I hadn't been to Europe for about a year-and-a-half, and decided to meet up with friends in a place we hadn't been before. Having had a great time in Prague on a previous rendez-vous, it was decided that Budapest would make a suitable sequel along the same theme. And since the introduction of A380 service to San Francisco by Lufhansa, I had been looking for an excuse to travel with the "King of the Skies" from home base. And with mid-week fares to Budapest in September hovering just above $1,000 r/t all-in, why not? I booked it on the Lufthansa site, making sure my itinerary would include the A380 both on the outbound as well as inbound. This meant flying via Frankfurt, and it also meant that I would have to start my return trip very early from Budapest coming back, as the super jumbo's departure back to the States would leave Frankfurt at 09:45. Still, there was little doubt that it would be worth it.
The day had come, and it was time to head to the airport for the convenient mid-afternoon departure. A nice and sunny day in the Bay Area, perfect for flying!
On the way to the airport with BART metro rail. Here seen when transferring to the airport line at the Daly City station, once upon a time a terminus station actually, before the two-stage extension to the airport and Millbrae was completed in 2003.
Ah, my bird had already arrived from Frankfurt, and was standing in majestic contrast to its smaller widebody peers around it.
A closer view.
Two 777-300ERs were sitting next to the King, getting ready for their flights to northeast Asia; ANA to Tokyo, and SIA
Exiting the SFO
BART station takes you directly to the check-in area of the International Terminal. Lufthansa was operating their check-ins from their usual area, using parts of rows 4 and 5.
Even though I had nothing other than a carry-on item, I decided not to check in online, as I wanted to get a feel for the face-to-face interaction at Lufthansa's counters. It turned out not to be the greatest - the agent quickly issued my two boarding passes without any comment. It would have been nice to get some polite "you have an aisle seat today, sir" or something like that. But anyway, looking at my newly issued boarding pass, I did indeed have the seat to Frankfurt that I had selected as part of the original reservation; the seat on the sector to Budapest was newly assigned, however, since there was no option given to select that one in advance. One would have thought the latter fact, if nothing else, should have prompted some interaction from the agent, but no. Oh well, no big deal I guess.
Always nice to dwell around for a bit... Singapore crew arriving....
And looks like this would be our crew today.
They kept pouring in... There must have been some 25 LH
crew reporting for our flight.
The gate for me today would be G101, as I had also seen upon approaching the aiport landside.
On my way toward the security checkpoint. Love this terminal. Although it is no match for flagship airports overseas, it does at least stand out from the bus-station-like designs that most airports State-side have.
Post security, on my way toward the gate. The G concourse, as its A sibling on the opposite end of the terminal, features moving walkways, sided by a few eateries and high-end shops. Reflecting the general space constraints at this airport, the design has the actual gate holding areas one level down from the concourse.
FIDS showing departures from the G half of the Int'l Terminal. A Star Alliance heaven. SkyTeam and oneWorld typically use the A pier.
An Air China 747 combi getting ready for its flight to Bei Jing.
Here's the SQ
bird I saw earlier. Sorry for the poor image clarity here, due to the configuration of the window glass at this spot.
, perhaps tomorrow's ruler of world aviation, gearing up for a long flight to Dubai.
747 bird also gearing up for an intercontinental journey. I can't remember for sure, but I believe this one may have been destined for Frankfurt too, just as LH
FRANCISCO - FRANKFURT
SEPTEMBER 21, 2011, 14:20
Getting closer to the gate. An amazing number of code-shares existed on this flight, and appeared to be as follows:
) Continental Airlines 8828
) United Airlines 8828
) Turkish Airlines 8534
) Brussels Airlines 7249
) SAS - Scandinavian Airlines 3714
) Austrian 7326
) Air New Zealand 4655
I had a small decaf at the coffee shop at the end of the pier, monitoring the assembly at the gate holding area just beneath it. At about 13:40, the boarding process was announced, and begun shortly thereafter. Lufthansa configures its A380 with an all-economy main deck, while First and Business have the upper deck to themselves - a sensible arrangement logistically, in my opinion.
The queues you see in the picture above are both for economy; the two lines board for separate sections of the main deck.
In the meantime, F and J board from upstairs, and have their own bridge to the upper deck. Nice to see that the designers of this terminal had the foresight to think about super jumbo aviation of the future.
Still at the coffee shop, I waited out most of the queues before proceeding down the escalator to the economy boarding.
Although hard to see here, three jetways were serving the majestic A380 for our flight. Our King for today would be "Johannesburg", delivered to LH
just in March of this year, and being the 5th delivered to the airline at that time.
My seat for this flight. I apologize for the blurry image. Pillows and blankets were provided. These seats follow the current trend among airlines to make them as thin as possible to save on space and weight. An unavoidable reality I guess, at least in Y... I knew exactly where I would be placing that pillow.
After an orderly boarding process, most pax began to settle in. Even in the best of scenarios, it's inevitable that boarding a plane with as may seats as the A380 requires time - especially with 435-some seats in Y alone. But no complaints, and we would be ready for a timely departure anyway.
The obligatory legroom shot. Hmm, pretty standard. The IFE box seemed quite unobtrusive - a welcome finding.
As I most often travel solo, I tend to pick an aisle seat - thus I'm sorry for the lack of window shots. But we did take off smoothly and uneventfully from one of the 28s, climbing an inital northwesterly heading before turning right toward the northeast.
A modern IFE awaited, featuring a small but high-resolution touch screen. I found most of the menus to be intuitive and user-friendly, albeit with somewhat slow response times.
One of my favorites on any flight - where available - is the moving map feature. On the LH
A380 IFE, this is shown in alternating views that incorporate 3D angles, such as the in the capture above. It gives you a "wow" type of feeling at first, but in the end, a plain map of where the flight does it fine for me.
Cabin upon approaching cruising altitude. The LH
A380 Y cabin is spacious and bright (almost too bright), reminiscent of the 747 actually. I had heard so much about how quiet the whalejet is inside, so I think my expectation in that regard had been set too high. While quieter than anything I had flown before, there was still a great deal of noise (or sound) coming from engines and wind outside. But that's not necessarily a negative for me, as I prefer somewhat of a "cushion" of sound in the cabin, insulating oneself from conversations, baby crying, and other sporadic noise generated inside the cabin. In all, I would say that the noise levels I experienced on this flight were actually pretty optimal for overall comfort.
The provided head phones. I found it annoying that one had to place the pads on oneself, and they were easily torn in the process. Maybe I'm just clumsy.
No amenity kits were provided - somewhat of a let-down.
Somewhat disappointingly as well, no menus were handed out either. But we did get a round of hot napkins. Not long into the flight, a pre-dinner cocktail service was begun. In my opinion, this is a must-provide feature for any full-service airline, and LH
did not disappoint me in that regard.
Sparking wine - not bad! Henkell.
Of course I had the sparkling wine. And it was nice to be asked whether one wanted water as well to accompany the wine - aber, natürlich....
Mmm... the bubbly was excellent, and what a great way to start our cruise across the world - or across the Atlantic at least....
On our way....
Shortly after the bar service, meal service began. Can't remember if they called it lunch or dinner....
I think they had run out of choices by the time they got to me, since they didn't ask me for a meal preference. I was served chicken with rice and vegetables, accompanied by a salad, bread, cheese, and a tiramisu dessert. And more wine hehe.
Notice the nice touch of having real metal cutlery - those small things do make a big difference.... Having said that, the meal overall was simpler than what one would get on say a major Asian carrier, and slightly smaller in portion as well. Still, it surpassed what the UA
offering would have been on this route (not that this would be a difficult feat).
Wine refills and coffee were offered post-meal.
Following the meal service, the cabin settled into rest mode. I didn't see any mood lighting. I was able to get some sleep actually.
As we had crossed the ocean, and getting closer to the European continent, it was breakfast time. As is common, special meals were heated up and distributed first, and then the main service began, using the service carts.
I was positively surprised to see a hot breakfast served! Hot eggs, fried potatoes, and grilled diced tomatoes made for an excellent start of the new day in Europe, accompanied by fresh fruit, bread, and tea. Again, metal cutlery was provided, and we got hot napkins prior to the meal.
At first, I was excited about the news program feature in the IFE - but it turned out be just five-minutes (or so) in duration - half of which was spent on unimportant sport events. I'm not a sports fan, so I couldn't care less about what the Bundesliga had been up to hehe.
The landing at FRA
was relatively smooth, and on approach, I could see the usual Frankfurt skyscraper scenery.
Arriving at the Frankfurt Airport. It's not my favorite world hub airport (but they do a pretty good job working with what they've got). Here begins the long maze-like journey - as usual at FRA
- to catch a connecting flight....
I'm always amazed looking at the departure screens at FRA
- I don't think there is a single corner of the world that isn't covered from here.
It's always odd to arrive literally at the curbside and check-in area of this airport even as one is traveling internationally from another country to a third country without a stayover in Frankfurt. But whatever.... It's intra-Schengen travel from this point on, that's why... SIA
check-in counters.... didn't I just see these before I left SFO
Ok so it was time to re-enter the labyrinth on the way to my connecting flight to Budapest. Lufthansa service counters are outfitted in modernistic European style. Elegant in a way, but I still prefer the more traditional design, such as what one would see in Asia. Still, not bad.
Getting closer to my connecting flight's gate. One great feature that Lufthansa offers - at least in FRA
- is some complementary items at the departure gate. Here - coffee and tea, self-serve.... Great.
And how about complementary newspapers. Not just the typical hybrid news/tabloid papers that are common in Europe, but quality papers like the Frankfurter Allgemeine and the International Herald Tribune.
Wide-body love fest in FRA
FRANKFURT - BUDAPEST
SEPTEMBER 22, 2011, 12:40
I arrived at the gate for my Budapest flight with a decent time cushion.
, you self-scan your boarding pass at the gate, using subway-style fare gates that open up when passing through.
Of course - we would depart from a remote stand! Letzter Bus - better not be left behind
The articulated bus let us alight next to the aircraft, and to board either at the front or rear doors.
It looked to be a pretty full flight to BUD
For once, I'm able to share a window view with you.
Take-off was timely, and we ascended to a fair sky above Frankfurt.
Above the clouds....
Cabin service began upon reaching crusing altitude.
I think that small sandwich had soft cheese in it. Served with coffee. Wine was also available, but it was too early for me to have that.
. A train can be seen on the ground. Hungary has great train services, even across the countryside, as I would discover during my short stay there.
Touching down at the Budapest Ferihegy Airport.
The tower at BUD
Sorry that I didn't take many shots at the Budapest airport; this was taken at my return trip departure.... A metro bus line does ply the route from the airport, but since there were three of us after our rendez-vous, we decided to take a taxi to the city center.
Budapest is a wonderful city, featuring the old-world charm and eastern European magic. I would recommend anyone that haven't yet been there to go... In this pic, the police academy is having some exercises at the Heroes' Square.
The view from the hill conveys scenery from Buda and Pest on either side of the Danube (aka Donau in German). Pest...
And Buda with the Castle....
The transit system is a mix of old and new equipment; shown here is an example of the former. The subway is also convenient, and relatively extensive in its reach.
Being a reasonably regular flier - and given that the A380 had been in revenue service for almost four years already - I had been frustrated by not having had a (practical) opportunity to fly the super jumbo. Once I was able to do so on the above mentioned trip, I tried to temper my expectations, but had been very excited about flying this giant bird nonetheless.
In all, it did not disappoint me. You do get a little bit more of lateral room in your seat, and the overall spaciousness of the cabin extends, if only mentally, to the individual space as well. But unless you have current eye contact with one of the stair cases, the presense of an additional deck (the one you're not sitting in) is not felt, and as such, doesn't add to that sense of space, even though it is part of the airplane. So my own feeling of space on the A380 was more like that of the 747 - still not bad at all.
Like others have said in their trip reports involving this giant, the windows go through a rather thick fuselage panel, creating a "tunnel" through which full views may be somewhat obstructed.
One aspect in which the A380 fulfilled or even exceeded my expectations was in its exceptionally smooth ride at all phases of flight; not once was the seatbelt sign turned on during cruise on either of my two jumbo flights (including the return trip not covered here). No doubt, its huge wing area - designed for a longer fuselage version of this aircraft type in the future - played a role in this.
What about the airline itself then? Lufthansa was not brand new to me, but this was my first time flying them on long haul service. I would say that they matched - or even slightly surpassed - what I had expected from them. I knew not to expect Asian-style five-star hospitality, but rather a no-nonse, but polite style of efficiency. This was, according to my impression, indeed the case on this trip, where front-line staff and flight attendants were well-groomed, organized, and carried out service with high efficiency. Big smiles were perhaps for another day or another time, and were not amply provided. Having said that, however, Lufthansa stands out in its service offering overall compared with the other two European giants, BA
, and I would fly long-haul with LH
again if the right opportunity came along.
Thank you so much for reading; any feedback is welcome!