CHECK-IN I checked in online the day before, confirming my seat assignation and printing my boarding pass. When I arrived via Underground at London Heathrow's Terminal 1 the following morning at 1000, I headed up to the departures area, and then followed the signs to check-in Zone K, which is for Aegean Airlines, El Al and a couple of other carriers. It is separate from the main departure hall.
My flight to Athens (A3601) was scheduled for 1215, and although all I needed to do was drop my suitcase off, I still had to print my own luggage tag. This proved very easy though – Aegean had seven self-service kiosks opposite the two bag-drop desks it had open. I just scanned my boarding pass, confirmed my seat (again) and printed my self-seal luggage tag. It also then printed me another boarding pass.
There was no queue at the staffed desks so I was able check my case in immediately, and then enter the security channel just ahead. There were zip-lock plastic bags available for liquids, but only one security lane open and about 25 people ahead of me. I was through in just over ten minutes with minimal fuss (laptops and jacket off but not shoes). I was airside by 1030, which left me plenty of time to do a bit of shopping and grab some brunch.
BOARDING The gate was not revealed until 1130, when it popped up on departure screens as being number 20. I followed the signs and headed down there at 1135 – it took about six minutes to get there, but there was a huge crowd of people waiting to get into the lounge area so I hung back and made a phone call.
When I got to the desk, staffed just waved me through without checking my boarding pass or passport. The waiting area, it can be noted, was the "the Park at Gate 20", an area dedicated to the 2012 Olympic Games, with a digital print grass floor, a gold post box and a tree with hand-written messages about the event hanging from its branches.
When it came to actually boarding, at 1200, staff then checked my documentation before I headed downstairs to access the aircraft via an airbridge. (Business class and passengers sitting in rows 20 to 29 were called first.)
THE SEAT Aegean's A320-200 is configured with 168 seats in a 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F) layout. There is no row 13. There are two exit doors on each side in the middle of the plane. The front three or four rows were for business class and these was separated by a curtain. The rows are numbered up to 29 but there are actually 28 as there is no row 13.
The clean, fairly new looking Recaro seats are pale grey plastic upholstered with navy blue leather. Seat-back pockets came with crumpled copies of Aegean's in-house Blue travel magazine and a duty-free guide. I was told could find entertainment listings in one of them but I couldn't see where. Tray tables fold down from the back of the seat in front and provided enough space for my to rest my Macbook Air (at an angle) and a bottle of water. I was in seat 18A, by a window just behind the wing.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Sit nearer the front if you want to get food and drink quickly, and disembark before most of the other passengers. You may, however, be among the last to board. If you like a window seat, avoid sitting in rows 16 and 17 as your views will be obstructed by the wing. If you are travelling alone, you should also avoid middle seats B and E. Exit rows will offer more legroom.
THE FLIGHT Before take-off, crew handed out sweets. The plane pushed back from the stand at 1215, and spent about 20 minutes taxiing in preparation for take-off. Once cruising at 1250, shared entertainment screens dropped down from the ceiling above, and at about 1255 (after take-off) headphones were handed out.
There was then a complimentary drinks service from the front, with the option of Coke, Sprite, water and juice. I asked if it was just soft drinks they were serving and the girl looked a bit confused, then said no coffee or tea yet. She then gave me my (room temperature) Coke Zero, and said, "Actually we do also have beer and wine, would you like something?" I politely declined and said "Maybe later".
I tried to watch the movie, plugging my headphones into the twin socket in the right-hand armrest but could get any sound to come out. I pressed the channel and volume buttons but nothing happened. I complained but she just asked if I had turned up the volume and then that she would look at the system. But she didn't come back and nothing changed. The film looking pretty boring anyway.
Lunch was served at 1400, followed by another round of free drinks. On the tray was a unappealing sauerkraut and carrot salad, a bread roll with cheese spread (the only thing I ate), a packet of two dark chocolate digestive biscuits, some butter, a packet of plastic cutlery, a wet wipe and a napkin, and a main course of lamb meat balls in a herb and tomato sauce with pureed potato and boiled carrots.
Rubbish was collected at 1455, followed by the offer of tea or coffee, and then duty-free.
ARRIVAL We landed at 1600, and disembarked from the front of the plane. I was at passport control by 1620, and straight through to baggage reclaim. There, I waited half an hour, by which time pretty much everyone else had collected their cases and gone.
At 1650 I went to queue at the desk to say my case hadn't arrived – it took some time to process the ten or so people on the same flight who'd had the same problem. The member of airport staff handling the claims said had had no messages from Heathrow but registered my complaint and said that two more Aegean flights were scheduled, one for 2200 and one at 0400 the following morning so it would hopefully arrive then if it had been left behind at Heathrow.
With no updates until the following lunchtime, I had no idea of what had happened to it, and it didn't arrive on either of the night flights. It eventually was delivered to my hotel 30 hours after my arrival in Athens, the night after I lost it.
VERDICT This would have been a very good short-haul flight, was it not for my suitcase being lost by Aegean Airlines' baggage-handling company Goldair. I was most upset with the lack of information I was given and no offer of apology or compensation. Though the hotel receptionist did say the airline would probably reimburse me for any clothes or toiletries I had to buy. As it was a Sunday, no shops were open so I couldn't buy anything anyway.
Subscribers can read our recent feature on lost luggage here.
PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class midweek flight in June ranged between £255 and £460 depending on flexibility. (The Go Light ticket is non-refundable and requires a fee of £40 for ticket changes and £25 for one piece of checked lugagge. The Flex fare includes one piece of lugagge up to 23kg, free changes and refunds for £50.)