I want to write about a trip i did in october 2003. I know, this is long ago, and I usually didn't planned to write a report about it, but it was a trip with a lot of special things, apart from what flyers usually get. It will be hard to remind all the details, but I'll give it a try.
I used to study tourism and economics in southern Germany, and as the studies ended, our whole class went on a trip on the cruiseship "Aida Cara" which started from Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Maybe some of you already readed that I work on a cruise ship in Ukraine, but just to make things clear, this trip has nothing to do with that, I just went as a passenger.
Aida Cara holds like 2000-2500 passengers, which means that there is a lot of people to fly from Germany to Dubrovnik, which was the main base of that ship. Aida Cruises chartered flights to fly their pax in from like 10 different german airports. We were to fly in from Stuttgart. Aida Cruises used like the whole fleet of Aero Lloyd to fly us in. Well at least, that was the plan, and now things start to get funny...
We received tickets and other travel documents like 2 weeks before the trip by mail. Those were thosee classic red carbon-tickets like other Airlines also still use, but those were in special edition for Aida (not IATA-standard or something, although they look exactly like that).
Then, a week or 10 days before our departure Aero Lloyd has been grounded... That's not a big problem for passengers in Germany, as there is a law that tour operator which sell a package (and this was the case), have to bring their pax in whatever it takes, rebooking them on other carriers or whatever... Even if for the tour operator this will cost a lot of money. As the flight is part of the contract, it has to be fulfilled, without raising prices for the customer.
Aida announced to give us the new flight times and numbers a few days before and on time. I was looking forward to get some exotic carrier or whatever. Well, Aida handled the situation very well and told us we were to fly with Hapag Lloyd from STR to DBV at about 10 am or something. Our tickets with Aero Lloyd-flight numbers will be valid for that flight, as this is a charter flight for Aida Cruises only. The flight would operate TXL-STR-DBV.
So we took the train from Ravensburg to Stuttgart Central station early in the morning. The first snow of the year had came down that night and it was still dark and f.... cold... Just great to fly to sunny Croatia! We were a bunch of something lik a dozen of our class, the other preferred using cars. In Stuttgart central station we took the S-Bahn (suburban train) to the Airport and arrived plenty on time. So first we went to McDonald's, which is located at the end of a bunch of car parks and who has a drive-in by the way, as it is easially accessible from the A8-motorway Karlsruhe-Munich.
Then on to the charter Terminal, which is the most western of them (I think its Terminal 4). There was a lot of construction going on, so we had to walk along the buildings and the road and arrived there. At that time, if I remember right, Germanwings-flights were to start from there and a lot of other charters and ethnic flights to wherever. The terminal is like a big square with a terrace. Up there you can mainly find a cafe and a bunch of mainly turkish travel agents.
There was nothing going on at the HF-Counter to DBV. It was the only HF-flight from STR at that time and I checked in. Got a HF boarding-pass, which surprised me. I quote again, this was a special flight (had a flight number 9XXX), HF was not operating STR-DBV at that time on a regular basis.
I remember the check-in crew was not very interesting, and didn't gave me any information on a/c type or the load. Then we opened a few bottles of beer and Bacardi Rigo and other stuff to pass time, as there is nothing to do in that terminal. Pax per Pax of our group of about 30-35 people arrived and checked in too... As we were in holiday and party mood we made a lot of funny pictures and then passed through security which was rather tight. But now explain me one thing: It is stricly forbidden to bring a nail clipper on board but passing security with a glassbottle of alcool is allowed?? anyway even if it would have been forbidden, they sell so much alcool in the duty free store that its rather unsecure...
From the rather spartial waiting room we couldn't see our a/c so we waited until the flight was called and we were bussed to a beautiful A310, strike baby! Much better than a crappy Aero Lloyd A320! The last time I flew an A310 must have been in the early 90's on SQ from SIN to CGK... The beauty was in all-white with the Hapag-Lloyd titles in Red and the red TUI-smile on the tail. It looked quite dirty thou... can't remember the reg, sorry...
We boarded the a/c via stairs and joined the few pax that already had boarded the flight at TXL... we would have plenty of space as the load of the usually planned A320 is much smaller than the load of an A310. The interior was old but okay...
If I remember right safety demo was done on the main screens and I got a window seat. A lot of our group ordered champagne for which you have to pay for. Other softdrinks and the food we got lateron were free. Newspaper were also given out.
The crew seemed a little bit annoyed to fly this short hop to DBV which was surely not planned in their schedules 3 days before... But the captain came on the P/A and had a quite funny accent. Although he was German, and all announcement were made in German only (only German pax on board!), he rolled the "R" in Dubrovnik as if he were American. "Welcome to our flight to Doooooobrrrrownik" ... I didn't saw the captain, but his announcements were so slimy that I had to laugh. Maybe you German people now Bully's "Piloten aus Leidenschaft" (from the Bullyparade), it was matching that exactly! For you other people, well just imagine slimy David Hasselhoff or something like that...
Okay now the fun begun, a nice short hop (one hour maybe) and the flight was rather funny as everybody of our group was partying, making fun, drinking champagne, moving around the a/c and chatting... Food also came, which was a "kalte platte", so a snack with a bun, several slices of meat and cheese, a cake and stuff like that. Nice touch...
Then approach already started and we had great views of this hilly region and the adriatic coast... We were asked to fasten our seatbelt and rejoin our seats, what we did...
Just a few minutes before landing we flew over the city of Dubrovnik and our ship was visible in the port. So the captain came on the PA and said "If you look to your left you can see your AIDA-cruiseship". Reaction was that everybody wo seated in the middle seats stood up and went to the windows. A flight attendant, already seated in the jump-seat, took the phone and made an annoucement to immediately sit down, and everybody seated back, expect one of our guys. The f/a shouted then "YOU TOOO MISTER!". Everybody looked at that guy, which is known as the craziest and funniest guy in our class, and everybody said "Mensch, Steve!!!" and laughted...
Okay after that funny thing we landed at DBV, the airport is beautifully located between hills, making this airport being located in the middle of nowwhere and like 30 Minutes from Dubrovnik city... The tarmac around the runway showed signs of the bombings, and our captain awised us to be aware of a rather bumpy taxi... We stopped beneith a Condor and a lot of other a/c I can't remember, a mix of almost any German charter companies you can find. We also saw some of Thomas Cook Belgium (from Cologne) and some MD-80 "bluewings" or whatever from... As there are no jetways they are all on remote positions.
Other a/c arrived after us, including a Hercules (if I remember right) from the SFOR from Limoges, France.
Dubrovnik Airport was a mess... The airport is used to operate a few regular services per day plus a charter flight here and there but not 2000 pax in a few hours!
The airport has been reconstructed. On the website of DBV you can see pictures what the airport was looking after the bombings in the early 90's... It's a complete difference.
The main building is quite beautiful (although small) and the northern part of the building is used for customs. You have to enter a corridor and there are 2 (two!!!) desks for passport control. The problem is, that this corridor is designed for handling the load of one or maybe two flights, but not 5 or 6! that meant that the queue of passengers was so long that it went for over 100 meters on the tarmac... Airport officials were trying to put us aside, as we were blocking the "street" were the busses, refueling trucks etc. should pass, but that was mission impossible...
The 5 or 6 french SFOR-soldiers were really pissed, as they surely fly this route regulary but seem to go to immigration like everybody else... So they had to queue in the end and wait like everybody in the hot sun of the tarmac in their hot uniforms...
Our crew dissapeared in a "special" crew room with an entrance just on the right of our lane... They would have to fly the other pax who finished their cruise on that day back to STR and TXL.
Well we chatted and time passed by and after some wait it was our turn to get a croatian stamp in our passeport. No need to take to pick up our lugguages as the airport workers will bring them into trucks and bring them directly to the ship where sailors will bring them to our cabin.
The arrival area of DBV is nice and clean, with a lot of windows and so we jumped in one of a dozen busses waiting in front of the airport that would bring us to our ship... the ride to Dubrovnik takes a lifetime but is very beautiful, sun was shining and everything was just fine! Although you can see a lot of ruins of bombed buildings, hotels etc along the streets and the coast.
The bus didn't bring us directly to the ship, as ship boarding was not before 4 PM, so it brought us to the city, were we could spend some time. The city is awesome! I strongly recommend walking along the citywall and there you will find little doors giving the way on some superb open-air "cafes" with terraces on rocks just over the water! Incredible!
Time went to rejoin busses that brought us to the ship. Organisation was just perfect and we found our lugguage waiting in front of the cabin.
The cruise was really funny, brought us to beautiful Malta, Sicily, Sardaignia, Naples... nice, some superb weather and one week later we were back in Dubrovnik. As we didn't know which company we were flying with, this was annouced for all passengers two days before arrival. The flight for the DBV-STR-TXL-route would be on Croatia Airlines! Strike Again, I always wanted to fly them. Other companies were Thomas Cook Belgium again for Cologne, Condor for other desinations, Hamburg International, Germania, Air Berlin and some other more exotic to bring the passengers to almost every destination in Germany. Our flight was scheduled in the early afternoon.
Check-In didn't took place in the Airport! No pay attention to that:
Beneith the ship was a big hangar which was rented by the cruise-company. We were asked to leave our luguage in front of the cabin door. Sailors brought it down in the hangar and put them all grouped by flight. Then we had to take our luggage there and bring it to one of the check-in counters (Yes, check-in counters!) in the big hall... The wooden desks were staffed with airport staff, although if I remember right our desk was staffed with Croatia Airlines ground crew. The whole airport staff had some bad working-days on Fridays (Arrival- and departure-day of the cruiseship) during that summer is suppose...
We got nice Croatia Airlines boarding cards, which already had the sticker with the seat number and a stamp with the flight number on it. The passenger name as well as the destination (STR or TXL) were written on it manually during check-in. Luguage tags were also Croatia Airlines, also written by hand, with a light-green underliner textmarker! (nobody could read that, why they don't use some black or blue??!).
Then our luguage was loaded into trucks waiting in the back of the warehouse and brought to the airport, to hopefully see them again in STR.
We were bussed to the airport. No we got to see much more of it. As I said, it is quite small. but a lot of window giving daylight inside, marble floors, clean... everything perfect... as I was early I wrote a few postcards and gave them to the postoffice there... We then went up to the departure level were we passed passport control... Very rude guys there, not even wanted to give me a stamp (nobody got a leaving stamp in DBV... usual practice??)... The waiting area is quite small. Well, it's okay for the daily flights to Zagreb, but not for the loads of this amount of tourists... There is a small bar and a duty-free store where I bought some Toblerone. We had to sit on the floor and there was a lot going on outside. There was also a scheduled Croatia Airlines flights to Zagreb and so two Croatian a/c were waiting outside.
There is basically just one waiting room with two doors, being the two gates... I'm not sure they use both thou... Well our flight was called and we went to the A320 outside...
The a/c was looking good and new, I boarded during the rear door. Of course, the flight was full as this was not the A310... Announcements were made in English only, and if I remember right in Croatian too (were is the sense when there are just german tourist on board??). I envied to lucky pax who got the business-class seats in front, as this flight was one-class configuration on the paper... As I was in lack of sleep because of too much partying during the cruise, I slept a lot during the flight, but I remember service was correct, we got some hot food and I thought the cabin crew was also okay, considering that they are used to fly regular services and not any last-minute charters for german tourists on a very long flight to TXL via STR and back. I suppose the a/c flew empty back to Zagreb, because we were the last cruise this summer and no new pax were flew in.
We arrived in STR on time, were bussed to the terminal, got our luggage (which arrived, although one of the suitcases of our people was damaged), passed passport control in a breeze, went to the train station, bought a ticket for the whole group, took the S-Bahn and then the train back home!
All in one it was a pleasant journey with 2 interesting flights, interesting companies, interesting aircrafts and interesting handling of luggage etc.
Sorry again for the lack of details, but I hoped you enjoyed reading the report anyway!
Comments and critics always welcome!