This is a report is describing TLV-MLA-TLV flights with Air Malta. First TR on this route here (and my 747th post on a.net).
The jewish holydays season is back – the best season to travel around since Israel is pretty shut down during this month, while abroad the high season is over, prices are lower and weather is better. Thinking about where to go, my parents got a recommendation about Malta. Since non of us was ever there and since it looked like an interesting place to go we decided to visit the Island state.
Malta is a country between Italy and Lybia, consist from 3 islands in the Mediterranean, with 7000 years of history and population of just over 400,000. Malta bombarded heavily during WW2, and became independent from Britain in 1964. In 2004 Malta joined the EU, becoming its smallest member state. Luqa Int'l is Malta's sole airport, known usually as 'Malta Airport' with relatively new terminal opened in 1992. Air Malta, the national airline, operates seasonal charter flights to Israel.
Photo © Roberto Benetti
Photo © Roberto Benetti
Using Israeli travel agency we bought vacation package including direct Air Malta flights, with flight hours giving us 5 full days in the country.
With SDT at 03:10, we got to TLV airport already at 1:10am. One hell of a red eye. We were given a very warm welcome when a big red "DELAY" was flashing next to our flight:
45 minutes delay is not so bad, but from my previews experiences with charter flights (mainly Turkish to be honest) it can start from short delay and last for hours. You never know for sure you will actually fly until till you see the plane at the gate.
The holydays season means heavy traffic in TLV, but that night was my worst experience I had in the airport ever. The queue for security was as long as A346, with people standing almost to the terminal doors. Just take a look:
I never saw such a thing in TLV before. Not since Terminal 3 was opened in 2004. Not in holydays, August or any other season. As soon as we stood there the queue streached quickly behind us.
We thought it may take forever, but eventually it took 'only' 25 minutes to pass it, when it usually takes less then 5 minutes. Check in was fast, and we were given row 4, seats A through D.
After checking it, there is another queue in the next hall where passengers are been checked for boarding pass, after that then they head for hand bag check. We were shocked, again, from the queue: it was so long, that it reached back to the check in hall! Take a look for yourselves:
Not only it was long as hell, but it wasn't moving. And of course, We were standing at the slowest moving queue. This part took no less then 15 minutes, when it usually takes 30 seconds.
The worst part was hand bag security: out of 20 stands just 4 were open, and it simply took forever. I have never seen such inefficiency before. 3 tourists from Singapore heading for Swiss flight in C class were standing behind me; I was embarrassed to be Israeli at that point, due to the way foreigners saw the main gate of my country. I felt absolute disgrace at my home airport, for the first time since T3 was opened.
My queue, again, was the slowest, with this part taking 40 minutes. With another 15 minutes at passport control (with 20% of booths open) I was heading for the gate no less then 1.5 hours since entering the Terminal. Just for comparison, when I flew to Cyprus in May this part took my just 15 minutes, and even on high season it takes no more then 45 minutes. If my flight wasn't delayed, I would be in the airside 15 minutes after boarding was due to start. Well, that part ended, thank god.
Only then I had sometime to relax and look around for some airplanes. Air Berlin is doing well in Israel: 2 of their A330s were on the gates, one heading for DUS and the other to MUC. There was also TK A321, 2 flights to Poland (Arkia B753 & LOT B763) and many LY B737s.
Boarding was due to start at 03:05, but there were only passengers at the gate at that time. Boarding eventually started at 03:40. We were busses to remote stand near terminal 1, with Arkia’s Embraer next to us. On our way, I saw that all the remote stands near T3, so as the airbrigers gates, were totally full. No wonder the airport was in such a mess.
Boarding 9H-AEO, my first Maltese jet:
Flight: DM 7829
Airline: Air Malta
Plane: Airbus A320 9H-AEO
Route: Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Israel (TLV) -> Lqua Int'l Malta (MLA)
Date: Thursday, September 20th 2010.
Runways: 12 -> 31
Gates: B1 -> bus
Pushback: 04:55 (I entered the plane at 04:17)
Wheels off: 05:12
Full stop: 07:53
Airborne time: 2 hours 37 minutes
Gate to Gate time: 2 hours 58 minutes (Scheduled 3:05) DELAY 1 hour 43 minutes
In total, I spent inside the plane whole hour more then the airborne time.
We sat at the 4th row. Doors closed, and we prepared for pushback. After a while, the captain spoke to us, and said in low slow voice, the due to the delay, take off will be delayed in … 2 hours and 20 minutes. He sounded pretty depressed, and told us that the crew is shocked from it.
Sighs were heard all over the cabin, but in just few moments (after a passenger asked a crew member to close the lights) passengers closed the shades, reclined their seats and fell asleep. The cabin was dead quite in few minutes. I started to read something, and then tried to sleep too.
About 30 minutes afterwards, suddenly I felt that the plane was been pushbacked. At first, I thought that we are been transferred to another stand to use this one to another plane, but no – the plane turned its engines on, and we started taxing to runway. Messiah!
Lights turned on, the crew demonstrated the safety procedures (2 video attempts failed) and we departed from RWY 12, in total delay of 2 hours. Not a ward was heard from the captain, all the way to the very end. Terminal 3 while taxing:
Turning right after takeoff:
We all thanked the allmighty that we were in the air, at last. Nightmare was over.
Later on during the flight:
Crew wasn’t so nice either. Except from the meal service, they (2 male and 2 female) were out of sight, closed themselves in the galley, with closed curtain, and tried to avoid the passengers for most of the flight; this repeated itself on the return leg also.
Legroom was very good:
flight meal was surprisingly big: full cold meal, more then expected for 3 hours charter flight. There was also drinks round right before the meal and tea/coffee round right afterwards. The main course was chicken salad, which was fine, no more and no less.
There was no entertainment: blank screen, then stupid (and pretty wired) clips, and only an hour or so before landing we got the moving map. There was no Audio or headphones.
LF was 100%. Cabin:
We approached from south, landed on MLA RWY 31, one of the longest runways in Europe. Descending:
The first view of a new country always excite me!
This was an airport during the war, one out of 3, now closed (the other uses as parking lot near Mdina and the 3rd is the active Luqa airport):
Landing on RWY 31:
View to the terminal from my plane:
Post flight - The tarmac full of many DM's jets, at least 8, with no other airline in sight:
External view of the terminal airside:
We entered the passport control hall, with the first passengers been rejected from passing since they didn't fill an arrival form. No one know we had to fill one – nothing was given to us on board. There were few forms in the hall, but they all run out pretty fast, and it took the local police a while to bring new forms. Considering that we were the only landing flight, it was very unprofessional.
One passenger approached one of the booths with her passport been covered in removable plastic protecting cover – pretty normal around here – and an angry policewoman took her aside and shouted on her, loudly and in front of other passengers, that she can't do that, it's "Illegal" to cover the passport nationality, and that she can get arrested for that.
Rubbish - this plane is coming from Tel Aviv, with the first passport page says "STATE OF ISRAEL", how can anyone hide it's nationality? Many Israelis cover their passport for protection, and I never sow something like that in any airport. And of course – why shouting at anyone in front of other passengers? Of you have a problem – take her aside. I have to admit that my first impression from Malta was very negative. After passport control, heading to baggage claim:
Our luggage was out in no time; baggage claim hall:
MLA's arrival hall:
After that sleepless night, we exited the terminal and boarded the bus to our hotel. External view:
Malta is very interesting place. For those who look for beach & sun vacation – go someplace else, the Maltese coastline is rocky (without sand) and usually 3-4 meters lower from the street level. Yet, for those who look history and exploring new culture, Malta has a lot to offer. Here are some pics. The capitol, Valletta (view from Sliema):
Mdina, the old capitol and beautiful middle age city:
Malta's west coast:
Blue caves at the west cost, the same like the one in Capri (Italy) only way bigger in size, and number (7 caves in total):
Malta is the most densely populated country in Europe and the Maltese usually try to save open space. Here is nice example – the largest mall in the country, "The point", is build underground, except for the top floor using for entrance and exit:
…and the roof is been used as soccer field:
North part of Paceville, where my hotel was located:
View from my hotel back to Sliema:
From the same place, view north to Gozo, Malta's north Island:
My hotel, Corinthia St. George:
View from my room:
Also part of my hotel, this tower which was built to protect Malta from sea invesios. Towers like this are spread all over the Islands:
Hotel at night:
From my room – notice the large number of ships:
I do not recommend staying in this hotel (I'll be happy to answer in more detail on private massage).