Many, 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.
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.
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:
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.