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Old May 8, 17, 9:22 pm   #1
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Any tips for an AB transatlantic newbie?

I'm flying AB transatlantic for the first time: TXL-JFK in economy with some family members. I'm not expecting much. I know they're generally a "no frills" airline (I've flown them within Europe), and things aren't so good financially at the company. Their reputation is also less than stellar. But the trip was cheap on Avios miles, so I booked it.

Any "idiosyncrasies" I should know about this service? Like when I called their rez line a while ago to ask about seat assignments, they told me there are no free assignments. If that's the case, do I get to pick my seats when the check in window opens? And when is that? The website says 30 hours, but my guess is that it's actually 24-hours for transatlantic.

What about baggage? I usually just do carry-on, but I'm likely to have some wine with me that I'll want to check. I seem to get a free checked bag. Anything weird/annoying about their counters at TXL?

And what about carry-on? The website says you're limited to 8 kg, and your personal item has to be small. Is any of that actually enforced (my rollerboard will probably be close to 8 kg), or do the typical USA carry-on rules actually govern?

Priority Pass says there's a lounge landside at Terminal A: the Berlin Airportclub Lounge. Is this reasonably convenient to AB's operation? Is the food and drink decent? And is the landside location "a problem": eg, unpredictability of getting through customs and security?

What about on-board service? I've read that they have OK-but-not-great individual entertainment screens, and somewhat tight economy class seating. Is it worse than a typical USA airline? And what about the food? It's still complimentary, right? And is there enough of it for a 9 hour flight? Any need to bring any food with us? Do they follow the traditional transatlantic practice of giving you a meal and, later, a snack?

Thanks for the help!
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Old May 9, 17, 11:10 am   #2
  
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JFK vs ORD

(deleted; a mistake post)
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Old May 10, 17, 7:10 pm   #3
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Bump. Nobody's flown AB transatlantic? I would think the Avios price (20K to NYC, even in summer) would have gotten somebody to fly!
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Old May 11, 17, 1:56 am   #4
  
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All right, I haven't crossed the Atlantic with them and it's been a few years since my last long-haul on AB, but here's what I can answer:

AB has followed other airlines in adopting the low-frills model on short-haul, but they remain a full-service airline on long-haul. The service in Y is usually okay: nothing fancy, but not worse than what you'd get on a US-based airline. You do get complimentary food and drinks and you can check a bag for free. I can imagine that their check-in counters can get a bit crowded before a transatlantic, but they're not deliberately annoying.

You should keep in mind that they've recently changed their ground handling company at TXL which still leads to routine delays of more than an hour. TXL is not a fun airport to wait at.

I haven't been to the Airportclub lounge, nor have I read great things about it. Apparently it very narrowly beats waiting in the terminal building – so if you get in for free you may as well, but I doubt it's worth paying for.

The lounges in Terminal A have to be landside because of the unique layout of the terminal and they usually work well for departures from that terminal. As your flight will almost certainly leave from Terminal C however, I'd encourage you to wait there. The airport has recently opened its first airside lounge there (the Weltbürger-Lounge) and you can purchase access for €36 (unless you have Sapphire/Emerald status, in which case it's free for you and a guest). This will be worth considering if you have a longer wait as it's a huge improvement over the terminal building (also affectionately called the "garden shed").

TXL is normally an efficient airport to depart from, but your entertainment options will be limited, so there's no need to arrive very early. Spend your time in the city instead and show up 90–120 minutes before departure.
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Old May 11, 17, 2:21 pm   #5
  
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I flew JFK-TXL-WAW roundtrip. The JFK-TXL segment and vv were fine. Dont remember anything about the food, besides that it was offered for free. They didn't check my carryon bags either way. One thing of note was boarding the flight to JFK was strange. It left from what seemed like a satellite terminal, not the larger one I flew into (don't know if this is because of customs or..) and there was no bridge. We just walked onto the tarmac and then up the steps. The plane was parked in the corner, so it was a bit far without a bus provided.
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Old May 11, 17, 7:01 pm   #6
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Thanks for the tips. I've only ever been to TXL once, and it was an arriving flight. I do remember the airport being a little odd.

I remember having to take a bus from the airport, and I assume I'll be taking a bus TO the airport this time. Once I get off, I assume things are pretty obvious? I'm not really sure how to use the Priority Pass Airportclub lounge as it's before security. Is it reasonably close to the AB check-in desks, or not so much? I'm currently thinking of checking a bag (and might be forced to, if the US implements a "cabin laptop ban") and without status (I'm AA Gold, I assume that's useless) I assume the check-in wait could be long. Once that's accomplished, does the terminal have a central security check, or are there multiple check stations due to the unusual terminal design?

Once I get to the gate, it does seem like everything runs pretty normally, and the in-flight services seem pretty standard for transatlantic coach.
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Old May 12, 17, 2:42 am   #7
  
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AA Gold/oneworld Ruby isn't entirely useless, it'll let you (and everyone on your booking) use the Business Class/Priority check-in counters.

Yes, things are fairly obvious once you get off the bus. The bus drops you off the A terminal. Look at the departure screens to find out what terminal your flight is leaving from.

If it's Terminal C, walk over there to check any bags, then come back for the lounge if you want. Leave early enough to clear security and passport control, which are indeed centralised.

If it's Terminal A (unlikely), check-in, security and passport control will be at the gate, and I think the only gate capable of handling widebodies is the one near the entrance.
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Old May 12, 17, 8:48 am   #8
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AA Gold/oneworld Ruby isn't entirely useless, it'll let you (and everyone on your booking) use the Business Class/Priority check-in counters.

Yes, things are fairly obvious once you get off the bus. The bus drops you off the A terminal. Look at the departure screens to find out what terminal your flight is leaving from.

If it's Terminal C, walk over there to check any bags, then come back for the lounge if you want. Leave early enough to clear security and passport control, which are indeed centralised.

If it's Terminal A (unlikely), check-in, security and passport control will be at the gate, and I think the only gate capable of handling widebodies is the one near the entrance.
Thanks! Ah, yes, no priority boarding with Gold, but priority check-in. That will certainly help if we have bags to check. I think I've got a plan now.
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Old May 23, 17, 9:28 pm   #9
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Having now flown economy class AB from TXL to JFK, I'll offer the following tips.

Free seat assignments do pop up at 24-hours before the flight. You definitely want to do this. Having a party of 3 in a 2-4-2 configuration, we opted for the middle seats near the back in Row 47. This was an excellent choice: not only are there only 3 seats in the middle there, but you get extra legroom and no traffic (because the coach lavs are in the middle of the aircraft).

We took the public bus to Tegel. At 2.80 euros a person, it's a good deal.

The airport is, as expected, a bit dilapidated. It was nice having priority check-in with AB at Terminal C for our checked baggage, but the regular line wasn't crazy long. After unloading our bags, we walked 6 or 7 minutes to the Priority Pass lounge one floor up in Terminal A. It's a pretty bad lounge, but there's free alcohol and some prepared snacks. Twenty-five minutes there was plenty. Back at Terminal C, the security line was slower than "it should be," and with a modest crowd and access to the "fast lane," it still took more than 20 minutes. I'd certainly leave at least a half hour for security. It then took only a few minutes to go through German customs, and then we waited another 25 minutes in the dilapidated boarding lounge. We walked onto the tarmac for our on-time flight, and they helpfully let us board from the rear of the aircraft.

AB's in-flight service is similar to every other major airline's coach service, and probably a touch better than that of the USA airlines. The lunch was OK, and we got a small piece of cold chicken for a later snack. There was free wine and beer (not sure about hard liquor). The seat back entertainment system was pretty good; it functioned much better than the system on AA's own A330s. Movie and TV selection was adequate.

At JFK, the customs lines at Terminal 8 were long, but with Global Entry we didn't care. It did take more than a half hour after we got off the plane to get our luggage, though.

Bottomline, AB is fine for transatlantic coach. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about, either.
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Old May 24, 17, 4:37 pm   #10
  
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What about the comfort of the seats in regular economy? I confess I booked TXL-SFO (extra longhaul flight) for July with Avios when I saw the good deal several months ago. Then I started reading about AB's bankruptcy, plus the last straw was the seat pitch of of 30 and many complaints of narrow and uncomfortable seats.
Instead, I found SAAver business/first TATL on AA metal from MAD-JFK-DCA and booked that, figured we have AA miles to burn. I decided losing my $100 in BA fees was worth the extra comfort and not having to worry my flight will be canceled at the last minute by AB. Anyway, you didn't seem to think the seats were too bad, at least you had extra legroom where you were.
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Old May 25, 17, 12:21 pm   #11
  
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Originally Posted by kathmom View Post
What about the comfort of the seats in regular economy? I confess I booked TXL-SFO (extra longhaul flight) for July with Avios when I saw the good deal several months ago. Then I started reading about AB's bankruptcy, plus the last straw was the seat pitch of of 30 and many complaints of narrow and uncomfortable seats.
Instead, I found SAAver business/first TATL on AA metal from MAD-JFK-DCA and booked that, figured we have AA miles to burn. I decided losing my $100 in BA fees was worth the extra comfort and not having to worry my flight will be canceled at the last minute by AB. Anyway, you didn't seem to think the seats were too bad, at least you had extra legroom where you were.
Admittedly the seat pitch is a bit tight, but in my opinion does not feel worse that many other airlines. I don't know where this "narrow seat" complaint comes from... this is a standard 2-4-2 arrangement and the seats are standard width and in my opinion much more comfortable than an AA 3-4-3 777 (or any other airline flying 3-4-3 777 like AC for example) arrangement that I had the misfortune of flying recently.
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Old May 25, 17, 7:09 pm   #12
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I'm 6 ft. DUS-JFK is survivable but not comfortable. You have to strategically select and verify seats all the way up to check-in cutoff to increase chances of an empty seat next to you. You can change your seat online after check-in up until cut-off which is sometime between 2 hours to 90 minutes to departure.

For example, the long-haul layout is 2-4-2. The middle section consist of seats D, E, F, and G. If I'm travelling by myself and see a row where seats D is selected and E, F, and G are empty, I will select G which then leaves E and F empty. Unless the flight is full, there is a chance that E and F will remain empty as people don't usually go out of their way to pick middle seats and agents will usually assign them last.
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Old May 26, 17, 9:18 pm   #13
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I'm 6 ft. DUS-JFK is survivable but not comfortable. You have to strategically select and verify seats all the way up to check-in cutoff to increase chances of an empty seat next to you. You can change your seat online after check-in up until cut-off which is sometime between 2 hours to 90 minutes to departure.

For example, the long-haul layout is 2-4-2. The middle section consist of seats D, E, F, and G. If I'm travelling by myself and see a row where seats D is selected and E, F, and G are empty, I will select G which then leaves E and F empty. Unless the flight is full, there is a chance that E and F will remain empty as people don't usually go out of their way to pick middle seats and agents will usually assign them last.
Nothing notable about the coach seat comfort. I'm usually good for about 8 hours in a "normal" coach seat before my butt starts to hurt. That's about how long I felt comfortable on AB.

The pitch does look a bit tight, but not necessarily tighter than what I've seen on other airlines. I'm always slightly surprised by the lack of legroom on most int'l coach aircraft; it's a long way to travel so squished (and god forbid your the person in front of you reclines).

We hit the jackpot in row 47, though. Seemed to be more than 2 inches of extra legroom, and lots of extra arm room on the aisles because our 3 seats were behind 4 seats so there was a natural empty space.

Be careful about trying to leave empty seats next to you. I've had near zero luck on this the past year. The flights are simply too crowded, and some yahoo will usually wind up in the undesirable middle seat next to you. That's why we went for the 3 seat middle row instead of trying to get an empty seat in a 4-seat row. In fact, when we checked our luggage at the counter, we asked if there were any empty seats. The agent checked and said there were 35 empties. She was completely wrong. I think there were 3. A similar thing happened on my eastbound flight on AA. The seat map the day before "showed" the plane 1/3rd empty. It went out completely full. Pax must be slow to get seat assignments, I guess.


I would not worry too much about AB's financial woes. They're not taking it out on the passengers. As long as they operate, you should be fine.
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Old May 30, 17, 3:22 pm   #14
  
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in my experience I try to always book XL seats for AB longhaul. the economy seats are tighter pitch than usual longhaul, so if you're any taller than 5"7" it'll be annoying...I have had very uncomfortable flights on AB in the past in normal economy. but, considering you can find crazy deals, paying 80-90 bucks for an XL seat isn't so bad. entertainment is good. food is average-awful, but that's like most airplane food ... the cold chicken for a snack is pretty gross, if you're debating waking from sleep for some food, I'd say eat before the plane and stay asleep ...

basically AB is fine if you sit in XL and you get a good deal on the ticket price. otherwise i'd not recommend...
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Old May 30, 17, 3:40 pm   #15
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Speaking of which..AB only offers two meal options. Chicken or pasta. Menu has not changed in more than 3-4 years.
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