Welcome to my short-haul intra-EU flight series. In between my usual long haul travels, I needed to go to several European destinations to visit some family and friends. However, this created a unique problem: I needed to buy several one way tickets and these are often excessively overpriced. Thankfully, after spending the better half of a day hunting for the best prices, I managed to find some reasonable deals on three different airlines.
The first part of this trip report series with Lufthansa can be found here.
Low Cost Carriers; whether you love them or hate them, it is undeniable that they have become a substantial force in the aviation industry. Some argue that these airlines are the best advancement in aviation over the last decade. For example, it could be said that Michael O’Leary, the CEO of Ryanair, has made a larger contribution to bringing people in Europe together than the European Union and its introduction of borderless travel in Europe. On the other hand, environmentalists blame Low Cost Carriers for excessive carbon emissions and unnecessary traveling. I mean, who needs to fly to Paris for dinner?
Personally, I am not a massive fan of Low Cost Carriers and I usually try to fly with legacies if I can. I hate being nickel and dimed to death for absolutely everything and I find that the difference in fares to full service carriers, with all things such as baggage charges considered, is often not as much as one would imagine. When I was looking around for tickets to travel from the United Kingdom to Germany and from Germany to Majorca, the very reasonable fares and simple connections of Lufthansa and Air Berlin won me over. However, when I was looking for flights from Majorca to Edinburgh, Flyglobespan had a deal I could not refuse.
So why am I comparing a low cost, a semi low cost and a full service carrier on different routes? Well, I think the PAD-PMI, PMI-EDI and BHX-FRA sectors are actually quite similar. They are all short-haul intra-European flights less than three hours long. Additionally, the ticket price per mile was 9.88 Euro cents on Air Berlin, 8.47 Euro cents on Flyglobespan and 10.78 Euro cents on Lufthansa, which is also not too dissimilar either. Just for comparison, an SQ ticket from SIN-FRA is about 30 Euro cents per mile! So, is Air Berlin really a semi low cost carrier? Or is it the same as Flyglobespan? And what can Lufthansa bring to the table in defense of the Legacy carriers? Read on and find out.
General Flight Overview
Airline: Air Berlin (AB)
Flight number: AB 5228
Origin: Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport (PAD)
Destination: Palma de Mallorca Airport (PMI)
Distance: 880 miles
Scheduled departure time: 17:55
Scheduled flight time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Class of Travel: Economy Class
Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport (PAD) looks like a little landing strip when compared to other airports in Germany such as Frankfurt or Munich. It is located about 18 kilometers to the southwest of the town of Paderborn in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Airport mostly serves charter flights and Low Cost Carriers, with the exception of the Lufthansa CityLine services to Frankfurt and Munich. More than 1.5 million passengers use Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport every year; most of them are holidaymakers travelling to Southern Europe.
After a relaxing one and a half hour drive, I arrived outside the small terminal building at PAD. The curbside was almost completely deserted, which made me wonder if there were even any flights operating today. Needless to say, my fears were extinguished when I saw that the very bright Air Berlin counter in the Departures Hall was open.
The exterior of the terminal building at PAD.
The small curbside at Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport.
The vibrant Air Berlin ticketing counter in the Departures Hall.
Other than a few counters from car hire companies and travel agents, there was not much to see and do inside the Departures Hall. In terms of check-in facilities, six counters were available and three of them were being used by Air Berlin this evening. Sadly, as I passed by the Flight Information screen next to the check-in area, I noticed that my flight to Majorca was already delayed by 25 minutes until 18:20. I guess the Low Cost Carrier experience had well and truly begun!
An overview of the Departures Hall at PAD.
The Flight Information screen showing the delay of AB5228 until 18:20.
The small check-in area inside the Departures Hall.
Apparently, most passengers had already checked in when I arrived at the counter at 17:00, because there were no queues whatsoever. At the counter, I was welcomed by a friendly and efficient Air Berlin agent. Even though I had already checked in for the flight online, she reissued my boarding pass as she checked my luggage through to Palma de Mallorca. At the end, she wished me a pleasant holiday in Palma and a great flight with Air Berlin. Now, if you remember my recent KUL-DOH-FRA trip with QR, I am sure you would agree that the check-in service with Air Berlin was better than that of Qatar Airways. So a Low Cost Carrier is better than the ‘Five-star’ Airline…!?
The Air Berlin check-in counters at PAD.
The expanse of the Departure Hall from the second floor.
Before proceeding to the gates through the security check, I decided to have a little look around the remainder of the terminal building. The only other noteworthy place I discovered was a restaurant on the second floor with some decent views of the apron. However, with only five flights still due to depart today, it was very empty. As there was nothing else to see, I headed for the departure gates.
The rather empty restaurant on the second floor of the Terminal building.
The half decent apron views from the restaurant.
The clearly marked way to the departure gates.
With so few flights remaining today, there was only a very short queue at the security check. I also found that the staff at the checkpoint was much more cheerful than those at large international airports. I guess this has something to do with all the passengers being cheerful holidaymakers. In less than five minutes I was in the waiting hall.
The small security check at Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport.
Keeping things simple: PAD only has six gates.
The exterior of the waiting halls next to the gates.
The time was now 17:30 and boarding was meant to have started five minutes ago. However, the empty apron told a different story and while the expected delay until 18:20 had not increased, I had some serious doubts. At least the waiting hall was quite a nice place to be: it had huge windows, a little café and an abundance of seats.
The pleasant waiting hall for gates 5 & 6.
The waiting hall with the café in the far corner.
A potential spotter’s heaven… If there were any aircraft to spot…
As 5:45pm approached, I was beginning to get a little bored. There was simply nothing to see or do inside the terminal, and for someone who usually flies through hubs like DXB, SIN and KUL this was quite hard to live with. Finally, just after 17:45, the roar of D-ABBU’s thrust reversers broke the silence on the tarmac as the aircraft touched down on runway 24.
The massive window front in the waiting hall.
D-ABBU touching down on runway 24 with thrust reversers deployed.
D-ABBU glistening in the evening sun.
As soon as the Air Berlin aircraft had cleared the runway, a Tunisair 737-500 landed right behind it. This seemed quite ironic, because there had not been a single movement on the ground for about an hour and now there had been two landings in close succession. After a short three minute taxi, D-ABBU pulled into Gate 5.
The Air Berlin 737-800 taxiing to the terminal as the Tunisair 737-500 was landing.
D-ABBU pulling into Gate 5.
Up close and personal with the 737-800.
It was obvious that the inbound flight had been very empty, because the passengers had disembarked very quickly. Refueling had also begun as soon as the aircraft had arrived, so it appeared that the 18:20 departure time was still possible. At 18:10, boarding was announced and as usual, everyone crowded around the gate.
D-ABBU with the jetway attached.
The Tunisair 737-500 with registration TS-IOJ.
The usual pre-boarding crowd.
While everyone else was fighting to get onboard the aircraft, I sat watching the activity on the apron. I could also clearly see the queue of passengers on the jetway leading to AB5228, so I decided to wait until it died down. However, the Air Berlin agents had other ideas, and they decided to make an announcement asking Mr. Globetraveller to please proceed for boarding immediately. Why?! So that I could stand in the queue as well? Feeling slightly embarrassed, I walked towards the agent at the gate and handed over my boarding pass. Following a five minute wait down the jetway, I was onboard AB5228 to PMI at 18:21, 26 minutes after the scheduled time of departure.
The queue down the jetway leading into D-ABBU.
The back of the queue into the aircraft. I was the last passenger to board.
Air Berlin is Germany’s second largest airline after Lufthansa and it has quite a varied fleet of aircraft. As of today, the airline has a fleet size of 125, with 51 Boeing 737s. These aircraft, 16 of which are 737-700s and 35 of which are the 737-800 variant, are used on routes throughout Europe and sometimes even North Africa. The flight between PAD and PMI is usually operated by a 737-800 and today was no different. Air Berlin’s 737-800s seat 186 passengers in a one class configuration.
My aircraft today, D-ABBU, was still carrying the old Air Berlin livery. I was also surprised that this was one of the few 737-800s without winglets. The cabin was moderately clean, but it did show some signs of heavy usage in the bathrooms and on the seats. The cabin was configured in the usual 3-3 layout with a seat pitch of 32 inches and width of 17 inches. Overall, the seat comfort was definitely sufficient for a two hour flight, even for taller individuals such as myself. D-ABBU’s short history has been a vibrant one: it has flown for the colorful Sun Country Airlines, Air Astana and now Air Berlin.
Photo © Ben Wang
Photo © Robert Flinzner
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
Photo © Pavel Pyasetsky
Photo © Stefan Sonnenberg
Photo © Marco Zeininger
This 737-8Q8 had its maiden flight in January 2001. The aircraft is owned by Air Berlin and the first flight in Air Berlin colors was in April 2007.
D-ABBU arriving at the gate at PAD.
My printed boarding pass for AB5228 from PAD to PMI.
The reissued boarding pass for AB5228 from PAD to PMI.
At the door, I was welcomed by no one. Instead, the crew was too busy making final preparations for takeoff in the small galley. I guess a 35 minute turnaround was impressive especially since the departing flight was completely packed, but a little “good evening” or “welcome onboard” isn’t too much to ask for, is it? After reshuffling some bags in the overhead compartments and getting frowned upon by my fellow Germans, I managed to find a space somewhere over row 1 and proceeded to take my window seat in row 3. By 18:23, the doors were closed.
The full cabin onboard AB5228 as boarding was completed.
The average legroom on this AB 737-800. At least there was no annoying IFE box.
The safety demonstration followed soon after and by 18:30, AB5228 had started taxing towards runway 24. Pushbacks are not required at PAD, because the aircraft are parked at an angle to the terminal. However, as the safety demonstration neared its conclusion, I noticed a small discrepancy on the Inflight Safety Information Card in the seat pocket. In fact, there were two cards: one for a Boeing 737-700 and another for a 737-800. I wonder how the former managed to find its way onboard D-ABBU.
The lush German scenery as AB5228 rolled onto runway 24.
Hmmm…. 737-700 or 737-800?
With no other air traffic in sight, D-ABBU taxied straight onto the runway and performed a rolling takeoff. It always amazes me how much thrust these comparatively small CFM 56 engines on the 737s manage to produce. The initial acceleration was furious and after a short run down runway 24, AB5228 took off from PAD at 18:33.
The countryside flashing by as AB5228 sped down the runway.
Liftoff from Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport.
Goodbye Germany. Until next time.
Our routing today would take us out of Germany, over southern Belgium then just south of Paris before turning left towards Spain. Then, AB5228 would cross Barcelona before flying over the Mediterranean between the Spanish mainland and Majorca. Estimated flight time: 2 hours.
The CFM 56 turbine working hard to get D-ABBU to cruising altitude.
Paderborn/Lippstadt Airport in the distance.
The massive cloud formations over Western Germany.
When AB5228 reached its cruise altitude, one of the three members of the cabin crew came to take any food orders. Air Berlin serves some basic food and beverage free of charge, but passengers also have the option of ordering proper meals for a price. The menu ranged from a salad to a three course meal and prices were reasonable.
Soon after, the drinks service began. As I mentioned above, basic drinks are also free of charge, so I ordered an apple juice with sparkling mineral water. I guess this must have been on the boundary of barely being free, because the stewardess did not look too pleased as she served my drink.
The southern Belgian landscape below.
My cup of free apple juice with sparkling mineral water.
After completing the beverage service, which took ages, the crew started serving the food. Passengers who had ordered an item from the menu were naturally served first. Once they had all received their respective meals, the crew handed out bagels with cheese to everyone else. When I received my visually appealing snack box, my hopes that the contents would look just as good were high. Sadly, this was not to be: the bagel looked dry and boring, and it tasted much the same way. At the time, none of this mattered to me: I was hungry so I ate it anyway. It was free after all.
The aesthetically pleasing snack box.
The not so great bagel with cheese.
The relatively new Air Berlin logo. D-ABBU still carried the old logo and livery.
After finishing the rather mediocre bagel, I reached for my copy of Freakonomics in order to entertain myself. This AB 737-800 had no screens onboard, not even on the ceilings. Air Berlin’s inflight magazine was also not a very exciting read, so there was nothing much one could really do. Then again, this is a semi-Low Cost Carrier after all.
Nevertheless, I was impressed by the seats. The legroom was more than sufficient, the leather was very soft and the entire experience was quite comfortable. It was nothing like the Ryannair horror stories of hard seats and unbearable legroom.
My fellow passengers shortly after the conclusion of the meal service.
Flying over Paris just before AB5228 turned further south.
Paris – Orly Airport from above.
Another aspect of the Air Berlin experience which I greatly enjoyed was the very talkative pilot. He made no less than four announcements throughout the flight, pointing out sights below, informing us of our altitude and alerting us to other air traffic around us. I guess he was trying to make up for the lack of a Flight path information channel. Personally, I thought his information was much more interesting anyway.
Another aircraft passing behind us as the captain pointed out.
The clouds covering northern Spain.
As AB5228 neared Barcelona, the sun was slowly beginning to set. I have seen quite a few amazing sunsets and sunrises in my lifetime, but this one was one of my favorites.
The beginning of the amazing Mediterranean sunset.
All imaginable tones of yellow in the sky.
The wonderful welcome to Majorca.
As the majority of the passengers were enjoying the amazing sunset to the West, the first officer announced our descent into Palma de Majorca. The crew then came around the cabin for a final check and one of the stewardesses told me to put my camera away in the process. Overall, the Air Berlin cabin crew was average. The male flight attendant was forthcoming and friendly, but the two female stewardesses left much to be desired; they were both rather arrogant and sluggish. I guess they were employed for their looks, not their personality.
The amazing sunset on the western horizon.
The first signs of Majorca below.
The Tramuntana mountain range covering northern Majorca in the sunset.
AB5228 was approaching the airport from the West to land on one of the 06 runways today. This made for some remarkable views of Palma de Majorca and the surrounding bay. Soon after, the flaps were extended and the landing gear was deployed.
The beautiful Majorcan coast side.
The moon in the clear evening sky.
Flying low over the ocean just before touchdown.
The approach was fast and low over the Mediterranean, with the land only coming into view during the last ten seconds of flight before touchdown. After a very smooth voyage and a flight time of 2 hours and 11 minutes, AB5228 touched down hard on runway 06L. The aircraft had landed 39 minutes after the scheduled time of arrival at the time of 20:44.
AB5228 making landfall over Majorca.
Touchdown on runway 06L at Palma de Mallorca Airport.
PMI is dominated by Air Berlin in all shapes and sizes.
Palma de Majorca Airport was awake with activity in the early evening. Aircraft were landing on runway 06L every two minutes and others were using runway 06R for takeoff at the same time. Air Berlin 737s were everywhere; it was almost like Berlin - Tegel Airport.
Another Air Berlin 737 on the downhill for runway 06L.
An Air Berlin 757-200 at a remote stand at PMI.
The PMI terminal building with the setting sun in the background.
Thankfully, the taxi to the terminal was brisk – the flight was more than half an hour late after all. However, when AB5228 reached the gate, the jetway was not ready for the aircraft yet. I would have thought that 39 minutes would have been more than enough time to prepare for the arrival of our flight?! Another ten minutes passed before the door was finally opened and everyone leaped for the exit. I was in the terminal building at 9pm, almost an hour late.
Some of the many AB aircraft with the mountains in the background.
My fellow passengers waiting patiently for the jetway to dock with the aircraft.
Palma de Mallorca International Airport (PMI) is the largest airport on the Spanish Island of Majorca. It is the third largest airport in Spain, after MAD and BCN, and it serves the city of Palma which is located some 8km away. More than 22 million passengers travel through here every year and in the peak summer holiday season it is one of the busiest airports in Europe. One problem with PMI is that passengers always have to walk huge distances to get where they want to go. There are endless hallways crisscrossing in all directions and none of them seem to be going anywhere.
The airport was very busy when I arrived at 9pm; numerous flights were leaving at the same time, and confused passengers were desperately running around to try to find their gates. In the mean time, I started my thousand mile trek to the baggage claim hall.
The busy concrete corridor outside my gate of arrival.
One of the endless hallways at PMI.
The rather small and confusing signs to the baggage claim hall.
By 9:10pm I was still ravaging through the Terminal and there was no end in sight. My progress was made even harder by the waves of holidaymakers rushing around like chickens trying to find a suitable place to lay their eggs. Finally, 15 minutes after I had stepped off AB5228 I arrived in the arrivals hall.
The central departures hall at PMI.
The baggage claim information board at the entrance of the arrivals hall.
Yet another long, endless corridor leading from the entrance of the arrivals hall to the baggage claim belt.
Even though I had taken ages to reach the arrivals hall, none of the luggage from AB5228 had arrived yet. Slowly but surely, all of the other passengers were arriving at belt 7 after navigating their way through the labyrinth of hallways. Shortly after 21:20, the first pieces of baggage finally made their way to the arrivals hall. Luckily, by suitcase was amongst the first to arrive and I was outside of the terminal building at 21:15.
The baggage belt for AB5228 today: Belt 7.
The vast expanse of the arrivals hall at PMI.
The empty belt with some of the other passengers slowly beginning to arrive.
Flying with Air Berlin was definitely not your average Low Cost Carrier experience. There was none of the usual rush for seats or a complete lack of any free food and drinks. In addition, the seats were reasonably comfortable, and other than the initial payment I made for the ticket, I did not have to pay for anything else. Nevertheless, I think the differences between a full service airline and a so called semi-Low Cost Carrier were clear. Air Berlin was very good at ensuring that all the things they did provide, such as food for example, was the bare minimum they could get away with. The food they offered was nothing to write home about and the crew was probably hired for their looks, not their personality. Boarding was also a disorderly affair and the website only allows seat reservations for a fee. Overall, Air Berlin was better than I had expected, but flying with them was not an amazing experience either. Nevertheless, I would recommend flying with them between Paderborn and Palma de Majorca.
(2.0) Booking & Reservation: 7.5
(1.0) Check-in: 9.0
(1.0) Airline Airport Facilities: N/A
(0.5) Boarding: 6.0
(2.0) Seat: 8.0
(1.0) Entertainment System: 3.0
(2.0) Crew: 6.5
(2.0) Food and Beverages: 6.0
(0.5) Amenity kits and other freebies: N/A
(0.5) Arrival: 7.0
(1.0) On-time performance: 4.0
Overall weighted score: 6.54
Thank you for taking the time to read the second part of this series of trip reports. As always, any comments and opinions are welcome and much appreciated.
Upcoming trip reports will feature a flight with BMI from EDI to MAN as well as flights with SQ in Business Class between MAN and SIN. Then, in Easter, I will attempt one of the craziest trips yet to be featured on Airliners.net: A total of eight long haul and ultra long haul flights, including some on the A380, one after the other. Total distance? 36388 miles. Ever wondered how to add a little adventure to the hop across the Atlantic? Find out in March!
If you liked this report, you may also be interested in my six part trip report from Penang to Muscat.
PEN to MCT via KUL and DXB with EK and MH:
1. Penang - Kuala Lumpur, 2. Kuala Lumpur - Dubai, 3. Dubai - Muscat.
MCT to PEN via DXB, SIN and KUL with EK and MH:
1. Muscat - Dubai, 2. Dubai - Singapore - Kuala Lumpur, 3. Kuala Lumpur - Penang
Additionally, you may also enjoy reading about my journey from Penang to Frankfurt with Singapore Airlines.
PEN to FRA via SIN with SQ:
1. Penang - Singapore, 2. Singapore - Frankfurt.
FRA to PEN via SIN with SQ:
1. Frankfurt - Singapore, 2. Singapore - Penang.
Finally, there is also my trip report with Qatar Airways from Kuala Lumpur to Frankfurt via Doha.
KUL to FRA via DOH with QR:
1. Kuala Lumpur - Doha, 2. Doha - Frankfurt.
As always, safe flying.