After a busy week for Lufthansa, it was time for the final event for the launch of the rebranding: the first commercial flight in the new livery on a Boeing 747. For the historic flight, Lufthansa chose its flagship route, Frankfurt to New York on flight LH400, and one of its newest and largest aircraft, a Boeing 747-8i with the registration D-ABYA. The 8-hour and 30-minute flight would allow ample time for everybody on board to become acclimated with Lufthansa’s new brand.
The morning of the flight, Frankfurt Airport was as busy as ever, with passengers traveling to the far reaches of the globe passing through its doors. With the exception of the Lufthansa employees and journalists on the flight, not many people onboard LH400 knew that the flight was special until they arrived at the gate and saw the pre-flight festivities that Lufthansa had arranged.
Despite the official launch of the livery just two days prior, Frankfurt Airport had already begun its transformation. Less than 12 hours after the huge hangar party which kicked off the new brand, as we were on our way to another Lufthansa event, we stepped off the hotel shuttle and were greeted by the new blue and white flags flying over Frankfurt Airport. The same flags had been yellow and blue when I arrived in Germany the morning prior. German efficiency at its finest.
Walking through Frankfurt Airport for the first time since the launch, you could notice the tiny changes that were made to reflect the new brand. While it would take years for everything to be changed, it was clear that Lufthansa was wasting no time in beginning the process. Even the tickets were in their new color and format. Our departure gate was one of the first to receive the upgrade, with blue and white ticket counters and the new uniforms for the gate agents.
Arriving at gate Z52 in the newly built 4-story concourse for international widebody departures, passengers on LH400 were greeted with complimentary snacks and beverages and signs notifying them of the significance of the flight. This would be the first revenue flight in the Boeing 747-8i in the new livery. In an airport surrounded by blue and yellow, the new paint stood out in all its glory.
While we had all seen the plane two nights prior, this was the first time most of us had seen it connected to jetways, catering trucks, and being fueled for the long flight to New York. Lufthansa went as far as to mark off the perfect spot along the glass to take pictures of the plane. The low clouds did not do much for the livery, as the dark blue appeared almost black. However, it was the dawn of a new era for Lufthansa and not even clouds could damper this momentous occasion.
Before the flight, speeches were made by Alexander Schlaubitz, Head of Marketing at Lufthansa, and Martin Leutke, Head of Media Relations at Lufthansa and also my seatmate for the flight, about the importance of the flight and the new branding. Passengers were also informed of the events that were taking place on the plane, including Lufthansa’s FlyingLab experience.
As the appointed hour for boarding came new, queues started to form from the automated boarding gates. Boarding commenced with the premium cabins, first and business class, boarding first. Afterwards, premium economy and economy boarded. Walking towards the plane, the glass jetway allowed for last looks at the outside of the plane.
Upon arriving at the boarding door, almost everyone stopped to take a picture of the yellow square that welcomed everybody on the plane with a simple “Willkommen” and “Welcome.” The square was placed there by Lufthansa to invoke the emotion and personal connection to the airline that the decades of yellow brought.
Two flight attendants were at the door to welcome passengers with chocolates wrapped in the new yellow and white branding. Already Lufthansa was making good on its promise to use the yellow color more efficiently onboard the plane. Walking through the lower half of the business class cabin, we could immediately see the new pillows and blankets with the newly targeted use of yellow.
The new branding was everywhere, a complete change from the flight we had all flown in on from New York on the same aircraft type. Over 900 items had to be replaced on the aircraft to accommodate the new branding. Everything from silverware to the miniature airplane on the moving map all reflected the new branding.
We then hiked up the steps to the upper deck of our Boeing 747, which was reserved for journalists and Lufthansa employees. The private upstairs cabin was exclusively for business class passengers, with two lie-flat seats on each side of the aisle. It was an exciting atmosphere, as everybody was rushing to take as many pictures as they could while boarding was still in progress.
I settled into seat 85K for the long flight to New York. This was my first time in the upper deck of a 747 and my excitement was fueled by the fact that I would be a part of history. As the flight attendants came around to introduce themselves, the differences in their uniforms were noticeable from when we flew in three days prior. Even the menus that were distributed were night and day to those we received on the flight out.
As we pushed back and taxied out to the runway, it felt as though we were strangers in a strange land. We were one of two planes in the new livery among a sea of blue and yellow. However, in just a few years, this plane will be amongst its friends wearing the same livery once again.
Arriving at Runway 25C, we were second behind another Lufthansa Boeing 747-8i going to Boston, although this one was wearing the old livery in an interesting moment of irony. As the old livery departed in front of us, it was our turn to take to the skies. Lining up on 25C, you could feel the excitement in the cabin. As the captain advanced the throttles forward, Lufthansa was literally and figuratively moving at full speed into the future.
After we lifted off from Frankfurt, we took one last look at the sea of blue and yellow. That was Lufthansa’s past, this flight is Lufthansa’s future. As we zig-zagged across Europe, we eventually found ourselves over the North Sea. Winds along the North Atlantic had forced us to fly at a higher latitude than usual. When the seatbelt sign turned off, it was time to get to work.
The forward part of the upper deck was for the television crew that would be running Lufthansa’s FlyingLab. For those unfamiliar, FlyingLab is almost like a TED talk in the sky. Every few months or so, Lufthansa picks a different topic and discusses it for a few hours during the flight. The topic of this FlyingLab was the new livery and branding. No surprises there.
While the crew was setting up, business class began its drink and meal service. While Lufthansa’s branding may have changed, we received the same excellent Lufthansa customer service from the lovely flight attendants. The airline was also recently named the first European five star airline by Skytrax.
After the celebratory drinks to congratulate Lufthansa, we were served or appetizers, salads, main course and dessert over the Scottish isles. After the meal service, just as we entered our North Atlantic track, the FlyingLab began.
A dedicated WiFi network directed passengers to watch the live stream from their wireless devices. The host was my seatmate, Martin Leutke. As he outlined the changes to Lufthansa’s branding, he invited the audience to ask questions through the live stream portal. Various guests were also invited to join him on the live stream, including the creator of the new livery.
Through the course of the FlyingLab, which was filmed in-between First and Business Class, various topics were covered. Topics included: why did Lufthansa feel the need to change its brand, how did the inspiration come about for the new livery, and what are the changes being made to the onboard experience. Of course, the most important topic was Lufthansa’s iconic yellow.
The purpose of the FlyingLab was to change hearts and minds about the new branding, as it was a highly debated move among aviation enthusiasts around the world. It isn’t always easy for people to accept when a brand changes, especially one as iconic as Lufthansa. However, the event was optimistic, and it did succeed in changing some minds on the plane.
It was also interesting to see television cameras roaming about the cabin, as various passengers were chosen to give interviews about their thoughts on the new branding, with the general consensus being that the change was ultimately a positive move for the airline. We were even given a behind the scenes look at the production of the FlyingLab, which occupied the first two rows of the downstairs business class cabin.
Walking through the rear cabins of the plane, it was business as usual. Tired tourists getting a few hours of sleep before landing in New York, children napping on their parent’s lap, families resting their heads on each other as if they were dominoes that fell one by one onto each other’s shoulder. It was a refreshing experience after being immersed in a world of opinions about the new branding and the technical terms that had been thrown around by Lufthansa executives.
At the midway point in the flight, we were surprised to look out of our windows and see Greenland. The winds had forced us that far north that we flew over the southern tip of the snowy country. Although the country is politically associated with Europe, it is a part of North America. While not many realized it at the time, as we flew over Greenland, this was the first time Lufthansa’s new livery reached North America.
After the FlyingLab had ended, everybody associated with the production retreated to the upper deck to finish out the rest of the flight. Despite a few more interviews, the press events of the day had ended. A few hours later, we were over Canada and I opened my window to see a peculiar sight. Less than a mile away was a Lufthansa Boeing 747-8i flying parallel to us. This was the same aircraft that had departed prior to us in Frankfurt featuring the old livery.
As we had a tight schedule to keep, we were flying faster than our counterpart across from us. As we slowly overtook the aircraft, it was a symbolic moment for all of us. Lufthansa was moving quickly into the future but also looking back at its past, both literally and figuratively. A reminder to keep moving forward but always remember where you came from. The mid-air event gave us hope that people would learn to love the new livery in time.
As I was tired from the events of the day and lack of sleep from the night prior, I put my seat into its fully lie-flat position. As the lie-flat experience was a first for me, I was eager to test out its merits. To my delight, the seat fulfilled its purpose and I was able to get some precious minutes of shut-eye before waking to the arrival meal service.
The meal service was celebratory. All the Lufthansa employees could breathe easy knowing the events of the flight were over and were a success for the airline. Although the airline would still have a long way to go in influencing public opinion, at least the hard part for them was over. Before we knew it, we had less than an hour to go before landing in New York. This 8-hour and 30-minute flight had flown by, pun intended.
As we started our descent over Portland, Maine, we had received our final drinks for the flight. My seatmate and I ordered champagne to toast Lufthansa’s achievement. Within a half hour, we would be arriving in New York.
We came out of the clouds adjacent Long Island MacArthur Airport at exactly 2 p.m. and made our way across Long Island. It would be the first time that New Yorkers on the ground would see the new Lufthansa livery. A turn to the right informed us that we would be landing on Runway 22L at JFK. In a personal gesture, I looked out my window and saw my university, welcoming me back to Long Island.
The flight cameras allowed us to get a forward view of the runway, which was a first for me as this was my first time on a plane with cameras. Most of us who aren’t pilots don’t usually get to see straight ahead. Taxiing to the gate, the question now was would there be the celebratory water cannon salute waiting for us at the gate. Unfortunately, it was too cold for the water salute, as the plane would then have to be de-iced before its return flight to Frankfurt.
As we grabbed our bags and said our goodbyes, we were all incredibly honored to be part of Lufthansa’s history. Although we had flown back in time due to the changing time zones, this flight had brought Lufthansa into the future.