In September, Air Berlin shocked its passengers by discontinuing in-flight snacks and drinks included in the airfare.
Starting September 17, you can get drinks such as water, juice or soda for 3 euros each and alcoholic drinks at higher cost. Sweets and meals are also available for a cost. There were hardly any takers on a 23 September flight from Berlin to Vienna.
So why would this small change matter? There are after all low-cost airlines, such as Ryan Air, that do not serve snacks and drinks for free, offering them at an additional cost.
What is different with Air Berlin is that it is not trying to position itself as a low-cost airline.
In fact, just the opposite is true, judging from the September issue of their on-board magazine. The letter from the Air Berlin CEO, Stefan Pichler, lists some of the added benefits for Business Class on flights within Germany and in Europe, such as more leg room, a guaranteed free middle seat, a la carte service and more included baggage.
“We are therefore positioning ourselves clearly within the European airlines’ premium segment.”
Okay, the business customer may appreciate this. But will the more frequent economy traveler mind they get no snack and not even a cup of water in this premium world of Air Berlin?
We travelers have come to expect that snack and drink on board an airplane. An Air Berlin competitor, Austrian Airlines, serves not only snacks and alcohol-free drinks, but also complimentary alcoholic beverages, wine and beer.
Fly Niki, Air Berlin’s Austrian subsidiary, continues serving complimentary sandwiches and drinks.
An airline trying to promote itself within premium segment, while sending a signal that is typical and accepted in the world of low-cost air travel is sending mixed messages to its customer base.
You know how dehydrated you get at airports and onboard an airplane. So on your next trip, will you reach for your wallet and increase Air Berlin revenue by buying a 3 Euro bottle of water? Or will you count this savings measure against Air Berlin and turn to their competition?
(Note: Air Berlin announced in September it would cut 1,200 jobs and turn over about half of its fleet, 40 Airbus 320s, to Lufthansa, one of their main competitors in Germany.)