SAN FRANCISCO — In part one, I traveled from San Francisco to Frankfurt on my quest to fly around the world on United’s Boeing 747-400, days before the airline retires them from service later today.
My second segment will take me from Frankfurt to Seoul-Incheon on Lufthansa’s 747-400, to then catch the very last international flight the United Queen of the Skies will ever operate from South Korea to San Francisco.
Flight: LH 712, Frankfurt (FRA) – Seoul Incheon (ICN)
Aircraft: Boeing 747-430
Registration (msn/ln) name: D-ABVO (28086/1080) Mülheim An Der Ruhr
Built in: 1996
Age: 21.5 years
Scheduled Departure – Arrival: 5:45 pm – 11:05 am (+1 day)
Actual Departure – Arrival: 5:55 pm – 11:07 am (+1 day)
Flight Duration: 9 hours 48 minutes
Less than 24 after arriving in FRA, I was back in the airport. Even though I could have connected to this flight from the previous on the same day (a three-hour connection), I would not have made it given our delay departing SFO. Thinking back, it was a wise choice to spend overnight in Frankfurt.
I spent a few hours spotting at the visitors’ terrace in Terminal 2. For €3, it was a fun-filled way to spend the afternoon for the aviation enthusiast. Lighting for photography, however, was not optimal since you are looking into the sun.
Worse, there are only five photo holes through the fence. Nevertheless, I was happy to spot a KLM Fokker 70, herself also nearing retirement on the same weekend as the United 747.
Lufthansa Business Class Lounge at Terminal Z was massive, not unexpected since it is the international (non-Schengen) lounge for the home airline. I had a very German lunch of Turkey sausage, potato salad with bread along with tomato cream soup.
After spotting my aircraft arriving from Osaka Kansai (KIX), I went back out to the concourse for a stroll. By chance, I ran into my United cabin crew when they arrived at their gate for their return flight back to SFO. They immediately recognized me. Funny, we excitedly greeted each other as if we were old friends.
Boarding Victor Oscar at gate Z50, this jumbo felt fresh and new, despite the fact that this aircraft was four years older than N128UA, that I flew on the previous day.
Lufthansa had a refurbished the cabin and everything inside felt new, fresh, and elegant. It is not surprising since Lufthansa is one of only three airlines worldwide flying Boeing’s latest (but slow-selling) jumbo, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental. The 747 fleet will still stay on at Lufty for a bit while.
I had seat 85K on the upper deck on this flight. Interestingly, the unique characteristic side storage bins were reconfigured to be storage “wells” and are narrower than typical. In addition, their tops were velcroed in a permanent open position.
A BREE amenity kit and slippers were found at each seat. I had never heard of BREE before, apparently, it is a German handbag company. The zippered neoprene amenity bag didn’t feel exactly like a high-end fashion item to me.
The touchpad on the in-flight entertainment remote control was something that I have never seen before. It was like using a laptop. I really liked it. It was a novel way to control your screen versus the awkward (and sometimes convoluted) directional pad.
Two flight attendants worked on the upper deck. A young Korean lady serviced the front cabin and the Purser, who reminded me of warm and loving German auntie, served my rear cabin.
“My name is Victoria, I am the Purser, and let’s have a nice flight together!” I told Victoria about my Boeing 747 trip around the world. This airplane holds a special place for her, “I started my career on the 747.”
From the upper deck, the distance down to the ground was quite high. The top edge of the window was at eye level forcing you to look downward. Just like the Airbus A380, the air gap between the inner and outer window panes was large. That – along with the fact that the window is at an angle – made photography difficult.
Pushing back 10 minutes late, engine start was very hushed; there was just a slight rumble. There was no sound of air cond hissing like my seat next to door 2 on the previous flight.
Fifteen minutes after pushback, we lined up on Runway 18. Takeoff felt bumpier, nevertheless, the upper deck was very quiet on takeoff power. During the climb, the engines sounded buzzy.
Seat belt light went off 15 minutes after departure at 24,000 feet – for both the flight attendants and passengers. Service started immediately thereafter kicking off with hot towel and beverage service.
“Would you like to have ice with your Coke Zero?” “Yes, please!” Oh yes, a reminder of the European way of life. The salted almonds were surprisingly not warmed.
Digging into the headphone, they were permanently attached to a side compartment. Not unusual, I was able to unplug the airline’s Bose headsets from the headphone jack and replace it with my own.
I was pleasantly surprised to see this plane had live television. There were just three channels: CNN International, Euronews, and Sport24. Being satellite broadband equipped, it was not unexpected, but it was still novel to watch live CNN while flying over Siberia.
For my dinner choice, I chose the halibut. Bimibap also ranked high on my list, but I went with the fish so I could compare with the excellent dish on United the previous evening. I didn’t realize there was a choice for appetizer.
I hesitated reading through the menu again. I ended up with Brotzeit on behest of Victoria, “it is a traditional German dish!”
Victoria placed each place setting on my table individually –very classy– I like that. Even in Business Class, airlines nowadays are starting to put everything on a tray for simplicity. I was glad to see Lufthansa was an exception.
The Brotzeit was an intriguing collection of meats and cheeses, consistent with what one would anticipate as traditional German appetizer items. It was an eye-opening experience.
My hot entrée immediately followed, there was no waiting. Once again, the fish plate and salad bowl were placed individually on my table, just like a fine restaurant. The salad was a standard run-of-the-mill green salad, nothing exciting. The halibut with curried stock tasted ok. The basmati rice sat was over moist. Overall, a very disappointing dish.
For dessert, there was a choice of cheese plate, tiramisu, or fruit. There was not anything unique or outstanding with the tiramisu; I finished it in four bites. The obligatory coffee/tea plus chocolate capped off dinner. The herbal tea tasted excellent.
However, the service was outstanding, pacing was just perfect, but the food taste and quality were disappointing.
There was a marked difference between the lavatory on Lufthansa and United. Lufty’s refurbished lavatory had pleasing colors (not “stainless sterile”) and better fittings including an automatic faucet and soft close toilet seats.
With the cabin dark two and a half hours into the flight, I reclined my seat flat for sleep. Built-in water bottle storage and the side storage bin helped out with the elbow room on this bed.
A couple hours later, I woke up with a sore back. There was a cushion gap at my waist – there was no support. After locating the seat firmness setting and the massage function (which I could not really feel), I realigned my body with the cushions and went back to sleep.
Throughout the night, we were in light turbulence. The ship was solid, there were no squeaks and rattles. Interestingly enough, never once did the seatbelt light come on. That spoke in volumes between U.S. and foreign airline attitudes. If this was a U.S. airline, the overly cautious airline policy would have definitely chained everyone to their seats for the duration.
Three hours later, I woke up again with more pain at my back. I couldn’t sleep anymore. That bed was just too uncomfortable for me. After rehydrating myself, I took a stroll downstairs.
There, I was surprised to see breakfast underway along with full light and open window shades in the cabin. Wow! Us upstairs was still in snooze time! Lights upstairs finally came on about 20 minutes later, beginning with hot towel.
“Something to drink?” I went with orange juice. After seeing the rather generic scrambled eggs downstairs, I wanted to try “the other dish”. Noted as Carthusian Dumplings on the menu (kartäuserklöße), Victoria called it “sweet bread.” “It is not a very common German dish,” she added.
The bread was prepared much like a French toast, but the custard vanilla sauce with sliced almonds made it unique. It went well with the coffee. I loved this dish! I asked for a refill – what a way to cap off the flight!
We were done with breakfast one hour to go in our flight. We made a left turn over cloudy Tianjin completing our course deviation avoiding North Korea. On approach to Incheon, the captain reported weather there as “nice with no clouds”. Perfect spotting weather!
With the engines no longer running in cruise, the wind noise in the cabin became more prominent. This was accompanied by the high pitch whine of the engines, still sounding distant. The hissing of the air conditioning completed the background music.
Victoria made her rounds in the cabin, chatting with passengers ensuring they had a great flight. She wished me well on the continuation of my trip.
Almost ten hours after departure, we touched down on Incheon’s Runway 34. Less than 10 minutes later, we parked at Gate 108, completing my second flight around the world.
Part Three: Coming Up Shortly
The third and last flight will be United’s last international 747-400 service to San Francisco. Stay tuned!