Lufthanza Video Screen, Biz-Class Seat, 747-8
Video Screen, Biz-Class Seat, 747-8

We flew back to the U.S. from Frankfurt in the upper-deck business-class cabin of Lufthansa's newest airplane, a less than one-month-old Boeing 747-8. More than 40 years ago, a reporter friend was invited to take a short ride around Northern California on a 747 just prior to that very first, and long-awaited "jumbo" jet being put into passenger service. His response to the inevitable "what was it like?" questions was, "very much like flying." I've flown the 747 many times and that's pretty much my reaction to this latest version, EXCEPT for LH's new lie-flat business class seats.

Until a few years ago, business and first-class seats were similar to reclining armchairs. Entertainment was a few channels of music and the movie was shown on screens hung from the overhead. Too bad if you'd already seen it. Then came seats with flatter recline and a private entertainment system at each seat offering multiple audio and video options, the latter shown on a small screen attached to the seat in front. Next came the current crop of "lie-flat" business class seats designed to allow passengers to get some real sleep on very long flights. Until last month, Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class "suites" which adjusted to lie completely flat were the best for sleeping we had encountered in dozens of trips over the Atlantic. Better certainly than the business class seats we rode last month on our outbound Seattle-Frankfurt flight on LH's Airbus 330. On that aircraft, the business seats lie flat but not level with the ground, leaving about a 16-degree tilt which made me feel as though I were sliding toward the bottom of the "bed." The multiple push-buttons which controlled my seat on that flight were only sporadically responsive and required heavy finger pressure in just the right spots. The video screen was small, dim and not in sharp focus. Nonetheless, we were comfortable enough and the cabin service was attentive as usual. The business seats on our trip home in the Boeing 747-8 were a were a substantial improvement. They go completely flat, perhaps a bit wider and longer, controls are much more responsive and intuitive, and the entertainment system's video screen is much larger (see photo), sharper and can be adjusted for the best viewing angle. Another welcome feature is the padded footrest notched into the seat structure in front. Also, as a couple flying together, we found the "V" shaped positioning of each set of two seats—feet at the bottom of the "V"—a communications improvement over the typical parallel arrangement and especially over Virgin Atlantic's "pods" which created a physical barrier between us.

There was, however, one tiny problem with my just-out-of the-box 747-8, fully reclining, business class seat: it didn't work. I was able to get it to about "Barcalounger" position but no further—either way. So I was stuck in "Barcalounge" the entire flight. When it was time to land, members of the cabin crew removed the seat cushions and manually returned the seat its "full upright position."

A final note: At Dulles we changed to United for our nonstop flight to Seattle. I'll leave out the sad details, but what a huge step down; in airport, in professionalism, in business class lounge, in boarding and gate procedure and organization; in aircraft, and especially in our limited recline and legroom seats in first-class. I longed for my Barcalounger.