Now approaching my week-long trip with Kuwait Airways and RwandAir (read more about it clicking here), I started to get a little bit nervous; after all, three days prior to departure, I still didn’t have the tickets to London.
While the return trip was somewhat certain with Ryanair, which offered some good fares from Stansted to Pisa, the inbound trip was not… and I was afraid I would spend big money. The cheapest option from Italy to London (albeit arriving in Heathrow) was about EUR130 with Eurowings. That’s a fortune when you consider I spent about a quarter of that to return with Ryanair.
Until the tide turned in the last minute: a fantastic deal with Aegean Airlines, one day before, leaving from Rome/Fiumicino. Around EUR79 and I even had an afternoon in Athens, a new airport in my logbook (a blatant inconvenience for others, a blessing for me). And of course I booked it.
I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to talk about Aegean here anytime soon, since they are quite overlooked and Greece is not really a central country in Europe by any means — so I thought I’d never have the chance to connect there in the first place.
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In case you’ve haven’t heard about them, Aegean Airlines is Greece’s flag carrier, leading the local market in number of flights, seats and ASKs this May, according to Cirium’s Diio Mi application. Its network essentially covers the large cities of Europe, also ranging Eastward as far as Tbilisi and Yerevan and Southward as far as Jeddah and Riad.
Besides being a Star Alliance member, the company also owns regional carrier Olympic Air, which operates a fleet of turboprops mostly within the country.
From Rome, they operate about two daily flights, of which one connects to London/Heathrow, from where they operate around three flights a day.
Booking with them was not difficult — they have website versions in English, Italian and Spanish.
The only problem I found was the ultra-intricate booking flow, with endless ancillary offers which I would say exceed those of Ryanair or Wizz. But apart from that, in no time I had the ticket in my email inbox.
I arrived in Fiumicino Airport by train, with an hour to spare until boarding. To get there from Siena is quite a pain compared to Pisa and Florence; one needs to take a train all the way to Chiusi/Chianciano Terme station, to then take a train to Rome’s Termini station.
From Chiusi to Rome there are few daily services — especially on high-speed rail — so you can’t get on any flights leaving prior to 10am. After arriving at Termini, you then need to take a train to Fiumicino, which, in the nonstop, more expensive option, takes you about 40 minutes. FCO is farther to downtown to its low-cost alternative Ciampino, by the way.
At least the airport is connected by rail and that makes everything so much easier. A 10 minute walk from the station and I was inside the airport’s terminal 1, from where Aegean operates.
It was my first time in that terminal. It’s one that is mostly Schengen-oriented, and also one where the low-costs operated from, so my expectations were quite low.
I mean, it was not a Doha/Hamad or a Singapore «Jewel» by any means, but I guess it serves its purpose. Below, the airside. I really dislike low ceilings so perhaps that’s why I rate terminal 1 with such indifference.
Now that’s quite the diverse network.
Boarding for my flight started on time. The flight looked quite full as far as I saw; I don’t understand why I got such a low-fare a day before, but perhaps I just got lucky.
I was one of the last passengers to get on board and, after a check of my documents as my final destination was London, I made my way through the boarding bridge.
This flight would be operated by Airbus A320 SX-DVY. According to Planespotters.net, it was delivered brand new to the Greek airline on April 2009.
The jet still sports Aegean’s horrific old livery. For a flag carrier of a country so full of history like Greece, it’s remarkable that this was their old brand.
The situation was better inside the plane. Although the cabin looked old, it was well-maintained and clean.
Boarding was completed at 10h31, one minute after scheduled departure; cross check happened ten minutes later, with pushback happening at 10h47.
As we entered the aircraft we were given these small wipes — I think we all agree that’s a feature that should stay post-COVID by the way.
The screens were lowered during pushback, and the safety instructions were played there.
It was apparently rush hour in Fiumicino. Luckily, for some reason, we jumped that queue and entered the runway in taxiway before the one where the others were waiting. Takeoff was smooth and soon we were headed to Athens.
Besides its old aspect, I kinda liked the cabin. Not remarkable either way, but standard Economy class these days, at least in Europe.
Legroom was also standard. Aegean seats 174 passengers in their A320s — that’s leveled with the rest of the industry.
Soon after take-off, I tried using Aegean’s mobile entertainment system, and it seemed to work.
But as usual, I stayed with my go-to, the flightmap.
For those who couldn’t bother using their mobile devices, Aegean also offers their own in-flight magazine.
Because I didn’t see any buy-on-board menu in the magazine, I was curious to see what they’d offer. It took some time as I was on seat 27F, but eventually the flight attendants — who, shall I add, were all very attentive and professional throughout — arrived in my row.
And they gave me this box. 2022, folks; the era of post-pandemic cost-cutting… and Aegean still serves a lunch box to everyone. Just impressive!
I think that, these days, if you don’t want to spend on catering, airlines could at least provide a comprehensive buy-on-board menu. But the inverse is also true: if you don’t want to spend in a comprehensive buy-on-board menu, at least provide an edible freebie. Aegean does exactly this, and this is what I found inside the box.
The sandwich was quite tasty.
Soft drinks were also complimentary, so I picked some Coke and some coffee.
All in all, a very impressive service by Aegean. As the service was finished, we were already approaching Greek territory.
Before descent started, I went to see one of the toilets. All in order, since this was the second flight of the day for Victor Yankee, but apart from that the only remark was this huge sign pointing to the trash bin. And as we say in Brazil, if there’s a sign, there’s history… I wonder where people thought the trash bin was.
Anyway, a cabin that was very much in order, although it already showed its age. We really got spoiled with all the mood lighting and the huge bins these new jets have to offer…
It wasn’t long before we started our descent to Athens. An uneventful flight followed, and at 13h41 — 16 minutes after schedule — we made a smooth landing in Eleftherios Venizelos International, or, for the closer friends, Διεθνής Αερολιμένας Αθηνών «Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος».
Some sights from Athens: registered SX-BCL, this 737-200 was originally delivered to Olympic Airways on July 1981, according to Planespotters.net. On October 2003, it became a training ground for the airport’s firefighters.
We parked by the side of this untitled A330-300, registered 9H-SMD. Originally delivered to Singapore Airlines on March 2013, it flew for the carrier until being transfered to Spain’s Evelop on April 2019. It currently flies for Smartlynx Malta; the airframe has been flying cargo on behalf of Qatar Airways.
I waved goodbye to DVY and took the bus back to the terminal.
Upon arrival, there were some self check-in counters waiting for us before the baggage claim area.
But I didn’t need to rush; I had a transfer of over five hours.
Because London is out of the Schengen space, I had to do my passport control in Athens, therefore leaving the airside.
For some reason, there were balloons in Aegean’s check-in counters, as well as signs saying that was their «new home… for a while».
Luckily I didn’t need to catch that line, as I had already checked-in online.
In less than 10 minutes I had my passport and my hand luggage cleared.
Aegean has a large extra-Schengen lounge in Athens and I tried to go there to spend the day, but apparently they don’t sell entries.
My only option (well, not a problem anyway) was to stay by the terminal windows watching the departures.
Emirates operates here once daily, in a quite peculiar routing that connects Dubai to Newark via Athens. They’ve got the fifth-liberty rights to sell tickets from Athens to Newark, a flight that saw protests when it was started back in 2017, but was relaunched last June.
The routing, which is daily, requires two aircraft, and they meet in Athens. It’s always great to see these aircraft live, even after all these years. I remember when I’d go to São Paulo to see the heavy aircraft, and the Emirates Triple Seven was one of the stars of the show. It’s still so fun.
Some hours later, my flight started appearing on the screen; it was a separate gate, I think due to strict rules from the UK regarding who enters the country. Two hours before departure, gate agents started welcoming passengers into that gate area, doing a last visa check before departure.
And an hour before scheduled, our aircraft appeared, arriving from Heathrow; an A321neo registered SX-NAB.
SX-NAB, according to Planespotters.net, was delivered brand new to Aegean on November 2020.
The neos are now about 20% of the airline’s fleet (there are five A320s and five A321s), and they bring innovations not only on the fuel efficiency side, but also in terms of product. As such, the first neo delivered to Aegean, back in 2020, sported the company’s revised visual identity. In my opinion, it is miles ahead of the old livery.
Again, boarding was a mess and people were crowding in front of the gate when their boarding groups hadn’t yet been called.
This livery has grown on me since this trip, although at first sight it was not that remarkable. Still, once you compare to the previous colors, anything would have been better…
The cabin was also from another planet, really beautifully designed.
And luckily, I had been assigned to an emergency exit window. Now that’s what I call a great deal…
And most importantly, the neos have adjustable headrests in every seat. Personally, it really makes a difference when you’re tired.
Boarding progressed slowly as the flight looked quite full (which is why I don’t understand how could my ticket have been so cheap). Soon the seats by my side were occupied by an English couple who was seemingly returning from vacations. In this time of the year, I guess this type of passenger sets the tone in the Greece-UK flights.
But what was even cooler was that Aegean offers wi-fi on board in their neo fleet. I needed to wait for take-off, though, to be able to try it.
Besides all the options that were also available in the earlier flight, Aegean also offered a leaflet with instructions to the wi-fi connection.
Doors were closed on time; at 19h28, exactly the scheduled time of departure, pushback was started.
The view from the window was gorgeous — I hope I can return to Greece with more time in the next opportunity.
A smooth take-off followed; this new generation of narrowbodies is so quiet it’s astonishing.
Aegean offered a complimentary 10-minute wi-fi connection. Connecting was really easy and the speeds were great. I could send messages, photos and even tweet.
That also never gets old.
— João ☕ (@joaointhesky) April 21, 2022
It was a sunset flight, so it was good to rest a little.
The neos also have, in each seat, a cellphone holder — it looked odd at first, but once you get into the discipline, it’s better than leaving the phone in the tray table — and a USB port.
In short, Aegean’s hard product in their A320neo family has almost everything you’d need in a modern narrowbody in Europe these days. And if you take other «premium» airlines like Lufthansa, this product just destroys theirs.
And there was still time for the food… the flight attendants, by the way, were as great as in the first flight.
The same box was offered, alongside the same choice of drinks.
The sandwich, this time, was different, and it was as good as the first. All in all, a really consistent and tasty catering.
After the service, I went to the lavatory before having a nap. I’m happy to inform that, in the neos, they don’t need to sign the trash bin as expressively… and there was also some mood lighting too.
The details were everywhere, in a greatly designed product. And it’s not for nothing: Aegean really needed to step up their game with competition growing everywhere. The neo family brings lower unit costs, but also an opportunity to start from scratch, investing heavily in quality.
In the Athens-London market, for instance, all 93 flights this month are to be operated with the A321neo, according to Cirium. This maximises the use of the gold-valued Heathrow slots, but also ups their game versus the competition: Greek low-cost Sky Express has just entered the route with their brand-new A320neos, while at the same time British Airways plays as the home team in the UK.
The cabin looks way fresher than the one I saw in the A320 earlier that day.
I managed to sleep for an hour or so and, when I woke up, we were already descending into the UK.
It was my first time in Heathrow and also in London, so I was quite excited to watch the approach. Heathrow is so full that it all looks like an incredibly coordinated ballet; when we turned into final approach, I could clearly see three other aircraft trailing us.
A smooth landing followed at 21h09, a minute before schedule, and SX-NAB quickly cleared the runway.
Deboarding was very fast and soon we were in Heathrow’s enormous Terminal 2, one I would board from in my next flight.
The terminal is shared with most of Aegean’s fellow Star Alliance members, as well as other intercontinental airlines.
I could hardly believe I had the prized Heathrow stamp in my passport.
I then took the bus to my hotel, HotelHoppa. It costs GBP5.50 (yes, a fortune, but that’s London for you) but it dropped me right in front of my hotel, Renaissance London Heathrow.
And the view from it? Well, pretty much worth the trip…
Well, after almost paying EUR130 for this trip, anything that would have come for EUR78 would have been wonderful. Still, Aegean pretty much impressed me really positively.
Not only was the flight cheap; it was also a great experience from start to finish. While the A320 might have looked tired, the A321neo had practically all problems of the A320 solved. So as the airline rolls out more and more of the new-generation aircraft, the better their product will be.
But still, even the A320 flight was perfect, as far as I’m concerned; despite having an older cabin, it is still better than many of its full-service counterparts across Europe
The catering was the point that impressed me the most. It takes guts not to offer a buy-on-board selection these days, and their complimentary snack box made up for it.
Then, the A321neo flight repeated the Rome-Athens, only that it corrected everything that was not already perfect for an intra-Europe flight in Economy class.
So, my final veredict, would I recommend Aegean Airlines? Absolutely; and I cannot wait to fly them again — hopefully in Business class, the next time.
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