Q&A: An Eye on Africa

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Air Berlin is Germany’s second-largest airline and it must have something going for it, for the rapidly-expanding Middle East airline, Etihad Airways to buy a nearly 30% stake in it just a few months ago. Air Berlin has its two hubs in Berlin and Dusseldorf, with a network of flights across Europe, which also 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. So, there is clearly some interest in Africa and Business Traveller’s Ramsey Qubein sat down for a chat with Air Berlin’s Vice-President of International Sales, Mats Jacobsson, to find out a bit more about the German airline and member of the oneworld alliance.

Q: How do you describe Air Berlin? Is it a low-fare carrier or a full-service carrier?
A: We are a full-service carrier with a difference. We provide competitive fares, thanks to efficiencies that we maintain as a company, but offer full service on all of our flights. Even our flights within Europe offer a snack or sandwich if time allows. We believe that providing a positive experience both on the ground and in the air is something that our customers appreciate. And it will keep them coming back for more, we hope!

Q: Clearly, your airline partners agree. Air Berlin is the newest member of the oneworld alliance. What does this mean for your passengers?
A: Our customers can now have a broader reach across the globe. We were already a market leader for intra-European travel, and many of our customers were connecting at our hubs in Dusseldorf and Berlin to make onward connections to North America, Asia, and Africa. Now, we can expand our reach even further, because of the potential connectivity with oneworld alliance partners and that of our new joint venture partner, Etihad Airways. We fly regularly to Abu Dhabi, allowing customers onward flights to their vast Africa, Australasian, and Indian network.

Q: Speaking of your African network, is that something that you plan to grow? What is your strategy in this market?
A: At present, we serve Mombasa in Kenya, Windhoek in Namibia, the island country of Seychelles, and a few Egyptian resort cities. We are currently reviewing how the African continent can best be served, either on our flights or through those of our partners.

Q: Does Air Berlin offer any exclusive products for corporate clients and small and medium-sized businesses?
A: Yes, we have a great product offering called Business Points, which allows small and medium-sized businesses the ability to accrue and redeem mileage points based on collective company use, instead of individual travel. In addition, the individual traveller also earns points in his or her own frequent flyer account. The programme was developed to help support small to medium-sized companies, thus enabling them to stretch their travel expense dollars.

Q: Berlin’s Tegel airport was scheduled to close in 2012 once the new Brandenburg Airport opened, but that has now been delayed until March of 2013. How does this affect your growth strategy?
A: It was a significant disappointment to us, because we had planned our summer and winter schedule accordingly, as we knew the facility space at the new airport would allow us growth opportunities. We reorganised our flight activity into traffic waves, boosting network connection opportunities. The delay of the new Brandenburg Airport until 2013 creates huge expense for us, as we have to manage our capital hub back to what is practical at Tegel airport. It is a challenge, but we will do it.

Q: When the new Berlin airport opens, however, it will be a huge improvement on Tegel. What might passengers notice when they travel through the new hub facility?
A: The new airport is an aesthetically modern and attractive facility that places a huge emphasis on being environmentally friendly. Our travellers will appreciate the floor-to-ceiling glass walls bringing natural sunlight, wood panelling on the walls, unique QR codes on signs that customers can scan with their smartphones for directions, and a wide range of new dining and shopping experiences. We are also excited about the new Business Class lounge we are opening.

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