Air Berlin like many of the world’s airlines has an interesting history and perhaps a complicated future.
When life started in 1978 it was originally an American registered company taking advantage of Post World War II restrictions that limited West Berlin flights to airlines registered in the United Kingdom, France or the U.S. Its routes were mainly from the divided city to vacation destinations, and when Germany was reunited, it still only operated a handful of hand me down 737s with under 100 employees.
Acquisitions, mergers and periods of organic growth meant as of last year Air Berlin carried 31.5 million passengers, and in fact gained a strategic shareholder in Abu Dhabi based Etihad Airlines. While the German carrier (second in size behind Lufthansa in its home country, seventh in Europe) may not be as flashy as its Gulf cousin, which recently introduced a private apartment with shower and has onboard chefs, Communications Manager Madeleine Vogelsang says the airline is in fact worthy of consideration by elite travelers.
It now has reclining seats that turn into full flat and horizontal beds across its current fleet of 11 state-of-the-art Airbus A330-200s marketed as Business Class. Vogelsang notes with only 19 seats – all with direct aisle access, Air Berlin’s cabin size is actually closer to the size of other airline’s first class cabins than their business sections which can range to 80 seats.
The airline has also stepped away from its leisure profile by elevating its meal service, and as importantly, increasing its business destinations and frequency. As an example there are now 10 weekly flights New York JFK-Berlin Tegal and 10 more JFK-Dusseldorf. Miami has 12 weekly flights, daily to Dusseldorf and five to Berlin, while Chicago has daily flights to Berlin, Ft. Meyers has five flights a week to Dusseldorf and Los Angeles-Dusseldorf is served four times weekly.
While Vogelsang notes the in-flight experience is state-of-the-art and comparable to the premium airlines elite travelers fly, she says that by joining the Oneworld alliance Air Berlin passengers now have mileage earning and spending opportunities and lounge access on carriers such as Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Qantas, LAN TAM and American Airlines/US Airways.
With its new business product and alliance membership Vogelsang says Air Berlin has stepped up its pitch to corporate accounts and now counts the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Siemens and Bayer as clients. The airlines serves 147 destinations, including many from its vacation oriented roots.
The much delayed Berlin Brandenburg Airport should enhance Air Berlin’s appeal to business travelers while at the same time its equity investor Etihad is not part of Oneworld and in fact is more closely tied to Skyteam airlines Air France, KLM and Alitalia. Vogelsang said it’s impossible to predict how things will shake out in the future although presently her company is working with airlines both in and outside its alliance. She adds Air Berlin despite its limited inventory offers aggressive pricing for its business class for those rich folks who like to make money by saving it.