Airberlin Introducing Business Class On Flights Within Europe

Airberlin has long been in a financial mess, which is probably largely due to the identity crisis they’ve been having. They can’t seem to decide whether they’re a full service airline or a low cost carrier, and their investment from Etihad doesn’t seem to help with that, given that Etihad is generally pretty full service.

For years airberlin has operated a business class cabin on their longhaul flights, but then operates economy only cabins on their flights within Europe.

airberlin-business-class-1
Longhaul business class cabin on airberlin A330

One issue with offering business class on longhaul flights and not on shorthaul flights is that it makes it rather unpleasant for connecting longhaul business class passengers. If you’re on a business class ticket and need to connect, why would you choose airberlin when your connecting flight will be in economy, all else being equal?

airberlin-lounge-berlin-airport - 23
airberlin 737-800

With that in mind, airberlin will finally be introducing business class on shorthaul flights… sort of. Per airberlin’s press release, here’s the logic for introducing a business class cabin:

Starting this year as part of its strategic realignment, airberlin is introducing Business Class to German and European flights and will therefore offer a consistent product experience on short, medium and long-haul flights for the first time.

Stefan Pichler, Chief Executive Officer of airberlin, says: “We find ourselves at the beginning of a far-reaching transformation from which a new, stronger airberlin will emerge. By introducing a Business Class on short and medium-haul flights, we are making key strategic decisions that will pave the way to a sustainable future for the company and that will clearly position airberlin in the premium sector of European airlines. The new premium product will make us more attractive, particularly for business travellers and frequent flyers, and we now offer a seamless Business Class experience on the global route network by airberlin and our partner airlines.”

Here’s how airberlin’s shorthaul business class will work in practice:

The first row in the cabin is reserved for Business Class passengers. In addition to exclusive service, passengers will then enjoy particularly generous legroom, which at 32 inches (81 cm) exceeds the European Business Class standard. A further key feature of the new Business Class is the guaranteed empty middle seat, which provides a particular amount of exclusivity and personal space, even high above the clouds.

The premium service for Business Class passengers already begins on the ground: the benefits include, for example, a priority check-in desk, a security fast lane, access to lounges and exclusive waiting areas in the airberlin route network, as well as priority boarding.

On board, the crew will give Business Class passengers a personal welcome and will serve a complementary drink. Passengers can then choose food and beverages ‘à la carte’ from the extensive on-board menu. 

Each passenger is provided with a pillow for additional comfort. Two pieces of baggage weighing up to 32 kg as well as two pieces of hand baggage weighing up to 8 kg are included in the price of a Business Class ticket. The completely flexible Business Class tickets can be rebooked or refunded at no additional cost, and seat reservations are also free in Business Class. 

Members of airberlin’s frequent flyer programme topbonus collect double miles for each Business Class flight, and can therefore reach a higher status more quickly, or keep their current status. 

In other words:

  • There will be a total of four business class seats, since business class will be one row with the two center seats blocked
  • Business class comes with all the usual perks, like premium check-in, lounge access, priority boarding etc.
  • Business class passengers can assign seats for free, and get additional baggage allowance
  • Business class passengers can select free food and drinks from airberlin’s onboard economy menu

In general, intra-Europe business class is probably my least favorite business class available anywhere in the world, given that it’s just economy with a blocked middle seat and better service. I’d much rather have more space with no service than better service with no extra space, personally.

British-Airways-Club-Europe
Intra-Europe business class on British Airways

In the case of airberlin, it’s not even quite that, since you’re basically just getting a blocked middle seat and the same food & drinks as in economy, except they’re free. There’s not even any better food for business class passengers.

Austrian-Business-Class-A320 - 10
Austrian has excellent catering in intra-Europe business class

I also find it interesting that they’ll only offer business class in the first row of the plane, meaning that there will be at most four seats. One of the advantages of intra-Europe business class is usually that the cabin is flexible, because from flight-to-flight the airline can adjust the size of the cabin to meet demand.

Presumably in some markets the demand for business class is much higher, like a Monday morning flight from Berlin to Frankfurt, for example. If this is something that’s going to sell out way in advance, there won’t be much value to last minute business travelers who are potentially paying the highest fares.

Bottom line

Airberlin is just a lost puppy. They don’t know whether they want to be a low cost or full service airline, and haven’t been able to fully capture either market. Now there are rumors that Lufthansa is considering buying parts of airberlin, as Etihad is looking to sell parts of their stake.

In theory I see the logic of airberlin introducing business class on intra-Europe flights, though their execution is especially strange. They’re limiting it to four seats, and aren’t actually introducing distinguished service in business class, but rather are just giving those passengers free economy food.

What do you make of airberlin introducing business class within Europe?

Comments

  1. – There will be a total of four business class seats

    – Business class passengers can assign seats for free.

    Wow. What a benefit!

  2. It is likely the food will be different from the food for Economy

    Since Airberlin recently took the free ‘a la carte’ food away from platinum members (and this was very different from what economy got) I am guessing they are now introducing it back to ‘Business class’. In which case it can compete with what Austrian serves on short haul flights in Business class

  3. This is pretty consistent with European carriers. Sounds like they’re basically matching their peers here. When I fly longhaul to FRA on LH, I don’t look forward to the connecting leg, even if LH has “business class”.

  4. I don’t know who would fly business class within Europe: maybe those working for the great bloated bureaucracy in Brussels. It makes very little sense: none of the flights is longer than a couple of hours and yet the ticket price demanded is astronomical ( and with more than a hint of a price-fixing cartel in operation, reflected in the fact that there isn every any difference between the airlines, ie no competition…not a genuine market).
    I got an upgrade on a sector a few weeks ago, presumably on the basis of being Star Gold on a full flight. Nice to get but for an ‘up-and-down’ there is no way I would pay for it or use points.

  5. I think there is an important point you should note: to date, when traveling with an airberlin connection flight, let’s say MUC/TXL/JFK issued on a mile upgrade from a paid economy ticket, you only had to use the miles needed for the TXL/JFK leg and they would throw in the connection flight for free since they don’t offer short haul business class (although you still would get the same baggage allowance for the short haul flight).
    So that’s probably just another way to make people redeem more miles (which is also the norm on other carriers)…

  6. It’s an acknowledgement that they largely fly on routes with VERY little paid business demand in general. Berlin is a poor city that, while popular and can certainly fill a plane, has a very different demographic than Munich or Frankfurt. Munich and Frankfurt drive lots of premium demand to those cities for their industries (finance, tech, banking, manufacturing), while Berlin, and to a lesser extent Dusseldorf, are largely tourist driven, less premium types of revenue cities. They’re volume destinations. leisure travelers on Berlin, business passengers on Munich and Frankfurt with a higher willingnesss to pay for J travel. That’s why there are only 4 seats – Air Berlin is still is largely a volume player that needs to squeeze as many seats as possilbe into their planes in order to try to make a profit. The markets they serve simply dont have the premium demand that MUC/FRA do, and this is reflected in the size of the cabin as well as the service offered. A very fancy service is not going to coax people to pay more in this space, pure and simple. They’re simply yielding to a marketing-led demand to have SOMETHING to offer connecting J class (and it’s budget J) travelers. So I think it’s appropriate given where airberlin is in the German/ European market.

  7. Same reason I find Aer Lingus trans-atlantic business class pointless, especially given Dublin’s location relative to lesser-known (to many Americans) and more exciting places in Europe.

  8. “Airberlin is just a lost puppy. ” Amen to that! Working as a travel agent I can definitely agree to that. New fare structure every few months. First no baggage-fares, than back to baggage-only, then no-baggage. No intra-europe meals. Constantly adding routes for trial runs. I’m so so tired. And don’t let me start on their service hotlines.
    It feels like they are trying out everything, but don’t give it time to show some result PLUS they’re forgetting about the basics like good service and punctuality.
    I wanna root for them cause I don’t want Lufthansa to have a monopoly, but they are making it sooo hard.

  9. Can one really justify calling these seats “Business Class?” They are basically economy seats with an empty middle seat. They are barely MCE.

  10. I was about to fly AB, then I found out they charge oneworld emeralds for seat selection on award tickets. Total LCC

  11. I bet they’re trying to encourage more paying, non-airberlin elite business class travelers who might balk about being stuck in economy on the european leg of the flight and thus not paying for the transatlantic business product (which I think is actually quite decent) and going somewhere else like to LH.

    Airberlin elites, at least gold and higher, already have the first 6 rows reserved (I guess now excluding row 1), with the middle seat blocked until day of departure, and it’s only released if they need it. The reality of that was I was often 75%+ chance of having my middle seat free anyway – and more like 99% on any day but Monday or Friday. And platinums already get free food. So being stuck in eco on the very short european leg never bothered me, or most AB elites I’d guess.

  12. I love to fly with AB friendly staff and good EU destinations, and my children loves chocolate hearts. I understand why only 2 rows is to be “business class”, every time i have flowen with them cabin only 2/3 full and no one in 2 front row.
    On a flight from VIE to BER we where packed but on the connecting to CPH 1/5 full.
    I use them a lot as to my Executive Club and there routing from CPH is great, 1 hr you are in BER and the trans from BER is great 20 min you are at the ZOO or connect and be in Venice in 2,5 or lovely Vienna in less time – my girls love them German lions and girafs there accent is different from the one in CPH ZOO :), the BA lounge in BER is good and cozy.
    But as Jason writes AB is good for tourist, i would newer fly to US with them on the job as they dont offer first class and there business class is same price as BA and AA.
    But if they would leave oneworld i would leave them too even though they have great service, the routes in EU is short so i could go as a live stock on Norwegian or the devils with wings – Ryan Air.

  13. Finally! I’ve been avoiding them because I buy business class and not having seat assignment or food on the 1 hour intra-european connection made it intolerable vs. LH, AF and BA. None are great (albeit all beat the all-economy class U.S. domestic RJs which are the norm in many cities) but now AB is an option!

    Anyone knows how are their long-haul business class service and amenities? I can’t find a recent review by Lucky 🙁

  14. Their A332s only have 19 J seats. We aren’t talking about a ton of in-transit J pax to begin with, doubly so when you look at their network (RSW, CUN, PUJ aren’t yielding bankers and consultants, and they hardly fly anywhere daily). For the few pax in transit, it’s nice to get an enhancement for a change

  15. @Ted from oneworld sapphire you get front row seat (ruby some seats), but in the booking process you cant choose it, i have written to the servicedesk everytime but they take time to answer so I include preferred seat in the first mail, the extra baggage allowance you cant see either but you have it – even flying with kids under 12 gives you front row so vacation times you have does ugly things sitting in front making noise 🙂 .

    Last time i did CPH – TXL same issue on not able to reserver seat, but at check in they fixed it.
    And compared to BA “business” in EU its almost the same, as you normally have the front row for your self, but OK no champagne but BYOD if you have the champagne shivers.

    Some years ago when they did offer Business class it was the same product as BA on EU flights bad “investment” if you have Topbbonus or oneworld membership.

    But as with seat reservation its a puzzle how many tier points you earn, last time i did CPH TXL i got 2 * 10 tier points, but before that i got 4 * 20 for CPH TXL VIE – as Marina writes they change really often.

    But in the air they offer great service compared to other airlines on the EU flights, and the BA lounge in TXL is nice.

  16. it’s joke! business class with LCC taste, 32 inch leg room? it’s just like seat pitch on AirAsia!

  17. At Air Berlin is just not worth bothering their dilapidated ways. The boss, Pichler, might be a rain-maker, but his wings are clipped by a genuinely incompetent organisational structure. The de-motivation of all service staff , and the temp-staffers, is evident. Nobody wants to be in the service business at AB. The stock is €6 something, probably overvalued, and August 11, will bring new massaged numbers. It will be a disaster, I predict without shame. Overbooking helps even less, despite the greed to SELL every seat and more than are available, the staff labels these (-) minus flights. It just ruins what’s left of their reputation. The “new” business class is a joke, Vueling has tried it for years to no success. Its basically down to first row staff-seats, dead-heading somewhere for free. PanAm had jump seats for that. Because PanAm was a real airliner.

  18. Have flown a 6 times the last 2 weeks with AirBerlin/Niki and observed the European Business class from row 2. It is unimpressive and a waste of money to be honest, especially if you have OneWorld Status. It is the same cabin as economy, sharing the same toilet and the meal looked not impressive. As an AirBerlin platinum member it is better value to buy the cheapest economy seat and order a gourmet meal. 100 EUR compared to 300-400 EUR.

    On a flight last week Vienna to Paris I had the gourmet breakfast which was bigger and was nicer than what the one person in business class got. They did however get a pillow!

    The full flight Paris to Vienna saw the first Business Class row empty….and no room for luggage.

    I do not see this product lasting long…but if targeted towards the travelers not familiar with the product who want business class all the way then maybe.

    With regards to upgrades I have been able to upgrade a few flights next year just for the long-haul segments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *