Sometimes, you just have to treat yourself, especially at the end of an extravagant birthday week. I traveled a lot last year, and racked up a lot of Aeroplan points. When it came time to make a trip to Germany for a conference this month, I decided to burn up some of those points and book a first class ticket. Air Canada does business class to Frankfurt, which is nice: they have the business class “pods” in the Boeing 777. I was too late to get a business class flight on the long weekend, so decided to book Lufthansa first class to Dusseldorf instead. Air Canada only has two classes of service, but Lufthansa has three: coach, business and first. I have to say, Lufthansa First is really wonderful.
Lars was pretty much my own personal flight attendant: there were only 4 of us in first class, and he had part-time help from the purser and another flight attendant, so I didn’t want for anything. He was so adorable, I wanted to tuck him into my bag and take him with me. As I got on the plane, he was there to greet me by name, put my bag overhead, give me pyjamas, slippers and a ladies toiletries bag, and bring me a drink and a dish of macadamia nuts. He served me Piper-Heidsieck champagne, talked me into having the caviar as an appetizer as he walked me through my dinner order, and when I accused him of being a bad influence by offering me dessert, he said “I am here to seduce you” (I’m quite sure that the literal German translation of that is less innuendo-laden than the English).
Although the food was obviously prepared ahead of time, it was expertly plated and quite good: as good as many restaurants that I’ve been to. An amuse bouche of a seared scallop with mango salsa and a dollop of avocado; then the caviar accompanied by finely chopped egg, chopped onion, sour cream and toast. Technically the caviar was one of the appetizers, but I had also ordered the roast guinea fowl, which was a few slices of quite moist (cold) meat on a bed of thinly sliced beets with hazelnuts scattered around. The main was salmon steamed with ginger, a bit overcooked but to be expected for food that was prepared at least an hour before, with quite good rice and bok choy. And of course, Lars remembered to bring my fish knife. I washed that down with a glass of a German white burgundy, then had a taste of a muscat dessert wine with a slice of Cambazola and a few grapes.
I never sleep well on planes, and this was no exception. Although the seat lies completely flat, it’s a bit hard and lumpy – I think the lumbar support sticks up in the wrong place if you sleep on your side. However, dozing for a couple of hours does take the edge off an overnight flight, and the afternoon departure from Toronto meant that it was only midnight in my brain when we arrived in Dusseldorf at 6am. I’m completely looking forward to the return flight, which will be in daylight so that I can enjoy the excellent service even more.
If money were no object, I’d travel like this all the time. Instead, I do it every 10 years or so, on points – I think that the last time I did a long haul first class flight was going to Australia in 2001, also on points. That makes it an especially nice treat when it does happen, but does make it hard to go back to cattle class the rest of the time.
First class on the ICE train from Dusseldorf to Ulm, on the other hand, was a big disappointment: probably the most uncomfortable premium class seats ever, very shallow, lacking about 3-4 inches of support under my legs. No power at the seats (although with the magnificent HP Mini, I didn’t need it for the 3-1/2 hour trip) and no wifi. The tray table didn’t reach far enough out to put the computer on and type for anyone with arms less than three feet long, which meant having the netbook on my lap. To be fair, it was on time, fast and efficient; but I’m not going to miss the train ride if I end up driving back up to Dusseldorf.