Airline Review: Air Berlin

By Nomadic Matt | Published June 21st, 2013

Air Berlin: airplane's tail and logoMany, many years ago, I caught a cheap flight from Berlin to Bangkok on a carrier called Air Berlin. It was a joyless experience. Back then, Air Berlin was a budget airline that offered the bare minimum to fly people internationally. You had an uncomfortable seat, no movies, and food only if you bought (or brought) it. The nine hours to Bangkok were hell, especially since this was before I discovered the wonders of Ambien.

But over the years, Air Berlin has grown up. They now fly new planes, offer more in-flight services (they’ve even introduced lie-flat business class seating), and have joined my favorite airline alliance, Oneworld. They’re no longer a cheap budget airline but a major and expanding player.

In the past year, I’ve heard good things from other travelers, so on my recent trip to Europe, I decided to fly Air Berlin. I wanted to see how much the airline has changed since I flew them all those years ago. Since I’d be flying through Berlin on this trip, it made sense.

My thoughts? Three out of four stars. I liked flying Air Berlin and prefer them to rival Lufthansa, who I flew to Africa in December. Lufthansa has harder seats, worse food, and an utterly awful movie selection.

The interior view of Air Berlin A330 airplane

Air Berlin has a fleet of 134 planes with an average age of five years, so the planes are pretty new and comfortable inside. They aren’t the old pieces of junk that many American carriers fly. (Looking at you, United, US Airways, and American!) The interiors are comfortable and clean, the seat cushions are thick, there’s ample legroom, and all seats have individual screens on which to watch a very robust movie selection. (Movie reviews: Cloud Atlas sucks, Life of Pi was wonderful, and Broken City was average.)

The food, while impressive in business class (quinoa salad, shrimp, and delicious beef!), was lacking in economy. Was it awful? No. But was it good? No. It’s exactly what you would expect from airline food. The chicken didn’t taste that good, the potatoes had an…interesting consistency, and the portions were a bit on the small side. It felt like getting a school lunch.

Air Berlin's food in economy class is pretty tasty

See? That doesn’t look too bad, does it? But it’s not amazing, either.

I was disappointed that there were no power plugs in economy, but USB ports were available, so I could still charge my phone.

While I enjoyed Air Berlin’s service, my experiences with their low-cost carrier, Niki Air, were hell. My connecting flights (two of them) to Lisbon were on a Niki Air plane, and I can honestly say they were pure crap. I mean, look at the photo:

The legroom on Air Berlin's airplanes aren't very spacious

My bag can’t even fit under the seat! And it’s just a regular backpack! I had such an awful time on that flight that I might even prefer United to Niki Air — and you all know how I feel about United.

Moreover, when I sat down, there was soda all over my seat. I informed the flight attendant, but she just looked at me and said, “Well, clean it up.” I sat down in another seat and she came over, dabbed at the soda a bit, scowled, and walked away.

Maybe I found her on a bad day, but even if she’d been super friendly, the wear and tear on the plane plus the extremely small space put me off from flying them again. Niki takes discomfort to an extreme.

If you book with Air Berlin, make sure to look at who operates the planes so you can avoid Niki Air.

Overall, I like — but don’t love — Air Berlin. I’d much rather fly with them, though, than the other major German carrier, Lufthansa. Since I’m part of Oneworld (I’m an American Airlines fanboy), the fact that this airline is part of that alliance means I’ll probably end up on another of their flights soon and be perfectly happy about it.

There are many blow-your-mind airlines in the world, but I measure an airline by a certain checklist every time: good movie selection, nice staff, modern planes, comfort, and food. If you get me from point A to point B with most of those boxes checked off, I’ll fly you again.

Air Berlin, for all the reasons on my checklist plus your flights to Europe that are hundreds of dollars cheaper than most of your competitors’ (even alliance partners like American Airlines and British Airways), I’ll fly you again.
Editor’s note: I met the Air Berlin team at a travel meetup in New York City, and when they heard I was going to Europe, they offered to pay for my flight to and from Europe. I accepted since I wanted to try them again.

comments 51 Comments

Karen

Flying on Air Berlin in September. How do they assign seating? I have read that you need to buy a guaranteed seat or you will get what they give you. Are theXL seats worth it?

OK, they paid for your ticket. Another reason why I want to be like you . . . as long as you’re not flying Niki. Thanks for the info!

NomadicMatt

I think that’s a pretty honest review.

I think Air Berlin is a good option when flying business class to and from the U.S. Last September, I had an excellent experience flying to Berlin (in disclosure, I was on a trip sponsored by Air Berlin). This October, my husband and I are flying on our own dime in Air Berlin business class from LA to Rome (with a stop in Dusseldorf). It was the best value that we could find. Now to go see if our commuter flight from Dusseldorf to Rome is on Niki Air. Good review, Matt.

Malcolm Walker

Air Berlin is only good if there isn’t a problem. I’m currently trying to deal with them about a flight that was delayed 27 hours 11 months ago. Basically they abandoned us at San Francisco Airport : No hotel provided, no food offered, no anything offered, just lies about hotel availability and alternative flights. Now they’re ignoring all my communications about the outstanding compensation that they’ve already agreed to. I’m now preparing to sue them via the European Union inter country small claims court.
Before you fly Air Berlin ask yourself ‘Do I feel lucky?’
If ‘No’ then don’t fly Air Berlin
If ‘Yes’ then you’ve not read enough reviews yet.

We flew Air Berlin from NYC to Bangkok (via Dusseldorf – the long way ’round). While nothing to write home about, they get the job done and the price was considerably cheaper than all other options. Thinking they were still a budget airline, I was expecting to get nickel and dimed on food, drink, and entertainment – it was a delightful surprise to find they served us regular meals, drinks (beer & wine I believe?), and had a decent IFE system.

Ken

I am a Top Bonus member (frequent flyer) on Air Berlin, and I have had nothing but excellent service. 50% of my flights are NIKI, and I have only one minor complaint there… leg room at the seats. I’m an average sized guy so it isn’t a problem for me.
I fly Air Berlin throughout Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Austria for the most part), and I have had nothing but friendly service, good meals, and mostly on time flights.
Comparing this airline to US domestic carriers…. no comparison. Air Berlin is great.

Floki

This website always crashes my entire computer! It’s the only website that does it as well for some reason :/

Nice review btw :)

I didn’t know they’d upgraded from being a no-frills airline to being halfway decent. I’ve seen them pop up on a few flight searches I’ve done lately but dismissed them as I’m not into budget airlines on long-haul flights. I might need to give them a second chance!

NomadicMatt

Yeah, give them another chance! They’ve changed!

Paula

Flew Air Berlin from JFK to Naples and back via Berlin going and Dusseldorf returning. The price was 30% less than Delta’s and the service was 30% better. My Top Bonus number just might get some additional use! Food was 100% better than I’ve experienced in the past 5 years.

I have never flown with Air Berlin but when I need to go on a long flight again I’ll consider them after reading all of this, including the comments of others who’ve tried them.

What’s your favorite US domestic airline?

NomadicMatt

Virgin America

Ivo

I am honestly surprised that you had such a good experience with Air Berlin. During the past years I was always very put off off them, as whenever I heard someone mentioning Air Berlin it was always about delays, cancellations and non-existing customer service. Especially that you compare them to Lufthansa and even prefer them over them is interesting, maybe I need to give them a chance finally =)

NomadicMatt

My flight to NYC was delayed 15 minutes but other than that, I didn’t have any problems on one of my four flights.

Interesting and thorough review, thanks for sharing. I haven’t flown them yet but anticipate flying with them this fall so this is all great info. to have.

NomadicMatt

Welcome, Matt! Fly them over to TBEX!

Marco Meier

I think it’s hard to rank an airline based on 2 flights, but having used them quite extensively in Europe they are one of the best ones in terms of offers-pricing-quality ratio. Not only are their airplanes quite new but they fare very well against their competitors.

And service is quite good, compared to how most airlines in Europe operate :)

NomadicMatt

I flew them four times while in Europe. I like to take multiple legs just to get an overall impression because sometimes, airlines have a bad day.

Hi Matt, nice review. Have you ever flown with Norwegian? They are in a similar position to AirBerlin a few years ago – moving from a low-cost carrier to big player, especially now they fly from Oslo to New York and Bangkok. It’ll be interesting to see if they transition as well as Air Berlin have.

I really like that you’re publishing reviews of different airlines. I always book according to price with my flights, so sometimes I end up going with airlines I’ve never heard of. Air Berlin actually just popped up as one of the cheaper flights in a search I did today from London to New York. I wasn’t sure about them, but it sounds like you had a pretty good experience. If you like them better than Lufthansa-that’s definitely saying something, because they’re one of my favorites for European travel. But I’m sorry to hear that your connecting flight wasn’t quite as good. I can’t believe that flight attendant. Bad day or not, your seat should not have been covered in soda! I would have been embarrassed if that were me and extremely apologetic.

Vee

Hey Matt:
First, thanks for telling about Ryanair.com! I just bought a really last-minute (the night before kind of last minute) ticket from Berlin to Oslo. Feeling awesome about it! Oh, I flew Air Berlin from Reykjavik to Berlin. It was a nice flight and they gave me a sandwich…nice! Especially for a 3 hours flight. I would do Air Berlin again!

Good review Matt. It is great to hear that a discount airline is now upping the stakes with higher quality and business class.

The discount airline industry in Europe is varied with such as the shockingly cheapskate RyanAir, to the more respectable Easyjet.

I’ve yet to fly Air Berlin but this review certainly opens me up to the idea.

Have you ever flown with German wings?

NomadicMatt

No, I haven’t experienced them yet. Are they good?

Thanks Matt, looking to go to Europe next year and didnt even think about using berlin air!

I have mixed feelings about AirBerlin. I’ve flown with them enough but they’re still far from my favorite. They do offer pretty good deals (on occasion) and the flights are predictably good, so I’m fan enough to regularly fly them. Plus the OneWorld alliance is great :-)

I took a one-stop Air Berlin flight in 2010 from Paris to St.-Petersburg. It was comfortable and air-hostess was so kind and gave me couple sandwiches for free, maybe I looked like a really hungry guy. The only problem, you can’t call them lowcost airlines anymore.

NomadicMatt

For flights across the Atlantic, they are often much cheaper than most of their counterparts. (Aer Lingus and Iclandic Air are also cheap)

Srini

you got free tickets? and the tickets for this airline are cheap?
No wonder you have glowing review.

This is one of the worst airlines that exist right now.
They cancel flights more often than others. They do not care about the passengers. Infact, their flight today was cancelled from dresden to dusseldorf. The lufthansa staff nearby said they had openings on their airline, including fiurther connections but apparently Air berlin wnated to delay everyone 24 hours and send them on their own flight the next day.

Their customer service is very rude. When I called them , they said, I booked the ticket on a travel website instead of airberlin.com and hence Only thew website should call them about the flight cancellation. A first for me.

Did some research. This airline is headed by the same guy who headed DB(D-bahn) and managed it poorly.

Stay away from this hell.

What I like about Air Berlin is that they offer something for free – mostly a sandwich and drinks – also on the short flights! They are definitely the friendliest low cost carrier in Europe

Thanks for such an honest review Matt. We hadn’t ever considered Air Berlin for long haul flights, but will look them up now :-) Cheers

Susan Bardolf

Im impressed with your review. My family is flying Air Berlin mid August from NYC to Nice (via Dusseldorf).

I have never flown them before, but feel less anxious after reading your review.
Thank you!

Christine

Thank you for the review. We will be using Air Berlin in Oct. Going from Ft myers to Vence via Dusseldorf. feeling less anxious now on our choice.
We booked XL seat for more leg room, wondering your thoughts on that. We are in 14 A & C

ankit

my experince in airberlin was much better in last year they charged a minimal fare for business class

Hey Matt,

Nice review. I flew with Air Berlin four times. DXB-TXL, TXL-JFK, DUS-BKK and one domestic flight from TXL-FRA and especially on the long-haul flights I really enjoyed the food. But there was no In-flight entertainment at the time (2011-2012) so the changes must be very new or you were just very lucky to get on one of their upgraded Airbus 330. Nice review though. Your movie review made me laugh though haha good one. But how did you manage to watch 3 films within 9hrs flight time? :P

NomadicMatt

2 hour movies x 3 = 6 hours of movies :)

It seems that recently AirBerlin started systematically loosing more and more bags. People are complaining all over the Web. Here is our story.

Apart service being more or less OK, if you travel on vacation, you may still need your bags – something AirBerlin does not really seem to understand.

airberlin really sucks. They have the absolute worst customer support I have ever seen. Check our my two blog posts on this topic. They should be put out of business.

Why I’ll Never Fly airberlin Again: Getting Customer Experience Right and Getting It Oh So Wrong.
airberlin Sucks or Let them Eat Chocolate: Watching a Social Media Marketing and Customer Support Train Wreck.

NomadicMatt

I think this is an unfair comparison. Delta has a dedicated service to deal with this and has integrated it throughout their company. AirBerlin, like so many airlines, does not. Delta is really, really good at this. 99% of other airlines are not. I’ve had many bad, bad interactions with major airlines on Twitter. It’s easy to get used to Twitter being a tool for customer service, especially when as bloggers, we are used to doing everything online but in reality, most airlines haven’t got there yet (though they should) so I think having high expectations about the service airlines can and can’t provide via Twitter is bound to lead to disappointment.

P.S. – I also wonder since the IP for this comment and the one below are the same, if you didn’t comment twice. (You two also use the terminology in the linked post and in your comments!) Just saying! :)

Jim Fields

One comment above mentioned Airberlin paid for at least one of your tickets? Is this true? if so that’s a conflict of interest and may explain you rosey review to my absolutely horrible experience with this awful, half-assed company. they lost my luggage and turned their backs on me. “Not our problem” was their underlying message. I’m still trying to sort out my lost luggage with ZERO..ABSOLUTELY ZERO HELP from them. Why do say they are good? Are you a shill?

Air Berlin is currently having some problems with bags: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/09/air_berlin_lost_luggage_the_german_airline_melts_down_on_social_media.html

That being said, my flight with them was pretty good and I hope they fix this and put this incident behind them. Let’s hope this is a small hiccup.

Be warned, AirBerlin doesn’t do customer service…except a bit on Twitter and Facebook.
I am still waiting for compensation…

Sam

Matt,

While your review is accurate in relation to the in-air experience you should try experiencing their customer service once you have lost your bag. Perhaps you should do a follow up piece about their total disregard the baggage return. Have a quick look on the internet and you will see how many people have been burnt by Airberlin

Seymore

DON’T FLY AIR BERLIN- They have a racket of forcing you to weigh both your carry on and laptop bags “together” then turning around and claiming your carry on is too heavy. The scam comes in when they try to force you to then check in your carry on and charge you $120. Then the “same” over weight bag still gets placed on the same flight???? SCAM, SCAM, SCAM…STAY AWAY AND FLY OTHER AIRLINES THAT AL LEAST ARE ALITTLE MORE HONEST.

Patrick

So I flew airberlin from Zurich – Gdansk back in June. They delayed the flight (through Berlin) a day, then didn’t take my luggage. I was on my way to a wedding, so I made it with about three hours to spare, and found somewhere to buy a suit (the suit I’d planned to wear being in my lost luggage). My luggage did turn up the next day, but since June I’ve been trying to claim a refund for the expense of buying a new suit. It’s their policy to cover such things (as they should). They ask you to send an email to ‘Baggage Services’. I did that back in June, and got a reply in July saying they had a backlog to deal with but would get back to me as soon as possible. Didn’t hear again. I emailed again in August, no response. I called the ‘Service Centre’ in mid-October, they said they had no way of contacting Baggage Service, and that I should email again, but if I didn’t hear within a week I should call the Service Centre again, they’d elevate it to a manager. So I emailed again. No response. I called the Service Centre again today, and they said it was impossible for them to do anything. They told me I was talking to the wrong people, that I should call ‘Customer Service’, and gave me a number. (These are all German numbers, by the way – I live in Australia). So I called the Customer Service number – it’s just a pre-recorded number saying to email them, fax them, or fill out a web-form. So I’ve emailed again. What a bunch of buffoons! What is one supposed to do, when both calling them and emailing them doesn’t do anything?

Paul

3 weeks ago I flew AB on Berlin to Miami route. I love flying and always look forward to trying out the airlines I never used – AB was one of them. As they’re now part of One World, I was expecting similar quality to alliance’s other members such as AA and AB. I was so wrong. This is still basically some budget, cheap holiday airline. First time in my life I was truly pissed of with everything they had to offer. 11 hours of my knees giving me horrible time as they were squeezed agains the seat in front of me. As the seat in front of me went down, my face was max 7-10inches from the screen in front of me. I regret I didn’t take a pic of it. I won’t even mention cold fish cakes served along with cold potatoes mayo “salad”. Even route map was not available… such a basic.

This OneWorld is probably one big joke, now I think. I wouldn’t be surprised if airlines instead of meeting specific criteria pay to become their member…

I bought my ticket from AA and did complain on their airline “partner” for not meeting the basic standards for a non-budget airline. I wouldn’t not complain if I paid low cost airline rate for my flight but I did not.

Avoid if you can.

RE: lost kuggage–was there anything in common i.e., a stopover

J.L.

I am planning on playing in a golf tournament in Schwerin in October 2014 and was checking out Air Berlin to fly from Miami to Munich and Berlin to Miami. All the previous comments are extremely helpful to me in trying to decide whether to try them or another airline.

The pricing really isn’t that much different between Air Berlin and Delta, Air Canada, Air France or United, the other carriers who fly these routes at the times I’m going. However, the comments on baggage concern me the most. While I realize anything can happen on any airline, there are some which are better at some things than others. I would really be upset if my golf clubs didn’t make it to Germany with me because the whole point of going is to play golf. I would even have a week of time before I had to play if they were delayed but it would completely freak me out.

I guess that’s just the risk I’m going to have to make with regard to my decision. I really appreciate your insightful commentary, though, Matt. Thank you.

Svetlana Sky

I am glad to know that at least one person is happy with Air Berlin. But if you are not that lucky most likely Air Berlin will steal your luggage. Just check the reviews, I am speaking from experience.

Marcel

Has anyone ever heard of someone successfully winning a judgement against Air Berlin in Small Claims Court? That is the question going through my head right now!

I also had a terrible experience with Air Berlin when I had to reschedule my flight back from Germany to USA. I have only made one unsuccessful call so far to the very uncaring customer service, (so my full comment about them is not yet able to be written, because I will be making more attempts to talk to a supervisor), but after reading some of the comments here above, my hope of getting anywhere with Air Berlin about my situation is looking darker! My tickets from Los Angeles to Dusseldorf are not cheap and you would think a $1200 transcontinental ticket would get you some kind of customer service, but this airline is reminding me of my one and only terrible experience with Ryan Air. (Much easier to write off Ryan Air because their within UK flight airfare was under $150, so I guess you figure you get what you pay for with that kind low of a fare.)