CHECK-IN I checked in online the day before, changing my seat to window seat 19A and sending my boarding pass to my iPhone, saving it in the Passbook application (you can access it easily offline and it sends you reminders throughout the day of when your flights is approaching).
I arrived the following day at Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International at 1700, with plenty of time to spare before my 1910 flight (A3608) to London Heathrow. As there was a Tube strike in London, I prebooked a taxi for my arrival. I actually wished I hadn't arrived so early as the airport was very quiet – Aegean had five bag drop desk open (between 127 and 131) and hardly any other passengers waiting.
If you haven't already done so online, you have to first check in and print out your boarding pass at one of the self-service kiosks, then go to a desk to bag-drop desk to check-in your luggage. (I was told at Heathrow to get a paper print out of my boarding pass so did the same here, simply scanning my mobile boarding pass in the machine to have one issued.) My case was swiftly tagged and whizzed away – I hoped that this time I would be reunited it with it immediately on arrival, not 30 hours later as with the outbound service. (Click here to read review.)
My flight was departing from Gate A5, so I followed the signs through the terminal to gates A1-39, filtering off to gates 1-5. En route, there was passport control, with two desks open and no one else waiting. As I discovered after I went through security (again quick, laptops and liquids out and jackets off), all the shops and cafes are landside, annoyingly. Gate 5 was directly after security and the quiet waiting area with views of the tarmac had plenty of seating.
There was an elderly Greek woman sitting with her pet dog (and its carry cage), waiting in the A5 seating area. I was surprised to see this, but assumed it must be allowed if it is classed a "comfort animal". However, when a fellow passenger stopped to ask her about it, she turned to address me instead as the old lady couldn't speak English and I was sitting near her.
She asked how come it was possible for her to be travelling with her dog and that she had a little one too that she would like to fly with. She then went to stroke it and it barked loudly, lunging forward suddenly to bite her. Luckily she managed to pull her hand back quickly enough, and backed away shocked. The old woman tutted. And that was the end of that.
BOARDING There was an announcement at 1830 that the London Heathrow flight would actually board from Gate A3 not A5, so I got up and walked the short distance to the new waiting area. At 1835, business class and Star Alliance Gold passengers were then called for boarding first. People were then instructed to board in the following order, beginning with those seated in rows 25-34, 15-24 and finally one to 14.
Due to a large amount of cabin baggage on the plane, there was then a call for people to voluntarily place their suitcases in the hold at no extra charge. I got up to board at 1900, taking my seat at 1910.
THE SEAT I was in 19A, over the wing. The A321-200 was configured 3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-F), with three rows at the front for business class (middle seats kept free) and no row 13. The rows are numbered up to 34 (33 in total without row 13.) The exit row in the middle of the plane was nine (seats B-C and D-E only), and offered loads of extra space to stretch out. The layout also meant window seats A and F in row ten also had extra legroom.
The clean, fairly new looking Recaro seats are pale grey plastic upholstered with navy blue leather. Seat-back pockets came with copies of Aegean's in-house Blue travel magazine and a duty-free guide. 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. Overhead screens dropped down on both sides of the aircraft – in my case, the closest screen was above the row in front (18), which was ideal.
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 will be among the last to board though. If you are travelling alone, you should also avoid middle seats B and E. Exit row seats in nine (B-C and D-E) and window seats (A and F) in row ten offer extra legroom. Washrooms are at the back of the plane for economy passengers. Business class is separated by a curtain.
THE FLIGHT We pushed back from the gate at 1920, taking off at 1935. Once airborne, at 1950, headphones were handed round for the in-flight entertainment (channel one). The film turned out to be The Artist, which I had already seen, so I didn't watch it.
The food and drink service began from the front of the plane at 2000, with the front trolley handing out trays of food and the back trolley serving beverages (soft drinks, wine and beer). I had tried to order a vegetarian meal when I checked in online but it was too late (you have to do it when you book) - however, I asked if they had one on the off-chance and amazingly they did.The only thing was it would take 15 minutes as they would have to go and heat it up. (No problem at all.)
My meal was a tomato and roasted vegetable pasta (a bit soft but nice anyway), a carrot and white cabbage rape salad (bland and boring), some sliced fruit and a roll with margarine. The regular meal was chicken and rice, an aubergine salad, a chocolate wafer bar and a roll with cheese spread.
Trays were collected at about 2145. I slept for a bit, worked and read for the duration of the flight. We were racing the setting sun and, by 2200, were starting to lose to the darkness which meant a beautiful orange sunset on the horizon.
ARRIVAL The four-hour flight landed on time, touching down in London at 2310 Greek time (2110 local time). There was a ten-minute taxi to the gate before disembarkation via an airbridge, and then a long walk to immigration. It took about ten minutes for my suitcase to appear downstairs in baggage reclaim.
VERDICT An excellent short-haul flight with free alcohol, food and an in-flight movie. I was impressed to be given a vegetarian meal even though I hadn't managed to order one in advance.
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.)