Jens Bischof, 41, German airline Lufthansa's vice president for the Americas and one of those who chose Orlando for six-times-a-week service to the airline's worldwide hub in Frankfurt starting Oct. 30. Bischof, a German native who now lives in New York, recently spoke by phone with Sentinel staff writer Jason Garcia.
Question: When did Lufthansa first begin considering Orlando?
Answer: Typically, you have it [a city] on a target list, and you develop that within a very short time frame together with the local community, the business community and also the official [governments] in the area. Basically, I would say it was six to eight months of work ahead of the launch of the service. The longer-term issue is that you have a potential destination on your network list, which you try to develop, and then that usually picks up very fast.
Q: What pushed Orlando over the edge?
A: I think Orlando has developed as a business and also leisure destination, overwhelmingly, if you look at the past few years. I think the very rapid development and also the quality of business -- those different, targeted industries, which we also have on our potential list of customers -- in Orlando. So, for us, connecting Central Florida to the rest of the world was just a great opportunity, which was clearly ahead of other options.
Q: Orlando will always be known as a leisure destination, but it has been trying to attract more business travelers as well. What sort of response have you seen among business travelers?
A: We're offering the only first-class trans-Atlantic service from Orlando . . . an outstanding service, which is really attractive to the local and regional business community. To be honest, if you look at the industry, again, which we have in Orlando, the big corporations which we have here, we of course think that this is a very attractive way of setting up the business. Because there is no way of just getting into the leisure business.
Q: Have the first-class seats been selling?
A: Absolutely. We're amazingly happy so far, and we're really excited that we see such extreme support, and welcoming with open arms. We have a very good booking forecast, and all three classes are developing very nicely.
Q: You live in New York. Do you have favorite airlines when you fly in the U.S.?
A: I do, actually. We have a lot of nice product around, and very different types of product. One I like to fly is the PS service [premium service] of United. I think that's a great product. If you look at some of the low-costers, JetBlue and some others are really very good. Virgin America is a terrific product, which I'm about to try now.
Q: This is shaping up as the worst year on record for flight delays in the U.S. What's the longest you've ever had to wait?
A: My worst delay? Let me think about it. I think it was in Chicago for almost four hours. So not too bad when you consider some of the worst-case stories. [Rueful laughter.]
Q: Do you have any favorite airports?
A: If it's in the U.S., I would say one of my favorites, even though it's very big, is Denver. I also like my local airport, which is Westchester County Airport. It's so easy and fast and reliable. But if you talk about international hubs, I would say clearly the best, for me, is Munich. It's probably the newest and most reliable concept of an airport that you can imagine.