Low cost carriers have been growing in Europe very rapidly in the last couple of years. Being aviation enthusiasts and working in the airline industry we have often taken advantage of the bargain fares available to go and visit airports and cities all across Europe for a couple of days. It was just a matter of time until we would come up with something like this.
Very late on the evening of April 8, 2005 we discussed potential dates for another short city break in September and after a couple of minutes the crazy idea came up to try and visit as many European countries as possible using low-cost airlines. Well, many European countries were not enough and we decided to try and set up a new record by visiting all 25 EU member states in less than 300 hours. We also see this as a political statement showing that not all the Swiss are afraid of joining the European Union, well we did the necessary step and emigrated to Austria a couple of years ago anyway.
Should any airline webmaster read this: Yes, we were the ones doing hundreds of availability requests on your web booking engines all night long trying to figure out an itinerary to make it happen, most flights were booked by 6.00 on April 9 and we had only spent an incredibly low 35 EUR per one-way fare on average.
September 9: Getting started ...
13.12, Bregenz, Austria: The clock starts ticking, 300 hours and 25 countries to go. The deadline is September 22, 01.12 at night.
It’s really starting great! Running to the railway station we managed to stop the airport bus which was just about to leave the station. Roger’s employer InterSky has given us free tickets for the first three days of our long trip and in return has obviously published a press release wishing us good luck the day before. That had turned out to be a more or less good idea and Roger spent all morning talking to the press and people seem to be really interested in our mad trip now. Anyway, we managed to triple the seat load factor (up from an amazing 1.85% to 5.58%) of the airport bus from Bregenz to Friedrichshafen and everyone is kind of happy. We bought two bus tickets (Roger did take the picture printed on the ticket by the way) and surprisingly found some free seats. It seems that the bus driver is really a fanatic shipping freak, he must have tuned the brakes of the bus to sound like a steamship sounding its horn while leaving the harbour .
13.23, Lindau, Germany: Our bus reaches the former border station between Lochau, Austria and Lindau, Germany, 23 countries to go.
Flight: 3L 504
Origin: Friedrichshafen (FDH)
Destination: Prague (PRG)
Aircraft: Dash 8-300 D-BLEJ
Photo © Roger Hohl
As we did not really have a lot of time to spare today, we decided to call InterSky’s handling agent in Friedrichshafen to ask for a last minute check-in as we would have been forced to go on a train way too early to catch our first flight to Prague at 14.00. The bus arrived at 13.50 which was more than enough time to make it to the check-in counter of our flight. It obviously was closed already, but since they did know we were late, we could just get our boarding passes from the check-in desk for the Hamburg International flight to Antalya leaving later this afternoon. Unlike other airports, security was really fast as well; Friedrichshafen is one of these airports where you can get from the bus to the plane in 3 minutes. Our ride to Prague today was InterSky Dash 8-300 D-BLEJ, it was the only aircraft on the ramp and boarding started shortly after we passed passport control. The company handling InterSky’s flights in Friedrichshafen is owned by a married couple, we were checked-in by the wife while her husband was taking care of aircraft handling today, he wished us luck with our trip as we boarded. I guess we will meet them again this weekend.
Since we did know there were eight people booked in Business Class and noone was sitting in the first two rows and expected another crew to be on the flight, out of sudden, we were unsure whether we were on the right aircraft, so we were relieved to hear we were going to Prague. It turned out the Business Class passengers were just sitting further in the back of the aircraft and there were some crew changes. Being in such a hurry when checking in and boarding the aircraft, we did not really check for the departure gate and thought we might have ended up on the flight to Graz, which was a pretty silly thought as obviously there would not have been any passport control in this case .
The flight was booked pretty good; there were about 30 passengers on board. During the safety demonstration I noticed that they still had that old safety demo type with strange background noise during the explanation of how passengers are supposed to use their seat belts. But then, it is at least a good sign you are on good old D-BLEJ again, this has been like this since the aircraft was added to the fleet.
The Zeppelin NT had just come in when we took off on runway 24. Today’s flight route was Friedrichshafen-Memmingen-Nuremberg-Plsen-Prague. It seemed like the flight attendant was very busy on this flight mainly taking care of a couple of Biz passengers in the front of the cabin making good use of the fact that their snacks and drinks were included in the ticket price.
As a side note, in a scientific test we figured out that you are much better off sitting on the toilet than in your seat if you want to understand an in-flight announcement .
15.33, Prague Ruzyne Airport, Czech Republic: Captain Gerry Müller lands his Dash 8-300 on runway 24 at Prague’s Ruzyne Airport, 22 countries to go
For the first time in years we both were on a flight were people starting clapping after landing, most probably a result of mainly having weekend tourists on board the flight. We waited in our seats until everyone had left the aircraft and then had to convince the flight attendant that we really would not leave the aircraft and fly back to Friedrichshafen again. It looks like only the cockpit crew did know about that and she thought it was a joke. I spent some time walking around the aircraft with Gerry while he was doing his outside check. This was followed by a quick photo session where everyone was taking pictures of everyone wandering around the aircraft.
Flight: 3L 505
Origin: Prague (PRG)
Destination: Friedrichshafen (FDH)
Aircraft: Dash 8-300 D-BLEJ
Photo © Roger Hohl
After about 25 minutes, the new fellow passengers were bussed to the aircraft and did chose seats in row 14 of the aircraft, the very last row in the cabin. We taxied out after a British Airways B737-500 and surprisingly were allowed to take off first on runway 24.
The return flight was a little bumpy, especially the closer we got to Friedrichshafen, but we still enjoyed the nice weather and food we got onboard while starting work on the trip report you are just reading right now.
Yep, you are right, interestingly we used runway 24 for landing in Friedrichshafen again, and unfortunately this series will stop tomorrow as there obviously is no runway 24 at Nice Cote d’Azur airport, our next destination tomorrow morning.
Gerry accused us of pushing off before they will hit the thunderstorm flying the Berlin rotation after our flight but knowing that we have a lot of flights ahead in the next couple of days, we really just had to refuse .
After passing passport control, we went straight to the railway station at Friedrichshafen airport and took regional trains back to Bregenz where both us live. Unfortunately we had to change trains twice which is not as comfortable as taking the direct bus but then you can’t have everything. During our stopover in the centre of Friedrichshafen, we got a call from Thomas at our “operations department” (let’s call it that way) telling us that there was a problem with the tickets for our Hamburg International flights and its looks like we will now have to pick them up in Hamburg before our departure to Malta on Monday morning.
Six hours after we luckily still catched the bus, we ended up being back in Bregenz having visited three countries, France and Italy being on our list as the next two to come.
September 10: Day out with an InterSky crew
The day started early and wet, we met at the railway station at the harbour in Bregenz to go on the first train to Germany at 5.45. Luckily, it really showed up although the signs at the station did not look too promising. Orange juice on the train has made it easier to really wake up as we approached Friedrichshafen airport once again. There was hope anyway as it really looked like we would make it to France and Italy without any air traffic control strikes announced, this was obviously one of the big fears we had when booking our trip as it would have been a show stopper.
Roger mistakenly told me that today’s captain would be Konrad Adenauer, I was kind of surprised that his company now also employed death politicians, it turned out to be Norman Adler, so at least he pointing in the right direction. We arrived at the airport shortly after 6.30 and made our way to the check-in desks where we met a surprised lady as she already checked us in the day before for our first flight to Prague and me two days before for a business trip to Vienna and Bratislava. I already guessed she would be surprised to see us again later in the day (I was right) and tomorrow (Let’s wait and see) when we will finally really leave Friedrichshafen and start bothering other check-in agents around Europe.
Flight: 3L 480
Origin: Friedrichshafen (FDH)
Destination: Nice (NCE)
Aircraft: Dash 8-300 D-BLEJ
Photo © Roger Hohl
We boarded our aircraft for the day, D-BLEJ once again, and were greeted by Silvia Erb, a very nice and cheerful flight attendant I even still know from my own days with InterSky two years ago. Today’s cockpit crew was Capt. Norman Adler and First Officer Kaspar Hammerer. We accompanied them on their whole trip today from Friedrichshafen to Nice and back followed by a rotation to Venice.
Although it was pretty cloudy over the North of Switzerland we had a great view over the Alps including Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Lago Maggiore. I bought a yellow rubber duck from the travel value onboard shopping they offer (they give the 5 EUR to a local charity called “Netz für Kinder”) and we decided to take the duck with us on our journey. Silvia intentionally turned off power for the toilet when Roger was in there, at least I found it very funny, most probably part one of her strategy to sell Roger a duck as well.
08.20, Nice, France: After a very nice approach over Monaco, Monte Carlo and the very East of the Cote d’Azur we land at Nice airport, 21 countries to go
Our Dash 8 was parked very close to what seemed like the jetset area of the airport where the people renting these yachts seen on approach most probably park, Greg Norman’s Gulfstream and lots of mainly Middle Eastern business jets were seen among others.
Flight: 3L 481
Origin: Nice (NCE)
Destination: Friedrichshafen (FDH)
Aircraft: Dash 8-300 D-BLEJ
Photo © Roger Hohl
The flight back from Nice to Friedrichshafen was pretty uneventful, after flying eastwards we turned left over Genoa and then had a nice view of the Lake of Como before hitting the clouds and the ugly rain again. We approached Friedrichshafen straight over the Lake of Constance and landed on time in the middle of what seemed to be a rush hour (well for the little airport here). Passengers clapping like crazy again, seems like it is a clapping season right now.
Back to check-in to see an even more surprised lady at the desk, this time she did not even check whether we were booked anymore and just handed over boarding passes (most probably using an Air France system, no other explanation why it would read “Venise” on the boarding pass otherwise), I guess she is getting used to us being on every flight of the day. As we were taking a break in the panorama restaurant on the first floor there were three B737s and our Dash 8 on the ramp, never seen this here before.
Flight: 3L 272
Origin: Friedrichshafen (FDH)
Destination: Venice Marco Polo (VCE)
Aircraft: Dash 8-300 D-BLEJ
Photo © Frank Kühne
We boarded the aircraft again and met our crew again, as always; we took seats in row 2 which is the Business Class section of the aircraft. Due to heavy traffic we got a very late slot and had to wait in the aircraft for about 20 minutes, the Captain announced the co-pilot would fly “as fast as he can” to make it to Venice which did lead to a lot of laughter in the cabin. Since the flight to Venice is a short 45-minute hop, we did not even get above the clouds north of the Alps but were greeted by great weather as soon as we entered Italian air space again. The approach into Venice was breathtaking, I guess because of the Biennale film festival there were even more cruise ships everywhere around the island than on a typical day.
12.34, Venice Marco Polo Airport, Italy: We arrive at Venice’s main airport and follow the follow me car to our stand to wait for a bus (typical procedure every time I fly to Italy unfortunately), 20 countries to go
While we did wait for the flight back it did not really take anyone to switch off the lights for the toilet as the ground-power unit went down several times and Silvia even ended up using torches to go there … By the way, should any member of the Olympic Committee read this, we would have a new discipline for you: Wasp run. I have never seen anyone running out of a plane as quickly as this ramp agent who had a wasp wandering around his neck.
Out of a sudden he came back with a lady holding a sign with our names on it. We were very confused at first and thought we would have to go to the terminal to check-in again and the lady was looking for us. It turned out to be the surprise of the day, Marco Visconti, one of the subscribers to my aviation newsletter had heard about our trip and as he the Customer Service Manager of Airchef, the biggest airline catering provider in Italy, he sent one of his employees to our aircraft with two amazing snack boxes to support us on our trip. She wished us all the best of luck for our trip in Italian and the ramp agent translated for the crew and Roger not understanding Italian. It was really a huge surprise and here is a big THANK YOU to Marco and his staff!!!
So this was our great menu for lunch we would not have thought of ten minutes earlier:
• Focaccia with meat and vegetables (delicious!)
• Bread, butter and cheese
• Biscuits and a lot of chocolate
• Orange juice
Flight: 3L 273
Origin: Venice Marco Polo (VCE)
Destination: Friedrichshafen (FDH)
Aircraft: Dash 8-300 D-BLEJ
Photo © Christian Waser
We did not have time to start enjoying our meal in Venice as passengers were boarding already and we had to get out of there as quickly as possible to make the departure slot. Instead, we first enjoyed the fourth safety demo given today by our charming flight attendant and were taxiing so quickly that the captain even announced a landing instead of a take-off. We were not that quick after all and still had a short flight ahead though .
While we were having our delicious lunch, the kids on the flight had a lot of fun going to the cockpit one by one. Amazingly Silvia really managed to sell Roger one of these ducks as well. She did however not want to make a decision yet in which sea the ducks she has sold us should end up in later on our trip. We will keep trying to get an answer out of her, it will either have to be the Atlantic Ocean or alternatively the Baltic or the Mediterranean Sea .
We arrived back at “Bodensee Airport Friedrichshafen” about 20 minutes late due to the air traffic control delays on the outbound flight and said good bye to our great crew we had accompanied for seven hours today, spent some time chatting to the owner of the ground-handling company about Icelandic low-cost carrier Iceland Express planning to fly into Friedrichshafen as well. I only figured out there were no rainshowers when we left the aircraft after it started pouring with rain and my umbrella was already on its way to Zadar, Croatia. Another train ride back over the border to Bregenz for the last time before we really start the big trip after our two day prologue.
September 11: Missing trains, buses and elevators
You might remember we nearly missed our bus to the airport on Friday, it finally happened two days later. We missed our train from Bregenz to Lindau by about 20 seconds because we were both hungry and wanted to buy a sandwich before departure. We ended up sitting in a taxi trying to get to Lindau to at least get our connection train; although our driver did a good job we missed the train from Lindau to Friedrichshafen as well, this time by two minutes. There was no taxi available at all and we started to get desperate, I called a local taxi company and we managed to get one only because we were about to spend 40 Euro to get to the airport and they preferred to drive us right now instead of other journeys they had committed to already. After arriving at the airport, we went straight to check-in, as always the same lady at check-in and the usual jokes. Obviously we just missed the elevator to go up to the observation deck, but this was not as expensive to fix.
Flight: 3L 104
Origin: Friedrichshafen (FDH)
Destination: Vienna (VIE)
Aircraft: Dash 8-300 OE-LSB
Photo © Jan Kertzscher
We finally got another aircraft today: Dash 8-300 OE-LSB. Our previous ride D-BLEJ departed to Berlin a couple of minutes prior to our flight to Vienna. We still had the same cockpit crew as yesterday though. The climb up to flight level 210 was pretty bumpy as we were forced to fly through several thunderstorms while our flight attendant literally offered just about every single snack and drink they had on board over the PA system until she could start selling them. After seeing some nice rainbow on approach, we were sent to a holding pattern which caused a slight delay and us missing the first bus to Bratislava. As the Austrian and Slovakian Eurolines bus companies are competing on the Bratislava-Vienna route we decided to go on the 16.45 bus offered by the Austrians but we figured out we were waiting at the wrong stop.
Missing that bus turned out to be a good idea though as it allowed us to check-in for our Air Berlin flight to Hamburg already. Air Berlin is using the new low-cost check-in area called Terminal 1A which is opposite the real terminal 1. We got rid off our bags and got our boarding passes only to find out that Air Berlin had rescheduled the departure time from 21.25 to 22.05 which was not really too bad for us anyway since it would allow us more time in Bratislava.
18.07, Bratislava, Slovak Republic: After a forty minute bus ride we reach the Austrian-Slovak border station in Berg/Bratislava, a surprisingly quick stop and we continue our trip to Bratislava’s bus terminal where we arrive 10 minutes later earlier than scheduled. 20 countries to go
We decided to walk to the old town to grab some dinner as we had more than an hour to spend. I have been in Bratislava various times on business and as a tourist already, the last time last Thursday, so I did know where to go and even started giving driving directions to Italian tourists looking for their hotel. I really like Bratislava and showed Roger around old town before we had a quick bite to eat and took a taxi back to the bus station.
Noone had told us that it obviously is mandatory to make a reservation to get on this evening bus from Bratislava to Vienna, so after having missed trains and busses earlier today, we ended up being denied boarding by a terribly unfriendly guy checking the tickets of the passengers boarding the bus. He sent us to the reservation office where another not very nice lady basically told us to either take the 21.00 bus or piss off and shut up. We went back to the bus and talked to the driver who asked us to wait and see whether really everyone would show up, there were a couple of other people waiting longer already so we were in a pretty bad position and already discussed taxi fares for the route. All of the other people boarded and there was only one seat left, luckily we had already checked in for the flight to Hamburg earlier and could show our boarding passes to the driver to explain him we would just have to be on that bus, somehow he found another place to sit and we thankfully boarded the bus.
Passing the border in the other direction was a little bit more troublesome as everyone had to leave the bus for passport control in a small facility next to the road where an unfriendly Austrian guy checked every passenger one by one before letting us reboard the bus.
Flight: AB 8847
Origin: Vienna (VIE)
Destination: Hamburg (HAM)
Aircraft: B737-400 D-ABAH
Photo © Gerry Stegmeier
As noted earlier, our boarding passes were showing a departure time of 22.05 and a boarding time of 21.35, so after arriving at the airport at about 20.40 we started walking around to look for a postcard we wanted to send to a friend (she promised to invite us for one beer per postcard arriving from a new country before we get back). Suddenly the information screens showed “Go to Gate” which we thought was just a mistake. So we continued walking around the terminal when a boarding call was made about 40 minutes before the boarding time shown on the pass. Anyway, we went to the bus gate and found it closed with gate agents only arriving about five minutes later. It turned out to be a misunderstanding between Air Berlin and its handling agent Austrian Airlines in Vienna over an inexistent delay. As about 20 passengers obviously did not show up until way after the time when everyone else had boarded, the flight was delayed.
The flight as such was uneventful (well it was important to learn that we should all stop smoking before using the oxygen masks, yes, they really said that …), he had a nice chicken sandwich and a drink, Air Berlin is one of the only low-cost carriers still serving complementary snacks onboard. We arrived at Hamburg pretty much on time, our baggage did as well but they thought they would be better off delaying at least the baggage to make sure they would keep up the earlier delay. The highlight of the day was a passenger standing next to us asking his buddy if Arrecife (capital of Lanzarote) would mean “arriving” in German …
We called the operations office of Hamburg International to pick up our tickets the next morning and finally found our way to the hotel.
September 12: The Marathon Day
September 12 is the “marathon day” on our trip with five flight legs (Hamburg-Malta-Leipzig-Hanover-London Stansted-Shannon) and it started way too early at 4.30 with a short walk down Alsterkrugchaussee from the Ibis airport hotel to the operations office of Hamburg International where we had to pick up our stand-by paper tickets for the flight down to Malta and back. The operations guy talked to the handling agent and crew to make sure our bags would not be offloaded in Malta as we took the hotel shuttle bus back to the airport to check-in in the recently opened Terminal 1. The check-in agent again informed us that he did talk to the crew to make sure we could stay aboard the aircraft during the turnaround in Malta.
Flight: 4R 6214
Origin: Hamburg (HAM)
Destination: Malta (MLA)
Aircraft: B737-700 D-AHIB
Photo © Jid Webb
We boarded our B737-700 D-AHIB (christened Trevor Henderson) and were served a breakfast about half an hour after departure. Unfortunately it was even too cloudy to really see the Alps but at least we got a nice view of Corsica and especially Elba as we were flying over the Mediterranean Sea. We approach Malta’s International airport over the island of Gozo before making a U turn and landing in Malta from the East.
09.27, Valletta, Malta: Our Hamburg International aircraft touches down in Malta, 19 countries to go.
The purser asked us to leave the aircraft and check-in again for our flight back to Germany. There was no queue at all at immigration and we were checked in three minutes later. It was very funny to hear the two girls there talking in English with a very, very strong Maltese accent, we could hardly understand a word when they just talked to each other, it was quite alright when they asked us questions though. So I guess they are very similar to the Swiss, we also all speak two very different versions of German when speaking between ourselves and with foreigners.
The security check in Malta was kind of self-service like, they did not actually care what you put on the belt and whether you used their plastic containers or not. All they seemed to be concerned about was whether or not the metal detector would go off.
Flight: 4R 6217
Origin: Malta (MLA)
Destination: Leipzig/Halle (LEJ)
Aircraft: B737-700 D-AHIB
Photo © Sören Klinger
We joined our crew again half an hour later for the return flight, the flight was packed so we ended up sitting in aisle seats and not in the same row. Unfortunately we did not have luck with the weather on the flight back as well and it was cloudy north of Venice. The snack served was some sort of chicken with salad, the longer we were on the flight with them the nicer the cabin crew was, guess this had something to do with the early departure time or so. The service on Hamburg International was pretty good overall, I heard they are also planning to implement an in-flight entertainment system on all aircraft, so I guess they will become an even better charter carrier.
Flight: 4R 6217
Origin: Leipzig/Halle (LEJ)
Destination: Hanover (HAJ)
Aircraft: B737-700 D-AHIB
Photo © Bjoern Thomsen
About two thirds of the passengers left the aircraft at Leipzig/Halle airport which was the first stop on this triangle flight from Malta via Leipzig and Hanover back to Malta. The remaining passengers were asked to identify their baggage and after several head counts the number of heads and that number on the paper sheet finally matched. The flight up to Hanover was a quick 30 minute hop and if we would not have been forced to use Leipzig’s new runway which is about half way between the airport and the city, it would have been a shorter block time as well … but I guess they really needed that new runway for the weekly charters to the Caribbean … well the airport will at least get busier with the DHL facility being built there now.
Another ground-power unit failure today which delayed deboarding … this time in Hanover. The purser asked us to wait outside the aircraft for our baggage after arrival in Hanover. The captain went downstairs and told her the bad news: Our bags were not on the aircraft with the crew baggage anymore. She suggested going to the baggage reclaim area to see whether they were offloaded in Hanover or earlier. It unfortunately turned out to be Malta as we found out in the Lost & Found office. Being often called a living airline timetable, I remembered there was a daily flight leaving from Malta to London Stansted in the evening. So we asked the lady in that office to have the bags sent on this flight so we could hopefully pick them up tomorrow. She was confused about the whole story that we would have flown from Hamburg to Hanover via Malta and Leipzig and that we would be in London and Shannon later in the day and in London again the next morning.
As we obviously did not really like the situation, we continued to call some people to make sure the bags would really be on that Malta-Stansted flight later in the day. We called the Lost & Found office in Malta, they confirmed the bags were in Malta and would be sent to Stansted later in the day.
The bad thing about Hanover airport is that there are no public power sockets anywhere in the airport, we finally managed to find one in a restaurant to upload yesterday’s trip report after looking for one for about 25 minutes (and meeting our crew again in a café).
Flight: AB 8422
Origin: Hanover (HAJ)
Destination: London Stansted (STN)
Aircraft: B737-800 D-AHFS
Photo © Tobias Rose - Hamburg RettopS
Our flight to London was operated by a B737-800 as scheduled, it had a delay coming from Antalya and we were about 30 minutes late going out and a little worried we would not make our connection in Stansted. We got the very same sandwiches we got on the Air Berlin flight the day before. It was a quick and uneventful flight; it looks like we always get crews unable to make announcements without breaking into laughter, same today.
20.25, London Stansted Airport, United Kingdom: After having circled all the way around the airport, we arrive on UK territory, landing at the low-cost airline Mecca also known as Stansted, 18 countries to go.
Flight: FR 109
Origin: London Stansted (STN)
Destination: Shannon (SNN)
Aircraft: B737-800 EI-CSR
Photo © Ondrej Smrtka
We went straight to check-in for our evening flight to Shannon; the check-in agent wanted to have a booking confirmation which we did not have printed out, so she called the res office to verify and finally gave us our boarding passes. We went to check for the lost baggage office representing Air Malta and after a long search we finally got to talk to a lady close to a security door representing First Flights. She asked us to come back the next morning to check. As it was 21.10 already and the flight was supposed to go out at 21.50 we hurried to the gate only to find out the flight was delayed. As we learned later our aircraft had a technical problem earlier in the day and Ryanair decided to send an aircraft and its crew (the latter did not like that) to Shannon to bring us there and pick up the stranded passengers. So finally after the longest Ryanair turnaround I have ever seen, we were off to Shannon shortly before 23.00.
There was no on-board service as the crew had offloaded all catering trolleys already before they learned about their longer duty today.
23.55, Shannon, Ireland: Shortly before midnight we finally arrive in Shannon (where I have lived until last year, it was really nice to be back) and take a cab to the Oakwood Arms hotel to find out for some reason they put us into a huge two room suite although we booked through Ryanair which I found kind of strange, 17 countries to go.
September 13: Validation Point 9 (also known as VP9)
We left our suite in Shannon this morning, which by the way is just about 200 metres from my former apartment where I lived until August 2004. A cab brought us back through the silly security checkpoint and to the airport which was already very busy at 6.00 with three Ryanair flights going out at the same time. We spent some time in the departure lounge checking e-mails before going down to the more than ever crowded Ryanair boarding area.
Flight: FR 102
Origin: Shannon (SNN)
Destination: London Stansted (STN)
Aircraft: B737-800 EI-CSB
Photo © Ian Howat
Today’s flight back to Stansted was nearly full and we were really curious to find out whether our bags would have made it there overnight as well. The flight as such was a typical Ryanair, they brought us to Stansted earlier than scheduled and for very little money and that’s about it, fully met the expectations.
After arrival we went straight to the First Flights lost & found office to figure out whether our bags would have arrived on the Air Malta flight the night before. We met the same lady we had talked to yesterday and she told us the system would tell her the bags would have been on the flight but they would not have arrived. We were obviously a little bit frustrated about this and started thinking about where we should ask them to send the bags to now and whether it would make sense to spend 10 more days travelling without our luggage. For about three hours we tried to call the guys in Malta again but either they were on the phone, not picking up the phone, the operator picked it up and asked to call another number or they could not help us because their local connection to Worldtracer did not work. To make a long story short, they made a very bad impression this morning and we seriously doubted they would actually know what is going on anyway.
However, we finally managed to talk to the right person again about three hours after arrival in Stansted and Worldtracer was up and running again, she checked the system and there was hope: Per her the bags were indeed sent to Stansted on flight KM166 the day before. So back to the security checkpoint called Validation Point 9 (also known as VP9), this is a strange place within the airport where an internal phone has been placed next to the security checkpoint where airport employees pass security control. We dialled the number for First Flights/Servisair and when we finally got through the nice lady on the other end of the line said they would have got our bags and she would come to pick us up later. After another phone call she really showed up and I went through security with her and picked up our two bags, what a relief! The last 24 hours really were not too nice from a motivation point of view as it could not have been much worse but now we were fully back on track again …
Flight: U2 3563
Origin: London Stansted (STN)
Destination: Copenhagen (CPH)
Aircraft: A319-100 G-EZSM
Photo © Mick Bajcar
We checked in for our easyJet flight to Copenhagen and went straight through security to buy some postcards (the BAA was nice enough not to install any letter boxes in the different piers which made it impossible to post them in London) and spend some time aircraft spotting. Our aircraft was already parked at the gate when we arrived there one and a half hours before departure, it was an A319-100 (G-EZSM) taking us to Denmark today. The afternoon flight was not booked very well and the flight attendants were extremely strict checking seat belts every five minutes during the turbulences we experienced over the Netherlands and Northern Germany.
16.17, Copenhagen Kastrup Airport, Denmark: After having circled all the way around Copenhagen we arrived in Kastrup about 10 minutes ahead of schedule enjoying the view over the Öresund Bridge, 15 countries to go.
Flight: LF 314
Origin: Copenhagen (CPH)
Destination: Stockholm Arlanda (ARN)
Aircraft: MD-83 SE-RDV
Photo © Kiskockas
As always, baggage delivery in Copenhagen was not exactly fast but we had plenty of time anyway so it did not really matter, we had seen Copenhagen as one of the problem connections where we only had two hours to change planes, obviously with the early arrival this issue disappeared anyway. We were even kind of forced reward ourselves for the good job getting people to expedite our baggage delivery by buying some ice cream in terminal 2 as we were waiting for the check-in counter for our Stockholm flight to open. Unfortunately we completely forgot to book a hotel in Stockholm due to the baggage we lost, so we tried to get that done from Copenhagen after having dinner there. It seemed like we were too late for online booking already and calling hotels did not really yield any results, so we boarded our FlyNordic MD-83 service to Stockholm without knowing where we would sleep yet.
It was pretty obvious that FlyNordic is a Finnair subsidiary; flight attendants were using a lot of Finnair equipment for safety demonstrations etc. We both have never seen a presentation of travel value goods like these guys did it on the short 1 hour flight to Stockholm, one guy talked over the PA system and his colleague showed every single item to the passengers at the very front of the cabin. It did not exactly work out well as they could not even sell even a single bag of chocolate biscuits.
19.55, Stockholm Arlanda Airport, Sweden: After having overflown Sweden on our easyJet flight into Copenhagen earlier in the day already, we finally also set our feet on Swedish territory after our flyNordic flight up to Arlanda, 14 countries to go.
The conclusion of the day: Learn timetables by heart and help managing the lost baggage process you and it will work out well (or so …)
September 14: More than enough space in the Scandinavian cold
The Park Inn hotel shuttle brought us back to the airport at shortly before 8.30, we went straight to the Nordic Aero check-in counters on the left side of the international terminal 4 in Arlanda to check-in for today’s first flight: FlyMe 1203 to Helsinki. I was very surprised to see Nordic Aero listing Helvetic as one of their airlines on all signs all around the terminal and that they had Helvetic timetables under their desks. I asked the agent whether she would know anything about this and she said they would start flying to Stockholm soon, now either this is rubbish or I really haven’t found about it until now, we will see …
Before passing security we were looking for stamps to post some postcards and were sent back to the domestic terminal where we indeed were able to get some stamps from a convenience store. It looks like the average guy working in a store like this one is more intelligent in Sweden than in the UK, at least we got stamps for Europe this time and not for airmail to Australia when mentioning where we wanted to send our cards to …
Flight: SH 1203
Origin: Stockholm Arlanda (ARN)
Destination: Helsinki (HEL)
Aircraft: B737-300 SE-RCS
Photo © Petri Poutanen
At the departure gate, it already did not look to good for FlyMe’s revenue, it did not get much better until the doors were closed, the flight was only about 30% booked and most of the rows remained empty. I tried to get rid of my remaining 85 Swedish Crowns to at least make today’s carrier of the two EUbyAir passengers a little bit happier. I had a delicious chicken wrap and a Fanta, since Roger did not exactly cooperate and refused to eat or drink anything at this time of the day, I still have 40 Crowns left should anyone wish to pick them up later on our trip …
Surprisingly the “fasten your seat belts” sign was off for most of the pretty bumpy flight over to Helsinki (we never climbed above the clouds), it looked like they only turned it on when it would have become obvious for passengers anyway that they would be flying all around the cabin soon if they would stand up. I have never seen it on a low-cost carrier before that the flight attendants were going around with additional coffee for people who had bought a cup before.
11.33, Helsinki Vantaa Airport, Finland: Shortly before a very soft landing (we forgot to praise the easyJet captain for his outstanding landing in Copenhagen yesterday which was hardly even felt, sorry) and after having seen nothing but clouds for about an hour, we finally see the ground in Finland again, 13 countries to go.
Right after picking up our luggage we went up to the departures hall to check-in our baggage again for the evening flight to Lithuania and then took a local bus to Helsinki’s city centre. It had been pretty cold the day before in Sweden already with ugly rainshowers and winds and it was not much better today, only about 15° C in Helsinki and rain every now and then. We still managed to have a closer look at some of the city’s sights and the harbour after I bought myself a new nice and warm jacket. Helsinki was surely well worth a visit, they would have had to offer some better weather though to get us and the seagulls more excited.
After walking some kilometres all around Helsinki’s city centre, we decided to go back to Vantaa for dinner where we spent a couple of hours relaxing, plane spotting, writing postcards, eating and drinking. It looks like SN Brussels did not quite make it to Brussels that evening as their ARJ-85 returned back to Helsinki while we were waiting for our Air Baltic flight to depart.
Flight: BT 324
Origin: Helsinki (HEL)
Destination: Vilnius (VNO)
Aircraft: Fokker 50 YL-BAT
Photo © Alexander Jonsson
It was the first flight on Fokker 50 for both us and we both were very interested in how that experience would be, shortly before boarding it started raining as if we were not in Helsinki but in India during the monzoon season. Luckily there were only 12 passengers on this flight, so we all managed to coordinate the short run from the bus to the aircraft and keep all of us more or less dry. We have to say, we were very impressed with Air Baltic and their aircraft, they had two flight attendants on the flight and have installed nice new blue seats with green headrest covers in their Fokker. They did not only look great but were also very comfortable. They also had a really good in-flight magazine compared to what you get on most other carriers nowadays. They served huge meals in Business Class and had a typical offering of snacks and drinks for sale in Economy. A blonde flight attendants was so tall that she hurt her head on the cabin ceiling twice, maybe they should think about requirements for the job again … It seemed like they are still using Latvian cockpit crews for their Vilnius base and Lithuanian cabin crews by the way.
22.54, Vilnius, Lithuania: Having strong headwinds for most of our route tonight, we still arrived at Vilnius’ international airport on-time after enjoying a nice approach right over the city. 12 countries to go.
We once again found out how confusing exchange rates can be at times, it took us about 5 minutes to figure out how much one Lita would be in Euros. A taxi brought us to the Hotel Panorama next to the main railway and bus stations of Vilnius, we got a nice room on the fifth floor and really liked the panorama of the city as the hotel name already suggested. The receptionist at the hotel only charged us for one person instead of two which contributed to further confusion about the real exchange rate as we found out the other morning.
September 15: Roadtrip through the Baltic States
After gaining some experience with Eurolines busses on the second day of our trip, we called the local branch in Lithuania the day before while having pasta and pizza at a Sicilian restaurant in Helsinki’s city centre. The nice voice on the phone confirmed she had reserved two seats for us for today. I got up early this morning to walk over to the bus station and two get two student tickets up to Tallinn (or Talinas as the Lithuanians would say) which put us back about 30 Euros. After picking up luggage we went to Autobusu Stotis again to look for our bus which had not yet arrived at stop 26 where it was supposed to be departing from. There were not a hell lot of people waiting there so it looked we would have enough space anyway, the bus filled up later though.
A guy approached me and asked me in German whether I could take a toaster or similar with me for his girlfriend in Tallinn, I kindly refused, we was more successful asking one of the two bus drivers directly.
We drove around Vilnius before turning into the highway to the North of the country and to Kaunas, the second biggest city in Lithuania. It was very interesting to see the huge differences between Vilnius, the outskirts of the city and the villages on the way up to Panevezys (yes, I did cheat and copy and paste this and no, I do not remember the names of the villages we have driven through, too complicated for a slow Swiss to remember …), our first and only stop in Lithuania. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the road network in Lithuania; I would not have expected roads to be that good after a friend of ours had told us that the road between Vilnius and Riga was a pain. Shortly before reaching Latvia, we have spoken to Nicole at our “operations office” to ask whether she could book us our airport hotel in Berlin (we were silly enough to forget that again), we got a call in Estonia that everything would be ok. By the way, a must for every private pilot I guess, in the North of Lithuania we saw a motel with an own small airfield in the middle of nowhere which looked quite strange.
10.27, Grenctale border station, Latvia: Back we were in Latvia again; Roger and I had visited Riga last December and liked it a lot, now we would get a better picture of the country as a whole, 11 countries to go.
It has only taken about 2-3 minutes to pass the border until our bus was back on the road again, so it was way quicker than the same procedure between Slovak Republic and Austria for example. Well, maybe we should not call it a road, since the first couple of minutes after the border station; it was more like a dusty desert piste. I accidentally have just read an interview with the Latvian transport minister the day before on the Air Baltic flight from Helsinki to Tallinn and now I know what he meant with “we are spending a lot of money improving our roads”. There were road works south and north of Riga causing a little bit of a delay as there were some diversions through villages or traffic lights with long waiting times.
I spent some time on the bus ride today reading this week’s issue of the German magazine “Der Spiegel”, mainly about the upcoming elections. We will be visiting Germany twice during the next three days and it looks like it will be the last time with Schröder being chancellor but then who knows. We will find out Sunday evening who will be the new boss of the immigration officers we will meet in Dortmund next Wednesday …
We arrived in Riga at noon and the bus had a quick stop at the main railway and bus station. After the two drivers changed seats again we were making our way further north towards the Estonian border, during that ride we got a nice view of the Baltic Sea a couple times.
14.18, Ikla border station, Estonia: After four hours of beautiful countryside in Latvia, we reach the Estonian border (Thanks a lot for easy to remember village names! We did not order that rain though …), 10 countries to go.
After a stop in the Estonian coastal city of Pärnu, we continue our bus journey up to Tallinn, the beautiful capital of Estonia which would be worth a longer visit. The harbour in Tallinn was even more impressive than the one in Helsinki as there were much more huge ferries around.
Flight: U2 4604
Origin: Tallinn (TLL)
Destination: Berlin Schönefeld (SXF)
Aircraft: A319-100 G-EZED
Photo © Werner Horvath
We had a very nice and late lunch at a restaurant with a direct view down to the ramp of a not very busy airport. We check-in very early and being in the first boarding group we managed to get hold of seats in row 2. It was pretty interesting to have a closer look at easyJet’s cabin management system on the touch screen right in front of us. They even have a smoke detection screen on there where they could locate any smoke in the cabin. We had a typical easyJet crew tonight doing a lot of funny announcements (“please also sit in the back of the aircraft, it will land in Berlin even a couple of seconds earlier”, “our cockpit crew can fly but we don’t know whether they can drive, so please keep your seat belts fastened” etc.). The purser looked and behaved just like Gerhard Pfister, an Austrian IT guy we both know (hi Gerhard!). For whatever reason I was asked not to place any bags under the seat next to me, the guy insisted bags could only be put under seats in front of occupied seats behind them.
We arrived in Berlin 25 minutes ahead of schedule and took the shuttle bus to the Albergo hotel in Schoenefeld where we typically stay.
September 16: Berlin to Frankfurt with some diversions
We left for the airport at 9.00 this morning which was a pleasant change compared to the last couple of days. As it was raining in Berlin as well, we used the free shuttle bus to get us to the easyJet terminal in a couple of minutes. It was the first time I used the easyJet kiosks for check-in (well, I was forced to anyway) and they seem to have a much simpler process than others I have used before. We waited for our boarding passes and bag tags to be printed and brought our bags to the baggage drop off point where our IDs where checked as well.
Flight: U2 4525
Origin: Berlin Schönefeld (SXF)
Destination: Ljubljana (LJU)
Aircraft: A319-100 G-EZED
Photo © Marlene Leutgeb
Schoenefeld is really getting bigger and bigger each year, if you have seen that airport 10 years ago, you know what I mean, and every time you get there it has grown further. As always the security control was very tight there and we made our way to the new departure gates they have built east of the main terminal. The flight to Ljubljana was already shown as being boarded on all information screens, when we got to the gate there obviously was not even an aircraft yet, a typical procedure to get their fast turn-arounds accomplished I would guess.
We ended up sitting on G-EZED again as the day before on our inbound flight from Tallinn. Today’s crew was not as funny as the one yesterday but they still made the standard easyJet jokes. Still having bad luck with weather, it was very cloudy all the way down to Graz where we finally were at least able to get a glimpse of the city and airport before approaching Ljubljana airport from the south.
11.45, Ljubljana, Slovenia: Although we took off about 20 minutes late this morning, we arrived in Ljubljana on time which was key to a successful and easy transfer to Klagenfurt, 9 countries to go.
We took a taxi from the airport to Kranj, the closest major city to Ljubljana airport. It seems like the taxi driver would have smelled blood when I said the word “railway station” as he was trying to convince us all the way to Kranj to have him driving us to a destination further away. He also claimed it would take much longer than 20 minutes from the airport to Kranj, it ended up being about 12 minutes. Talking about minutes, this is just about the only word we understood when a delay was announced over the loudspeaker at the railway station, so it could have been anything between 1 and 59 minutes obviously, it ended up being about 12 minutes as well.
We boarded the Eurocity train from Zagreb to Salzburg which was very short (only four cars) and pretty empty. I tried to get rid of my remaining Tolars by buying some drinks and snacks in the dining car. Well, first of all they did not have any take-away snacks and secondly they did not want my Tolars but only Croatian or European money. So I ended up having drinks (the last Coke from the showcase with all the stuff they were selling and a Fanta) and Tolars.
We passed the Slovenian-Austrian border between Jesenice and Rosenbach, changed trains in Villach and were in Klagenfurt shortly thereafter. We found a nice beer garden for lunch before taking the train out to the airport. Another typical Ryanair procedure today, before the aircraft had even landed, they were already making announcements that people should go through security control immediately. We obviously just ignored them. We spent some more time on the terrace of the local restaurant instead until our Ryanair B737-800 arrived from Hahn about half an hour early. It looks like Austrian Airlines is also trying out new forms of check-in in Klagenfurt at this point, they were showing “If you want to check-in, please call xxxx” on the information screens above their check-in counters, although they had agents sitting there. It looks like phone check-in is going to be the future there …
Flight: FR 4003
Origin: Klagenfurt (KLU)
Destination: Frankfurt Hahn (HHN)
Aircraft: B737-800 EI-DAS
Photo © Alexandru Magurean
We boarded through the rear door of the aircraft and were greeted by two male Latvian flight attendants, most probably only sent on this flight to make us forget being homesick for the Baltic States we unfortunately had to leave yesterday evening. We did not really need an easyJet crew today as we had a couple of funny Slovenian guys just sitting in front of us, they were the only ones I have ever seen buying Ryanair scratch cards on this trip so f