FLIEGER67 From France, joined Sep 2003, 5234 posts, RR: 54 Posted (10 years 1 month 1 week 3 days 19 hours ago) and read 4520 times:
The trip: Bulgaria is high rated on my to do list, so I booked a trip to Sofia in November last year. SOF itself is a classic high fare biz destination.
I decided to lower my LH Miles and More account with 28.000 miles and payed EUR 89,87 taxes and fees.
At the airport at 6.30 am. Checked in the night before online. That is possible for all flights the next day from 6.00 pm. They offered the seats from your profile without the possibility to change the seats. You simply had to go to the self-service check in machines at the airport, insert your Miles and More Card and print your boarding pass, theoretically!.
I was booked on LH 1353 STR-FRA scheduled 07.55/08.45 operated by an Eurowings BAE 146-300 and on LH 3430 FRA-SOF scheduled 10.35/13.45 operated by an Lufthansa A321. From November till March LH send me 5 mails with small time and operating aircraft changes. In the end the dates from the last mail = also incorrect.
The machine asked me if I will travel alone without bags the check in. Yes, and further: This service is not available, please go to the desks. Ok, to the check in desks, I waited in line for about 5 minutes for a free agent and as I was there a friendly younger female explained that STR-FRA was cancelled on short notice (tech?) and send me to the ticket counter where some other customers waited. Another LH service to DUS, 15 minutes earlier was also cancelled, a lot to do for the agents there.
A friendly lady in her 50´s staffed the First Class desk, she waved me in.
What can I do for you?, she asked me. I handed her my Miles and More Card out and said: STR-FRA is cancelled, She answered in a honest way: I´am so sorry, I´am always nervous if something goes wrong on my private travels and I will do my best for you to find another way to SOF.
A LH connection via MUC was ok, but with a five hours layover, not the best opinion. VIE-SOF with Austrian was ok, but STR-VIE was fully booked. She searched again, and then: On STR-VIE we had always some no-shows, I will call if its possible for you (upgrade? ).
Conclusion: She gave me a flight interruption message called FIM, I was checked than in at the empty first class desks in eco and they will grade an full fare eco pax up if all the other eco-travellers arrive. I asked, but no upgrade for me. I followed the upgrades of 2 pax at the gate.
Crossed security quickly, changed to T3 with the better views and followed the early morning traffic. Nordic Leisure MD80, 4 x Germanwings A319, BA A320, Air France A320, Swiss E145, Condor B753 and so on. My plane arrived at 07.51.
Boarding was called at bus gate 164 down the stairs at 08.15, at the plane at 08.20. Welcomed by a friendly middle aged female FA. The pilot Captain Michael Powollny stated a delay of roundabout 15 minutes about heavy traffic till engine start up.
Leisure flight No. 3 on the CRJ-200 and the first on this plane.
Departure at 09.00 am from runway 25 in western direction. Slow climb out.
Interior: Dark green, violet fabric seats, red belts, the floor bright green, clean and in good conditions. Repaint in the new colours was according to the pix in the database not longer than 2 to 3 months ago. Legroom was ok, much better than on the DE flight last week.
Pax: 80 % biz, all the vacationeers fly Germanwings on this route.
Service or what they called so: Coffee/Tea/Natural water/a chocolate bar called "Nussecke" for free, all other thins to pay for.
Flight route: A left turn towards the east/Augsburg/North of MUC to Vienna. Calm flight. Approach started 25 minutes before arrival with lots of circles and curves, over the "Neusiedler See", smooth touchdown on runway 11, low brakes.
Parked, deboarded and entered the bus at 10.11.
Hmmh, VIE-SOF is scheduled for 10.35, lets go.
In the terminal at 10.15, checked if the assigned gate was ok, it was, boarding was called and hurry up. 4 lines with 10 to 15 clients in front at passport control, lined in, and too late, realised two fellow indian travellers in front off me. They´re passports checked detailed, the female officer called someone else by phone and finally they passed.
10.35 at the gate area with huge queues at security. Lucky, they opened a new line, 5 minutes to wait, down the stairs and at the gate at 10.45. 2 pax in front, 3 behind, entered the bus, gate closed and on the way to the next plane. The only impression about VIE was the huge shopping area between arrivals and passport control, I reminded it from another trip last year.
Austrian flight OS 795 operated by AustrianArrows (Tyrolean) Fokker F-70
Scheduled: 10.35 // 13.15
Acutal: 10.45 // 13.20
Gate: A12 Seat: 12 D
Load Factor: more than 90 %
Entered the plane late, welcomed by an older friendly female FA. Bad, no window seat this time. Leisure flight No.4 on the F70 and the first on this plane. 3 female FA´s at all, good looking in their red dress.
Interior:Same dark green fabric seats, same bright green floor, again good looking plane in good conditions, legroom was not as good as on the CRK but acceptable. The pax bis and vacationeers mixed. Welcomed by the captain, his name impossible to speak for all non austrians. Engines started, taxi follows, lots of traffic at VIE. We´re No.6 to departure, but after 5 to 10 minutes to wait were on the way to the southeast.
A steep departure from runway 16.
Flight route: Over the "Neusiedler See", Belgrad, Sofia. Smooth flight.
Service like on the STR-VIE leg. Approach to SOF started 20 minutes before landing. SOF is located in a high valley surrounded by the highest bulgarian mountains. Some circling around and a sharp turn on finals to runway 27
Landed with normal brakes.
Parked on the apron, deboarding by bus, no finger gates here in Sofia.
Direct after we entered the building passport control. No problems there and a new stamp in my passport. The rental car agencies located in the small public area. A rather new Opel Corsa rented by Avis for 179,57 EUR all inclusive = a good price. Car rental in Bulgaria is expensive, especially insurance.
Driving in Bulgaria is a real adventure, kyrilic letters, only a low number of western signs.
The hotel Expo where I stayed the next two nights is located at the main entrance road to the city center, between airport and city, opened in 2004, well designed. Sofia has a small number of high priced international hotels and lots of places from the former socialistic times.
Expo is not to expensive and highly recommendable. 61,55 EUR per night, breakfast and security parking included.
At the airport at 3 pm. The part of the terminal used for the departures is IMO the typical concrete building of the lost, socialistic area. Taxis allowed directly in front off the building, only small walkways, a small hall with an information office in the middle, ticket offices on both sides, a few seats and the counters. The new building is under constuction, looks like a very modern, glass terminal. The screens showed LH 3435 ontime to MUC, check in not opened till 3.30 pm, no self-service machines visible. At 03.35 one desk opened staffed with an elder, not unfriendly female of Sofia airport. The computer do not work, she changed to the next desk. Checked in as pax No.2 to MUC without bags, quick done. Crossed security staffed by some totally annoyed officers, had a discussion with the customs officer about the size of my cabin bag ( I travelled always with my aluminium made Rimowa trolley), no problem till now around the world, cleared without further problems, passport control, one stamp more inside and entered the gate area.
The same socialistic style, plastic and concrete, but good views to the apron.
The aircraft there: Malev B737-600, Bulgaria Air B737-300 and 500, Viaggio Air ATR 42, Tarom ATR 42, Czech B737-500 and so on. No one of the russian built planes in action.Hemus T134 and Yak40, Antonovs all types. D-ABJH arrived at 4 pm, leisure flight No.10 on the B737-500 and first on this plane.
Boarding started at 04.30 pm by bus. No airbridges there. I counted massive 17 pax in the bus, some biz travellers, the others on vacation.
I saw not the pax deboarding, but they had a lot of bags from the plane, so the inbound flight was much better loaded. Welcomed by a very friendly female FA. Settled down in my seat in the last row. 5 rows without any other pax around, nearly a private plane.
The captain welcomed us by phone and stated that we had to wait roundabout 15 minutes till the handlers loaded all the cargo. Interesting, my seat was direct over the rear cargo door.
They loaded lots of boxes with fresh mushrooms bound for JFK/BOS/LAX/SFO as printes outside the boxes and lots of parcels for german fashion company Tom Tailor. A cargo plane with some pax seats will be the best for this leg .
Cargo doors closed, engine started, the taxiway was under contruction, taxi on the active, turnaround and departure from runway 09.
Interior: Bright grey leathers seats, good legroom. If you view the details its visible that this plane is nearly 15 years old but in good conditions. 3 female FAs on the flight. 6 pax per FA.
Service: 2 times free drinks and a ham or cheese bagel sandwich, I had the cheese = tasty.
Direct after departure a sharp right turn the avoid flying over the city center of Sofia further east of Sarajevo/Zagreb/Graz/Salzburg and MUC.
Normally I write these reports during the flight, but this time good views during the whole flight, relaxed atmosphere. In no time we are on approach to MUC. Arrival on runway 26L soft touchdown, no thrustreversers.
Parked on an outside position opposite T2, deboarding by bus. They announced 2 bus stops, stop 1 for the connecting pax, stop 2 for baggage reclaim, only one female goes on to baggage reclaim, all the others with connecting flights.
Is SOF a possible terror destination?. We all had to pass a personal safety inspection before we are allowed to enter the terminal building. No time to wait at passport control. Short thereafter I checked the screens if I had a gate change. One of my fellow travellers, a young male possible bulgarian nationality, stand there and I felt he dont know where to go. He´s not speaking english and all I know from his papers is that he was an employee of the state owned Bulgarian shipping company, Black Sea Shipping, and wants to connect to Lisbon to board his ship. No english, never before in MUC and impossible to read western letters (Bulgaria = kyrilic letters). I had time enough to my next flight, so he had his personal airport guide. A small compensation for all the friendly bulgarians I´ve meet the last days. I was at my gate at 06.40 pm, relax at the end of the G area and view the traffic.
Another interesting episode: 3 japanese ladys beneath me, together roundabout 200 years of experience on plane spotting: Ohhh, Lufthansa, giggling, Ohhh, Lufthansa, giggling and so on, about 10 incoming planes. Airports are always places with interesting people.
As the female gate agent arrived I asked her for a "Delivery at aircraft" sticker.
Such a unfriendly person, no please or sorry, nor eye contact, "ask me later till boarding" was the only comment. Boarding called, I was there. She takes my trolley, fixed the sticker and the only comment: Thats the rule, no have a nice flight or olse, a real bad experience for southern german behaviour.
Boarding by bus like a guided tour around the airport to one of the last parking places for the commuter planes. 2 female FA´s on the plane. One very friendly, one "business" friendly. Leisure flight No.2 on the Dash 8-300 and the first on this plane.
Nearly 100 % leisure travellers this time, maybe a result from the special one way fares on all intra german weekend flights?.
Interior: Dark, grey leather seats, lower legroom. Good looking plane.
Were number 8 to departure from runway 26L, more than 10 minutes to wait till we gone.
Short takeoff run, slow takeoff in flight direction northwest.
Flight route: MUC/Augsburg/Ulm and approach to STR in eastern direction over the "Weidacher Höhe" on runway 07. Calm flight.
Soft touchdown, left the runway by an early exit, quick taxi to the eastern part of the apron where all the commuter planes parked. Said goodbye to the female FA in the back of the plane. She said that plane and crew will have nightstop in STR now. Deboarding by bus. Crossed the building and in the car back home minutes later.
The trip:Its time to go to Bulgaria for all of us who are interested in following a country in its changing process to the new times and with lots of historic monuments.
Austrian: IMO world champion in selling itself as a high quality biz carrier, only one FA on the CRJ, service on the lowest possible level above the LCCs but friendly staff and good looking planes at all.
Lufthansa:Handled the cancelled flight in a professional way without disadvantages for me, friendly staff in STR, on the SOF-MUC leg and also a bit lower on the MUC-STR leg.
Very unfriendly the female gate agent in MUC.
Also this time, comments and critics welcome,
TriStar500 From Germany, joined Nov 1999, 4704 posts, RR: 40
Reply 1, posted (10 years 1 month 1 week 3 days 9 hours ago) and read 4312 times:
You really get the leisure travelling rolling, aren't you!? I highly enjoyed your trip report and the comparison between the various Star Alliance products. Service in Peasant Class on OS is really a joke - such a strategy will certainly backfire one day, because as you say, service is only marginally above no frills carrier and in fact even inferior to low cost competitors like AB. No wonder, Air Berlin has become No. 2 in number of passengers (~950,000!)at VIE within just two years!
Your pretty bad start into the outbound journey and the good outcome demonstrates one very important aspect, why LH is, despite all the well-deserved criticism, a very professional and efficient airline: even if something goes wrong, they sort out those problems and get you to your destination with the least amount of hassles.
BTW - I don't think that the extra strict screening of the SOF flight was conducted because Bulgaria is a possible terror destination. I'd rather suspect organized crime as the reason behind these checks. And frankly speaking, I am glad that border controls from such countries is done in a very tight manner.
Homer: Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!
Ndebele From Germany, joined Apr 2001, 2903 posts, RR: 21
Reply 2, posted (10 years 1 month 1 week 3 days 5 hours ago) and read 4228 times:
Great report, and your destinations are becoming more and more unusual! Also interesting to read about the different products, I didn't know you get anything for free on Austrian. A very interesting detail about the cargo loaded in Sofia and the cargo's destinations!
That's an amazing photo of the approach to Sofia. They might need the new terminal building on their way of reaching western standards regarding passenger facilities - but do you think they really need that second runway which can already be seen on the photo?
Quoting FLIEGER67 (Thread starter): Another interesting episode: 3 japanese ladys beneath me, together roundabout 200 years of experience on plane spotting: Ohhh, Lufthansa, giggling, Ohhh, Lufthansa, giggling and so on
Hehe, you gotta love the Japanese! "Aaah!" and "Oooh" must be the most important words in Japanese language, always funny.
I agree with Jens, it's the irregularities like your cancellation where quality airlines will always win over low-cost airlines.
Contact Air From Germany, joined Apr 2001, 1154 posts, RR: 10
Reply 3, posted (10 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 4095 times:
thanks for this highly interesting report about a quite unusual destination (at least from my point of view). But after reading your report, I somehow would like to visit Bulgaria myself as well. We also have a twice weekly nonstop-flight from STR to SOF on Hemus Air for some weeks now.
Unfortunately, Russian planes seem to disappear from Europe (nearly) completely. The only European country where they can still be found in larger numbers seems to be Russia itself, so it becomes more and more difficult to fly on one of those birds. Even the Hemus Air service to STR is operated by BAe 146...
FLIEGER67 From France, joined Sep 2003, 5234 posts, RR: 54
Reply 4, posted (10 years 1 month 1 week 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 4049 times:
First of all,thanx for your replys.
Yes, this June is my "high" leisure month,more leisure than biz travelling,feels good till now .
About OS: And nevertheless they lost money this year, the end of service cost cutting is in sight there with lots of carriers return to a higher level even in eco class.
LH: Thats my opinion too, IMO the female lady at the desk was more nervous than me, maybe she had some not so relaxed customers in other cases!
I´m on vacation what will be going wrong!
Your also right about border controls in case of this countries, the only thing is that you feel something different,thoughtful if you had such a strict security procedure after arrivals.
Unusual destinations = highly interesting for me, also for you I think (Japan!).
This Thursday to Rovaniemi, if nothing else happens.
I´m also impressed about this huge load of cargo, otherwise I know much about the Bulgarian roads now and I think the surrounding countries had no better ones, maybe a reason for the masses of cargo flown on these eastern routes.
Runway: IMO they will use the new runway as active and the old for taxi, the old taxiways near the new building = all closed, the only sense for me.
Yes, Japan grows up on my to do list, next year, maybe.
About the irregularities, I also agree with Jens and you.
The Hemus Air opinion comes up after I´ve secured my planned trip.
I don´t know something about the load factors and the fares but it will be interesting to read a report about it.
I saw the Hemus BAE146 in STR sometimes in May, they will also change to western built planes AFAIK with an B733 for short delivery, bad, one chance more gone to fly the russian jets.
I saw two Let410´s operating domestic flights to Varna and Burgas but if Ì´m right they operate for FB/Bulgaria Air, an opinion to do some of this highly interesting domestic legs sometimes (for your visit!).
Once again thanx and best regards,