Yeah, that was awesome. It is not common that such can be said for a flight in coach, but this one absolutely was.
Today was the inaugural flight of the Boeing 747-8i in passenger service. The flight, Frankfurt to Dulles with Lufthansa, was quite an event over and above simply being a smooth, quick and reasonably comfortable flight. When was the last time you saw a press conference on a plane, for example? What about two of them running concurrently (one in German and one in English) on the upper deck of the 747? Yup, a first for me, too.
The press conference saw some interesting information discussed, but that’s not really what defines the in-flight experience. I was ticketed in economy and spent at least part of the flight there. I also spent a few hours on the upper deck, hanging out with friends and enjoying that part of the flight (yes, I even managed to partake of the premium cabin catering a bit), but the bulk of my time was spent in seat 31D. And, for the first time ever, I actually enjoyed the Lufthansa economy product.
The new seats offer a surprisingly large amount of room at the knees, thanks to the slimline seat design and relocation of the magazine stowage. There is also no metal bar across the rear of the seats at the bottom where it normally would dig into your shins. Oh, and a pillow and blanket at every seat.
The cushioning of the seats was my biggest concern. Turns out that the concern was mostly unfounded. My previous slimline seat experiences were on short-haul aircraft and those are not particularly generous in the padding department. The new Lufthansa 747-8i coach seats were markedly better. They aren’t luxe, by any stretch, but I didn’t find sitting in them for several hours to be particularly uncomfortable at all. Yeah, they are still coach seats, but they really aren’t that bad.
The seat pitch isn’t any greater than the other Lufthansa economy products so I was somewhat concerned about using my laptop (10" netbook) and otherwise take advantage of the space at my seat. With the seats upright I had no troubles at all. I could actually cross my legs and rest my computer on my lap reasonably comfortably.
With the seat in front of me reclined it was rather more challenging. I could still use my netbook thanks to the short tray table and the extra space lower down in the seat area, but it was definitely not as comfortable an experience.
One interesting bit of note is that the seats are articulated so reclining also means losing a couple centimeters of legroom. It is less than an inch, but it happens.
Shortly after departure we had a drink service along with a bag of snack mix. It was preceded by a hot towel service.
After the snack service a hot lunch was served. I chose the chicken (veggie ravioli was the other option) and then held my breath as I peeled back the foil lid to reveal my meal. I was shocked.
In addition to looking good it actually tasted good. Not just "good for airplane food" but actually a pretty good sauce and the chicken was moist and tender. It really was pretty good. The salad and the dessert weren’t my thing, but I got over that pretty quickly when I realized that I actually enjoyed the main course portion of the meal.
Shortly before arrival a second meal was served. Again, it was preceded by a towel service. The choices this time were a veggie calzone or a beef taco. I chose the latter.
I’m not going to pretend that it was nearly as good as the first meal, but it actually tasted like what it was called and it had some flavor to it rather than generic bland. It washed down quite nicely with another beer.
I also discovered that at some point they had cake in economy for the birthday of the plane. I was apparently upstairs at that point and missed it.
As I mentioned above, I also spent a bit of time in Business Class. The meal service appeared to be a typical Lufthansa Business meal and I didn’t actually eat it so I cannot comment on it. I can comment on the schnapps and chocolates, however. I quite enjoyed that.
The seats are most definitely a new and different experience and I got to sit and lay down in them so I can comment a bit more on that as well.
They are fully flat and 1.97m long when in sleep mode. This is quite a welcome change to the product for most folks. That said, they are also a bit narrower and the pairs of seats (2-2-2 on the main level and 2-2 upstairs) point in towards each other. This means the foot well space is shared by the passengers. It also means that the seats feel a bit narrower throughout. One friend I was chatting with about the seats noted that the narrower layout was a negative for him and that he preferred the older version. I can see where he’s coming from but I like the new one much better, at least so far.
The seats are well-padded and the controls to manage the positioning are intuitive. The seats are quite comfortable throughout the range of the recline.
The overall flight experience was really quite reasonable. The cabin is quiet. I think that the main deck business class area was slightly quieter than the upper deck and both were quieter than the economy cabin. I’m guessing that first class is even quieter but I didn’t head up there during the flight. And it also didn’t seem as quiet as the A380 in coach (but my last experience there was a year ago). Still, quite an improvement over the older aircraft.
And then, a landing at Dulles (slightly bumpy; one oxygen mask compartment actually popped open) and we headed to the terminal. So ended the very first passenger flight of the 747-8i. Like I said at the very beginning, it was awesome.