Saturday, July 21, 2012

Summer of Travel 2012: Germany (Part 1 - Getting to Hamburg)

My summer of travel continued with a business trip to Germany. For those of you who don't know, much of my job involves market research, so I was off to Hamburg and Munich to attend some focus groups and interviews.

The trip started with an overnight flight to Frankfurt on a United 777 (legacy Continental seat arrangement). My seat was 8E in BusinessFirst, which I had specifically chosen back when booking the flight a few months ago, as I'd heard it was supposed to be the best seat in the front cabin. There really isn't a bad seat, but in addition to being in the middle section (which means that unlike the two window sections, there is direct aisle access for both people), the fact that it's a bulkhead seat was supposed to provide a somewhat larger cutout for your feet when the seat is fully reclined into the bed orientation. I certainly noticed the difference, and was greatly appreciative of it, as I'm 6'6" and have size 15 feet!

View of the cutout in seat 8E on a United 777 (legacy CO layout)

For comparison's sake, here's what the cutout looks like in seat 3E, from a flight I took earlier this year:

View of the cutout in seat 3E on a United 777 (legacy CO layout)

I had a long day ahead of me after arriving, so wanted to try to get to sleep ASAP after our 7:30 departure. I started watching The Hunger Games pretty much right away, and asked for the Express Meal Service, which would enable me to get my whole meal all at once, instead of it coming out course by course. I had the pork chop - it was a bit dry, but still tasty (and the sauce certainly helped). The mixed appetizer was nice as well, but the salad was pretty mediocre.

Express Dinner Service, United BusinessFirst

After dinner, I changed into a pair of shorts, tucked myself in, and fell asleep almost immediately. The next thing I knew the lights were coming on and the captain was announcing that we were starting our descent into Frankfurt!

I had an hour to make my connection in Frankfurt - unfortunately my connecting flight on Lufthansa was in another terminal, and I had to pass through another security checkpoint as well. Not a huge problem, but Frankfurt is a big airport, so there wasn't any time to dawdle. It also didn't help that the family directly in front of me at the security checkpoint thought it would be just fine to bring a couple gallons of water with them - 3 1.5L bottles and at least 6-8 500mL bottles! Now there were 7 of them, but the agent wasn't exactly buying their story that it was all "for the babies". After several minutes of arguing, they were about to give up, until discovering that they were allowed to drink the water right then and there. This led to another few minutes of everyone else watching this family guzzle as much water as they could physically hold, before (finally) agreeing to let the remaining bottles be thrown away.

I finally made it over to my gate, and boarding commenced shortly thereafter. I'd never flown on an intra-Europe flight in business class before, but I can't say that I was all that excited about this leg of the trip. Business class on most intra-Europe flights is nothing at all like business/first-class on domestic flights in the US - the seats are exactly the same as in economy, and the only real difference is that they block the middle seat, so it's not quite as crowded. There isn't even extra leg-room, so in most cases, I actually prefer to sit in the exit row in the economy section.

All that being said, there actually are a couple things I really do like more about intra-Europe flights vs. domestic US flights:
  • While it's annoying at first, the strict limit of 1 carry-on per person (2 in business class), along with a free checked bag makes for a very quick and efficient boarding process. And there's never any question of space being available in the overhead bins. Contrast that with the typical domestic flight in the US where everyone tries to carry everything on to avoid having to pay to check their bags, and as a result the boarding takes forever, and the only question is how long it will take before the overheads fill up and they have to check all remaining bags.
  • They've got better goodies on board! At least on Lufthansa, I love the chocolaty treats that they pass out to all passengers. I can only imagine what would happen if a US airline started handing out Snickers bars to all passengers - they'd be blasted for contributing to the obesity epidemic for sure!
  • Lastly, with Star Alliance gold status I get access to premium lounges when traveling throughout Europe - at lounges that are actually worth having access to! Contrast that with no access on domestic flights in the US, and crappy lounges when I can actually access them because I'm on an international itinerary.

The flight from Frankfurt to Hamburg was fairly uneventful, and after picking up my bag, I hopped in a taxi and was off to the Royal Meridien Hamburg.

(Check out Part 2, Hamburg here)

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