Few airlines impress you as much as Volotea impressed me. It may come as a surprise for many, since the airline has quite a lot of negative publicity online and a lot of folks got in touch with me via Twitter and Instagram to ask questions about my experience and share their past experiences! I am glad my experience was so good!
We spent some time in the lake district – covering lakes around Geneva – Annecy region in Switzerland and France. Having reached Annecy from Geneva, the next stop was Dubrovnik, Croatia. We were trying to fit in flights in budget from Geneva until TW (The Wife) said that Lyon is also closer to Annecy. A quick search later, I was overjoyed! A new airline, a new aircraft type and two new airports – an Avgeeks dream!
What worked in favor was the cost was much lower than flying out of Geneva, while the cost to reach Geneva or Annecy was the same. Volotea it will be! On the B717 to Dubrovnik, from Lyon.
I remembered seeing Volotea B717 at Venice in 2015, while I was boarding my Easyjet flight. Little did I ever think back then that I would get a chance to fly Volotea. Being in India gives you flights on some of the newest aircraft in the world but never the rare ones, which are aplenty in USA and EU.
The airline website is hassle-free. Select the departure city, the arrival city search is narrowed down to only those cities which has connection from the departure city. Select the arrival city and the calendar gives only those days when there are flights. No question of going back and forth to see on which days there are flights. Impressed.
The search result gives out two fare options – a Standard one which is non-refundable, includes a hand bag and a free online check-in (more on this later) and a Megavolotea which also is non-refundable but is priced lower and comes with additional discounts. Megavolotea is a paid membership option which works like a loyalty program.
Before you proceed, the website allows you to lock the fare at a nominal fee (EUR 2.5) for 24 hours. Detailed filled up, the website had more options on offer. Seat + Flexible (allowing multiple changes and cancellation), combo Plus (check-in baggage + seat + priority boarding + Snack + flexible booking). I ignored both and went ahead with customization of flight. The seats were priced between EUR 15.5 to 5.5 (We took the ones with 6.5), priority boarding for EUR 6 (we did not opt), check-in at EUR 22.5 per bag (we had to opt), and option to purchase Airport Check-in at EUR 10 with a clear message that it would cost EUR 30 if you reach the airport without your boarding pass. There also was an option to book a snack which we did. (EUR 4)
The payment processing was seamless with Indian credit card and the tickets were on the screen and in my inbox along with the boarding pass which I promptly printed. It felt like I can board the flight at that very moment.
A lot of low cost carriers need to learn from the Volotea website and process but then again, a lot of LCCs in India and Asia rely on OTAs and Travel Agents for bookings whereas European LCCs are heavily investing in direct channel bookings.
Day of departure – check-in, airport, boarding
There weren’t many options to reach Lyon Airport from Annecy. We stayed in Lyon and had amazing Vietnamese meal the previous night and headed to airport the next morning. The airport is about an hour from the city center by road, with limited public transport options.
As we made our way to the check-in hall, we spotted the Volotea counters – just two and we were number 2 in sequence by the time we made our way through the maze of Q managers.
The polite staff took our passports and the boarding pass and asked us to place our bags on the weighing scale. Both bags within the limit, the bags were tagged and off we went to security. The fast-moving line had to stop as the Door Frame Metal Detector beeped when I passed. The usual drill took place and I was clear to proceed.
We roamed around the small terminal for a while. There hardly were any shopping or food options. Next stop was immigration – which was very quick. No stamping on the passport. Very quickly we were in the small SHA. This area had many plug points, none of which worked and two vending machines.
A quick look at FlightRadar24 showed the aircraft landing early and it did while I sipped some Lavazza coffee. At 0915 hours, the staff who were at check-in counters walked in to start the boarding process. We were in the last set of passengers to board and it was again a seamless process. The flight was full, not a single empty seat. This became Airline#53 for me.
The Boeing B717 had its first flight in 1998. A derivative of the DC-9 family, it was designated as MD-95 until Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas and rebranded it as B717. Only 156 were built, making it a rare flight for me. Volotea operates the aircraft with 125 economy class seats with 2×3 seating.
Flight – service, arrivals
The plane was showing its age but not its true age. EI-EXB, the ride for the day was a 16-year-old aircraft. We settled in and I noticed that there is no seat pocket, no reading material, no menu. The mandatory safety instructions pasted on the seat back. LCC at its best or is it ULCC?
We were soon ready for pushback and the crew started the safety demo immediately after closing doors. We taxied to runway 17R and had a powerful take off reminding me of MD 88. Amazing experience! The flight to Dubrovnik had a scheduled block time of 1 hour and 50 minutes. A few minutes post take-off, we stabilized at cruising altitude and the pilot made announcements on PA, which I did not understand.
The crew sprang into action and rolled the meal cart. While I kept wondering on what would be on offer, the crew handed over menu cards to us and to anybody else who wanted to see the menu.
Interestingly, it was just two of us who had pre-ordered the meal and none of the other bought the meal during the flight. We discussed on how the meal quality would be considering nobody else is inclined to purchase!
The meal comprised a coffee and muffin or croissant. We opted for one muffin and one croissant – both of which were good along with some hot and good black coffee. It was time to explore the aircraft. The B717 is one of the few aircraft who have an emergency exit door at the rear of the plane. I visited the washroom – much roomier than current generation of aircraft, saw the exit door at the back and was back at my seat watching the Italian countryside from 30,000 feet above the ground.
It was time to land soon and the descend seemed as steep as the climb! With a good view of the airport on the left, we banked sharply and landed on runway 30 at Dubrovnik Airport and parked at one of the many remote bays. As we deplaned, an American Airlines B767 took off to Philadelphia. Dubrovnik is making a mark on the international tourist circuit!
We were bussed to the terminal where lines formed for immigration. It was a seamless process and we were out in no time.
Definitely yes! I absolutely loved the way the airline is – Hassle Free, On-Time, Friendly and took us from A to B at affordable fares. There is a lot that airlines in India can learn from the experience of Volotea!