Air Berlin has announced several changes to its short-haul offering, as part of a “strategic realignment”.

The Oneworld carrier is introducing a new business class product on domestic and European services, to “offer a consistent product experience on short, medium and long-haul flights for the first time”.

The premium product will be restricted to the first row of each aircraft, where seats already offer 32 inches of legroom, and the middle seat will be kept free.

Announcing the move CEO Stefan Pichler said:

“By introducing a business class on short and medium-haul flights, we are making key strategic decisions that will pave the way to a sustainable future for the company and that will clearly position Air Berlin in the premium sector of European airlines.

“The new premium product will make us more attractive, particularly for business travellers and frequent flyers, and we now offer a seamless business class experience on the global route network by Air Berlin and our partner airlines.”

The changes will also see the removal of free drinks and snacks for short-haul economy passengers, to be replaced by a buy-on-board concept. On flights of 90 minutes or more passengers will be able to purchase meals created by Sansibar restaurant on the island of Sylt.

Business class passengers will be offered a welcome drink, and will then be able to “choose food and beverages ‘à la carte’ from the extensive on-board menu”.

It’s not clear exactly when these changes will be implemented, with Air Berlin stating only that it will be “this year”. Initially offering the new business class product on just one row in each aircraft means there will be little implementation cost to the carrier, allowing it to see if the product is popular before deciding whether to increase the number of premium rows.

Air Berlin – in which Gulf carrier Etihad Airways owns a 29 per cent stake – recently launched transatlantic flights from Dusseldorf to Dallas, San Francisco, Boston and Havana.