As Air Berlin is about to close down for good, figured I would add this post on my one and only flight on this troubled airline on a route that operated its final flight a week ago and has since been axed, as lessors are taking back the airline's 17 A330-200s.
Last month, I took a two week trip to Scandinavia and made my first stop, Berlin. I chose Berlin because of the ability to use Avios points to book a flight, which I did 9 months before the departure date and the requirements were fairly low. At the time of booking, Air Berlin had scheduled a late evening departure from JFK to Berlin (TXL) at 11:45PM. Very late, but quite convenient, particularly as I was leaving on a Friday. In any case, I had wanted to go back to Berlin after not having been there since 2008.
Three months before scheduled departure date, Air Berlin contacted me and informed us that our flight was changed to the 5:35PM departure, AB 7249 and that there would be no 11:45PM flight added for the summer. After weeks of back and forth with British Airways, who issued the ticket, and me protesting the 6 hour time change in departure, I got BA to offer us 2 complimentary upgrades to an XL seat on the Airbus A330-200. It was well worth the hassle.
Air Berlin AB 7249
Scheduled Departure: 5:35PM
Terminal 8 (American Airlines Terminal) JFK - Gate 5
Actual Departure: 5:17PM
Scheduled Arrival: 7:10AM
Actual Arrival: 6:50AM
Aircraft: Airbus A330-200 D-ABYC - Built in 2005
Checked in on line without issue, and proceeded to the gate with about an hour or so to spare before departure. Air Berlin uses the American Airlines Terminal at JFK which in my opinion is the best at JFK when it comes to space, customs and immigration formalities, and general atmosphere, but it lacks decent dining options of the kind you will find in T4.
Boarding was strictly enforced by zone and today's flight was about 95% full. Whoever does the Air Berlin ground handling at JFK is a good group. Their gate staff were pleasant and efficient. The aircraft was spotless clean. Cabin crew greeted us at the door with a smile. The XL cabin occupies the first few rows of Economy Class and has no divider, but the seats feature 36 inches of legroom and that was really nice to have as the main cabin seats are really tight. Small amenity kits were distributed featuring a foil wrap with a nice stenciled drawing of Berlin landmarks. In it were socks, eye shades, ear plugs, and a one time use toothbrush and paste.
Push back was a bit early and we taxied out to the runway with no holding, no wait, and took off right behind a Jet Blue A321 Mint aircraft. I'd say we were airborne about 20-25 minutes from push back. It was a clear, sunny afternoon, and around 80F so perfect flying conditions. I was seated right by the PW engine, and the sound was loud and powerful on takeoff and changed to a whine by the second phase of climb out.
Dinner was served fairly soon after take off, after the beverage service, which did not feature a snack. Food was basic and nothing more, and served on small trays, but I don't fly for the food and had eaten in the terminal prior to boarding so didn't care. The AVOD screens were crisp and clear, and quite large. Movie choices and programming fairly limited but enough to keep me entertained for a 7 hour TATL crossing. Thoroughly got into watching Star Wars The Force Awakens (I had seen it previously) and didn't notice that by the time it was over, so was half the flight. I had no one next to me so had extra space to catch about 90 minutes of sleep. Flight was very smooth. Absolutely no turbulence. Cabin crew made a few passes through the cabin with water.
Breakfast was served about 75 minutes or so before final approach and consisted of a strange mozzarella and tomato with basil sandwich, wrapped loosely in plastic wrap. It almost looked and felt like someone had made it at home. No branding or any other sign that this was Air Berlin product. Everything was cleared quickly. The crew don't use a cart to clean up the small items. They come through with large plastic baskets lined with blue trash bags.
Approach into a sunny, beautiful and warm morning was from the North with a few turns and eventually, we flew right past Alexander Platz and lined up for TXL. Landing was smooth and brakes applied fairly quickly. Taxied past 2 parked company A330's, a few other parked 737-700/800 jets in AB livery, and then a long row of AB A320 family jets, before we went past the main terminal and over to the far left end of the airport, and parked along a fence right by the roadway leading to the airport. Deplaned by stairs and into a bus. Customs was slow and there was a significant line of people in what appears to be a temporary structure. It took about one hour to clear it and it was fine, except for a little girl that vomited on the floor right behind the entrance from the tarmac. After passport control, it was onto a bus and off to our hotel on the Kurfurstendamm for the first part of our trip.
Overall, despite all the negative press and continued operational issues at Air Berlin this past year, this was a great flight. Smooth, on time, pleasant crew, clean plane, and on time arrival. The chaotic connection process at TXL was clearly on display to see and demonstrated part of why this airline, now almost shut down, has struggled to operate reliably. Glad I flew them and sorry to see them go. The flight was a nice start to a great holiday.
Photos to be uploaded shortly from this flight. Trying to figure out how to do it.