Air Berlin has its two hubs in Berlin and Dusseldorf, Germany. Its network of flights blankets Europe and stretches as far west as Los Angeles, Miami, and New York; as far east as Bangkok; and as far south as Mombasa, Nairobi, Seychelles, Johannesburg, and Windhoek.
Berlin’s Tegel airport was scheduled to close in 2012 once the new Brandenburg Airport opened, but the delay of the new facility until 2013 will keep the smaller Tegel busy. Air Berlin Business Class passengers and oneworld elite members (including those who participate in British Airways’ South African subsidiary programme) enjoy access to the shared BA lounge in Berlin. There, staff make frequent checks on the boarding status of your flight, while you kick back with free Wi-Fi, cocktails, and snacks.
A downside of Berlin Tegel airport is that security checks are conducted individually at each gate. Once airside, there are few shops or restroom facilities. What is appreciated, however, is the special call made for Business Class passengers to board first. On the plane, flight attendants greet everyone at the boarding door with a heart-shaped chocolate. Business Class passengers sip champagne or water with a bowl of salted nuts, while being pampered with slippers, amenity kits, and menus before take-off.
Air Berlin is outfitting all of their widebody Airbus A-330 planes with new lie-flat seats. These replace the older cradle-style seats and are slowly making their way onto all long-haul routes. Electronic controls turn the seat into a bed with your legs tucked into the back of the hard shell in front of you. Space between seats is preserved since all seats are housed in their own casing, meaning that when you recline, your seat slides forward rather than backward. Adjustable reading lamps are nice, but the entertainment control console is awkwardly placed on the armrest, making it easy to call a flight attendant or turn on the overhead reading lamp without intending to. In the armrest, a large touch-screen TV pops out to enjoy a selection of movies, documentaries, and games. Plump pillows are on all seats and thick duvet blankets are available in the overhead lockers.
Once the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew springs into action, performing multiple aperitif services before serving the appetizers and salads. When it comes time for the main dish, the four menu options (ranging from beef to chicken to fish to pasta) are delivered piping hot directly from the galley. This tasteful way of presenting the meal is far better than the cheap methods of other airlines, which simply peel off the foil and plop it down in front of you. In fact, Air Berlin heats the meals in one container and then plates them individually in the galley restaurant-style, so that the presentation is both attractive and clean. Dessert and cheese selections are already on the tray. Coffee, tea, and after-dinner drinks are offered, as well as a continuous basket of snacks and bottled water. Individual bottles of water are also distributed before guests recline into slumber. A Continental breakfast is served about an hour before landing, which allows passengers maximum snoozing time.
Upon landing, flight attendants pass out more heart-shaped chocolates to Business Class passengers. When it comes time to deplane, they hold back Economy passengers so that Business Class travellers can deplane first and reach immigration lines more swiftly.
Air Berlin is quickly catching the eye on its routes to the African continent and onward connections around the globe. Its new partnership with Etihad Airlines nearly doubles the connection opportunities, making this a strong addition to the oneworld global network.