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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Review: Air Berlin

This year was the first time we flew Air Berlin. If you're a cyclist, there are only three viable airlines to Europe if you wish to bring your bike. Air Berlin, Air Canada, and British Airways. On British Airways, bikes fly free, but you have to fly through London Heathrow Airport, which many people hate (I've never had an issue with London Heathrow, but nightmare stories abound). On Air Canada, there's a $50 each way, which is reasonable, but they're not always the lowest cost carrier.

Air Berlin is almost always the lowest cost carrier, and they have a bike policy that's extremely friendly to cyclists: sign up for the topbonus Service Card, and you can carry your bike (at up to 32kg!) on any number of flights you take with them. The annual fee is 79 EUR, but in addition to unlimited bike carriage, you also get free early checkin for flights the night before, and an increased baggage allowance. You also get to make seat reservations (which is apparently a paid sevice). That makes it a good deal.

Good deals are useless if the airline loses your bike the way US Airways does. I'm happy to report that Air Berlin has excellent customer service. The staff is always courteous, and usually goes beyond the call of duty to get things done for you. Air Berlin schedules flights the way Germans schedule trains. That means connections are very closed together and you will find yourself in customs wondering "How the heck am I going to clear customs and make my next flight within 50 minutes?" Wonder of wonders, the German customs at Dusseldorf (Air Berlin's hub) are incredibly efficient and provided you don't dilly dally you will make your flight. We lost no baggage, and things were mostly on time. I can therefore recommend Air Berlin to cyclists wishing to bring their bikes to Europe and back.

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