AirBerlin is one of OneWorld’s newest members, joining the alliance in March of 2012. It has been slightly over a year since AirBerlin joined the OneWorld alliance and I have been itching to get on board to try out their hybrid product. For those of you who do not know, before joining OneWorld, AirBerlin was an LCC and still remains primarily a leisure carrier, taking casual travelers to vacation destinations. Their hybrid product offers a mixture of Boeing and Airbus narrow body jets all in a single economy class configuration and a dual class A330s for long-haul markets such as Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Abu Dhabi, Phuket, New York, Fort Myers, the Caribbean, etc. I used British Avios points to fly from Stuttgart to Catania and return Catania to Frankfurt for 15,000 Avios points per ticket.
Used Air Berlin’s online check and printed our passes from home. I would highly recommend this for anyone flying AirBerlin especially those who are not checking luggage. Check-in lines at Stuttgart were extremely long and upon examination I did not see a priority check in line for OneWorld Ruby, Sapphire, or Emerald members. There were also a number of freestanding check-in kiosks that could be used, but again, if checking baggage, prepare for a long wait.
No Priority screening for OneWorld elite passengers flying AirBerlin. However, airport security lines in Europe (from my experience) tend to move very quickly. Especially when traveling within the Schengen sector. Our wait in Security was no more than 5 minutes.
There is a small British Airways Executive Club at this airport. I visited it before boarding. You can see my full review here. The lounge is small and quant with snacks and free booze and soda.
When boarding commenced there was only a general boarding announcement made in German. At which time, everyone flooded the gate. AirBerlin did not appear to zone in any particular order or by priority. The gate had signage for SkyTeam priority boarding, but not for AirBerlin/OneWorld. My travel partner and I attempted to board using the priority lane (Thanks to my AA Platinum/OneWorld Sapphire status), but were completely ignored by the sole gate agent. After waiting for a few minutes in the priority boarding line, we headed to the back of the line and waited patiently alongside everyone else. Only tickets where checked and despite flying from Germany to Sicily, no identification was needed/checked. Once on board, an AirBerlin FA stood in the galley offering candies to passengers. The candies were delightful and despite being hard candy had a fizzy mystical center.
After a somewhat scary SIMs avatar provided us with an authoritarian inflight safety video 99% in German, we were on our way to Sicily. Taxi and take off was short and we were on our way in no time. Service began shortly after takeoff and included complimentary drinks, but beer, wine and alcohol was only available for purchase. For some reason, on short/medium haul flights AirBerlin charges for alcohol. Flights within Germany offered complimentary beer and wine and on long haul flights beer, wine, and spirits are offered on the house (or plane in this case). With our free beverage, AirBerlin also provided each passenger with a very pathetic sandwich. Guests were treated to either a cheese sandwich, which consisted of two slices of cheese between dark dry break or a salami sandwich with two pieces of salami and mustard on a roll. No lettuce, tomato, or anything else; then again, it was free. Guests can also order from the inflight dining menu or pre-order a more proper meal.
AirBerlin also offers overhead inflight entertainment. This month, the airline was showing reruns of Cheers and The Big Bang Theory. There are also a few channels of music to listen to if TV is not your forte.
After landing at the small Catania Airport, we taxied to a remote stand where two buses greeted passengers and shuttled them to baggage claim. Since we did not have any baggage, we walked directly out of the terminal and within 10 minutes of landing were on the city bus to the town center. For those traveling to/from Catania, know that the city bus only cost 1 euro and runs approximately every 20 minutes. This offers a substantial saving to the 25-euro cab ride and the bus trip takes less than 10 minutes!
For quick trips throughout Europe, AirBerlin offers a solid economy class product that gets the job done. There is still some work to be done to incorporate the OneWorld standard for elite passengers, but other than that it’s a solid airline. Check out Mike’s review of their long haul business class product for a different perspective.
How one can take this trip or a similar one?
As I mentioned before, AirBerlin is now part of the OneWorld Alliance, which means any OneWorld partner airline points/miles can be redeemed for travel on AirBerlin. In order to fly AirBerlin, I took advantage of the 35% bonus promotion that American Express was offering on membership reward transfer to British Airways. This way I only had to transfer 22,000 Amex Membership reward points instead of the typical 30,000 points it would normally cost (British Airways is a direct transfer partner of American Express and miles typically post instantly at a 1:1 ratio.). The same trip using AA miles would have been 20K per person or 40K total, so using my Membership rewards point equaled HUGE Savings or as I call it, a #DoubleWideDelight! And since the cheapest tickets on this route were well over $400, this meant I received a value of 3.6 cents per membership reward point—Not Bad! The current BA promotion which allowed me to maximize my membership reward points ended on June 7th, but such promotions are common 2-3x a year and are sometimes even more generous!