Air Serbia, Economy Class – ATR 72: Ljubljana to Belgrade

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Introduction

With my business here in Slovenia successfully completed, it’s time for me to head home. But of course, it would hardly be like me if I just got on a plane going directly back to Zürich. And so, instead my next stop will be Belgrade.

I enjoyed my stay in Ljubljana very much. It’s a small city, but it’s very well kept, and the scenery, with the mountains surrounding the city on all sides, is truly grand.

Getting to the Airport

My flight will be departing from Ljubljana at 10h05. So at 08h40 I exit the hotel and take a taxi to the airport. Being Saturday morning, the traffic is light and the journey only takes about 25 minutes to complete. The journey to the airport only costs EUR35, whereas the inbound journey is more expensive at EUR50.

Check-in

Ljubljana’s terminal is a dinky little thing. I’m sure it must be one of the smallest terminals I’ve ever been through. Online check-in for the flight is not possible, so my first stop will have to be the Air Serbia counter. Which, incidentally, is located literally in the far corner of the terminal.

There are two counters for check-in, one for Economy and one for Business Class and Gold members of Etihad’s frequent flyer programme. Strangely enough though, both counters are occupied by one couple which has managed to spread out and has luggage littered all over the place.

But eventually I receive my boarding pass. For a moment my heart sinks as I take in the endless queue of passengers. But then I realise they’re not in fact queuing for security but for check-in for the Wizzair flight to Luton.

Airside

Once I’m through security, I head one floor up and then turn right. This is where the passport control takes place to exit the Schengen area. From there I head one floor down again on the other side to where the bus gates in the non-Schengen area are located.

The Cabin

Boarding starts on time, and it looks as though the flight today is not completely full. On the ATR-72 boarding is through the aft door of the aircraft. Row numbering starts at the front of the cabin, as usual. Which means that the priority seats are located at the rear of the aircraft, to be closer to the door.

I can’t say I like the bright blue colour of the seats much. Other than that though, I think the seat pitch is good and once seated, there is enough space.

I am seated on 3A, which is just slightly forward of the propeller. Unfortunately though, the view of the outside is not really good enough to take pictures because the outer glass has started to turn opaque.

The Crew

There are two female cabin crew on this flight. The more senior one is very friendly, whereas the younger one has a somewhat surly expression and a general aura of really not wanting to be there…

The Meal

Like Adria Airways, Air Serbia has a buy on board service on Economy Class. However, with Air Serbia this means that literally everything is buy on board and you don’t even get offered a cup of water. Furthermore, and I find this rather strange, despite the fact that there is a buy on board service, the crew do not pass through the cabin with a trolley and don’t make any announcements either. So if you want to make a purchase, you have to call the crew to order. All in all, I think Adria Airways’ approach to inflight sales is a lot more charming and also makes a lot more sense. I think if the crew announce that there is possibility to make a purchase and pass through the cabin, the likelihood of somebody actually buying something is greater than if you just have a menu in the seat pocket and assume that passengers will see it. Perhaps one of Air Serbia’s many issues is that the interests of the cabin crew are strangely at odds with those of the airline’s management…

Arrival

We land after a flight time of seventy minutes. It’s obviously just been raining recently, because the runway is still damp. The ramp is busy with some exotic aircraft. Air Serbia’s only A 330 is being readied for another sortie to JFK, there are two A 320s of Etihad and Qatar Airways respectively, and there is an A 300 of Iran Air getting ready to depart.

As I’m only travelling with hand luggage, I’m out of the terminal in record time. To get into town I shall be taking the A1 airport bus. The fare is RSD300 or EUR3. If you pay in Euros, you will even be given change in Euros. The journey will take about twenty minutes and there is a stop by the old main railway station in the heart of the city and one further on in the centre of town.

Blue 1, Economy Extra – Boeing B 717 / ATR-72: Copenhagen to Oulu via Helsinki

Introduction

This is a review of a trip I took in December of 2011. In the meantime a lot has been happening at Blue 1. The beginning of 2012 looked rather bleak for this Finnish SAS subsidiary, with the airline basically withdrawing from all its international services outside Scandinavia. In the meantime though, things have started to look up, at least slightly. With the financial situation at SAS continuing to deteriorate, it may well be that Blue 1 will end up taking over at least the entire European operation of the SAS group.

Date: 27 December 2011
From: Copenhagen
To: Helsinki
Airline: Blue1
Aircraft: B 717
Seat: 1F
Cabin Class: Economy Extra

Check-in

Copenhagen airport is very busy when I arrive, judging by the queues it looks as though all of Denmark has elected to travel by air on this early morning!

Fortunately I checked in online the previous day, so I won’t have to join the not so fun looking queue down there.

In Copenhagen SAS has a dedicated Fast Track for passengers in Business Class on SAS or with Eurobonus gold status. Fortunately Economy Extra passengers on Blue1 may also avail themselves of the fast track.

There are two exits from the Fast Track security area, one leads you into a duty free shop while the other drops you off right outside the SAS lounges.

The SAS Gold Lounge

There are two lounges in one facility in Copenhagen. The SAS lounge for Business Class passengers is located on the ground floor, while the upper floor is the Scandinavia lounge for all Star Gold passengers. The lounge is rather peaceful. Not really quite sure what to expect in terms of catering on Blue 1, I decide to have breakfast in the lounge.

Boarding

Eventually I head to the departure gate to catch a first glimpse of my ride to Helsinki.  Et voilà!

The Cabin

My first impression of the cabin is good, although the carpets look rather worn and filthy. Of the three flights on a Bue1 B 717 I take on this trip, none were identical from the inside. This aircraft has a bulkhead covered in blue leather and is equipped with two lavatories in the rear of the cabin.

We take off into a murky looking Copenhagen sky, very soon though we are through the clouds and in lovely subdued sunshine.

Service already starts on the ground with a round of water or orange juice. There are eight rows of Economy Extra for only five passengers in this cabin, which makes for a very pleasant and quiet flight.

The Meal

Once we we are airborne, breakfast is served, which comes with nice warm bread. The crew do a number of coffee and juice rounds throughout the flight. One thing that strikes me is that everything on this aircraft is SAS branded, from the seat covers to the salt and pepper sachets. So why not just call it SAS Finland?

The meal is tasty and certainly more than I expected. It hits the spot just nicely.

Arrival

Soon we start our descent, which is a very bumpy affair, making it really hard to take any decent pictures.

Transfer in Helsinki

Upon arrival I head for the SAS lounge, which is right opposite my gate for the connection to Oulu. The lounge is nice and rather well stocked.

The weather is starting to clear up – I think.

Date: 27 December 2011
From: Helsinki
To: Oulu
Airline: Blue1
Operated by: Golden Air
Aircraft: ATR 72
Seat: 18A
Cabin Class: Economy Extra

Boarding

Boarding for this flight is from a remote stand, so we are bussed to our aircraft, which is parked in a part of the airport that really does justice to the term ‘remote stand’.

The load on this flight is close to 100%. There are two rows of Economy Extra. As the ATR has the entry door at the rear, the premium section is also located in the rear section of the cabin. So I take my time and wait for everybody else to get on board.

The Cabin

Seating is rather tight, but quite okay for such a short flight. The cabin is clean and welcoming.

The Meal

On this flight lunch is served, consisting of a chicken breast with some sort of pasta salad and chutney. Every tray comes with a bottle of wine on it (in a plastic bottle, I decided not to try it…). The food, as all the meals I have on Blue1 actually, is quite tasty. The chicken is succulent and not at all dry.

Another proverb for which the Blue 1 coffee cups are famous.

Arrival

Landing in Oulu is pretty rough and there seems to be a blizzard passing through the area as we start our approach. Still the sturdy ATR 72 marches on persistently, seemingly unperturbed by the rough flying conditions. My greatest respect to the cockpit crew’s airmanship skills! As we slow down, there is a strong crosswind component sweeping snow across the airfield and the runway. The snow clearing squad is evidently having a hard time keeping the apron and runway clear of snow.

I have finally arrived in Oulu and clocked the B 717, Blue1 and Golden Air. It’s also so cold that I’m freezing my nuts off by the time I reach the hotel!

Conclusion

I like Blue 1. They’re a nice little airline and the service they provide on the four flights I have with them is consistently very good. I have nothing to complain about. But please, someone give those carpets a good scrub!

Vietnam Airlines, Economy Class – ATR-72: Saigon to Con Dao

Introduction

VASCO is an acronym for ‘Vietnam Air Services Company’. This trip review covers my journey from Saigon to the to the beautiful island of Con Dao, which belongs to Vietnam and lies due south of the mainland, a short flight of 45 minutes away from the capital.

 Date: 4 September 2012
Airline: VASCO on behalf of Vietnam Airlines
Aircraft: ATR-72
From: Ho Chin Minh City
To: Con Dao
Cabin: Economy Class
Seat: 1D

Getting to the Airport

Vietnam is a fascinating and beautiful country. Even Saigon has a certain charm about it, although it may not exactly be what you’d call beautiful. The city still retains many traces of its colonial past as part of French Indochine, most noticeably the cathedral of Notre Dame in the centre of town, which was built by French craftsmen using bricks that were brought all the way from Marseille in France.

So far, I was always under the impression that Beijing has the worst traffic I’ve ever seen, mainly due to the fact that most Chinese drivers seem to have a very developed death wish and simply drive like maniacs. That was until I came to Vietnam…

It’s not that there’s a lot of congestion, and you certainly can’t say they drive too fast. They couldn’t even if they tried probably. The thing is, the cities are crawling with Vespas. The Vespa is the most popular mode of transport within the cities and it’s not unusual to see as many as four or five persons on a Vespa, driving through the narrow streets of Saigon just like thousands of other drivers.

From what I gather, the strategy when driving in Vietnam is just to never stop, no matter what’s coming your way. Instead, slow down and start honking like something crazy.

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of being driven to the airport in the hotel shuttle, which I suppose is quite a derrogative term for something with a Mercedes star on the bonnet. The journey to the airport from the hotel takes about 45 minutes, mainly due to the traffic. The airport is very close to the city.

Check-in

I arrive at the domestic terminal, which looks like it’s quite an old facility from its architecture. Apart from that though, it’s clean and seemingly well equipped. I find my row for check-in and am processed by a friendly young lady. Initially, she places me on 14A. Just as I turn to leave though, she calls me back and asks me if perhaps I would prefer the exit row ‘because you have long leg’. I have two actually and I agree that by Vietnamese standards I probably am rather tall. So she issues me a new boarding pass for 1D, a window seat.

The Vietnam Airlines Business Class Lounge

From check-in I head one floor up to the departure lounge. Security is a very relaxed affair, you don’t have to remove your liquids or your laptop, which makes the whole process much easier.
There is a Business Class lounge, but the young lady tells me that my Air France Platinum card is only valid in the international lounges if travelling on an Economy Class ticket. So instead, I have a look around the airside shopping area, which is certainly different from the retail selection at other airports. Anyone for some frozen snake perhaps?

Boarding

Boarding is called on time. Literally. I don’t know if the PA was kaput or what but the gate agent starts yelling something in Vietnamese – the only bit I understand is Con Dao – at which the other passengers at the gate stand up and go through the gate. So I follow suit. I head down the stairs to the waiting bus.

All in all, I count 40 passengers on this flight. The bus driver demonstrates the same driving style on the apron as his compatriots on the public roads.

The Cabin

The cabin of this bird looks very well used and the headrest covers look as though they’ve been ironed to death.

From what I can observe, the inner one of the two parallel runways is used for departures at Saigon, while the outer one is used for arrivals. Take-off is quite sprightly for this little turboprop. As announced by the pilot, we hit quite a bit of turbulence as soon as we get airborne.

The Crew

The cabin crew consists of two young Vietnamese ladies, both of which are friendly and welcoming.

The Meal

Service on this short flight consists of a bottle of VASCO branded still water and a jasmine scented prepacked towel.

By this time we’ve left the mainland behind us, rather abruptly the muddy brown waters of the Mekong Delta give way to the clearer waters of the open sea.

Arrival

The approach into Con Dao is quite spectacular. Think St. Maarten in miniature.  Most of the approach is over water, then we fly over the beach at a very low altitude before eventually touching down.

As the icing on the cake, I disembark and walk across the small apron to the terminal building.

The driver taking me to my hotel is already expecting me. For the next four days I am going to do exactly nothing at all, except sit in or by my own pool. What bliss!

Conclusion

Domestic flying in Vietnam is a lot like taking a bus. And from what I can tell, that’s how VASCO understands its mission. No more, no less. Can’t really argue with that!

Epilogue

My hotel in Con Dao is the Six Senses and I am even fortunate enough to get an upgrade to one of their beach villas. Although in actual fact it’s a bit of an overkill, the villa is spread out across three bungalows and can sleep six! Still, the large pool is certainly cool.