26 February 2012


I have been wanting to get to Hamburg for a bit.  It's only about a two-hour train ride from Berlin, but I felt it was worth more than just a day trip.  Given how easy it is to use the airport, I decided to set it up as a long weekend trip on its own.  Fortunately, I found a routing other than through Frankfurt which was a little less expensive and just as convenient (plus, I get tired sometimes of flying through Frankfurt).  Lufthansa flies some direct routes from London Heathrow to selected cities in Germany, and Hamburg is one of them.  So, a Wednesday night flight from SFO put me at LHR in the afternoon in time to catch a short flight onward to Hamburg.

I purchased a 3-day Hamburg card (free public transport and several discounts)upon arrival at the airport and made my way to Central Hamburg via the direct S-Bahn connection.  Hamburg Hauptbahnhof is very big and very nice.  There are lots of shops and food choices.  It also can be a little disorienting popping out of there if you don't know which street is your destination.  Thanks goodness for my iPhone -- I knew where my hotel was (close tot he station, so my trusty GPS function told me where I was.

There are no Hilton's in the Hamburg area.  So, it was either a Fairmont or a Park Hyatt.  I went with the Park Hyatt because it was closer to the train station (early morning departure flight to catch) and a little more centrally located.  It's a very nice hotel.  Even though I have no status with Hyatt, I was treated well.  The rooms are nice, with plenty of space and 30 minutes of free internet every day.

It's located on one of the main shopping streets.

After my research, I decided the things I wanted to do during my short stay were: Tour the Rathaus, Hamburg History Museum, The church steeple at St. Michael's, a boat tour on the lakes and canals, and the  old Elbe Tunnel.  I also made a couple of visits to one of the casinos in Hamburg, and made a reservation via Opentable.com at Jellyfish, a small, innovative seafood restaurant.

 There was an intense snow squall while I was touring the Rathaus.

 St. Michael's steeple can be climbed (partially by elevator if you want).  The viewing platform is just above the clock.

The old Elbe Tunnel is open to pedestrians all the time and to cars some of the time.

I had an early Sunday morning flight to London, so I took a 5 am train to the airport.  It was quite an experience as the Hamburg partyers were just heading home from their evening out. 

I got to London in plenty of time to  enjoy the Star Alliance First Class Lounge (which I had not had the opportunity to use before.  It was much quieter than the regular business lounge, with better beverages (fresh orange juice) and cooked-to-order breakfasts and lunch from a menu if you want.

21 February 2012

Lufthansa First Class and First Class Terminal

Technically, this trip didn't do anything to advance my lifetime miles.  It was, by necessity, a free trip, since that is the only way to get into Lufthansa First Class with a reasonable cost.  And being in First Class is the only way to get into the Lufthansa First Class Terminal at Frankfurt Airport.  The First Class Terminal was the primary focus of this short trip.  But, Lufthansa First Class is certainly worth writing about.

 I managed to find a free ticket route via Denver.  Lufthansa flies a daily 747 flight between Denver and Frankfurt, which made it even more appealing in that they are upgrading their 747 planes to put in real beds in first class, locating them right next to the seat.  Hopefully, I would be on one of those planes.  To get to and from Denver, my free ticket included flights on United.  At first, the available flights on United were not ideal – Outbound flight only gave me a 1.5 hour layover to change in Denver, and the return was going to take me through Aspen.  Fortunately, I was able to change these flights as award space became available closer to the travel dates.

The outbound flight from Denver started well.  They had a nice champagne to offer, although not the vintage one that was also listed on the menu). The food offerings were very good and nicely presented.

On the far side, they had set up my bed.  Since I was the only person in the whole row, they decided it was easiest to set my bed up on the other side.  Unfortunately, this was not a refurbished 747, but the seat still goes flat and they put a small mattress on top.  It was still comfortable enough.  They also supplied sleepwear, consisting of sleep pants and a long-sleep top.

There was a second meal service offered, about 2 hours before landing.  I forgot to take photos, but it was breakfast – juice, eggs and fruit.  The eggs were prepared to order with one’s selection of accompaniments from the menu.

Upon our arrival in Frankfurt, as is often the case, we had to park at a remote location and then the passengers take a large bus to the terminal for passport control and exiting or catching onward connections.  Much to my surprise, as we descended the stairs, the first class passengers were directed into a small four-seater Porsche sports car (a Panamera).   There was no waiting for the bus to fill up for us.  As soon as we were in the car, we drove rapidly across the large airport towards our entry gate, beating all the crowds to passport control.  Unfortunately, since I was taken by surprise, I did not get a chance to take a photo of the car or trip across the tarmac.

When I was ready to depart Frankfurt, I headed toward the First Class Terminal for Lufthansa.  It’s about a 5-minute walk from the main Terminal if you get to the airport by public transportation.  One can be driven to and directly dropped off at the First Class Terminal.

The Denver flight is nice in that it does not depart until 12 noon.  The flights to SFO, New York-JFK, and Washington Dulles all leave earlier in the morning.  So I was able to spend a lot of time at the terminal to take advantage of the experience.

If you walk over, you enter at the ground level and take an elevator to the main lounge level.  Upon arrival, I was greeted by a Lufthansa Agent.  She asked for my passport and looked up my flight and then, confirming that I was on an appropriate flight, asked me to take a seat for a few minutes and took my luggage to get checked through.  She then walked me over to the security screening area, where I waited just a minute for the people who had arrived at the terminal at the same time as I did to pass through.  It’s all very efficient and takes very little time – there is a metal detector and then they quickly wand you as well.
Just past security, the agent pointed out the Duty Free shop that they had and then we walked into the main part of the lounge.  She kept my passport and said it would be returned when I was ready to depart for the plane and that they would come get me at the appropriate time.

When it was time to leave for the plane, about 35-minutes before flight time, they found me and handed me my boarding passes (I was checked-in all the way though Denver to SFO).  We went downstairs where there is a passport control agent (that’s him way in the back).  He examines my boarding pass and hands it back to me with my passport.

We exited the car at the base of the jet bridge for the plane.  The driver used his access to get us in an elevator which then opened up right to where the other passengers were stepping onto the plane, so we just stepped right in and boarded (no further scanning and no further passport checks).
Unfortunately again, I was on a 747 that had not yet been refurbished.  There were also more people in First Class on this flight – the full complement of 8 passengers.

Our approach to Denver Airport was a bit bumpy.  It was a very clear and windy day.  The approach seemed long.  We eventually touched down but then immediately began to climb.  It wasn’t a quick climb, but we were definitely not going to land.  First, the flight attendant came on the PA to say that we just did a touch and go and that the pilot would soon be explaining what happened.  The pilot later came on and said that the winds were strong and that caused the aborted landing and that we would go around again and land in about 15 minutes.  A friend of mine suggested that the plane probably touched down much further down the runway than expected.  That would make sense given our careful approach with the strong winds.
This was the first time I had ever re-entered the United States in Denver.  So far, I’d rank it near the bottom of the list for entry points. First, you disembark in Concourse A.  You have to walk or take several moving walkways to get all the way back to the main Terminal Building.  Second, there are no Global Entry Kiosks (they say they don’t have the volume).  Third, once you clear Customs and Immigration, you exit right out to where the regular security lines are for everyone coming into Denver and heading for the concourses.  You then get have to get back onto the train to catch your connecting flight back on the appropriate concourse.
Lufthansa’s International First Class Service was nicely done.  The staff was courteous, friendly and professional throughout.