PHOTO: Cabin comfort has been a major reason for airberlin’s success. (Courtesy of airberlin)
Berlin, maybe the hottest urban destination in Europe right now, has a carrier that’s soaring with it. airberlin is the Berlin-Tegel Airport’s biggest carrier today. The original idea was to have airberlin emerge as the flag carrier for Berlin’s Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport. Scheduled to open in 2011, the airport has been delayed until at least 2016.
The fact that airberlin has been able to assert itself among the top European carriers without the solid foundation that the airport would have provided for its brand and its network says a lot about its ability to deliver connectivity and comfort to fliers. Now in its 35th year, with an extensive network of routes and destinations well established, airberlin is turning to improving its service. Cabin comfort has been a major reason the carrier has succeeded. Earlier this year, airberlin’s CEO Wolfgang Prock-Schauer spoke of his carrier’s new business class as the point of attack in a new “comfort offensive.”
The business class is featured on the carrier’s long haul routes including those to the U.S. “We are trying to get away from this notion that we are exclusively an airline for leisure travelers,” said Roberto Cuesta, airberlin’s vice president for the Americas. The first priority for business travelers is always connectivity and from its current home airports in Berlin and Düsseldorf, airberlin has built a real air bridge to the U.S. with nonstop service to Chicago, Fort Meyers, Miami, New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (seasonal).
“Both our business class cabin and our economy cabin don’t really require periodic changes because we deliver a solid excellence in our service based on our determination to excel there,” said Cuesta. “Look at our business class; 19 passengers served by three flight attendants. This allows us to cater to our highest yielding customers.”
airberlin’s business class features full-flat seats by Sogerma (who also do Etihad Airway’s seats), with most of the 19 seats in the cabin positioned to provide individual seating, increasing privacy while expanding the sense of spaciousness. Laid out in rows of 1-2-1, couples may fly with partners or individuals can fly in solitude. That arrangement gives every business class flier unimpeded access to the aisle. “The 1-2-1 configuration creates a complete sense of fluidity of movement for the passenger,” said Cuesta. “You’re not trapped into your window seat. You feel free to get up and move.”
Capacious storage space and shelves make it possible for the passenger to have all of their personal items at hand at the same time as they can be put away. The new seat reclines to completely horizontal offering a lengthy six feet at full stretch. Between the extremes of fully upright and fully flat, the seat is entirely adjustable so that the passenger can create whatever configuration they desire. The seat also includes an internal massage system.
Business travelers with work to do can plug into the seat’s power connection as well as its USB port for charging mobile devices. The seat features ambient lighting and a reading lamp.
Some 200 hours of entertainment including movies, TV shows, music and games can be accessed on each seat’s individual 15 inch monitor, which the airline boasts as having HD quality.
The North Sea island of Sylt is known for having the highest density of Michelin stars in Germany and the dean of Sylt’s restaurants is Sansibar. airberlin’s in-flight business class menu features dishes from Sansibar as well as wines that can be found in Sansibar’s extensive cellar.
Business class service doesn’t begin on board as the airline offers mobile check-in via airberlin.com or the airberlin iPhone app as well as web check-in and free seat reservation via the website or the airberlin Service Center. It also features exclusive check-in desks at many airports and access to a fast lane to pass through security checks more quickly and in many airports business travelers have access to lounges.
Before take-off, airberlin offers its status customers the opportunity to use partner lounges as well as airberlin’s exclusive waiting areas. The exclusive waiting area is almost like traveling in celebrity status as these lounges are really limited to VIP passengers. The first exclusive waiting area outside Germany opened this year in Vienna. The airline offers other exclusive waiting areas in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne/Bonn and Munich.
Each business class passenger can carry two items of baggage each weighing up to 70 pounds as well as a second piece of hand baggage weighing up to 17 pounds plus a personal item such as a laptop free of charge. Stowed baggage is tagged priority and emerges first on the carousel. And for guests flying to, from or via Abu Dabi, the home of airberlin’s partner Etihad Airways, will receive free chauffeur service between the airport and selected destinations.
As a oneworld carrier, airberlin is also linked to 59 cities throughout North America within the American Airline network. airberlin’s frequent flyer program: topbonus has more than 3.4 million members and more than 120 partners worldwide. topbonus can also be combined with business points, the airline’s corporate program. topbonus members receive double the actual miles flown to their topbonus account if they fly under an airberlin flight number in business class. Members of airberlin business points receive up to three times the number of points for a business flight in airberlin business class.
Depending on their destinations, passengers receive one of four different versions of the airberlin amenity kit. The airberlin amenity kits are offered on long-haul flights in business class. The kits offer useful travel accessories such as eye masks, warm socks, ear plugs, moisturizer, lip balm, tooth brush and paste.
The economy class cabin on long-haul flights also features on-demand entertainment systems, complimentary beverage service throughout the entire flight and improved culinary selections. airberlin will equip its first aircraft with on-board Wi-Fi in 2014, a service that will be rolled out gradually over almost the whole airberlin fleet. In economy class, seats are equipped with anti-thrombosis cushions and individually adjustable head rests offer improved comfort. “We serve at least two meals on transatlantic flights in Economy and offer free wine or beer,” said Cuesta.
airberlin has done very well despite the delay of the new airport in Berlin. Imagine how it will do once that airport opens. visitBerlin CEO Burkhard Kieker, doesn’t exaggerate when he says that “Even when it (the new airport) opens with a capacity for 28 million passengers, we will need to begin immediately expanding capacity with a completely new terminal. The growth in traffic has been that rapid. And when it finally opens it will shift the center of gravity for European travel to the East and will be yet another boost to the city.” airberlin will be in the middle of all that.