While U.S. Airlines Get Rid of Pretzels, Lufthansa Offers Champagne Cocktails

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Talk about perks!

While some U.S. airlines are getting rid of pretzels and pillows to save money, Lufthansa is offering champagne cocktails, gourmet meals and "personal assistants."

It's all part of the German airline's attempt to woo upscale travelers.

So far, I think the U.S. airlines haven't proved their way is the right way," said Oliver Wagner, vice president for global airport products and services at Lufthansa.

In December, the airline unveiled a new first-class terminal at the Frankfurt airport -- the busiest in continental Europe. There, passengers who pay premiums ranging from 2,500 to 4,500 euros ($3,125 to $5,625) above business-class fares can enjoy hours of pampering before their flights. In fact, they never have to interact with economy-class travelers in regular terminals.

And in July, the airline added a smaller first-class area to the Munich airport, which has had a direct flight from Charlotte since last year. Lufthansa also makes first-class facilities available to passengers in its ultra-loyalty program, meaning they fly 600,000 miles every two years.

"We've chosen a strategy that really tries to cover all customer segments," said Wagner. "So far, it has paid off."

While historically first-class bookings have been declining among airlines, Lufthansa said such reservations have increased 15 percent to 20 percent this year. The airline also has added eight first-class seats to its Charlotte flight.

At Frankfurt, qualified passengers can pull up to the terminal and hand over their keys to an attendant who will either park their car or return it if it's a rental.

Upon entering the building, they're greeted by a personal assistant who can attend to their every need.

They can clear security at their own private checkpoint, then enjoy the amenities of a 19,000-square-foot lounge inside.

Lufthansa isn't officially disclosing the investment in the first-class terminal, but other reports have pegged it at as much as 30 million euros or $37.5 million.

Available inside: freshly prepared gourmet meals, bartenders willing to mix any cocktail, luxurious Italian leather armchairs and sofas, giant flat-screen TVs, private business centers with telephones and Internet connections, marble bathrooms with showers and a cigar lounge.

Small touches include martini glasses filled with cocktail nuts scattered around on tables, and piles of fresh green apples decorating the bar.

When it's time for the flight, a chauffeur drives passengers in a Mercedes S-Class or Porsche Cayenne directly to the airplane.

The atmosphere makes passengers linger, Wagner said.

"People have changed their travel patterns -- they come here earlier now," he said.

No other airline offers a facility quite like it, Wagner said.

"It is state of the art and absolutely unique," he said.

In Munich, the first-class area is a miniature version of what's offered in Frankfurt -- with about 1,600 square feet, airport officials refuse to call it a lounge. But with a sleek bar and the same Italian leather furniture as in Frankfurt, it duplicates the atmosphere.

"It's really not that big, but every need is taken care of," said Christa Schilling, who oversees the facility.

"It's really an oasis of quietness and luxury."

First-class passengers in Munich can also enjoy the benefits of car drop-off and private security clearance.

Duane Copeland, a project engineer at BMW's plant near Spartanburg who grew up in Gastonia, flies Lufthansa in business class for regular trips between Charlotte and Munich. He believes the airline's luxury services give it a better reputation than other airlines.

"It makes sense to me strategically," he said recently while awaiting his return flight to Charlotte.

Karl Ulrich Garnadt, who heads the Munich hub for Lufthansa, said the airport soon plans to add limousine-to-airplane service for first class passengers in Munich.

And depending on demand, the airline hopes to add either a separate first-class terminal like Frankfurt's or a mega-lounge on top of the existing terminal. A decision could come around the first quarter of 2006, he said.

Trendy Extras

Lufthansa is pampering first-class passengers -- for a hefty price.

Charlotte Observer




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