Hands-down, my most amazing flying experience was a 12-hour flight in Lufthansa first class from San Francisco (SFO) to Frankfurt (FRA). As I type right now, I am lying under a mosquito net in an $8 hostel in rural Uganda, so the incredible ridiculousness of this flight is especially lucid.
I spent 67,500 miles and $5.00 on this flight–more than I would ever recommend that anybody spend on such a flight–but I was really swimming in United miles at the time and it was the only transatlantic flight available on miles for my last-minute impulse trip. And it was quite the impulse trip: I booked the flight about 1 hour and 35 minutes before it took off, and had not previously been planning on going to Europe.
I showed up at the plane disheveled, sweaty and crazy-eyed from packing my bags in literally 8 minutes, speeding to the airport, parking, and sprinting to the gate like a madman. When I boarded, I saw the glittering stairway to heaven and wondered what curiosities awaited me in the weird world of elite lavishness.
I bounced upwards into the super-exclusive first-class cabin, and the flight attendant actually said, “I’m not sure you’re in the right place–are you sure you’re sitting up here?” In all honesty, it may have been a fair question given my state. After I whipped out my boarding pass, she apologized profusely and showed me to my seat.
The cabin was very spacious, with only 8 seats (where there could be 72 economy seats (yes, I measured it)), 5 other people occupying those seats, and 4 flight attendants.
My seat welcomed me with the following amenities upon my arrival:
- A hand-written note from my personal flight attendant and a red rose
- A fully lie-flat seat with a great entertainment system and, curiously, a bed next to it.
- I thought it was weird that they would put someone next to me who would be lying down in a bed for the whole flight, and then I realized that maybe the bed was mine too. I thought about asking the stewardess for clarification but I just decided to play it cool. In the end, to my amazement, they were both mine. Why was my seat lie-flat if I also have a bed? Well, why not?
- A comfortable set of slippers, socks, and pajama bottoms and tops (my everyday pajama pants now)
- Bose noise-cancelling DJ-style headphones
- A “Porsche Design” amenity kit (my travel toiletry case now) full of bougie toiletries and flying necessities such as a shoe horn and a hairbrush.
A 747 takes a long time to board. Since first class is the first to board, there is plenty of time for drinks and snacks. That is a big plus that I never considered before experiencing it.
About 15 minutes after takeoff, they gave out menus for dinner, wine and breakfast.
For the starter course, a cart came by with several types of caviar and Grey Goose vodka. And so I had caviar for the first time in my life, and it went well with the ice-cold vodka. All 3 of the other starters looked amazing so I asked if I could have a sampler plate with a little bit of each one of the starters. They must have misunderstood because they brought me regular portions of all 3 starters. They clearly just had way too much food, and they had no problem giving me triple portions because no one else is allowed to eat it except me and my 5 royal bretheren. Not wanting to be rude, but knowing that I was frittering away valuable stomach space, I ate all of them and they were delicious. My favorite was the “Seared Beef Tataki with Green Papaya and Peanut Sauce.”
After the starters, I went to the restroom, changed into my pajamas, and returned to my humble abode. On my walk back, I realized that they had wine, cheese and fruit carts strewn about the cabin, just in case I ever got hungry or thirsty at a time when the 4 flight attendants were occupied with the other 4 passengers.
For the main course, I selected “Poached Lobster Tail and Claw in Saffron Reduction, Simmered Mushrooms, Butternut Squash” and it was deluxe restaurant quality.
Then for dessert I had a cheese plate and chocolate panna cotta. The cheese plate was the worst thing I had on the flight, but it was still eons better than anything you’d get in economy class.
All in all, the dinner service lasted over 2 hours. I was pretty amazed. Then it was time to just chill out, watch a movie, and sample every wine and weird German drink on the menu since I was pretty sure it would be a while before I returned to a top-shelf open bar at 40,000 feet for $5.00.
“Mr. McG, would you like turn-down service?” This question puzzled me, and my mind churned for a few seconds. I had no idea what the this turn-down service thing was… “Sure! Of course, that would be great, thank you.” Life is more exciting when you don’t say no to things, so I took an extreme leap of faith and I did not regret it. Thusly I got the first turn-down service of my life, right in front of my eyes, on an airplane, and believe it or not, it was bar none the best turn-down service I had ever experienced.
I slept well for many hours and when I woke up it was breakfast time. I was really hungry and I ate everything that was placed in front of me (smoked salmon, cheese, croissants, yogurt with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs) and it was all delicious. My cappuccino was especially good.
Before I knew it, we were descending for landing, and I reluctantly prepared myself, mentally and emotionally, to say goodbye to my elitist daydream and interact with dirty normal people again.
As I led the other first-classers off the plane and started up the jetway into the terminal, a Lufthansa agent intercepted me and directed me to the Lufthansa First Class lounge, where I would wait for my connecting flight to Bologna.
The lounge was huge and there were about 10 people inside. My first stop was the cigar lounge because I had to see it to believe it. Dozens of premium cigars in a humidor, all for me, all for free. I smoked 27 cigars in one hour, because why not. In fact that last sentence is false; I had a Cuban cigar and then I walked around to explore. There were showers and nap rooms, but I had time for neither. The bar had more than 80 different types of whiskies, and despite my general avoidance of hard alcohol, I decided I had to dabble. I had a splash of Johnnie Walker Blue, which goes for $190/750ml bottle at BevMo, and a dash of 16-year Scottish single malt that was the most enjoyable whisky of my life.
Soon came the time to catch my connecting flight and I was called over to the lounge exit. To my surprise, the exit led down the stairs and onto the runway, into the open arms of a Porsche Cayenne and a private driver.
Voila, saved yet again from interaction with peons! If I had been forced to walk to my gate through a public terminal, I would have shit a brick; thank god. So I got a private luxury ride whizzing under jumbo jets, dodging cargo ants, all the way to my plane.
I was the last one to board and it seems like the plane might have been waiting for me, because everyone who had just seen me pull up in a Porsche looked at me in awe as I boarded. Who is this character who gets private Porsche rides to planes, they thought, with the Germans’ minds leaning toward Merkel’s son and the Italians’ toward Berlusconi’s boytoy.
So I boarded in business class, flew to Bologna, walked off the plane and left that surreal world behind. It was a heck of an experience and I don’t regret the purchase for a second. I would not spend that many miles on first class every trip, but I think I’ll probably splurge once every 4 to 6 years, depending on how the credit card bonuses keep flowing.