What was once the “golden age of flight” has since corroded into the “tin age of standing in line”. Without much choice, we have succumbed to accepting the “new normal” of air travel:
- Tearing through unpredicted traffic to get to the airport, and struggling to find a parking space within the same zip code as your terminal. This is often followed by seriously contemplating the financial perils of opting for a loading zone or a disability only parking spot as a last resort.
- Entering the terminal at the farthest entrance from your airline’s check-in counters, and upon eventually reaching them, noticing that the staff who have bothered to show up for work are suffering from a severe case of malaise.
- If you happen to be departing from an international city, your next line is at passport control, where the immigration officer picks you to interrogate on where you’re headed, why you were here at all, where you stayed, for how long, who you spoke to, what you ate, and where you got that cool watch.
- And if you’re looking for the most action, comedy, drama or horror, look no further than the TSA security line. Inevitably you’ll only find one open lane with an ocean of first-time travelers ahead of you. You can marvel at their dismay and disbelief over having to remove their shoes, and their belts, and their computers, and their jewelry. Or be entertained when they argue fruitlessly with the agents about having to drink or dump the rest of their soda, or refusing to remove their toddlers’ coats. Or (my all-time favorite) you can deal with a young TSA agent-in-training. Nothing can raise the blood pressure faster than a newbie X-Ray screener who has yet to recognize the difference between a sunglass case and a bludgeoning device, provoking a full body cavity search.
- After the security gauntlet, most airports march you (not so subtly) right through the duty-free mall, where bargain hunters of all sizes end up scratching around for their boarding cards at the cashier, forcing you to dump that bottle of Johnny Walker Blue just as you hear your name and the words: “Last and final boarding call” over the public-address system.
- Then you brace yourself for a route march to one of the most remote gates the terminal has to offer. After swapping shoulders of your oppressively heavy briefcase for the eleventh time, you begin to ask yourself whether you are actually going to be flying to your destination after all.
- Arriving at the gate, you join one final line just as your emotional stability light turns red. With all you’ve already been through, the dismissive gate agent denies your every attempt to gain access to the airplane, because your boarding group happens to have a higher number than his IQ.
Ah yes, the adventures of air travel. So much excitement, anticipation, and thrill. But the best part is when you finally discover the meager 28 square-inches the airline has allotted to you for the next 9+ hours!
The good news, (for Lufthansa’s premium passengers anyway) is the complete removal of all of the above. At their unique First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, they have managed to teleport the airport experience back to the golden age.
Once you arrive at the drive-through entrance, your rental car will be returned for you (regardless of agency), or your personal vehicle will be valet parked and washed, and you can even opt for tire rotation before your return.
The check-in area feels more like the lobby of a modern hotel. You can relax on one of the clubby leather armchairs, sip champagne and nibble on a trio of spiced nuts that seem to magically reappear throughout the facility. All the while one of the highly competent and delightfully friendly hosts takes care of all of the mundane. Your only physical burden is to pass through the all-glass, almond-shaped security cubicle with twin screeners, flanked by two X-ray tables.
Before accessing the lounge, you can peruse a bespoke selection of duty-free items in the privacy of a boutique, and if your heart happens to desire something not seen on one of the shelves, a staff member will be dispatched immediately to source it for you.
The lounge itself is largely reminiscent of many other first-class lounges around the world. But most striking is the lack of any Lufthansa branded blues and yellows. Instead, (and after countless rounds of feedback from frequent fliers) the premium passenger areas are all decorated in a narrow palette of browns and beiges, with natural grey stones and warm woods, back-lit glass surfaces and dark ceilings to evoke a sense of calm and tranquility.
The conventional wisdom is that as you transition from lounge to cabin (which enjoys identical tones and colors) you should feel a continuation of the experience rather than a disruption. Apart from the crew’s scarves, the only yellow in the entire lounge area is a specimen stem in a porcelain vase on each table of the white linen and silver service restaurant. Former Michelin-starred chefs have designed comprehensive menus for a la carte or buffet style dining.
Depending on your mood, need or conscience, you can either opt for one of 5 sleek, wood and glass offices to hop on a conference call. Or you can grab one of the private cabanas if a little shuteye seems more appropriate. I found these mini bedrooms a little on the sparse side compared with those at British Airways’ Concorde Lounge or Cathay Pacific’s The Wing – but one of the very opulent bathrooms includes a full-sized Jacuzzi bathtub, with a series of signature rubber duckies to keep you company.
The three seating areas are separated by large column dividers, some with 82-inch LED TV’s and some with contemporary artwork. Most of the furniture replicates the leather club chairs from the lobby with a handful of the most utterly desirable, lie-back rockers with built-in speakers, guaranteed to elicit snores in under four minutes.
The cigar room is a rather stark affair, with remnant odors and a brandy shelf, but the ample cocktail bar boasts 130 varieties of whiskey, and the most Instagram-worthy gummy-bear display I’ve ever seen.
When it is finally time to board, your host will accompany you down to the “gates” where a friendly passport attendant delivers your stamped document. And just outside, a fleet of gleaming Porsches and Mercedes Benz’s seem to be vying for the chance to whisk you across the tarmac and deliver you directly to your gate. Your host will introduce you to the purser on board, and that…my friends…is the way to go!
After Lufthansa saw the need for added exclusivity and decided to hyper-serve this small segment of their flying public in 2004, they noticed a significant increase in premium bookings. And although several of the enthusiastic staff relate miraculous war stories of facilitating near-miss international connections via the mini terminal in under 16 minutes, most travelers voluntarily opt to spend even more time at the airport, dawdling, napping, working, bathing or fine-dining (none of the verbs that normally come to mind with your vanilla airport experience).
Could Europe’s only first-class terminal signal a return to the golden age of flight? Quite possibly. But I’d go a step further to suggest that this might have been the natural evolution of luxury travel if the Hindenburg airship was still with us.