I redeemed a OneWorld Explorer award to go to Berlin for the ITB travel conference. After booking my ticket I contacted Air Berlin to ask about taking photos and they informed me of a press conference I could attend in Berlin, during ITB, for the new lie-flat seats they are installing.
On departure day after checking in at the Air Berlin check-in counters in JFK Terminal 8 I made my way to security. Unfortunately, since I was on an international itinerary, I was unable to use PreCheck which meant opting out. I have to say, the three or four times I’ve opted out this year have been much easier and quicker. I think some of the (better) TSA agents have given up on molesting passengers to convince them to give up and go through the scanners.
I proceeded to the Admirals Club and had to show my Executive Platinum card to get access to the Flagship lounge. For some reason, my Air Berlin boarding pass didn’t prompt the agent that I was allowed into the Flagship Lounge. The lounge was crowded with only a handful of seats.
Since I was there at snack time (2:30pm to 5pm) there was a small selection of sandwiches and soup. The open bar was stocked with the usual suspects.
Flight time was 5:55pm, however boarding commenced at 5:10pm. Since Air Berlin is fairly strict on the number of carry-ons and their size, boarding was much quicker than a domestic flight for a similarly sized aircraft. They closed the door 15 minutes before our scheduled departure time.
Before the door was closed, business class passengers were offered either orange juice or sparkling wine along with a ramekin of cold nuts. I also asked for my coat to be hung in the closet.
After take off, menus were passed out and the lead flight attendant took meal orders. No drink orders were taken or offered. The menu read:
- Vegetable Salad with Apple Pieces, dried Cranberries and shaved Parmesan
- Slices of Lobster in Lemon Oil with Palm Heart Salad and crispy Bacon
Main Course Choices
- Chicken Breast in a fine Red Wine Sauce with a Barley and Pine Seed Risotto, creamy Leek and Broccoli Florets
- Beef Fillet Mignon in a delicate Thyme Sauce with Roasted Potatoes and Buttered Haricot Vert
- Fillet of Sea Bass in Sage Sauce, Couscous with Cranberries, Baby Carrots and Snow Peas
- Cannelloni filled with Ricotta Cheese and Sundried Tomatoes in a Creamy Tomato Sauce accompanies by Sauteed Spinach
A little while later, the two flight attendants working business class came down the port side aisle, one with the meal cart and the other with the wine cart. Business class on their current A330’s is 2x2x2 seating and I was seated on the starboard aisle seat of the middle pair of seats. Oddly I was always served from the port-side aisle which was weird for me and probably even stranger for my neighbor who had everything passed across in front of him. The tray was plated with the appetizer and both desserts. I was able to choose one of the wines and water at that time.
The bread basket was brought down the port aisle and after my seatmate choose a roll, the flight attendant clamped the bread with tongs and held it towards his face. He took the bread and placed it on his bread plate. She then asked for my selection (I think I was chuckling at this point) and held my bread choice out on the end of the tongs, in front of my neighbor’s face, for me to grab and again place on my empty bread plate.
The lobster pieces were nice, but so cold they lacked flavor. Once the appetizer plate was cleared, the main courses were delivered again down the left aisle. She placed the main course in front of my seatmate, then reached across to hand me mine. I gingerly balanced it across my neighbor’s space and onto my tray.
The steak was, sadly, well done — very well done. The sauce was tasty but overall a very average dish. The two cheeses and cheesecake were not my cup of tea.
With the lights out most passengers nodded off, even though it was only 8pm in New York. I watched a movie and then fell asleep for approximately two hours. The angled lie flat seating is very similar to the 763 first class seating on American Airlines. And just as hard to sleep in. The foot well is angled oddly, instead of supporting my body by keeping my feet at the bottom of the well the wall was angled backwards towards me making me contort my feet. I eventually turned to my side and just sort of stayed there. Unlike the American seat, the outside arm reset does not recline making the seat width a little narrower.
The good news is Air Berlin is slowly rolling out their new lie flat business class seats similar to Etihad. Currently only one ship has the new seats, but they expect to have it in all twelve long haul A330’s by early 2014. On my second day in Berlin I had a chance to look at the new seats. They are much improved and will be very comfortable.
Breakfast was served an hour before landing including: yogurt, fruit, bread, jam and choice of drinks. Once we landed, I stood up, collected my bag and thought “what am I missing?” then realized I had no coat. The door was open, passengers were deplaning and the flight attendant realized she hadn’t returned anyone’s coat. Once on my way, I cleared passport control and headed to the Dusseldorf lounge to await my connection to Berlin.
A quick look at airfares in June shows JFK-DUS round trip in business class for $3,099 on Air Berlin compared to $4,900 for KLM, Swiss, Lufthansa, Delta, United and Air France. Overall Air Berlin has a long way to go to bridge the gap from their bargain coach service to be a true international business class airline. But, even with these small service short comings, at this discounted fare it’s a great deal for businesses watching their budget.