When airberlin finally went under, there was a great deal of concern that Lufthansa would pick up all the pieces and leave Germany without any serious competition. Fear not, competition-lovers. The good people of easyJet have other plans. And they aren’t waiting around – new service starts in early January.
After Lufthansa picked off what it wanted from airberlin (or what it thought the government would let it get away with), easyJet had to decide whether there was anything left worth taking. A couple weeks later, it made its decision. It plunked down €40 million (~$47 million) to buy some assets. It came away with much-desired slots and it took over the leases on 25 A320s. Along with that it was hoping to slurp up a bunch of former airberlin pilots. That is not a bad haul… but there is one issue.
Berlin is no normal city. After World War II, Berlin was divided into four sectors. The eastern half, of course, was controlled by the Soviets. In the western half, the French, British, and Americans each took a sector for themselves. Naturally each one wanted an airport. In the British sector, Gatow was chosen, but it barely saw commercial service. That was primarily for military use until it closed in 1995. The American sector had Tempelhof, the impressive structure that was Berlin’s main airport in the post-war years. It suffered from short runways, however, and its primary tenants (Pan Am and British Airways/BEA) left in 1975 to join Air France at Tegel. (Tempelhof shut down for good in 2008.) Tegel was in the French sector, and though Air France moved there in 1960, it wasn’t until 1975 that it became the primary airport for West Berlin.
On the eastern side, Schönefeld was the main airport. Even once Berlin was reunified more than 25 years ago, the two airports remained. Berlin is building the new Brandenburg Airport right next to Schönefeld, but as we all know it is delayed very, very badly. And even though it was meant to become the only commercial airport in Berlin upon opening, there has been pushback. A recent vote took place to try to keep Tegel open as well. In other words, for the foreseeable future (and maybe well beyond that), Berlin will have two airports even though it could benefit from having just one.
When easyJet set up shop in Berlin, it started operating from Schönefeld which was the outpost of low cost carriers (and a few former Soviet airlines as well.) Tegel remains the primary airport for legacy carriers… as it was for airberlin. So while easyJet has spent time building up Schönefeld, it hasn’t had a presence at Tegel. Now that changes.
The airline was in a hurry to fill the void left by airberlin, so it is standing up a limited operation pretty quickly. Service begins on January 7 on the most important domestic routes: Berlin to Dusseldorf (2x daily), Frankfurt (5x daily), Munich (8x daily), and Stuttgart (4x daily). This provides actual competition to Lufthansa on these trunk routes.
But that’s not all. Here’s the rollout plan for the next round of flights:
|eff January 7, 2018|
|Palma de Mallorca||2x daily|
|Paris/de Gaulle||1x daily (2x from Feb 1)|
|Rome/Fiumicino||1x daily (2x from Mar 1)|
|Vienna||4x daily (5x from Feb 1)|
|Zurich||4x daily (5x from Feb 1)|
|eff January 8, 2018|
|eff February 1, 2018|
|Fuerteventura||1x weekly (starts Feb 3)|
|Tel Aviv||1x daily|
|eff March 1, 2018|
|Paphos||1x weekly (starts Mar 3)|
As you can see, this is a serious operation here. Some of these cities are already served from Schönefeld while others, including all the domestic routes, are brand new. At first blush, it’s hard to see a true theme to this service. Of course the domestic flights are going to appeal more to the business traveler, especially one on a budget. Meanwhile, markets like Paphos and Palma de Mallorca are very clearly for tourists. It’s a nice smattering of destinations, presumably one that will allow easyJet to figure out what works best from Tegel and what doesn’t. I’d imagine we’ll see shifting over time.
The split airport isn’t as big of a deal for easyJet as it might be for an airline trying to hub in the city. Without the need to flow connecting passengers through a hub, this can appeal to the locals as well as those coming into Berlin itself. But it must be frustrating to need to build up two airport operations when one would do. Still, this was a race against time. Even with the assets that easyJet purchased, if it didn’t move fast, another airline would step in. Now let’s see if easyJet can make this work better than airberlin ever did.