Ironically, Germany’s capital Berlin is listed among such "minor cities," and flights from Berlin to Moscow are conducted by Germanwings rather than Lufthansa (though all of this is set to change in the summer of 2012, more on this later).
I got to try out Germanwings service in December 2011. Flight 4U-8156 was travelling from Berlin-Schönefeld Airport to Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow. Departure time from Berlin was at 12:15 PM, arriving in Moscow at 5:50 PM (local time). If you factor in the time difference (3 hours difference during the winter), the flight is about 2.5 hours long.
Back when Germany was divided between East and West, Schönefeld Airport was used to conduct flights from the eastern part of the city (then capital of the German Democratic Republic) and was the main airport of all of East Germany.
Today the airport comprises an old terminal built in the early 1970s, with three smaller terminals attached.
You can get to the airport on the metro. The station is only about a thousand feet from the terminal and the two are connected by a covered walkway.
The original terminal, now called Terminal A, features typical Soviet-era architecture and has changed very little since the days of East Germany.
I stepped inside out of curiosity.
Next to Terminal A is a very small terminal for business flights, designated Terminal C.
Meanwhile, Germanwings flights are serviced in a separate Terminal D, built to the right of the rest about 10 years ago.
The Germanwings terminal seems to be quite simplistically designed – just a big box with no frills, into which they fitted all the needed services, like check-in, customs, waiting areas and one Duty Free shop.
Overall view of Terminal D:
Check-in desks for Germanwings:
The waiting area:
The planes were being prepared for takeoff right in front of us, within a hundred feet of the building. You could watch the whole process from the windows of the waiting area.
In the distance I could see the construction site of the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport.
Berlin Brandenburg Airport, with its large, fancy terminal complex, is scheduled to open in the summer of 2012. After that happens, Schönefeld and Tegel (the second of Berlin’s working airports) will be closed down and the capital of Europe’s biggest economy nation will finally get an airport befitting its status.
Meanwhile, reality bites. The waiting room is crowded and bleak, and we’re forced to get to our plane on foot.
Flights to Moscow are conducted on an Airbus A319, the only type of aircraft in Germanwings’ fleet.
Like a regular low-cost airline, boarding is accomplished on foot, using two ramps.
The interior looked new and very well kept, equipped with modern airline seats which feature a slimmer backrest.
These slimmer backrests allow passengers to have more leg room without having to move the seats apart. However, they still fall short of being very comfortable. I found myself missing the headrest that was a standard feature of the old seats.
In all, the cabin is pretty stylish. Everything, down to the smallest details, sports the colors of Germanwings – burgundy, yellow and gray.
One shouldn’t expect outstanding service and too many gratuities from a budget airline such as Germanwings.
Some things were quite annoying, such as the way the baggage shelves in the cabin were literally overflowing. Because extra baggage has to be paid for, every passenger tries to pack their carry-on as full as possible. As a result, I was hard pressed to find room on the shelf to stow my coat.
The scoop on in-flight services provided by Germanwings:
- Nothing is free. Everything has to be paid for, even water
- During the flight you can order food, drinks and Duty Free items. The prices are about 3 euro for a bottle of water and 5 euro for a sandwich
- As mentioned, extra baggage must be paid for (about 10 euro if paid up-front and 20 euro if paid at the airport)
- One carry-on item is free. It can be no heavier than about 17.5 lbs (8 kg) and can be no larger than 21.5 x 15.5 x 7.5” (55 x 40 x 20 cm)
- When buying your ticket you can pay an extra fee to pick a seat (about $19 for seats in rows 1-10 and $10 for any of the others). Otherwise, seats are assigned by the airline.
- There are no entertainment systems (radio, TV, etc.) on the plane
- There was an inflight magazine in the seat pocket, but it was in German only, so unless you are fluent in that language, it is of limited worth.
Our plane has just arrived at the Vnukovo International Airport, Moscow:
This year Germanwings, is going to cease operating flights between Moscow and Berlin. By the executive decision of its parent company, these flights will hence be operated by Lufthansa, beginning June 2012. This probably has to do with the opening of Brandenburg Airport, which would have the facilities to let Lufthansa offer its customary level of service both on the ground and in the air.
Nevertheless, budget airline Germanwings will continue conducting flights to Moscow from other cities in Germany, including Hannover, Cologne and Stuttgart. Service on these flights will probably be comparable to the ones listed in this review.
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