Thanksgiving in Mumbai: The Worst First Class Flight I’ve Ever Experienced, Frankfurt-Mumbai in Lufthansa First Class

I was on a bit of a high coming off the First Class Terminal and excited to arrive in India, so when I set foot on board my next Lufthansa 747 and walked upstairs to the upper deck I was ready for a really excellent flight.

Only what was in store wasn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced in international first class, on any airline. Nothing different about the hard product, the seat was still ‘fine’ as is to be expected from Lufthansa First.

The video on demand still came from a tiny screen. It was a daytime flight to a shirt was given, no bottoms. And the amenity kit was identical to the one from the previous flight.

But what was different was the service — the worst first class service I’ve ever experienced.

And it began right away, my wife and I were served a single dish (rather than one each) with half empty nuts. Strange, but we weren’t hungry, and I assumed it was an oversight — perhaps the package ran out and they were just opening another or heating it, and then forgot.

The next oversight came when it was time for the meal to be served. The flight attendants never served an amuse bouche. A signature staple is a small plate, something interesting perhaps tuna or octobus on a clear square dish that they bring out before opening your tray and setting your table. They do this on every flight, even on Ho Chi Minh City – Bangkok which is about 450 miles. But not on this flight.

At this point I’m still making excuses for the flight, just as with the nuts, perhaps no amuse bouche was boarded? Certainly not a big deal.

And I only realized that we hadn’t gotten the starter item when the flight attendant came over to set our table.

This was the first really hostile interaction I had gotten on the flight. She wouldn’t place most items onto our trays, she handed me items that were to be placed at my left and she simply handed each and every plate to my wife in the window seat (including hot plates). I gave her a strange look, I simply didn’t understand what she was doing at first though it was clear she didn’t want to reach to set items and the quickest way to be done was to hand items to us to deal with on our own.

Here’s the menu:

Choice of Hors d’oeuvres

    Caviar with traditional garnishes

    Salad of Bacalao with Oranges, black Olives and Sherry Dressing

    Mixed Vegetable Terrine on Pine Nut Vinaigrette with Artichoke Mousse

    Aloo Shakarandi Chaat, Dal Wada
    Roast Sweet Potatoes and Potatoes marinated with Lemon and Coriander, warm Chickpea Patty

Salad or Soup

    Frisee, Chicory, Romaine Lettuce and Radicchio with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives and Beetroot presented with your Choice of Tomato and Tarragon or Orange and Mustard Dressing

    Or

    Frothed Soup of Watercress with Croutons

Choice of Main Courses

    Saffron crusted Halibut with Sauce Bouillabaisse, Bell Pepper and black Venus Rice

    Roast Goose with Red Cabbage, Potato Dumplings with Herb Crumb Butter

    Murgh Khadai, Dal Tadka, Bhini do Pyaza, Zeera Pulao
    Fried Leg of Poulard in savory Tomato Sauce with mixed Bell Pepper, Okra with Onions and Chili accompanied by Basmati Rice and yellow Lentil Ragout with Curcuma

    Paneer Achari, Palak Peas, Dal Tadka, Moong Dal Pulao
    Deep-fried Cream Cheese in hot Chili Sauce, creamy Spinach with green Peas accompanied by Basmati Rice flavored with Mint, Potatoes and yellow Lentils served with Lentil Ragout with Tomatoes and Garlic, Tarkewala Raita

Selection of Cheese and Dessert

    Manchego, Queso al Romero, Bleu des Causses, Banon and Coulommiers Cheese presented with Quince Jelly and Grapes

    Truffle Cream of Chocolate and Olive Oil with Flor de Dal, Raspberry and Bell Pepper Jelly

    Rabdi Beery
    Caramelized Milk Soup with fresh Blackberries and Gold Leaf

There aren’t nearly as many items to place on a Lufthansa table setting as with some carriers. One of my pet peeves generally, though it’s done by most European-style carriers, is to bundle utensils inside a napkin and simply set the rolled napkin on the table. A proper first class service should involve individually placing each utensil in its proper place on the table, providing those utensils needed for each course, and replacing utensils as-needed throughout the meal. That’s not the Lufthansa standard, and that’s fine, but placing those items that we are supposed to have should be done by the flight attendant. And not by us.

Once our table setting self-service was complete, she rolled out the appetizer cart. She pointed to the three appetizers and asked which one I would like?

Still, I’m making excuses for her, I thought perhaps there was a language barrier and her English wasn’t very good. So I tried to clarify, usually they offer me all three appetizers. She repeated that I could pick one. I couldn’t fathom why she would care. More mental excuses: perhaps they also didn’t board enough appetizers for the flight?

My wife asked to try all three appetizers, I insisted, and she did receive all three.

The flight attendant was about to leave our row for the next set of passengers, when it occurred to me that we hadn’t been served any caviar. The caviar was on the cart. I stopped her and said, “Oh, I’d also like some caviar if that’s alright?”

She huffed, “Well I’ll have to turn the cart around and come back.”

Which she did. And provided me a much smaller portion of caviar than I’ve ever been served on Lufthansa (though still a perfectly reasonable portion by any other standard).

It was then that I realized that a drink was never offered post-takeoff. And it was mid-meal before I managed to get a ginger ale. When my glass was empty I was fortunate that she came and brought me something to drink – only she poured water into my ginger ale glass and ran off before I could object.

Here was my wife’s entrée:

And here was mine:

There was nothing wrong with either one.

After our mains, she came through with the dessert cart and parked it just behind my seat. She asked what we wanted for dessert? I really didn’t have a great understanding from the menu of what to expect, and I asked to see the desserts on the cart.

Instead of pulling the dessert cart forward, she was willing to show me one, I had to tell her which one I wanted to see. She showed me the Caramelized Milk Soup, it didn’t look especially appealing so I chose sight unseen ‘what was behind door number two’ which was the Truffle Creame of Chocolate.

Cheese – though on the cart – wasn’t offered.

At this point I simply stopped asking.

When the flight attendant thought she was finally done with service as she cleared our dessert plates, my wife asked for a green tea which was agreed to in a despondent – almost defeated – voice. She still had service she had to do!

Of course, by this time we were both thankful that she was done. The only interaction we’d have for hours was her providing us with blankets. And of course I had to ask for another pillow, a request which though fulfilled was met with scorn. (“Well, I don’t know that we have enough to do that for everyone. But I will do it.”)

I dozed off for a few hours and woke up to my friendly flight companion back at my seat.

Her: Are you having dinner?

Me: Sure, thanks.

Her: Well then your tray must be out!

And with that she walked off. I put out my tray.

She rolled the trolley near our row and asked which items we’d have. I asked her to roll it forward so we could see the back half of the trolley. She ignored the request and just asked what I wanted. I picked something just to end the interaction. I chose only one small plate, and she went off in a huff. She never offered a drink during second meal service. As she was clearing our table setups, though, we asked for espresso. Her reply? “I will see, maybe.”

It got to the point that we dreaded service, that we wanted service over as quickly as possible, that service actually became stressful.

And I’ve dealt with quite a lot in travel, I usually know in advance how to react to most situations. But I genuinely had no idea how to salvage the flight, how to make it better. I tried engaging the flight attendant. I tried being extra thankful. I tried being direct. Nothing worked. And while I suppose I could have sought out the purser I feared that would make things even worse.

By the end of the flight I determined that if I ever saw this flight attendant working upstairs again, I would immediately seek to downgrade to business.

Well, we were on the ground none too soon enough. Walked over to immigration, sailed through, grabbed our bags and then through customs. Skipped the prepaid taxi line and walked outside where masses of people were waiting, many with signs. I first saw a Hyatt Regency sign and asked them, “Grand Hyatt?” and the Grand Hyatt rep appeared… looked up my name and walked me over to my driver. The two of them together escorted us to the hotel car (which was complimentary, but more details on the Grand Hyatt in my next post) and we were finally in India.

Question: I have the name of the flight attendant. Should I write to Lufthansa? I was an award customer, and one booked with US Airways miles to boot, not even through Miles & More. Will they care?

Update: Lufthansa is pretty engaged in social media these days (with their various apps and also presence on boards like Flyertalk), and not surprisingly I’ve already heard from them — first in the comments, the former Flyertalk rep is my friend on Facebook, posted in the comments and forwarded on details to a team in Germany. I didn’t have to write anyone. And already first thing business morning (at least where I am!) I’ve separately heard from their Head of Corporate Communications. I’ll post an update with their response.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. It has been my experience traveling from Atlanta to Frankfurt in business class that Lufthansa staff are mostly not pleasant. The check in people are rude and most of the cabin crew are gruff. The service is bad, and they seem to always want to speak German to Americans not knowing the language. You are made to feel like an intruder. Some of the younger attendants are nice but not very experienced. Airline crews are routinely not very nice in Europe and the US, but Lufthansa ones are just harsh and abusive. Never a smile. Plus their business class seats aren’t good.

  2. My experience traveling european carriers on any class is that the cabin crew (minus the gay male FAs) are especially rude to Americans. I will never fly on a BA flight again due to that ongoing issue, and I’ve even dropped AA as my frequent flyer because they partner with BA for european destinations. BTW, I’m as laidback a traveler as one can be. I don’t require to be doted on, but if you’re serving food and drinks, is it okay that I have a little bit too, even if I am an evil American? Thanks, foreign FAs!

  3. My best business class exp was on Qatar. I dream of the chance to redeem AA miles for Qatar business Class.

  4. I flew Lufthansa last year First class from Chicago to Prague with a stop in Frankfurt each way. The long legs from Chicago to and from Frankfurt in first I have to say they were some of the worst experiences I’ve ever had in any class of service (I was on the 747-400 each time). The flight attendants were very rude to both me and my partner. To say that Lufthansa flight attendants lack warmth is to put it mildly. Also both times they were very stringent with the caviar service and when I asked for more that stated they were out. However, meanwhile both times I saw them take an entire container of caviar to the flight deck covered up under a napkin so as to not be too conspicuous. Now I’m all for the captain and flight deck eating well, they have a hard job but to tell me no more was available and then turn around and sneak some off to the captain just seems inappropriate, after all I’m the one who paid to fly.

    When I read your post it sounded like the FA went out of there way to be rude, especially demanding that your tray table be out. On some airlines they like to do it for you and some off them it can be a bit tricky. Your in first class, they certainly can take out your tray table for you or at least ask you nicely to do it for them.

    All that being said, I’m a very easy going passenger, I understand that FA are people too with a very demanding and exhausting job and try to give them as much of a break as possible. Here’s my general rule with FA’s, I try to be as nice as possible, ask for as little as possible and get up to get it if possible instead of calling for them. In return I expect them to be somewhat friendly, helpful in at least their words or say they are too busy or can you remove that tray table for me please sir.

    And for some reason I seem to almost always get nicer FA in coach than I do in First. Not sure why, maybe First clients are too demanding but that happens to be there job. They have less passengers to take care of and need to be ok with increasing their game. If not I suggest they ask to be reassigned to coach or find a new job.

    But in conclusion, I really must agree the FA on Lufthansa are they worst I’ve ever come across, especially in First. I know I will never pay to fly with them ever again!!!

  5. Most of you folks are absolutely right.
    Two things to be mentioned:

    1) German customer service is in general absolutely atrocious. Cold, abusive, arrogant, unfriendly, harsh, impudent are all attributes I have experienced throughout living for 5 Years in Germany on a daily basis (especially in former DDR) (I am not an American btw)

    2) As with any service-industry: “customer is king”. Paying $10k+ for a long-haul flight one can except an exceptional top-of-the-range service and experience. We live in a very competitive world where mistakes are becoming less and less acceptable. Julie’s reply is absolutely lame and so wrong on many levels. I need to agree with someone else’s comment: “If you don’t like it then simply quit, you poor thing” – simple as that!
    To forget to serve a pre-take-off drink is one thing, but to be repeatedly arrogant and unsupportive is absolutely unacceptable – neither in J,Y nor F – or in fact in ANY service business…

    IMO a letter of complaint should have been directed directly to LH with naming the FAs name. LH needs to sort out their mess and make sure this will not happen again. By complaining you actually HELP LH to see what is really going on! Maybe the mngmt has no clue about this so you are actually doing them a huge favour. Probably the FA didnt hand out the feedback form on purpose bc she knew she was inappropriate. If you didn’t receive any reimbursement (e.g. upgrade, miles, etc.) by LH as a “thank you for your feedback” then simply avoid flying LH in the future. There are dozens of other airlines fighting to survive and I amsure most of them got it right (e.g. EK, SQ,…)

    Bottom line is: DO NOT SUPPORT unacceptable customer service! Anywhere – Anytime! speak up if you don’t like something! Your input will help improving and your successor will be thankful!

    Thanks for sharing our experience!

  6. Oh, what a mess! When I read this all I have been so embarrased that Lufthansa could afford to have such flight attendants! Or, perhaps this is a way to save food and meals and to cut down their expenses, isn’t it?

    What a shame, Lufthansa!

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