Berlin’s Tegel airport is a strange and almost dystopian experience
Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL) is a complete disgrace.
It is not that it is old, I am too as are many of my friends and favourite ports, it is that it simply couldn’t care less. Yes, it creaks under the load. Yes, it is being replaced by a shiny new airport “Berlin Brandenburg”. And yes, it is past its sell-by date, but these are no reasons for its complete and utter lack of interest in the flying public.
The new airport is a sham too. Built some six or seven years ago it still lies unused. Openings scheduled for October 2011, June 2012, March and October 2013 and June 2017 have come and gone as whimsically as the money that has been spent on it, and meanwhile, Tegel bears the brunt.
And bears it extremely badly. Let me explain.
Berlin Tegel has been the site of aerial shenanigans since 1914, and while it would be cruel to say so, it feels like it. Its commercial operations began in the late 1950s, and its architecture, interesting if one’s blood pressure would allow contemplation, dates from that era.
There is the aura of escaping spies, and the thought of those many secret journeys that passed through the airport does add a unique atmosphere.
Each gate in the Lufthansa Terminal A has its own check-in space and luggage carousel, which would be wonderful if they actually functioned. The baggage carousel does, but the check-in facility, presumably a victim of Enhanced Security, has moved to a central zone.
And herein lies the problem; six check-in desks staffed by three Lufthansa personnel attempting to check-in or take baggage from a couple of thousand passengers is not efficient. Even by non-German standards.
Rocking up to the airport following a curious week in Berlin, nominally at a trade show, but incorporating lunch in Poland, I was expecting a normal, smooth departure.
The customer-service protocols were, I would guess, inherited from East Germany’s Interflug when the airlines merged some twenty-five years ago, and have remained the gold standard. Nobody is to blame, staff on-the-move stare at their shoes for fear of being harassed, and the queue edges forward. Questioning the set up, even politely, risks injury from a very prickly stare.
Ninety minutes in line, for a thirty second baggage-transaction. When I finally made it to the front, and this only because “The Munich Flight” was being called, and we were allowed to jump the line, I smiled, anxious to avoid any retaliation, and the possibility of my bags being directed to China.
No; excuses aside, and there are many, this is a shambles, and Lufthansa, a company for whom I have the greatest respect, should not allow itself to be a part of this parody of customer-service.
If there are six check-in desks and two thousand customers, six check-in staff should be the minimum complement; Tegel or Lufthansa need to invest in a bag-tag printing machine and let people print their tags, drop off the bags and be on their way. There are options, and waiting for Brandenburg Airport to open, is not one of them.
If you have a choice, may I recommend the fine service offered by the German rail system from the Central Station, and if you must fly, check-in on-line and take no baggage.
Update: Berlin Tegel is finally closed, and all flights are now using the new Brandenburg Airport. (May 28/2020) It is remarkable that the new airport has finally managed to come to fruition, and equally brave of the German authorities to shut Tegel down.
However, the wheels are in motion and the face of transportation in and out of the German capital will change for the good.