Travel News: Restructuring of Air Berlin continues – sale of Niki stake to Etihad and plans for leisure travel airline announced

airberlin recently renounced a major restructuring of its business after years of financial losses, including the wet-lease of planes to competitor Lufthansa, the focus on business-travel to North America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Italy and changes to the leisure business. Now, the changes for the leisure travel arm have been announced: airberlin is selling its 49.8% stake in NIKI Air to Etihad! Find out more details and what it means to you after the break.

I reported previously in Travel News on the significant restructuring of airberlin’s money-loosing business, with details on the lease of 40 planes & crews to Lufthansa, as well as a focus on their hubs in Duesseldorf and Berlin for business travel across Northern & Eastern Europe, Italy and North America (find the details here). At the time, the details for the impact on the leisure flights, serving seasonal destinations on Southern Europe, was not clear. Now, those changes have been announced in more detail:

airberlin-a320airberlin is selling its 49.8% in NIKI to Etihad, which owns 29% of airberlin. This provides a much needed cash boost of $321 Million to airberlin. Etihad is planning to turn NIKI into a leisure airline and will form a partnership with TUI – Europe’s largest tour operator and owner of tuifly – a leisure airline serving more than 7 million passengers with 40 planes to destinations around the Mediterranean. The new airline will be owned at 24.8% by TUI, 25% by Etihad and 50.2% by the Niki Foundation. NIKI will take over the leisure and seasonal mid-haul flights to Southern Europe from airberlin starting with the Summer 2017 flight schedule!

For current passengers who hold airberlin tickets on those flights, it means that their flight will be operated by Niki – it’s unclear how much passengers will be impacted by schedule changes or flight cancellations. If you are holding airberlin tickets to leisure destinations now, I’d recommend to check your flights regularly between now and departure to avoid any surprises!
For elite members of airberlin’s topbonus rewards program, there is no immediate change. The program was sold previously to Etihad and members will continue to earn points on NIKI flights. If you were planning to redeem miles for a flight to a leisure destination, you have a choice to make: If you book now, you might still be able to use your miles, but might be impacted by schedule changes. If you wait, you might not be able to book your desired flight with miles in the future. You can see the full announcement below: 

airberlin-restructuring-email-nikiIn the long term, I would expect Etihad to handle this similarly to other owners of full-service network carriers and low-cost leisure airlines – and limit the elite member benefits on low-cost carrier flights, including perks, earning and redemption. You might also loose the attractive topbonus deals to redeem miles at discounted rates for vacation flights in Southern Europe.
For business travelers, the increased focus on long-haul flights to North America, connections throughout Northern and Eastern Europe as well as to other Etihad carriers, including Alitalia, should make the airberlin network more attractive and provide a more viable alternative to Lufthansa.

airberlin and Etihad are making necessary changes to the airline and I can see the business intention behind their announcements. airberlin has been a hybrid of leisure/seasonal low-cost carrier and full-service network carrier in the past, struggled to compete in both markets and is now focusing on the network business. That will bring improvements for some customers and negative changes to others. I will continue to follow the news and will bring you regular updates. I appreciate that airberlin is communicating the news proactively. While I personally don’t like the “don’t worry, nothing has changed” tone (knowing that changes will come eventually), it’s the best the airline can do and I hope they will continue to communicate in a timely and open fashion going forward. 

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