I just recently returned from Europe, happily flying first class in both directions, on United Airlines and Lufthansa respectively. Of course no matter what class of service everyone on the plane wants to get there on time, comfortably and safely. But when flying first class travelers expectations rise significantly. I have have often had conversations with friends about how US airlines fair against European ones, and have been called a Euro snob at times. So I thought I would pay closer attention this time, as I had the opportunity to fly on two different airlines during the same trip.
I started out in the United First International Lounge in San Francisco prior to my flight to Frankfurt on United. Once we arrived in Frankfurt my friend Alain (on his way to Burgundy) and I were turned away at Lufthansa’s First Class Lounge in Pier A. After getting checked in, shortly after making our way to the showers we were told that they had made a mistake in giving us access. Really?! Apparently were ineligible due to having arrived on a first class flight on United, not Lufthansa. We were sent to the business lounge, where I was denied access once again for the same reasons and because my connecting flight to Salzburg was on Austrian Arrows (part of Austrian Airlines) in coach, which was all that was available despite my whole trip having been booked in First Class. Alain however was allowed in because he continued on to Paris on Lufthansa in first class. Wasn’t I flying “the friendly skies”? I certainly did not have that problem during my last visit to Frankfurt’s airport. So much for the Star Alliance! Both United Airlines and Austrian Airlines are members, the latter also having recently purchased by Lufthansa. Perplexed, but too tired to argue, and noticing that a line had formed behind me, I had to forego the most coveted shower after a nauseating jog from terminal to terminal to get to the lounge. Forced to hike back through Frankfurt International’s endless tunnel to my departure gate, I was quite frustrated to arrive in Salzburg a sweaty mess, of course exaggerated from our run to the lounges. I barely dared to open my arms to hug my family.
I may have acquiesced at the time, but I had to look into this. So I sent an email to Lufthansa’s customer service department. The response I received did not provide clear answers. From that it appeared that only a boarding pass in first class for the next flight would be eligible. So why did Alain get denied? Plus a little R&R and a shower are more needed on arrival or stop-over than prior to departure home. I have not heard back to my second inquiry into further details.
Thankfully I was luckier on my return where my Lufthansa boarding pass gave me access to the First Class Lounge in Pier B. My return connection was through Los Angeles where I waited for my flight to San Francisco in the United First International Lounge.
Let’s compare by starting with the flights:
UA: Boing 747, two levels, first class in front on lower lever
LH: Airbus 340-600, one level, first class in front
FIRST CLASS CABIN
UA: 16 roomy leather seats that turn into comfortable flat beds connecting with level foot rests, lots of storage space for a big purse and amenities, generously sized TV screens with limited selection of lesser-known movies, dacron pillows with cotton pillow cases
LH: 8 wide fabric seats that go entirely flat, adjustable headrests, no storage for a bag, only small compartments for amenities, small pop-up TV screens with a very good selection of new and popular movies, feather/down pillows with cotton pillow cases
On United I found the seats more comfortable, felt more private and enjoyed the generous storage and larger TV screen. But I preferred Lufthansa’s selection of movies and the feather/down pillows. So when it comes to aircraft I may be comparing apples and oranges.
UA: two female flight attendants, professional and courteous.
LH: two female flight attendants and a very attentive male purser who all made sure each first class passenger had an enjoyable experience without being overbearing, professional and attentive.
I felt that Lufthansa’s service was far superior to that of United. The flight attendants on Lufthansa were more observant, charming and quite caring when my stomach was in knots after overindulging a bit during lunch in the lounge.
UA: menu designed by United Corporate Chef Gerry Gulli with featured selections by culinary innovator Chef Charlie Trotter; first course: crispy jumbo lump crab cake with braised endive, goat cheese and tomato confit, curry lentil soup, fresh seasonal greens with plum tomatoes, cucumbers and seasoned croutons with a choice of creamy garlic or balsamic vinaigrette, main course: herb marinated salmon with yukon gold garlic mashed potatoes with truffle oil and a carrot green bean sauté, or wild mushroom lasagna with toasted pine nuts and arugula pesto, or grilled filet mignon with green peppercorn sauce, oven-roasted potatoes and sautéed summer squash medley, or saté spiced chicken with Jasmine rice, herbed asparagus and carrot sauté, dessert: Edy’s grand ice cream with a choice of sundae toppings of hot fudge or caramel and whipped cream or a selection of cheeses to include Maple Blue, La Cabrie, and San Joaquin Gold; breakfast was chive scrambled eggs with turkey sausage and breakfast potatoes and fresh fruit plate with muesli.
LH: the airline is celebrating its 10th anniversary of the Star Chefs Program, which has included highly-decorated chefs from the international gourmet scene; first course: caviar with traditional garnishes, marinated jumbo shrimp with diced Mango (Tam Kok Kong), duck specialties and lentil salad (David Boulud), Nashi pear with honey mustard sauce, goat cheese and caramelized walnuts (Jin Jie Zhang “JinR”), Lollo Rosso, Frisée and Lamb’s lettuces with carrot and cucumber and a choice of balsamic or yogurt dill dressing. soup with Romaine lettuce and ginger (Cornelia Poletto), main course: braised veal cheeks with Tahiti vanilla and checkpea mousseline, flamed raspberries and broccoli (Sven Elverfeld), or tuna steak with soy sprouts, sesame and mashed Wasabi (Reto Mathis), or “Südtiroler Schlutzkrapfen” a Tyrolian-style pasta filled with Quark and spinach dressed with a light Gorgonzola sauce and sauteed spring onions (Karl Baumgartner/Norbert Niederkofler), or roast pigeon in nut crust with Quinoa, dates and mint (Anne-Sophie Pic), dessert: a selection of cheeses, including Rahmberg, Gorgonzola, Brie, Reblochon and ashed goat cheese with fig mustard sauce, walnut chutney and grapes, or French white coffee parfait with candied Clementines (Gérard Rabayey) or “Kaiserschmarrn” an Austrian pancake with berry compote and vanilla ice cream (Martin Sieberer). Also served throughout the flight were a selection of canapés, biscuits and fresh fruit. The meal comes with a single rose place into a vase built into the front of the seat arm.
Overall I found the food on both airlines of the highest quality for plane service, but felt that Lufthansa was slightly superior. The overcooked filet on United and the generous portion of caviar on Lufthansa may have had something to do with my assessment.
UA: “Henriot Burt Millésimé” 1996 Champagne, Saget Domaine de la Pierrière 2007 Sancerre, Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay 2006 Sonoma Coast for white wine and Girardin Santeay Villages “Vielles Vignes” 2007 Burgundy, Chateau Simard 2006 Saint Émilion Bordeaux, Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Alexander Valley for red and Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2003 for dessert, spirits included Absolut Vodka, Tanqueray Gin, Bacardi Rum, Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, Chivas Regal Premium Scotch Whiskey, Jim Beam Black Bourbon Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Canadian Club Reserve Whiskey, Dewar’s White Label Blended Scotch Whiskey, Disaronno Amaretto, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlúa, Courvasier V.S.O.P. Fine Champagne Cognac, for beer Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Light, and for non-alcoholic beverages assorted soft drinks, mineral and still water, apple, orange and tomato juices, tonic water, milk, tea and Starbuck’s coffee.
LH: world champion sommelier Markus Del Monego supports Lufthansa with Vinothek Discoveries and puts together a new selection of wines every two months, Kinley tonic water, bitter lemon and ginger ale, Coca Cola, various juices and sodas, Jacobs Arabica coffee, a generous selection of liquor including Fernet Branca, often appreciated after an indulgent meal.
ON BOARD AMENITY KIT
UA: a tan canvas case containing socks, sleeping mask, facial tissue, ear plugs, Scope, Purell, Crest toothpaste and toothbrush, Murad Soothing Skin and Lip Care and Pomegranate Body Lotion.
LH: waffle slippers in a waffle bag, socks, a very soft Polo shirt (used to come with pants) in its own bag, a colorful printed Bogner case holding a sleeping mask, headphone covers, earplugs, a brush/comb combo, Pearls & Dents medicinal toothpaste and toothbrush, La Mer Rich Moisturizing Cream and Perfection Lip Balm. On my last trip the cosmetics had come from Clarins.
Lufthansa had a little bit more to offer with a more stylish appearance. But I am curious about the S/M sizing, definitely not based on a woman.
UA: I was able to visit both first class lounges in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both have all the basics all first class lounges have to offer, a business center and work carrels, Wi-Fi internet access, newspapers and magazines, and telephones with complimentary local phone calls and data ports. Showers are part of the arrival suite only. They offer light snacks and hors d’oeuvres, coffee, tea, soft drinks and juices as well as beer, wine and a small assortment of liquor. The food selection is pretty basic, bagels and cream cheese, Camenbert and Cheddar cheeses with dried apricots, Sushi, cold grilled chicken skewers, some sort of dip and Danish, apples, bananas and packaged cereal. For Champagne they offered Veuve Clicquot.
Staffing was minimal to include the front desk staff and and attendant checking on the food and cleaning up after travelers. But I have to point out the most wonderful and charming Japanese lady at LAX who made my stay there absolutely enjoyable. In the end it is often about the people more than decor and amenities.
LH: The first class lounges in Frankfurt were designed by the German architectural firm Hollins + Radoske. Do & Co a gourmet entertainment company from Vienna, Austria runs them and supplies onboard catering for Lufthansa and a number of others including Austrian Airlines, Air France, British Airways and Cathay Pacific. They are known for their exceptional quality and service, and they also own Demel, one of Vienna’s most famous cafés and patisseries (with additional locations in Salzburg and New York), a number of restaurants and a hotel in Vienna. Let’s just say they know their stuff!
Frankfurt has three first class lounges, one at terminal A, one at Terminal B, and one being its own entire first class terminal. Each are equipped with showers and bathtubs, relaxing rooms, office units with computers with internet access, dataports for laptops, W-LAN facilities, TVs, copy and fax machines, credit card phones offering free local calls, German and international magazines and newspapers. The lounge in Pier B also has a spa by Babor Each has a full bar, a cigar room and a full-service restaurant with generous cold, hot and dessert buffets for those in a hurry, and table-side a la carte service for those with a longer lay-over. I was able to take advantage of the later personally attended to by the Chef de Cuisine who made each of my dishes to order and served them personally. The selection was unbelievably generous with cold choices to include Salmon Tartare, shrimp cocktails, salads, a variety of cheeses and cold cuts including Iberico ham carved fresh off the bone, three different soups, and a number of entrees such as steak and salad, Wiener Schnitzel, veal Gulasch and a variety of dishes from the Wok. Desserts included chocolate cake, a tart, apple strudel with vanilla and chocolate sauces and assorted petit fours and truffles. Beverages included a fast assortment of liquor and soft drinks, a number of different beers and fine wines. Does this explain my squeezy stomach later on my flight? What do you do when the chef keeps bringing stuff? This certainly was not a light lunch.
The lounges also provide limo service to the plane, to avoid all additional security check points and that dreaded tunnel.
Staffing was generous: two at the front desk, one supervisor, two waitresses in the restaurant, one in the lounge area, one bar tender, one bathroom attendant.
As far as lounges go, there is no comparison. Lufthansa surpasses United by far when it comes to design, amenities and services. Frankly United could use a little updating, and I officially offer my services for redesigning United’s first class lounges. Some of the nicest features of the Lufthansa first class lounges are the full bathrooms, some with tub and shower, and the full-service restaurant, and I am sure the sleeping rooms are fantastic for some travelers. My favorite service is the real kind of priority boarding where your personal assistant will get you shortly before the flight leaves and escorts you downstairs to your own personal car and driver that will take you directly to the plane, bypassing all security lines.
You know what I think. I would love to hear your experiences.