First Impressions from “new” Lufthansa “Pier A” at Frankfurt

Connecting through Frankfurt, Lufthansa’s major hub, can sometimes be a fraught experience. Given that the Germans generally have a reputation for efficiency and good design, this may come as a surprise to the unseasoned traveller.

It’s something of a lottery. If you’re connecting between two flights arriving on the same gate area, then it’s easy. If not, then it’s game over. Don’t pack your running shoes – keep them handy in your hand baggage.

Bus transfers, awkward transfers between piers, and in some cases the need to leave and re-enter the sterile “airside” area and be re-screened (especially if you’re connecting from Schengen to non-Schengen, and more than once, on occasion) because of the older terminal design, combine to make this a slow and less than smooth process, which isn’t great if you consider how many thousand people must connect through FRA between LH flights on a daily basis. An hour to change planes at FRA is tight.

This is in stark contrast to LH’s other hub at Munich, where they actually consider 30-40 minutes plenty of time to change planes, and your checked bag normally makes it. The airport even has it’s own microbrewery. But, not only is MUC in Germany, it’s in Bavaria.

LH know this, and so embarked on a massive redevelopment plan on the 40 year old (same as me!) A-gate area – adding further gates, new lounges, more space and improved passenger flow. All to try and make the running shoes unnecessary.

The redeveloped “A pier”, which includes the A and Z gates, launched earlier this month. So, I wasn’t massively concerned by having 1 hour 20 minutes to change planes yesterday. Arriving from the UK, into the non-Schengen gate area, and then connecting to another non-Schengen flight, didn’t think that would be a problem. I’d arrive into the same area as I’d be departing from, I would have plenty of time to change planes, and put my feet up in LH’s shiny new Senator lounge.

How wrong I was.

When we arrived (on the new runway), we had a nice short taxi, and parked on a gate with a jetway. However, this gate only connected to the Schengen area of the airport. This meant bussing to the terminal. Groan. I wondered if a new bussing gate had been built into the non-Schengen area. No, was the answer, as I found when we were bussed all the way to the central bus arrival gate, which is in the “B” gate area. Handy if you’re finishing your journey, as this is right next to the main German border control point, but not so good if you’re continuing.

Following the signs for the Z gate (for my connecting flight) involved a “refreshing” brisk 5 minute walk, to take a small train back to the Z gates, which I, of course, just missed, so there was a 5 minute wait for the next one.

After the hig-level scenic train ride over the top of the terminal which gives you a great view (of what might be your connecting flight leaving without you), I was directed to the dreaded re-screening area. Fortunately, I’d redeemed some miles from my frequent flyer card and was in biz class, so I felt a little smug when I went through the “First/Business Class” lane, thinking I’d skip the enormous queue.

How wrong I was. Rescreening took around 20-25 mins, most of which was standing around. Are you keeping count here? 10 minute bus ride, 5 min walk, 5 min wait, 2 min train ride, 3 min walk, 20-25 min wait. We’re up to about 50/55 mins of my connection time, and the connecting flight was already boarding.

This was a show of ultimate public servant bureaucracy, proceedings moving at a glacial rate, two lines from seperate X-ray machines feeding into one metal detector, not helped by the group of 8-or-so Indian looking chaps up front, all of whom either set the metal detector off, or were “randomly selected” for a pat down, and other people who don’t understand the instruction to “remove all metal objects, and empty your pockets“.

Of course, having cleared this ridiculousness – I’ve just off a plane which I’ve already been screened in order to board, I’ve had no contact with any unscreened belongings or unscreened people (to the best of my knowledge), and I’ve now got to be rescreened (you don’t need to be rescreened at MUC!) – you are now directed on a meandering path through a duty free shop, before you can get your gate. Yes, they’ve picked up that odd British habit of airports being laid out as shopping malls with runways.

So, quick dive into the LH lounge on the way to the gate (as I’m now busting for the loo), and I head to the gate with around 15-20 minutes to go before departure – my name (or at least what passes for it when read by a German for whom the concept of a “soft h” followed by a”soft g” is unusual at best, and tongue-tying at worst) being read out over the tannoy… “Passenger Ushhees travelling to Dallas, please come to gate Z-something or other”.

I’m not “last pax”, but I’m close, and having attracted withering looks from the gate staff for not being all Germanic and punctual, I’m glad to just flop into my seat (which turned out to be broken, but that’s another story).

Of course, this all went wrong when my incoming plane was assigned to a gate which didn’t have access to the non-Schengen area. I dare say that if it had been docked at the correct gate, I would have gone straight into the right gate area to make the connection.

But still, Lufthansa and Fraport, you may have spent many millions of Euros, but Frankfurt’s new Pier A doesn’t get an “A star” from me.

E. Must try harder.

4 thoughts on “First Impressions from “new” Lufthansa “Pier A” at Frankfurt

  1. Leo

    There are two issues: passport control at the Schengen border and security at the “sterile area” border. The first is generally a quick process, especially for EEA passport holders. The second could be improved significantly by being moved to the gate itself, as is the case in Schiphol. It is more expensive to do but makes it much faster to get from one end of the airport to the other, making the airport more attractive as a hub.

  2. Mike Hughes Post author

    This was non-Schengen to non-Schengen transit, so the need to be re-screened confuses me. It seems to be totally arbitrary whether or not you are rescreened when transiting FRA, which is the ridiculous part.

    Schiphol has made some changes recently… a finger of the non-Schengen D gates (the ones which mostly serve flights to the UK, with airlines such as BA and Cityjet) is now a single checkpoint for the whole pier, rather than one per gate.

  3. maren

    “Germans generally have a reputation for efficiency” really??? I never heard this (and i think is completely wrong)

    1. Mike Hughes Post author

      Okay, maybe more of an urban myth than a reputation. Certainly if this experience is the standard, then it favours the myth. :)

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