Air Berlin – Farewell

Owing to a keen and unfortunate ability of mine, known as bad luck, I purchased a flight from Budapest to San Francisco on Air Berlin days before they declared bankruptcy.  Unable to change or refund my flight I settled in for what might turn out to be an unfortunate trip, though assurances from the German government and Lufthansa that operations would continue lifted my hopes.

The day of my flights arrived and all looked well.  Both flights were listed as on-time.  Check-in in Budapest was uneventful and my flight left on time.  The only issue was a girl that must have partied too hard or been drugged passing out shortly after take off.  Sad for her but did not have an effect on the flight.

Tegal airport was a different story.  This terrible airport is an awful place on the best of days, but this day it exceeded itself.  The terminal was a mess of stranded travelers.  Feeling sorry for these poor souls I saw my flight to San Francisco was good I got a pretzel and beer and waited to escape Tegal.  Come boarding time we were informed that our flight was delayed twenty minutes without a reason given.  No need to worry.  Delays are understandable given the circumstances the airline is under.  Twenty minutes later we are told the flight is canceled and to get on a bus to take us to baggage claim.  Again no reason or apology is forthcoming.  Rumor on the bus was that crews were taking sick days so the airline could not fly the planes.  Understanable reaction by people about to lose their jobs but quite annoying to people trying to get home or go on vacation.

Figuring that I would be transfered to a Lufthansa flight quickly I was not worried too much, but oh how I should have worried.  Being one of the last to get my luggage I was greeted by all 300 passengers in the rebooking queue in front of me.  I would stand here, with many bathroom breaks, for six hours.  Air Berlin dumped all of us on three airport staff to rebook over 300 people.   Happy and positive when it came my turn I rebooked on Lufthansa through Frankfurt the next day.  When I asked for a hotel she almost laughed at me and said Air Berlin will not pay for anything but I could write to them complaining.  I thought this was against international law as this cancellation was not an “act of god” but was the airlines fault.  I guess they didn’t care since they didn’t really exist anymore.  So I paid out of pocket for hotel and food and went to sleep.  The next day I flew on beautiful Lufthansa without a hitch, recognizing many people from the day before.

I wrote to Air Berlin asking them to pay for my hotel and food and also to change my return flight to Lufthansa since they were unreliable.  Two months later and I have yet to hear a peep from them.  Though I was nervous waiting at the gate for my return flights both went off without so much as a delay.  I guess some of the crews still enjoyed flying.

I will miss Air Berlin a little.  I had enjoyed their planes and crews up until they declared bankrupcy.  They had severe headwinds in the forms of a terrible airport hub and Lufthansa as competition, but they did well.  Now that they are gone I hope Berlin will tear Tegal down and replace it.  Then perhaps Air Berlin can rise from the grave and try again.

Farewell Air Berlin.  You join Malev in airlines that I have liked and lost during my time.




Lufthansa – Premium Economy

Just finished my first Premium Economy experience with Lufthansa and I am very impressed.  It surely was not only two extra inches of legroom like I was expecting.

Boarding my A330 was normal.  No special treatment for Premium Economy, which is fine by me as we all get there the same time, no matter how early you board(Amazing how many people do not seem to understand this).  On board all was excellent as is normal with Lufthansa.  Spotlessly clean and everything in good nick.  Passing two rows of business class seats and the bulkhead row of Premium Economy I arrived at my aisle seat.

The overhead bin swallowed my two carry-ons and coat with ease.  Moving my blanket, pillow, and amenities case(toothbrush, blindfold, ear plugs, socks, headphones), I sat down.  What a difference from Economy.  The seat felt much more comfortable and wider.  Legroom was outstanding, but the star of the moment was the recline angle.  As I leaned back I assumed my seat was broken as it just kept going and going and going.  It was beautiful.  No complaints were heard from the seat behind me, unlike in Economy where anyone over six feet tall hits their knees if you lean back.  Beyond this the video screen is huge and beautiful.

As I got comfortable the flight attendant offered me a refreshing towel and then an orange juice while still at the gate.  This equated to business class on domestic flights.  I was very satisfied as I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and napped.  Before landing breakfast came around and put a cherry on the whole experience.  Usually I am displeased with Lufthansa food but my omelete plate was outstanding.  Now perhaps it is the same food Economy had and I fooled myself into thinking it was better than it really was but I don’t think so.

I can highly recommend Premium Economy on Lufthansa.  It is a much nicer experience than Economy and not too much more expensive.  It is especially worth it if you need two checked bags, as two are included in the price but in Economy you only get one.  Give it a shot, you can thank me later.


No….and no.  It is just that simple.  You get what you pay for has no truer example than RyanAir.  Do the right thing and fly EasyJet or WizzAir, or gasp, a national carrier.  Everything from top to bottom about this airline is rotten.  From the creepy CEO to the poor flight attendants selling scratchcards on board.  It is a quagmire how such a beautiful nation(Ireland for those that don’t know where this airline is based) can cause so much harm to the world.  This airline, the financial crisis, the IRA.  It is incredible.

Don’t do it unless you really enjoy being treated as a piece of meat and really need to save every copper.


The national carrier of Germany has joined all other major carriers in a race for the bottom.  Once my favorite airline it has become yet another average experience in a world taken over by low cost carriers.

German airports are usually clean and efficient, especially Munich and Frankfurt considering how much foot traffic passes through.  Berlin Tegel, on the other hand, is a mess.  I believe it was built in Roman times and has never been updated, though it is due for closure sometime between five years ago and fifty years from now.

Check-in is efficient and easy as is standard in Germany.  Ticket agents have always been helpful and quite good(though in Chicago my ticket agent was quite incompetent, though that may have been do to never seeing a Saudi visa before).  Waiting areas are fantastic.  Excellent restaurants with superb beer, pay showers, and sleeping pods welcome you while waiting for your flight.  Boarding is actually a pleasure.  One domestic German flight I was on everyone actually waited until their section was called and didn’t crowd the gate.  It was a miracle.  But that was only once.  Normally the foreigner’s or bad Germans mess the system up like everywhere else in the world.  Me first, me first.

On the plane the perfect maintenance and cleanliness continues.  Lufthansa’s planes are consistently the nicest I fly on.  Seats are comfortable and there is an in-flight entertainment system.  The screens are beautiful though the library of films is not as extensive as some other airlines.  Cabin crews are good but not as good as ten years ago.  WizzAir and Turkish have better cabin crews.  The pilots have always been the best.  Smooth flights and landings with never so much as a hint of an issue.  But here we come to my biggest complaint.  Lufthansa has joined America in being way too safety first.  On my recent flight from Germany to Miami we had mild turbulence from take off to landing.  Most of the flight the cabin crew were asked to suspend meal and drink service.  So we never received a meal and only half the passengers received a drink.  This is terrible.  Cabin crews should work in mild and moderate turbulence.  A risk of injury comes with the job, just like firefighters risk dying and doctors risk getting ill.  You accept the risk when you take the job.  Also the passengers must accept their decisions.  If you order a hot coffee in turbulence and it gets spilled in your lap it is your fault, not the flight attendant who was trying to serve you.  Lufthansa, please tell your cabin and cockpit crews to take care of your customers.  Perhaps Lufthansa has gotten as bad as the USA with lawsuits and no personal responsibility.  If that is the case I shed a tear as I thought the USA was the only place where personal responsibility no longer existed.

Overall Lufthansa is still one of the best major carriers in the world but they are fading fast.  Only one free checked bag on international flights, charging for a seat reservation, and some of the worst airline food ever in economy.  I wasn’t actually too upset not getting a meal on the flight to Miami as the meals I have had with them the past few years are disgusting.  I’d prefer pretzels or a sandwich over the hot plate they claim to be food.  Bring on some Bavarian pretzels and sausage and not the gruel you have now.


Turkish Airlines(and Ataturk Airport)

The national carrier of Turkey is my favorite major carrier.  They knock Lufthansa out of my top spot this year.  Entschuldigung Lufthansa, but your cost cutting and competing with the low cost carriers has hurt, not improved, your business.

Turkish has a large route network, all focused through Istanbul.  Be sure to check where you are flying to as Istanbul has two airports.  Ataturk(IST) is the hub.  It is large and a bit dated.  Sabiha Gokcen(SAW) is the smaller low cost carrier airport though some low cost flights go through IST and some Turkish flights go through SAW.  I would recommend not booking flights through separate airports as they on opposite sides of this massive city and could take you over three hours to get between them.  Pay the extra money to fly through one or the other, or better yet switch airports but spend a few amazing days making your way slowly across the impressiveness that is Istanbul.

The duty free area in Ataturk is as crowded as a Manhatten sidewalk and the queues for everything are ridiculous.  But it is still leagues better than an American airport and the benefits outweigh these little gripes. There are pubs with Efes, one of the best beers ever made.  It is a Turkish beer so enjoy yourself everywhere you go in the country.  It is also possible to easily get to the tourist areas during a long layover.  Take a taxi or a metro-tram combo to Sultanahmet.  It will take you thirty minutes to an hour.  Do know that you have to pay a visa fee to leave the airport.  Be sure to go to the visa desk before getting in the immigration queue.  The city is one of the most amazing in the world.  If you don’t want to go far the aquarium is just behind the airport, so a short taxi ride and you have hours to spend at a fantastic and modern aquarium.  It backs to a promenade on the sea with many restaurants and a great view of the flights landing overhead.

Turkish short haul flights are nothing special(the same as any short haul flight around the world).  Normal legroom, seat space, et cetera, et cetera.  The food and service is better than average and you get Turkish Delight(A gelatin fruit candy).

Long haul flights are outstanding.  Service is wonderful, food is delicious, cockpit and cabin crew fantastic.  The planes are clean and modern.  In-flight entertainment is varied and comprehensive.  I have always been on-time and never lost any luggage(unlike Etihad which lost both my checked bags for a week BOTH ways).

There is a reason Turkish Airlines keeps winning Airline of the Year.  They deserve it.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is probably the best carrier in the USA, full stop.  I have heard good things about JetBlue but have never flown on them.  Though it is considered a low-cost carrier it beats the pants off of the major American airlines.  It is incredible how bad the major American airlines are.  It is difficult for me to say that as my father retired as a pilot from United Airlines.

Let us begin with Southwest’s best perk, two free checked bags.  All airlines now charge for checked bags on domestic flights, except for Southwest.  Not just one checked bag, but two heavy checked bags.  It is incredible.  Fares are reasonable and they have sales often.  Then there is their route network.  It covers the country quite well and as long as you are just flying domestic there is no reason to fly any other airline.  The employees are usually quite friendly and fun(especially in comparison to the ancient and bitter national carriers cabin crews).  The seats are comfortable enough except when you have two whales sandwiching you in, as happened on my last flight, and actually happens quite often in the USA.

The only disagreeable thing I have found is the boarding process.  It is a bit of a mess.  But then again since people on all flights always crowd the jetway and ignore their boarding zone there really isn’t much of a difference.  Their fleet is all Boeing 737’s which is a very old plane, but they take good care of them and are updating with the newer versions.  It is true their pilots are young and aggressive but I have never had an uncomfortable or scary ride.  Just fast taxiing and landings.  So I truly have nothing bad to say about flying on Southwest.

My father hated them when he was flying but that was back in the golden age when there was a difference between major carriers and low-cost carriers.  Now that they are on the same level of service I have no qualms about being a fan of this airline.


Saudia Airlines

Saudia most likely will not be on your radar of flight options if you are not a Muslim.  This is simply because Saudi Arabia is not a big tourist destination for non-Muslims and there are much better and more convenient connecting flights through Istanbul, Dubai,  and other Middle East gateways. But if you are a Muslim or contract worker there is a good chance you will fly on Saudia.

Their fleet consists of small Airbuses for domestic routes and Boeing 747s and Airbus A330s for long haul.  They have also received new 787 Dreamliners.  Domestic flights are quite disgusting.  The planes are beat up with broken arm rests and tray tables,  disgusting carpet, filth everywhere, and no entertainment system. The cabin crews are excellent foreign workers but appear burned out as most of the customers do not listen to them.  So on some flights they just hang out in the galley chatting with each other.  I don’t blame them.

Food is good but only if you like rice and chicken.  I believe I have gotten the same chicken and rice every single time.  Orange drink is in unlimited supplies and is what most people have.  Not orange juice mind you, orange drink. Juices are also available.

I detest mobile phones for many reasons but in public spaces and especially the confined space of an airplane cabin I hate how people share everything they do.  Headphones are a rarity on these flights and phones only have one volume, maximum.  So you will have to listen to everybody’s conversations, Youtube videos, and children playing games.  Noise cancelling headphones are a life saver on these flights.

If you are a male traveling alone be prepared to move from you assigned seat if a Muslim woman has a seat in the same row.  A Non-Muslim is not allowed to be close to a Muslim women.  This might mean losing your nice window seat and instead settling into a middle seat between two big sweaty blokes.

The larger aircraft are slightly better.  They are just a faction cleaner and in better repair plus they include an entertainment system.  Be warned that any films you watch will be shortened quite a bit as the Saudis censor very liberally.  Anything that hints of sex is gone.  Violence is fine, but not sex.  So enjoy John Wick but not any women being anything less than fully clothed.  Kissing and touching are also out.

I have gotten to fly the new Dreamliner a few times and it is fabulous.  Clean and perfect.  I do not expect this to last much longer though.

Saudia does have one benefit over other airlines and that is its baggage allowance.  Two large heavy bags for International flights and sometimes three.  This is because Saudis shop like mad on vacation and bring back luggage stuffed to the point of blowing off a zipper.  So the airline does have one thing going for it.

But here we end with the biggest reason to not fly Saudia.  No alcohol.  Not a drop on any flight anywhere.  So if you enjoy a twelve hour flight without even a glass of wine with your dinner go right ahead.  But if you enjoy a little taste on your flights stay well back.