Passion Points: Escape
On a recent trip from New York to Florence made partly via Lufthansa’s new private jet service, everything that could conceivably go wrong did. Yet the experience made me a true believer in the German airline.
Lufthansa’s private jet service, operated by NetJets, was launched in 2005 without much fanfare but has since expanded significantly. The fleet includes ninety planes, ranging from the small Cessna Citation Bravo, used primarily for shorter distances, to the Dassault Falcon 2000EX, which seats ten and can fly nonstop to all of the airline’s 1,000 private-jet destinations in Europe and Russia.
I was traveling with a small group, and we left John F. Kennedy airport after a significant delay—not, as the airline staff stressed, the fault of Lufthansa but of backed-up plane traffic at JFK—arriving two hours late in Frankfurt, Germany, from where we were scheduled to depart for Florence, our final destination. Had we been booked on a regular connecting flight, we surely would have missed it and had to join the massive line that formed around the Lufthansa counter as soon as we debarked. Instead, we were met by Lufthansa VIP personnel who informed us that the pilot of our ten-passenger Falcon 2000 was just now negotiating a new departure slot and would be ready for takeoff shortly.
We were whisked away in a black Mercedes-Benz to a comfortable waiting facility where our passports were collected and immigration procedures completed. Usually if you have a layover, you are dropped off at Lufthansa’s spacious new first-class terminal, which I have heard great things about but did not get a chance to see, because of our delay. Twenty minutes later we were heading toward the back of the Frankfurt airport, where the private jets are parked. (On the drive there, you pass the immense hangar being built for the new Airbus A380, of which Lufthansa has ordered fifteen.)
It took another fifteen minutes for us to get into the takeoff cue, but then we were headed towards Florence, a glass of Champagne in hand and comfortably seated in cushy brown-leather seats. The Falcon has light beige interiors, is outfitted with power outlets, data ports and CD and DVD players, and the bathroom is stocked with Jo Malone products. I have never been big on eating during flights, but I could not resist snacking on some of the juicy slices of melon, mango, pineapple and kiwi that the single flight attendant brought as soon as we were in the air.
Shortly before arriving in Florence, we were informed of dangerous levels of wind at the Tuscan airport, apparently a frequent problem. One of my companions explained that if we had not been traveling with one of the world’s largest and most respected airlines, we would probably have been be able to coax the pilot into attempting a landing, regardless of the weather advisory. Lufthansa’s private-jet pilots, however, have the same obligations as the ones that operate the large commercial machines and are required to deroute planes if conditions are deemed the slightest bit risky. An attempt to get permission in nearby Pisa failed (it was getting a lot of traffic from Florence), so we had to fly on to Bologna, about a two-hour drive from our chosen destination.
At this point we had been traveling for more than twelve hours—albeit in grand style—and the mood was getting impatient. But never appearing stressed, the Lufthansa staff could not have been more professional: the Frankfurt headquarters was informed of our predicament while we were still in the air, and ground personnel in Bologna were up to speed and working on organizing a car service for us when we arrived. I would have put money on us spending hours at the airport—who has ever heard of things moving at New York City speed in Europe?—but twenty minutes later, a black van pulled up to collect us and our luggage, and soon we were en route to our hotel, the Villa Mangiacane, just outside Florence. (Lufthansa is responsible for getting its private-jet customers to their final destinations, even if planes are delayed or redirected because of bad weather, at no extra cost.) After a two-hour drive through the Tuscan countryside, we pulled through the gate at Mangiacane as the setting sun painted the surrounding vineyards a golden red, and for a moment I wondered whether Lufthansa had orchestrated the whole thing just so we could arrive at Tuscany’s most magical hour.
The price per flight is fixed, determined by type of aircraft booked and distance traveled. It includes detailed flight planning, aircraft positioning, catering, airspace charges and waiting times.
Until January 2008, Lufthansa and Villa Mangiacane are offering two packages that include private jet transfer from Frankfurt to Florence and three or five night stays at Mangiacane (breakfast, a dinner, wine tasting and city transfer to Florence are part of the price). Rates, based on two persons, from $21,358 for a transfer with a small private jet and three nights at Mangiacane. For more information, contact Lufthansa Private Jet Service at 888-261-0814.
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