Hi, dear readers,
It’s a first for airlines.net, reporting here a flight on Amsterdam Airlines.
You might never have heard about this airline. It’s a startup which was fouded in 2008, nearly 2 years ago already. It started operations in this difficult economic climate with a single Airbus A320 build in 1993 and previously operated by numerous airlines including Dragon Air and Transaer. These A320 aircraft operate in a full economy layout, 180 seats. Despite earlier plans to operate a more luxury business model which was never materialized.
In it’s early period of operations, the airline was operating on behalf of other airlines and touroperators from foreign countries. To somewhat strange destinations most of the times, mostly in the Middle East, including Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009 a second A320 aircraft was added to the fleet, and more flights were added, including flights originating from The Netherlands. Business model was apparently changed, since they started a partnership with a Dutch (infamous) sales agent ‘ML tours’ offering flights on the airline.
Since I was interested in this unknown airline I looked into the flights, but I was not too keen on their destinations and flighttimes. Nevertheless I figured out a reasonable priced ticket to Morocco, which could be combined with some other flight later that day. Flights to e.g. Milan BGY were also offered from EUR 29 oneway, but these flights never operated. So I guess people who booked these flights were refunded, but at least never reached their destination. Beware for these items, the airline is small and also this summer 50% of their fleet is leased out to Travel Service from Hungary. So one remaining aircraft takes care for all services at the moment, in which delays might occur from time to time, without backup available.
Flights to Morocco first took off in late April, and got quite some attention by a Dutch trade organisation mentioning our relationship between The Netherlands and Morocco. Also, with quite a large population of Moroccans living in The Netherlands, some extra flight offerings to the airports of Nador and Tanger, both in the North of the country, were more then welcome and would be sure for a good amount of ethnic traffic. Said that, we should keep in mind that these places are both not real holiday destinations and maybe not too often visited by foreigners yet. Although I think the area around Nador is booming and working on improvement on tourism for the future.
My flights were taken on June 18, 2010. I just arrived home a few hours ago from a previous trip, A Mad-Dog To Denmark, Bornholm & More On SK/QI/DY (by Airbuseric Jun 27 2010 in Trip Reports), and after charging my batteries, a few hours sleep (3 or so), my alarm clock was waking me up again at an unhuman time in the morning.
Although online check-in is not offered, neither was seat selection in advance, I had no rush to make it to the check-in desks in the middle of this night. A good friend working at the airport in a nightshift secured a window seat in the back of the plane for me, also informed me by a small message that the load would be 100% on my flight. Also, I would be the only real Dutch person on board (aside from the crew).
By my car to the airport now, parking nearby the terminal on my staff parking lot, free busride to the terminal. Check-in was in departure lounge 3, desk 26. Servisair takes care for this handling at AMS.
A huge line of people was waiting in line for check-in. Loads and loads of baggage on the carts. And indeed, mostly typical Moroccan public, travelling to their families in Morocco, maybe for holidays also. I passed the lines and told my story at the ‘for this flight dedicated’ cashier-desk and asked her to print my boardingpass, which she did. She was entitled to get overweight baggagefees from the passengers. I guess she had a tough job that night.
Since Morocco is outside the EU zone, I had to pass the passport control. Maybe surprised by my destination, the officer looked interestingly in my passport with a nice variety of stamps. Then he stopped with a stamp (bought) from the GDR, and laughed about it. He stamped my passport now also with a stamp from Amsterdam, without asking for my approval for this. Stupid action by this guy. He wastes my blank pages!
Departure would be from the D-gates, which is quite a walk from Terminal 3 (near gates F/G). A few arriving flights from the USA and Asia made up for a good selection of passengers already in the building.
Boarding for my flight started apparently at 6am already, 1 hours prior departure time! It’s unbelievable but true. 60 minutes to board an A320. But the line for the x-ray security check at the gate area (gate D26) was huge! And some passengers managed to have 4 items of cabin luggage with them. I watched the scene from aside, not in the mood to queue up in this line. I noticed so many people brought peanut butter which was confiscated by security staff. Also so many bodychecks by hand after alarm went off caused by metals. You can imagine that this took so many time, and meanwhile I was in an interesting conversation with a Moroccan man and his wife. With had quite some laughs about the type of people on this flight, and about me. I was really the ‘special person’ on this flight according him.
I passed the x-ray machine 20 minutes after our scheduled departure time, and still not the last one. And headed towards the aircraft.
Flight No.: AAN 581 Date: 18JUN’10
STD: 0700 ATD: 0741
STA: 0915 ATA: 0952
A/C: Airbus A320-200 Reg No.: PH-AAY
Photo © Patric Borg
PH-AAY was previously in service with other airlines. In 1995 newly delivered to SAETA Ecuador and thereafter also flown with America West Airlines, which became US Airways. Now leased from ILFC and flying for Amsterdam Airlines.
I was very friendly greeted at the door by a female and male cabin crew, somewhat surprised also about my presence here. I went into the aisle walking towards the back. With the aircraft almost completely full, I noticed the huge amounts of handluggage in the overhead bins, as well between the seats. Many re-seating was arranged on board, people taking wrong seats also. So I encountered several passengers, including a very old man with walking cone, who had to walk back towards the front. It was quite a hassle to reach my assigned seat, which was, not a surprise anymore, taken by a girl. Immediately another male cabin attendant asked me or better told me, to take another seat (I think 29C what he pointed at), but I insisted to take my window requested seat. So the girl was quickly taken out by her mother, after which the girl got upset and started crying a bit.
With packed overhead bins above, no way to stow my bag there. So underneath the seat in front of me. I tried, but didn’t fit well. Legroom was so poor here. I must admit, I never flew on such high-density seating before. It’s much more worse then we find on lowcost airlines like Ryanair, easyJet or Transavia. To my big surprise, the armrest on the windowside of my seat was able to move up, creating slightly more space for me.
Time passed, and still chaos on board with seating issues etc. Also the girl and her mother were told to move again, once 2 other passengers came to take their assigned seats. 2 men, very friendly company here. We shaked hands and said hello to eachother.
Finally with almost 45 minutes delay, caused by the boarding issues (or type of passengers I would say), we left the gate. A safety demonstration was given manually, since this (older) A320 had no screens on board to show a video.
Expected flighttime was announced, first to Nador, and continuation to Tanger. No info from the flightdeck so far.
Taxiing took a while, since runway 36L or the famous ‘Polderbaan’ was our choice today. We were able to takeoff without further delay caused by other traffic. The takeoff run was slightly long for an A320, I’m sure the high weight of this flight was one of the reasons for it. Once airborne we climbed towards the gray overcast layer of clouds…
My legs already started to hurt after maybe 20 minutes in the flight. At this moment I noticed a smell from the galleys. Something was heated up for sure. We’ll see what the airline has on offer and if they can make a change here.
Some 50 minutes after we took off, the cabin crew approached my row and handed out a carton box, nicely decorated with the airlines’ markings. It contained a hot breakfast, small green salad, fruitsalad and some bread. From the next cart I was served drinks. I requested orange juice, which I got, and additionally they offered me a secondary drink, coffee or tea. Not bad at all.
The breakfast was halal-friendly, completely to satisfaction of the clientele on board.
The rest of the flight was without special things. I had some talks with my seatmates. Also, I had to assist my seatmate by filling out his landing form for Morocco immigration, since he couldn’t read/write himself. It was quite a task to fill out all the difficult names on the small form, but finally I made it and my seatmate was very happy with my help.
While France and Spain were mostly covered with clouds, skies broke open when we reached the Mediterranean Sea and we started to cross towards the African continent with the Spanish place of Roquetas de Mar (near Reus) on our right.
It didn’t take long until Morocco came insight. A completely different world here, like arriving in the dessert. And basically it was of course. Very dry landscape, mostly dusty or sandy surface, but also with some green, irrigated field in between. Descent started and the cabin was prepared for landing. At this moment it was also announced that we would first land in Nador, thereafter the flight would continue to Tanger. So, it was made clear already hear that only Nador bound passengers had to vacate while others had to stay on board.
Landing was smoothly performed on runway 08, brakes were applied strongly though. The airport has a single 3,000 metres runway of asphalt, which is enough even to handle B747 operations here. I guess Royal Air Maroc does/did in summer periods, especially some busy flights to The Netherlands and Germany.
After vacating the runway we turned left and taxied onto the small apron. A Ryanair flight to CRL was almost ready go, and we were marshalled to the parking position. Once again, very clearly it was mentioned to us that only Nador-passengers had to get out here. Probably they assumed problems would happen, since probably a large amount of passengers would not understand it or something like that.
Disembarking was via stairs, both front and rear exits available, of course I took the latter one and the crew wished me a nice time. Only for a few hours I thought.
Once on the steps walking down I already noticed a tight security here on the apron. Several officers in military type of uniform were around, one under the wings closely watching the passengers, who had to walk about 100 metres towards the terminal. How about my pictures now, I thought, so I managed to quickly take a few, but already to be noticed by these officers who yelled to me and ordered to stop. So I did, and went into the building.
Immediately after entering, I arrived in front of a line of immigration counters, with already a huge amount of passengers waiting (from my flight). So I just took a line, and waited for maybe 45 minutes to get in front. It was quite interesting to see the whole thing. Organisation was badly done here, maybe typical ‘arabic’ style. But, the other passengers were friendly, especially to me. Even one person came towards me and said to help me. I told him before about my reason to visit (same day return on another airline), and that might be a difficult thing here. Also, Nador is not really used to foreigners like this he said, so in Berber-language her told the officer about my plans, I showed my return tickets, and my passport was stamped. After passing this officer, the passport is re-checked once again by another officer, before arriving at the single baggage caroussel. It was completely jammed with bags, funny to see. No pictures though, since too many officers were around and, especially following me (at least, that was my feeling).
Customs didn’t care for me, so I was able to continue my walk and arrived in the arrival hall, which was fully loaded with Moroccans awaiting their family and friends. Everybody started yelling to me, don’t know about what. Also several taxi-drivers approached me, but I had to continue my walk since I didn’t need a taxi. Never received such a welcome before, so quite an experience here.
I thought that leaving the building was a good idea, and look around a bit, making a few pictures, but also in front of the building, making a picture was not really ok by even more officers here. It was clear to me now, Morocco is a very strict country. A lesson to learn here for some countries in Western Europe (including mine especially), how to be in control towards your citizens. Now I understand why so many Moroccan people living in my country call it a ‘real freedom’ overhere.
Since I had to spend a few hours here at the airport (I didn’t want to take the risk and go to the city, which is quite a bit away also), I exchanged some Euro into Dirham (beware, you cannot export Dirham on departure exceeding the quantity of 1000) to cover my expenses here. Exchange is done here without costs. Exchange rate was very good also. With over 200 Dirham (for 20 Euro) in my pockets, more then enough to visit Morocco another time. The airport bar (nicely in the middle of the building) offers a small shop with bottled drinks and postcards etc, as well the terrace belonging to a bar offering everything. E.g. a good coffee costs here 10 Dirham (1 Euro), delivered at your table, longdrink glass of mineral water given free with it. How about that! I got to love these airport prices here!
Lavatories are also in this area, cleaned after every visit. Free of charge of course, so very positive here also. It even smells like flowers there.
Although making pictures inside the building is not allowed, and didn’t find the chance to take even a sneaky one. Don’t get yourself in trouble here.
All together, I should conclude this report to say that my experience on Amsterdam Airlines, the new airline from The Netherlands, was basically a pleasant one. A few things to say also here;
- the sales agent offered flights to destinations which were never served, so it seems to be a bit unreliable sometimes
- the destinations currently served are flying for ethnic traffic mostly so far, departure times are sometimes 2am or 4am in the night, not really welcome by me also. But it seems the airline is making good use of their fleet
- that fleet currently has 2 aircraft, of which 1 is leased out. The remaining aircraft is good to cover the schedule, but beware for days with irregular operations caused by maintenance issues, air traffic delays etc. Then you get in serious delays if nothing is chartered in
- the seatpitch is really bad. It looks not new seats. Maybe the airline should invest in slimline seats without seatpockets, to make legroom space at least a bit more bearable.
Positive were at least the assigned seats on check-in and the good organisation by the crew on board during boarding. It was a hard job with this kind of passengers. Also the inflight magazine was informative (no commercials inside), but not yet so much information. The airline is making an excuse for the little contents written, probably becoming better in the future. Aside from that, this airline is the only airline in The Netherlands providing this full-service meals and included in the ticket price. Not bad at all I would say, something to continue here for sure, just to make that change with the other airlines.
I hope that this airline can grow. Maybe they can become a kind of niche player to several destination around the Mediterranean area, maybe elsewhere also. New markets, combining with ethnic traffic. Building up regions with booming tourism. Some additional A320’s might be needed to gain more destinations, and also they should get some more brand recognition. Maybe operating on behalf of Transavia on European flights might do the trick a little.
So far a third A320 is on the planning for 2010. This hopefully becomes reality, and then we hope for a good continuation of this airline!
Thank you for flying with me, your comments are more then welcome.
Next report: Flying home from Morocco on their national airline!