airberlin Business Class Berlin-JFK Flight Review: Tall Travelers Beware!

Aug 21, 2013

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This week I got to try out a new carrier- airberlin business class from Berlin to JFK. While known as somewhat of a low-cost carrier, they do offer a respectable business class and they are in the process of retrofitting their cabin with all aisle access lie-flat beds. I was lucky (or unlucky, as you’ll find out) to get one of these new seats on my flight this week. While my airberlin  experience was fine overall- I got to New York non-stop and the crew was friendly enough, I’m not clamoring to fly them again due to their poor ground services and super-cramped seat.

My Airbus A330-200 headed back to New York-JFK.
My Airbus A330-200 headed back to New York-JFK.

Air Berlin also flies nonstop from Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL) to Chicago-O’Hare, Miami, and seasonally to Los Angeles. From Dusseldorf Airport (DUS) they fly direct to New York-JFK, Fort Myers, Miami, and Los Angeles.

You can actually view which routes offer the new Business Class product each day, however, it does say there is no guarantee that it will be correct, since they may have an aircraft swap. Because I am trying to requalify for American Executive Platinum status on points this year and I was able to find a reasonably priced ticket ($2,400), I decided to pay for this flight outright and book Business Class, with a return back to Europe later in the fall on American.

Berlin-JFK for 40,000 British Airways Avios.
One-way Business Class award Berlin-JFK for 40,000 British Airways Avios.

However, you can book Air Berlin flights using British Airways Avios, and thanks to the program’s distance-based requirements for awards, each way of a Business Class ticket from JFK-TXL requires just 40,000 Avios. That’s compared to the 50,000 miles each way American would charge you. Coach would be 20,000 Avios vs 30,000 AA (20,000 offpeak).

On the Ground

Berlin is getting a fancy new airport within the next year and it can’t come soon enough. While Tegel (TXL) is relatively close to the city (25 euro/20 minute taxi), the airport is outdated and disjointed.

Basic British Airways lounge at TXL
Basic British Airways lounge at TXL

The airline’s ground service was pretty abysmal. You would think flying out of one of their hubs, it would be better but that wasn’t the case. They don’t have their own lounge, but instead use the British Airways lounge which had basic finger sandwiches and bar, but didn’t even have a bathroom!

Mini terminal for US bound flights, which was overcrowded.
The mini-terminal for US bound flights, which was overcrowded.

The lounge is outside of security so you need to budget time to go through passport control and security and there are no priority lines for that. Once inside the small international gate area, you come to find out that there are not nearly enough seats for people and the small area heats up pretty pretty quickly. Due to the overcrowding, boarding was a zoo and I had to work my way around several groups of people to board when business class was called.

Here’s an Instavideo I made of boarding and a quick look at coach and business class cabins.

The Flight

The airline’s Airbus A330-200 Business Class cabin features 19 flatbed seats with 180 degree recline, and 279 seats in Economy. There are seat-back personal video monitors in both cabins.

Direct aisle access with the new business class so I selected 3A, a window seat
Direct aisle access with the new business class so I selected 3A, a window seat

All the seats in business class have direct aisle access thanks to a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, but I wanted as much space to myself as possible, so I selected an window seat on one of the sides.

Lie flat but seriously- only like 5'10- was so cramped
The lie-flat seats but way too short for me. It is only 5’11” long so I was really cramped.

From my first sight of the business class seats, I was excited to try out the flatbed product. However, I quickly found out that the seat is pretty cramped.  The seat width is 20″ and the seat pitch is 59″, and bed length is only 71.3″ – less than 6 feet! – making it quite uncomfortable for poor 79 inch (6’7″/ 2m) me. I realize that I’m freakishly tall, but anyone in the 6’+ range will likely struggle to be comfortable because everything from the narrow entry to the mini-footwell makes for a cramped experience.

Super narrow entrance into the seat.
I also had a super narrow entrance getting into the seat.

Speaking of foot wells, they were so tiny I had to angle my feet and I ended up having to sleep with one leg down the side of the pod in between where the wall of the plane and the pod- luckily there were about 6 inches so I could stretch my leg out during the flight. I know that my size 14 feet are not normal, but still the foot well was tiny, even for a smurf!

I have size 14 feet but still the well was very tiny.
I have size 14 feet but still the well was very tiny.

The entertainment system isa 15″ LED monitor, which had pretty limited movie/TV choices, which you can view here.

Meal Service

The flight attendants were nice, but the service was nothing special and was very process driven. It reminded me of Lufthansa, since it took 2 hours after takeoff to have the lunch service completed.

I started with the boiled beef terrine instead of the safer prawn option and indeed it was different. It was smoky beef in a gelatinous mold with a bunch of horseradish, which helped bring it all together. The German bread was delicious!

Decided on the Beef pâté which kinda gross but the horseradish helped

My main was the chicken breast in lemon sauce with green tagliatelle, sauteed carrot, zucchini and tomato. I got really excited because the presentation looked nice and it actually reminded me of Thai food, but the flavor fell far short of even the blandest Thai dish.

Chicken looked nice but was bland and there were spaghetti that were burnt and crunchy.

The chicken was bland and the pasta was burnt and actually a bit crunchy in spots- not the best combination. The wine list had a bunch of different choices from different European countries Spanish, Italian and French red, and a few whites, but I wasn’t in the mood to drink during this flight so I passed on them.

Pre-arrival snack. At least it was edible.

At least the pre-arrival snack was okay – spiced chicken over rice and some fresh fruit.

After the meal, I wanted to catch a little nap so I wouldn’t be exhausted when I got to New York. It took me a while, but I finally found a decent cramped and pretzel-like position that I was comfortable enough to fall asleep in, and I got about 4 hours of sleep before it was time for the pre-landing snack. My rest was more of a testament to Berlin nightlife- I had been out til the wee hours the night before so I’m pretty sure I could have slept comfortable on a bed of nails.

My lie-crooked bed
My lie-crooked bed

Overall, I have to say that the whole experience fell short of my expectations. It was by no means a terrible flight, just one that I’ll soon forget.

I really can’t fathom why a German carrier would opt to install such short seats since so many Germans are tall. While I’m not a big fan of Lufthansa’s angled business class it is definitely more comfortable for the tall traveler and the lounges/ground experience blow airberlin out of the water. Frankly, if I flew to Berlin again from NYC I’d try to fly United’s lie-flat 757 which I find perfectly comfortable- even though I am freakishly tall!

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