We decided to give Air Berlin a try for two reasons: cheap pricing, and the fact they had the only direct flights from Tegel Airport to Berlin, Germany to the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. The direct flight route was of particular importance to me, as this was the first time when I was traveling with both my sons—without my husband—over the busy travel time of winter break.
Air Berlin does offer the possibility of booking pre-assigned seats, a feature that I took advantage of to ensure that we all had aisle seats for extra legroom.
I wasn’t too concerned about luggage weight issues since we only travel with ultra-light hand luggage. Additionally, I had prepared my autistic son, beforehand for the possibility that he might have to use his iPad for entertainment, as it was apparent the planes wouldn’t have personal screens.
Lastly, before departing from theStates, I did notify the airline a second time that I was traveling with a special needs child and would require pre-boarding.
Air Berlin’s Check-In
Check in at Tegel airport in Berlin was exceptionally fast and efficient.Unfortunately, the concept of pre-boarding in Tegel is different than in the States as we soon found out—all passengers board a bus that takes everyone to the plane’s staircase.
So, our true accommodation was reduced to be simply getting on the bus that took passengers to the aircraft first, rather than boarding the actual aircraft. We got to rush from the bus door to the plane entrance as soon as possible in the freezing wind like everyone else.
Air Berlin’s Onboard Experience
The actual flight was uneventful, excluding the fact that I injured my knee while loading suitcases in the overhead bin. And of course, the fact that crew was less than fast in bringing me much-needed ice or even asking how I was feeling.
I wondered how and if they would be able to handle an autistic meltdown if they reacted so nonchalantly to a common injury liked mine. To their credit, however, I will mention that they finally arranged an airport transportation vehicle to take us from the plane to the border control and luggage carousel at Ben Gurion (after seeing my swollen knee).
The flight on Air Berlin is very much a ‘vintage’ experience, complete with the old-fashioned two rolling boarding stairs sets. The seats were moderately comfortable configured three and three with minimal walking space and very low ceilings. We did see some people bump their heads while getting in and out of their spots.
The free sandwiches they gave us were pretty much non-edible, leaving passengers with one of two options: either buy something at the airport and bring it onboard or buy their food (which is quite pricey).
Entertainment was non-existent; so, choices to engage kids should include bringing personal electronics, books or board games. I ended up having had a lovely conversation with a German engineer who was taking his mom to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem for Christmas, while both my sons slept through most of the four and a half hour early morning flight.
All in all, we wouldn’t recommend Air Berlin for autistic travel unless of course you had no other viable choice to make as the airline in its current format cannot accommodate travelers with autism well.