Athens has traditionally been an expensive airport to fly in and out of due to excessively high airport charges that are double that of Europe’s average rates. As of October 2017, there’s a new kid on the block that could make flying to a number of destinations a whole lot cheaper for us impoverished Athenians.
If you don’t mind some mild eccentricities, that is.
Deciding last minute that I would like to go to London to see a retrospective of the work of Jean Michel Basquiat at the Barbican Centre, I looked first at my favourite European airline, Aegean. Prices for the following weeks were high at nearly 500 euro. Similar fares were offered by British Airways and Easy Jet and it seemed way too much of an indulgence to buy at that price. A solution was on hand, however, proffered by the newly launched Air Mediterranean whose ticket price (including 23 kilos of luggage) was a snip at 148 euro! This amount seemed stable whether booking for the next day or in a month or two’s time and I could barely wait to make my booking.
First off, a warning about the Air Med website. It’s new, it’s unfinished and it doesn’t give you the option to check in online before your flight. If, like me, you always try to sit in the front rows of the plane then that’s a bit of a nuisance but nothing too major. I just arrived fairly early at the airport and asked for a forward seat thinking I would beat the hordes of eager budget travellers who must have also booked this flight.
Now this is where the eccentric bits come into play. I was told by a polite Greek member of staff that it wouldn’t be possible to sit in the first ten rows of the Boeing 737 due to “stability issues”. Thinking this was bit nuts, I passed this off as possibly pertaining to the rows of seats each check in desk is allotted and having nothing at all to do with the aircraft.
Once on board we were greeted by an eager cabin crew decked in brightly coloured nylon uniforms that wouldn’t have been out of place in a fast food restaurant. Talking of food, don’t believe the blurb on the website that promises “hot meals”. Here, there is none of Aegean Air’s wonderful old fashioned hospitality but at the price of these tickets, who’s complaining?
Indeed, the first ten rows of the aircraft were kept scrupulously empty but as each passenger had an entire row of seats to themselves if they wanted (no budget conscious travellers seem to have heard of these flights yet), no one was complaining.
The flight times for London are good, departing Athens at 8 in the morning with a quick turn around in Stansted for a 1 pm return flight. I had never been to Stansted before and actually really liked arriving there as it isn’t as busy as Heathrow or Gatwick and we were able to land immediately with none of that endless circling that seems to dog Heathrow landings. There is also a Stansted Express train that takes you to central London (Liverpool Street Station) in 47 minutes so no hassles there!
Back to the eccentricities and my return to Athens. At Stansted’s check in desk I gave my usual request for seating and, wait for it, was told the exact same stability thing!!!! What exactly are these stability issues, I wondered, remembering that the plane, though clean enough inside, had obviously seen many flying hours in its lifetime.
Once on board a half empty plane, I noticed that for some strange reason I had been placed in the middle seat of the only row containing three passengers, so after everyone had boarded the aircraft I quietly moved up one row to row 10. Almost immediately one of the neon nylon cabin crew came to politely ask me if that was indeed my seat.
“Actually no”‘ I said apologetically, “my seat seemed a bit overcrowded considering the emptiness of the plane so I moved to give my companions more room”. Neon Nylon raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow at me and said, “I’m sorry, you will have to move, you will upset the stability of the plane”. I pointed out that although not an aviation expert, I thought that highly unlikely and she cracked a smile and gave me leave to remain.
But honestly, WTF? Just what kind of dicey equipment are they flying here? Does anyone know about this? Is this normal? And if so, what about most airlines that have a first and business class up front?
So, to round up my experience on Air Mediterranean, I would give it a 10/10 for cost, an 8/10 for value for money (great to get a checked in bag included in the fare) and a 7/10 for service. All in all, I would probably fly with them again, just as long as they keep those ticket fares low….
(If you are interested to know about other destinations, Air Mediterranean currently flies from Athens to London, Stockholm, Jeddah, Casablanca, Khartoum and Iraq.)