As part of my trip to Africa I had booked Air Berlin to get me over the Atlantic portion. I also wanted to be in Berlin for a personal visit. American Airlines is a bit tricky to route with Air Berlin over the Atlantic and onward to Africa via Doha. However, since AAdvantage messed up my original booking, I had a bit of leeway and to my surprise they approved my request right away over the phone.
Air Berlin has a bit of a shadowy existence at LAX; it’s a major oneworld hub that’s dominated by Qantas and Cathay Pacific. At the LAX oneworld lounge, the flight would only show as an estimated time. After a few hours of work there (I had connected from Los Angeles) no boarding announcement was made at the scheduled boarding time of 2.40PM. All other boarding announcements were done in typical fashion (which is way too loud for the otherwise tranquil lounge). I packed up my belongings at 3PM and walked leisurely to the gate and when I arrived the last economy boarding groups were just boarding.
My boarding pass would not scan but was quickly exchanged with one used by the airline. I was one of the last people on board; I pointed out that it would have been helpful if the lounge had announced the impending departure and not show just the departure time as ‘estimated’. Oh well.
The cabin crew were very friendly and helped me get settled quickly after I took some pictures. I felt that the seat layout was very cramped in the nose of this A330. Four seats across in a 1-2-1 config does not sound as such, but the cabin is small with just 4 rows.
There are only two window seats on each side – the other two seats are moved back. I had a middle aisle seat which wasn’t terrible but it felt cramped. The seat configuration will remind you very much of Etihad’s A330; it looks almost identical.
Once seated, hot towels and pre-boarding refreshments were served (though I did not have much time to enjoy them since we actually departed with just a 10-minute delay).
The takeoff roll was slow (considering all the fuel we had on board) but we quickly rolled left after take-off for a 270 degree positioning for our flight north-east.
The IFE on this aircraft is likely one of the best systems I have ever seen and had plenty of relatively recent movies and TV shows to watch. It is not a touch screen but is controlled via a small remote. The remote is very easy and intuitive to use and I really liked the simple yet powerful menu, but the screen was a little too small (and far away).
After a few minutes, I felt the springs in the seat and thought that would not be a good omen. The seat wasn’t old – it was just the way it was set up.
It took a while for dinner service to start, but my first appetizer came out about 90 minutes after take-off. It wasn’t great – just a bunch of super-salty pieces of salmon and some potato salad. The main course was fresh and looked great, but barely had any taste – maybe it was the altitude, but I could not find much taste there.
Air Berlin has no WiFi installed – likely because the airline has been in financial trouble for some time and never had time to properly install it. There are charging outlets if you bring your own entertainment, though.
The double seat in front of me had a VERY active child (very similar to my flight to San Francisco in August). Once I dozed off after 5 hours of flying the little toddler had enough of quiet time and gave the cabin some good shrieks. As you may know, I have twins myself and have taken them on many flights – I might have forgotten but I cannot recall my children being this loud when they were toddlers (though they were active).
Since the cabin is so small we all suffered through the next 6 hours of on and off sleep depending on the little guy. I did not get the impression that the parents helped the situation much either.
Although I had feared the worst, the seat was actually really comfortable for sleeping. I found a number of positions to sleep in; it really does not look that way but it was very comfortable and almost as good as Cathay Pacific).
I almost missed breakfast as I woke only 25 minutes before landing but the flight attendants served it to me anyways.
While many flight attendants had trouble with their spoken English, they convinced me with their sincere, friendly and honest service. They seemed much more honest than their Lufthansa co-workers. There were lots of little details and service mishaps, but again it was all done with a warm heart.
So what to make of this flight? I found the cabin too cramped, the food just OK and I missed a fast WiFi. However, it was a new experience, the staff were super-friendly and attentive and the seat was much better for sleeping than I thought it would be. I wouldn’t put Air Berlin high up on my list, but I’d fly them again if I had to.