Symi Visitor Accommodation Travel Blog

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

Symi Visitor Travel blog

Week One January flights update

The European airline industry continues to be in a state of confusion. First International Airlines Group (owns Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia and Vueling) made a successful bid for the Niki division of Air Berlin and planned to operate something like 25 planes out of bases in Austria and Germany. Then a so-called consumer group filed a lawsuit that blocked this, apparently in the hope that it would make it easier for people who were owed money by Air Berlin to get it back. You can tell that the group appears to consist mainly of ambulance-chasing lawyers, because they’ve forgotten that if Niki had resumed flying, a large number of people who had booked tickets for dates in the future would have actually got their flights. Now these people simply join the queue for partial refunds with the people the lawyers represent. The pot of money available to make payments from hasn’t got any larger, indeed it is smaller, because IAG were buying Niki off the liquidators. So everyone now gets less, except the lawyers who won’t make a proportionate reduction in their fees, I’m sure.

Next Thomas Cook Group has bought five planes-worth of flying from the liquidators of Air Berlin, but plan to use one of the Air Berlin companies as the operating company, not its existing German airline business, Condor. Why isn’t yet known.

EasyJet’s purchase of a chunk of Air Berlin has gone through and they are now operating flights out of Berlin Tegel as well as their existing ones from Berlin Schoenfeld. At the moment this is mostly with subcontracted planes and crews, while ex-Air Berlin planes are refitted to EasyJet standard and the crews trained on EasyJet safety and operational procedures. There’s no effect on the operations to Rhodes for this summer, which continue to be from Schoenfeld.

In Italy, the endless Alitalia sale saga continues. Lufthansa is the preferred bidder, and now details are being worked on. Don’t expect a resolution until after the upcoming Italian General Election, as significant cutbacks and job losses are inevitable.

In the UK, British Airways has acquired the London Gatwick slots used last summer by Monarch. They have announced the flying programme, which includes an extra flight to Rhodes on Mondays. There isn’t time to get planes and crews to cover all the slots, so some flights, including this extra Rhodes one, will be subcontracted to the specialist UK charter operator Titan, who have a relationship as a BA supplier extending back for many years, and know how to operate to (and often exceed) BA’s service standards.

In all these changes, I’m hearing people saying “but I was on the such-and-such flight last year and it was full, why isn’t anyone operating it this year?”. The fact that a plane is full doesn’t mean the flight is profitable, it all depends on the cost of operation and the fares that were charged. Bear in mind that Air Berlin and Monarch actually went bankrupt, and Alitalia only avoids bankruptcy by loans from the Italian government, so quite clearly even their full flights weren’t actually profitable. Well run airlines (which obviously doesn’t include these three) also cull full flights because they believe they can make more money elsewhere with the same planes and crews.

So here’s the updated flight schedule from the UK to Rhodes and Kos for summer 2018, no doubt there will be even more changes in a few weeks when the final slot details for charter and semi-charter flights are released.

Expect the listings for several more countries (though not Germany, I’m afraid) to appear this week.

 

Blue Star Ferries update

Blue Star have started loading their timetables from February onwards. This is obviously a work in progress, as there are gaps in the operating dates and occasionally the same ferry appears in two different places at the same time. but hopefully the whole timetable will appear soon.

What appears likely is that the Blue Star Paros will disappear off the route through Symi after 13 January for annual overhaul, being replaced by the Blue Star Delos until the end of January. The Delos is the only ship Blue Star has that can fit into Symi Harbour but hasn’t yet done so, and local ship enthusiasts will no doubt be happy to see her. From February 1 everyone will be delighted by the return of the Blue Star Patmos fresh from the repair yard (if the work is finished on time), and she should stay on the route at least until 22nd June all summer. Less popular will be the continuation of the winter times on Wednesday mornings allowing the ship to continue to Karpathos up to the end of May and for October. People may appreciate the Wednesday sailing from Rhodes to Symi being at 18:00 rather more! Between late June and the beginning of September the Wednesday morning sailing from Symi to Rhodes will be at 06:40, otherwise it is 05:45.

Then at the beginning of September, the Paros returns for a couple of months, still on the winter Wednesday times (but also appears to operate daily between Piraeus and Mykonos, so both timetables can’t be right).

We don’t yet know which ship will appear from 23 June, and whether the 3 ferries a week we saw in high season 2017 will reappear in 2018.

In high season 2017 Blue Star had three sailings a week in each direction through Symi. Apparently this was in part an experiment and in part due to the use of the Paros, which wouldn’t otherwise have been able to handle all the vehicle traffic on offer. Things return to the usual 2 sailings in each direction for summer 2018, but the Patmos has much greater vehicle carrying capacity.

The Rhodes-Piraeus fast services are very much up in the air at the moment. There are strong rumours of the return of Diagoras (which has spent the last year or so shuttling between Spain and Morocco) to cover the annual overhaul periods of Blue Star 1 and 2, and something (probably not Diagoras) will need to appear in the Dodecanese to replace Superfast XII which has been operating alongside Blue Star 2 for the last couple of years, but will leave the fleet if the merger with Hellenic Seaways goes ahead.

 

First summer 2018 ferry news

To my complete amazement, the winner of the “First Ferry Operator to Release Summer 2018 Symi Timetable” award is – Sea Dreams. In previous years we’ve been lucky to find out when they expected to start up for the summer a week before they actually did. But they’ve actually managed to announce their plans while it is still 2017!

Admittedly the service plan is very simple and very predictable. The ferry “Symi” will start operations on 9th April, sailing on Mondays. Fridays, and Sundays at 09:00 from Rhodes to Symi direct and at 14:35 from Symi to Rhodes via Panormitis.

From 1st May the full summer service begins, with daily sailings at the same times (except on Sundays when the ship departs Rhodes at 10:00 via Panormitis to Symi, returning at 17:30 direct to Rhodes. This service is planned to continue until 31st October.

Note, no early morning or evening extras, just the basic round trips.

One tip – don’t rush off and book because you simply must have a booking. No you don’t. Firstly there’s no guarantee the timetable will remain unchanged – it certainly changed in 2017, secondly there are other operators (Dodekanisos Seaways and Blue Star, and maybe more) whose times might suit you  better once you know them, and thirdly none of the ferries to Symi ever gets remotely full until  3 weeks or so before travel, and often not until the day before, if then. Why make an interest free loan for many months to a ferry company?

Goodbye Niki

Another casualty of the Air Berlin collapse. Niki, Air Berlin’s “leisure flight” subsidiary that in summer flew between Germany/Austria and Rhodes/Kos was going to be sold to Lufthansa. EU competition regulators ruled that having it owned by Lufthansa would concentrate flights in too few hands. As all the other bidders for Niki had withdrawn, the airline closed down this morning, leaving tourists stranded in various places, mostly the Canary Islands.

Nobody is stranded in Greece, of course, as there were no flights to Greece at this time of year. However if you had already booked with Niki for summer 2018, you ought to get your money back eventually (unless you made your booking before mid-August 2017, in which case you’re out of luck unless you can claim against your credit card company instead).

This is likely to lead to a seat shortage for summer 2018, as it will take time for other airlines to arrange slots, lease planes, and hire crews, and not all of this is likely to be in place in time, as opposed to the orderly transition proposed by Lufthansa. Strange that a ruling designed to increase competition and so keep fares down is likely to have the opposite effect.

Extra ferries for Christmas and the New Year

Blue Star will be making extra stops at Symi every Sunday at 11:15 towards Rhodes (this is the 17:00 Saturday from Piraeus, calling at Astypalea, Kalymnos, Kos, Nissyros, and Tilos before reaching Symi, on 3, 10, and 17 December and 6 January. The return boats are on Mondays from Rhodes at 16:00, calling at Symi at 17:25, and then Tilos, Nissyros, Kos, Kalymnos and Astypalea to Piraeus. In this direction there will be boats on 27 November, 4, 11, and 18 December and 7 January, all with Blue Star Paros.

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.