Most middle class kids of my generation probably made their first air travel experiences on board of a so-called „charter airline“ which took them and their families to a well deserved holiday on the Mediterranean Sea or the Canarian Islands.
Inclusive Tour operator would book large blocks of seats to fly their package tour guests to their warm water destinations in fleets of sturdy Boeing 737 workhorses (with some A 310’s added for capacity and a few Boeing 757’s/767’s thrown in for more exotic destinations.
LTU, Condor and Hapag-Lloyd where some of the most famous names in Germany. Their planes were a packed a little tighter and service was a tiny bit below the economy class standard offered by the flag carriers of that time – often meaning that alcohol and headphones had to be paid for and meals were smaller.
The rise of the LCC, namely the fast growing Irish pioneer Ryanair brought not only pressure to the the big network carriers as their margins eroded but also changed the Inclusive Tour business . Some travellers gave up on package tours altogether, booking flights, accommodation and transfers individually and charter airlines started to sell more and more seats individually.
Charter airlines also tried to adapt to LCC’s often by cutting back their service standards, unfortunately without ever reaching a truly low cost base. This strategy was doomed to fail for most charter airlines. LTU merged with Air Berlin (which folded after a long struggle in 2017), Hapag-Lloyd merged to become Tuifly while Condor, although now part of Thomas Cook, still operates under its‘ original brand name.
One of the few independent charter airlines in Germany is Germania which is in the business since the middle of the 1980s. They are about the only charter or holiday airline left that still offers an onboard product close to the typical experience of my youth and I was thrilled when I was able to fly back with them from a ferry cruise in January 2018.
Germany’s flights show up on expedia.com but I chose to book them directly at www.flygermania.com. Browsing their website, I realized they also offer flights to Iceland, Beirut and even Teheran.
Booking my ticket from Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria to Berlin-Tegel (TXL) was fairly easy. The ticket included one checked bag (20 KG). and I added a reservation for an aisle seat which brought the total to 120 Euros. Strangely, after finishing the booking I immediately received a bill via e-mail but no electronic ticket which only arrived several weeks later. Not a big issue but as Germania does not have a „Mange my Booking“ tool , I was not 100% sure if I had a confirmed booking for a while which was a little unnerving.
Check-in, Departure Airport
Holiday airlines typically sell a lot of their seats to tour operators and cruise companies and in case of my flight a lot of passengers came from one of the AIDA ships – unfortunately their buses arrived a just few minutes before my hotel shuttle, which meant a long que at the two check-in desks. Online check-in was not encouraged by Germania and I did not even see a „bag drop“ counter at LPA Airport.
I waited more than half an hour to reach the friendly check-in agent who handled everything quickly and even had the foresight to change my seat reservation to a row with fewer infants.
Other than my full flight LPA airport was rather quiet on this off-season sunday. There is a huge duty-free zone (the Canarian Islands are exempt from EU duties and most travellers stock up on their way home) with friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Rainy weather and the rather dreary departure area made saying good-bye to the balmy Canarian Islands a little easier.
Upon boarding flight attendants offered newspapers ans directed passengers to their seats. I head a row in the forward part of the Boeing 737 to myself and settled in quite comfortably. Seats were covered in grey leather and compared to newer slimline seats felt almost like a grandfather chair. Seat pitch was tight and I appreciated having reserved an aisle seat.
After takeoff the crew offered headphones at a very reasonable price (2,00 Euros) but you could also plug in your own headsets. IFE was on overhead screens and featured an inflight map, short clips and the movie Hidden Figures– a pleasingly arthousey choice that did not go down to well with my fellow passengers who mostly slept off the aftermath of the shipboard farewell night.
After reaching cruising altitude FA rolled out their carts and presented what has to be the most plain, cost-efficient way to tick the „free lunch“ box in the world of civil aviation:
The simple pasta in tomato sauce was served on a half-size tray with a kaiser roll, butter and utensils. The pasta itself tasted quite good actually while I found the roll to be a pretty useless way to add even more carbohydrates to a pasta meal. Something in the way of dessert like a chocolate bar would have made more sense to me.
The meal came with free soft-drinks. I added a mini bottle of white wine for 6,50 Euros which I found to be a little on the pricey side – but was served with charter airline elegance – i. e. in a stemmed plastic cup with the bottle decorated by a paper napkin „scarf“.
Coffee and tea were served after lunch and a full round of hot and cold drinks was offered before landing in Berlin.
The communicative cabin crew took care of every need with relaxed professionalism and the flight deck offered full-length updates on routing and weather. The flight proceeded smoothly crossing the Iberian peninsula, France and central Germany while the sun was slowly setting. Arrival in Berlin was right on time.
Arrival, Onward Journey
Deplaneing was by bus which made everybody shiver in their thin holiday gear. Bags started to arrive on the belt pretty soon and I was at the bus stop outside Tegel’s ageing terminal about 20 minutes after touch down to catch an X9 express service to Hauptbahnhof.
Arriving at Berlins cold-war airport always ads about 1 1/2 hours to my journey back to Leipzig, so here is yet another traveller waiting for BER to open…and waiting…and waiting…
I spent this five-hour flight in reasonable comfort thanks to Germania still adhering to some standards of passenger care. To bad, this seems to be a concept on the descending branch nowadays.