Tarom, Economy Class – Airbus A 310-300: Amsterdam to Bucharest

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INTRODUCTION
I am sitting in the lounge at Zürich airport feeling rather excited, I must say. I am about to board a KLM flight to Amsterdam. Admittedly, there is nothing much really to get excited about there. But it is the next flight from Amsterdam that I am really looking forward to. For two reasons. First of all, this shall be my 1000th flight ever, quite a milestone, me thinks. And as faith would have it, the mighty aviation geek gods have decided to look upon me with favouring eyes.

From Amsterdam I am travelling with Tarom to Bucharest. Originally a Boeing B 737-300 should have operated the flight. But there appears to have been a last minute aircraft change and now, instead, I shall be travelling on a veritable veteran, the granny of all Airbuses, so to speak. Yes, after a hiatus of – I am not quite sure how many years – I shall finally set foot on an Airbus A 310-300 again. A very worthy aircraft to celebrate my 1000th flight on.

No need to worry though, I will not bore you with an agonising trip down memory lane of my aeronautical exploits that will leave you feeling comatose and me feeling decidedly past my sell by date. I will also refrain from giving you yet another KLM trip report. And so, my narrative will begin as I step of the plane in Amsterdam and make my way to the D concourse for the connection Bucharest.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
We arrive in Amsterdam with a bit of a delay. In fact, the aircraft taking me to Amsterdam already arrived in Zürich with a slight delay. But then four passengers who had already checked in for the flight failed to turn up so eventually their luggage had to be offloaded.

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All in all, by the time I enter the terminal building in Amsterdam it is already 11:25. My onward flight to Bucharest starts boarding in five minutes.

CHECK-IN
I received both my boarding passes for the flight to Amsterdam and the onward connection to Bucharest when I checked in this morning in Zürich. I am travelling with hand luggage only.

My flight will be departing from a gate on the D concourse, which means that I will have to go through immigration and then passport control again. From the bus drop off point to passport control it is only a five minute walk.

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LOUNGE
Location:
The non-Schengen Crown Lounge is located above the F gates, if you are walking at a leisurely pace it may take you about ten minutes to reach the D gates.
Type of Lounge:
Dedicated KLM lounge.
Facilities:
Showers, bathrooms, quiet rooms, work stations, hot and cold snacks, bar.
Internet:
Free wifi, the code changes daily and is displayed in various locations throughout the lounge.

No time to visit the lounge this time though. Got a plane to catch you know…

BOARDING
Priority Boarding:
A leisurely walk down the length of the D concourse I arrive at D53, from where my flight will be departing. The security check in done at the gate and by the looks of it, there would be a separate queue for SkyPriority passenger. However, but the time I finally arrive at the gate, there is barely anybody left there anyway.

I take a few pictures of this very special aircraft taking me on this very special journey – at least for me. But the gate dragon is obviously totally oblivious to any of this, that this is the granny of all Airbuses and that I about to embark on my 1000th journey.

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CABIN
Configuration:
2 + 4 + 2.
Seat: I am sitting on 18A.
Facilities: Reading light, ashtrays, plug for earphones, there are no air vents.

I must say that despite its age, the aircraft appears to be in pretty good condition. It is only little things that give away her true age, things like the monitors displaying the flight information. Forget about flat screens, here you have those heavy old school tube monitors.

But apart from that, leg space on this bird is truly excellent. Before we boarded I was worried for one horrible moment that my colleague would eventually end up with deep vein thrombosis with his longs legs, but in fact there is more than enough space to stretch out. Of course it helps that the aircraft in no more than half full.

There are pillows and blankets available in the cabin.

Another thing that strikes me about this aircraft is the noise, which is different to what you get on the younger Airbuses. On this bird, you can hear the sound of the brakes be released, the motor driving the flaps sounds, well, like a motor really.

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SERVICE
There are seven cabin crew working the Economy Class cabin.

The crew seem friendly enough and quite willing to engage with the passengers. They are also very attentive. During the drinks service, the flight attendant asks me what I am having. I ask for sparkling water. When she realises I will not be having any alcoholic drinks, she asks me if then perhaps I would like a second cup of water, which I gladly accept.

THE MEAL
Pre-meal drink:
No.
Choice:
No.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Full hot meal.
Menu:

  • Sweet and sour chicken with vegetable rice.
  • Bread roll with butter.
  • Some tasty Milka chocolate thing.
  • A selection of hot and cold drinks.

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I think I rather like the way the meal is served on Tarom. Every passenger receives a plastic bag containing all the items except the hot meal. The idea obviously being that the bag should be used for waste once emptied. The hotmeal is served separately, of course.

The meal serves its purpose, although I must confess that once I have finished, I am still feeling quite hungry. But I guess that is not really Tarom’s fault. Ever since I started doing more sports I tend to need more food. In fact I feel hungry most of the time. But this will have to wait until we are on the ground in Bucharest.

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ARRIVAL
We land. And to add the icing on the cake, we are deplaning via stairs, instead on an airbridge. I always prefer this as it give you a chance to glance at the machine you have just travelled with at close quarters.

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We go through passport control and just as we reach the conveyor belt for our flight, the suitcases have already started arriving.

GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport:
Car.
Journey time: About 20 minutes.
We are picked up in Bucharest by the company for which we will be running the course in Bucharest this week. The journey to the hotel is only about 15 kilometres, depending on traffic it should take between 20 minutes and half an hour.

CONCLUSION
All in all this way a great flight, in fact I think it was certainly worthy of the occasion. I liked Tarom a lot, much better even than on my previous flight with them. I found the crew friendly, hospitable and very attentive. And the cabin really was very comfortable. And now for the next thousand…

TAROM, Economy Class – ATR-42: Bucharest to Sofia

INTRODUCTION

This will be an interesting one. This one also confirms that I really am a nerd. Originally, the main objective of my eastern adventure had been to sample the Qatar Airways service between Bucarest and Sofia, which is operated with an A 320. But then when it came down to planning the trip, the prospect of trying out a combination of a new type with a new carrier got the better of me. And so, instead, I booked TAROM.

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Of course it’s pouring with rain here in Bucharest. I mean, what is it with me and the bad weather? I feel like I’m being stalked. In Montreal it was agonisingly cold, with temperatures around -17 degrees Celsius, while back home in Basel apparently the weather was quite pleasant. Everybody at ICAO kept telling me it was exceptionally cold. Oh really…?

And then there was Portugal and the Azores, where it rained more or less nonstop for an entire week, from the moment I arrived on Sunday afternoon until I left again the following Saturday. Everybody kept assuring me that this was really quite unusual for Lisbon and the Azores. Well, whatever. And actually Poland wasn’t much better either, although at least there it only actually rained once. But still, the weather was not pleasant.

Worse still, I’m waiting to be served at reception to check out of my room. The guy in front of me is just checking in. He’s talking to this other guy and I over hear him saying ‘…so yes, I just arrived from Sofia…at least it’s much warmer here in Bucharest, but apart from that the weather was pretty similar to here…’. Well that’s just charming.

The problem with Bucharest in the rain is that it’s nearly impossible to avoid getting wet. If you walk too close to the buildings, you end up getting showered from the faulty drains splashing and splattering all over the pavement. If however, you walk too close to the edge of the pavement, you end up getting sprayed by a passing car. The potholes they have in Bucharest quickly turn the city into a lake when it rains.

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

Transport: Bus
Departs from: University
Frequency: Every 10 to 15 minutes depending on traffic
Journey time: 30 to 40 minutes, again depending on traffic
Fare: 3.5 Lei one way

The bus to the airport can be rather crowded if you board at one of the intermediate stops. So if you don’t fancy standing for 40 minutes in heavy, stop-start traffic, then perhaps a taxi is more for you.

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CHECK-IN

Location: Ground floor
Facilities: Self-service check-in
Counters: Dedicated SkyPriority counters

I managed to do online check-in the evening before. The only problem is that you can only print the boarding pass, there is no Tarom App yet and no SMS with a weblink to the boarding pass, not matter what the Tarom website tries to tell you. So upon arrival at the airport I head straight for one of the many self-service devices. The machine even recognises my passport, only to inform me however, that I have already checked in. Yes, I was aware of the fact, thanks.

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So eventually I have no choice but to head for one of the SkyPriority counters, where a grumpy but very friendly ground agent re-issues my boarding pass together with an invitation to access the Tarom Business Class lounge.

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LOUNGE

Location: On the second floor, above departures
Type of Lounge:
Tarom Business Class lounge
Facilities:
Toilets outside the lounge, cold and hot drinks, in terms of food there are only snacks to nibble on, like crisps or salty peanuts, and yoghurt
Internet:
Free wifi (with password)

Access to the lounge is only granted if you are holding a lounge invitation for that particular day, so although you may not need to make a stop at one of the check-in counters, if you want to access the lounge, you have to.

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The lounge itself is in the ceiling of the terminal building and offers some excellent views of the ramp and of the arriving aircraft. I like the design and layout of the lounge, but the food and drink options really are very limited. Eventually I get hungry, so I exit the lounge and get myself a sandwich from one of the many shops in the food court one floor down.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: NIL

Our flight will be boarding from gate 28 today, which is one of the bus gates. The load is pretty light and there are only 23 passengers on the bus as we make our way to the aircraft, plus a further passenger with impaired vision, who is brought to the aircraft separately ahead of the other passengers.

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CABIN

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: 7A, later moved to 2A
Pitch:
Width:
Facilities: NIL

The cabin on this bird is in pretty good condition. With the light load I decide to move forward from 7A to 2A, which is the bulkhead row on the left side of the aircraft so I have an unobstructed view. There is only a row 1 on the right hand side of the aircraft, which faces row 2. I’ve only ever sat backwards on a plane once, that was on a BA Boeing 747-400 from JFK to Heathrow. I thought it was rather cool.

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SERVICE

There are two cabin crew on today’s flight. A woman who is in her late thirties I’d say. She’s very professional, polite and friendly. There’s something very charming about the woman, despite her somewhat stern expression and the tightly pulled back hair she wears in a pony tail.

The other cabin crew is what appears to be a pubescent boy and quite frankly, I think he really couldn’t care less. Except perhaps for the young lady on 3F. Sometimes I really wish I spoke more languages. Quite obviously he knows the young lady, or at least he’s trying to get to know her better, as in way better. Which is okay, it’s just that he seems to have forgotten there are a few other passengers on board as well. Apart from that, I find it all just a bit disconcerting. I mean, this guy looks as if he doesn’t even shave yet, which makes it seem all the stranger that he should be so obviously trying to chat up one of the lady passengers. I think I’m getting old…

THE MEAL

Welcome drink on the ground: NIL
Towel before the meal: Towel served with the meal
Pre-meal drink:
NIL
Choice:
NIL
Delivery:
In a plastic bag
Appearance:
Neat and tidy
Type of meal:
Snack
Meal:

  • packed cheese sandwich
  • packet of salty peanuts
  • apple juice to drink

Much to my surprise, Tarom serve food in Economy Class on this flight. I wasn’t actually expecting to be given anything. The meal is served in a neat opaque plastic bag for you to place all the rubbish in. I kind of like the idea, it looks very neat and tidy.

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The cheese sandwich is rather tasty, and contrary to my expectations the bread is not stale or rubbery. The packet of peanuts is rather substantial.

ARRIVAL

Of course it’s raining when we arrive. What else when I’m travelling. I think Sofia must be surrounded by some quite high hills or mountains, but with the low clouds you can’t really make out anything.

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GETTING INTO TOWN

Transport: Hotel shuttle
Departs from: Arrivals
Frequency: Upon request
Journey time: 15 minutes
Fare: Complimentary, depending on the room type
In Sofia I’m staying at the Radisson Blu, which is right opposite the Nevsky cathedral. If you advise the hotel in advance they will come and pick you up at the airport. I’m staying in a junior suite, which has the airport transfer included in the rate.

ACCOMMODATION

I quite like the hotel. My room has a large balcony overlooking the square and the cathedral. If it were sunny, you might even be able to sit outside and enjoy the view. I know, you can always dream…

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