easyJet Makes Its Move on Berlin

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
Copenhagen 2x daily
Madrid 1x daily
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
Budapest 1x daily
Catania 1x daily
Budapest 1x daily
eff February 1, 2018
Fuerteventura 1x weekly (starts Feb 3)
Tel Aviv 1x daily
eff March 1, 2018
Helsinki 1x daily
Milan/Malpensa 1x daily
Paphos 1x weekly (starts Mar 3)
Stockholm 2x daily

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.

[Berlin Airport photo by translation to en: skew-t (talk)derivative work: Hedavid (talk)Berlin.svg: Nodder [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

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21 Responses to easyJet Makes Its Move on Berlin

  1. Ronald de Neef says:

    I am sure Easy Jet will manage – it is a bit like UK and the Brexit!

  2. In some respects it’s too bad that Tempelhof hasn’t reopened to provide a little breathing room, but I’m sure the folks living in the neighborhood are so glad for the reduction in aircraft noise that they wouldn’t be pleased to see it return to service. It’s amazing there hasn’t been rioting in the streets of Berlin (or seismic effects from Willy Brandt spinning in his grave) over the situation at BER. Enough said about that pie in Germany’s face.

    • CF says:

      It’s funny, because even when Tempelhof was open, it was barely used. Of course, in the last 10 years, things have changed. I’d imagine Ryanair would want to make it like a Ciampino if it had the chance.

      • A says:

        I haven’t been to Berlin in years but a friend living there told me Tempelhof was being converted to a park. Hopefully they don’t destroy the terminal building. Very interesting piece of architecture.

        • partim says:

          The terminal complex has been listed and has to be preserved in the state of its last use. There’s guided tours exploring many parts. They are available in English and are absolutely worth spending three hours on. For a building not even a hundred years old, it is amazingly full of history.

          For the former airfield, there were attempts by the city government to convert parts of it into residential area. That resulted in a successful referendum requiring that the airfield be left as a park. There are some careful conversions being done to increase its recreational value, but by and large it is being left as it was. If the weather is nice, it is totally worth going. Where else can you stroll along a runway? Even the taxiway signs are still there …

  3. Kilroy says:

    As a logistics professional, armchair historian, and an avgeek amateur, the Berlin Airlift is one of my favorite episodes in history. For that reason alone I’m glad to see that at least one of the legacy airports from the Berlin Airlift (Tegel) is still in use.

  4. Chris says:

    easyJet is one of the few LCCs I can tolerate. I have no patience for SW in the US but for some reason, U2 has consistently provided me with a pleasant experience for a great cost. I hope they make it work.

    On an unrelated CF, PLEASE kill the autoplay video ads on the right rail. If it’s the only way to drive more revenue, I get it but at least make them click to play.

    • CF says:

      Chris – Autoplay? I hate that garbage, but I don’t notice it b/c I use an auto-mute extension in my browser. Which ad spots are autoplaying? I use two ad providers so I need to know which one to look at.

  5. partim says:

    The 8 daily flights to Munich will be interesting. A new section of high-speed railway line just opened pushing the travel time central station to central station to well under five hours. Given Munich Airport’s location and public transport connections, rail service may steal quite a bit of market share.

    Plus, it may not be the most profitable point-to-point route to begin with. Transavia walked away from it recently. They were using SXF, though, which probably scared away quite a few business travelers.

    • alex mas says:

      Those were exactly my thoughts. Actually its under 4hrs (3:55). And there will be a lot DB trains on that route.
      4hrs is pretty much breaking point for train/plane contest if you are living in center of the city.

  6. Demo says:

    It’s hardly crazy that Berlin would maintain two airports. Its metro area is somewhere between (depends on what metric you look at) the 6th and 8th largest in Europe. Milan, Paris, London, Düsseldorf, ect have all seemed to benefit from 2 (or more) airports.

  7. Billy says:

    EasyJet currently flies from London Luton, London Gatwick and London Southend. I’m sure they will cope with a split operation in Berlin.

  8. Doug Hirsch says:

    Why should two airports in Berlin be any worse for Easyjet than three around San Francisco or five airports around Los Angeles for Southwest?

  9. MK03 says:

    Speaking of Air Berlin, it seems that Lufthansa’s plan to take over Niki was rejected due to monopoly concerns, and now Niki is likely to go under (they already declared insolvency and will cease flying today). Which is a real shame considering it was founded by (although no longer run by) former F1 champion Niki Lauda, and considering I’m an F1 fan, I kind of had a soft spot for the airline despite never having gone to either Berlin or Vienna, let alone fly with them. Thoughts on this?

    Also, I was reading the relevant Airliners.net thread, and it seems that many people there are happy about the deal falling through and don’t seem to care/notice that the airline is likely to go belly up; this is the same forum that sympathized with the workers of Monarch after they went bust. Really odd to see them seem to care more about Lufthansa not turning into a monopoly than the jobs that will be lost by the airline’s potential death. I hate monopolies myself, but it’s really weird to see at least some members of the forum being happy that a company rescue deal is falling through and they don’t even comment on the jobs at risk. Thoughts on this?

    • Bill from DC says:

      Is Niki a successor to LaudaAir? I thought that got folded into Austrian.

      • MK03 says:

        No, Niki is the airline that Lauda founded after Lauda Air was sold to Austrian. Lauda Air has already been absorbed by Austrian (though I think they originally run it as their leisure arm for several years), while Niki (aka flyNiki) was later sold to Air Berlin and had been run by them until the latter’s collapse.

    • CF says:

      MK03 – Niki is dead unless Niki himself finds a way to buy back the carcass. Niki is tiny, and other airlines will pick up the slack quickly.
      I’d imagine Niki employees wouldn’t have much trouble finding new jobs elsewhere.

  10. I visited Berlin nearly 20 years ago in April 1998, flew into and out of TXL and visited SXF which had the open air observation deck where I saw and photographed an Aeroflot TU-154, a JAT B737-300, and an Air Koryo Il-62 when they still had some scheduled flights outside of North Korea and China.

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