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

by on August 21, 2013 · 30 comments

in Air Berlin, Trip Reports

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.

Routes
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 While Tegel (TXL) is relatively close to the city (25 euro/20 minute taxi), the airport is outdated and disjointed.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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  • Wow

    Diva.

  • thepointsguy

    Quite possibly. But seriously, every time I review business/first people always think I’m whining or complaining. The point of the review is to give others a heads up on what to expect since we have so many options when flying. If I was simply “I’m so grateful the the opportunity and it was better than coach” there wouldn’t be much value to the review.. right?

  • Vaselenko

    At 6’4″, I appreciate the heads up. By the way, the entrance photo shows the bed in a lie-flat configuration. Was this how you found the seat when you boarded the aircraft or did you drop the bed just for the photo?

  • Ted

    that’s correct.

  • Eric

    Yesterday I flew DUS-JFK with the old business seat which is angled lay flat. I was quite disappointed I didn’t get to experience the new seats, but it appears I didn’t miss much! Food and service was on par with your experience but my chicken was quite nice.

  • thepointsguy

    That photo was taken during flight. The seats were in their upright positions during boarding- you can see in the video.

  • Tony Mazer

    Ugh. I also have a size 14 shoe. At 13, you can get anything from anyone. At 14…screwed.

  • Andrew

    You do realize Air Berlin started as, and kind of still is an LLC. Their longhaul aircraft were originally operated by LTU (a charter carrier) and used to have much worse seats. In fact they had 29 inch pitch in coach and no entertainment on their old LAX-DUS runs….I know I took one.

  • gps_navigator

    Are these the same seats that Etihad has in their J cabin. I seem to remember they influenced Air Berlin to install these lie flat seats.

  • Marc

    I much appreciate the review as I was contemplating taking Air Berlin from JFK to TXL. Being 6’3″, I love hearing from you first hand how to squeeze a tall body into these often cramped spaces. I recently took Delta from JFK to AMS and AMS to JFK on KLM in business and felt very prepared by your detailed reviews of their products. Keep it coming.

  • Doug Odell

    I recently flew in and out of Tegel on United. I rather like the airport since it is close in and quite compact. I like the horseshoe configuration since all gates are very close to local transport. It seems to be a lot friendlier and simple than Frankfurt for instance. The Lufthansa lounge (United shares this) was central to gates and at least the United gate had it’s own security which was a breeze.
    The business class on the United 757 (old Continental plane) was just fine for me (6’1″)

  • 5’5

    I’m only 5’5 so it would be perfect for me.

  • Resident

    The ground services are probably 100% related to Tegel. While that doesn’t change the in-flight product for you, the experience flying out of DUS will likely be a totally different one!

  • Travelista

    Are you sure there was no priority security? Which terminal did you leave from?

  • Raffles

    Some alternative thoughts. Using Avios for AB is an excellent deal’ since there is effectively zero tax on a one way FROM the US, compared to $500 on BA. Similarly, flying TO Tegel is a dream. immigration is at the gate, so if you are first off there is no queue. When I did this service last month, I got from the plane door to the central downtown rail station in 20 MINUTES ( no hold bags).

    I am 6’2 and, whilst I was a little curled up, it was OK. Note that ALL seats have aisle access so, unlike BA, no-one climbs over you and all seats face forward. It is all a trade off.

  • thepointsguy

    100% agree that AB and Aer Lingus using Avios is a great value- regardless of whether you fit comfortably! I’d definitely still fly it over Club World (which is also really cramped in my opinion unless you have an exit row), especially since the fees are so much lower.

  • thepointsguy

    There is only 1 security lane- it is a mini-terminal right by the check-in with only 1 or 2 gates for US bound flights.

  • thepointsguy

    I’m sure DUS is better.. but still, I gotta call it how I see it!

  • thepointsguy

    For sure- anyone under 5’11″ should be fine

  • thepointsguy

    Yep I included that info in the opening.. people should take that into consideration when booking, especially if they have other Oneworld options that may provide a better all-around experience

  • thepointsguy

    Story of my life!

  • Travelista

    OK, I’ve only done AB intra-Europe and there’s definitely a priority lane in terminal C.

  • NguyenVanFalk

    Fellow size 14 here. I’ve found good sneakers and some decent biz-casual shoes on Oddball. Google them!

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  • NguyenVanFalk

    Just did AB JFK-TXL return in Y. Am also tall (6’3″) and was worried about the comfort level. Outbound had the benefit of an empty seat next to me, so I was able to stretch out and toss and turn while trying to sleep. Inbound flight was full but since it was a day flight, I wasn’t too bothered by the lack of space. Had just enough legroom even with forward pax reclined. AVOD was great but limited TV selection, only a few shows. Food was typical sodium-drenched airline gruel, a bit better when catered on the TXL side, but drinks service was plentiful and staff were friendly.

    I read a lot of negative stuff about AB but on this trip I was made a convert. If you’re under 6 feet, AB is a steal to get to Berlin in better comfort and surroundings than UA Y class. If you’re tall like me and you can deal, also worth it.

    Worst part of the whole journey? The rude AA employee at the JFK T8 AC when I tried to use my Platinum card to gain access and was told that with an AB boarding card I couldn’t enter — luckily he saw I’d purchased the ticket through AA and then relented.

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  • shonuffharlem

    Can anyone comment on their Economy service from US? Especially with the United devaluation of higher classes, need more Economy class reviews!

  • pjo

    I flew AB JFK-DUS return TXL-JFK last August. The trip over in economy wiped me out. I am a 5′ 7″ female, 130 pounds and felt squished like a sardine!! This wasn’t a problem on the return trip because it was daytime and I watched movies nonstop and got up and went to the bathroom three or four times. However going over at night time when you want to sleep and you can’t get comfortable is really difficult. I found the service to be top rate on both trips and the food quite impressive for an airline. I would definitely fly AB economy from Germany to NY again –but on my next trip to Germany I’m going to splurge for business class. If you are flying on miles, do the math –it might be cheaper to fly AB JFK-DUS/TXL economy knowing you are not going to sleep well and then plan on staying an extra day to catch up on sleep when you get there (assumes you have the time to stay an extra day and are getting a hotel for cheap). I used BA Avios and paid next to nothing for this trip. Cant beat that!

  • shonuffharlem

    Good info thanks!

  • Gautam Sundararajan

    did you have to pay the crazy fuel surcharge for using avious?

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