Lufthansa Flight 456: Learn how the Frankfurt to Los Angeles route is planned


Let’s say you work for Lufthansa and you’re planning a Boeing 747-8 transatlantic flight. Do you try to plan the fastest trip so the plane can arrive early? Or might you conserve as much fuel as possible, thus saving the company money. Perhaps you can do a little bit of both.

I recently visited Lufthansa’s Operations Control Center in Frankurt. To learn how the carrier plans its international flights, I sat with Marcus Pabst, “Senior Flugdienstberater,” as he decided the best route for Lufthansa Flight 456 from Frankfurt to Los Angeles.

How does the process start?

We start with the passenger and cargo figures. Depending on the weight from the aircraft and the weight from the complete payload, we are going to calculate the fuel for the flight.

How can you calculate weight for passengers?

For us, we have roughly 100 kilos per passenger, including the baggage weight. For the passenger, we have 84 kilograms as an average, and 16 for baggage, including hand baggage. (100 kilograms is about 220 pounds)

What happens next?

I put that information in the system. And then the first thing the computer checks for me is weather for our destinations and for alternates. We always have at least one alternate.  In case of bad weather at the destination, we have to plan a second alternate.

And where could the flight divert to today?

It’s San Diego. All of the airlines try as much as possible to choose an alternate as close as possible to the destination to save, obviously, fuel. If the distance is so close that weather is going to impact both of the airports, you take into account a more separated alternate. But for today, in LA, we have only one. We have a picture here. (He points to a monitor.) And you can see, no clouds. No rain. No fog. Good weather. The next Lufthansa station would be San Francisco. But as the weather is very good in LA, we don’t need to use San Francisco as an alternate.

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Lufthansa seeks to offer service with a smile

Lufthansa serves sushi in premium cabins on flight to Japan. As yummy as the plate above looks, it’s fake.

Lufthansa serves sushi in premium cabins on flight to Japan. As yummy as the plate above looks, it’s fake.

It can’t be easy running Lufthansa German Airlines.

On one hand, the carrier is being squeezed by discount European carriers, which can offer considerably lower fares for flights within the continent. On the other, Lufthansa is facing increased competition from worldwide, high-end airlines, like Etihad Airways and Emirates.

But Lufthansa officials say they’re up for the challenge. For one, they’re building up subsidiary Germanwings to compete with cheaper airlines like Air Berlin and Easyjet for shorter flights. For another, they’re investing in their on board product. That means new first and business class seats. But it also means Lufthansa is seeking to become a friendlier airline. The goal: to become the only European airline to receive a five star rating in all three classes from Skytrax. (Lufthansa now has five stars in first class, three and a half stars in business class and four stars in economy.)

I visited Lufthansa headquarters in Frankfurt recently, where I was introduced to Klaus Ammermann, senior manager for cabin crews. Klaus wasn’t expecting an interview, but he was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I have edited the interview for space and clarity.

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