Seeking a nonstop and inexpensive flight between Santorini and Rome, we ultimately booked well in advance 2 seats on Blu Express, a sister airline of Blu Panorama. This flight was reasonably priced at €90 per person one-way plus €40 for two checked bags. All in we were toughly at €230 for the two of us.
Our other options were more expensive or involved a connection. Vueling was the only other nostop flight on our date of departure but it required us to depart after midnight from Santorini. At booking I noticed the flight was an all Economy configuration and there was “open seating” similar to that of Southwest Airlines. I had checkin in online which emails you PDF boarding passes but I didn’t have a way to print them. There are no mobile boarding pass options.
Our flight was scheduled for departure from Santorini (Thira/JTR) Airport at 4:35 PM. We were told 2 hours before departure was a good arrival time but on Blu Express’ website, they stated the check-in desks open “up to 2 hours and 45 minutes before departure”. We skipped the pricier taxi and rode the Santorini bus system to the airport which put us at the airport at about 2:15 PM, 2 hours and 20 minutes before departure. As we were unloading from the bus, I saw two very long lines pouring from the ticket counters onto the sidewalk outside.
I had Chris go ahead and get in line while I confirmed with an airport agent we were in the right line. I caught the airport agent at just the right time in the lobby because that was the last time I saw an airport agent until we reached the check-in desk. She confirmed we should be in the line on the right side of the building entrance. There were about four other flights checking in at this time, most wtih very long lines as well. There were about 75 people in line in front of us.The line did not begin moving until the check-in desks opened a little less than two hours before departure.
The check-in line snaked through the departures hall, even criss-crossing other airlines’ check-in lines, causing a bit of confusion. On top of that, there were several very rude passengers in our line that were cutting in front of other passengers. The line moved very slowly and many passengers were become quite frustrated that the line was moving so slowly. We ultimately didn’t reach the baggage check-in desk until 30 minutes before departure. 1 hour and 50 minutes in line!
We grabbed our boarding passes and dropped our bags at secruity. I noticed we had assigned seats on our boarding passes so this was different from what I had expected. I was pleased this was the case. Secruity was fairly prompt and look less than 10 minutes. Our gate was immediately after security and we were able to scan our boarding passes and board our bus to the gate rather quickly.
At Santorini Airport, all gates are bus gates with stairs for boarding. I was over the crowds and line for the time being so I was pleased that our bus to the gate only had a handful of people on it. Once we reached the plane, we boarded the our 737-800 via the rear stairs as we were seated in 23 A and 23 B. The crew politely greeted us as we boared. The plane was still only about half even though last call for boarding was announced when we boarded the bus. I would assume the flight was held a bit since the check-in line was so long and delayed.
The plane was painted in “Blue Panorama” livery even though officially this flight was operated as “Blu Express”. The seats were cloth with striped print. They were quite padded and reminiscent of airline seats of the 1990s. Legroom was pretty standard for Economy at around 30-31”. Recline was also standard for Economy class. The overhead bins were nearly empty. Maybe everyone checked bags? That could explain the long baggage lines!
Ultimately, we were on our way for take-off only about 15 minutes behind schedule. We took of over the island of Santorini and reached cruising altitude in less than 10 minutes. The seat-belt sign was turned off after that.
About 10 minutes later, the crew brought out the drink and snack cart. Water was complimentary but everything else was for purchase. I planned to buy a Coca Cola. But as the cart pulled up, I glanced away for 10 seconds and the crew barreled down the aisle and skipped me. They were in a complete hurry to get done with the in-flight service. I even tried flagging down a crew member a bit later and I was ignored. Wow.
We began the descent into Rome about 15 minutes out and the crew had everyone turn off and remove headphones. I know this rule varies by country and airline but it’s been a few years since I had to do this in-flight. We landed in Rome right on scheduled and taxied to our bus gate at Terminal 3. Thanks to deplaning both from the front and rear, deplaning was quick. We made the short walk to the baggage claim and retrieved our bags fairly quickly.
So the final verdict? I give Blu Express a thumbs down. The overall experience was draining and the flight experience pretty negative. However, half the stress of the journey was due to the inefficiency of Santorini Airport rather than the airline. But the poor service by the crew on Blu Express was no winner either.
While I can’t recommend Blu Express as a quality airline, they are a very affordable option to and from Italy and sometimes a quick and inexpensive nonstop flight is worth of few minor kinks.