Growing up in Ireland in the 1970s and early 1980s, my sisters and I always gravitated towards the “tele” when an Aer Lingus commercial came on. We’d join in unison to belt out the familiar jingle, which, if memory serves, went a little something like this: “Green bird, I know you so. Take me away, I’ve travelled till I’ve travelled all the trails my green bird flies. Look up, it’s Aer Lingus. Look up, it’s Aer Lingus.” Please pardon any deficit of my memory.
When it came time for my family to move to the United States, naturally the green bird was chosen as our mode of transatlantic transportation. I’ll always remember my mother explaining to us kids that we’d be flying an Aer Lingus “Jumbo Jet”, a double-decker aircraft that was named after a saint and had been blessed by a priest. It all sounded so magical; the excitement in the Kirby clan was fierce. I don’t remember much about the passenger experience on board the Aer Lingus Boeing 747-100 other than the fact that a cloud of cigarette smoke hung over the cabin and that my sisters and I cried when our ears started ‘popping’ on descent. Nonetheless, the venerable Jumbo, a gentle giant that ferried us to a new life in America, has always held a special place in my heart.
You can imagine my excitement, then, when I received a surprise invitation from Lufthansa to climb aboard the maiden revenue flight of the world’s newest Jumbo, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental passenger aircraft, which has been deployed on the German’s carrier’s Frankfurt-Washington Dulles route.
Of course, this widebody isn’t like the Jumbos of old. For starters, the body of the aircraft is about 5.6 metres longer than its immediate predecessor, the 747-400. It also boasts the latest generation powerplants (General Electric’s GEnx-2B67 engines), and completely new wings, described by Lufthansa as “a masterpiece of aerodynamic art”.
As you’d expect, the cabin has also been totally redesigned. A sweeping entryway greets passengers as they board the aircraft. A LED lighting system akin to that which is offered on Boeing’s much-lauded 787 is on board the 747-8I, though Lufthansa – ever modern and efficient – says it is controlling the “different scenarios and times of day” so that extreme contrasts between bright and dark are avoided. Lufthansa has equipped the widebody with 362 seats in a three-class configuration (eight first-, 92 business- and 262 economy-class seats). And, for the first time ever, the carrier is offering full-flat beds in business; the product will be retrofitted to the rest of the carrier’s long-haul fleet as part of a broader EUR 3 billion cabin refit programme.
“For this new business class, we interviewed over 3,000 customers. We had a single aircraft rotation to New York and back with the business-class seat, and over 2,000 customers have sat on this seat,” Maître de Cabine Stefan Leimeister told the APEX editor’s blog last week in Frankfurt.
Lufthansa will apply the same discipline to research if it opts to offer a premium economy-class product. “We are debating premium economy class, so we’re working on that,” says Leimeister, noting that whilst the carrier is “not yet” feeling heavy pressure from customers, the carrier is “having a closer look at it, and had some tests and maybe as a surprise in one or two years, we’ll come up with that”.
On board the 747-8I inaugural flight, Lufthansa chairman and CEO Christoph Franz confirmed to media that premium economy “is one idea which we are re-examining; we do this on a regular basis because it is always a question to which extend to extract additional willingness to pay”.
Lufthansa recently announced plans to remove first class cabins from about 30 long-haul aircraft. Asked by the APEX editor’s blog if the carrier might consider reinventing the three-class offering on these aircraft by adding premium economy, Franz said: “That would [seem] to be the easy solution [but] if we introduce it on the future two-class aircraft, they [passengers] would want it on the three-class aircraft. But maybe it is a valuable step. We have to ask our customers, get a feeling with regard to their willingness to pay.”
Premium economy could prove particularly alluring to tall passengers and passengers of size, as Lufthansa is offering a 31in pitch for the economy-class seats on its Boeing 747-8Is (see photo, right).
Would Lufthansa ever consider unbundling its product? Franz says the carrier “will keep the integrated product on long-haul” but notes that the decision is more difficult on short- and medium-haul because “the things people offered for free in the past are not free anymore”. While Lufthansa “will adapt to market demand” it “will probably be the last” to engage in unbundling, says Franz.
He adds: “There may be additional services, not thought of at this time, that we could also offer. It’s also about creating the necessarily IT infrastructure and collecting the money … We don’t have the necessary IT and accounting backbone [at this time].”
Even as it grapples with high fuel prices and competition from European rivals that have unbundled their services, Lufthansa is working to place “more focus on the expectations of our guests, their desires, their needs” today and in the future, says Franz.
Meanwhile, the Lufthansa CEO is convinced that the 747-8I “will be a very successful part of our fleet”.
The carrier has launched a new advertising campaign called “Nonstop You”. The commercial is timeless, and I’m ready to hum along.