As I had no less than five days off in my schedule, I then also looked at the possibility of combining my Innsbruck spotting with a brief visit to my parents in Holland. Transavia is operating a range of flights to and from Innsbruck this winter, linking the place with Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Berlin and Hamburg. So I was in the luxury position of shopping around for the best fares and times, as I could choose between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Brussels for my side trip, all three airports being good options. I had to do some research though to find a good itinerary for doing this trip in three days allowing me to have one day before and one day after the trip off at home. In the end I found the best combination with going out on Sunday the 21st and returning on Tuesday the 23rd, from Amsterdam direct to Vienna. But after the lengthy introduction you’ve just been reading, I ended up booking the flight from Vienna to Innsbruck on Austrian after all… more about that below.
As I had decided that the trip should be from Sunday to Tuesday, the next problem turned out to be that Niki doesn’t operate the early morning flight on Sundays. I couldn’t go on Monday instead because then I wouldn’t be able to return for a somewhat affordable fare (i.e. with SkyEurope) on Wednesday evening, Christmas Eve, as this carrier didn’t operate any flight then. So in the end I decided to book with Austrian Airlines, which only offered an acceptable fare if I booked a return ticket. Then I figured: well, if I am booking a return anyway, I might as well use the inbound leg as well, and looked at the possibility to return to Innsbruck a week later for a day trip. To make a long story short, in the end I booked two Innsbruck trips, where with the second one I would be flying with Niki to Innsbruck after all.
21 December 2008
Flight OS903 VIE-INN
Fokker 100 OE-LVK
ETD 10.00 ETA 11.00
ATD 10.10 ATA 10.50
Photo © Mathias Krewedl
Austrian also offers online check-in the day before if you’re travelling with checked luggage, so I did this and printed out my boarding pass at home. In the end this really is only to secure the seat you want, because having to go to the baggage drop off counter, you don’t save any time compared to a normal check-in there and then. I then made my way to the gate, from where a bus would take us to the waiting Fokker 100.
The flight was very full this morning. With a flight time of only 40 minutes, I was amazed how the flight attendants managed to do their inflight service. Very efficient indeed. Catering was limited of course, consisting of a box containing two small sandwiches with something to drink. Unfortunately the area around Innsbruck was overcast, so I couldn’t enjoy the mountain views and the approach into Kranebitten airport as I had hoped to do. Nevertheless I could feel the aircraft maneuvering constantly to line up for the approach and eventually we broke through the clouds, although it was very foggy. Landing was on runway 26.
At this time of morning there was only one other airliner parked on the ramp, another Fokker 100 of Austrian Arrows. This aircraft later left on a ferry flight with only the two pilots on board. After getting into the terminal and picking up my checked bag, I tried to find a place to store it for the day, but had no luck. I then made my way to the famous terrace but I did see on the screens that several incoming flights were delayed, and one of them (an easyJet flight) cancelled. As time passed by and the thick fog was rolling in, it became clear that I wouldn’t be seeing as many airplanes as I had hoped for today. Several easyJet flights were diverted to Munich, causing the expected chaos among the passengers. They were told to go to the assigned gates anyway, from where they would board coaches to take them to Munich. While the whole easyJet drama was going on, a Transavia 737 had landed, causing even more consternation and making people wonder why easyJet couldn’t land – some of the comments I overheard were hilarious.
The problem with the fog was that there was hardly any wind, so it was hard to tell what it would do. It did move ever so slightly, at times covering the entire runway and then again dissipating enough for aircraft to be able to come in. It was quite remarkable though that only the English aircraft were all diverted to Munich, while all other flights landed at Innsbruck including Austrian, Niki, Transavia and Lufthansa. A nice surprise was also an Amira Air Challenger 300, dropping off some passengers before leaving again on a ferry flight. At that moment, I was just hoping that my flight would be able to come in and that I would end up as planned in Amsterdam later in the evening.
I left the terrace around three to check in for my flight. The screens showed that check in for Transavia would be at counters 14 and 15, although these and another four counters were being used for easyJet. With time ticking by and no other Transavia passengers in sight, I asked at one of the counters whether they could already check me in for the Amsterdam flight, which was no problem. I then again returned to the terrace to continue spotting until twilight set in.
Around four o’clock I made my way through security and into the waiting area, and was surprised to see how small it was. There was just one shop and a bar, although the latter was closed. I can only imagine how terrible it must be to be waiting here if there are several flights at the same time. Luckily I saw my plane come in and boarding commenced on time. Boarding the bus was completed with only about 30 people on board. But then the gate agent hopped in and told us that we had to return to the waiting area again… Once inside, he didn’t use the PA system and was hard to understand, but initially I understood that the other Transavia flight, coming in from Copenhagen and continuing to Rotterdam, had a technical problem and they now wanted to combine the two flights. Therefore the departure would now be at 18.50, which was the departure time of the Rotterdam flight. A bit later it became clear that the actual reason given was the adverse weather condition in Innsbruck. The airline wanted to wait and see if the second plane would be able to land at Innsbruck. This made perfect sense to me, because if not, this way Transavia could take the passengers for both destinations with as little upheaval as possible. Of course it was annoying that we were now delayed for almost two hours, but at least I knew that my plane was sitting on the tarmac and that I would be getting to my destination sooner or later.
21 December 2008
Transavia flight HV6610
Boeing 737-700 PH-XRZ
ETD 17.05, ETA 19.00
ATD 19.30, ATA 21.00
Photo © Maurits Vink
But then the mystery started. We were called for boarding again at six thirty. As I got onto the bus, I saw the second Transavia plane land, and figured that we would now really be on our way to Amsterdam while the Rotterdam passengers would take their flight, albeit delayed. All 30 of us boarded the plane, but the L1 door remained open. Then suddenly I saw the baggage handlers returning to the plane and starting to load more bags into the hold, followed by a bus with more passengers: the ones bound for Rotterdam, who were extremely surprised to find out that the flight was to Amsterdam instead. Obviously no one had told them. I also was surprised to see this, as the second plane was now on the ground as well. The captain then came with a story that didn’t make any sense at all, saying that the decision had been made to load the baggage for Rotterdam on this aircraft as well. I figured that the second aircraft would then stay in Innsbruck for its next flight the next morning.
Something I realised in retrospect was that all announcements were made only in Dutch. I wonder whether they had concluded that everyone on board was Dutch looking at the surnames? Or would they have noted so upon check-in?
We finally started taxiing at seven thirty, and I was astonished to see that the second 737 was actually taxiing in front of us and took off before us. Obviously this aircraft was being ferried somewhere; the very short take-off roll and steep climb proved that it had no passengers or luggage on board. I can only assume that this aircraft wasn’t being flown empty to Amsterdam or Rotterdam. But it was clear to me that Transavia wasn’t telling us the whole story. So I wrote an email to Transavia asking them to explain the situation to me. Whether they will or not remains to be seen, but I did tell them that I would write a trip report about the flight and post it on aviation sites, so I would appreciate to be able to give correct information.
Once we were in the air and the cabin crew started their service, we were also told that because of this unforeseen combination of both flights, they wouldn’t have enough catering for everyone. I managed to get my hands on what I wanted though. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed on Schiphol’s dreaded runway 18R, which meant that we would have to taxi for another 15 minutes or so before reaching the gate. All bags were offloaded here and the passengers for Rotterdam could choose to make use of the transfer service arranged by KLM, or make their own way home.
23 December 2008
SkyEurope flight NG3617
Boeing 737-700 OM-NGF
ETD 20.20, ETA 22.05
ATD 20.35, ATA 22.05
Photo © Ingo Lang
With all the rumours about SkyEurope being on the edge of bankruptcy, I have a Bulgarian colleague at work who is hesitant to book any SkyEurope flights from Vienna to Sofia for the future, fearing that he might lose his money. The carrier is bombarding prospective clients with one great offer after the other, hoping to reel in as much cash as possible simply by passenger numbers rather than higher fares. For the flight I found from Amsterdam back to Vienna, I paid a total fare of 125 euro. Certainly not the cheapest fare on the market, but much lower than any Austrian or KLM flight on that day and including the fee for one checked bag. And I figured it would be very unlikely that the airline would stop operating just before Christmas, being such a busy time of year. Of course I really hope that SkyEurope will survive, especially as their demise would leave a big gap at Vienna Schwechat Airport and it would probably mean that ticket prices to several destinations will go up.
Anyway, to get back to the actual flight, I checked in at 19.10 for the 20.20 departure. SkyEurope operates from the M-gates at Schiphol and once you are through security, there isn’t much to do. The area is sealed off from the rest of the terminal building; there is a waiting lounge with one shop, a bar and an internet corner and you’re supposed to wait there till the screens show the gate number and tell you to go to the gate.
For this flight I got seat 2C assigned. I normally always try to get a window seat, but I had of course checked in quite late and the check-in agent said that the flight was quite full. Once boarding was completed, and some issue with a double-printed boarding pass resolved which caused a delay for departure, the entire front row of six seats remained empty. Another passenger asked the flight attendant whether he could sit there, but his request was denied stating that those seats were available only with prepayment. I know that you have to pay extra to reserve one of those seats because of the extra legroom, but I don’t quite understand why the company is so adamant about letting no one sit there once boarding is completed. It’s not as if someone else will join the flight later, is it?
I wasn’t particularly comfortable either, as both seats 2A and 2B were also occupied and the girl in 2B was quite chubby. As I am not the skinniest person either, there wasn’t much room left. On top of that it isn’t really pleasant to be seated in a tight space with a complete stranger next to you, as one way or another you try to minimise bodily contact out of politeness. But the main issue was that my seat was broken, the seat back wouldn’t stay in an upright position. The flight attendant commented on this and I notified her of the problem, but she didn’t take any further notice. So during the take-off roll, my seat fell back to maximum recline, which of course also caused discomfort to the passenger behind me. After the fasten seat belt sign was off, I moved a couple of rows back where there still was an aisle seat available with no one in the middle seat. In my opinion, the flight attendant should have offered me one of the seats in row 1 because of the seat back issue.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed on Vienna’s runway 29.
Despite the hick-ups here and there I enjoyed this short trip and am really looking forward to return to Innsbruck, this time hopefully with better weather.