Review: Lufthansa 747-8i

Right now, the Boeing 747-8i is one of the coolest, newest airliners flying. People who are into air travel should put this on their "must fly" list.

This October, I got to fly in a 747-8i to Frankfurt Airport from O’Hare Airport and back. Lufthansa was my airline of choice. And I know that air travel nerds like me will want to know what the 8i is like.

Lufthansa 747-8i
Our 747-8i parks next to another one.

What’s the Deal?

If you like air travel as much as I do, you probably already know what’s so cool about the 747-8i. But for the rest of you might need some background: The 8i is built on concepts learned from the 787 Dreamliner. It’s incredibly fuel efficient thanks to new engines and a wing that sweeps upward steeply, especially after takeoff. It’s also the longest passenger airplane flying.

Inside, it’s all slick modern goodness, from LED lighting to fairly spacious lavatories to huge overhead luggage bins. And on-demand entertainment at every seat, of course.

How Did I Like the 747-8i?

On both flights, I had seat 34A, right up against a bulkhead and behind the wing and engines. So this wasn’t a quiet place to be.

747-8i
A look at the 747-8i cabin.

Our choice of seat was based on getting a bassinet for our 9-month-old daughter. The flight attendants attached it to the wall after takeoff, and the little person got some quality sleep.

The on-demand entertainment worked perfectly and included some cool extra programming, like short documentaries offering looks inside Lufthansa operations, in addition to movies, TV and sports. I would’ve loved some German language lessons.

This was also a very comfortable slimline seat. Usually, my buttcheeks get achy and numb  starting at about 5 hour. I had no problems at all on these 8-and-a-half hour flights.

747-8i
The 747-8i has some comfortable coach seats.

Boeing wisely skipped the Dreamliner-style window dimmers and opted for traditional shades. There are also power plugs at every seat, including a USB port. The USB port did seem to have an oddly loose fit with our cables, though.

What Complaints Do I Have?

No plane is perfect, not even the 747-8i. It didn’t have air nozzles at the seats to cool you off. This could be a problem if one gets left in the sun to bake; this is a trait it shares with the Airbus A330.

There are also some problems with the bassinet and retractable video screens and tray tables. They can interfere with each other, and their appears to be some inconsistency: It wasn’t a problem on the first flight -- a minor bit of Tetris allowed me to move the tray and monitor without moving the bassinet. The second plane. though – the monitor didn’t rotate as far, so I was out of luck.

747-8i
These slots on the bulkhead are where the flight attendants can mount a bassinet. I’ve probably seen these on other planes, but never thought about it before being a dad.

I also have yet to find a plane like the Asiana 777 that has self-serve water fountains. That is so much better than waiting for shot glass-sized water cups from the flight attendants. Why every airline doesn’t do that is beyond me. One thing I noticed in Europe is that people don’t drink water like we do in the U.S., especially in Arizona. So this could be partially a culture thing.

Summing Up the 747-8i

This is a graceful, elegant aircraft in spite of its size. Generally, I think all aircraft are industrial art forms. But the 747-8i is especially pleasing to my eye. It extra-awesome when you see the wings flex upward as the plane lifts off.

747-8i
The small person tests the bulkhead-mounted bassinet – her review was pretty favorable.

Strictly from the passenger experience, though, the Dreamliner still has a modern, starship-like mojo that tops even the 747-8i. And there’s that aforementioned Asiana 777 that I love so much. I probably won’t make a huge effort to get aboard a 747-8i in the future since the Dreamliner and 777 (depending on the individual airline’s configuration and service, to be sure) are out there. And I have yet to fly an A-380, so my next Lufthansa booking will probably be on an A-380 of my schedule allows. And yes, I’d fly Lufthansa to Europe again in a second.

Be sure to check my other review for Lufthansa; it focuses on the airline’s kid-friendly flight attendants and amenities.

Thoughts on Asiana Airlines Crash

Asiana Airlines crash
Fresh off an Asiana Airlines 777 in Incheon.

News of the Asiana Airlines crash landing at San Francisco International Airport surprised me. I flew two flights on an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 like the one that crashed, along with a 767 and various smaller Asiana aircraft.

During the flights, the professionalism of Asiana Airlines employees impressed me. Given my experience on the airlines, here are a few thoughts I had about the Asiana Airlines crash.

The Cabin Crew is a Real Story
So far, only three people have died as a result of the Asiana Airlines crash. But I haven’t seen a good luck at how the flight attendants of Flight 214 played a role. They had to manage at least three large passenger groups, all of whom spoke different first languages (Korean, Chinese and English). It seems the flight attendants dealt with this challenge with calm professionalism that likely saved lives – yet we’re not hearing about it. I’m all for figuring out what went wrong on this flight. It’s a great way to learn. But it’s also important to recognize what worked, even under the worst of circumstances. There’s something the industry can learn.

Don’t Hate on Baggage Grabbers
I’ve noticed more than a few disdainful Internet comments about the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 passengers who grabbed their luggage on the way out. Each comes down to this assumption: "I would’ve done better and followed the rules."

The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777
The Travel Class cabin of an Asiana 777

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not willing to throw stones at anyone about grabbing their luggage during the evacuation. It’s a tense situation that no one ever expects – so I can see how logic failed. I can even picture myself, stretching to latch onto some sense of normality in a surreal situation, would reach for my bag as a way to restore some sense of reality. So unless you’ve been in a crash and acted like a textbook case of "what to do," reserve your judgment. And I hope you never need to find out how you’d fare.

I’d still fly Asiana Airlines Tomorrow
I’m confident in Asiana Airlines. And this crash landing makes me even more confident in the Boeing 777. The aircraft held together far better than any eyewitness expected it to. And it stayed intact and resisted burning long enough for the passengers and crew to escape. Also consider that the Boeing 777 operated for nearly 20 years without a fatality.

I hope that investigators and airlines take some of the hard-earned information from this crash -- and use it to make air travel even safer than it already is.

And sometimes, there is just a chain of errors that brings a plane down. If this were a matter of culture and training as some have suggested, crashes would be confined to certain cultures. But they’re not, and that speaks loud and clear.

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7 Thoughts on Asiana Airlines

asiana 777
An Asiana 777 takes to the sky. (ykanazawa1999 via Flickr)

UPDATE: I’ve posted a review of my 5 flights on Asiana Airlines.

I just booked tickets for my first trip to Asia. This fall, I’ll fly Asiana Airlines to Incheon and Tokyo. U.S. Airways, one of Asiana’s Star Alliance partners, will get us to LAX and from San Franciso International. The plan is to go first to Seoul, hit the countryside and then make a quick visit to take in the otherworldly craziness that is Tokyo.

So why Asiana, which isn’t one of the better-known names in the United States?

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330
I'd love to fly on a Hawaiian A330. Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

It’s online booking actually works -- unlike those of ANA, Korean Airlines and JAL. I considered those heavy hitters (hoping that ANA might have a 787 Dreamliner flying by then). Too bad their online booking is clunky to the point of non-functional. The online booking experience is a flyer’s introduction to an airline. It needs to work flawlessly every time. Asiana’s does. You’ll notice I don’t mention the big American carrier’s That’s because I have yet to see evidence that any U.S. carrier outside of Hawaiian Airlines provides the level of service of its overseas counterparts. More on them below.

It’s prices are the most reasonable I could find. A good chunk includes taxes and fees, though. Out of curiosity, I set up the same flights on Continental.com, also a Star Alliance member. Tack on another 10 percent. Not egregious, but not worth rolling the dice – American-based carriers just don’t have a reputation for good service, and mediocrity can make a long flight hell. Oh, and some of the flights are operated by United on its older 747-400s.

It has a great reputation for service. It’s the SkyTrax  Airline of the Year Award winner for 2010 -- the same year Global Travelers magazine named its in-flight service the world’s best. And its online booking actually works (I’m sure you read that somewhere recently --)

It has a very shiny new fleet. That’s always a plus, as is its reputation for rigorous maintenance. I’m looking forward to my first flight on a Boeing 777, which I’ve heard is a sweet ride for people who actually like commercial air travel.

Why Asiana Isn’t Quite Perfect

  • No direct flights from Tokyo to the United States during the times I searched. We have to go back to Incheon. That costs a bit of time. But hey, it’s another ride on a 767, one of my favorites.
  • An Asiana 747 freighter just crashed. There’s word that the flight disappeared after reporting a fire onboard. I can’t think of the last time an airline has last two aircraft very quickly, so that puts stats in my favor! And freight versus commercial service. I have no cause to worry.
The Very Worthy Second Choice
Hawaiian Airlines. I love the idea of skipping LAX and flying from Phoenix to Honolulu to Incheon to Tokyo to Honolulu to Phoenix. I also hear Hawaiian Airlines totally rocks, providing inflight service on-par with foreign carriers. The timetables just didn’t favor my allotted time. I also would’ve been more interested if I could’ve caught a ride on a Hawaiian A330 instead of a 767. Again, I like the 767 … but I’ve never been on an A330. Yes, these things do weigh into a flying geek’s decision making.
Also, Hawaiian’s site doesn’t take advantage of its Star Alliance buddies to get me from Incheon to Tokyo. One thing I learned: If you book all from one site, you’re covered better for mishaps like missing a connection. Qantas left us high and dry because we booked separately from Auckland to LAX and LAX to Phoenix. The ground staff lost some serious brownie points, but I also learned to book more efficiently.