Why airberlin’s new business class is barely better than coach

‘European Business Class’ is coming to airberlin. Maybe this shouldn’t be seen as big news; after all, the carrier has 14 Airbus A330s flying with flat-bed seats from the Middle East to the West Coast of the USA. But this new business class product will be on offer on airberlin’s short-haul fleet later this year. And like much of the competition, the product is barely better than coach.

From the statement announcing the move:

Stefan Pichler, CEO of airberlin, says: “We find ourselves at the beginning of a far-reaching transformation from which a new, stronger airberlin will emerge. By introducing a business class on short and medium-haul flights, we are making key strategic decisions that will pave the way to a sustainable future for the company and that will clearly position airberlin in the premium sector of European airlines. The new premium product will make us more attractive, particularly for business travellers and frequent flyers, and we now offer a seamless business class experience on the global route network by airberlin and our partner airlines.”

More space, please

Winning at the game of regional business class in Europe isn’t difficult. The competition is weak and getting worse seemingly with each passing moment. The vast majority of European flights feature a “Eurobiz” concept, which uses a movable curtain – and blocked middle seats – to create an adjustable business class cabin. Priority check-in, lounge access and meals on board can be included too, but usually with no extra legroom. Moreover, the blocked middle is fixed, which can restrict the width rather than making things more spacious. The mediocrity up front is only outdone by the coach products typically offered on the same planes.

Enter airberlin.

The German carrier is going to address the space issue by offering “particularly generous legroom” for its business class passengers in the form of a 32″ pitch. But it’s only on offer on a single row of seats at the front of the plane; this means that travelers will have extra knee room and no one reclining into them but stretching out isn’t really a viable option. And, yes, just one row of business class (two triples with blocked middles) means that only four passengers can be accommodated on any given flight. Management suggests that the blocked middle seats ensure “a particular amount of exclusivity and personal space, even high above the clouds”.

But at least you get good food on board!

Improved catering is the response given every time an American (me) brings up the shortcomings on Eurobiz seats in terms of personal space. And it is true that the flights offer a meal. I flew Air France in February and the intra-Europe business class meal was better than what I received longhaul. But airberlin is taking a different approach, allowing business class passengers to “choose food and beverages ‘à la carte’ from the extensive on-board menu”. So free selections from the buy-on-board cart are now considered a premium offering – a trickle up approach to inflight dining.


Other benefits

An increased baggage allowance comes with the ticket as does a free advance seat assignment. Ditto for priority boarding, expedited security and lounge access prior to the flight. But such amenities are expected to accompany any premium product.

For travelers flying regionally and looking for an improved travel experience, the smart money is likely in the form of buying two coach seats rather than the business class product. Even with the fees for seat assignments and buying a snack on board (or, even better, in the airport or in town before or after the flight) short-haul travelers are likely to come out ahead in the comfort/cost comparison.

Because this business class barely beats coach.