REVIEW: Reaching for the Clouds – Lufthansa A-350 Munich to Mumbai
September 5th, 2017
With the inclusion of larger aircraft like the Airbus A-380 into the fleets of many airlines, competition for the business traveller has intensified in recent years. Lufthansa, a five-star Skytrax rated airline, which ranked 7th in the British-based consultancy’s World Airline Award Rankings has sought to improve on its ranking with a new business class offering on A-350 flights.
While the 380 has a large business and first area on the upper deck, the 350 is smaller, and offers a 2:2:2 seating configuration, which compromises on both comfort and privacy. I’d flown Lufthansa Business class years earlier on a Boing 747, and from a comfort and service perspective not much had changed. That’s not necessarily an indictment of the airline; after all, why mess with a good thing?
The A-350, billed as the world’s most modern aircraft (essentially a more advanced version of the A-330) offers a much quieter ride than its legacy variant and Boeing counterpart. Moreover, for those who are environmentally conscious, the plane has a lower carbon signature due to lighter materials being used in its manufacture. Overall, the aircraft uses around 25% less fuel than its counterparts. It also has a cute tail-camera, which offers views that are sometimes quite captivating.
Other innovations include soft and variable lighting to reduce jet-lag, and high speed wifi at even at 38,000 feet. And, the noise-reducing innovations in the aircraft make the engines so quiet that while using Lufthansa’s over-ear noise cancelling headphones, one may even forget one is on a transatlantic flight! The addition of greater humidity in the aircraft mitigates to an extent the natural dehydration one feels when flying, and that’s a significant passenger-oriented enhancement that’s worth mentioning for this aircraft. Many people don’t consume alcoholic beverages on flights for fear of dehydration: on the Lufthansa A-350, no more; bring on the drinks!
While the A-350 seating experience is decidedly less-roomy than the A-380 but the seats, themselves, are quite comfortable and with grey upholstery and striped trim, carried an understated elegance that pleases the eye. With 64-inch pitch, the seats can recline to a full flat bed of length 78 inches. Availability of pillows, blankets and mattress toppers as well as sleepwear makes getting some restful shut-eye a high probability.
I preferred the window seats to the middle. However, due to the closeness of one seat to another (by higher class air travel standards) it is, perhaps, an experience better suited to be had with a known travel companion than a stranger. Rows 1 and 7 offer the best legroom. Otherwise, a very tall person might find stretching out on the flat bed to be an exercise of not touching the seat in front. Best to avoid row 6 if one doesn’t like being near the bathroom.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
I usually don’t mention much in this section unless the lounge is particularly good or bad. From Munich, the lounge offers tasty German delicacies, and so it’s worth coming early and experiencing this. Munich airport has been rebranded a modern hub of travel by Lufthansa with many flights shifting transit routes from Frankfurt to Munich in recent years.
NB: While not quite relevant to a Business Class review, if you’re travelling economy, try to get an actual Lufthansa flight rather than a Swiss Air flight run by Lufthansa (an airline, which Lufthansa acquired some years back). Swiss Air is not on par with the flagship airline, and it’s worth noting that.
On to boarding: while the airline is responsible for this, they work with airport staff. So, if the microphones aren’t clear and confusion ensues, it’s not quite the airline’s fault – but this is likely to happen, and one must simply manage in the chaos…it’s par for the course in international travel, these days. If you do need boarding assistance, do mention it at the gate, and you’ll be ushered in with the elderly and infirm, wheelchair passengers and families with young children. This category is usually called before Business Class. The advantage in the A-380 is that Business and First come through a separate entrance to climb up to the upper deck – and so one doesn’t have to put up with economy passengers jumping the queue or the melee that is caused by lack of zonal boarding announcements. Boarding is the among the most stressful parts of international travel because rarely is it done in a totally organized fashion, and delay announcements are often vague or themselves, delayed! Last minute gate changes – Fogedaboutit!
FOOD AND BEVERAGE SERVICE
Passengers in Business Class have their choice in pre-flight refreshment of juice or champagne. The champagne is French, so it’s worth trying for those so inclined. Plenty of snacks are available in between meals; one either has to flag down a flight attendant – usually not an arduous task as they tend to roam around, giving due attention to Business Class travellers – or simply take a stroll to the Biz Class Galley where ample munchies and refreshments are there for the asking.
Meal service takes place at specified times. Lufthansa is not one of those airlines in which you can get your meal whenever you want, though if you’re hungry before the service starts, some accommodation can be made.
One innovation, which Lufthansa started around 2015 is offering what they call Restaurant Service. Essentially this means assigning a flight attendant take orders by name (within the range of choices available) and serve on plates and ceramic crockery, directly from the galley, making the dining cart obsolete. This is a welcome advancement to say the least. Painful memories of the trolley bumping my elbow when barrelling down the aisle, persist to this day. Thankfully, Lufthansa has found a more civilized way to serve customers. In recent years, competitors Qatar, Emirates and the exceptional Singapore Airlines have followed suit but kudos go to Lufthansa for leading the industry.
Restaurant service also involves conscripting restaurant local chefs to cater the food. In India, the Leela Hotel group’s Vinod Saini and Kunal are involved in menu selection and preparation.
On the Munich end, I tried the “Smoked Filet of Trout, Cucumber Mustard Seed Salad and Lime Creme Fraiche and tried some of my companion’s Chicken Breast scented with Thyme, Gazpacho Salad, roasted Artichoke and Basil Oil. I usually avoid fish on flights. I’ve had flavourless cod smothered in cream sauce, which have haunted me during the remainder of a certain premium flight – but the trout was fresh-tasting and the herb accompaniment was zesty. The roasted chicken was decent but wasn’t all that that hot by the time I tasted it. The basil oil was flavourful but left me wanting for pesto sauce. Overall both meals were palatable in a decent but unspectacular way. For airline food, that’s a compliment. Serial disasters of a culinary nature on flights of reputable airlines left me ordering a special meal of fruit bowls for a certain period. So, fear not the meal service on Lufthansa!
The main course was Grilled Corn-fed Poularde with Ginger Chicken Jus, Ratatouille and Pearl Barley Risotto. This was quite surprisingly flavourful. My companion went for Indian, preferring, Paneer Tikka Lababdar which was an Indian Cottage Cheese cooked in Bell Pepper, Onion and Tomato Sauce with an accompaniment of yellow lentil cooked on steamed Indian Basmati Rice sauteed with Cumin, green and black Cardamom. A westerner might find this meal quite flavourful but for me, having grown up on various types of authentically prepared Indian fare, the meal was compromised, bland, and lacking in imagination.
One of the meals on the Mumbai leg contained a surprisingly inspired Indian option:
Shakarkandi Chaat: Sweet Potato Salad marinated with Lemon Juice, Chaat Masala enhanced by Feta Cheese and Pomegranate Seeds garnished with Arugula Salad. The combination of chat with Feta and pomegranate topped with Arugula leaf is just the kind of risk that can pay off at a restaurant or in this case in catering service. The main was Avial: Stewed Carrots, Potatoes, Beans, Pumpkin and Eggplant cooked in a creamy sauce of Yogurt, Coconut and Curry Leaves accompanied by green Moong Lentil and fresh Spinach prepared with Tomatoes and Ginger. This was served on the same steamed Indian Basmati Rice sauteed with Cumin but this time, white Lentils and Cashew Nuts flavored with Tamarind and brown Mustard Gains served on the side acted as a nice chutney type side. Desert was Steamed Indian Curd with Vanilla accompanied by Mango Coulis. Great!
We were encouraged to use the Nespresso machine onboard capable of producing delicious espresso. For me this was a good way to stay awake to write. My companion lamented that the machine wasn’t capable of making cappuccino. In fairness, the machine operated as advertised.
Breakfast consisted of a surprisingly edible and fluffy mushroom omelette with hot roll and roast potato as well as delicious smoked salmon with capers on a bed of greens. Can’t beat the smoked salmon on Lufthansa!
The in-flight entertainment console was modern, and worked to a soft touch on the touch-screen. One didn’t need to press and press again, fiddle, find holes or suffer any of the standard inconveniences of IFE equipment. The adjustable screen offers a sharp picture with vibrant colours, especially after adjustment of viewing angle. Noise cancelling over-ear headphones are by Bose, so the sound is really quite crisp and clear – this without the roar of engines typical of the A-350’s whisper-hum ambient sound.
The offerings were decent enough – reasonably current films combined with classics and Oscar-winners. The TV offerings were less fulsome. To be fair, it’s hard these days to get good TV on family-oriented flights due to the amount of adult-themed content on some of the more critically acclaimed shows. Wifi Service was fast and reasonably uninterrupted, so if TV leaves something to be desired, the internet more than makes up for it. Lufthansa offers newspapers magazines and various e-zines to for in-flight readers who haven’t brought their own material.
The European flight attendants were friendly and attentive, though seemingly in a constant hurry. There was one Indian attendant on board, who spoke Hindi. I didn’t interact with her but my companion did, and she seemed rather curt, even stuck-up. I’d been on a Lufthansa flight as a grad. student in economy, and I fell asleep reading a book only to be awakened by a rather caring flight attendant pushing a pillow under my head and covering me with a blanket. She put the book in the seat pocket, saying she didn’t want me to lose it. And, I slept feeling extra warm. Since then, I’ve come to expect a high standard of service from Lufthansa and they’ve rarely disappointed. The Indian flight attendant was that rare case.
The amenity kit, contained in a grey Samsonite zip bag was standard and useful. Nothing to write home about but it came in handy.
Overall, the flight was pleasant, and I managed to get both work done and rest. I didn’t feel overly tired like I had when flying Emirates to London via Dubai (maybe that was the lighting at work). And, I did notice the relative quiet compared to other flights.
If you haven’t flown in business class much, you’ll definitely enjoy what Lufthansa has to offer in it’s A-350 aircraft. But if you’re a seasoned Biz and First traveller, you may feel somewhat underwhelmed. Still, it’s hard to complain about business class when the most prevalent alternative if flying cattle in a herd that’s getting increasingly more congested and cantankerous!