Background Czech Airlines is 91.5 per cent-owned by the Czech government, which recently put the state carrier up for sale. Initial bids have been received by four entities – fellow Skyteam airlines Air France-KLM and Aeroflot, as well as private equity investment firm Odien, and a joint bid by charter airline Travel Service and Czech company Unimex Group. The successful bidder is likely to be known in September.
Czech Airlines flies twice a day from London Heathrow to its base in Prague, departing at 0735 (arriving at 1030) and 1440 (arriving at 1745), and four times a week on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday departing at 2115 (arriving at 0015).
Check-in I travelled to Prague Ruzyne airport’s Terminal 1 (used for flights to non-Schengen countries) by public transport, taking the green underground line to its last stop at Dejvicka, before taking bus 119 to the airport. A ticket covering this two-part journey costs Kc26 (90p), plus an extra Kc13 (45p) for each large piece of luggage, and takes around 40 minutes from the city centre.
I arrived at the airport at 1045 for my 1235 departure on flight OK650, and headed for Zones 141-147, where there were five economy desks and two business class desks (one for check-in and one bag-drop). There was a family ahead of me at the business class desk, and I was waved to one of the economy desks, but having checked in I then had to head back to the business class desk to collect a lounge pass. A blue sticker on my boarding pass signified that I was eligible for the fast-track passport-check lane, and I was quickly airside.
The lounge My lounge pass said that I was welcome to use either of the two Crystal lounges “created by a famous Czech designer”, but asking at the reception of the first one (up a set of stairs from the shopping area) I was informed that the other lounge was in fact in Terminal 2, so I wouldn’t be able to use it.
The lounge is modern, with a business centre to the left of reception containing eight terminals and two printers. Just beyond reception is an area with a dining table and chairs, followed by a snack area that included two fridges with individual plastic containers of rice and salads. This section also had a set of high tables and chairs with several open bottles of red wine in display holders.
Past this is a relaxation area with a variety of newspapers and magazines, modern artwork, black leather and purple velvet chairs, and glass tables and light fittings, the Czech Republic being famous for its production of glass artefacts.
There is also a set of toilets and a shower to the left of this area. I took one of the (very comfortable) chairs facing the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the runway, and proceeded to watch aircraft land and take off for the next hour or so. Flights are not called unless they are delayed, but there are several departure screens, and when I looked at one at 1200 boarding had commenced, so I made my way to Gate B7 where the security check took place.
Boarding This commenced soon after I was through to the gate, and once on the aircraft, my coat was taken and a drink offered. In business class six out of the eight seats were taken, and I estimated economy was around three quarters full. We taxied on time and were airborne at 1245.
The seat There were two rows of business class (rows two and three, as the first row is now taken up by storage spaces) in a 2-2 layout, compared with three on the outbound flight. Czech Airlines uses the familiar strategy of the middle seat in business class being kept free and having a table attached to it. Seat stats are: 56-cm width, 89-cm pitch, and 25 degrees recline.
Where to sit? I was sat in seat 3A, with a passenger beside me. With only two rows in the cabin there was not a great choice of where to sit, but I would probably have opted for the front row, as it ensures there will be no disruption from the passenger in front reclining their seat. I noticed that the storage cupboard on the right-hand side was set a couple of inches further forward than that on the left, so if you’re after a little bit of extra legroom then opt for seats 2D or 2F.
The flight The pilot informed us that the flight time would be one hour and 35 minutes, setting us for a 1320 touchdown, taking into account the time difference. Once the seatbelt signs had been switched off, the meal service began, and tablecloths and with metal cutlery were provided. There was no menu and the chicken and noodles main course was pretty average. As with the outbound flight, however, the accompanying salad was crispy and fresh, and there was also a choice of warm rolls and a chocolate dessert.
Arrival Any hopes of an early arrival were dashed by the all too familiar “we have been placed in a holding pattern” announcement by the captain, and as I watched out of the window, at one point I could count at least six other aircraft circling the capital with us. We eventually landed at 1345, and it then took another 15 minutes before we had reached our stand and disembarkation started – such a difference between the swift and convenient arrival on the outbound flight. There was a silver lining, however, as IRIS was open, there was no one in the queue and it recognised me first time.
Verdict Good lounge facilities at Prague airport and friendly service on board. If only arrivals at Heathrow could be as hassle-free as at Prague on the outbound journey.
Price Return business class flights from London to Prague started from £293 online in late May.
By Mark Caswell