS.
Some last minute manoeuvring ensued in order to line us up with the ILS of RWY23L right over southern Essen and the Baldeneysee, before we gently glided across the lush meadows of the Bergische Land, soared across Ratingen and touched down on the runway, vacating the stretch of concrete adjacent to pier A.
Only few minutes later, our trip ended only a few feet from the position of our departure six hours before – at gate A83.
The newly reconfigured Lufthansa 737 and the “innovative” new “Kont” service concept in Economy Class are certainly steps into the wrong direction if regarded from the customer side. Lufthansa has managed to water down their service standard to only slightly above the levels of so-called “no frills carriers”, which in some cases now offer a comparable product. Although the urge to cut costs can be appreciated, in this author’s opinion, it is the wrong strategy to cut costs where the customer feels it the most, i.e. seat pitch, seat quality and catering. How a “quality carrier” like Lufthansa can expect to charge a premium over low cost carriers if there is now virtually no difference visible to the passenger is a question open for discussion. With the impending “reform” of the Miles and More program, it will be much harder for “seldom flyers” to accrue any meaningful number of miles, rendering the program virtually useless for private travellers, further severing any ties of allegiance Lufthansa customers might have had with the company.
The Business Class product, although appreciably better than the Economy Class service, can be described as decent, albeit minimalist. As long as Lufthansa continues to fulfill the chief demands of business travellers however, i.e. reliability, punctuality, a wealth of connections and destinations at high frequencies, this minor flaw can be neglected. From the standpoint of a private traveller on these flights, paying a premium for Business Class service out of my own pocket would not have been worth the while though.
Thanks for reading my report – questions, comments, or criticism is always appreciated.