Stunning Livery - airberlin Saab 200 operated by Darwin Airline/Etihad Regional  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Stunning livery – airberlin Saab 2000 operated by Darwin Airline/Etihad Regional – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Recently, airberlin commenced flights between Prague and Berlin-Tegel, and I was fortunate enough to be on-board the inaugural service.

The flights are operated by Darwin Airline/Etihad Regional using a 50-seat Saab 2000 aircraft.  It  was a new type for me having only previously flown on the Saab 340. The Saab 2000 is one of the fastest turboprop aircraft in commercial service, with a maximum cruising speed of 413mph.

I was curious to see what the Etihad Regional product would be like, and if it would live up to the Etihad mainline economy class experience.

airberlin has scheduled three daily return flights on the route. If we look at the route from a P2P (point-to-point) perspective, three flights is a lot, given the numerous train and bus connections linking Berlin and Prague, in about five hours.  The justification from airberlin for the three flights per day is that Prague-Berlin will act primarily as a feeder service for their mainline European and long-haul international networks. All the flights are time strategically to connect, in particular with long-haul flights New York and Moscow.

Board the Inaugural flight in Prague - That engine really is quite big!  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Boarding the inaugural flight in Prague – that engine really is quite big! – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

As airberlin is largely a low-cost carrier, I was not expecting much fanfare at the airport on the first day of operations. However, I forgot that we are in Prague and the airport takes any new service launch seriously. I was made aware of the new route the moment I set foot in the terminal, with numerous automated announcements on the PA system celebrating the occasion.

Enjoying the view on the way to Berlin  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Enjoying the view on the way to Berlin – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Check-in was completed with minimal fuss, but I must point out that online check-in was not possible. At first, I suspected this was caused by first-day operations, but as I could not check-in for my return flight from Berlin, I suspect it is because the flight is operated by Etihad Regional and their aircraft seat maps are not loaded in the airline’s system yet.

Making my way to the gate area, I was greeted with a welcome drink of sparkling wine, as well as numerous sweet and savory refreshments. Following the arrival of the inbound inaugural flight from Berlin, the flight crew made an appearance and posed for some photos. I was happy to see that even Etihad Regional has adopted some of the new uniform designs from big brother Etihad.

Etihad Regional Crew uniforms which reflect elements from Etihad Mainline  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Etihad Regional Crew uniforms, which reflect elements from Etihad mainline – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Various speeches were given by representatives from the airberlin sales team in Czech Republic/Slovakia, as well as staff from the Prague airport. Following this and the traditional ribbon cutting ceremony to open the route, it was time to board. The load on my flight was just 16 passengers, so it felt like more of a private flight than one on a scheduled airline.

I have more recently checked the loads on the route, which has been going for a little over a month, and there has been a solid increase, with most flights operating at about 60% capacity. This is a good sign to the ongoing positive operation of the route.

No inaugural flight in Prague is complete without the traditional ribbon cutting ceremony  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

No inaugural flight in Prague is complete without the traditional ribbon cutting ceremony – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Boarding the aircraft, I was pleasantly surprised that the warm tones and colors which are present on the mainline Etihad fleet have been incorporated into the cabin design on the regional aircraft.

As I was seated in a bulkhead seat, legroom was not an issue, and even in the non-bulkhead seats it was more than sufficient for the one-hour flight. I did find the headroom slightly limited, but then again, I am reasonably tall.

The cabin is in a classic Saab 1-2 layout, with overhead bins on the double-seat side only. I was impressed by the size of the overhead bins, as my camera bag fit with ease. I have had issues fitting this bag on other turbo-prop aircraft such as Dash 8s and ATRs, but not with the Saab 2000.

The rather spacious and tastefully decorated Saab 2000 cabin  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

The rather spacious and tastefully decorated Saab 2000 cabin – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

The flight departed on-time; service consisted of snacks, non-alcoholic soft drinks, water, and tea & coffee. Again, this type of service is more than sufficient for the flight time and more extensive than what Czech Airlines used to offer when they flew the route in the past.

Arrival into Berlin was on-time and we were given the traditional airberlin chocolate hearts as a parting gift upon disembarkation, which is a ways a welcome touch to any flight experience.

While the cabin & overhead bins are spacious, head room can be a bit of an issue for taller passengers.  Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

While the cabin & overhead bins are spacious, headroom can be a bit of an issue for taller passengers – Photo: Jacob Pfleger | AirlineReporter

Overall, airberlin has delivered a solid product on the flight. Despite being based on a low-cost model, the level of service provided really was a step above many other regional EU carriers, and was consistent with that offered on mainline Etihad services, just scaled down to a smaller size.

Given airberlins’ extensive network and Berlin hub, I am sure that this route will continue to see an increase in feeder traffic, in particular over the summer peak travel season.

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC A native of Australia, Jacob’s interest in aviation first came about as a child going on a long-haul flight between Australia and Europe to visit relatives. In addition to being a pilot himself, he has worked in operations for a charter airline, been on-the-ramp handling aircraft, worked as a slot coordinator for major airports, and currently works as an aircraft charter broker for corporate and VIP clients throughout Eastern Europe. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys photography, plane spotting, and travel. Email: [email protected].

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1 Comment
JB Books

Jacob, can you get me a job with your company? lol

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