I have collected miles with Air Berlin’s topbonus program for a while, but had not actually flown with them. I have also been following their frequent promotions closely and for my recent Baltic Explorer trip, a flight from Krakow to Berlin was cheaper than an 8 hour bus or train ride would have been – that was an easy decision. Find out how my economy class experience with Air berlin turned out!
Pre-departure: When planning your trip, Air Berlin allows for one piece of hand luggage of up to 8kg. The amount of check-in luggage depends on your fare class: The most basic “JustFly” fare (which I had booked) does not any free check-in luggage. Standard economy fares include one piece of up to 23kg, flexible and business class fares 2 pieces of 23kg. Gold and Platinum topbonus members (and equivalent OneWorld members) get one extra piece. I only had a backpack, so I was covered either way.
I booked the ticket online and was able to check-in online without problems. The website is well designed and worked flawlessly! My Gold status was recognized and I was able to pick one of the premium seats with extra legroom free of charge (usually $30 charge).
Service: The Krakow airport is operated by non-Air Berlin contract staff and the service was overall poor. With printed boarding pass in hand, I was able to go straight to the gate of this Schengen flight with no immigration check required. The gate area was a mess: There were no useful signs and no announcements. Staff just started boarding whoever was standing closeby, with no pre-boarding or any other recognizable boarding process. They were unfriendly with no words spoken! Our Q400 turboprop plane was on an outfield position and we boarded via stairs after a bus ride. Larger carry-on items were collected plane-side and returned at the plane on arrival.
The inflight crew was much friendlier, welcomed everybody onboard and got people into their seats quickly. Short-haul flights in economy class on Air Berlin do not include any food or drink service. They do have food and drink available for purchase, depending on the flight duration.
Hard Product: The Bombardier Q400 is a turboprop plane with a narrow and low cabin in a 2-2 seat layout with 30 inch seat pitch – that’s not a lot of room and the seats are thinly padded. I got one of their XL seats with extra legroom (first row), which made it more comfortable. It was fine for the short flight the Q400 serves, but I prefer regional jets like the Fokker 70 KLM flies.
The only onboard entertainment on this plane is the airberlin magazine and shopping catalogue, no internet or movies.
Conclusion: My experience on this Air Berlin economy flight was decent. Air Berlin doesn’t have control over the Krakow airport staff (I believe) and there is not much they can do about the tight quarters onboard the little turboprop plane. Fortunately, they will be phased out in the near future, leaving an all-Airbus fleet for short- and long-haul flights, which should be a lot more comfortable. The onboard service was friendly, the online experience very good and the Gold status made the flight a little better.
Air Berlin delivers an experience that is a step up from low-cost carriers, but not much more than a small step. You can get some amenities like priority boarding, lounges and better seating, and that’s enough to differentiate them from budget airlines. I wouldn’t mind flying them again for a leisure trip and hope to try out their long-haul business class sometime soon!