Recent experience flying AirBerlin economy class within the European Union - Gothenburg, Sweden to Berlin, Germany - says the airline's economy experience is a good option in the class of low cost carriers that include the likes of jetBlue, Southwest, and Norwegian. OneWorld Alliance membership, though, adds extra convenience and options via its integration with American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, and Finnair (among others). Numerous destinations throughout Europe, combined with service to eight American cities and a smattering of others in Latin America and Africa might make it a compelling option for cost-sensitive travelers to / from / inside of Europe. My review is below.
Flight: Air Berlin #8063
Date: 6 November 2016
Origin: Gothenburg Landvetter (GOT), Sweden
Destination: Berlin Tegel (TXL), Germany
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Experience at Gothenburg Landvetter
GOT is an insanely clean and quality airport that serves between five and six million passengers per year in Sweden's second largest city. I checked in with the AirBerlin gate agent who inspected my passport and advised me that my standard 22x14x9 inch Tumi Alpha 2 International 4-wheel Spinner Carry-On should be no problem as a carry-on. I was initially concerned about this because AirBerlin advertises a weight restriction of 8kg which I knew my suitcase exceeded, so was happy for the advice. I carried it through without a problem. I otherwise can't make a long enough list about the virtues of the pre-flight experience at GOT:
- Hotel located directly next to the airport is very nice, with very friendly staff and heated bathroom floors, just really delightful.
- Rental car facility is literally across the car pickup lane from the terminal, a 30 second walk with no issue.
- Airport is overall very clean, bright, and easy to navigate.
- International departures security screening area is by far the nicest security facility I have ever experienced.
- Post-security terminal stocked with good food and drink options, and the clean albeit small Menzies Lounge accessible with Priority Pass membership.
Gate and Boarding
A brief breakfast stop at the Menzies Lounge, conveniently accessible at Gate 18 with Priority Pass membership, and I was then off to the gate. There was no additional passport control at GOT once I cleared the security lane, so I proceeded direct from the lounge to the gate. Good thing, for the flight began boarding (almost) promptly 35 minutes before departure. Straightforward from there: boarding pass at the gate and down the jetway.
The interior of my Boeing 737-700 was clean, though a little dated. AirBerlin falls firmly into the same market as my favorite jetBlue and its more direct European competitor, Norwegian Airlines, in that it offers a clean all-economy class cabin unblemished by the ads, non-reclining seats, and other nonsense of the Spirt Airlines and Ryan Airs for the world.
The seats were modern, thin and firm (some might say too hard) with the plastic magazine rack (tablet storage?) in the back headrest of the seat in front. The European airlines I've recently flown seem to have worked these into their economy product a bit faster than their American counterparts. I was assigned seat 3A, third row next to the window on the left side of the plane (I prefer the left side, as I am right handed and hate bumping up against the wall on the right side). There's no room to store even a typical 13in laptop in any of the seat pockets, though, so you'll have to stuff it in your bag at takeoff and landing.
The first four or five rows are preferred seating (better location), but I cannot imagine they are extra legroom. I can't put my finger on it, but something about the seating on this flight seemed cramped to me. This is odd because I estimate the flight was 80% - 90% empty; of the 18 seats in the first three rows, literally only one was filled. By me. This flight was either a Sunday morning anomaly, or AirBerlin is only running it as a feeder to their long haul international business out of Berlin Tegel airport (TXL).
Crew and Communication
Communication throughout the journey from the captain and the cabin crew was business like and somewhat abrupt, though in no way rude. New Yorkers and Bostonians would feel right at home. English speakers can get by just fine, though not quite as seamlessly as on TAP Portugal or Norwegian Airlines (two others I've recently flown). Communication was, overall, a non-event.
Food and Beverage
The flight attendant offered me a beverage, so I ordered a Diet Coke (Coca Cola Light is, happily, the de jure low calorie on this flight). Then she charged me 3 euros for the thing. Not cool. First, soda is cheap, so serve it free and tack on an extra euro to the ticket if you must. Second, I was traveling on a business class fare (though I was in economy for this leg, because the GOT to TXL flight does not offer business class). Third, 3 euros (or $3.30) for a soda is outrageous
There was no other food or beverage service to speak of on this 90 minute flight. It left a bad taste in my mouth, though.
Aircraft and Destinations
AirBerlin uses a fleet off mostly Airbus (A319, A320, A321, and A330) plus some Boeing 737 and Dash 8 propeller aircraft for short regional flights. Destinations are plentiful throughout central continental Europe (France is a bit thin, and there are allegedly no destinations in the UK), with flights also made to Boston, New York Chicago, Orlando, Fort Myers, Miami, San Francisco, a handful of Caribbean and one South American (Curaçao) city, Tel Aviv, and a handful of Canary / Madeira Islands. The big selling point in destinations is AirBerlin's OneWorld alliance membership, which gives you codeshare interoperability with the strong and thorough routes offered by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and others. This network is supplemented by the partnership with Etihad Airways, which in turn provides access to a wide range of destinations throughout the world's equatorial regions courtesy of Etihad and its other partners that include Alitalia, Jet Airways, Niki, Air Serbia, and Air Seychelles. The typical American traveler, however, will find themselves sitting on an AirBerlin flight either because they've sought it out, or because they've booked through American Airlines.
Overall, I'd rate AirBerlin's economy class (at least within the EU / Schengen) at as a good contender in this market segment. I flew into Sweden on Norwegian Air, and out on AirBerlin. The flight in was better overall than the flight out, but I'm not going to read too far into a single sample size. I would fly AirBerlin again (and, indeed, would do so later this day in their absolutely splendid trans-Atlantic business class product that I will review separately).