Hello All -
The Premium Economy concept might possibly be the best thing since sliced bread for those of us who are willing to spend a bit extra as part of the flying/travel experience but can't quite afford business class on a regular basis. And late last year, the carrier with one of the biggest networks in the world, Deutsche Lufthansa (LH), joined a the new wave of reputable carriers in adding Premium Economy as an entirely new and separate cabin product. I found this to be a significant event, as LH
is the best of the European majors and the continent's only true four-star carrier.
Having begun its Premium Economy roll-out with its 747-8i fleet, the airline began deploying the cabin on its A380s as recently as a couple of months ago. Having trouble finding reviews of LH
's A380 PE
cabin, I decided to upgrade a segment - trying it out for myself, and at the same time being able to relay the experience here.
A few months ago, there was a thread in the general forum about how British Airways was going to start flying to Kraków, Poland. The city hadn't really registered with me before as a destination, but after researching it a bit, now it did! Having relatives in another country in Europe, a rendez-vous in this fair city was quickly agreed upon and it was on to look for airline and fare options. I found a very decent fare on the Lufthansa site (a combination PE
on the outbound and standard coach on the "return" segment to a third destination that isn't part of this trip report), and it was soon booked for an outbound itinerary involving San Francisco to Kraków via Lufthansa's mighty hub in Frankfurt - so SFO
website is fairly intuitive to navigate, and in this case, was able to price out a reverse open-jaw with a pro-rated mix of Premium Economy on the outbound and Economy on the inbound with not much problem. I found a resonable hybrid fare in this regard for about $1,250, although I needed to pay an additional fee to reserve seats. While the outbound segment(s) were free as part of being ticketed as PE
, to reserve seats on the return incurred $15 for the short-haul flight, and $35 for the long-haul - which I did. That setup is a better arrangement than not allowing seat selection at all for a certain sub fare class, and probably represents a reasonable balance where PE
and above still come with complementary advance seat selection.
My original itinerary had involved a connecting flight with UA
down to LAX
, and then flying LH
's 747-800 (also in PE
). However, as is typical opportinistic and short-sighted practice by US carriers, my connecting UA
was re-scheduled to a later departure time that would have been too late for connecting to the LH
flight down south. So a call to LH
later, and the UA
piece was dumped (good riddens in this instance) and I was on a more direct routing directly from SFO
- and on the newly PE
upgraded A380 no less.
So lets get going....
The journey - needless to say for an urban traveler - started with mass transit. I have my issues with BART, but for this journey, it served its purpose.
Off we go...
Still marine layer overcast in Daly City...
BART charges a $4 surcharge to go to/from the airport station, and there are no exceptions such as same-day roundtrip privileges (for meet-and-greet or such). I don't think the designers of the extension to the airport had envisioned this. My view is that I've already paid my taxes toward the BART service and paid my regular fare - both of which I'm happy to do - but I just don't like that kind of singling out.
Anyway, a shot here of the airport station, which is integrated into the International Terminal at SFO
, check-in level. For pax with domestic flights, ascending to the upper level and exiting the station there to catch an automated people mover (APM) ride from there is the most expeditious, while if you're headed International or to Terminal 3, you just head up front to the fare gates on the same level as the train platforms.
The International Terminal at SFO
is perhaps not the state-of-the art facility that it once was when it was designed and built in the 1990s. The two boarding piers (A and G) are narrow, so vertical movement is necessary between concourse and boarding area. The two concourses are do not have a post-security connection to one another or, in the case of A, to anything else in the airport.
The terminal's centerpiece, however - the vast domed check-in area - still shines and is spacious, functional, and properly reflective of an international-class airport.
The International Terminal was designed and purposed for arriving and departing overseas flights (hence its name), and in the beginning years that was indeed the case (a passport was required to go through security). However, since about 2007 or so, this terminal seems to have been used as a perpetual dumping ground for overflow domestic flights.
This departure board shows an impressive array of international flights, most of which are intercontinental service. At the same time, if my quick calculation is correct, about 25% of departures are purely domestic and have no particular reason to be part of Int'l ops, except as overflow capacity for undersized domestic terminals. By the way, does anyone have a history as to why SFO
does not use remote stand ops for overflow capacity purposes? That way, they could retain proper grouping domestic/int'l and reduce instances of aircraft having to wait for a gate to open up.
Anyways, let's move on and proceed to check-in! Having no check-in bags, I could have checked in purely online, but for a long-haul flight, physical check-in is part of the experience - plus it also serves to evaluate things for the purposes of this review. On that note, LH
- as opposed to most of its PE
competitors - does not offer dedicated check-in for this class. So I'm off to the general Economy queue.
Note the promotional Premium Economy banner. How timely!
The check-in service was relatively expeditious; the clerk was polite but nothing overly friendly. She did the job though. As an aside, in true organized LH
fashion, a greeter was at hand to direct pax to the correct lanes and to assist with any questions.
It being still early, and me not having eaten anything yet, I was all for a light lunch. Whether by foresight or practical pier space constraints, the designers of the International Terminal placed two food courts pre-security. The eateries tenants that were selected when the terminal opened in 2000 must have been well chosen, because the original ones are all still there today. I find Japanese food to be nutricious, light, and healthy at the same time, so I chose Osho.
Their salmon teriyaki is great - but couldn't they muster a better dine-in presentation than a doggie box? Their fare used to be presented better than this.
Ok so it was time to head through security. Unfortunately, there is no Tsa Pre-Check with LH
, so it was on through the regular thorough check.... After that it was on to the concourse and the gate at the far end.
Star Alliance flights depart from the G concourse (which has a new airside corridor from Terminal 3 where United operates domestic). It's fairly functional but there is no real great spot to view things. Today's gate would be 101, an A380-ready gate with triple jetways and separate boarding from and to the upper level for business/first pax.
Down the escalator to a crowded gate holding area, where a Beijing-bound Air China 747-8i flight was scheduled to depart at the same time as my flight to Frankfurt.
And well, here's the best shot that could be had of my aircraft today, D-AIMD, Lufthansa's fourth delivered A380.
FRANCISCO - FRANKFURT
MAY 23, 2015, 14:55
About 40 minutes prior to scheduled departure, boarding for the main deck was called. To my slight annoyance, the Premium Economy rows were called last (yes, last) and we were the very last group to board. When in line to board, I asked one of the gate agents about this issue, and he said that they are still trying to work out the logistics for PE
boarding for this aircraft/flight, and said that I would have been welcome to board with the business class group upstairs. Of course I had no way of knowing that, but fair enough then, at least they were being nice about it.
received some flack last fall when they first introduced PE
in their 748i aircraft and placed it in the middle of two regular economy sections with no partitioning in between. Well, they certainly took that issue to heart with the A380 PE
retrofit. A rock-solid placement at the very front of the main deck, dedicated lavatories, and a galley walling off the PE
section makes for a great stand-alone cabin experience, as can be seen on this seatmap, courtesy of Seatguru.
I was welcomed aboard by a friendly male f/a, and made my way toward my seat. I had selected an aisle seat in the last center row - a choice that turned out to be perfect. Despite being next to a wall behind, it had full recline, and the nearby lavs would turn out never to be an issue as their doors faced the galley area and no queuing since the two lavs were dedicated to our small 52-seat cabin. Sorry about the blurriness in the following couple of pictures.
Fellow pax joy and excitement.
Water bottles provided.
Large, high-rez IFE screen.
A special Premium Economy amenity kit was provided.
A pre-departure drink, consisting of orange juice, was provided by the same friendly f/a that had greeted us upon first boarding. Champagne would have been even classier, but at least it was something.
Juice!... A cocktail cup "area" is provided, although there is no extension for this purpose.
Aside from the late-boarding issue, now came another annoyance. As there were a few seats vacant in the PE
cabin, a p/a announcement was made about the benefits of PE
, and that a limited number of seats were available for upgrade from economy for €349. During this process, prospective upgraders were shown the seats that were available, including two middle seats to the right of me. Eventually, a middle-aged couple purchased those seat upgrades and settled in, after (unintentially on their part) unsettling me. They were nice, and no disturbance at all after they were settled (in PE
, no need to have the seat next to you vacant to have comfortable lateral space). But the process annoyed me - why not take care of these upsells at check-in and/or the gate?
Nonetheless, the take-off was close to on-time and uneventful (sorry, I have no external pictures, as mine wasn't a window seat) - but how could it not be, in this gentle and gracious giant that we lovingly call the A380.
As soon as the crew were set free from their jumpseats, menus were handed out. There was also a hot-towel service, although it should be noted that it was basically thick disposable napkins and of the same kind as that provided in the regular Economy cabin.
Menu. Basically the Economy class choices, but to be served on chinaware. Choice of chicken or pasta for dinner. Then no choice for breakfast.
You can always tell the sophisticated airlines from the rest of the pack by the little details and small logistics. One of those is that a separate pre-meal bar service is offered for apéritifs. LH
never misses the mark on that one in any cabin class.
Whisky on the rocks.... Ahh.....
The large IFE screen was great... for viewing the flight info of course!
Took this snapshot across the opposite row to illustrate the recline of the PE
seat, as well as its extension into the space of the seat behind. It may appear tight, but the pitch is actually similar to that of US domestic First in many cases. Nonetheless, this armchair CEO would have probably settled for an additional 50mm between seats.
Accompanied by some nice sides, including side salad, cheese, and dessert. I chose white wine to go with the dinner.
Chose the chicken. It was every bit as flavorful and grill-like as this picture suggests, except being a bit on the dry side.
Wine refills during meal service. Now, that's classy.
Following the main course, the f/a's came around with coffee, then brandy and Bailey's to accompany it all. Went with the brandy, perfectly rounding off the meal.
Duty free round....
Two effectively PE
dedicated lavatories with doors that don't face the aisles or seats. Nice.
Sink was fresh enough. Electronic controls.
Night time. Nice and quiet cabin. It was a little too early for my body clock to sleep, but at least it offered relaxation time.
I think it was about 1:45h prior to landing that the breakfast service began. Maybe a little too early, but ok fine.
Simple presentation, but I guess that's ok - it's not business class after all. The omelet and hash browns tasted good. Fresh fruit is surely a better "dessert" option than a cookie, which probably would have been served had this been an American carrier equivalent.
The landing into Frankfurt was smooth and on time. We deplaned from a contact gate; we would have had good early de-boarding had they not had trouble maneuvering the main deck front jetway, but the way it turned out, we were among the last to deplane...
No matter how organized FRA
is (and it certainly is), one needs to have ample transfer time due to the large operation there relative to facility size. Long walking distances, people mover train connections, customs clearance, multiple security checkpoints, and remote stand operation of many flights all add up and necessitate orienting oneself immediately upon arriving and begin proceeding for the long journey toward the eventual connection gate. This time, I was relatively lucky I guess, because the gate for my connecting flight to KRK
on the other end was in relative proximity from where I started. It would entail, however, taking a bus to a remote stand.[Edited 2015-06-23 21:20:15]
[Edited 2015-06-23 21:37:01]