Symi Visitor Accommodation Travel Blog

Flights, ferries, and travel tips to help visitors to the Greek island of Symi

Symi Visitor Travel blog

Summer flights – what’s the delay?

So following on from the ferries post, here’s some detail on why flight times for summer 2018 are coming out somewhat later than those for previous years did.

Brussels Airlines have taken over the airline part of Thomas Cook Belgium. They will be flying from Brussels non stop to both Rhodes and Kos, but are still finalising details for release later this month.

Air Berlin/Niki/TUIfly Germany/easyJet/Eurowings/Lufthansa is a tangled mess waiting for competition authority approval, affecting flights to Rhodes and Kos from Germany and Austria. As most people know by now, Air Berlin has closed down due to insolvency. A large chunk of Air Berlin itself, plus the “leisure airline” subsidiary Niki that did the holiday flights this year, and German domestic airline LGW, have been bought by Lufthansa, and are to be folded into their Eurowings subsidiary. Some planes in Air Berlin colours are already flying for Eurowings or for Lufthansa itself, but full regulatory approval is required before the process is completed. As both Eurowings and Niki flew between Germany and Rhodes/Kos in 2017, there is bound to be some consolidation of routes/flights.

easyJet has bought another chunk of Air Berlin, mostly the planes (and their crews) based in Berlin itself, and requires regulatory approval before restarting operations. They already have some of their own planes and crews based in Berlin, and flights to Rhodes are on sale up to the end of August 2018. Again, expect some consolidation. Still on the easyJet front, right across Europe flights for September and October 2018 have yet to be released, but are promised for later this month.

TUIfly Germany, in a bizarre agreement, used to lease some Boeing 737 planes at an exceptionally expensive rate to Air Berlin, who operated them on TUI services, losing money in the process. With the bankruptcy, the leases have terminated and the planes have returned to TUI, who now need to hire crews to operate them, and decide if the routes are viable without what was effectively a subsidy per flight from Air Berlin.

In the UK the collapse of Monarch has freed up slots at Birmingham, London Gatwick, Leeds Bradford, Manchester, and London Luton. The liquidators have gone to court in an attempt to prove the slots are assets that can be sold. The court has ruled that an airline has to have a current Air Operations Certificate in order to trade slots. Monarch’s was suspended at the moment it stopped flying. The administrators plan to appeal, but in the meantime the court has allowed the slots at Birmingham, Leeds, and Luton to be returned to the unallocated pool, and other airlines can apply to use them for any destination they like. Reallocation of Gatwick and Manchester slots, which are in high demand, has been stayed pending a final decision on whether an appeal will be allowed and if so, the decision. A number of airlines will bid for Gatwick and/or Manchester slots, but are unlikely to use them for the same routes Monarch did.

Summer travel

People are beginning to ask about summer flights and ferries, not surprisingly. However, as usual, much of the information required simply isn’t available yet.

Lets review what we know and don’t know, and when we might expect more information:

Ferries: At the moment Dodekanisos Seaways times are available up to 31 March 2018. On past performance they will release the bulk of the summer timetable in January or February 2018, with the through sailings to Samos a little later (these depend on government contracts which probably won’t be finalised so soon). Expect roughly the same as 2017, which would be a morning boat from Rhodes to Symi non-stop every day from May to October, and an afternoon one back again. The return of afternoon/evening sailings from Rhodes would be a big surprise, as these were loss making, unless of course somebody comes forward with a subsidy.

Blue Star times are available up to 31 January 2018. In previous years the summer schedule appeared around Christmas, but this year they have two things to deal with, the damage to the Blue Star Patmos, which has disrupted their winter overhaul plans, and the fact that their parent company, Attica Enterprises, is taking over a competitor, Hellenic Seaways, if the competition authorities permit. The takeover will mean redeployment of ships to reduce duplication and right-size the ship capacity to the route, and the Superfast XII, a stalwart of summer fast Piraeus-Rhodes sailings, will leave the fleet, so another vessel will need to be used. In summer 2017 they called at Symi three times a week in each direction on their stopping Piraeus-Rhodes journeys, on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday mornings going towards Rhodes, and on Wednesday, Friday, and Monday afternoons going from Rhodes. The Sunday/Monday calls happened from the last weekend in June to the first weekend in September only. Wednesday and Friday calls are under contract to the government, and a new tender period opens soon, but it is difficult to see who else is equipped to bid on the route. If the new ferry quay on Symi is open for business by summer, it is always possible some of their larger ships might call instead of the Paros/Naxos/Patmos/Delos which are currently the only ships in the fleet that fit into Yialos.

Sea Dreams might wake from their winter dreaming around Easter, but as their main business is daytrippers, don’t expect much before then from them. In 2017, after they had repaired the major engine fault on their ferry ‘Symi’, there was a daily non-stop morning service from Rhodes to Symi and a slow afternoon sailing via Panormitis back again, and they had a Sunday evening round trip from Rhodes to Symi and back as well. It remains to be seen if this appears in 2018.

Finally ANES, Symi’s own shipping line, will inevitably return to its home island sooner or later. Will 2018 be the year? Each year there are rumours, sooner or later they’ll be correct, but right now they haven’t even applied for permission to operate to Symi for 2018. Plenty of time yet though.

Oh, and there’s a government tender out for three sailings a week from Rhodes to Tilos direct and two sailings a week Rhodes-Symi-Tilos, over and above the calls on the Piraeus service. Last time this was offered, nobody tendered. Maybe the Sea Star, going through an agonisingly slow overhaul near Piraeus, will reappear in the Dodecanese?

Flights in the next posting!

 

Andy’s Travels – October 2017

I usually visit Symi in October for one of my annual fixes of island life. This year was no exception, but to prove the point I’ve made several times in previous versions of this blog, you do not need to use the same airline in both directions. In fact you don’t even need to use the same airport, but that’s a topic for another time.

So this year I caught the 05:30 easyJet flight from London Gatwick to Rhodes – on Wednesdays and Fridays (and Mondays in high summer) this allows a same-day ferry connection to Symi. Combined with their night-before baggage drop-off facility and a night in a local hotel, the early start isn’t so fearsome. Despite the use of the dreaded 100-series departure gates (a lengthy hike down windowless corridors, up an endless escalator, on travelators along a high bridge over taxiways, and back down the other side) the plane departed on time, and arrived 20 minutes early into Rhodes. Immigration was fast, baggage reclaim quite reasonable, and I was soon walking through the scrum outside the arrivals doors, out of the terminal, and across the road into one of the large number of waiting taxis.

An unusual route, to avoid roadworks, saw the taxi using the cross-island road through Maritsa to join the main East Coast road, and approach Rhodes Town from the south-east. As there were several hours to wait before the Blue Star Paros was due to leave from the Akandia area of Rhodes Town’s port, I asked to be dropped off at the Mouragio taverna opposite the quay entrance. Here you can have anything from a drink to a full meal, and prices are reasonable.

Around an hour before ferry departure time, I trundled my bag across the road and along the newly built walkway into Akandia port complex. The Blue Star ferries are very large and clearly visible. Their ticket office is sensibly placed just before you reach the actual ferry berth. There’s no need and no point to prebook on Blue Star (though possibly on some other shipping lines) from Rhodes to Symi, their ships hold between 1400 and 2000 people, and at this point in the journey never have more than 300-400 on board. Buy your ticket when you reach the ticket office, they’ll ask for your passport or ID card to make sure they spell your name correctly on the ticket. Walk to the ship (make sure it’s the right ship, the names are in very large letters, and they won’t let you on the wrong one). One of the crew will probably intercept you, ask you your destination and either stow your bag for you in racks labelled with the destination, or show you where the rack is, depending on how many other passengers arrive at the same time. Then show your ticket, they’ll tear off two sections, leaving you with one. Up the escalator, and you’re on the main deck. These ships have lots of decks, including open areas for seaviews, sunshine and smoking. There are cafe-bars both waiter service and counter-service, and either a fast-food outlet or a self service restaurant, depending on which ship is in use.

In an hour and a half, you’ll be in Symi. There are announcements, make your way back down to the entrance, pick up your bag from the racks, and prepare to disembark. This is a mad rush as a couple of hundred people, several motorbikes, cars and trucks, all try to get off as fast as possible, and the crew try to stop them colliding or falling overboard. But very soon you’re on dry land and can relax. In my case, I was greeted by Wendy of Symi Visitor Accommodation, and was immediately on Symi time.

Unfortunately, two weeks later, and I had to leave again. My return flight was booked with British Airways (Club Class, no less) and was in the evening. This allowed me to leave on the afternoon Dodekanisos Seaways Panagia Skiadeni ferry. It is important to allow at least 3 hours between scheduled ferry arrival in Rhodes and scheduled plane departure, preferably more. I had 2 hours 55 minutes, but then I’ve done it so many times before.

Here I did book the ferry a couple of days before with Symi Tours, the local agents, to make sure it wasn’t completely filled with returning day trippers from Rhodes. Same procedure with the bags as on Blue Star, both boarding and alighting. Here with my relatively tight timing I made sure I was right at the front of the mob waiting to get off, because although there are plenty of taxis meeting the arrival, I couldn’t afford to wait for extras to arrive if the ones there all filled up. Yet another roadworks-avoiding route, this time up Monte Smith past the Acropolis and down again to the coast at Ixia. As torrential rain started, the driver was forced to go slower than he probably wished to, but still I got to the airport 2 hours before scheduled departure.

Unusually for a Wednesday or Saturday evening, the airport was merely busy rather than horribly overcrowded. Flight departed on time and arrived into London Gatwick 25 minutes early. In a truly spectacular performance Gatwick got me through UK immigration, and baggage reclaim, into an airport hotel, checked in, and into my bedroom within those 25 minutes, so all settled before I should even have arrived.

End October airline update

So Air Berlin is no more,  last flights were Saturday. A large part, including “summer sun” subsidiary Niki, which operated to Rhodes, has been sold to Lufthansa, and quite a few former Air Berlin flights are operating under the Lufthansa low-cost Eurowings brand already. A smaller bit, some 25 planes worth, will be sold to easyJet, mostly operating out of Berlin Tegel. They will fly a skeleton service during the winter and expand for the summer timetable.

We’ll need to hold on for a bit to see what the summer 2018 service from Germany and Austria to Rhodes and Kos will look like, given these changes.

Thomas Cook Belgium has been sold to Brussels Airlines, who will continue to operate flights associated with their package holidays.

Winter mode on

After quite a busy weekend, Symi is now almost tourist-less as the end of season approaches alarmingly fast.

Many left this morning, including the visiting teams who  have been playing in the island’s junior football tournament, more, including me,  leave this afternoon.  Most direct flights to the rest of Europe end by Saturday when the international airline timetable change takes place.

Day trippers are getting fewer too. Three boats have arrived from Rhodes so far today, but only about 70 people have got off.

The Symi Bus is also now on the winter timetable, there is no 15:00 from Yialos/ 15:30 from Pedi, and the last bus from Yialos is now 21:00.

The weather is breaking up a little too. Yesterday saw some periods of heavy rain ,though late afternoon was sunny and the evening dry and warm. This morning everyone was woken up by thunder at 6am, but there was only light rain and now the sun is drying things up.

The Symi Bus

Residents and regular visitors will know the medium sized yellow bus that squeezes its way round the harbourside and through Chorio. For those who don’t, it provides an hourly service between Yialos, Chorio and Pedi all year round. Departures from Yialos are on the hour, from Pedi on the half hour. The first bus is at 8am, the time of the last one varies seasonally, currently 10pm but as late as 1 am in high season. In the off season there may be a timetable gap at 3pm while the driver takes his mealbreak. There’s a flat fare of €1.50 for all passengers and journeys.

This year the bus business is booming. Long term owner-driver Lakis has been joined over recent years by his son, which explains why they can  manage more departures than previously. For 2017 Lakis Travel has arrived. There’s a second vehicle, a silver coach-seated one that is used for transfers and private hires, a travel agency on the harbourfront, and cars for hire.

The yellow bus was delivered with tinted film on the windows to cut down solar glare and keep the inside cooler. Over time this was defaced by children and eventually removed. The bus now features Contravision – externally applied adverts for local businesses that do the same job the solar film did, still allows passengers to see out, and provides Lakis Travel with some extra revenue. No doubt those visitors who think nothing on Symi should ever change between their infrequent trips to the island will complain, they’d probably prefer the green Mercedes minibus with rusted floor of 20 years ago.

One thing that few will object to is the standard of service, though. On Wednesday evening the yellow bus refused to start at 10pm. Just as the 11 or so passengers were resigning themselves to walking home, the driver announced smoothly that there would be a 2 minute delay while he fetched another bus. And within the two minutes, the silver Lakis Travel coach appeared, and took us off up the hill – admittedly via Yialos Square as it needed to be turned round because it was facing the wrong direction. Another Symi  first – a relief bus!

 

Winter ferries – part 2

Blue Star are in the middle of releasing their schedules for the first part of the winter,up to the end of January 2018.

So far the main result is confusion. There’s no doubt that the Blue Star Paros will continue to serve Symi throughout this period, as the Patmos is still under repair.

The Friday sailings are exactly as they have been last winter and all this summer (leave Piraeus 15:00 Thursday afternoon, calling at Kalymnos, Kos, Nissyros, Tilos, Symi (o7:45 Friday morning) Rhodes (09:10 Friday morning) and Kastellorizo. The return sailing leaves Rhodes at 19:00 Friday evening and calls at Symi at 20:30 before returning to Piraeus by the same route as outbound.

Based on Blue Star’s on line booking system, and information from the local agent, Symi Tours, the Wednesday calls will have the same arrangements as last winter. However the online timetable  differs!

Assuming that the booking system  is accurate, Blue Star Paros will leave Piraeus 15:00 Tuesday afternoon,call at Patmos, Lipsi, Leros, Kalymnos, and Kos, reaching Symi at 05:50 Wednesday and Rhodes 07:05, then continuing to Karpathos. On the return journey she’ll leave Rhodes at 18:00 and Symi at 19:30. The Patmos was able to keep this schedule but I have doubts about the Paros. Her top speed is a little less, and the layout of the vehicle decks means more time at each stop loading and unloading. So this may simply be the best of a bad job, and some late running might be expected.

Finally, we can also expect odd calls by the third weekly sailing the Paros makes between Piraeus, Rhodes and return. Blue Star seem agreeable to diverting this via Symi if enough passengers or vehicles are likely to make it worthwhile. Both weekends of Panormitis festival will see this.
SymiferriesW17-18

Getting to Symi – the last bits

Although my last blog post covered getting to Symi overland, most visitors actually approach via Rhodes Airport, with a smaller number using Kos Airport. This post describes the arrival process  at Rhodes, getting to the port, and selecting and catching a ferry. Kos will be covered  in a  later blog.

When you arrive at Rhodes Airport you’ll notice that it has no airbridges, the links from plane to terminal. Instead you’ll get off using stairs (make a mental note of the name on the side of the stairs), and usually squeeze into a bus for the very short journey to the terminal, where you’ll be dropped at a ramp leading down into the building. The right hand set of doors at the end of the ramp are for passengers on flights from inside the Schengen Area (most of the EU and EEA countries except UK, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia), and the left hand set, which takes you through Immigration, for everyone else. Don’t use the wrong doors, at best you’ll get shouted at, at worst arrested.

Whichever set you use, you’ll eventually end up in Baggage Reclaim. There are four sets of conveyor belts, with screens to show you which belt your flight will use. Rhodes doesn’t have a good reputation for fast baggage return, due to package holiday airlines scheduling their arrivals too  close together, though in practice domestic flights are speedy enough. While you’re waiting you can use the toilets but there’s not much else to do. Hopefully your bag won’t take too long and you’ll soon be on your way. If it doesn’t appear or is damaged you need to speak to the handling agent (could be Goldair, Skyserv or Swissport) who deals with your airline before you leave the airport. You can tell which by the name on the stairs you used to leave the plane. Their offices are in the baggage reclaim area or in the departures area (gates 1-14 zone). Leave the baggage reclaim area by the doors at the far end. Customs officers appear if there are passengers who started their journey outside the EU, otherwise just walk straight through, into a zone full of tour operators reps and taxi drivers holding signs with peoples’ names on. Unless you arranged a taxi when you booked your accommodation on Symi, keep going through the next set of doors into the outside world.

Now you have a choice – straight ahead across the drop-off area you’ll find the taxi rank – be careful crossing, driving can be erratic and you may be tired. The fare to Rhodes Town, including the port, is fixed, not metered, and currently is €25.00 per trip – up to 4 people. There are usually plenty of taxis but at busy times solo travellers may be asked to share with others going in the same direction, if this happens the fare is €25 per person or group, this is quite legal and you aren’t being ripped off. If you are going straight to the port, tell the driver the name of the ship you want and he’ll get you to the right quayside as close to the ship as possible.

Alternatively there is a bus service, two or three buses an hour between 6am and midnight in summer. Turn left and walk along the side of the terminal past the first departures zone until you reach the bus shelter by a little seating area. Ideally you need to get tickets before the bus arrives as it is dearer if you pay on board, the cafe-bar in the departures area (desks 15-36 zone, door near the bus shelter) sells them for €2.50 per person. If you intend to come back on the bus as well you can stock up on tickets as each ticket works for one journey in either direction, the driver cancels the ticket you use as you get on. Luggage accommodation is limited, and the buses stop along the way, but the service is much faster than it used to be, about 40 minutes on average to the terminus behind the Nea Agora building near Mandraki Harbour. You can also buy tickets from the driver at €2.60 per person (but you’ll probably need some Euro coins as change can be a problem).

Look for buses marked Rodos Center, some start at the airport and some start at points further west and call in on their way to Rhodes Town.The same bus stop is used for buses going to and from Rhodes Town so do make sure it is going in the right direction before you board. These are usually blue and white buses, but there are some in advertising liveries.

If you have decided to catch one of the high speed catamarans to Symi, these leave from Kolonna quay on the Rhodes waterfront. This is right by Rhodes Old Town walls (there’s a Kolonna Gate through the  wall) and is  an easy bag-trundle from the bus terminus at Averoff St. All other ferries to Symi leave from Akandia quay, which is  a long way further on.  I have walked it, but don’t intend to do it again on a hot day with baggage! If your ferry leaves from or arrives at Akandia, you are best advised to use a taxi. Akandia is served by Rhodes Town buses 6 and 12, but a peculiarity of the town service buses is that they have circular routes and only go one way round the circle. There is a flat fare regardless of distance, so going the long way round the circle isn’t any more expensive as long as you have 45 minutes to spare. If you still want to use these buses, the 12 runs hourly up to 3pm, and takes you to Akandia directly. The 6 runs hourly all day long and is a quick way from Akandia to the centre. These routes use a terminal on the seafront side of the road at Mandraki Harbour. Taxis can be picked up from the central taxi station at the Old Town end of the Nea Agora. A local journey to Akandia will be charged on the meter.

You won’t be able to find any ferry times for summer 2018 for several months yet. The three operators are Dodekanisos  Seaways, who release their times early in the New Year, Blue Star who will probably do  it just before Christmas, and Sea Dreams, probably at Easter. Once the times are released, advance booking becomes possible, and is a good idea for the catamarans, but totally unnecessary for the Rhodes to Symi journey on Blue Star’s vast 1400-person capacity ships. There are ticket offices (or in some cases huts) right next to the mooring point of each company, and you can collect prebooked tickets or buy them direct there. Despite appearances to the contrary, you don’t need to find the main port agency to do this.

Baggage reclaim at Rhodes Airport

Overland to Symi

Well of course Symi is an island, so there’s always an element of ferry travel involved, but people can and do get here from Northern and Western Europe by car or rail. I covered this before in a now-lost post, but the information is updated to this week. For the rail options I cannot do better than refer you to that excellent website operated by The Man in Seat 61. 

There were once several international rail routes into Greece, but now there are only a couple of trains a day, so the alternative is to travel by train to one of the Italian Adriatic ports, catch a ferry from there to the Greek ports of Patras or Igumenitsa, express bus to Piraeus, and ferry for the final leg.

For the road option, I acknowledge the help given by the trustees and volunteers of the charity Next Stop Symi, who make regular trips by van from the UK to Symi as part of their work in delivering aid supplies to refugees in Greece, and are here collecting supplies from the depot on Symi for transfer to Rhodes and Athens.

Their preferred route again involves the Adriatic coast of Italy,which they find the quickest and easiest.While it is perfectly possible to drive through Bosnia/Serbia/Montenengro/Albania/FYROM on a variety of routes, as these countries are not EU members there can be customs and visa issues, there will certainly be border delays, and you need more expensive vehicle insurance.

Getting to the Adriatic coast does depend where you start from in Europe. All Alpine crossings are expensive to use, and both Austria and Switzerland require you to purchase and display a “vignette” showing you have paid local road taxes for your transit of each country.

Ports with frequent ferry links to Greece are: Venice; Ancona; Brindisi and Bari. It is a tradeoff between more time on the road and so more fuel used and road tolls incurred, and more time onboard ship and higher fares. The two main shipping lines are the ANEK/Superfast consortium and Minoan/Grimaldi, there are also some less reliable independents.

On the Greek side, some ferries use the port of Patras, some Igumenitsa, and some both. Igumenitsa offers a shorter sea crossing but a longer drive to get to your next stop (accompanied by more road tolls). You’re aiming for Piraeus, the port of Athens, which has daily sailings by Blue Star to Kos and Rhodes, two  or sometimes three a week of which call at Symi on the way.

Next Stop Symi offer two final invaluable tips: Always keep the ferry ticket stubs for your crossing from Italy. If you bring a motor vehicle into Greece for over 6 months, you must re-register it in Greece and pay import duty. The ticket stubs are your only proof of when your vehicle arrived, without them it may be impounded.

Oh, and have a teddy bear on board with you. The sight seems to make tollbooth operators and customs officers stop being officious and start laughing.

More airline news – October 2017

The last of the repatriation flights for Monarch customers leave today. In fact the last flight from Rhodes would have been yesterday, but so few people remained to be carried that they were bought seats on regular flights instead as a cheaper option. The same will happen for anyone who has a Monarch ticket, with ATOL protection,  from Rhodes dated up to 28 October, which would have been the last flight of the year. One result has been that direct flights from Rhodes to UK destinations, along with flights via Athens, have virtually sold out for the rest of this month and the beginning of next.

The bulk of Air Berlin has been sold to Lufthansa, this includes operations that Air Berlin had been flying under contract for Lufthansa and its lowcost subsidiary Eurowings; and Air Berlin’s subsidiaries LGW (mainly German domestic flights) and Niki. It is Niki that interests us most as it is the part of Air Berlin that operates the summer sun routes to Rhodes from Germany and Austria. However, Niki is registered in Austria, and the Austrian competition authorities have launched an investigation. Some of the Air Berlin operations out of Berlin itself, and the aircraft maintenance division, are rumoured to be sold to easyJet.

Alitalia has a life extension – a further bridging loan from the Italian government which should last until March 2018.

Having failed to find a buyer for the entire airline ,they’re now trying to  sell it in pieces. My recommendation is still to avoid booking with Alitalia as anything might happen.