Trip Report: Lufthansa Premium Economy

This is the first of two reports about premium economy experiences. For longer-haul flying, I am reaching a point where being crammed into economy is painful but business class is unaffordable. The compromise is to pay a bit extra for premium economy which is sometimes quite a good value. In this report, I cover a round trip between Bangkok and Lisbon (returning from Barcelona) on Lufthansa made in October 2016.

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The plane

Lufthansa adjusts the capacity on the Bangkok-Frankfurt route throughout the year to match demand, everything from a 509-seat Airbus A380 to a 251-seat Airbus A340-300, which was used both directions on my trip.

The Airbus A340 is a comfortable widebody plane but the type was introduced in 1991 so it is not the latest technology. The normal economy class configuration is 2-4-2.

The cabin

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The premium economy cabin, which is located between the business class and economy cabins, has only 28 seats, arranged 2-3-2.  These seats are 18″ wide and have between 38-39″ of pitch, the distance from one point on the seat to the same point on the next row.

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Leg room is quite reasonable although when the person in front of you reclines, you will still find it difficult to get out unless the person in the aisle seat gets up. There are plenty of storage spaces for items and there is a foot rest on the seat in front of you. Bulkhead seats instead have a leg rest that extends from the seat cushion.

One feature of these seats is that there are two armrests for each passenger so no fighting for personal space. This is a huge advantage over regular economy.

Large touch-screen monitors are available at each seat. The image is bright and the responsiveness of the system is good.

The seats are comfortable although a bit firm. After a few hours, I ended up sitting on my pillow to provide extra padding. Recline is quite deep but I still find it difficult to get any meaningful sleep. On the outbound flight, I probably slept about four hours total. On the return flight, less than two.

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As a comparison, here is a view of economy class mid-flight. You can see the premium economy cabins in the distance, separated only by fabric dividers hanging from the overhead bins. You will notice the monitors in economy are smaller and there is an extra seat in each row resulting in only 17″ width and narrower armrests.

The service

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Before departure, water or juice is served and menus are distributed. There is no advance meal booking beyond the usual dietary and religious meals. The selection consisted of two main courses. For these flights, each approximately 12 hours, there is a main meal and then a breakfast closer to arrival.

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After reaching cruising altitude, a drink service commenced. There was a wide selection of beverages and premium economy includes sparkling wine and a premium beer.

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The outbound dinner was a choice of pork Panaeng curry or pan-seared veal sausages with onion sauce, sauerkraut and mashed potato. I chose the latter. It came with an appetizer of coleslaw with smoked chicken breast and a dessert of apple strudel with vanilla sauce.

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Before landing in Frankfurt, a breakfast of cheddar cheese omelette with Lyonnaise potato, ratatouille and tomato with fresh fruit was served. There was no other choice.

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For the flight from Frankfurt back to Bangkok, we had a choice of beef goulash with carrot zucchini stew and potato leek mash (which I chose) or tomato mozzarella fiorelli with basil cream sauce and tomato concasse. The appetizer was a seasonal salad with pumpkin slices and Italian dressing. The dessert was mango pie with creme fraiche.

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Breakfast before landing in Bangkok was scrambled egg with cheddar cheese accompanied by diced chicken breast, Chinese vegetables (which seemed to be missing) and potato wedges with a dessert of vanilla curd cream with blueberries.

Overall, the food quality was good and the quantity was sufficient. The food is served on ceramic dishes with metal cutlery and glass stemware, which creates a nicer impression.

During the flight, light refreshments (sandwiches, fruits, pretzels, candy bars) were available for snacking.

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Shortly before landing, small chocolates were distributed throughout the cabin. Service from the flight attendants was friendly but efficient. It was notable that effort was made to complete the first meal service quickly, presumably so passengers could go to sleep as both flights are overnight.

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The inflight entertainment system worked well and has many options. By the return flight, I did feel like I was running out of things that piqued my interest. Thankfully, the seats have USB and power ports, so I was able to pull out my laptop and work and use my iPad to read and watch shows.

The system does have a nice maps feature that shows computer-generated views from the tail and the cockpit of the plane. This gives a perspective of what the outside world looks like although it is misleading because the above pictures of our final approach into Frankfurt shows daylight but it was in fact before sunrise.

The lounges

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Premium economy does not come with lounge access but as I have “gold” status with one of the Star Alliance carriers, I was eligible to use the lounge. In Bangkok, I was able to use the main THAI Airways lounge. Other lounges closed too early to use as the Lufthansa flight departs after midnight.

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In Frankfurt, I was able to use the Senator lounges, which are very modern, have a huge selection of food and drink, and offer showers for transiting passengers.

Overall

I particularly liked the 2-3-2 layout in the plane. The middle seat next to me with empty both ways, giving me even more space. The food was tasty and good quality. And the lounge in Frankfurt was truly refreshing. Connecting through Frankfurt is convenient and results in efficient travel times to Europe from Bangkok.

The seat cushions were a bit firm for my tastes (although I find this on a lot of planes), the selection of inflight entertainment was a bit uninspired and Frankfurt is not the most pleasant airport to connect through as it is drab and not particularly intuitive to navigate.

I managed to get an attractive price for this flight, only about US$ 1,400 round-trip. The usual premium economy price is closer to US$ 1,800. The extra space and increased comfort made the trip much less taxing and, for the money, was a good value. Lufthansa’s premium economy would be worth taking for future trips.

 

Sous vide chicken fried steak

While I do not get to play around in the kitchen as much as I would like, I was fortunate that my friend Nat invited me to help cook dinner on Saturday for a group of our friends. He is always up for experimenting so this gave us the chance to try an idea I have had in mind for a few weeks: sous vide chicken fried steak.

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Chicken fried steak, in its classic rendition, is a usually inexpensive cut of steak pounded to tenderize it, coated and fried like a piece of chicken and served with gravy. During season thirteen of Top Chef, chef Jeremy Ford tried the technique of cooking a nice cut of steak in the sous vide, “gluing” chicken skin to the steak using transglutaminase and then frying the end result so the chicken skin was crispy. I was interested in trying this technique.

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We followed a similar preparation, cooking a very nice grass-fed filet mignon in the sous vide until rare and then slicing it into medallions. The benefit of sous vide is that by cooking the food in a vacuum-sealed bag immersed in a water bath, the entire piece of food reaches exactly the desired temperature and then cooks no further. Instead of the outside of the steak being cooked and the inside being raw, as might happen when you fry or roast a steak, the entire cut was a consistent 131 degrees Fahrenheit and still a pretty pink.

As the meat cooked, about two-and-a-half hours, we skinned whole chickens, basically turning them inside out. This was an interesting experience, something I have never done before. The end result are these sheets of chicken skin (seen layered in plastic wrap, above) with little “fingers” of skin like a glove where the legs were.

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After the meat was finished and sliced, we sprinkled it liberally with the transglutaminase.  (From the molecularrecipes.com website, “Transglutaminase is an enzyme that stimulates a bonding process at the cellular level with the amino acids lysine and glutamine in proteins. It’s not technically glue, though that’s what it’s often referred to as. It’s a protein that’s present naturally in both plant and animal systems. The product used in kitchens is created from natural enzymes using a fermentation process.”)

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I then wrapped the chicken skin around the steak. Trying to get the chicken skin cut to the right size was a bit tricky, and some extra transglutaminase was needed where there was overlap of the skin.

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Normally, it takes about two hours of refrigeration for the “glue” to firm up. But a quick trip back in the sous vide for about ten minutes sped up the process, resulting in this tightly-wrapped packages that looked a bit like duck breasts.

When it was nearing time to serve, we dredged the pieces in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper and chili powder and fried them in about two centimeters of rice bran oil. The end result was a crispy skin and a steak that was a perfect medium rare. We served this with an onion gravy and salad.

All in all, the result was positive. We could experiment with more consistent portion control – sizes of steaks varied a bit – and maybe a liquid batter instead of a flour batter. But, overall, I would rate this a culinary success.

 

Thank you President Obama

As January 20, 2017 approaches and, with it, the inauguration of President Trump, I want to thank President Obama. His was the first campaign for which I contributed money and time. Future generations will write his legacy and, just like any politician, he is imperfect. Nonetheless, I want to thank President Obama for three reasons:

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Thank you for conducting yourself unlike any president in my lifetime, with a dignity, intelligence and professionalism that brought honor to the office. There have been no real scandals and your conduct has been unimpeachable – literally “no drama Obama”. You showed love and respect for Americans of all origins and faiths, championed marriage equality and treated women as equals – in short, you behaved humanely and justly. As the leader of our nation, but also as a father and a husband and a man, we could do far worse than the model you set.

Thank you for your political accomplishments. It is easy to forget how dire the world economy was in January 2009. The economy is, by almost any measure, in great shape. Far more Americans have health insurance now than when you took office. In an uncertain world, you kept America safe and out of any new military entanglements. And you accomplished this with a Congressional minority for six years, where Republicans explicitly made it their mission not to govern but to stymie you. Yes, you could have accomplished much more in many key areas, but your accomplishments are significant.

Thank you for risking your life for the country. All presidents are targets for unbalanced people with extremist agendas – thus the constant Secret Service protection. But as the first president of color, you faced a level of hatred unmatched in modern history. Especially in an age where a large percentage of Americans are still convinced you are foreign-born, I am startled that there were no attempts on your life. That was a very real risk you faced and I thank your for doing so. My nieces and young people everywhere are growing up in a nation where having a president of color isn’t an unimaginable future but rather an unquestioned reality.

The third point reminds me that there are some other people whom I must thank:

In a crowded field of first ladies who have been positive role models, First Lady Michelle Obama especially stands out. Her class, style, intelligence and caring has been an inspiration for all of us. The loving partnership between her and the President is a joy to watch.

Vice President Joe Biden is a class-act example of public service. A humble, big-hearted man who has never sought power or personal gain, but rather has always sought to serve and contribute to the betterment of our nation.

And his wife Jill Biden so rarely receives the credit she deserves. While serving as Second Lady of the United States she has continued her primary job as an English professor at a nearby community college, contributing on a local level to the next generation.

There is no knowing how the next four years will turn out, but I invite you to join me in giving thanks to President Obama, the First Lady, Vice President Biden and the Second Lady for their service to the country these past eight years.

 

92,000 miles and 99 nights later

This evening we bid adieu to 2016 and ring in 2017. As I reflect on the year and the lessons learned, one of the most striking is how much I was on the road: 92,234 miles flown and 99 nights spent in hotels. That’s the most I’ve traveled since 2005, when I moved to Thailand.

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Some interesting statistics from my travel: I flew 59 flights covering 208 hours, resulting in an average flight of 1,563 miles with a flight time of 3:34. Not as much as many people but still a significant amount of time in the year.

The goal for next year is to manage my schedule more effectively. I may not reduce my travel quite as much but do hope to reduce the number of overall nights on the road a bit and balance the time more effectively between on the road and at home.

 

 

What are you going to do next?


Wow, what a surprise ending to last night’s episode of The West Wing! Where does Aaron Sorkin come up with these plot twists? Truth really is stranger than fiction. That said, as the dust settles after Donald Trump’s victory, I think all of us need to ask ourselves, “How can I help build a stronger, more united America?”

Many of my friends expected and wanted a Clinton victory – as did I – and now are sorely disappointed. Many are printing and posting some pretty unkind words and thoughts on social media about the people who voted for President-elect Trump. Some are saying they want to unfriend anyone who voted for Trump.

That seems less like a solution and more like another serving of the same slop that led us to the political cluster-bomb that this election season was. 

Here’s the message I take from election 2016: there are a lot of Americans who feel anxious about the future. They don’t trust the system anymore and they believe – with some accuracy, I suspect – that the system is rigged against them and in favor of the elite.

Many people who feel that way found their candidate in Donald Trump. And many more found their candidate, but that candidate lost in the primaries to Hillary Clinton.

I think it is time that all of us recognize that there are some serious inequalities and systemic problems in America, and it’s time for us to come together and find common ground and common-sense solutions. There are many issues on which people disagree. But there are many more areas we have in common. 

Ultimately, all of the people who voted are human beings and, as such, worthy of respect. All of us have loved ones and families. All of us have hopes and dreams. All of us have worries and concerns. And all of us have a legitimate right to want a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. 

It’s important to remember that we are privileged to live in a country where we have the opportunity to exercise our free will and vote for the candidate of our choice. And what’s great about our system is that if the candidates don’t deliver the goods, we have an opportunity to vote them out of office in the next election.

In the meantime I would ask all of you, whether or not you voted for the President-elect, what are you going to do to help make America a stronger, more united nation? What are you going to do to help write the future, instead of taking your toys and running home just because the game didn’t turn out the way you want?

Lost Heaven Silk Road in Shanghai

Panda Express does not give you a proper view into the regional variety of Chinese cuisine. Like in any large nation, the cuisine of China has substantial regional differences. While in Shanghai this summer, I tried something I’m not very familiar with – the cuisine of Western China – at a restaurant called Lost Heaven Silk Road in the Jing’an district.

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Based on the cuisine found along the ancient trading route, the menu offers foods from Xi’an and Dunhuang all the way to India, Pakistan and Persia. The restaurant owes much of its interior design specifically to Dunhuang, a small city in Gansu Province in the northwest of China, famous for its hundreds of caves decorated with ancient Buddhist art.

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Our first dish was cold oat noodles, a specialty of western China where oats are more common than rice or wheat. The noodles were served with a slightly spicy sauce flavored with peanuts and were a refreshing start to the meal.

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There were many meat dishes, especially good were the lamb ribs. The meat was flavorful, tender and the sauces added a lot to the dish. The skewers pictured above had a nice spice rub with flavors of cumin prominent.

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We also had Xi’an rice noodles, which are flavored more by sesame oil and were more familiar as a Chinese dish.

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There were several vegetable dishes including this slightly curried okra dish that was not the typically slimy okra you might be familiar with. These would seem not out-of-place in an Indian or Pakistani restaurant.

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They also served so-called “Tang wei hu bing” buns, literally Chinese flavor foreign bread – pita bread stuffed with grilled meat and coriander. The flavors and style of more Middle Eastern cuisine was particularly noticeable here.

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For dessert we had a Kashmir style rice pudding. While nothing pretty to look at, the cardamom flavored pudding was pleasant.

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And a final sweet that left no doubt about where the far end of the silk road lies: baklava.

The restaurant is beautiful and the food is tasty. While one could quibble with its authenticity, I think they illustrate beautifully the reality that a lot of food is fusion, tracing the path of trade and migration and bringing together the ingredients, techniques and tastes of the people who make the journey.
Lost Heaven Silk Road
758 Julu Lu (Jing’an station)
+86 6266 9816
open for lunch and dinner daily
lostheaven.com.cn

A month without Facebook on my phone

With social media an ever-increasing intrusion in our lives, I decided to take a break and deleted Facebook from my phone. Thirty days have passed and I don’t expect to reinstall it.

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I observe that I am increasingly compelled in moments of free time to check my phone. Instead of reading a book, listening to music or podcasts or otherwise engaging myself constructively (daydreaming!) I instead compulsively scroll and click, scroll and comment, scroll and scroll… and so much of what I see there brings little value to my life.

So I announced one Saturday last month to Tawn that I was thinking of trying a month without Facrbook on my phone. Not deleting my account but instead removing the temptation to keep checking my phone.

He doubted I could do it so challenged me to a bet: he would pay me 500 baht ($12) if I made it a month and I would pay him 5,000 if I relented and reinstalled the application.

A month has passed (I haven’t seen the debt settled) and I find I don’t really miss Facebook. I check  on my laptop from time to time and it only confirms I am not missing much, especially in this election season. I do miss the updates of friends and family, their children and important events in their lives. Those seem to be a minority in my newsfeed, which is mostly filled with pithy political opinions, “what Galxay Guest character are you?” click-bait surveys, and “sponsored” posts.

Meanwhile, I find my reading and enjoyment of music and podcasts has increased. And my attention span is recovering.