A Dent in Lufthansa's Reputation: Customers Complain of Cramped Seats and Bad Service

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Compared to other leading international airlines, Lufthansa has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to services. The company's high-end passengers complain of disappearing perks, that airline does not listen to their needs and is starting to resemble a budget carrier rather than a flagship carrier.

A bar on board an Emirates Airbus A-380 aircraft: Other airlines offer the kind of high-end service top customers complain Lufthansa lacks. Zoom
AP

A bar on board an Emirates Airbus A-380 aircraft: Other airlines offer the kind of high-end service top customers complain Lufthansa lacks.

The drive at the Frankfurt Airport from the First Class terminal to the plane about to board for a flight to Hamburg only takes a few minutes. But these few minutes are enough to make one understand why the top customers of Germany's national airline are so irritated with the flagship carrier.

Four men who don't know each other sit in the back of a van. One is an executive with a blue chip German company and another is a partner at the world's largest corporate consultancy. Their companies spend six-figure amounts each year for airline tickets for these men alone. Today, they complain of uncomfortable seats, arrogant flight attendants and a general worsening of the airline's customer loyalty program. The men are united on one thing: They will only fly Lufthansa if they have to.

Even Employees Complain

Conversations like that are dangerous for the German airline. They show that Lufthansa is in the process of losing its reputation as an upscale airline.

Lufthansa's own employees have slowly begun to gripe about their product as well. They complain of old, rattling jumbo jets, disappointed guests, overly simple food in business class, embarrassing onboard entertainment systems, and an in-flight WiFi service that often doesn't work.

Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa German Airlines, agrees "in principle" with that assessment. "Yes, we have some catching up to do in some areas of our business," he wrote on his company's Intranet. The company isn't in the place where it needs to be as a "leading airline," in all areas.

Airlines like Emirates, Etihad or Singapore Airlines show how things should be done. Economy class seats are equipped with individual entertainment systems, business class seats can be converted into beds and first class cabins are equipped with minibars or bathrooms with heated floors and showers.

Spohr noted that Lufthansa is currently embarking on that needed catch-up, undergoing what he described as the "largest investment program" in the company's history. Every single seat is to be replaced.

Still, many frequent fliers will be left in the cold. One need look no further than the first class service on Lufthansa's new A380 aircraft, where salt and pepper are served in small packets like the ones found in fast food restaurants, and the monitors on the personal entertainment systems seem like miniature versions of the ones featured on planes belonging to Swiss International Airlines, a Lufthansa subsidiary.

These are minor things, but they can be enough to give pause to passengers who are spending as much as the price of a small car for their airline tickets -- tickets which they can get at cheaper rates and under better terms elsewhere.

'Seats Are Polarizing'

Even with some of the airline's new seats, passengers complain that they are still too hard and that you can feel the knees of the person sitting in the row behind you. Indeed, the seats being used in an upgrade of the Lufthansa Europe fleet -- deployed for flights in Germany and across the Continent -- don't appear to be going over so well with some passengers. In an internal magazine, Lufthansa workers report that customers are complaining about the lack of quality in the new seats. "The seats are polarizing," they lament.

The stories one hears from customers are often the same: Lufthansa doesn't listen, Gold customers are ignored on board and there is little difference between the German national airline and its upstart competitor Air Berlin.

But it is members of the so-called HON Circle, frequent fliers bestowed with the company's highest status and who are an important revenue stream, who feel particularly alienated. Their privileges are being stripped, and miles earned from economy class flights will soon no longer count towards reaching or preserving that status.

In the coming weeks, Germany is about to get a major new international airport in the capital city of Berlin. Airport officials on Monday announced its planned June 3 opening would be significantly delayed. When it finally does open its gates to air traffic, First Class passengers are likely to notice another thing: Lufthansa has no plans for now for the kind of separate terminal building for prestigious HON passengers that it offers at the Frankfurt Airport.

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1. I've been a member of the HON-Circle for some years
aengel2 05/09/2012
but with the new rules Lufthansa obviously doesn't want me as their customer anymore. Well, there are other airlines that are at least as good as Lufthansa and at a better price. What Lufthansa's management obviously doesn't understand: I don't have to fly with them. I have a choice and I will act accordingly.
2. Disappointed too
Skywarrior 05/11/2012
Feel the same. The only reason I am still using Lufthansa for German flights is because of their good connection times within Germany. On long distance other Star alliance partners have already far better products then Lufthansa. Turkish Airlines for example. Business class seat in Lufthansa are outdated and remind me a little bit on the beginning of Business class. Taking (I believe) three years to replace all seats is too long to wait. I believe Lufthansa’s trouble (Financial) just have started and will only get better (If not to late already) when the catching up has been completed. Let’s see what Air Berlins “Marriage” with Etihad will bring. Etihad’s product is already outstanding so looking forward seeing Air Berlin catching up.
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