Berlin is an interesting place to visit, and I enjoyed returning again after several years. Planning for my trip didn’t go as I would have hoped. I needed to travel there for business, and flights were quite expensive. One slightly more reasonably priced option was to fly nonstop from Chicago on Air Berlin.
At least I would earn mileage credit on American Airlines since Air Berlin is a oneworld member, although I only earned 50% mileage. Ouch. The convenience of non stops between Chicago and Berlin was nice, but with a few exceptions, the rest of the experience was not so pleasant. Maybe not the worst experience for a trans-Atlantic flight, but overall I found it poor and in an attempt at humor, I’ll call it “the wurst”.
Air Berlin Long Haul Economy on the A330-200
Typically I find the A330 family relatively comfortable in economy with a standard 8-across seating arrangement. Unfortunately Air Berlin only offers 30 inches of seat pitch, and for anyone over 6 feet, legroom is very tight.
On my outbound flight, I booked a window seat which is often my preference. Given the awful seat pitch, I gladly accommodated a request to allow a family to sit together. I moved to a middle seat, in their XL seating section, so the extra 6 inches of pitch more than made up for being in a middle seat. Thankfully there was a child on one side of me, so it didn’t feel too pinned in. For my return flight I was hoping to buy up to an XL seat, but none were available for my full flight back to Chicago. At least I was able to get an aisle seat for this leg.
Both Air Berlin flights I took had long departure delays, but due to significant schedule padding, arrivals weren’t quite so tardy. In both cases among other issues there were baggage loading problems. Granted, 2 flights is a minuscule sample size, but it was rather annoying.
In-flight entertainment on an Air Berlin A330 consists of in-seat screens. There is a decent selection of first run movies, mostly in English and German, but a few other options as well, with other languages available with subtitles and dubbing available. Unfortunately, on my outbound flight I never got my IFE system to work. I saw others around me with similar issues, but in my row, only my screen didn’t work. A flight attendant reset it, (holding the power button), but that didn’t help. Ultimately I never was able to get it working.
After the flight, I submitted a complaint form to Air Berlin, but have not received (and don’t expect) any response. I mostly wanted to sleep on my overnight flight, so I wasn’t planning to watch too much anyway, but still, I was probably more annoyed about this than I should have been.
On my return flight, I was pleased to have a working IFE system. There were a few decent options for movies I hadn’t seen yet, which helped pass the time on the daytime flight. The screen themselves are large enough (8.9 inches), and are responsive with an intuitive interface. There is a USB port near the power/reset button.
Meal Service ORD-TXL
Not surprisingly, meal service in economy is nothing special. Service is such that there is one flight attendant that serves one aisle of the first few rows of economy, presumably the XL seats, then moves to the other aisle. Then for the rest of economy, there are carts in both aisles to serve the cabin.
On my outbound flight, by the time the cart got to me, the options of “chicken or pasta” were down to only pasta. Meh. Mac and cheese was fine, but not my preference.
Before arrival in Berlin, there was another meal served. My usual preference is to skip this opting for sleep, and I did so here also.
Meal Service TXL-ORD
On my return flight I was up for both meals, and for the first service was offered a choice of eggs or cold cuts. I went for the latter, which I mostly picked at, having already had a meal in my hotel that morning. The meat was fine, but how about all those carbs? 2 rolls plus a muffin, juice and yogurt.
After the main meal, 500ml bottles of water are passed out. While this is appreciated, the flight attendants then mostly were nowhere to be found until the next meal service some 6 or so hours later. Before arriving in Chicago, there was a full drink service with a packaged snack, shortly followed by a small meal.
For the pre-arrival meal, there is just one option, a very German meal consisting of some sausage with mustard. Also some potato salad, and a brownie, plus crackers with some cheese spread. Compared to the meals I had in Berlin, including some excellent currywurst the night before departing, I didn’t bother eating too much of this meal.
Air Berlin Pros and Cons
While I found the seats very uncomfortable mostly due to awful legroom, there were also some decent parts of these flights. For the overnight flight to Berlin, I was surprised to see that a small amenity kit is provided even in economy. Staff were a mixed bag; some were fine, and rather friendly, but several others were actively unpleasant. One flight attendant pushing a cart collecting waste after a service refused to take my used newspaper, and told me to put it in my seat pocket. I was tempted to walk it up to the galley to drop it there, but I refrained. Not a major issue, but, with 30 inch pitch, I’ll take all the extra legroom I can get.
One other nice feature was a decent lounge in Tegel airport just before the gate area where my flight departed. It was a rainy day, but I anjoyed a quick peek of the outdoor deck. Presumably I was granted access to the lounge thanks to my oneworld status.
The Berlin Tegel Departure Experience
Once I headed to the gate, I was required to get a new boarding pass, despite using a mobile pass up until then. After that, there was a long line to clear passport control, and unfortunately no EasyPass kiosks in this area. Of course, there was no rush to get to the gate, since our flight boarded over 90 minutes late.
One feature of this trip that I appreciated was the lack of the odd ‘security’ questions that are often asked before European departures to the US. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked the name of my company’s CEO before I could get a stamp on my boarding pass at Heathrow. Those agents apparently are fast on google. I’ve been tempted to give a fake answer to these intrusive questions, but haven’t been bold enough yet
Final Thoughts on Air Berlin’s Long Haul Service
In all, the nonstop flights from Chicago were convenient. Both flights had preventable delays, and the in flight product is mostly poor. Even my far from cheap economy fare earns only earn 50% EQM in the AAdvantage program, so that was another negative for me. Most economy fare classes only earn 25%. Yuck! For a return trip to Berlin, I’d prefer other options connections aren’t too much of a hassle. If price or other factors dictated I take Air Berlin, I probably would not totally write them off. I’d certainly look into buying up to an XL seat, and hope for one that had working IFE and more friendly flight attendants.
I’ll still say this experience was “the wurst”, I’ve had across the Atlantic, but I’m sure there are others in the conversation. What’s your least favorite trans-Atlantic flight?