finally i conducted the flight i was looking for some two years. The purpose of this rather strange and long routing was to fly Albanian Airlines (LV) and their TU 134 (Leased from Hemus Air). In order to do so i went through the discomfort of a 25 hours trip to cover a distance that usually takes 4 hours flight (Frankfurt-Damascus).
The only feasible connection out of FRA to catch LV's Flight from Tirana (TIA) to Istanbul (IST) was via Ljublijana (LJU)/Slovenia. At the very last moment, Royal Jordanian cancelled it's flight from Amman to Damascus. I was informed by this cancellation through a friend some four hours prior to my departure in FRA so i nearly cancelled the whole trip via Tirana, but at the end, i was stubborn enough to go ahead to AMM and then continue by surface transportation to Damascus, and now afterwards iam not regretting it at all!
FRA-Ljublijana Adria Airways JP125/24.Nov. A320 Reg. S5-AAA
JP operates in codeshare with LH between Germany-Slovenia besides they have traffic rights between Frankfurt and Vienna. They have a fleet of 3 A320 and 4 CRJ 200LR. Their flights are handled by LH in FRA. Although the queue was quite long, Check-in was very smooth and efficient that evening. Departure gate was B46, next to us was the daily LH flight to BKK and MNL packed as usual.
The Cabin interior of the A320 looked quite old yellow/brown colors dominated the seen. There were 4 rows ob Biz. Class seats in a 3-3 abreast with good seat pitch, this was not the case in Economy, here it was very tight. The seat covers were in dark blue with the company logo in dark green. I was seated at the window in 20F. Prior to push back the APU went off four times leaving the cabin dark for several seconds. The Flight this evening was about 70% filled with a rather high ratio of Biz-Travellers (it was Sunday!)
While in Taxi i saw the LH Cargo 742 'Time definite' parked on the south side. Take off was from RWY 18 with strong side winds. A Sandwich was served, it was by far the smallest i have ever seen, however the smoked cheese was more than delicious (and don't worry i asked for more sandwiches so i didn't starve
the selection of soft drinks was excellent. The Crew was sort of tired and hardly smiled, it was service by the books. On Landing in LJU it was raining and very foggy but due to the small size of the tarmac one could see 2 A320's (S5-AAB, S5-AAC) and two CRJ's all JP.
LJU-TIA Adria Airways JP /25.Nov. CRJ-200 Reg. S5-AAD
The Airport at LJU is way smaller than i would have expected. The Tarmac is also small but obviously enough to handle the needed traffic. The Building is very modern. I followed the transfer sign and was greeted by a nice Lady who asked: ..Tirana? It was indeed the only flight left that night. A total of 10 people were waiting for the flight. A nice Bar was still open in the 40X20 meters departure hall housing 6 gates. We were transferred to the plane by a bus and boarded the CRJ200 i got a window seat 8A. Nice leather seats with a good seat pitch. We took off from RWY 13 after a short role of about 20 seconds and headed right at a steep angle. Service was exactly the same as on FRA-LJU. The two blond flight attendants were very nice and helpful and i was allowed a cockpit visit. Both the captain and copilot were very nice. While we were chatting you could hear the voice of the Albanian ATC. There was an escape door at the roof. The fuel consumption to Tirana was calculated with 1.800 Kg.
The toilet was ultra small, a challenge for big people...
At approach to TIA you could see some nice cut main streets and a lot of old buildings, what a pity not having seen this at daytime.
The bus that took us to the terminal building was at least 30 years old and in miserable condition but it worked! Following planes were present:
LV YAK40 LZ-DOB
Ada Air YAK40 LZ-DOM
LV TU-134 LZ-TUJ
LV BAe-146 ZA-MAL
MA F-70 HA-LME
Once arrived at the one story small Terminal building i realized that the arrival hall is not a hall rather a big room. There were three immigration counters of which one was open. I stopped there and looked in vain to find any sign of 'Trasnfer' or hint for a way meant for transit passenger. A Policeman approached me and i asked him about transfer. He looked at me in disbelievement and waved the other two officer's to him. Now all stared at me and asked again if iam really on transit because usually they hardly have any real transit passenger... finally i was escorted by a policeman and had to go out to the tarmac and reenter a departure gate where i was locked in. I was the only pax to overnight there for the next 4 hours...... Nevertheless i have to mention that all staff i met were more than friendly. The departure area is small (about 30X 12Meters) and old plastic seats (found in sport stadiums) in gorgeous yellow were there. The seats and floors were very clean though. In addition they had three tiny duty free shops all were closed and toilets (they were clean!). Some 4 brand new Siemens-Fujitsu monitors were fixed at the walls indicating the thin departure traffic, though the monitors were state of the art, the information displayed was wrong! The first flight to go in the morning was Adria's flight back to LJU. This was followed by OA flight to ATH; B717 SX-BDA
Soon after i was speechless when i discovered two state of the art coffee vending machines one offering more than 10 sorts of Coffee, Milkcoffee, Cappuccino....., there was another vending machine for local newspapers. After one hour and with the help of some delicious cookies i had brought with me, i made friends with two policemen who were guarding the building so whenever they went out to the tarmac they would leave the door unlocked!
After some 4 cold hours (heating was not the best there) life began to erupt at the departure 'room'. A handful of strayed dogs were playing mice and cat games in and out of the old bus parked outside the building.....
Tirana-Istanbul Albanian Airlines LV520/25.Nov. TU-134A3 Reg. LZ-TUJ
Though they have three gates, both departuring flights (mine to IST and OA to ATH) were boarded from the same gate creating a funny chaos. We were driven with an outworn old bus to the plane. The ride took only 20 seconds and there she was, the beautiful Tupolev in the morning sun. Taking Pics was no problem at all though it was against the Sun.., afterwards i rushed up to enter the beauty from the funny small door. The Crew welcomed me and i was seated in 1A. There were 47 passengers in this plane that offers 76 seats. Seatpitch was daring. The red and blue seatcovers were wornout and covered with huge spots.... the overhead bins were the rather new closable style but the were very petite. The nice big and famous TU-134 windows were partly covered by the cabin interior :-( but still it was great to look out. After telling the cabin crew my story they shook their heads and i was allowed very long cockpit visits. Though i have made three TU-134 flights before (with Interflug in the 80's) it was my first cockpit visit in this old short range Russian veteran.
To my amazement the Captain's and First officer's place (floor) is about a feet higher than the rest of the cabin so you don't need to bend down while standing at the cockpit entrance in order to look outside. In addition to the two seats there was a seat in the middle of the two and a small seat just next to the cockpit door. Though the bird was built in 1977 you could still smell that typical Russian smell of the plastic interior,...great old times feeling! Ivan Nachev was a very nice captain who explained and chatted a lot in selective English. All three pilots were heavy smokers but the two nice black fans were strong enough to keep a clear sight. The cockpit looked damn old especially with the repainted green color that perhaps was nothing else than a standard home color, something to paint your garden fence with... The two modern GPS kits that were added recently didn't fit this old cockpit at all. Having all this so close along with the nice snow covered mountains outside, it was a feeling to remember.
A little snack was served consisting of cut meat, western cheese and good tasting feta-cheese, butter and honey.The bread was damn hard, nothing for people with false teeth... The small piece of cake was a 'baklawa' Style very sweet but delicious stuff. They had some 5 sorts of softdrinks and very strong coffee (though not a coffee-drinker i enjoyed it having hardly had any sleep during the last 24 hours). Being in the first row, my table was a folding wooden apparatus that looked like a museum piece of old technology. I couldn't resist checking the toilet of course! Russian planes do have spacious toilets. This one was sort of homestyle seat with a wooden moving piece. The whole place looked as if it was not cleaned in ages... frankly i would have been disappointed to find a modern clean toilet, it simply doesn't fit!
The safety cards in the seatpocket were a variety of ones with Albanian Airlines logo and Hemus Air. I did Ask the cabin crew if they have some spare ones and the handled me one new Hemus Air Card with a smile. Unfortunately it was a short flight the approach came too early for my liking... standing in the cockpit while the undercarriage is being released is a great feeling in this Tupolev! The black box was fixed visible behind the left cockpit wall in the front area for luggage storage, it looked like a huge metal ball of about 50 cm diameter. Landing in IST was from Seaside.There where many other Russian planes on the tarmac including a Sibir IL86 (in all white), Ukrainian AN24 (UR-46469, Taveria ???) and a TU 154 Bashkirian Airlines RA-85773. While waiting for my next connection, spotted many interesting stuff:
Uzbekistan Airways A313, Aeroflot IL86, ?? Yak-42 UR42372, Kuban Yak-42, Tatarstan Airlines TU154 RA-85804, KMV TU154, UM-AIR? TU134 UR-65076, ? TU134 RA-65622 in all white, Sudan Air. A300 or 310? TC-ANI, Freebird MD88 TC-ONR, Khalifa Air. 73? TC-AFJ.
All in all, if you are looking for something old and nostalgic off the beaten track, this flight is the place to be!
Royal Jordanian IST-AMM RJ166/25Nov. A320
transit in IST was not very impressive, though the Airport terminal and shop facilities at IST are excellent, i found the staff quite careless and i came across many unfriendly staff at the transit desk and at gate security. Anyhow i boarded the plane to find out that only about 30 passengers were bound for AMM. They had a real biz. Class on that narrow body plane, 3 Rows in a spacious 2-2 abreast, but i had to walk further down the aile (behind the curtain) to reach my economy seat at 20A. Seatpitch was very good and good lumbar and side assistance made this three hours journey in coach very comfortable. The dark Bordeaux color of the seats dominated the atmosphere onboard. They had both audio and video entertainment. An old tube style headphone was distributed but eventually the audio system didn't work at all. Soon after take off and after distributing hot towels (in Coach!) we were offered a lunch. To my surprise they had three options for the main course: Chicken, Beef or fish, i opted for the Chicken and was not disappointed at all. The potatoes were very nice arranged with some exotic spices. Butter, delicious cheese and a fresh tasting salad complemented the main course. The selection of softdrinks was a bit limited but of good quality, especially the mango juice. This was followed by an attentive tea and coffee service. Landing at Amman was at sunsettime with nice view. The first thing that attracted my attention were the two old Iraqi Airways 707's parked opposite the passenger terminal (YI-AGF, YI-AGE). The new A340 of RJ was next to us. After getting off the plane it took me four hours to drive to downtown, catch the next possible car to Damascus (no Russian veteran but a nice 1973 Dodge Corona..) as to finally arrive there at 22:00
Damascus-Vienna Austrian Airlines OS842/28Nov. A320 Reg. OE-LBT
Check in was very efficient. I got a window seat at 14F. Though the inbound flight from VIE arrived a bit late, it was turned around in less than 25 minutes including replacing the catering (both inbound and outbound sectors are catered from VIE). Flight was rather empty with about 10 Pax in C and 35 in Coach. While in push back i saw the special paint scheme Gulf Air A320 A4O-EJ that was bound to BAH. As usual a lot of Syrian Air (RB) planes were at the airport including: 2 A320, 2 TU154, three TU134, 3 Yak-40's
, three IL76 and one of the two 747-SP's (YK-AHA).
The crew was very nice and helpful once again confirming my view of OS having the most friendly crew among all European airlines. Drinks were served followed by a delicious lunch delivered in chinaware. I took the fish in sort of tomato sauce. It tasted good. The bread selection was excellent and frequent. During landing in VIE, i spotted an unindentifiable AN12 and a Ukrainian International 732 UR-GAC.
Vienna-Frankfurt Austrian Airlines OS127/25Nov. A321 Reg. OE-LBF
A short flight of 55 minutes during which sandwiches were served (Turkey and Ham) along with some soft drinks.