There are some aircraft that have hundreds of them built every year like the Airbus A321, with thousands in existence…
Lufthansa Regional Part 2: Returning to Munich With Air Dolomiti
Last week, I wrote an article on my experience with Lufthansa CityLine as part of my exploration into how Lufthansa Regional brands compare with mainline Lufthansa. While CityLine is well-integrated into the Lufthansa fleet, there is another Lufthansa Regional carrier that is more unique, and it’s an airline that many might not know is associated with Lufthansa at all.
Air Dolomiti is an Italian airline that flies the Embraer E190 to destinations across Italy, Germany, and Europe. Founded in 1989 in Italy, the airline launched operations with flights between Verona, Italy and Munich.
About Air Dolomiti
The airline started working closely with Lufthansa in the 1990s. The Lufthansa Group acquired a 26% stake in the airline in 1999, eventually increasing its share to 100% in 2003. As of 2023, the carrier operates a fleet of 19 Embraer E190s and E195s, and additional aircraft are set to be transferred to the airline from Lufthansa CityLine.
Air Dolomiti is a special case when it comes to regional airlines. It’s a hybrid of two business models. It’s not quite a standalone airline because it flies routes just for Lufthansa Regional as a Lufthansa Group Subsidiary; however, the airline also markets flights independent of those it flies for Lufthansa and operates some services, especially within Italy, without cooperation with Lufthansa.
Rare is it for an airline to be invested in both codeshared regional flights and independent operations. Though some regional airlines might operate on behalf of multiple mainline carriers, such as SkyWest or Republic in the United States, and others do so largely independently, such as the now-defunct Flybe, rare is it to have both.
Some regional airlines, such as Silver Airways in Florida, operate independently but have codeshares or interline agreements with major carriers. However, Silver Airways does not operate any flights strictly on behalf of United, rather allowing passengers to book Silver Airways flights on United’s website just as United passengers can use the same website to book flights operated by Lufthansa as well.
Air Dolomiti stands alone as an airline that both operates within Lufthansa Group under Lufthansa Regional, which is branding that the group no longer uses publicly, while simultaneously selling their own independent flights. Other carriers within Lufthansa Group also operate their own serves independently, but they usually don’t fly on Lufthansa’s behalf as well.
Air Dolomiti’s hubs are both in Germany, with one in Frankfurt and the other in Munich. The carrier has focus cities in Italy as well: Florence and Verona. However, the reliance on German airports for hubs is a reminder that Lufthansa has ultimate authority over where this airline flies, which crews it hires, and which routes it prioritizes.
Most of Air Dolomiti’s destinations are in Italy, however. In that sense, it is still very much an Italian airline, and occasionally on my flight, I could see some Italian identity flare to life. The airline has a few connections to other European countries outside of Germany and Italy as well.
Air Dolomiti doesn’t even paint their planes in Lufthansa’s livery. All have in-house colors, likely to make it easier for the airline to deploy the aircraft on flights they brand as their own. It might have been a mistake I made had I not known about Air Dolomiti’s relationship with Lufthansa.
Airport Experience in Dresden
I was excited to try out Air Dolomiti when I returned to Dresden’s airport a few days after flying CityLine. As I arrived, I was struck by how empty the airport was. Substantial effort was put into building it. With a large glass wall, a high ceiling, and large walls, the checkin hall feels modern, open, and bright. I felt like I was entering an airport with dozens, if not hundreds, of flights per day.
Instead, at about 18:00, there were only four flights leaving for the rest of the evening. Air Dolomiti was flying two aircraft in and out, one flight to and from Frankfurt and the other two and from Munich, while Helvitic Air was flying to Switzerland. Ryanair would have a flight leaving for London close to midnight.
Lufthansa’s check-in line was desolate, with only a few passengers arriving for flights. Since two were going out, I figured that my flight would not be full; either that or Germans don’t arrive to the airport as early as I do.
The security line was also quiet, with only a couple passengers in front of me. Only one line was being used as well. After my trip, I learned that the airport had reduced security capacity by 50% for some reason. Air Dolimiti’s website recommended passengers allow extra time to get through, but based on my experience, none was needed. I’ve taken longer to get through TSA PreCheck lines at O’Hare than it took me to get through Dresden’s line as a non-German speaker.
The security area opens to a small common area with a single cafe and one duty-free shop. I got a croissant at the cafe – it was alright – and some chocolate and gum in duty free. Then, I made my way to explore the gate area.
It was not hard to tell that this airport was built for many more flights than it handles. Why this is I’m not sure. Perhaps some politicians wanted to build a fancy new airport to attract new airlines or prove they had accomplished something grand. Though there were 12 gates at the airport, I never saw more than 2 in use at one time.
About half of the gates were for international departures, as there were passport checks blocking entry to the waiting area. Besides flights around Germany and the European Union, Dresden also gets flights to Turkey and Egypt. Most other flights from the airport are to Spain or Greece, though, besides Lufthansa Group services, there are flights to the Netherlands and Switzerland as well.
After exploring a bit and capturing pictures of the Helvitic aircraft arriving from Zurich, I found the departure board in the terminal and noticed that our flight was delayed by 40 minutes. Originally scheduled for about 20:30, it was now scheduled for 21:10. I checked to see if I had gotten correspondence from Lufthansa, who I had booked the ticket through, but none was there. Thus, though I didn’t know quite what was going on, I figured I was committed to wait what was at the time two hours before departure.
Waiting on my flight turned out to be a tedious task. Though Air Dolomiti made plenty of announcements about the Frankfurt flight, which was also delayed roughly 40 minutes, we did not hear anything about our flight for over an hour after I first noticed the delay. Tracking the inbound aircraft was tough, as FlightAware hadn’t linked the inbound flight to our outbound aircraft, so it was a while before I even knew that a plane was on the way to pick us up.
When there finally was an announcement for our flight, it was short and simple: just that the flight was delayed 40 minutes and would depart at 21:10. After the Frankfurt flight left, about an hour before our new departure time, even the gate agents left the area. Thus, with little information and nobody to talk to if needed, we were left to sit in the gate area and wait for updates.
Despite the limited information, our aircraft did eventually show up, with enough time to prepare for our new departure slot. I never noticed anyone getting off the aircraft, so I figured that the plane must have flown in empty from Munich to work our flight. I wonder if there was a mechanical issue on another aircraft that canceled the inbound flight and lead the airline to bring in a new plane and crew from base to work our flight back to Munich.
Regardless, we finally got our second announcement about the flight: that it was time for boarding. Preboarding was called first, and the regular boarding groups were called soon after. Groups were again used for this flight, as they were with CityLine. As noted last time, Lufthansa mainline does not prioritize groups for boarding its own planes.
In fact, before a Lufthansa international flight, a gate agent once told me that boarding groups are uniquely an American thing. I’m not sure what purpose boarding groups use on these regional flights, but I’m intrigued by the fact that they exist in the first place.
I was in boarding group 3, so I was able to board soon after general boarding was called. The boarding process went smoothly. I enjoyed the few moments I had with a glass jetbridge before the sides became the traditional metal.
Air Dolomiti’s cabin immediately struck me as more modern than the CRJ900’s that CityLine flew. The E190 felt newer, well-kept, and more sleek than the CRJ900 I had flown a couple days earlier.
I would learn soon, however, that the seats were not quite as comfortable as CityLine’s were. Neither were close to business-class-level padding, but on Air Dolomiti, I could almost feel the shape of the medal beneath the fabric covering the seat. It felt like the seats on ultra-low-cost carriers are described as: bare bones with no padding.
For a flight of this length, this isn’t something I worried about; I could easily survive 45 minutes in this seat with no problem. However, it might be a different story if I was in the seat for hours. Maybe my next trip in Germany should be to try Air Dolomiti on a longer flight to see how the extra time in a thin seat treats me.
That said, Air Dolomiti’s seats were certainly not as uncomfortable as a ULCC’s. On the one hand, the legroom was much better than what I’d expect on Frontier, Spirit, Ryanair, or eastJet. It wasn’t as generous as CityLine’s, but it was certainly manageable.
I also had the seat next to me empty once again. This flight, maybe due to its timing later at night, wasn’t quite as filled as my outbound flight from Munich to Dresden, making for a spacious and comfortable ride that more than made up for the thin seat.
We waited on the aircraft for a few minutes before pushback. Likely due to carrier standard operating procedures, I think we boarded earlier than we needed to with our passenger load. The cabin crew came by with shortbread cookies as we waited for pushback. It was a nice touch after the delay, and I wondered if there would be additional service in the air or if they simply decided to serve the snack early.
We pushed back right on time to make our new departure time of 21:10. A short taxi later and we were in the air.
The flight itself was uneventful. The crew came by with a water bottle, but there were no more snacks, so the cookie we received on the ground must have been what they otherwise would have given…the equivalent of the piece of chocolate on the Lufthansa-branded flights.
Otherwise, the cabin crew only came through to make safety checks on occasion during cruise and just before landing. Few announcements were made throughout the flight – only the standard welcome/goodbye, preflight safety briefing, and post-departure and pre-arrival info on electronic device use. Mostly, I sat back to enjoy the views of the setting sun out the window.
We arrived in Munich after about 50 minutes in the air. Our landing was firm – I think one of the airline’s new cadet pilots was flying based on the uniform I noticed during boarding – but we made it to the gate safely.
I enjoyed my flight with Air Dolomiti all together. Though I didn’t appreciate how little communication there was on the delay, I’m glad that the airline stuck to the new departure time. I also enjoyed flying on the Embraer E190 for the first time, and I got to try a new onboard snack I hadn’t tried before.
Air Dolomiti’s place in the Lufthansa Group is unique. It serves a purpose that isn’t held by many other airlines around the world. I’m excited to give the airline another shot on a longer trip to get to know how they fare on a more substantial service.
Look out for a final conclusion on my Lufthansa Regional trip next week.
- First Look: Alaska’s 737 MAX 8 Rolls off Production Line - November 27, 2023
- Private to Professional Pilot: Backing Up Visual Approaches - November 6, 2023
- TUI Airways Retires Final Boeing 767 - November 1, 2023
Flydubai is to Emirates like a younger, less favored sibling. A low-cost airline with a singletype fleet consisting of only…
I’ve spent a lot of my time flying between the United States and Germany over the past year. A majority…