Airports in Germany

Germany's burgeoning airports are being linked into the nation's railway system. Cheap domestic and inter-European flights are an important part of the picture.

Some 125 international scheduled airlines now serve Frankfurt airport, Germany's largest. The Munich airport has become a second hub, and other major airports are located at Düsseldorf, Cologne and Hamburg.

Berlin, presently with a collection of smaller airports, promises to be a major air center in the future. The former U.S. air base at Hahn, 75 miles from Frankfurt, is also playing a role in the aviation picture, as a base for super cheap airlines. These, despite the soaring fuel costs, have sent domestic and inter-European fares plunging, even on the established airlines.

There is also a very aggressive program to link air travel to rail travel. High speed InterCity trains directly serve the Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Cologne-Bonn airports.

Frankfurt is the busiest airport in Germany (www.airportcity-frankfurt.com) and welcomed more than 53 million passengers in 2010.  Frankfurt has scheduled connections to nearly 300 airports in more than a hundred countries. A global Top 10 airport, Frankfurt ranks as the ninth busiest for total passengers (fourth for international passengers) and eighth for total cargo tonnage (seventh for international freight). The airport ranks third in Europe (after London-Heathrow and Paris) for passengers and second in terms of cargo (after Paris). Each day, an average of 1,350 flights takeoff and land at Frankfurt Airport.

2011 was a milestone year for Frankfurt Airport as they marked the 75th anniversary at their strategic location in the heart of Germany and the European Union. They inaugurated the new Runway Northwest, which incrementally increased the overall slot capacity by more than 50 percent. A third terminal is planned for the future on the site of the now abandoned U.S. Rhein-Main Air Base.

Many of the passengers had Frankfurt itself as a destination, since the city is an important commercial center. But Frankfurt is also a transfer point for air and rail connections to other German cities and an air transfer point to many other countries, notably in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Europe's busiest expressway cloverleaf, the "Frankfurter Kreuz" is right adjacent to the airport. This is where the A3 and the A5 autobahns, the most important in Germany, intersect and allow quick access to Europe's extensive superhighway net. In addition the airport has its own bus station and a large number of parking spaces, including long-term ones, and ones for the disabled, women only and large vehicles.

But stress is being laid on reaching the airport swiftly and comfortably by rail. Some 90 long distance trains a day stop at its railway station, affording passengers direct connections to Cologne, Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, Dresden, Nürnberg and many other German cities, not to mention Vienna, Milan, Zürich and Amsterdam. Some airlines even have check-in counters right at the station.

The high-speed Frankfurt-Cologne rail line, which cuts travel time from two-and-a-half hours to less than an hour, also serves both the Frankfurt and Cologne-Bonn airports. Frankfurt long has had a second railway station, offering rapid transit service to the Rhein-Main area, and this continues to operate.

For all that, Frankfurt is getting stiff competition from the Franz Josef Strauss Airport in Munich (www.munich-airport.com), which is Germany's second air hub.

In 2013, Munich Airport has again been named “Central Europe’s Best Airport” in the World Airport Awards by Skytrax, a London-based aviation consultancy. At the global level, Munich was named the sixth best airport in the world. The Bavarian hub maintained its number six position from the previous year and was placed among the world’s six best airports the ninth time in a row. Furthermore the airport gained top ratings for airport dining. According to the passengers, Munich has the world’s best airport restaurants and offers more than 45 choices for dining. Additionally the Kempinski Hotel at Munich Airport was chosen as Europe’s number one airport hotel and the fourth-best in the world.

The number of passengers reached 38.4 million in 2012. The airport's growth is largely due to Lufthansa's decision to implement a major expansion program at Munich Airport and led first to an expansion of the original Munich terminal and then to the opening of a second terminal. Munich Airport offers an outstanding range of destinations and is Europe’s top air transportation hubs based on the total number of offered destinations. With its extensive schedule of flights to and from Italian cities, Munich Airport has earned the nickname "Italy's most northerly airport." In summer, almost up to 400 weekly flights are serving Italian destinations. Connections to central and eastern Europe are also excellent.

Situated in the heart of Bavaria, Munich Airport is within easy reach of the Alps. If you are heading for Austria, Switzerland, Italy, the Czech Republic or Slovakia, Munich Airport is a short trip by car or train to these destinations.

The third busiest airport is Düsseldorf (www.duesseldorf-international.de), which counted 17.8 million passengers in 2007. It too has a new terminal, replacing and greatly improving upon the one that was destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1996. And Düsseldorf, like Frankfurt, has two railway stations, one for long distance and InterCity trains and one for the local area. A "Skytrain" connects the long distance station to the terminals.

The "cheapy" center at Hahn racked up 4,015,155 passengers in 2007, surpassing the 4 million mark for the first time, That was an increase of 8 percent over the previous year. The Irish no-frills airline Ryanair has made the so-called "Frankfurt-Hahn" airport its hub, and will fly you from there to Stansted Airport, near London, for as little as €29.

Ryanair offers similar bargain service to more than 50 other European destinations The catch is that, despite that name "Frankfurt-Hahn," the airport actually is 75 miles (125 km) from Frankfurt, and it takes about an hour and 30 minutes to get there.

Nor is Hahn the only center of no-frills flights. The Konrad Adenauer Airport, between Cologne and Bonn, is also becoming one as the home base for Germanwings. And its railway station connects it to the Frankfurt Airport in less than an hour on the high speed InterCity line. This opens up many possibilities for connections that should contribute to the airport's growth and also relieve the Frankfurt runways to some extent.

The future of Berlin aviation lies mainly in the planned Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg International (BBI). Since German reunification Berlin traffic has been divided between three airports: Tempelhof; Tegel, which was hastily built during the Airlift, and Schönefeld, the East Berlin airport before unification. Now, however, final plans are being laid to expand Schönefeld and make it into a major airport, with an initial capacity of 20 to 25 million passengers a year. Construction began in 2006 and operations are expected to start in 2011. It is planned to close Tegel when BBI opens. Templehof has already been closed.

The Fuhlsbüttel Airport in Hamburg also is also becoming very modern. In 2005 it got a state-of-the art terminal, and was slated, by the end of 2008, to also have an urban railway link-up, a shopping plaza and a hotel.

Lufthansa has cut its fares on domestic and some European flights, partly to meet the competition of the no-frills, but also to better utilize its capacity by luring more people from trains and private cars. Its flights still cost more than the no-frills, but they are also full service. Most domestic trips are an hour or less in duration.

Airlines from the U.S. that serve German airports include American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways.

In the wake of September 11, Germany established flight safety rules similar to the ones in effect in the U.S., including the ban on knives, scissors and the like in hand baggage. Security at Frankfurt and Munich is especially tight on transatlantic flights, on flights to Israel and on flights by British and American airlines no matter where they are headed. It's important that passengers, especially ones on these flights, get to the airport well before takeoff. Some officials urge as much as three hours for international flights.

German airports usually feature duty-free shops, restaurants, bars, car rental agencies, conference centers, banks, post offices and medical facilities. And sometimes they offer much more. The Frankfurt Airport almost doubles as a shopping mall.