SAN JOSE — On July 1st, Lufthansa (LH) inaugurated its service between Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) and Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC). The flight operates five times per week, offering the first non-stop flight between SJC and continental Europe since American Airlines terminated its service to Paris (CDG) after 9/11. San Jose marks Lufthansa’s third destination in California, after San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX).

“We are proud to celebrate the launch of non-stop service between San Jose and Frankfurt, two technological and economic powerhouses that generate incredible demand from both business and leisure travelers,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. “This flight will help promote trade, investment and economic growth in both of our high-tech regions, and I’d like to thank Lufthansa for creating this direct connection from Silicon Valley to continental Europe.”

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The customary ribbon-cutting ceremony at the gate marks the inauguration of the service. (Credits: Ben Wang)

Lufthansa and the City of San Jose held two events prior to the launch of the flight. The first was a gala event at the Tech Museum in Downtown San Jose on the night of June 30th. San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley, is the worldwide hub of technology and innovation and the gala was attended by Lufthansa employees, prominent local tech figures, and members of the city government of San Jose. Lufthansa took the opportunity to demonstrate some of their new innovations that combine the technology of Silicon Valley, and Europe’s largest carrier.

Exhibits included a suitcase with a built in luggage tag with an RFID chip so that you can track the location of your bag using the Lufthansa app, virtual reality views of the aircraft cabins, and the ICAROS system, which combines an exercise machine, virtual reality, and a gaming environment into one device. You had to fly through 12 hoops in the sky similar to the tutorials of Microsoft Flight Simulator X. In addition, they also displayed a few rows of their Economy and new Premium Economy class seats.

Lufthansa’s Vice President for the Americas, Juergen Siebenrock mentioned that the new Premium Economy class “has 50 percent more legroom, a wider seat for comfort and relaxation, as well as an elevated experience overall.” With this display came a new sleep mask, the Neuroon, by Intelclinic, which uses light technology to decrease the amount of jet lag by three hours, which is essential on this flight to Frankfurt.

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As with most international routes from SJC, the major motivation for this flight was business opportunities on both sides of the flight. Silicon Valley companies have 324 locations throughout Germany. All three major German car manufacturers (BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen) have development offices in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, Airbus just opened a new research office in San Jose, called “A3 by Airbus”. Juergen Siebenrock even joked about introducing a new flight directly between SJC and Berlin (TXL) to connect the Silicon Valley and the “Silicon Allee”, in addition to Lufthansa’s Innovation Hub.

The Innovation Hub is an “interface” between the Lufthansa Group and the global startup scene with a central focus to improve travel experience. Through the group’s partnerships with travel startup companies, they seek to enhance customer experience with digital solutions, as well as travel products that can be self-developed as potential spin-offs.

On July 1st, at 13:16 PST, flight LH 488 (D-AIGV • MSN 325) touched down on runway 30L at SJC, marking the first service between Germany and SJC. Flying both the German and American flags out the window, the aircraft was welcomed with a water cannon salute (which used water from a rescheduled water discharge test) and a gate ceremony.

The ceremony featured technology demonstrations of products that Lufthansa had invested in, including virtual reality views of the cabins. Moreover, they had a game in which you have 15 seconds to choose the correct airport code for the cities that a passenger could connect to from this flight—a great promotion to show off the reach of the FRA hub. Since it was the beginning of Independence Day weekend, guests enjoyed “rival” refreshments between traditional American barbecue items and their German counterparts: hot dogs vs. bratwurst, coleslaw vs. sauerkraut, and German chocolate cake vs. apple pie.

The aircraft, an Airbus A340-300 operated by Lufthansa’s CityLine division, seats 298 passengers with 18 Business Class seats, 19 Premium Economy seats, and 261 Economy seats. In contrast to other long-haul international airlines at SJC, Lufthansa opted for a higher density configured aircraft.

This indicates that they are looking for leisure travelers and so-called “VFR” (Visiting Friend and Relatives) travelers as well as not diluting their own established market 35 miles up the road at SFO. With a large Indian population in the San Jose area, this flight is well timed for Indian connections. This new flight is aimed at Emirates, Etihad, Turkish, and Air India’s popular SFO-Delhi non-stop flights.

This flight is also very historic for SJC. It marked the first scheduled passenger service to SJC with a four-engined aircraft since the late 1980’s. Also, because of its economy-heavy configuration, this aircraft has the most seats ever to serve SJC.