Westbound with the Queen - FRA to KDEN in a 747-400

4:05 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

(Somewhere over Greenland) After being delivered to the EU by Lufthansa on one of their Airbus A330-300s a few days ago for a vacation, I am now on my way home, having just departed Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) in one of their glorious 747-400s. Like I said in my previous post, no offense intended to those who prefer to fly in a ‘bus, but I just love Boeing’s airliners, since first riding in one of their 707s out of KFAT (Fresno Air Terminal) as a young boy.
Of all the commercial airplanes flying today, nothing gets my attention and respect than Boeing’s 747, a.k.a. “The Queen of the Skies.” Since first going into service back in 1969, they have been the choice of major international carriers for a fast ship to haul a LOT of people a long ways. Until Airbus started adding A380s to the sky, the “four-seven” was the Queen - and possibly the King – of the sky. That unfortunately is coming to an end at some point in the future.
As Boeing’s 777 and 787 gain market share, along with Airbus carrying thick order books for their wide-body, long-range line, the major carriers that fly the 747 are slowly announcing plans to phase them out. It is hard to determine exactly which of the dozens of conflicting news reports on the Internet are true, but it is clear that the days are numbered for the Queen. It appears United could begin mothballing some of their remaining 747 fleet by the end of 2017, but the prognostication for Lufthansa doing likewise is much more muddled.
To research the Lufthansa situation for additional clarity, I only had to walk to the back of this 747s upper deck to ask the Purser working this flight. She said Lufthansa has “no plans to stop flying such a wonderful airplane.” She then gently stroked the wall and said “I love my 747, she has been great to me and I take care of her.”
I have no way of knowing if the swirling rumors of eventual fleet-wide phase outs are true, but if this is my last flight, I’m going to savor every second. While the people around me on the stretched upper deck are lamenting about a long flight, the grinning aviation journalist in 82K will be hoping it will go a bit longer.
Because that’s how we #avgeeks roll.
In today’s modern 747-400, my business class seat might actually be positioned about where the piano used to be in the upper deck lounge on the first generations of the Queen. The -400s stretched upper cabin now has room for 22 large lay-flat seats, with plenty of legroom, 20” of width and more position controls that could conceivably generate 34,827,449 different configurations. Like the business class seat on Lufthansa’s A330-300 eastbound to the EU, the environment that surrounds me is the perfect place to spend 11 hours blasting through the high flight levels. Except when trying to sleep…more on that in a minute.

Lufthansa’s business class meal service on anything they fly across oceans is outstanding. Here is the menu for the first of two meals I will be served on this flight, again brought to my seat by a highly-skilled team of seriously professional flight attendants:

Always a prerequisite to a meal in business class on this airline, you are first served a steaming hot wet washcloth to clean up, but only after an FA has laid a cloth napkin with a serious thread count on your tray table. I ordered the Goat cheese au gratin served with grilled vegetables and olive tomato vinaigrette as my appetizer. Next, a small but wonderful salad of seasonal leaf lettuces topped with Thousand Island dressing is brought to me in seat 82 Kilo. The main course arrives hot and appealing in presentation, with tenderloin of Veal served with fresh white asparagus and parsley potatoes. It is all smothered in a rich Hollandaise sauce worthy of a restaurant with several stars in the window. Last, a chilled dish of Crème Brulee finishes the meal, and the entire spread is washed down with an ice-cold bottle of Warsteiner Alkoholfrie German beer. (A note about this beer: Every time I visit the EU, it blows my mind as someone who chooses not to drink but still loves beer that the Europeans completely beat the crap out of the U.S. when it comes to NA beer. I always find several great brews like this Warsteiner that are every bit as good as the real thing. But as ‘Muricans, we are stuck with O’Douls or Busch Bavarian NA in a can…both sorry examples of alcohol-free beer).

After dinner – they call it lunch but my body clock says it’s dinner – I pop open the IFE system’s flight tracker and note that we are just crossing over the far eastern shore of Canada, making 466.875 knots. When my wife, Julie flew a four-seven eastbound to start this trip, at one point Flightaware had her making 685 knots, so it’s clear this westbound flight is bucking some serious jet stream headwinds today. This is after this “Queen” took 48.29 seconds on the roll before taking off at 172 knots to depart FRA via runway 07C.

In the time since takeoff, I have managed to watch an inflight movie, and devour every morsel of the meal. I also tried to sleep, but Lufthansa’s lay-flat seat left much to be desired:

Sure, the seat magically changes from a sitting position to a flat bed environment – lots of whiz and bang there – with plenty of room for my 5-8 frame. Wrapped in a blankie and with pillow fluffed, I slip on the courtesy eye shades, and let the Tylenol PM do it’s job. But the seat has a hard plastic shell that seems extremely confining, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot find ample places to put my arms. I’m not someone who can sleep with arms scrunched under me, I’m more the “spread out like a beached whale” kind of sleeper. So after a couple of hours of constant flipping and flailing, I still cannot find a comfortable position, and simple give up, fire up the Macbook and finish this Airplanista post. Like I said in my report about the ride over, it feels like these business class seats may be a couple of generations old in this 747-400, and if the line is really retiring these airplanes, I could understand that it just does not make financial sense to retrofit the upper cabin with new seating.

Overall, I give this Lufthansa 747 flight five stars, this is a very good airline. With the exception of the seats – which admittedly is probably more me and not a fault with the seats – and the strange lack of a cabin air duct to remedy a warm cabin, every detail is taken care of, and the cabin crew is as good as it gets. If this truly is my last flight one of Boeing’s 747, it’s been golden, a rare treat of a flight on one of commercial aviation’s all-time most important airplanes. I do miss the piano bar upstairs, but the IFE more than makes up for not having a live crooner tickling the ivories for well-dressed pax sipping Martinis and poisoning themselves with Pall Malls.

Now that I have this milestone ticked off my #avgeek bucket list, I now can move on to my next commercial aviation holy grail…crossing an ocean in one of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliners. If you have to replace an airplane as important and legendary as the Queen of the Skies, the 787 is a worthy machine to accept that role.

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