TRIP REPORT: Three flag carriers between Zagreb and Cork


Written by Mario Javorović 

TRIP REPORT: Zagreb - Cork - Zagreb via Amsterdam

This report covers the trip from Zagreb to Cork (Ireland) I took in June of 2019. It is the first trip report I ever wrote so please don't judge it too harshly.

One of Cork's canals

To be honest, I was prompted to start planning this trip in February when I noticed that Croatia Airlines was offering 30% off ticket prices for domestic and international flights (airport taxes and other fees not included). However, my destination was Cork and the ticket from Zagreb to Dublin meant I would have to travel the last segment by bus. Flights between Dublin and Cork ended in 2011 when Ryanair axed the route after six years. The airline’s official explanation was a drop in passenger numbers due to the improved motorway between the two cities and also because of the high charges at DUB.

I was flexible with the choice of the season for my vacation (spring to fall) so I played around with different dates trying to get the best offer, but the lowest CA price came to around €190 in total. I also explored the possibility of flying from Budapest or Zadar with Ryanair, but the tickets really weren't that much more affordable to be worth the extra hassle of getting to either of those airports.

In the end, I opted for the flight from Zagreb to Cork with a layover in Amsterdam. I bought the Economy class hand-baggage-only tickets through KLM website for a price of €258. The outbound flights were to be operated by KLM and Aer Lingus with a transfer time of 2h45, and the return flights by Aer Lingus and Croatia Airlines with a transfer time of 2h30. This suited me because I figured I'd exercise my Diners card owner privilege to use the Aspire Lounge 41 in AMS free of charge.

Zagreb - Amsterdam (KL1942/OU5900)


I arrived at the airport an hour and a half before the scheduled departure. KLM sent me an SMS earlier that same day notifying that the flight to AMS was busy and the cabin storage space limited, suggesting to have my hand baggage checked in free of charge in the departure hall. I proceeded to the check in desk where I was issued a single boarding pass for both flight segments.






The security screening on the upper level went smoothly and I quickly made my way to the PrimeClass Lounge. The lounge has a decent offering of food and beverages. I enjoyed some fresh fruit and picked up a bottle of water in case I got thirsty later.




On my way to the Gate 27 I caught a glance of Emirates flight EK130 just as it was departing for Dubai.



In line with KLM’s notice, the area around the gate was pretty crowded. Boarding started on time, but we found ourselves blocked in the air bridge for a couple of minutes. I overheard one of the maintenance crew explaining over the radio that he was the one to delay the boarding until refueling was finished. Thankfully, the A/C was up to its task so it wasn’t much of an inconvenience in spite of high temperature outside. The rest of the boarding went as expected.



The interior of the 10-year-old Embraer E190 was in decent shape. Unlike other aircraft in KLM’s fleet, the Embraer 190s do not have a name. I could have used a bit more leg space as I am a rather tall person (189 cm), though. KLM declares 31-inch seat pinch in economy class on this aircraft type, with 30 inch in rows 8/9/10. I wasn’t aware of this exception during the online check-in or otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen 9C.



Upon reaching cruising altitude, we were served a snack consisting of a small wrap filled with couscous salad and avocado (or was it spinach after all?) and a cup of still water. The choice of packaging for the water proved to be inconvenient because I spilled some of the content despite my best effort. The wrap was nice, even though it was a bit too much on the sweet side for my own taste.


Flight attendants were pleasant and the captain gave us a lot of information about the status of our flight. We landed in Amsterdam with a slight delay, but it seemed consistent with our belated departure.



KLM offers the service to keep friends and family notified about your flight status through WhatsApp group chat. I decided to try it, but in the end it only worked for the KLM operated flight segment.


Amsterdam - Cork (KL3173/EI845)


Since Cork is a non-Schengen destination, there was no need for me to clear through security in AMS. Having plenty of time before the flight, I decided to go to the Lounge 41 operated by Aspire. I noticed a line of passengers was forming at the reception when I got there. We were told that the lounge was full and reserved by airlines so we would have to wait at least two hours to get in. This didn’t come in as a total surprise to me because I read a lot of complaints about lounges at Schiphol not being available at peak hours (morning/evening), while preparing for my journey.

It was pretty crowded when I arrived at the gate after strolling through the airport venues to pass the time. The plane came just in time to complete boarding and depart at the scheduled time. The flight was full, as far as I could tell. It took us a full 21 min of taxiing from the gate to reach the Polderbaan runway and take off.



There was nothing particularly exciting about the 14-year-old A320 named Déaglán. It featured standard leather seats with a declared pitch of 30 to 32 inches. It seemed to me that leg room was similar to the E190.

Aer Lingus does not offer a complimentary in-flight service within Europe Economy class. There is an option to buy meals, snacks and beverages from their Bia menu. I decided to be reciprocally parsimonious and held on to my free bottle of Jana water from the Zagreb’s lounge.

We arrived right on schedule. The landing was a bit rougher because of slight crosswind, but I was later told that is to be expected at ORK. Being Croatian, I half-expected the immigration officer would question the purpose of my visit to Ireland, but he didn’t bother.

Getting my baggage from the carousel turned out to be a bit more exciting since it didn’t appear on the belt even as the last of my fellow passengers were picking theirs up. I was already scolding myself for the decision to have my hand baggage checked in at ZAG when it finally appeared.

I was free to proceed to the central hall and then outside, but not before putting a jacket on. A windy 12°C evening in Cork is even chillier when you arrive from a sunny 27°C afternoon in Zagreb.



Farmer's Market in Cork


Cork - Amsterdam (KL3170/EI840)


After four days of getting the full Irish experience, it was time to catch a 6 A.M. flight to Amsterdam. I didn’t want to bother my host with driving me to the airport so I ordered a 4 A.M. taxi ride the evening before. I used My Taxi app which is apparently quite popular in the UK and Ireland. The driver kindly offered to give me a €10 discount code so the 8 km drive cost me around €12 in the end, tip included.

Cork airport’s current main terminal opened back in 2006. It appeared to me as well designed and run on my arrival and it certainly didn’t disappoint on departure either. Checking in and getting through security was a breeze and the staff was very polite. I guess it’s no coincidence ORK was named as the best airport in Europe under 5 million passengers at the Airports Council International (ACI) Europe General Assembly in 2017. Last year it handled 2,4 million passengers while being served by 10 airlines.

KL3170/EI840 is the first scheduled flight of the day and I arrived at the airport quite early. That gave me enough time to stock on some extra Butlers chocolate bars infused with Irish whiskey and have breakfast at the lounge. Unfortunately, the Aspire lounge at ORK opens at 5 A.M. so I had to wait a bit to enter. The offering seemed slightly more modest compared to the PrimeClass Lounge at ZAG, but I was able to have a decent first meal of the day. I opted for the scrambled eggs and a rasher of bacon paired with some tomatoes on the side. I’m not a fan of full Irish breakfast so I skipped the sausages, pudding and hash browns.






There are eight gates at the airport, two of which have an airbridge. A line of passengers was already forming when I arrived to the one designated for my flight. We had to take the stairs to the ground level and follow a curvy glass tunnel on foot to get to the aircraft parked at the apron, a 15-year-old A320 named St. Fidelma.







Not sure if it has anything to do with such an early flight, but it seemed like boarding took more time than usual. Flight attendants had to help with closing the overhead compartments. I found it funny how the shortest and obviously most experienced of them masterfully scaled the heights to rearrange the bags in the bin and speed up the boarding process.

I got a window seat that had some kind of gooey substance left by the previous passenger. It got me thinking about how much (or little) effort is normally being put into cleaning the airplane interior.
Flight was nearly full, with several empty middle seats, including the one next to me. From 1 September, passengers flying on Aer Lingus are able to guarantee there is nobody sitting next to them by booking an empty middle seat. But that option was not available on my June flight so I guess those seats were not sold after all.

Once again, Aer Lingus Economy class offered means to get from one point to another without adding value to the travel experience. We experienced slight turbulence mid-air and arrived on time at AMS.


Amsterdam - Zagreb (KL3081/OU451)


I went straight for the info panel to check the status of the last flight on my journey. From there I was directed to Transfer Desk 5 where an agent issued me a boarding pass after making sure my hand baggage wasn’t exceeding Croatia Airlines size/weight limit.


Since I had an ample amount of time, I decided to make another attempt at getting into Aspire Lounge 41. As I was approaching the reception, I overheard a woman with an American accent complaining how this is the third time she was barred from accessing the lounge. That was a clear sign my morning attempt isn’t going to be successful either.

While I was strolling the shops, I received a text message from Croatia Airline notifying me about the gate change. As it turned out, that wasn’t completely accurate information. There was a gate change, but the new gate was actually across from the one stated in the message. Among the people there, I noticed a pretty large group of Macedonians. I guess they were connecting to OU’s flight to Skopje at ZAG.




OU’s A319 was the oldest machine on this particular trip, but one could really not tell judging by the interior. Pleasant white lighting and slim seats helped with the overall impression.

OU’s website states that the seat pitch in A319 cabin is 71,1 cm (28 inches) in Economy class. Either that’s a wrong number or I got something mixed up, because there was much more room compared to the seats in KLM and Aer Lingus.



The complimentary meal consisted of Istrian sausage and salty pillows seasoned with Dalmatian herbs that was accompanied by a small pack of traditional sugar coated arancini. Everything was tasty, but the amount of sausage served was ridiculously small (three thin slices, if I remember correctly). A passenger sitting in a row behind me asked for a vegetarian meal and was offered a snack with cheese in olive oil. I would have preferred that option, but I wasn’t given a choice for some reason.


Conclusion

Comparing the products of three national carriers is inevitable in this case. In the end, I feel KLM came to the top, followed closely by Croatia Airlines. Aer Lingus was a slight disappointment because of their almost no-frills approach. I never flew Ryanair, but somehow I doubt Aer Lingus’ soft product differs very much. Croatia Airlines still offers a decent service that makes you feel like you’re flying a national airline. Sure, the meal could be a bit more plentiful, but at least they give you something to complain about. Also, I felt OU’s airplane was the most comfortable of all equipment used on this journey. I guess the reason I put KLM at first place is that their overall product simply feels more innovative than OU’s.

All in all, I was quite satisfied with this trip. Hope you like this trip report, I had great fun writing it.

Comments

  1. Really good report. I must say Croatia Airlines looks the best out of the three in my opinion

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  2. Wow so Aer Lingus serves nothing for free. And then people complain about ex-Yu airlines. Nice report!

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  3. Great trip report Mario! I'm from Greece and I will also experience in late January the KLM - Croatia airlines compined flight. Booked from KLM website a return ticket Athens to Zagreb via Amsterdam for 218 euro with full bags (10 kilos +23 kilos). First segment KLM Boeing 737-900 and then Croatia airlines a320. Return will be with KLM only.

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  4. Really nice trip-report! Especially being the first one! Congrats!
    Will try to keep up with my trip report of ZAG-DOH-BKK on Nov 22nd!

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  5. Great trip report. Thanks a million.

    Aer Lingus and British (both part of same parent company IAG) are at this stage operating as low cost carriers within Europe. They "had to" do it to stay competitive with Ryanair, EasyJet and similar LCCs on their short haul flights.

    In my personal experience ranked from worst to best BA,Ryanair, AerLingus.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Being Croatian, I half-expected the immigration officer would question the purpose of my visit to Ireland, but he didn’t bother." Says Mario in article. Not sure why did you expect to be questioned about ur purpose of coming to Ireland ,especially bearing in mind that you can enter Ireland with an Croatian ID & you can work freely as a Croatian in Ireland.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Enjoyed reading this, very informative!

    ReplyDelete

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