Much to everyone’s surprise, Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airlines, started to offer nonstop flights from DUS and TXL to the German North Sea island Sylt in March this year. Commencing in early May, the new flights would run throughout the summer and connect the most popular German sea resort (via its smallish airport, GWT is handling about 70.000 pax per year) with two of its main customer bases (Northrhine-Westphalia and Berlin), offering three flights to each gateway per week.
Since both my girlfriend and I are heavily involved with projects at work this summer, we spontaneously took the chance to book a short five-day vacation on Sylt for early may, so we could get at least some sun this summer season.
Friday, May 5, 2006
Duesseldorf International Airport (DUS)
Two months after booking the flights for 58 Euro per return trip, we arrived at the airport in the early Friday afternoon. Checking in under the glass and steel ceiling of Duesseldorfs modern and airy terminal building, we were informed by the clerks that our flight would be delayed by at least two hours. Oh well… We went upstairs to the travel market, where we searched for some vacation catalogues for our planned Cuba trip next year.
Then we entered the airside part of Terminal B via the security checkpoint. Here we spend some more time, watching planes and perusing our newly-acquired Cuba catalogues. So far, we have decided not to book an all-inclusive tour, but rather organize the hotel and rental car trip ourselves, because we don’t want to end up in a bus full of grumpy and picky German holidaymakers. It is also a nice reason to dust off my Spanish.
After a while, our Airbus arrived and slowly taxied to gate B77, where the passengers quickly disembarked and the plane was prepared for the return flight to GWT (the aircraft was actually TXL-based and operated a TXL-GWT-DUS-GWT-TXL rotation this afternoon).
Eventually, it was time to board, and our fellow passengers, mostly comprising middle-aged and older couples or single travellers, queued at the boarding gate in order to get their boarding pass ripped and board the Airbus. We were on board in a matter of minutes.
The flight (DUS-GWT)
Duesseldorf International (DUS) – Westerland Sylt Airport (GWT)
Flight number: AB 8660
Scheduled block time: 1445h – 1550h
Take-off: 1723h (RWY 05R)
Touchdown: 1804h (RWY 15)
first flight: December 12, 2005
Photo © Carl Hendriks
Much to my surprise, the cabin filled up until we reached a seat load factor of about 80% - not bad for only the second flight on this route! Complimentary newspapers and magazines were offered to all passengers by the smiling and ever-friendly flight attendants in the galley, so soon everybody was sitting back relaxed in his/ her seat, ready for the short hop to the island of Sylt.
The conversation “May I close aft door?” “Yes you may.” between the front- and the galleys initiated the signing off process and almost fifteen minutes before scheduled off-block time, the pushback tug slowly and sluggishly began to push our Airbus away from our parking position.
After pushback, the safety demonstration by video was started. While we slowly taxied towards the active runway past Terminal B, the cabin was hurriedly prepared for departure in order to make up some of the 2,5 hour delay we had incurred until this moment.
After a landing Lufthansa CRJ had touched down on the parallel runway, we slowly taxied onto the 3 kilometer stretch of concrete, engines spooled up and with the trademark buzzsaw-sound of the CFM-56 engines, we thundered down the runway and lifted off.
Our climb out lead us across the Ruhr Valley, passing the cities of Muelheim and Duisburg, continuing across the lush green meadows of rural Muensterland, my home region. The annunciator bell indicated the passing of the 10.000 ft altitude mark and with a friendly “Cabin crew released. Have a good flight!” from the cockpit, the four F/A’s sprung into action. The first service announcement covered the sale of headphones for an affordable 2,00 Euro – Air Berlin is showing a feature video presentation on the LCD screens and also offers a comprehensive audio program, so on a longer flight, this small sum can be a pretty good investment. On shorter trips like this, however, the interest was rather limited. I could not blame any of my fellow passengers for that – the AB video show is the usual bunch of hogwash, containing third-rate music videos, outdated Mr.Bean sketches and the rather unfunny “Just for laughs” candid-camera-style show, which seems to crop op on every airline, probably tormenting passengers all over the world.
After that, while we were just passing the twin cities of Muenster and Osnabrueck in the golden afternoon sun below us, cabin service was initiated. “Wait a second”, I can hear some of you guys say at this moment, “Air Berlin is a low cost carrier, how comes that they are offering anything for free to their self loading freight!?” Well, they can, and quite frankly, their offers are among the best one can get on a Peasant Class flight within Europe today, certainly surpassing the shoddy offerings of Lufthansa and the likes. Dig this Ryanair…
While shorter “Euroshuttle” flights to cities like BGY, ZRH, VIE or this domestic hop to GWT will see a free ham or vegetarian sandwich plus free softdrinks, on longer sectors the one to BCN, a full meal tray is being served, also being accompanied by free hot and cold soft drinks.
I bet you agree that when looking at the meal…
… that this is a very good offer for such a short flight and especially considering that the fares are usually way below the ones of so-called “full frills”-carriers, who have, in the meantime, often reverted to barebone peanut service.
Milling along at FL290 and at 76% of the speed of sound, the cabin loudspeakers crackled and we we greeted with a short message from the cockpit. Finally we got to know the reason for the 2,5 hour delay – the originally scheduled Boeing 737-400 incurred a cabin pressurization problem and had to be replaced by the A320. This equipment change also required a change of cabin and cockpit crew, so a backup crew had to be ordered to the airport, producing today’s delay.
Surprisingly quickly, we had reached the North Sea close to Wilhelmhaven, from were we cut across the “Deutsche Bucht” (Bay of Germany), touching Germany’s only overseas posession, the two square kilometer –sized Helogland, in the meantime (visible in the haze on the picture below).
Shortly after passing the minuscule piece of rock in the middle of the sea, throttle was audibly reduced and which a gently glide, we initiated final descent to Westerland.
Five minutes before touchdown, the “Elbow of List” (an elbow-shaped cape on the northern tip of the island) came into our view, …
… while the yellow sands of the 40 km-beach at the western side of the island gave us some indication of the relaxing aspects of a short vacation on a North Sea island.
Soon afterwards, we soared across the airprot perimeter, touching down on the more than 2 km-long runway 15 under generous application of reverse thrust and braking.
Then we taxied to the small apron in front of the train.station sized terminal building. This taxiway is actually part of a former runway, which was built by the German Luftwaffe during World War II for its patrol planes and bombers (and as you can see below, it is in a fairly sorry state)
Reaching the apron, we had to wait for two minutes until the tractor (in the litteral word sense!) with the stairs arrived (see below). Now this is what I call efficient use of equipment! Mowing the meadows through most of the day, this fine piece of machinery also has a second use once a larger passenger jet lands on the island.
After leaving the airplane, we slowly walked across the small apron, takig a last look at our ride…
… before turning towards the mini terminal and entering the baggagge claim area.
Talking about the baggage claim, vital piece of airport logistics is organized a little different from other airports. There are no coveyor belts, instead, the passengers are waiting in a small hall, where the outer third of the room is curtained of by a signal ribbon.
Once all the baggage is unloaded, the tractor, which also pulls the stairs, tows the baggage cars towards the hall, one door is opened at the front, another one at the rear of the building, and then the tractor just drives through the curtained-off third of the hall, stops, and the passengers grab their suitcaes from the cars. Aiport handling – farmer style.
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Westerland Sylt Airport (GWT)
After a few days of wonderful holidays on the sunny island, we had to fly back to our home state. Arriving at the airport by taxi, we left the car in front of the miniature terminal building…
… went inside the small check-in hall, where four check-in desks were avialable. Two of those were opened for our flight to Duesseldorf, the baggage conveyor belt just leading outside the building, where the bags were dropped onto the baggage cars.
With scheduled departure still a good hour away, we went back outside and settled down on the meadows surrounding the terminal. A lot of fellow passengers plus other visitors were also “camping” here and anxiously waited for some aviation action.
Finally, very much on time, our Airbus became visible the steel blue sky and lined upto RWY 15…
… touched down and again taxied onto the miniature apron, which just offers enough space for either two or three 50-seaters or one B737/ A320-size aircraft and possible a small propliner (there was a LGW Do-228 bound for DTM waiting on the tarmac during the turnaround of the Air Berlin Airbus).
My girlfriend and I went inside, passed through security and then arrived airside – in this case just a big party tent with possible 50 or so chairs and a wooden floor (now where is the beer bar and the polka band when you need it?). We watched the incoming passengers deplane…
… and then, only minutes later, boarding for our flight commenced.
The flight (GWT-DUS)
Westerland Sylt Airport (GWT) – Duesseldorf International (DUS)
Flight number: AB 8661
Scheduled block time: 1305h – 1400h
Take-off: 1308h (RWY 15)
Touchdown: 1356h (RWY 05R)
first flight: September 12, 2005
Photo © Miguel Nobrega - Madeira Spotters
Service and cabin procedures on this flight was almost an exact mirror of the outbound trip, so I’ll spare you a repetition of all details. The meal was slightly different from the snack on the outbound flight, but just as substantial and appropriate for this stage length. Cruising altitude today on our lightly-booked flight (SLF of around 40%) again amounted to 29.000 feet at a cruising speed of Mach 0,76.
Our routing today took us from RWY 15 across the town of Tinnum…
… past the Rantum basin, which was constructed during the Nazi reign as aseaplane base…
… and the harbor of Hoernum at the southernmost tip of Sylt…
… then leading us all along the North Frisian coast, where islands like Amrum (see following picture) greeted from below.
Once we had reached the coastline of the state of Lower Saxony close to Bremerhaven, we cruised across the flat farmlands of the Emsland and East Frisia, where Jever Luftwaffe airbase became visible below.
Cabin service again comprised a cheese or ham sandwhich and complimentary drinks from the board bar…
Only a few minutes later, descent started. Some last-minute maneuvering lead us across some landmarks of the Ruhr Valley like the Centro Oberhausen, Germany’s largest mall…
… and the Binnenhafen (inland harbor) Duisburg, once an industrial site, nowadays a fancy harbor resort with bars, restaurants and a huge variety of cultural attractions.
Landing at DUS was “high and fast”, one could feel how speed brakes, flaps, slats and gear were deployed at the very last minute just to save another few precious seconds and keep us on time. Gliding across the River Rhine, which was lying silently below us, …
… the “LTU Arena” greeted from the right, …
… until we passed across the airport perimeter and bumped heavily onto the runway – right on-time for the 1400h on block deadline!
After a few more minutes of taxiing, we arrived at our jetway at the root of terminal B, disembarkation commenced soon afterwards, and within ten minutes we were out of the aircraft and on the way to the baggage claim.
Air Berlin offers a very competitively priced, but nevertheless high quality product, which is actually superior to the offerings of the so-called “quality full-frills airlines” on similar stage lengths. The business model also demonstrates impressively that low fares do not necessarily equate shoddy ryanairesque “service”, grumpy staff, delays or other inefficiencies. Being a frequent flyer of Air Berlin myself, I have to stress that their product is up to par with the one of many national carriers, even surpassing quite a few of them. Even rebooking, cancellation of bookings and other customer service aspects at the front or the end of the travel chain are handled professionally and with a smile.
Thank you for your interest in this trip report. In case there are any questions or comments you would like to post, please feel free to do so! I also appreciate a small “Thank you” message, in fact, this is what makes putting all those hours into a report like this worthwhile.