AOL Mystery Flyer: Lufthansa Report Card

BriYYZ, flickr

The AOL Mystery Flyer returns to the skies to put another airline to the test.

It's been a while since my last AOL Mystery Flight (on Air Berlin). And as you may have noticed from Twitter, I ended up hanging around Germany for a good month. It was hard to leave with summer finally shining over Northern Europe and the German soccer team doing so well in the World Cup. (Whoever said all good things must come to an end must not have experienced the thrill of watching the world soccer, er, football, championship from a packed and very emotional European street café!)

Last Wednesday, I journeyed back to the USA. Curious to see if the German national carrier was as its good as its soccer team, I opted to fly Lufthansa for the first leg of my flight, from Hamburg to Frankfurt.

Lufthansa is Europe's biggest airline and Germany's flagship carrier, serving destinations all around the world from its hubs in Frankfurt, Munich, Dusseldorf and Zurich (the most interesting route to me is the nonstop from Frankfurt to Orlando, who knew!). I booked my one-way flight from Hamburg to Berlin about two weeks out, and it cost me 79 euros (about $98). This one-hour flight ended up being a faster option than taking the train (which can be more expensive, too). And since Lufthansa is in the Star Alliance I could apply miles earned to my United or Continental accounts. You've got to love an airline that offers 12 different German and international newspapers free to passengers at the departure gate (and who said newspapers were dead!).

Read on for more about what it's like to fly with Lufthansa.

Checking In
Hamburg's modern airport is one of my favorites in Europe. I've flown from here many times, and never experienced a long wait going through security. You can reach the main train station and city center within about 20 minutes from the metro system, which stops at the airport. And check-in is usually speedy, too, as was the case on Wednesday morning, for me.
Lufthansa has self check-in kiosks in front of the counters, and passengers are required to print their boarding passes at these kiosks (I used my credit card to pull up the reservation). There were four Lufthansa agents in front of the kiosks, helping passengers pull up their reservations, but it was easy enough to figure out on my own. If you try to get in line at the counter without a boarding pass, they'll send you right back to the self-print area, so don't bother. I printed my ticket and stood in line for about one minute until a counter agent could help me check my bag.

Since I was connecting in Frankfurt on a separate reservation with United, I requested that my bags be checked all the way through to my final destination in Florida. The agent was having trouble doing this, and said I should collect my bag in Frankfurt and re-check it there with United. But I persisted. (I've found that it pays to be patient and friendly, and say something like: "Are you sure it's not possible?" to get the agents to work a little harder for you.). She said she could try another method and that worked, so my bags were checked all the way to Florida.

The Lufthansa agent was friendly and efficient. At first she spoke to me in German, but when I spoke to her in English she replied in perfect English. The security line at the Hamburg airport took all of five minutes, and I love that they don't make you remove your shoes at most European airports. I was at my gate within 20 minutes of arriving at the airport -- easy breezy (and I only arrived 60 minutes prior to the flight's departure).

Onboard: Seat Comfort, Amenities & Attitude
Since I fly on so many different airlines, I do not have premier status with any of them. That means my seat is usually toward the rear of the plane, unless I get lucky with a seat change at the last minute. Passengers started lining up to board about 20 minutes before our scheduled boarding time, which I thought was odd, since there was no fee for checked bags and no one seemed to be schlepping oversize luggage as carry-ons (so often the case on US flights where you have to pay for checked bags).

When we were ready to board, I noticed that instead of calling the various boarding zones one after the other, everyone was invited to board at once (there were separate first class/business class and economy lines), and I waited till the end of boarding to avoid standing in line. Once on board, I was welcomed by several FA's with a friendly "Morgen," (short for Gutenmorgen) and a smile. The boarding process was so much less harried and chaotic than that of the US flights I've been on recently, where people are pushing heavy bags up over their heads, stumbling down the aisles with two-wide roller bags and generally fretting that their bags will be claimed by FAs for a gate check if they can't cram them into packed overhead bins.

On this Lufthansa flight, people moved down the rows a lot faster than I'm used to. And it was just generally a more pleasant boarding experience. All of the seats on the A321 were leather, and I thought the legroom was pretty good for a coach seat, too (my knees weren't jammed into the seat in front of me). The flight was only an hour long, and the FAs came through the aisle with a beverage service that offered a full range of hot and cold drinks, free of charge. Score: Excellent, 5/5

No entertainment was offered on the one-hour flight, and there were no screens in the seatbacks.

No food was offered on this short flight.

From the efficient ticket agent to the gate agent who declined my seat change request with an empathetic "I'm sorry" and the flight attendants on my Lufthansa flight, everyone was very professional and friendly. When we were deplaning, I asked a quick question about where to pick up the boarding pass for my connecting United flight. Even though the FA was busy saying goodbye to everyone disembarking, she turned her attention toward me and advised me in a very friendly way that I would have to exit the terminal and head to the main ticket counter to take care of that.
Overall Friendliness: Very friendly, 5/5

Would I do it again?
The attitude on this short flight was professional and courteous throughout, and I had the feeling that I was flying with an airline that valued its passengers and placed importance on treating them kindly. I noticed a lot of smiles from the FAs, and the atmosphere on board was very pleasant and relaxed. The airplane was comfortable and very clean. And the price was fair for this short inter-Europe flight. Add to that the fact that I could accrue miles with my US Star Alliance partners, and I would definitely fly Lufthansa again. I would be curious to see how their Transatlantic service is; if their short-hop attitude and equipment is any indication, they would be a good carrier to fly with on a longer flight, too.
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