What Happened To Lufthansa’s Lie-Flat Boeing 737 India Service?

Once upon a time, travelers could fly directly from Frankfurt to Pune on a narrowbody Boeing 737, enjoying the comfort of lie-flat beds. However, when the agreement with the jet’s provider fell through in 2018, Lufthansa replaced the aircraft with an all-economy Airbus A319, earning the route the nickname of the ‘world’s worst flight’.

Boeing 737 silhouette
Lufthansa used to operate a non-stop Boeing 737 flight to the Indian subcontinent. Photo: Getty Images

A comfort conundrum

Yesterday we reported on a very short widebody route – the 16-mile distance between the world’s two closest capitals Brazzaville and Kinshasa, frequented by Air France Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. However, some routes that might preferably be operated with the comforts of dual-aisle service are left without such an option.

The runway at Pune Airport in Maharashtra, India, is too short to welcome widebody aircraft. Most travelers to Pune may have preferred to cover the distance from Mumbai by road, which takes just under three hours. However, time-conscious business travelers linking the destination with Germany’s automotive industry insisted that a direct air-link was necessary.

As such, in 2008, Lufthansa began chartering a specially outfitted Boeing 737-700 from now-defunct Swiss luxury-charter operator PrivatAir. The aircraft was equipped with 20 lie-flat beds in business and just 66 economy seats. With only 86 seats, the layout provided a spacious and comfortable enough cabin for narrowbody long-haul.

PrivatAir 737
For ten years, Lufthansa chartered a PrivatAir 737-700 with 20 lie-flat beds for its FRA to PNQ. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

Eleven hours of Eurobusiness

However, in 2018, Lufthansa and PrivatAir ended their agreement, leaving the flag carrier without planes that could serve Pune directly. As the representatives of over 200 German companies that have set up shop in Pune were adamant that the airline should continue to operate the route, Lufthansa decided to improvise.

Instead of a lie-flat 737, Lufthansa deployed an Airbus A319. Without any special modifications, the aircraft had an all-economy configuration, commonly serving intra-European destinations.

For business class purposes, usually, the airline would block out the middle seats of the front row in what is commonly referred to as ‘Eurobusiness’. This means no larger, more comfortable seats – and certainly no lie-flat beds – at the front of the cabin.

While the airline took the decision to block not one but two seats on each side of the aisle in the premium section of the cabin, this was still less than ideal for a long-haul flight full of discerning business travelers.

Lufthansa A319
Lufthansa’s A319 had to stop for refueling on its way to Pune, taking the flight time to over ten hours. Photo: Anna Sophie Bruening / Lufthansa

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Refueling in Baku

The lack of cabin comfort was not the only issue, however. The A319 does not have the range to cover Frankfurt to Pune in one sweep. As such, it needed to make a 45-minute refueling stop in Baku, Azerbaijan, both coming and going.

The refueling stop increased flight time to near 11 hours – with no opportunity for passengers to get out and stretch their legs in Baku. PrivatAir’s 737 also stopped to fill up the tanks in Bucharest, but only in the westward direction. Furthermore, the A319 was not equipped with in-flight entertainment, nor did it have any in-seat power or USB.

The reactions were scathing. One commentator argued that only someone who did not know what they were getting into would pay business class fares to spend over ten hours in a 30-inch pitch seat. Another said they could think of much better ways of torturing themselves.

While there were indications that Lufthansa and PrivatAir were on the verge of resolving their differences, the Swiss air-charter company filed for insolvency on December 5th, 2018. Shortly after, Lufthansa announced the suspension of its ‘non-stop’ A319 Pune flight, leaving travelers to take a less direct but most likely much more comfortable route instead.

What is the longest narrowbody flight you have taken? Leave a comment below and tell us about your experience.