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With appropriate speeches by local dignitaries, a round of apple cider and a huge white and red frosted cake, travel industry history was made on May 11 at Gate 121 of LAX's international terminal. That's when Airberlin inaugurated the first nonstop service between Los Angeles and the German capital of Berlin. The service will operate Monday, Wednesday and Friday until Oct. 31. Eastbound flying time is 10 hours and 55 minutes; westbound is an hour longer.
In the same week, Airberlin commenced a nonstop run between LAX and its major Dusseldorf (DUS) hub. The service will operate Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, year around. From Nov. 1 through April 2013, flights will operate on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Dusseldorf is a key Airberlin hub offering a variety of connections on to six key Germany cities as well as such major destinations as Zurich, Vienna, Barcelona and Milan. Until the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport opens on March 17, 2013, Airberlin will continue to operate in and out of Tegel Airport (TXL).
And that's not the end of Airberlin's West Coast expansion. On May 10, it began nonstop service between Las Vegas' McCarran International and Berlin each Thursday and Sunday until Oct. 31. The airline already flies between San Francisco and Dusseldorf but has increased its Wednesday, Friday schedule with an additional flight on Mondays through the end of October.
The carrier's Airbus A330-200 is configured for 20 passengers in business class and 279 passengers in economy class. That seating represents a reduction in both cabins made recently as part of a major upgrade of amenities for both business- and economy-class passengers.
Business-class travelers enjoy ergonomic seats that are 20-inches wide with a seat pitch of 59 inches, and they recline down 172 degrees. Each seat has its own power port, a USB port on the monitor, personal video screen with a wide choice of movies, television shows and an audio system with 12 channels of music.
Prior to take off, flight attendants served champagne and orange juice to business class passengers. After take-off, pre-lunch beverage service offers wine, beer, premium-brand liquors and soft drinks. For lunch, business class passengers have a choice of appetizers, four entrees (chicken, veal, fish or pasta) and dessert. Breakfast is European style - a selection of fresh fruits, cold cuts, cheeses and breads.
While perhaps not that well-known to many travel agents, Airberlin has a colorful history. It originally was founded in Oregon in 1978 with just two 707s. That was during the Cold War when the German capitol was a divided city, surrounded entirely by Communist East Germany. As a result, under Allied Occupation rules, no German airline could operate into West Berlin. But as an American carrier, Airberlin could and did as a charter carrier specialized almost exclusively in taking West Berliners off to the resort island of Majorca for vacations.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, Airberlin was established as a German carrier with its corporate headquarters in Berlin from which its nonstop expansion began. From a charter-only airline, Airberlin went into full scheduled service in 2002. As the Airberlin group, it acquired or took a substantial ownership share in the low fare Austrian carrier NIKI in 2004, Munich-based DBA in 2006, Swiss-based Belair and LTU in 2007. Its main U.S. Sales office is in New York City with branch offices in Miami.
In late March, the carrier began a code share with American Airlines and, about the same time, gained full membership in the Oneworld. Airberlin now operates a fleet of 170 aircraft with an average age of five years and operates to 162 destinations in 40 countries.
The opening of the new $3.2 billion Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER), which was scheduled to open on June 3, has been postponed until March 17, 2013, in order to permit completion of necessary safety systems. When it goes into operation, the field, located 11 miles southeast of Berlin, will herald a new era for air travel to Germany's capital. While its initial capacity is 27 million passengers a year, BER is designed to be expanded to accommodate up to 45 million passengers.
BER has two parallel runways with the six-story high terminal building in between. The terminal is simple but striking in design, distinguished by soaring glass walls. When it opens, 75 airlines will serve 173 destinations in 50 countries.
In the heart of the terminal building will be a 215,200 square-foot area featuring 150 shops, restaurants and services. Most of these are located in a great court area, after security.
BER offers one particular feature that Los Angeles visitors can only dream of - a six-track underground railway station with three platforms directly under the terminal. Airport planners anticipate that one in two travelers will come to the new airport using public transportation.
With the airport's opening, trains of the Airport Express will run every 15 minutes between Berlin Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and BER. The journey will take 30 minutes. Numerous S-Bahn trains will run every 10 minutes.