Flight 1: May 24, 2013, 17:35, Air Transat, TS372, YYC-AMS (If you're curious about the new cabin, skip ahead to the last flight)
Air Transat has long been a very affordable way of flying out of Canada. This, however, was my spouse's and my first experience with them. Previously, we've taken transatlantic flights from YYC on Air Canada, KLM, and Luthansa. Once, many years ago, I even flew to AMS on Martinair.
In talking to friends, and reading online, I've encountered more than a few horror stories about TS. But, for us, the price won us over. The only other direct YYC-AMS flight is KLM, and their prices seldom are usually at least $300 more than Air Transat. My spouse and I are not large people, so even if the plane feels cramped, we figured we'd probably be fine. Besides, it's only 9 hours out of our lives. How bad could it really be? Also, TS in in the midst of a major cabin renewal program. All the cabins are supposed to be done by April 2014, so there was a good chance we'd get the new cabin.
In one way, the negative TS reviews did influence me. Knowing that most of the seating would be 3-3-3 on an A330-200, we decided to pay for advance seat selection. At the rear of most of the TS A332's, there are some 2x2 seats. The 2x2 seats don't offer any additional room, but you don't have to share with a stranger, if you're just two people.
TS also offers an elevated level of service called Option Plus. It was not significantly more than the seat selection alone, so we chose that also. So, 2x2 seating, with Option Plus. The extras include a comfort kit (more on that later), priority check-in, boarding, and luggage service, seat selection, "champagne", wine with dinner, free alcohol with bar service, free snack, and priority choice of meal.
At check-in, we forgot that we should use the priority counter. There was no line when we arrived at the airport, so it didn't cross our minds. Of course, it meant our luggage didn't get priority tags, but that was okay.
Going through YYC security, there was a long line, with only 2 stations open. However, it started moving more quickly after they opened a third. This was my first time in a full-body scanner. I was amused by the strange cartoon image of me. Weirdly, it detected something in my right elbow. Strange, since I was in short sleeves. At some airports, Transat has priority screening lines for Option Plus and Club Class, but not at YYC.
This flight, TS372, comes from Vancouver first, makes a brief stop at YYC to pick up more passengers, and then continues on to AMS. Shortly after we walked to our gate, our plane arrived from YVR, on time. It was already over half full, with what seemed like mainly Dutch travellers. Our Calgary crowd seemed to be mostly Canadians, on the other hand. I really noticed the narrow aisles of this A332, C-GGTS.
This aircraft gets passed around a lot: XL France and Garuda Indonesia have both used it extensively, generally while Air Transat is busy flying their A310 fleet to sun destination flights in the winter. The older interior is showing its age, though it was quite clean and the leather seats were comfortable enough for me.
On boarding, we remembered to take advantage of our Option Plus status. We are used to flying normal economy, so it felt a little exciting to use the priority boarding line. It was certainly nice to be greeted by a happy and smiling crew; something I hope for, but which I don't always expect, no matter what type of airline.
We soon pushed back from our gate, taxi'd without stopping to runway 28, and enjoyed a smooth takeoff. Goodbye to rainy Calgary. 2013 will be remembered for having a damp and chilly spring in Calgary; truly unusual weather.
My spouse and I each enjoyed a nice mini of Italian prosecco, served as soon as the seatbelt light was turned off. Option Plus people were given their prosecco immediately, before the regular bar service began. Of course, TS advertises champagne, but I expected that it probably wouldn't be real champagne. Still, it was a decent prosecco. I got distracted by the bubbly on the first TS flight, and forgot to take the photo. So, this photo is actually from our return journey.
Wipes before dinner, nice:
Were asked our meal choice and wine choice ahead of all other economy pax. Once again, great service from a very smiley and cheerful flight attendant. The choices were beef bourginone, chicken parmesan, or the veggie option, fettuccini alfredo. The Option Plus advantage to pick your meal really is a plus. By the time they got back to our section, everybody else around us was having the fettucini, or they were going hungry. The food was not great, but wasn't worse than anything I've had on Air Canada.
The two by two seating was nice for the two of us, but it's loud at the back of the plane. I was grateful for the earplugs in the comfort kit. The kit also includes headphones, eyeshade, and blanket, all in a velcro-sealed nylon pouch. The last eight rows in the old A332 configuration are six rows of 2-3-2, and then two middle rows of 3 sandwiched between the two rear toilets. The last row is just crew seating, which is just as well, since it's practically inside the galley. The rest of the economy section is 3x3x3.
Leg room in this cabin seems like any legacy carrier's economy section I've ever been on; just fine for me and my sweetie, both being somewhat less than tall. As it turns out, Option Plus passengers get more than just one free bar service drink. They are offered a free drink at EVERY bar service, which was remarkably often. You can also choose anything, even the nice liquors. I chose Courvoisier VSOP. So, if you so desire, Option Plus can make it a bit of a boozy flight.
Having become used to seatback LCD touchscreen IFE, the big CRT's seemed positively ancient, and they were all pretty far away from us. In a way, it was almost nostalgic. It reminded me a little of flying around this country on Canada 3000. That was a while ago!
Since our route takes us quite far north, and since we were not too far off summer solstice, we were in sunshine the whole way, despite departing in the evening and arriving in the morning.
We had a breakfast snack about 2 hours before landing. Yogourt, orange juice, a cinnamon danish, with coffee or tea. I was a little concerned when our tray package only came with milk. However, when coffee was delivered, cream was available. Yay!
After a smooth descent, and one loop in a holding pattern, we landed on 36R. Disembarkation was smooth and quick. Once though passport control, we waited a bit for luggage, but not overly long. Even without priority tags, we were okay. AMS is built as one large terminal. Walks can be long, but you never have to worry about finding the tunnel, bus, tram, train, or monorail, to get you between terminals. Besides, there are many moving sidewalks to either ease or expedite your movement through.
All in all, I found Air Transat's service friendly and efficient. The aircraft, despite being a non-renewed cabin, was comfortable enough for me. I really enjoyed the benefits that came with Option Plus. It elevated the experience above that of economy class on a scheduled carrier, and yet was still cheaper.
Flight 2: May 26, 2013, 06:45, Transavia HV6867 AMS-ATH
Transavia is a Dutch LCC, catering mostly to the domestic market, with flights to warm places. The This flight was chosen based on schedule. Despite being an LCC, once we paid for our hold baggage, even paid in advance, we were still at the same cost as a KLM flight. However, we did not want to wait around all day at AMS, for KLM's only flight to ATH, at 12:05. So, we took the Transavia flight at 06:45, which would put us in Athens before lunch time!
So, we left our hotel early in the morning, after taking advantage of their free computers to check-in online and print boarding cards. Something to know about Transavia... purses count as cabin baggage. So, don't think you can get away with an overhead bag, plus a purse under the seat in front. It's not going to happen. At the baggage check, we quickly crammed my spouse's bag into her suitcase. I nearly had my violin forced into hold baggage too. In the end, I moved my approved cabin baggage tag from my spouse's purse over to my violin. When I carried it on board, nobody said anything. Whew!
When we got to our gate, our aircraft, B737-800 PH-HZE, was already waiting for us.
Boarding was very efficient, despite this being a very full flight. We pushed back, and then began our very, very long taxi to AMS's very far-flung runway 36L. You have to cross canals and freeways to get there. After takeoff, it remained completely cloudy all across the Netherlands and Germany, with not a spot of land to be seen. Amsterdam was unseasonably cold and rainy also. Finally, when crossing the Alps, there was some land to be seen! Majestic mountains poking through the dense overcast.
Legroom is tighter on Transavia than on any other airline I've ever experienced. I had trouble just pulling my daypack from under the seat in front, up past my knees. I don't know how the tall Dutch people can manage it. I guess if you have no hold bags, the savings might be worth it. I'm relatively short, and even I found it uncomfortable. Still, the staff was friendly, and the flight got us to Greece, on the schedule we wanted.
All Transavia staff addressed us in Dutch, from check-in through to drink service. I'm not complaining, of course; just observing. When we look confused, everyone switches to English for us something I am ALWAYS grateful for, whenever it happens. I think it is relatively uncommon for non-Dutch to fly Transavia. Normally, even on KLM, I am assumed to be not Dutch, and therefore addressed in English.
Midflight, after an episode of Modern Family (subtitles in Dutch), they showed the very good safety video a second time. Instead of androgynous animations, the video is almost all live actors. I find it far more helpful than most safety videos. It's much easier to grasp how things are supposed to be done when you're watching real people doing them. It was cool to watch people opening an emergency exit and jump on to the slide. I suspect many airlines believe that androgynous animations make things less real, therefore less frightening. I find that watching real humans opening an emergency exit gives me confidence that I could do it too. Blobby, animated characters don't give me any confidence at all.
We landed on runway 21R. While taxiing, I noticed some of the old Olympic Airlines A340s, still parked there, looking very sad. I know they're for sale, but they've been there a very long time now. I read that the maintenance records for them were destroyed by a disgruntled ex-employee, however I'm not sure about the truth of that. It would explain the lack of sale though. Without maintenance records, most of the parts wouldn't be worth anything more than their scrap metal value. I find it really, really sad to see those planes. Also out on the tarmac was a Hellenic Imperial 747-200. I'm not sure what their status is these days either.
Disembarkation was from both the front and back of the aircraft, and on to the waiting buses. We had to wait quite sometime before the buses left the plane. There was some sort of medical issue, and a person was taken off the plane and into an ambulance. They were walking on their own though, so perhaps it was not too dire. The Athens airport always seems to have this odd smell. I assume it's a cleaning product, but it smells a little like cheap cologne; the kind of thing high school boys buy at the supermarket.
Flight 3: May 28, 16:25, Olympic Air OA44, ATH-MLO
MLO is Milos, a Greek island in the Aegean, part of the Cyclades.
It was a bit of a dash to the airport, after running overtime, lunching with friends. But, we made it, got through security, and even had some time to relax at the gate. At boarding time, we all loaded onto a bus which took us to our plane, SX-BIR, a DHC8-100, the second in a line of Dash-8's on the tarmac which included two 100s and three Q400s. We were seated, purely by chance, in the emergency exit row, so the attendant gave us the usual instruction session in English.
Drink service started very promptly on this flight. No wonder, since you barely reach altitude before you start the descent. As it is, you barely have time to finish your drink before the attendant comes by to collect your trash. When's the last time you saw a peanut snack on a North American airline? I guess allergies are less common over here. Or, companies are less paranoid about lawsuits. probably some of both, I would guess. They handed out wipes too. Nice! I forgot that I could have ordered a beer, so got water instead. That day was one of those hazy days on the Aegan where the water just sort of blends into the sky, and there's no visible horizon. It was spooky looking out, at altitude.
Flying on these 100 series Dash-8's is always exciting to me. They feel very powerful. Our takeoff roll from ATH was very quick. More speedy, however, was our deceleration after touchdown on Milos. It's only an 800 meter strip. Exciting!
The airport on Milos Island is tiny. I don't know that it really does anything more than the two daily Olympic Air flights. It definitely felt like stepping into the past. Strangely, it had the loudest alarm I've ever heard for a luggage belt. To say that it startled me is putting it mildly.
Flight 4: June 6, 2013, 07:40, Olympic Air OA41, MLO-ATH
OA41 departed on time from MLO, with DHC8-100, SX-BIQ. Both the Olympic DH8A's are showing their age a bit. Still, they are comfortable. and feel well maintained. Once again, we were in the emergency exit row. The emergency hatch weighs 31 lb/14kg, according to its label.
Unusually, after turning around at the end of the runway, we pushed back a little using the props. I know it's a relatively short runway, so I guess the captain wanted to make sure we had every last meter available for takeoff.
Olympic Air is not quite the same as Olympic Airways, back in their glory days transatlantic flights in A340s. Still, Olympic Air maintains a level of service and comfort that is very pleasant. The greek ferries are great, and I really enjoy them, but there's definitely some excitement in flying around the Cyclades islands in a DHC-8-100. Of course, gate to gate, that excitement lasts significantly less than an hour. Even the high speed ferry to Milos is a significantly lengthier journey.
Flight 5: June 8, 2013, 11:50, Transavia HV6868, ATH-AMS
I wished I'd thought more about this when booking our flights. For the same cost, I could have booked this segment as KLM, since KLM's schedule would have suited us just fine.
There were police at many of the metro stations on the way to the airport. At the airport itself, there were more police, thoroughly checking people's ID at various points throughout the airport. After taxiing right up to the runway, we had a very long wait. For about 20 minutes, nothing happened on the runway. No departures or arrivals. No word on what was happening. Eventually, a helicopter overflew the runway. Then, about 5 minutes later we departed at about 12:15. We took off to the south, with a long climb out before turning to the east, and eventually to the north. We spent a long time over water, out over the north Aegean.
Flight 6: June 15, 2013, 12:20, Air Transat TS373, AMS-YYC
New cabin interior!!!
C-GTSN, an Air Transat A330-200 with renewed cabin, waits for us at Schiphol airport's gate G9. This time, we remembered to use the priority check-in. There was also a priority security line at gate which was much appreciated. On that day, that alone justified the Option Plus purchase. Long, long lines otherwise.
I really like the new interior. Very classy. It does not feel like a budget airline. Rather, it is quite comfortable. Blue is not my first choice, but I definitely prefer it to Transavia's bright green. Like the old cabin, the seats are narrow. However, neither I nor my partner are very wide people, so it feels perfectly fine for us. The slimline seats are still plenty soft enough, and the extra legroom is noticeable compared to the flight from YYC to AMS.
Unfortunately, they seemed to have got rid of the air vents. I really appreciate those on planes. A little extra air on my face can be helpful, if the plane is a little too warm. It looks like the inside windows were also replaced. They have almost no scratches at all, and absolutely no hazing.
We departed from runway 27 after crossing 18L-36R. It was a smooth takeoff into a stiff breeze that was blowing over the airfield grass, making waves like on the sea.
I'm not one to complain incessantly about Air Canada, but I have to say that the most surly flight attendants I have encountered have been on long haul AC flights. By contrast, both TS crews were very cheerful and pleasant, as well as professional, from start to finish. Nice uniforms too.
The life jackets are in this plastic case, under the seat, perpendicular to the floor. Unfortunately, this means you can't tuck your feet backwards under your own seat. Although, it does prevent the person behind you from pushing their carry-on bag forward into the back of your legs.
The seats also have a handy footstep on the aisle side. This is very helpful for people like me, who are not so tall, to reach everything in the overhead bins.
There were three choices for a meal again: beef stroganoff pasta, sweet chili chicken, or pasta primavera. My spouse and I both chose the beef. It almost always seems like the safest choice to me. Things that are like stew seem to be the best tasting when reheated in a little plastic/foil dish. Chicken seems to turn to rubber. I do wonder what the club class meal looks like. I've never flown better than economy. Option Plus is the only time I've ever had anything resembling an upgrade beyond economy. Because I fit in economy seating comfortably, I don't envy those in business or first. If it is much better than economy, maybe it is better that I don't know what I'm missing! My artist income can't support the extra cost.
I don't know how much the LED colour changing lighting really helps with jet lag, but it is pleasant. It certainly lends sense of being very modern, and it certainly is an upgrade from flickering fluorescent tubes; even ones that are supposed to be daylight equivalent. Interestingly, even the lavatories have the mood lighting, and it seems to coordinate with the cabin.
Here's all the photos from this last flight. Specially included is a photo of the very dramatic sky as we were on our final into YYC. Thanks for reading my first post to airliners.net!
Leg room :
Sadly, no moving map for me:
Lifejacket under the seat, perpendicular to the floor:
A handy footstep, helpful in gaining some height to reach the back of the overhead bins:
[Edited 2013-06-18 17:36:28]