This is the second in a series covering my extended Labor Day weekend trip to Hamburg. You can check out an overview here.
My trip to Hamburg using American Advantage miles ended up being notable as my last chance to fly Airberlin, which will be ending flights at the end of October. When I booked, there had been talk about the airline’s precarious status, but not until late summer did it actually announce bankruptcy. And a few days before my flight, the airline announced the Boston to Dusseldorf flight would be ending by October 1, so that was interesting. I’ve flown Airberlin long-haul twice before – both on A330s in business class, and both times from Germany to the US (TXL-JFK and TXL-ORD). So, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. The big question would how the airline’s bankruptcy would impact the experience. (Spoiler alert: not a ton.) Now that Lufthansa has bought most of the good stuff of Airberlin, to largely be operated by its Eurowings subsidiary.
The inbound aircraft had been substantially delayed, so boarding started late, at 6:45pm for a 6:55pm departure. As I boarded, I realized my seat had changed from my AA boarding pass to my Airberlin-issued one, and I had been moved from 5K to 4H. 5K had been draped off for crew rest—on a less than 6-hour flight, and I had 4H, which is basically in the aisle. That sucked. Airberlin’s A330 is in a 1-2-1 configuration, with seats alternating being closer to the aisle and closer to the window. Of various planes in a forward-facing 1-2-1, Airberlin’s is perhaps the worst I’ve found as the seats are so narrow and kind of claustrophobic.
But wait! As I settled into the seat, a piece of the armrest came off. I probably could have gotten it snapped back on, but the flight attendant walking by offered to just switch me to a different seat…. 3A, which was empty and was a true window seat. Woohoo. (The cabin only had one other empty seat.) After a minor panic because I left my electronics pouch at 4H during the move, I settled into my seat. There is in-seat A/C power and USB power, and a cubby under the footstool. There were also some small magazine pockets, and there’s room on the side of the seat next to the fuselage wall. There was a choice of orange juice, water, or champagne, and I went with champagne.
On past Airberlin long-haul business flights, there was a color printed menu on cardstock, like on most other carriers. Not this time, it was just a printout from a standard office printer with a staple in the corner. Not a big deal and actually the only obvious bankruptcy-related issue, but notable. (It only listed food, not drinks.) It was at the seat on boarding along with an amenity kit, bottle of water, pillow, and blanket.
The amenity kit was similar to what I’d had in the past, with a slightly different shape – black leather with red lining, branded “Wunderkind by Wolfgang Joop.” It had basic contents – socks, eyemask, ear plugs, lip balm, lotion, and dental kit.
While we had a long wait to taxi, hot towels were distributed, and the flight attendant took orders for post-departure drinks, which was hard without a drink menu. Finally, we were wheels up about an hour late at 7:45pm. I loaded up an episode of Legion on the IFE, which was pretty solid – it also had whole season of Big Little Lies which I may have watched a bit of for the third time.
Since I had ate a fair bit on my lounge adventure, I asked for just the dessert and a sparkling water, and to be woken for breakfast. Hopefully I’d get at least 4 or so hours of sleep. Nuts and my glass of wine came fairly quickly, and then prompt dinner service- important for a short overnight flight. The panna cotta was basic but good. They dimmed the cabin lights while some people were still eating, which was good.
The blanket was good, and the pillow was okay too, but it was small. The warmth of the cabin made it hard for me to fall asleep, though. I don’t think there was anything about the seat, but I hadn’t taken any sort of sleep aid, and it was relatively early. I ended up only getting about 1.5 hours of fitful sleep. I ended up giving up after I knocked over a wine glass- my wine glass from dinner, which, along with my empty water glass and nuts hadn’t been picked up from the table. I watched some more episodes of Legion, and then when I was leaving the bathroom around 6:30, the flight attendant asked if I wanted breakfast.
Breakfast was presented nicely – a fruit plate and a yogurt, an orange juice, and coffee. I was then served both a croissant and a plain roll from a breadbasket. It was followed by a chocolate Airberlin heart, as is standard on Airberlin flights. After a few more episodes of Legion (Man I want to be Jean Smart when I grow up and be with Dan Stevens now), we were making our descent into Dusseldorf, landing at 8:19 am, only 35 minutes late. That minor delay did not stop a guy from shoving his way past me to get off the plane (even though the door wasn’t open yet), which caused me to bang my head into the overhead bin, because “I have a connection.” If that short of a delay causes you to lose all sense of decency, perhaps you should book longer connections (especially since the only Airberlin flights at that hour were to cities served multiple times a day, like Berlin).
Overall, you’d have no idea from the service that the crew was potentially weeks away from losing its jobs, or at least a radical change in its jobs. My lack of sleep was mostly due to the short flight length, which isn’t Airberlin’s fault. That being said, their layout on the A330 is definitely not my favorite, as it feels cramped.
Even with the delay, I had a two-hour layover in Dusseldorf. It was a bit of a walk from the arrival gate to the Schengen departures area. You had to go through a shopping and food area, then through duty-free, to one of the smallest passport control stands I’ve been to (just for connecting flights). Then there was a long walk, but it surprisingly dumped me behind security.
Airberlin had a lounge in the non-Schengen area of the airport, but that had already been closed. (I’m not sure if it was bankruptcy-related.) In the Schengen area, where Airberlin actually has far more flights, it uses the Hugo Junkers Lounge, a Priority Pass lounge seemingly used by every airline. I wasn’t sure if I’d have a problem getting in with my boarding pass since my flight out of Dusseldorf was in economy, but it was actually one boarding pass for both flights, so it was clear I was a business passenger. There wasn’t an issue.
The lounge is under heavy construction, but isn’t bad overall (though bad lighting). There is a range of fairly new seating, and I was able to get a table next to an outlet. The one disappointment was that I asked about a shower, and was told it was “out of order.” There was no sign on the shower door, so I can’t help but wonder if the staff just didn’t want to clean it. So after a luxurious change in toilet stall/freshen up at a sink, I grabbed some food. The buffet wasn’t much- croissants, cereal, yogurt, bread, fruit. There were also a lot of candies, and a self-serve beverage case. There were random spirits, beer, and wine, if that’s your thing before 9 am. I went with a cappuccino from one of the two machines. The free internet worked fine, and the staff was very proactive in clearing tables. But for the shower situation, totally fine.
I headed down the gate around 15 minutes before boarding. There was no action at the gate yet. But Airberlin has “exclusive waiting areas” for Airberlin elites and business passengers (not Oneworld elites). I wasn’t sure if I’d have access, but figured I’d scan my boarding pass at the reader at the “Aircafe,” and voila. (Probably because I had been in business on BOS-DUS.) It was really only marginally better than the rest of the terminal. There was fountain soda and a coffee machine, free WiFi (with a code to download magazines), and some tables and chairs.
Boarding began at 10:10, 25 minutes late. All priority groups were called at once, which just meant head down to the bus. As I’d expected, since it was a tiny Dash-8 with very small overhead space, I had to gate-check my bag (dropping it right before climbing the stairs to the plane.) It was a long trip to the plane itself, and as the bus pulled up at 10:25, it started to rain.
Airberlin had recently fitted its Dash-8s with 3 business class seats – the bulkhead on each side and then a second row. (Technically, the flight was operated by subsidiary LGW which has now been bought by Lufthansa). I was in “preferred” seats in row 4, which has no extra legroom at all. It was quite tight, especially with a large man next to me, but it was a very short flight. At 10:50 we were on the runway, and I closed my eyes as the service started. At 11:30, I woke to the flight attendant yelling at me in German. It took a while for me to realize she wanted me to lift the window shade for landing. Simmer down, Fraulein. At 11:50 we were at the terminal, and it was an easy walk to the S-bahn into town.
My experiences with Airberlin over the years (3 long-haul flights, 3 short flights within Europe) were all fine. They never really felt like a low-cost carrier, despite their origins as such. As an American Airlines flyer, it really was a good resource for using miles and it was a good way to get around Europe. It’s departure from Oneworld really leaves a big hole in Europe for the alliance, with very few flights in central or eastern Europe. It will be interesting to see if Oneworld just cedes that part of the continent to Star Alliance with the now even-larger Lufthansa monolith. (SkyTeam is a distant second with KLM, Alitalia, and Tarom.)