This series covers a longish trip to Italy from last September with my brothers. This was at the cusp of shoulder season so the one-way ticket to Rome was around $470 with AB for the economy seat with XL upgrade, all other *A and OW carriers were in the $1000+ range for one-way fares. I’ve never flown AB before, so figured why not give them a try. It turns out this was the correct decision since it would be my last chance to ever try the now-defunct German carrier. The return legs were a one-way award ticket on LX using 40k Asiana Club miles.
Part 1 – LAX-DUS [AB 7431, Airbus A330-200, Economy] – You are here Part 2 – DUS-FCO [AB 8718, Airbus A320, Economy] – No report Part 3 – FCO-ZRH [LX 1727, Airbus A320, Business] – Here Part 4 – ZRH-LAX [LX 40, Boeing B777-300ER, Business] – Here
This report, a final hurrah for the carrier, will cover the flight from LAX to DUS on AB in their XL seats. The bonus will just have some spotting pictures from DUS since the DUS-FCO flight was quite forgettable.
In the days leading up to this trip, EY announced it was cutting off AB from their financial support and AB promptly declared insolvency. I had booked this flight using my EY Gold status to secure benefits, so there was some confusion as to whether AB would still honor their EY affiliation since the Top Bonus program was temporarily shut down. AB did send out e-mails updating me stating that during the insolvency proceedings, all flights would continue to operate as normal, so no major complaints on AB’s handling of this situation.
The day of departure, I arrived to LAX about 3 hours early. There were no lines at the AB counters so my bag was quickly tagged and I was handed my boarding pass that had both flights on it. Interestingly, it matches my EY Gold status to OW Sapphire status so it appears I get both OW Lounge and EY Lounge access.
I’ve covered the OW Lounge in some other reports, so I won’t talk about it here. I went in for about 45 minutes to use their showers and grab a beer from the bar until my brother arrived at the airport. After my brother cleared security, we met and went upstairs to the new EY Lounge. EY only sends a B772 to LAX so not sure why they need a dedicated lounge here, but I was interested to see what it would offer. When I entered the friendly agent welcomed me to the lounge and gave me a quick tour of the floor plan since it was my first time there. We were the first people in the lounge and had free range of the place for about 30 minutes before some passengers for the EY flight started to trickle in. It was a fairly small lounge and had just a narrow seating area outside of the bar/food area and a roped off corner for first class.
The buffet wasn’t huge, but had a decent selection of hot and cold items with a clear emphasis on Middle Eastern cuisine. I just grabbed some lamb, veggies, and rice to prepare for the great unknown that is AB catering. The food was slightly better quality than the *A and OW Lounges at LAX, but was much more limited in drink selection.
About 50 minutes to departure, we walked over to Gate 135, which is in the nasty un-renovated part of TBIT. The gate area was dark and crowded with what appeared to be a large number of college-aged students going to Europe. There isn’t much to see from our gate, only the tail of our AB A332 was visible.
Boarding was delayed for 15 minutes because the crew was late arriving to the airport. A DL B772 from PVG pulled in to the gate next ours.
Air Berlin, AB 7431 Equipment: Airbus A330-200 [D-ALPI, delivered April 2008] Departure: 17:15 (ATD: 17:32) Arrival: 13:00 (ATA: 12:51) Flight time: 10:19
Boarding was finally called, and it was largely chaotic since the boarding was delayed. There were large masses of people crowding the counters and I couldn’t really figure out what the boarding order was since the gate agents were just yelling in German/English instead of using the PA system. I tried to use my mobile boarding pass on my phone and the gate agent told me I couldn’t use it and demanded to see my paper boarding pass. I pulled the printed boarding pass out of my backpack and gave it to her. She again refused getting sassier with her tone and insisted that I give her the boarding pass from the check-in counter. What is the point of mobile boarding passes and printable boarding passes if you don’t let people use them? TSA had no issue with either of these…
After that sour experience, I finally made it down the dark jet bridge to the plane where a smiling male FA welcomed me in German and directed me to the right. Here is the first glimpse of the main cabin on this A332. This was a newer leased A332 and the plane looked to be well maintained on the inside.
My seat, 19D, which is in the last row of XL. My brother took the aisle seat across from me so that we could both have aisle seats instead of one of us being pinned against the fuselage.
A couple of shots of the seats in the XL section. The normal Y seat pitch looked to be 31” so on par with all the US carriers.
Clean floor and no bulky entertainment boxes.
Seat pitch is standard for extra-legroom economy seats. You get what you pay for.
The screen was average in size and resolution, more on the content (or lack thereof) later. USB ports were on the side of the screen (not my preferred location) and there were AC power outlets under the seats.
Pre-placed on the seats were pillow, blanket, and amenity kit. The amenity kit is definitely a notable feature of AB since its contents are actually quite substantial in this age of endless cost-cutting (maybe the reason they lost the race to the bottom…).
Seatback contents. AB doesn’t have an in-flight magazine?
Safety card on the AB A332.
Boarding was complete with incredible German precision. Despite starting boarding 15 minutes late, they were able to seat the entire plane in less than 25 minutes and as soon as the last passenger stepped on the plane, the door immediately slammed shut and the jetbridge retracted. I’ve seen ERJs take longer to board.
The flight was 100% full, I had a middle-aged German couple occupy the middle seats in my row. The lady next to me felt it necessary to change pants for the flight after boarding the plane so proceeded to drop trousers in my face, definitely one of the more bizarre flight experiences I’ve had.
We had a short taxi given our location at TBIT and we were 2nd inline to take-off. We did the standard western take-off into the Pacific before looping around to heat towards Salt Lake City.
After leveling off, there was an aperitif service, which didn’t include any snacks.
Dinner service didn’t happen until almost 2.5 hours into the flight when we were crossing into North Dakota, which is quite late since you are only leaving people ~5-6 hours of flight between meals to sleep.
The meal options were chicken or pasta, which rate near the bottom of my plane food choices. I settled for chicken and was handed this tray. Based on the description on the foil wrapper, this was “Bourbon Street Chicken,” which was served with a side of cole slaw, a packaged roll, and a cake. Drinks were again offered so I took another Warsteiner.
The chicken and rice were actually flavorful (albeit slightly rubberychicken) and was a decent main for Y standards. The sole slaw was also decent, but the roll and desert were industrial.
After the meal, bottles of water were handed out along with coffee/tea service. David Bowie makes a cameo just for Numero_2 ;)
Onto the entertainment system. It turns out that my row and the row in front of me had an issue with system and despite rebooting the system 5 times, we were left with limited content. We had no movies available, only 15 episodes of TV and a couple of CDs in the audio section. Thankfully, the moving map was working. I can live without entertainment systems since I bring my own entertainment and prefer to sleep on red-eyes.
I didn’t check the galley for snack offerings, but the FAs did make a couple of rounds with water mid-flight. The bathroom was acceptable mid-flight, but could have been cleaner.
The mood-lighting came back on as we reached Scotland and food service rapidly commenced starting with a wet towelette.
The tray was fairly full for a second meal on TATL, blows the BA/AA offerings I saw early this year out of the water. Meats and cheese were accompanied by yogurt, a muffin, a hot roll, a packaged roll, and orange juice.
We arrived slightly early into DUS on a cloudy day and were quickly at the gate deplaning.
Heading towards immigration, saw this rare beauty, a X3 B738 with scimitar winglets in the retro Hapag-Lloyd livery.
With a 6-hour layover, we decided to take the train into downtown Düsseldorf using the S-Bahn to grab real food instead of just loitering around DUS, which is where I leave this series off.
Bonus: Spotting at DUS
Our AB A320 to FCO and our plane on stand at FCO.
NH B787 and EY A330.
Bulgarian charter airline Electra Airways’ sole A320.
KL Fokker 70, which has now been taken out of service.
BE Dash 8.
AY A319 in OW special livery.
Los Angeles - LAX
Düsseldorf - DUS
My first time on AB (and also my last time apparently). It was a decent experience given the situation the carrier was in at the time. Compared to the service I saw on TATLs operated ex-LAX on AA and BA, they appeared to be one of the stronger OW options to Europe from LAX with daily DUS service and seasonal TXL service. The crew was decent despite the impending loss of their jobs and the plane was comfortable. It’s sad to see AB go, but apparently they didn’t cut costs fast enough and lost the race to the bottom.
Cabin comfort: Clean A330 with a comfortable 2-4-2. The XL seats provide the comfort they promise and I didn’t find significant discomfort from the seat on this long TATL. Lavatories could be better.
Crew: Ground staff wasn’t very good at LAX, but the cabin crew seemed to be jollier. Cockpit gave all relevant info and the service on board was done professionally.
Meal and catering: The dinner was on the small side, but the main tasted okay. The breakfast was quite substantial compared to what BA and AA offered for pre-arrival meals. Lack of a snack with the aperitif is a noteworthy absentee.
Entertainment: No newspapers offered. Standard seatback literature (sans in-flight magazine). The IFE was malfunctioning in my row and I could only use the moving map.
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