Two full days. Forty-eight hours, including connection time, is what I’d spend flying from Canada to Africa return. What’s more, I’d spend all of it in one airline’s brand space: on Lufthansa flights and aircraft, in its main airport hub, in its lounges and its online community.

I kept a diary of my outbound flight and kept my brand sensors receptive to all likely Transumer touchpoints. Ultimately, what surprised me is how innovative the brand engagement was online, and how little of that experience was reflected in flight.

Ground Trip

My journey starts long before I board the plane in Vancouver for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (via Frankfurt). About a week before takeoff I scan and am intrigued by the array of programs. I offset my carbon footprint via the Climate Care program (to the tune of U.S. $79 for the 15,582-mile return flight), satisfied by the thorough explanation of projects funded via partner

I select my Special Meal from among 21 options (including something unappetizingly called Bland Soft). I download and view the A340 seat map, which is not as detailed or user-friendly as Seat Guru’s, but helps me avoid a seat near the busy washroom. I find out there will be laptop power at my seat, but no FlyNet WiFi until at least 2010. Not only can I review the inflight audio and video entertainment, I can request a song—and could even make a dedication, if it were far enough in advance of my flight.

Virtual Flight

As someone who practically lives on my laptop and iPhone, I am impressed to see that Lufthansa goes a few steps beyond the industry standard electronic boarding pass and online check-in. I sign up for SMS notification of changes to my flight, departure time and gate. I install an iGoogle widget that offers the same function at a glance on my laptop’s home search page. But the killer app is MySkyStatus, which promises to liaise with social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to send travel updates to my contacts.

Lufthansa’s mobile site proves disappointing, though—single-click access to online check-in, timetables and other airline basics are augmented with lame extras like branded wallpaper and the corporate song. The enticing invitation to “set a special mood with moving images” turns out only to be a corporate screensaver.

My favourite feature: I have a blast navigating Lufthansa’s online map, which has great interactive features for locating direct and connecting flight paths at a glance and instantly calculating mileage—a mileage-hoarder’s dream tool.

Inflight, Not So Entertained

Lufthansa doesn’t operate lounges in Canada and has a low-key presence at Vancouver airport, where I take off, so my pre-boarding experience consists of a stop at the Travel + Leisure store to pick up an adapter and a quick peek at the Olympic Store—smart Transumer targeting.

I fire up the seatback entertainment system and though a handful of recent Hollywood movie releases had looked promising from landside, 20 minutes each of the leaden Coco Avant Chanel, Cheri and The Time Traveler’s Wife convince me I should have packed a fat book.

Fortunately, nearly hidden among a selection of three-year-old episodes of Entourage and How I Met Your Mother is some great TV: the documentary Signé Chanel: La Collection and Stevie Wonder’s Live at Last concert at London’s 02 arena. The same is true of the audio, where a jazz program by Branford Marsalis and Dave Matthews Band albums mask much more interesting music by Malian lute player Bassekou Kouyate and a smart club mix by Cologne DJ Piet Blanc.

Pre-film commercials on the seatback screens are limited to one (mercifully, since German glass and solar-energy company Schueco is of minimal interest to international travelers). I find the absence of other paid advertisers odd—BMW and Mercedes, I’m thinking of you—but also wonder why some of the more fertile inflight offerings—Berlitz language courses, great aviation and fleet information and even Soduko—aren’t promoted onscreen instead. Lufthansa does a good job of hiding its rich content.

The pages of Magazin inflight magazine yield an unintentionally ironic piece on Buddy Holly’s widow—he died in a plane crash, after all—and a fun words-and-pictures feature on some unlikely denizens of Tokyo. But the needlessly detailed and complex route maps in the magazine pale to those online and the German-English bilingual layout is occasionally confusing.

Magazin lacks the essential ingredient that still keeps print inflight magazines relevant: a juicy, engaging, literate read.

Miss(ed) Connections

Paradise for the long-haul flyer is a clean, well-stocked lounge with showers. Such is the Senator lounge in the B concourse of FRA’s Terminal 1. It‘s extremely busy, but I find a seat and wait about 45 minutes for a hot shower, amusing myself with wonderfully strong coffee, continental breakfast and the International Herald Tribune (the only English-language reading material on site).

I log in via TMobile’s paid-WiFi hotspot and discover that MySkyStatus alerts (“…is now flying over Iceland on Lufthansa. Powered by”) did indeed post to my Twitter stream. Several friends direct-message me to comment on the coolness of this feature.

I’m surprised how few brands are available to the frequent-flyers and premium-class travellers in this lounge. There are even generic amenities in the showers, where I’d expect to find a Dr. Haushka or Nivea onslaught. There’s a fee-for-service T-Mobile charging station, Hugo Boss and Bogner leather promos and a handful of rather dated Dell-equipped workstations. Non-stop onscreen promos for Miles & More play on lounge screens and I count five different WorldShop catalogues. Isn’t that preaching to the choir?

The last nine-hour leg of my flight is uneventful and mostly spent sleeping. (Note to self: really, pack that fat book next time.) Though I have to give Lufthansa props for all 34 large boxes of our group’s equipment, supplies and luggage arriving without difficulty at ADD.

In total I was able to amuse myself for fewer than half of my 24 hours in transit: proof that brands are seriously under-utilizing this space and time to connect with their very best customers.