My parents were spending some time on Germany’s favorite holiday island, Mallorca, this October and they asked me if I wanted to join them for a few days. Since I don’t get to see my old folks very often anymore, I gladly accepted to join them during their last weekend on the Balearic Island.
Being an aviation nerd like everybody else on this forum, my first objective was to book some interesting flights for this little excursion – so I decided to try out the high- and low end of the Palma de Mallorca market – an outbound flight onboard Lufthansa, supposedly a “high class airline” with a sophisticated product both in the air and on the ground, and an inbound flight with EasyJet, the epitome of low-cost, no-frills flying.
How would the two products and, dare I say the big word, philosophies compare in the end? So join me for this picture report to Palma and back to find out more about this unusual comparison!
Friday, October 22, 2004
Duesseldorf International Airport
Flying with Lufthansa permits the customer to benefit from a number of very comfortable features even before the actual start of his journey – one major factor being the advance-seat selection on the evening before your departure. I had already reserved a window seat by phoning Lufthansa’s check-in hotline on 0561 99 33 99 (alternatively, internet check-in is available, however not on paper tickets like mine), so there was no real need to be at the airport long before the actual departure.
After I had left the Skytrain peoplemover, connecting the train station to the new glistening Central Terminal, I proceeded towards the Lufthansa check-in area. There was quite a long queue in front of the check-in desks, but since Lufthansa is a pioneer when it comes to automated check-in, there were also several check-in automats both for hand-luggage and conventional baggage available to the customer. As it seems to be a regular occurrence with travellers, hardly anyone dared to use the automats, so within a matter of minutes, I had checked in my bag and received the boarding pass for my flight at one of the machines. Thumbs up for such a comfortable and hassle-free service!
After freeing myself from the hassle of hauling my baggage around any longer, I proceeded towards the security checks. After a few minutes of watching with a slight amusement, how a young girl had to remove the metallic belt from her pants for the x-ray, and then had to hold her pants with one hand and trying to free herself from various metallic objects distributed all around her clothing (serves her right for wearing those ridiculous baggy pants!), I passed through the x-ray without any incidents and arrived in the airside part of Terminal A, which is exclusively used by Lufthansa and its partners.
I spent 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 late Friday morning; 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 A300-600 flying the short 25-minute hop to FRA from the gate next to us.
While our gate area was slowly filling up with passengers for the Mallorca flight, I strolled around the glass facade and watched while our “Bobby” (the Lufthansa nickname for the737, which is based on the nickname of the aircraft in a children’s book during the Seventies).
Another nice factor of travelling with Lufthansa is the fact that one gets to use some of the few remaining perks, our national carrier is offering to its cattle class customers. Positioned strategically all around the terminal are self-service beverage dispensers for tea and coffee and voluminous newspaper racks with a large selection of free national and international newspapers for the passengers to enjoy.
About twenty minutes before scheduled pushback time, the boarding announcement was made, and the passengers made their way to the gate (A72), got their boarding passes checked and then entered the jetway.
The flight (DUS-PMI)
Duesseldorf International Airport (PMI) – Palma de Mallorca Sont San Joan (PMI)
Flight number: LH4406
Scheduled block time: 1155h – 1420h
Take-Off: 1207h (RWY 23L)
Touch-down: 1413h (RWY 24R)
delivered: December 5, 1991
Seat 8A (Economy Class)
Photo © Avro
I quickly walked through the empty passenger boarding bridge and entered the cabin of “Pforzheim” (i.e. the name of the city, which is godfather to the aircraft). Two friendly female flight attendants greeted me at the entrance, and I made my way through the spotlessly clean aisle towards my seat, which was situated at the wing root.
The cabin of our 13-year old Boeing 737 was in a 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-ABEL 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 FRA 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.
By 1157h, 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 CityLine CRJ 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.
While the majestic Rhine River was glistening below us,…
…our 737 slowly banked towards the left and followed a south-westerly course towards Luxemburg, passing the almost deserted “Duesseldorf Express Airport” (a.k.a. Moenchengladbach Airport) and several open-pit brown coal mines in the “Ville” region on its way.
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 us to today’s flight data: “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. Concerning cabin service, passengers on today’s flight were also treated to 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 cheese or a ham baguette, which I chose.
Not really what one would expect from a „full service carrier“, whose slogan is a big-mouthed “There is no better way to fly”. Are they really sure about that or have they just never tested the onboard product of their competitors?
The quality of this baguette was, to be very honest, rather limited. The bread was dry and the cold rut rather bland, 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 most German leisure airlines, the food usually is much better and more substantial, unless one is travelling with the charter arm of Lufthansa, i.e. Condor (for a very fine trip report covering a Condor experience , please click here: http://www.airliners.net/discussions/trip_reports/read.main/51125/).
The rest of the flight went by fairly quick. We passed along Lake Neufchatel in Switzerland…
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.
About 25 minutes before scheduled touchdown, throttles were pulled back and descent initiated. With ten more minutes until touchdown, the eastern coastline of Mallorca near Alcudia became visible in the haze,…
…our Boeing glided across the brownish and barren plains of the Mallorca interior…
… before we soared across the threshold of RWY 24L, where two Air Europa 737 were awaiting their turn for take-off…
…and we touched down, deployed thrust reversers and spoilers…
…before we vacated the runway in typical Lufthansa fashion – very much on time earlier than scheduled. 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.
Monday, October 25, 2004
Palma de Mallorca Airport
After spending an enjoyable extended weekend with my old folks, we were again at the airport on the following Monday morning – very early in fact, because like almost any other low cost airline, EasyJet allocates their seats on a “first come, first serve” basis – if you check in early, you get a low sequence number and consequently are among the first passengers to board the aircraft.
Not really comfortable and a far cry from Lufthansa’s allocation standard, but nevertheless very efficient and transparent.
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 hardly ever experienced such a crowded place before, the only exception being this very same airport in the midst of the peak season during June.
There are several hundred check-in desks available in the spacious entrance level, however, it took us only a few minutes to find the check-in counters for the EasyJet flight back to DTM. With only five passengers waiting in front of us, we were finished with the check-in procedure rather quickly, and received sequence numbers 43 through 45. Therefore, we would be among the second group to board the aircraft.
After purchasing some stamps from the “Tabacco” in the entire 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.
Once inside the sterile portion of the huge H-shaped terminals after we had passed through the somewhat relaxed or even lax security check (no one even asking me for my boarding pass!), we took one of the vast moving walkways, transporting passengers to their gate areas, which can be quite far away in this huge terminal building.
The mood inside the terminal was hard to describe – PMI is made from polished beige limestone with relatively few windows 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.
Within a few minutes after our arrival at gate D62 and in fact 30 minutes before scheduled departure, boarding commenced for the flight back to Germany.
Boarding procedure at Palma was conducted in textbook style, which unfortunately is not necessarily the case at other EasyJet stations: first priority boarding for families with children and disabled persons, then the first group with sequence number 1 –30, then our group (numbers 31 – 60).
After handing the “EuroHandling” gate personal our boarding passes, we entered the jetway and proceeded towards the 1L door of our EasyAirbus.
The flight (PMI-DTM)
Palma de Mallorca Sont San Joan (PMI) – Dortmund Holzwickede (DTM)
Flight number: EZY 4972
Scheduled block time: 0945h – 1215h
Take-off: 0955h (RWY 24R)
Touch-down: 1150h (RWY 24)
delivered: October 6, 2003
Seat 12F (Economy Class)
Photo © Stefan Welsch
I said “Hello!” to the young and good looking flight attendant at the door, and proceeded through the already well filled rows until I found some free seats on the left hand side of our A319 in row 12. After storing my backpack in the overhead bin, I finally settled down o n the window seat. Boarding was completed well ahead of time and both front and rear doors closed. While our aircraft was readied for its pushback, I glanced out of the window and noticed a fellow EasyJet A319 next to us, destined to return to Berlin SXF a few minutes after us.
While the cabin was prepared for take-off and push-back commenced, I took a look around the cabin.
EasyJet surely likes to “pack them in” – I have never seen such a high density of seats on an Airbus narrowbody. Coupled with the lack of any extensive galley- or wardrobe structures next to the 1L door zone, the whole aircraft was filled with seats to the maximum. In fact, the term “Airbus” must have been coined with this situation in mind – our cabin resembled a large overland bus rather than a plane.
It has to be noted, however, that despite the high density seating, the seat pitch and the comfort level of the seats can still be described as adequate. Furthermore, the cabin was clean and designed with friendly colors and ambient lighting. Flying for cheap does not necessarily have to mean crappy service on dirty planes flying from remote airports – Ryanair should take note of that.
Pushback commenced a few minutes ahead of schedule, and soon we were sluggishly making our way to the threshold of RWY 24R, passing a Condor 757-300, a few parked Futura 737’s and the odd Spanair “Mad Dog” along the taxiway.
Turning onto the active runway a few minutes later, thrust was increased rapidly, and the well-packed Airbus roared down the asphalt and lifted off well before the end of the runway.
We passed Palma Bay only a few seconds later while gear was retracted…
… and soon afterwards made a sharp left turn, and then continued our climb just south of the Mallorcan shoreline. Unfortunately for us, soon enough clouds started to blanket the ground view, and it was only until the very last minutes of our flight that terra firma was again visible.
Cabin service onboard EasyJet is –quite logically – totally different from Lufthansa’s service. The young and motivated cabin crew performed a meal and drink sales run followed by a duty free sales excursion. Much to my surprise, there was quite a large amount of passengers buying both consumable goods as well as items from the duty free selection. All in all, cabin service has to be described as efficient and friendly, but not elegant.
About twenty minutes from touchdown, descent was initiated while we were still crossing the rolling hills of the Hunsrueck. After crossing the Rhine near Cologne and lowering the flaps over Wuppertal, the final few minutes of our descent saw us lining up for RWY 24 after a gentle U-turn near the medieval city of Soest, continue our descent across Unna, with the former nuclear power plant of Hamm-Uentrop visible in the background…
…before flying across the Kamener Kreuz, one of Germany’s busiest highway junction. Gear was lowered while we were gliding across some commercial areas close to Holzwickede…
… and we touched down firmly on Dortmund’s sole runway, using full reversers and spoilers due to the relatively short length.
A few more minutes of taxiing followed, until the Airbus came to a stop next to a Wizzair A320, which was scheduled to leave for Warsaw a few minutes after our arrival. With only a few meters left, the engines spooled down and an aircraft tug was connected, pulling our nose away from the terminal in a half circle before finally putting us on block.
Deboarding was performed as quick and swift as the reverse process before our flight, and soon we were walking through the hallways of Dortmund’s new terminal towards the baggage claim.
Although there are still quite some notable differences between “full frills” Lufthansa and “no frills” EasyJet, they are located at parts of the travel chain, where most of the regular (i.e. not frequent travelling) passengers will not notice them. Lufthansa’s advantage on an Intra-European Economy Class flight is the seamless travel chain on the ground on in the air, exemplified by the sophisticated check-in options and the reliable and clean terminals and aircraft.
Flying Lufthansa is therefore a stress-free experience.
EasyJet offers a very streamlined product, which satisfies the basic needs of their travellers. While devoid of most perks other “full service airlines” might offer, their actual on board product is not too different from e.g. Lufthansa’s watered down service, while usually selling at much lower fares.
With the destruction of any meaningful mileage accrual potential within “Miles and More”, Lufthansa has robbed themselves from another very effective tool against the low cost competition.
Therefore in the opinion of this author, for Economy travels within Europe, the decision can purely be based on price, schedule and geographical convenience – if Lufthansa offers a good price and an acceptable schedule, it makes sense to use the airline. However, if a flight on a comparable rotation costs e.g. 20 Euros more than a flight on e.g. EasyJet, the comfort plus on LH can be neglected.
This is an observation, which casts some shadows of doubt on today’s full frills airlines’ strategies, because with a much higher cost base, they will not be able to compete with LCC’s like EasyJet on price alone in the long run, while differentiating their product only slightly.
One can only hope, for the sake of comfortable travelling and in the name of employees and shareholders of the “full frills airlines”, that management will no longer succumb themselves to the price dictate alone, as there are a few shining examples among the European full frills airlines, which are going the other way, increasing service to differentiate themselves from the low cost pack –and even show success with this.
Take SNBA for example…
Thanks for reading my report – questions, comments, or criticism are always appreciated.