Berlin’s Low Cost Schönefeld Airport Has One Amazing Passenger Feature

Filed Under: Travel

As part of my four month trip, yesterday I flew from Berlin, Germany to the Canary Islands of Spain. This is my 11th time to Spain, so I wanted to go somewhere a bit different for a beach location. And it is… different here!

Berlin has two airports – Tegel, which is the main airport, closer to the city, and Schönefeld, which handles most low cost flights and is further from town, next to Brandenburg Airport, which is still being constructed. I’ve written before in detail about the enormous problems the construction of Brandenburg Airport has faced, and this has caused (and prolonged) this unusual airport situation Berlin faces, where no one wants to spend any money on the existing airports of Tegel and Schönefeld while they wait for Brandenburg to finally open.

And there’s still no opening date for Brandenburg.

I’ve flown through Berlin Tegel many times, and it has a very unusual design, but not a particularly unpleasant experience. I do find myself seeming to be endlessly walking in circles around Terminal A, because of its hexagonal layout.

Berlin Tegel Airport

Berlin Schönefeld Airport

Yesterday was my first time flying out of Schönefeld, which is the airport most low cost carriers use in Berlin.

It has a long and complex history over the past 80 or so years, and has been extended, bit by bit, without any recent master plan (other than to eventually demolish it and move everything to Brandenburg).

Last year it handled almost 13 million passengers, so it’s not a small airport by any stretch (it’s more than Salt Lake City handled, for example).

Although the airport map above shows what looks like multiple terminals, there is really only one actual terminal, with check in areas split across multiple zones, which is not unusual for a large airport.

As always, I was traveling hand luggage only, and had checked in online in advance.

So what is the only redeeming feature about Schönefeld airport?

Well, Berlin Schönefeld has a completely separate express entrance for those passengers traveling hand luggage only, who have already checked in.

I’m not talking about a separate security line in the terminal, I’m talking about a completely separate entrance from the curb which allows you to skip the check in area completely.

Now I’ve seen and used express/premium entrances at certain airports. If you are a Thai Airways first class passenger there is a separate check in area to the far left of the check in area. If you’ve already checked in and/or have no luggage to check they will escort you to a separate, faster security line. But this is only for Thai first passengers, and still requires you to enter the check in hall and go through the check in area.

Similarly, Virgin Australia also has a premium entrance at several Australian airports, for those passengers who are traveling hand luggage only, and have already checked in. While this skips the check in area completely (and deposits you straight into the lounge after security), it is only available domestically, and only available for business class and elite status passengers.

Before Berlin I was in Munich for Oktoberfest, and although Munich is a ‘five star airport,’ I walked what felt like miles through the terminal, then security and then to the lounge, even though I didn’t need to check in, or check luggage.

Schönefeld was the first time I had been through an airport that has a completely separate entrance for all HLO passengers wishing to get to their gate as soon as possible.

Upon arriving at the airport, you follow the signs for ‘Terminal C’ which is in fact not a separate terminal, but the special entrance.

While the airport was very busy, the shortest security line was at this special entrance.

And you step off the curb and straight into the security line in ‘Terminal C.’

Security was efficient, courteous and took less than the eight minutes predicted on the screens above.

After clearing security, which was only a few steps from the curb, it was only a few more steps to the sole lounge at the airport, which I could access with my Priority Pass membership.

The air side departures area was, as expected, very dated and very cramped.

The Green Wings Priority Pass lounge, while very limited in its food offerings, was the nicest part of the air side area.

Bottom line

Even though I’ve travelled through so many different airports, I can’t ever recall a feature like this being offered for non premium, non status passengers which allows them to step off the curb, right into security and then right to their gate.

This may be the norm at your local airport, but I don’t think I’ve seen it before.

I did not see a single check in desk, or airline staff member until I reached the lounge. I understand this design was not intentional — this additional security check point was built for flights to Israel (as they needed an additional security check before passengers could even check in), but this additional check is no longer required.

So rather than just shutting down this security point, the airport operators have done about the only thing they can with an additional European security check prior to check in — they have set it up for those passengers who don’t need to check in. And it’s an awesome feature at an otherwise very unremarkable airport.

Have you seen this feature offered to non premium, non elite passengers at other airports? Not just an express security line, a completely separate airport entrance. Please let me know in the comments as it’s a feature I’d really value when I travel!

  1. This is hands-down my favorite airport globally. It’s 30 seconds from check-in to gate. No duty-free nonsense. And no walking.

  2. Pretty much the only reason I credit star alliance flights to LH is to use the FCT at FRA and avoid the walking.

  3. @ Paolo – I had to delete your comment because of the language you used. It may not have been your intention, but your choice of words was highly inappropriate when discussing Berlins history.

  4. Is there any self check-in machine in this ‘terminal’? If not, would you think installing check-in machines on this ‘terminal’ be a good idea?

  5. @James
    Nonsense. The reference was entirely appropriate , but it’s your right to censor as you see fit.

  6. Actually, it’s different buildings in SXF for the different Terminals. Terminal C was used as the General Aviation Terminal until round about 2 years ago, then the security lanes were always so full that they had to change something. Now Terminal C is exclusively used for Security of HLO pax 🙂 Usually, it’s the fastest way to get through security.

  7. Lots of smallish airports let you skip the check in area. They usually have a single long and narrow terminal with several sets of doors down the length of the terminal.

  8. Madrid Terminal 3. This is referred to by airlines as Terminal 2, as Terminal 3 does not have any check-in facilities. You can use this entrance if you have your boarding pass and no bags, you’ll go straight to security and can be in the gate area within 2 minutes of stepping out of a taxi.

    While AF/KL/AZ almost exclusively depart from Terminal 3 (the “E” gates of Terminals 1-2-3), you can use this entrance for any flight departing from T1-2-3, you’ll just need to walk quite a bit airside. The three terminals are connected.

  9. Actually there are two hidden security lines at MUC at each end of T2, there are no signs leading to it, you have to know it. At peak times those are much less freqented and they are open to anybody ;-).

  10. James you said “Similarly, Virgin Australia also has a premium entrance at several Australian airports, for those passengers who are travelling hand luggage only, and have already checked in. While this skips the check in area completely (and deposits you straight into the lounge after security), it is only available domestically, and only available for business class and elite status passengers“

    Well that’s actually not true as it is for passenger travelling HLO there is a desk where they can check you in and can print your boarding pass and you can still use it if you are travelling with checked luggage as while it defeats the purpose you can check your luggage in the termaink and then walk back the the “premium entry”

    The main point is that it is for HLO though they check you in at the premium entry and print your boarding pass there you don’t have to check in online

  11. Flights to Israel still have a 2nd security zone at the gate.

    SXF is a great airport compared to the mess of TXL but SXF has been and will remain at over capacity for many years to come.

  12. Wish more airports had this. I hate the “which airline?” question in a taxi when I have carry on only, as I really just want to be dropped off infront of the pre-check line! Often times I might have to walk 50% or more of the terminal to get from my airline checkin to security with carry on only.

  13. Nice article, James. I used this feature last year at Schönefeld … hadn’t been back there in over ten years and it looked as though they hadn’t cleaned it since. That airport is a pit. Screw the hand luggage only entrance if the airport is a trash heap. And I was at Tegel again six weeks ago… such a sad little airport that has barely changed since I was a kid. Yes you can get to your gate quickly. Yes it’s just depressing. Icing on the cake were the charming veiled young Turkish ladies asking me to fill out an iPad survey on how I liked the airport and transportation options etc. Honestly what a joke. Though the ladies were charming.

    PS this was a day after they began construction at the massive Hauptbahnhof and according to the Tagesspiegel apparently the taxi drivers weren’t told where the new taxi stand would be … sigh … poor Berlin

  14. I still think of SXF as the airport for the DDR / East Germany. Because of that, I favor, for some reason, the West Berlin airport of Tegel. Old fears die hard. Take him awaaaayyyyy…..No no no nonoooooooooooooooooo

  15. I’ve flown once out of Schoenefeld. It’s even more cramped than TXL, I had to walk up and down a lot of stairs with hand luggage. And there’s a lingering atmosphere of the GDR. Tegel is so much better … will miss it if/when they ever open up BBI.

  16. DTW has such an entrance in the DL terminal. On the level below the check in desks there is an entrance from the parking garage which goes right to security without any check in desks, this was usually a much shorter security line. Haven’t been there in a while though, so dunno if there’s PreCheck at that security.

    I vaguely recall MSP having this also, somewhere along the middle of their terminal.

  17. I though HLO was a recent thing for you? Certainly seems to be based on your frequent use of the acronym.
    It’s a fine article and good content but pretty long. I feel like most major airlines with a good F have something similar so your inexperience is showing re Tha.

    I’m pretty hard on you though so I guess this is a compliment.

  18. @ Mattt – I’ve been writing about travelling HLO since I joined the team –

  19. @ Morgan

    Just reiterating that yes, your main point is correct (and the article is incorrect) – you do not have to be checked in to use the VA premium entries (Sydney and Brisbane).

    I used this facility in Brisbane recently before I had checked in. Check in facility is also plainly defined on the VA website meaning this information can be validated in a few seconds of search.

    (As a side note, Singapore Airlines has a dedicated first class reception / check in area at SIN with its own entrances: you are then directed (through the terminal) to a nearby immigration officer who is dedicated to for passengers departing the first class facility thence to exit near the escalators to the lounge complex (security in SIN is at the gate)).

  20. Not quite true. Checkin A was designed for TLV flights. C was added specifically to reduce queue times. The best part is that even if you have checked luggage you can use any check point once you’ve dealt with your bags so can always save time.

  21. @ Mattt – and I said multiple times in the article that lots of airlines have features like this for their premium passengers, but this is the first time I had seen it for non status pax flying economy.

  22. This worked really when when they first converted it from the General Aviation use a few years ago.
    However, in early morning, Terminal C is now far too well known, and so the queues there still horrendously long.

    The last couple of times taxiing out of SXF I have noticed ongoing construction of apron and building about 1km to the South West of Terminal C.
    Is this going to be:
    – terminal E of SXF while we still wait for BER
    – a government/VIP terminal for when they switch from TXL to BBI/SXF (at one stage I think this was the intended use of Terminal C)
    – for dedicated cargo ‘planes
    – other ?

  23. I haven’t really noticed it, but good to know. Thanks mate!

    p.s. I live in Berlin, and very much prefer Tegel Airport as I can’t stand Schönefeld Airport. It’s just the pits and too far out of town into Brandenburg. Yeah, it’s officially a part of Brandenburg.
    I hope they never open Berlin Brandenburg International Airport (BBI), not that we, as locals, ever wanted it…!

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