Trip report: BBU-TSR-SBZ-SCV
A distinct lack of turboprops in my flight log prompted me to attempt to get on at least of couple of such aircraft in the summer of 2010. Well, turboprops make up a large percentage of Romanian domestic flights. Generally, these flights are neither too expensive, nor cheap, in comparison to the alternatives.
However, in 2010, Blue Air operated some internal flights as well. Being a low-cost airline, Blue Air offered somewhat lower fares. However, the intended destination, Suceava, was not served by Blue Air. But, Carpatair did serve them (TAROM did too, but this flight both arrived too late and was on the only type of turboprop I had experienced before). So, the itinerary was set:
Blue Air #9692 Bucharest Baneasa-Timisoara “Traian Vuia” (BBU-TSR): 09:45-10:45
Carpatair #8315 Timisoara “Traian Vuia”-Sibiu-Suceava “Stefan cel Mare” (TSR-SBZ-SCV): 15:30-16:45
Flights operated by Saab 340B and Saab 2000 aircraft, respectively.
Blue Air flight left from Baneasa airport. Now, I’m not exactly squeamish or anything, but Baneasa (Aurel Vlaicu is the official name) is probably the biggest shithole of an airport I’ve been to. I’m not saying that in a mean-spirited way. It’s close to the city, but… That’s the only good thing about it. It’s extremely small, dirty and crowded. It was designed for one third, if not one tenth, of its current passenger load. Fortunately, or not, it will probably become a thing of the past in the next few years (5-10 years). With Otopeni’s capacity growing with the opening of the new wing next March, the larger airport will be able to handle all of Bucharest’s traffic.
Why unfortunately, you may ask, if I hate the place? Because it’s also the resting place for interesting aircraft, like 727s and DC-8s. Plus MD-80s (lots of them) although the latter aren’t quite as interesting.
Anyway, back to Baneasa stories… Having only a handful of domestic flights a day (currently no such flights), there was no real boarding area… It was improvised completely. There were no seats, just a security checkpoint and a door that looks like anything but a gateway to aircraft. Of course, it’s technically the gateway to a bus. Yes, and that’s the general feeling: Baneasa looks more like a bus station than an airport. In fact, a picture will exemplify this.
Alright, so, the main attraction. The flight to Timisoara. Well. We boarded late, with no announcements. Well, then again, I doubt they could make any announcements in that room, and announcements in the main hall would be rendered inaudible by distance and Wizzair pax to London getting boarding passes right next to our unmarked gate. A young guy who had checked my OLCI BP’s earlier in the day arrived and started the boarding process. About 12 passengers on the flight, which means about a 40% LF. No wonder Blue Air stopped their BBU-TSR service a couple of months later.
The pictures are poor for a couple of reasons. First, the windows are quite dirty; second… It’s Romania. I’m never sure when it’s allowed to take pictures. These will have to do.
Pitcures from Baneasa apron and take-off:
A 727 and lots of MD-80s here. A bunch of corporate jets (with Romanian regs, mostly, but also a German one). Also, UR-AER, an Ukrainian registered DO-328JET, which was the highlight. Thanks to the shape of our Saab 340B engines, I couldn’t get a clean pic of the aircraft. Damn it. In the last pic, you can see buses, buses everywhere, but not a plane to see.
Blue Air provided good services on the short hop to Timisoara. Both a sandwich and a drink were served. Very interesting, that a LCC offers free food and drink on any flight (of course, the longer flights do not see this sort of service from Blue Air). Anyway, it puts any US airline to shame, really.
Here's a cabin pic:
After a 45 min ride, the descent of the formerly Spain and New Zealand registered aircraft started its descent into Timisoara; the descent was particularly smooth and continuous. We landed at Timisoara slightly late, but there was no hurry anyway. Here’s the aircraft, YR-DAC, and a Farnair Beech 1900 at Timisoara, from the other side of the airport bus taking us to the terminal (which is very modern, but quite bland).
My travel partner wasn’t impressed by either Baneasa or the landing at the TSR airport (actually the state of TSR’s runway), but she did say the new Timisoara terminal “looks like an airport”, an obvious reference to Baneasa’s condition.
Here are a couple of pics of Timisoara center and cathedral. It’s a nice place to visit, but quite far from the airport (12 km, not far by LCC standards I guess), so the taxi ride almost cost more than the flight (for one person).
Anyway, after a good couple of hours or so in Timisoara city we headed back to TSR by city bus. Then we got the actual boarding passes in the airport, even though we had done OLCI. The check-in lady was a bit confused by this request, but soon gave us the boarding passes. We proceeded through security (there was nothing much after security). Soon the hall filled with connecting passengers, as KRP’s flights from Europe came in (their model is to offer 1 h connections at TSR from/to most Romanian airports). Soon, we started boarding. The flight was now routed through Sibiu, which recently got a new terminal. My dear partner did not seem to enjoy the detour, but I was all for two flights for the price of one.
The flight was quite excellent. Used to US regional airlines, with 1 F/A for a 50-seater, I was surprised by the 3 F/As on today’s flight. They took care of everyone, were very focused on everyone’s safety and provided quick, efficient service in the air. To be precise, we received a large sandwich and a drink on the TSR-SBZ sector, and another drink onwards to SCV. Since the flight time to Sibiu was no more than 30 minutes, 3 F/As were strongly indicated to complete the service.
The flight was not full, about 35 pax total, half of which got off in Sibiu, the rest went onwards to Suceava. This is a likely explanation as to why KRP sometimes combines the 2 flights in one.
Here's Sibiu airport:
After a short refueling at Sibiu (seatbelts off, please, everyone), we started our flight to Suceava, which took about 35 minutes. The Saab 2000 provided a smooth ride. However, the third descent in a day left my partner a bit queasy, these being her first flights in 10 years. Nevertheless, we arrived in Suceava and were picked up immediately afterwards (you have to like these small airports where it takes 2 minutes to leave the actual building).
Anyway, here are some pictures: First of all, an aerial picture of the city of Piatra-Neamt. Another picture of the village of Varatec, with train tracks visible. A couple of pictures of the outside of SCV airport and a pic from the very rustic arrivals lounge in SCV.
Overall, Carpatair is definitely one of the best airlines I’ve flown, if not the best. I strongly recommend them to whoever’s interested in flying to Romania.
Blue Air offered good services on this flight, but with their recent financial problems, they abandoned domestic flights. International flights are truly low-cost in nature, no free drinks or such.
Here's a pic from Suceava:
The main train station:
You can search for Dragomirna Monastery, or "Cetatea de Scaun" Suceava for pics of important buildings nearby, if you're interested.
Thanks for reading.