Following a lovely couple of days in Prague, it was time to head for our second European destination, Bucharest. In order to maximize our sightseeing time in both Prague and Bucharest, we elected to take an evening flight out of Prague; though this would mean a late night arrival in Bucharest, that would still give us the option of an almost full day of sightseeing the next day. The routing providing the optimal combination of price and schedule was airberlin; as an added bonus, this would give me my first flights on two new airlines (more on that below), an extra new airport to add to the list (Berlin Tegel – TXL), and my first ride on a Saab 2000.
One important note: like many European airlines, airberlin charges a fee for booking tickets with a credit card, but allows you to pay without a fee with PayPal. You can always use the PayPal option, and then fund the purchase with a credit card, to do an end-around the fee.
airberlin (AB) Flight 8247
- Tuesday, October 27, 2015
- Depart: Vaclav Havel Airport Prague (PRG), Terminal 2,19:25, 5m early
- Arrive: Berlin – Tegel Airport (TXL), Terminal C, 20:18, 7m early
- Operated by: Etihad Regional/Darwin Airline
- Duration: 53 min
- Seats: 5B, 5C
- Equipment: Saab 2000
Though we checked in online, we arrived at the airport quite early. I didn’t know what to expect at bag drop, and wanted to spend extra time in the lounge. Unfortunately, I made a very rookie mistake. I’ve taken enough flights out of smaller Asian/European airports that I should have known that check-in often doesn’t start until 2 hours prior to departure. Oops. I wasn’t thinking about that, and sure enough, that’s exactly when airberlin opens its check-in desks. We ended up having to sit around for almost half an hour until the bag drop opened. Once it did, though, we were taken care of quickly by a rather businesslike German agent, and were also through security in no time at all – still giving us plenty of time to lounge around before catching our flight.
After an enjoyable visit to the Erste Premier Lounge, we headed over to the gate area approximately 40 minutes before scheduled departure time. On the way, if you’re an antique car enthusiast, there’s a restored 1935 Skoda on display next to the escalators leading down to the C gates.
Boarding was called about 7:05, and since our plane was parked at a remote stand, we were bused to the plane. One thing I really dislike about remote stands – the fact that every airline I’ve flown insists on filling every last square inch of space on the bus before bringing a second one.
At least everyone was wearing deodorant…
Anyway, if youre an avgeek, the positive of boarding through a remote stand is the fine view of the plane before you board.
And here you see what I was alluding to in the introductory paragraph. Etihad Regional operated this flight (actually Darwin Airline, a Swiss airline that Etihad bought some time ago). So, I’d experience not one, but two new airlines on this relatively short double hop to Bucharest. And by a plane I’d never flown in, a Saab 2000. As it turns out, this was very much a limited time opportunity. Airberlin now operates this flight directly utilizing a larger Q400.
This is a small (50-seat) plane, with only one class of service (economy) in a 1-2 configuration. The seats were definitely showing their age, but if you have to take a flight on a turboprop, the 1-2 seating is probably the most ideal. If you’re flying by yourself and want privacy, you can snag a single seat on the right, while if you’re traveling with someone, you can take a pair on the left.
The seats themselves weren’t that cramped as far as legroom goes. Seat pitch was fair, and I still had room for my knees and my feet, even with a backpack underneath. Given that we were seated for less than an hour, I wasn’t able to evaluate cushion comfort.
There is one downside to these seats (or not, depending on your point of view). As you can see from the photo up top, the windows in Row 5 give you an up-close-and-personal view of the propeller. While a great seat for aviation enthusiasts, if you’re a nervous flyer, or if you don’t like noise, do NOT sit in this row. You’ll hear and feel every noise and vibration from start-up to shutdown. It gets especially loud on take-off and initial climb.
Even with a short 55-minute block time, the crew offered a drink/snack shortly after reaching 10,000 feet. The service was quite simple, featuring soft drinks/water and a choice of chips or cookies. It’s adequate for such a short flight.
It’s hard to evaluate service on short flights such as these, but the airberlin FA was pleasant and cheerful, and handled the service efficiently, even offering refills when she came through to pick up glasses. That’s about all you can ask for on a puddle jump in coach.
Before we knew it, it was time to descend into Berlin, and we pulled up to our remote stand a few minutes early. Another bus ride was in order to the terminal building, but before getting on, I snapped one last photo of our plane. It’s an interesting livery, I have to say, with the big Etihad “E” on top of the Swiss flag.
Now, on to Round 2…
AB Flight 8270
- October 27. 2015
- Depart: TXL Terminal C, 21:44, 6m early
- Arrive: Bucharest Otopeni International Airport (OTP), 00:53, 2m early
- Duration: 2 hours 9 minutes
- Seats: 8A, 8B
- Equipment: Boeing 737-800
I was a little nervous about an hour and 25 minute layover for a Schengen to non-Schengen connection, especially given we’d be arriving at a remote stand. As it turns out, connecting at Tegel Airport is incredibly easy. Even when connecting to a non-Schengen flight, no security check is required, and passport control is a snap. I had plenty of time to grab a bottle of riesling at the duty free shop before heading to the seating area, and still had half an hour to spare before boarding.
Speaking of which, our flight operated out of gates 80-89, a satellite section of Terminal C used for non-Schengen flights. It is – spartan, shall we say. The metal roof makes it look like an airplane hangar. In addition, aside from the duty free store, the only service available is a snack bar selling assorted fast foods. Needless to say, you’re not going to want to spend much time here.
The agent called boarding around 9:25, and again, we boarded via remote stand. But we were in for a real treat. Instead of being bused to the plane, we got to walk across the ramp area, providing glorious views of our ride to Romania.
This was a new-ish 738, with 186 seats in an all-Economy, 3-3 configuration. The two exit rows, Rows 14 and 15, feature 4 additional inches of pitch (34″ vs. 30″), which airberlin sells as “XL” seats at an additional fee. Think American’s Main Cabin Extra here; it’s just a regular coach seat with regular coach service, but with a little extra legroom. The interior was bright and airy. Meanwhile, the white walls with navy blue leather seats and red seatbelts made for a smart, simple look.
The advertised standard seat pitch is 30 inches. They’re a little tight, but legroom wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, these are the dreaded Recaro slimlines, the bane of coach flyers worldwide. These actually didn’t seem too bad, with no noticeable posterior or thigh fatigue by the end of the flight. But with a flight time of barely over two hours, it’s tough to draw any conclusions. Plus, this flight wasn’t full, and so the aisle seat in our row went unclaimed as the forward door closed. An empty seat to stretch out a little makes all the difference in coach.
The only IFE available are the overhead screens and audio through an armrest headphone jack, with no power or USB ports available. On-board WiFi, featuring streaming content to your laptop or mobile device, is gradually being rolled out, though it was not available on this flight. Given that most airberlin flights are quite short in duration, this is unlikely to be much of an issue; however, if you are on a longer flight, make sure to charge your electronics before boarding.
Given that this was a short, late-evening flight, the crew offered only drinks and snacks. In fact, the same choice of chips or cookies that we received on the flight from Prague. Ordinarily, however, airberlin offers a buy-on-board service, and the current menu actually looks pretty good. Most intriguing is the “gourmet” menu featuring dishes designed by celebrity chef Herbert Seckler, host of Sansibar Restaurant on the North Sea island resort of Sylt. These meals can be pre-ordered, along with premium wines, a minimum of 24 hours in advance. Given the late hour, I didn’t take advantage of this, but I’d definitely like to if I fly airberlin again
Anyway, as far as the service went, about 30 minutes in, it was one pass with the drink cart, another person coming behind that was supposed to offer snacks, and that was it. The FAs then dimmed the lights retreated to the galley for the rest of the flight. I said “supposed” to offer snacks, because initially, the FA forgot our row and the couple of rows behind us. When the person sitting across the aisle flagged him down to ask for a bag of chips, the FA rather rudely said “you are only allowed one!”. After being reminded that he skipped our row, the FA came back through to offer them, without so much as an apology. Not a good impression. Otherwise, there wasn’t much to say. A late night flight meant no flightseeing, and I tried unsuccessfully to doze off a couple of times.
Not bad for short-haul economy. The flights were comfortable for the short distances traveled, both segments were a few minutes early, and connecting through TXL was a breeze. Service was uneven, though. We enjoyed a very good crew on the PRG-TXL leg, but a fairly poor one on the longer TXL-OTP leg. Overall, though, airberlin provides a decent option for intra-Europe flights. You might say they fill the “tweener” space between the full-service airlines and ultra-low cost carriers like easyJet and Ryanair. And of course, for you Oneworld junkies, you can earn elite qualifying miles.
This post is part of my trip report series about our trip to the Czech Republic and Romania in October. Click here for the introductory post and trip report index.