Maps generated by theGreat Circle Mapper -copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
For the last couple of years or so, I’d been aware of Air Berlin offering some semi decent fares from Cologne to London with a couple of stops thrown in for good measure. Although I hadn’t got around to booking the flights remained on the radar.
Fast forward to early 2015 and I finally got around to booking the trip I’d been researching for the previous couple of years.
As usual on Air Berlin, they only offer free seat selection to their own frequent flyers.
And as usual, one of the other OneWorld members was able to rectify this.
Next up was a way to Cologne. I had planned on taking Germanwings on a direct flight from LHR, as prices were around the £40 mark. Annoyingly though, when I came to book the prices had gone up to over £110. So instead I looked to British Airways. They don’t actually fly to Cologne, but flights to Frankfurt more reasonable – still four pounds more, but at least I’d be able to get some dinner in the lounge.
Seat selection wasn’t an issue on this flight – at least when I booked.
Yet another no so special offer. They used to be reasonable at under £100 but now they just seem to be the same price as you’d pay for Club anyway.
To link Frankfurt and Cologne I’d turn to the DB. I’d wanted to try the ICE train so this seemed like a good enough excuse. I’d also wanted to visit the viewing deck at FRA for a few years (on all of my previous visits, it had been closed) so I was ticking more than a few things off on this trip.
As mentioned at the beginning of my South America series, I was exploring options other than the National Express coach to get me to Heathrow. This time I figured I’d try out the hourly bus service – it took over an hour and a half, but cost a fraction of the coach – so you get what you pay for I guess.
Upon arrival, I grabbed a souvenir boarding pass and took a look at the fast track security. It looks more than a little busy from what I could see, so I made my way through the regular security instead. And I was through in about two minutes. So as I’ve suspected, the fast track isn’t quite that fast.
I made my way up to the lounge for a tasty dinner of macaroni cheese.
After this, I headed out to my favourite spot on the terrace and grabbed some juice.
But no sooner as I’d say down, I was being told to make the trek over to the C gates – typical, as just a few weeks after they stopped giving you £15 at Starbucks, I get my first departure from T5C in nearly three years. No big deal though as I wasn’t all that hungry anyway.
I made a couple of laps of the satellite to see what was around.
Upon returning to the gate, I saw a massive queue so figured it would be a good idea to join it. Boarding started a few moments later and I was welcomed by name and asked how I was by a friendly ground agent.
Airbus A320 / G-EUYB
Seat: 19F / Euro Traveller
Off Stand: 19:37
On Stand: 22:17
I took my seat, immediately followed by my two seat mates. The flight looked completely full.
As boarding was finally completed, the captain gave the usual welcome speech and announced a flying time if an hour and ten minutes. We pushed back a minute or two behind schedule and made a rough ride over to 27R. Once there, we had to wait for a string of heavies to depart before it was finally our turn.
The crew handed out the snack and drinks whilst I watched an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm on my iPad.
With around forty minutes to go, the first officer announced we had started descent. Seemed a little early to me, but I guess he knows more than I do on the subject. Meanwhile, the sun was setting behind us.
We descended through the clouds and the light faded completely.
It was then a great view of downtown Frankfurt before making reasonable contact with one of Frankfurt’s older runways.
Then came a lengthy taxi over to a remote stand where we arrived a little later than scheduled.
After a further ten minutes or so I made my way towards the rear exit and down the steps.
A bus tour followed before heading over to the Hilton for the evening.
The next morning, I paid a visit to the viewing deck.
Very pleased to see this one
Before heading off to catch my train to Cologne, after some essential shopping and lunch.
As my train was delayed by around thirty minutes, I headed downstairs to the lounge. Hardly a patch on any airline lounge, but it was better than a platform.
Finally on the train to Cologne:
A few pictures from my time in Cologne. Pretty much as soon as you exit the station, you’re faced with the massive cathedral.
Walking along the river
Paying a visit to the chocolate museum
Out at the cathedral once more
And my room at the Hilton, just a few steps away.
As usual, the best pictures come after dark
When it was time to leave, I made my way across to the station, where most trains appeared to be delayed. I jumped on one that said it was going to the airport, only for an announcement to be made after a few stops that I had to change to an S13 train. So I hopped off, only to find that was an S13. By the time I’d realised the train was leaving – so no option but to wait thirty minutes for the next one at a pretty remote station…
Upon finally reaching the airport, it was up to check in to grab a boarding pass. The agent didn’t say an awful lot, bit did do quite a bit of typing – eventually handing me one boarding pass for all three flights.
I then made my way through security, where for the first time ever I was told that my camera would also have to be screened separately. New rules apparently… Following this was a few steps to the Air Berlin exclusive waiting area – not quite a lounge but not quite the general waiting area either.
At around 10:00 this mornings ride pulled in. I was glad to see it was still the scheduled 737-700 as this is a new sub type for me. And also a new operator as this one is operated by TUI fly.
Boarding was announced, and I was the first on board – due to the fact there wasn’t a mass charge towards the gate. It was actually very civilised with everybody waiting their turn!
Boeing 737-700 / D-AHXF
Seat: 18F / Economy
Off Stand: 11:21
On Stand: 12:31
As I boarded, the cabin crew offered me a form to sign up to their Top Bonus program – but I didn’t see much point in taking one.
The cabin filled up very slowly but the flight seemed pretty full. The captain gave his welcome speech and mentioned that we were still waiting for some more passengers – shortly followed by an announcement saying their bags were now being offloaded.
As it turned out, one of the very few empty seats was next to me so I was fairly comfortable.
We finally did push back around fifteen minutes behind schedule, and then made a long taxi over to the runway – passing quite a few cargo jets along the way.
Luckily we were given an intersection departure so we didn’t have to go quite down to the end if the runway before departing.
It wasn’t too long before we were into the clouds and the view disappeared.
Service on this sector was more or less the same as what was handed out in my first AB flights back in 2013 – something “sweet or salty”.
Descent started as the clouds cleared- meaning there were good views of the area on approach.
On short finals, a gust of wind caught us, putting us somewhat off balance and leading to a very hard landing – possibly the hardest I’ve experienced.
It was then a brief taxi over to the terminal – and I was glad to see that we were arriving at the main terminal as opposed to the shed that I experienced last time I flew into TXL in AB. The AB chocolate hearts were handed out upon leaving.
As I’d arrived in terminal A, it was a short walk to the BA lounge, I did consider heading up to the viewing deck as it was such a nice day, but I figured as I’d been there but not visited the lounge here I’d go for the unknown option.
It was a little on the busy side, but luckily I spotted a side room with nobody in it. So grabbed a plate of food and set up camp there for the next hour or so.
When boarding was near I headed down to the gate. Despite there being a fast track, the layout meant that I’d probably upset a few people by using it – so I didn’t bother.
The hold up didn’t matter anyway, as pretty much as I cleared security the ground crew announced a forty five minute delay. So I headed up to the Exclusive waiting area, as the gate area was packed.
This time there was an airport security guard manning it and he demanded to see my card. I handed my BA card over and he was a little dubious. I mentioned that it’s all OneWorld so it shouldn’t matter, and he consulted a chart that was sellotaped to a post. A few moments later he let me pass through. It was a little bigger than the Cologne version but the offerings were still the same.
A few moments later, an A321 pulled on to stand and an announcement was made saying boarding would begin as soon as the passengers on board had left.
Boarding began, and once more I was the first on board. Although I was stopped in my tracks once I reached the aircraft do as they hadn’t quite finished hoovering.
Airbus A321 / D-ABCF
Seat: 29F / Economy
Off Stand: 14:59
On Stand: 16:14
As boarding was completed, I once more ended up having the middle seat free despite it being a reasonably full flight.
The captain welcomed everybody and apologised for the delay, blaming the late inbound arrival of the aircraft and the fact that he was a little late himself arriving from Düsseldorf. He did mention a shorter than usual flying time though of just fifty minutes so we weren’t due to arrive too late. Lucky as I was meeting somebody in ZRH…
A flight I’d unexpectedly end up on a few weeks later
We pushed back and sped over to the active.
Upon reaching the runway, the captain could hardly contain his enthusiasm as the throttles were advancing as we were pulling on to the runway.
Unlike this mornings flight, it was clear skies throughout.
The crew started the service and this time they elaborated a little more on the “sweet or salty” line – introducing the snacks as a chocolate or potato chips.
Once this was done, there wasn’t too much flying time left – so I relied on Tom & Jerry on the overhead for entertainment.
We made a cloudy approach to Zurich before touching down a little softer than earlier.
A brief taxi to the B pier followed where I was met by Infodesk.
We spent the next hour or so chatting before she headed off home after a day at work and I ventured up to check out the OneWorld lounge.
I wasn’t planning on eating anything as I’d spent most of the day eating and drinking it seemed, but I had a hard job turning down the pasta.
After around thirty minutes I headed to the gate, which was down in the basement area.
There initially seemed to be quite a few people waiting around, but only once the LHR flight started boarding from the adjacent gate did quite a few people disappear.
General boarding began – no priority boarding here, unlike on the LHR flight.
Embraer E170 / G-LCYG
Seat: 16D / Euro Traveller
Off Stand: 18:26
On Stand: 19:00
I was somewhat half heartedly greeted at the door and I made my way towards the rear to take my seat.
One thing I don’t like about the BA E-Jet is the misaligned windows
Boarding was completed pretty quickly and it turned out this flight was pretty empty.
I decided to take a look at the inflight mag, but it appeared a dog had beaten me to it…
The flight deck gave their usual welcome although I couldn’t understand most of what was being said due to the poor sound quality of the speakers. I did make out the fact he was apologising for the delay though. What delay?
We pushed back before the LHR flight and made a very slow taxi over to the active.
Luckily, takeoff wasn’t quite as slow and we were off the ground within a few seconds.
Not too long after departure, the on board service began. There were no less than four options to choose from – a salmon salad, a pasta salad plus the crisps and biscuits found on the BA mainline domestic runs. I chose the pasta salad.
This was followed by the drinks run, where I chose a G&T.
With an episode of Family Guy for entertainment.
Nice low load this evening.
Not too long after it finished I felt the nose dip, so I figured we had started descent – so I ought to start paying attention again.
The captain came over the PA and mentioned that it was a pleasant evening in London, but from where I was sat, I wasn’t in agreement.
Descent continued until the rollercoaster ride began.
We touched down and pulled almost immediately on to stand.
Disembarking was delayed by around ten minutes due to the LX RJ100 next door starting up. When we were finally released, it took around five minutes from plane to the DLR station – aided by the fact LCY have installed E-Passport gates since my last arrival in December 2013.
British Airways: Standard. Nothing more to be said.
Air Berlin again offered a couple of pretty decent flights. It was a bit of a shame that they were both delayed but it didn’t cause any issues. The crew were friendly and the exclusive waiting areas were a good idea for an airline that doesn’t offer a business class product in Europe.
BA Cityflyer continue to show their bigger brother how it should be done, with a range of small but tasty on board catering choices – and can they really cost that much more than the pre packaged sandwiches found on board the main line?