Good Advice Tried and Tested

Germanwings A319 economy class

25/11/2014

BACKGROUND

Part of the Lufthansa Group, Cologne-based, low-cost airline Germanwings offers three different fare types – Basic, Smart and Best.

Basic budget fares are from €33 one-way, with unbundled extras at a fee – snack and drink from €6, a bag up to 23kg for €15, preferred seating for €10, or a seat with extra legroom plus a drink and snack for €18.

The Smart fare costs from €55 one-way and includes preferred seating, a savoury roll, still water and one other soft drink, lounge access at selected airports for HON Circle members, Senators and Frequent Travellers, and one piece of checked luggage up to 23kg.

The Best fare provides a business class-type of experience. It costs from €149 one-way and includes preferred seating in rows one to three with more legroom, an adjacent seat free, lounge access (where available), increased miles, priority check-in, access to the security fast lane (subject to availability) and priority boarding, reserved hand luggage compartment, a la carte catering (here is a link to a sample menu) and two bags up to 23 kg each included.  

This week, Germanwings also relaunched its website, with new functions such as “flight observation” allowing people to track the status of their flight.

CHECK-IN

As someone else had booked this flight for me, they checked me in online and emailed me my boarding pass, which I printed out. I was travelling with hand-luggage only (the limit is a case up to 55cm x 40cm x 23cm). You can also carry a small handbag or laptop but the combined weight can be no more than 8kg (which isn’t very heavy).

I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 2 at 1750, with just under 90 minutes until my 1915 Germanwings flight to Berlin. I went straight to security, where I put my few bottles of liquids in a plastic bag, scanned my boarding pass at one of the automatic gates, and joined one of the lines ahead for screening. It took about ten minutes to get through, despite there only being a few people ahead of me as one woman was having a lengthy pat-down. Laptops came out as usual, and coats off.

Once airside, I found myself in the huge, open-plan mezzanine level of the new terminal, where there was an excellent choice of shops and restaurants – the Perfectionist’s Cafe looked as if it served very good stone-baked pizzas, and the Yo Sushi next door was very trendy and futuristic. Sadly I didn’t have enough time to try them.

BOARDING

My gate (B32) showed up on the screens at 1840 (it said initially it would be displayed at 1830). Signs said it was a 15-minute walk away but people can also request a free shuttle service to take them in about six minutes. I went on foot along the various corridors, moving walkways and escalators – it felt like a long way. When I got to the gate, the boarding process had already started, with staff checking documents before ushering people through and on to an airbridge.

There was another a ten-minute wait to get on board, and then slowly make my way down the middle of the plane to my seat in row 17. My fellow passengers struggled to find space in the overhead bins to stow their coats and suitcases. (Despite my anxieties about the luggage allowance, no one asked to weigh my bag, but I am pretty sure it was over 8kg.) With no space in the lockers, I slid belongings under the seat in front (this restricted my legroom) and kept my coat on my lap. It all felt a bit hot, stressful and cramped.

THE SEAT

Seats are arranged in a 3-3 configuration (A-B-C, D-E-F) on this A319, with the front three rows for Preferred Seating, rows four to ten for Extra Legroom (32 inches instead of 29 inches), and row ten by the exits in the middle. Rows go up to 25 but there is no row 13.

The product is a thin, grey plastic Recaro model with grey leather upholstery and minimal cushioning. The armrests were narrow. There were fold-down tray tables, above of which was a copy of the Sky Bistro magazine, Sky Shop and in-flight GW publications. Under was a net for personal items.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

It is definitely worth paying extra for a seat with extra legroom. Avoid middle seats B and E, and try to sit as near to the front as possible so you can disembark quicker. I’d also try and board relatively quickly as, once the plane fills up, there is much less space for stowing bags in overhead bins.

THE FLIGHT

The aircraft was late departing, pushing back at 1930, and then taking off at 1950 with no welcome onboard from the captain or explanation for the delay. The refreshment service started promptly once airborne, at about 2000, with drinks and snacks swiftly distributed to those who had them included in their fare.

Once this had been done, the trolley came around again and I bought a Grunlander cheese, sundried tomato and lettuce sandwich on dense seeded, wholegrain bread, which was delicious, filling and good value at €3.90. Spirits are not available but you can buy beer and soft drinks for €3, and wine for €4.90.  

ARRIVAL

The cabin was prepared for landing at 2050, with rubbish collected and tray tables stowed. We touched down at Berlin Tegel airport at 2110 (2210 local time). Disembarkation was quick via both the front and back of the plane, down steps to two awaiting shuttle buses. Passport control took about ten minutes to get through once in the terminal.

VERDICT

This was not the most comfortable economy class flight and it was late departing, but I think my experience would have been better if I had paid for an extra legroom seat. I was impressed with the quality and freshness of the sandwich, though, and despite taking off later than anticipated, the flight was very quick, at one hour 20 minutes.

FACT FILE:

  • SEAT CONFIGURATION 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F)
  • SEAT PITCH 29in (or 32 inches with extra legroom seats)
  • PRICE Internet rates for a midweek return economy class flight in December from London to Berlin started from £140.
  • CONTACT germanwings.com

Jenny Southan