There are some aircraft that have hundreds of them built every year like the Airbus A321, with thousands in existence…
Lufthansa Regional Part 1: CityLine to Dresden
I’ve spent a lot of my time flying between the United States and Germany over the past year. A majority of those back-and-forths trips have been on Lufthansa, Germany’s flag carrier and one of the better-known airlines in Europe.
Much of the flying that Lufthansa mainline does is international. While the company certainly flies a substantial amount domestically as well, there are only so many routes that a mainline aircraft can support in a country smaller than the U.S. state of Montana. Thus, most of the flights Lufthansa mainline flies within Germany connect major financial and tourist destinations, such as flying from Frankfurt, which is Germany’s main transatlantic hub, and Munich, the largest city in Germany’ southern half.
Domestic flights within Germany, therefore, are more often flown by two airlines that operate for Lufthansa Regional. The Lufthansa Group has retired the Regional branding from its aircraft over the past few years, but the concept is still very much alive.
At the time of writing, two airlines operate on behalf of Lufthansa Regional, both wholly-owned by the Lufthansa Group: Lufthansa CityLine and Air Dolomiti. Both of these carriers are fascinating in their own right, so on a free weekend I had in Germany earlier this summer, I decided I’d take a domestic flight from Munich to visit a friend in Dresden. I was able to make each leg on a new Lufthansa Regional carrier, flying CityLine outbound to Dresden and Air Dolomiti on the way back.
Flying domestically within Germany is a taboo issue. As with many other Europeans, many Germans worry about the climate impact of flying places easily accessible by train. Neither of my flights this weekend were full, and, at least on my return flight, entire rows were empty.
About Lufthansa CityLine
Lufthansa CityLine is to Lufthansa what Envoy Air is to American Airlines. Both are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the group run by their mainline counterparts and operate exclusively under the group’s branding. Envoy no longer carries the name of the regional brand it operates under (American Eagle), but CityLine, despite being an entity completely separate from Lufthansa, still carries Lufthansa’s name in its own title.
CityLine was founded in the late 1950s and operated not only a as a separate entity but also completely separately from Lufthansa Group until 1992, despite the fact that all of its operations were on Lufthansa’s behalf for years before then.
In the mid-2010s, CityLine even flew internationally on Lufthansa’s behalf, operating a number of wet-leased Airbus A340s to North America. This scheme lasted until the summer of 2020, when international travel had taken a hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
CityLine was headquartered in Cologne until it moved all operations to Munich in 2013. The airline’s fleet currently consists mainline of Bombardier CRJ900 and Embraer 190 aircraft, the latter of which will be moved to Air Dolomiti. The airline also operates a dozen Airbus A320 family aircraft in both passenger and cargo configurations for Lufthansa, with the cargo planes flying as far away as Egypt on a regular basis.
Seeing that Lufthansa CityLine’s branding is so close to that of Lufthansa, I was curious as to how the airline’s products compared with its parent company’s. My outbound flight from Munich to Dresden would be operated by CityLine on one of its flagship CRJ 900s.
The Airport Experience
My flight was an early one. It was scheduled to leave just after 08:00 a.m., meaning I woke up at about 04:30 to head to the train and give myself some wiggle room in case the airport was busy. I’ve seen Munich’s checkin area bustling before early-morning flights, so I didn’t want to risk cutting it super close.
My extra promptness turned out to be unfounded, as there was not a line in sight when I walked into the checkin hall. Many of the check-in kiosks were empty, and those with passengers only had one group using them at a time. The security area was equally desolate, with no more than two or three people in each X-Ray line at a time. Though the area would surely get busier throughout the morning, the crowds I was mildly concerned about encoutering simply weren’t there.
I got through security promptly. Despite encountering a security agent who was clearly not a morning person and one of the more intensive patdowns I’ve ever received (trust me, I have no idea why four areas alerted on by body scan), the process still went quickly and smoothly. Thus, I had nearly an hour even before my fate was released, a practice used at many major European airports to force passengers to wander around more…and, consequently, notice all the shops and restaurants selling things.
I took the opportunity to wander around the terminal. One of the biggest differences between Munich’s airport and many American airports is the smoking lounges scattered around the terminal; I could barely go a few hundred feet before encountering an area sponsored by the Camel cigarette company, with an increasing number of people inside as the morning progressed.
I also took time to notice all the cafes opening as passengers started arriving. This was my only chance to eat breakfast today, so I kept an eye out for a place I could sit. Most restaurants were only offering coffee, and the standard-fare sandwiches in other cafes and train stations around the city. One full-service restaurant was open, but I eventually decided on Dean & David, a chain of cafe/restaurant hybrids around the city.
Preparing For Departure
By the time I was done with my early-morning snack, the gate number had been released. I made my way to the far end of the terminal, where I found three Lufthansa CityLine CRJ-900s sitting on the ramp. Two of the three were currently boarding; the third would turn out to be my aircraft, so I sat down and prepared for the quick hop across Germany.
As I sat waiting, I took note of the other passengers that would join me to Germany. I took note that many of them were openly holding passports, some appearing remarkably similar to the blue on my American passport, suggesting that, as mentioned, they were not German and did not have the same aversion to domestic flying that Europeans do.
Our flight ended up boarding 10 minutes or so late. Catering was sitting by the aircraft presumably longer than it should have been, since we sat in the terminal with no word as our published boarding time came and went.
The delay didn’t go on for long, and the moment the catering truck pulled away, the ramp workers got in position and flashed a thumbs up to our gate agent. Business class passengers boarded first, and soon general boarding was called as well. Curiously, this is the first time that I’ve seen a Lufthansa carrier actively using boarding groups. Each mainline flight has simply called all economy passengers without status at once. Perhaps there is some operational reason that a regional carrier would want to use boarding groups, but I would certainly take note on whether Air Dolomiti used groups as well.
That said, there wasn’t true differentiation between groups. Most passengers boarded with Group 3 anyways, and once the group was called, there was the same general push towards the door that I had seen before on Lufthansa.
Passengers with bulky carry-on bags were asked to leave them on a cart near the plane. These bags would be picked up on the same cart on arrival into Dresden. This is a fairly common practice on aircraft with small overhead bins; gate checked bags are placed in the cargo hold and returned immediately on arrival.
There was no jet bridge at this gate. Like the passengers on the two aircraft next to us, we boarded by walking out onto the ramp and climbing airstairs built into the plane’s door. Boarding on the ramp is somewhat of a rare treat for me, as my home airports in Chicago use jet bridges for all but the smallest propeller planes, at this point only flown by essential air service carriers that I never fly.
My Onboard Experience
For a Bombardier jet, I rather liked this aicraft’s cabin. Americans often have some degree of apprehension when boarding a regional jet because they have become notorious for being small, cramped, and outdated. But this aircraft felt to have the same amount of space that a mainline aircraft would have. Maybe that was due in part to the fact that the plane was not full (the seat next to me was empty, so I certainly wasn’t squeezed in), but I felt like I had plenty of space.
The cabin was starting to show its age, the seats especially, but it was still fresh and bright. Though I could tell the plane had seen its share of passengers and flights, I could tell that it was cared for and well-maintained. The people who work on the aircraft clearly take pride in what they do, and the aircraft was presentable and professional.
Equally notable was the legroom. The moment I sat down, I noticed that I had a comfortable couple extra inches between my knees and the seat in front of me. As a person over six feet who has been squeezed into many tight airplane seats, having a teensy bit of room to spread out was welcome.
Depsite our tardiness on boarding, we pushed back on time. The feat did not seem difficult for a small plane that was not full, but I was still glad to be back on schedule. We taxied to Munich’s northern runway and departed from runway 08L.
Now, it’s time for the meat and potatoes of the flight: how does this in-flight service compare with that offered on Lufthansa mainline? So far, the experiences have been quite similar: moderately talkative gate agent turns a late boarding time into an on-time pushback.
The onboard products was also nearly identical. Though the cabin wasn’t quite as modern as the new A320s I’ve flown connecting from Frankfurt to Munich, we got the exact same water bottle and piece of Lufthansa-branded chocolate I’ve gotten on domestic Lufthansa mainline flights.
This particular flight wasn’t very long, but neither have been the domestic Lufthansa flights I’ve taken. Thus, the feel of this CityLine flight and other Lufthansa flights I’ve taken was remarkably similar. Lufthansa has clearly gone to great lengths to maintain brand continuity, which is especially important considering that both this CRJ900 and the A320s I’ve flown bear the exact same name on the side…as mentioned before, the days of having “Lufthansa Regional” painted on your aircraft are long gong. Thus, the average traveler who does not care to distinguish between a mainline airline and a regional carrier would not notice a single difference between onboard products besides the size of the plane.
We arrived in Dresden promptly after less than an hour in the air. Dresden’s airport is small and quiet. We were the only flight I saw on arrival, and besides aircraft bound for the MRO on the field, there are rarely more than one or two flights here at any given time. The inbound taxi was short, as the airport layout is quite simple with only one runway, a parallel taxiway, some maintenance hangars, and the terminal. Before I knew it, we were disembarking on the airstairs once again, and I was heading for the exit.
Overall, my experience onboard Lufthansa CityLine was a good one. The product is remarkably similar to mainline Lufthansa’s to the extent that I wouldn’t notice a difference between the two operators if I didn’t know better. I would be happy to fly with CityLine again; perhaps next time I’ll try out one of the international flights they operate with the CRJ or even track down one of the Airbus planes they operate for Lufthansa.
I had a full weekend ahead of me in Dresden, all culminating in my flight a couple days later on the other airline that flies for Lufthansa Regional. Stay tuned for my flight on Air Dolomiti next week. Will it be as similar to Lufthansa as CityLine is? Or will the products start to diverge just as the branding does?
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