Germany’s Condor Airlines is a pleasant surprise

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines is not a company that strikes a chord with most international travelers. But, its loyal German fan base (it’s a German company) and an expanding roster of international travelers are taking notice of this company’s growing international presence. As a partner company of parent Thomas Cook Travel, this airline focuses on selling leisure travel exclusively. As a result, the majority of its bookings are focused on leisure destinations that package together hotel and flight reservations.

Its most popular destination is Palma de Mallorca, Spain, which accounts for a significant number of its flights and passengers. Other major destinations include beach hot spots in Greece, Turkey and the rest of Spain. What’s most interesting, however, is its growing route map in North America. European travelers have a variety of destinations to choose from in the summer, the newest being Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Oregon. The reverse is true for North Americans interested in heading to Europe at an affordable price.

Since the airline is focused on the leisure traveler, prices are typically lower than other airlines. Even its business class, which is on par with most U.S. carriers offerings, is priced significantly less. Condor invited JohnnyJet.com to its headquarters to learn more about what it does and how it’s increasingly catering to the stateside flyer. We invite you along for our journey!

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Departing from Anchorage
My flight with Condor began in Anchorage, Alaska (Condor is the only transatlantic carrier from Alaska with the exception of Icelandair). It was pretty cool to check in for a European flight from this northern airport; when Condor taxis from the gate, it certainly turns heads according to the ground staff.

Inside the Condor 767

Inside the Condor 767 (business)

Condor business class passengers are given access to the Alaska Airlines Board Room. If they prefer not to spend time in this rather average lounge (soup, salad, cheese, and drinks are not for everyone), guests can trade their lounge voucher in for a 20 Euro credit to the onboard Duty Free, which can buy a lot—including model airplanes and eau de cologne (frankly, a better value!).

Once onboard, passengers are certainly surprised by the angled lie-flat seating onboard. This is a strong departure from the recliner seats once offered onboard. Many comment that this angled seat, together with the stellar onboard service (more on that later), is reminiscent of Lufthansa service. This writer found it to be even better.

Once onboard, the staff was quick to offer juice, water or cava sparkling wine. Amenity kits and flannel blankets were waiting at each seat. Amenity kits were especially notable as they doubled as iPad cases after the flight. Their exterior featured a world map, which added to the fun.

Pilot/crew rest seat

Pilot/crew rest seat

As a leisure airline offering such an angled, lie-flat product across its fleet, Condor is a groundbreaker. The airline found there’s a substantial market for travelers interested in investing in premium long-haul travel, but that this segment cannot afford the same prices charged to corporate travelers.

Flying the skies with Condor

Flying the skies with Condor

As a result, Condor offers its business class (and premium economy) at a significant discount, and this brings the airline significantly incremental revenue as its customer base is able to reach high enough to cover the fair price increases. Often, upsell opportunities at the gate fill the leftover seats at departure time, bringing increased revenue to the airline while pleasing travelers with a solid discount on premium seats (for those willing to take the risk on them being available). On both of my flights, business class was booked solid.

Aircraft
Condor has 11 Boeing 767 longhaul aircraft, some of which are configured with more business class seats than others. This allows the airline to assign those aircraft to flights that have more premium demand than others. For example, Las Vegas and Seattle have significant demand in the premium cabin, and they routinely get the bigger business class cabin aircraft. All of Condor’s longhaul aircraft are fitted with fuel-saving winglets, as environmental savings are paramount to Condor and provide a major economic boost to its operation.

Safety video

Safety video

Safety video
The airline’s safety video takes its cue from the original funny movie from Delta, but Condor’s is probably the best of the best because it features cameos from a variety of impersonators doing the likes of Paris Hilton and Queen Elizabeth. The airline is in the process of transitioning to the new sunny heart logo, which involves a staff reinvigoration that will focus upon international awareness. This airline is becoming more of a connecting carrier than it was in the past (a fact noticed in-flight when multiple travelers were continuing on).

And in a clever nod to Delta’s safety video (hi Deltalina!), Condor has its own signature finger wag to indicate that smoking is not allowed onboard.

In my opinion, Condor business class is as good as Lufthansa’s, if not more personable. Hefty menu cards and noise-canceling headsets are distributed after takeoff.

Aperitifs

Aperitifs

Food and service
Aperitifs begin quickly, with large wine and cocktail glasses and packaged nuts. Refills come quickly from the same cart before the appetizer round. All in all, if one were to count the number of passes from the beverage cart, passengers on Condor are more than twice as quaffed as those on Lufthansa. The service is notably more personable, friendly and engaging.

Yes, Condor is a leisure airline, but Lufthansa’s business focus is lacking for many of its own loyal travelers. And for those that are wondering, yes, Condor used to be a subsidiary of Lufthansa before being sold off. The two carriers remain close partners, however, including via membership in the Miles & More loyalty program.

First courses

First courses

Appetizer trays are delivered swiftly after with numerous options including salads, seafood, and other amuse-bouche selections. Warm bread with olive oil follows, and the spread immediately tops the limited offering that comes aboard Lufthansa flights.

Gnocchi with tomato sauce and vegetables

Gnocchi with tomato sauce and vegetables

The tray is swiftly removed (be sure to snag the Condor airplane-shaped salt and pepper shakers as a souvenir; they’re thrown away afterward) to make room for the hot main dish. That is not before another pass of the beverage cart; since these flights (mostly from Frankfurt) are bound for leisure destinations, there is no excuse for not being “happy” enroute! My gnocchi with tomato sauce and vegetables was better than what I have experienced on the ground. I still long for more to this day, and the in-flight entertainment selection was lengthy and included current and former movie and TV favorites.

From the dessert and cheese cart

From the dessert and cheese cart

The dessert and cheese cart follows shortly after (this is different from the dessert cart, mind you). For comparison, Lufthansa shoves the two together to abbreviate the service. Drink refills continue, and the camaraderie among the crew is notable on this smaller airline. It seems like everyone is friends; in fact, while I was watching one of the in-flight TV selections, the flight attendant serving my aisle was the star of the airline video I was watching. That’s how small and congenial the airline and its crew are with Condor. The difference in crew happiness and service is notable.

From the dessert cart

From the dessert cart

After having flown dozens and dozens of flights in both Lufthansa business and first, I found Condor’s crew to be happier and more interested in engaging with passengers. The interest could come from always flying with happy passengers (leisure destinations bring happier passengers). However, there are a decent number of business travelers that choose Condor for its nonstop service to various cities including Ft. Lauderdale, Halifax, San Juan, and Toronto.

 

In the air

Flying over Greenland

My flight from Anchorage to Frankfurt is one of the airline’s more popular summer routes for European travelers, and I enjoyed flying over the most northern tip of Greenland, which is quite unusual.

Breakfast

Breakfast

Breakfast followed two hours before landing (a bit too early for my preference…it could easily happen an hour and 15 minutes before landing with plenty of time to prepare the cabin for landing and maximize sleep time). Condor is able to deliver a fine hot breakfast (Lufthansa’s is often cold on many routes) with an option for omelets added to the substantial spread.

Condor headquarters

Condor headquarters

Condor headquarters
The airline’s new headquarters is environmentally friendly and located next to Starwood’s green-focused Element brand, which has recently opened near the airport.

In-flight cabin simulator

In-flight cabin simulator

It’s here that the airline’s in-flight training facilities and operational center are located, and where we would spend the bulk of our day. We began by taking a peek at the in-flight training center where flight attendants learn how to handle in-flight emergencies as well as how to evacuate an aircraft on land and in a water ditching. We got to participate in both scenarios.

Their cabin crew simulator is very realistic in producing scenarios as they would happen inflight. The fake window screens showcase a variety of emergency possibilities and simulated how it would feel to turn onto a runway at takeoff or overshoot a runway on landing. Screens in the cabin allowed everyone to see what was happening, important for a flight attendant training facility.

Smoke!

Smoke!

In-flight training  simulator
Our interaction with the simulator involved smoke in the cabin and an on-ground evacuation that forced passengers to evacuate via slides. In the cabin, we cautiously awaited commands to brace and then leave everything as we headed to the exits to evacuate. We were shown how flight attendants are taught the proper way to guide and instruct passengers to and down the emergency slides. It was a harrowing and informative experience.

Exiting down the slide

Exiting down the slide

Later, we had the chance to do the same thing with life vests and learned that inflating life vests onboard is actually a hazard (given the extra space they require). It’s important to wait and inflate life vests at the door of the aircraft so that they give you the easiest way to squeeze toward a viable exit. Once leaving the aircraft, be sure to jump and slide. If you sit down and slide, it will take a bit longer to get down the slide, which endangers more people still inside the aircraft.

Training dummy

Training dummy

Something that I found most enlightening was the experience of lifting a life-size (and true-to-weight; 180 pounds to be exact) dummy from the exit. My task was to evacuate the exit row. We all agreed quickly to open that door. But, the dummy was extremely heavy and bulky. Even if you could open it, carrying a fellow incapacitated traveler through the opening is quite difficult. I tried it myself, and was not only slow, but completely unable to lift someone out of their seat.

Cursory agreements to sitting in the exit rows should really be taken seriously. My guess is that 95 percent of the people that sit in exit rows are unable to lift other passengers out of the way to assist in an evacuation (the requirement is only for the lesser-weight door). Sure, flight attendants do a cursory job of delivering the “I NEED A VERBAL” speech, but it truly is important.

Life raft

Life raft

Jumping into the life raft (after successfully, and hopefully, evacuating the aircraft) is the next step. We learned how to get people into the life raft and how to keep them calm.

In the operations center

In the operations center

Operations center
Later, we toured the operations center, where the team is responsible for managing the airline’s entire route network. One aircraft’s delay leads to another’s elsewhere. Watching how the team pieces the logistical puzzle together was fascinating. Think about all the details: One crew going overtime in Tenerife could lead to a delay in Antalya. One of the staffers made the point clear: “We never cancel flights; we are a leisure airline.”

That’s true: Many of the destinations that the airline serves have no other commercial service. This leaves Condor with the exclusive responsibility of bringing customers there and back. That’s a great compliment and hindrance at the same time. This is why Condor cannot really cancel its flights (it’s often the only flight to Germany from its destination). Its flights will always operate albeit at an occasional delay. How much? That’s the responsibility of these folks!

The airline has a rich history including being the only airline to offer wide-body service regularly to Palma de Mallorca, the airline’s biggest moneymaker.

FRA airport tour

FRA airport tour

Behind the scenes at Frankfurt airport (FRA)
Back at Frankfurt, the airline’s largest operation (but not its only hub as Cologne, Dusseldorf and Berlin handle flights too) is the ideal spot to take advantage of an airport tour. Fraport, the airport’s handler, offers them on a daily basis. Simply stop by their booth with your passport and prepare to head airside for the #avgeek experience of a lifetime.

Flight board

Flight board

There are few airports like FRA that handle the breadth of aircraft and airlines that this one does. Spotters are treated to numerous areas for up-close photos from the bus (glares from the bus windows are a constant irritation) of the tarmac and active runways.

Condor does a significant amount of its maintenance in Frankfurt, and we were able to drop in on one aircraft (the same one that brought me to Europe from Anchorage and would take me back to the U.S. a few days later) as it was getting a basic inspection.

Condor 767 basic inspection

Condor 767 basic inspection

Getting to explore its engines and massive undercarriage was fascinating. I learned that the hot valve we see protruding from the aircraft discharges the water released from the coffee and hot water valves (including the sinks). Ever wonder what happens to the dirtier components flushed down the toilets? Well, they are vacuumed from their location on board all the way to the back of the aircraft twice as fast as a speeding car down the highway. Later, they’re discharged in a more compact fashion once on the ground.

Premium economy

Premium economy

Premium economy seating
Condor premium economy provides significantly more space than standard economy plus more cocktails offerings. All economy customers get to enjoy a complimentary full water bottle enroute, which is something Lufthansa would never entertain.

It should be noted that row 10 has a misaligned window on many of the Boeing 767 aircraft, which should be avoided by avgeeks. The same goes for business class travelers in row 5.

The front cabin benefits between Lufthansa and Condor are strong, but once further back they wane. Still standard economy is still a bargain, but there are certain seats that demand a premium, including those in rows 21 and 22 on the majority of international 767s. They do not get premium economy benefits, but have (almost) more room than the others since they are the exit rows. These are the bargain options onboard (remember that a subset of aircraft have a different exit row number).

Condor ready to board

Condor ready to board

As a small airline, the interactions with crew are especially pleasant and personable. It’s not unusual to fly with the same cabin crew multiple times, and when they recognize you, it seems more like family.

Ramsey Qubein

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About the Author

Ramsey Qubein
Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist and correspondent for Northstar Travel Media covering the hotel and airline industry from every corner of the globe. He has traveled to 144 countries (many more than two dozen times) and lived in both Madrid and Paris. His work has appeared in numerous consumer and industry publications including Travel+Leisure, Premier Traveler, Islands, Business Traveller, Singapore Airlines' Silver Kris, and US Airways magazines. He is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and completed a Master’s Degree thesis researching various aspects of marketing/branding in the travel industry. Ramsey is highly recognized as an expert in travel loyalty programs, business travel and the luxury travel segment. He flies nearly 350,000 miles per year and estimates he has circumnavigated the globe more than 80 times. He is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio programs and contributor to USA Today, Fox News, BBC, Frommers, and AirfareWatchdog. Ramsey enjoys participating on travel panels or roundtables and is frequently quoted on travel-related subjects. Interested editors are welcome to contact him for any freelance writing needs related to business travel, aviation, or the hotel industry.

4 Comments on "Germany’s Condor Airlines is a pleasant surprise"

  1. Use condor from Vancouver British Columbia, nonstop to Frankfurt Germany.
    OK service and the prices are great.
    Highly recommended

  2. Not too impressed with Condor.
    When we tried to check-in on our return flight from Cancun to Frankfurt, we were told that we were not on the passenger list.
    The check-in counter employees told us that the travel agency had failed to book the segment.
    We were then left without any assistance at midnight in the Cancun airport. We had to find a hotel for the night.
    We got in touch with our travel agency to ask for a solution, and when they contacted Condor Airline services, the agency was told that we were no-show. This was a lie.
    Now, according to our travel agency someone at Condor recognized an internal mistake and a solution was found for our return trip to Europe the day after without additional cost. On this return flight we met other passenger who were supposed to be on the same flight the day before. According to them, the flight was overbooked and they had been compensated accordingly. We found out that we had been less lucky and lied to.
    I raised a complaint with Condor Airlines customer service, and got a standard policy copy paste as the only answer, after 3 weeks. No compensation.
    Treating customers this way is unacceptable, and I can only advise people to avoid this company.

  3. Thank you for this info.
    It seems that condor is a bad choice.
    We are supposed to go with them later but we already feel that this will be a disaster. We cannot get i touch thru their website, no possibility to make seat reservations, only an automatic answer on e-mail telling that they cannot answer “due to a high increase of incoming e-mails”!??
    I think this and your problems shows the quality of the airline.
    We will keep our fingers cross and hoping for that it will be better then it looks.

    Leif

  4. Their customer service both via email and on the phone is terrible. We tried to book the extras for our flight, which should have been included in the original reservation as I selected them when doing it, but they were not and I have had lots of issues with their website and customer service center. There was no way to book them and no one offered us a solution they always blamed the IT department said that they would contact the IT department to fix it and that I should call the next week. Well we send more than 8 emails, called every week for 2 months and always got the same answer, “There is nothing we can do, please call next week.” or via email “Unfortunately the seat assignment is not possible due to an technical error in our booking system. As my colleagues write you already before, we forwarded it to the IT department and we kindly please you to understand our technical error.” Instead of them offering solutions to use we tried offering solutions like hold the seats for us and we will pay in the airport but this was not possible. We asked to talk to a supervisor but again this was not possible because they apparently can’t solve anything. In conclusion this company has a customer service department that can’t offer any customer service at all.

    I am very displeased with all of these issues, all of which are the result of the website not working correctly the first time round and a totally incompetent costumer service department. I have spent precious time writing e-mails, trying to book on their website and making calls to solve the problem all to no avail. I really needed to confirm my seat and meal plan as I am pregnant and need to be seated in a specific place but this was not important to them either.

    I was really excited to find an airline flying almost direct from England to San Juan, Puerto Rico and was going to recommend it to all of our family and friends from England and Germany coming to visit but this has just left a very bad impression.

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