TRIP REPORT: Qatar Airways' 35-minute inter-European flight

TRIP REPORT


Written by JSG

Last year I decided to spend my summer holidays on Romanian Black Sea coast but made a last-minute decision to visit the Bulgarian city of Varna and later to explore Sofia - the Bulgarian capital. This spontaneous change of plans required me to quickly move from Sofia to Bucharest, where my return flight home departed from.

During the previous summer season the Sofia - Bucharest Otopeni route was operated by 3 carriers, offering up to 13 weekly flights in total. The most weekly flights were offered by Qatar Airlines (daily), followed by 4 flights by Romanian TAROM (1-345--) and 2 operated by Ryanair (1---5--). I chose Qatar Airways as it was the ideal option for my late September flight. And it was also my first flight with Qatar Airways!

At Serdica metro station, I searched for signage for metro line 4 that links Obelya with Sofia Airport. The journey takes approximately 30 minutes and the train passes 11 stations until it reaches its final stop. The metro terminus is adjacent to the airport terminal building. After a short walk, I entered the T2 building. Sofia Airport is located 10 km east of the city centre with 2 terminals in operation. Terminal 1 (former main terminal building) is mainly used by low cost carriers (Wizz Air, easyJet), charter airlines, as well as some regional carriers ( Ukrainian Windrose). The second terminal is mainly used by so-called legacy carriers such as Bulgaria Air, LOT Polish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, but also by Irish low cost carrier Ryanair.


Inside T2, I checked the display screens for the check-in desks to Bucharest. The check-in was quick and efficient. The check-in agent asked me for my passport or ID and a phone number. Shortly after, my luggage was tagged to OTP (the standard economy fare includes 25 kg of luggage allowance) and I received a boarding card. Then I proceeded to the security check area and passport control. Both checks took approximately 10 minutes.


The interior of terminal 2 is dominated by light-colored ceramic tiles, that have some resemblance to bathroom... I had a similar impression when departing the former terminal building of Gdańsk Airport before it was replaced by a more sophisticated newly built one. Perhaps today’s bathroom-like-airport will be replaced by a more modern interior design or even new terminal as the SOF Connect consortium-airport operator- has a plan to complete a new terminal by 2030 and decommission T1 -the oldest terminal building in operation.


The Qatar Airways flight was operated by an Airbus 320. The aircraft had just completed the longest leg of flight QR 396 from Doha (code shared with Bulgaria Air as flight FB 1905) and after a short technical stop, it would complete the last leg of the journey - Sofia to Bucharest Otopeni.


Boarding started at gate B6. There were few passengers traveling on this flight and the boarding process (via an air bride) was swift and quick. Inside, I was greeted by the cabin crew and I moved to my assigned seat.


On each seat, there was a blanked and a headset. The seat pitch was decent, and I felt quite comfy at my seat.


Then members of the cabin crew distributed a small protective pack containing hand sanitizer, face mask and a pair of disposable gloves.


In front of each seat, there was a display screen offering various movies, music, games, flight map and was used to show the safety instruction video. The video features the footballer of FC Bayern München, including Robert Lewnadowski, and it is rather entertaining to watch him presenting the various safety features of the aircraft 😉


After all departure were are completed, there was a short taxi, and we departed Sofia. A few minutes after taking off, each passenger was offered a small carton (250 ml) of orange juice. No snacks were served, perhaps due to the short flight time between the two capitals. During the flight I indulged in the orange juice and admired the cloudless view of the mountainous terrain of north Bulgaria and south Romania, while listening to various hits divided by year of release. The Elton John song “I am still standing” is a perfect match to passing mountainous landscape.


After approximately 35 minutes, we landed at Bucharest Otopeni Airport. Sadly, it was the next-to-last day of my holiday.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous09:08

    Very nice trip report. I have to say that SOF looks quite ugly, very basic terminal from the pictures.
    How many passengers were on the plane when you boarded?

    I am really surprised that they couldn't operate separate flights. I always thought there would be enough demand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous09:11

      They just started separate flights around a week ago. They were separate but then joined after Covid (which I also find surprising)

      Delete
    2. Anonymous09:20

      This terminal is quite old and inaugurated in 2006. The design is outdated but the metro connecting it to the centre is just in front and costs €0,80 and operates since 2014. It is also connected to the central railway and bus station. Something many CEE capitals lack.

      Delete
    3. Anonymous09:30

      Didn't SOF get a new manager? Munich airport or something like that.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous10:42

      Yes, Jesús Caballero. He was recently appointed as CEO.

      Delete
  2. Anonymous10:42

    Surprising they don't offer any service. For example Dubai which is also around 35 minutes they offer sandwiches in economy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous10:59

      Yeah but to Dubai they have much more competition and the market is much higher yielding.

      Delete
    2. Approx 20 passangers boarded the flight

      Delete
  3. I need to eat something every time I enter the skies! Even if it's a 10 minutes journey, provide something 🤣

    ReplyDelete
  4. My apologies for being pedantic, but I am pretty certain the title of the report should read intra-European.

    Otherwise, my favourite sight at SOF is the storage of Hemus Air Yakovlev Yak-40 in Albanian Airlines livery. Not certain if it's still there though, but what a sight.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous15:30

    Hey JSG, what was your impression about the Romanian coast? Which area where you at? I remember Constanta airport used to serve seasonal flights from Europe a couple of years ago and access to Mamaia.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I stayed in Mamaia, but also visited Mangalia, Cap Aurora, Venus and Eforie Nord. My ranking: Cap Aurora, Venus=Mamaia, Mangalia, Eforie Nord. In general the former glory has long gone and some resorts are simply ugly (Eforie Nord) and some are very pleasant (Cap Aurora, Venus).

      You are right, in the late 60-ties and throughout 70-ties Romania Black Sea cost was a popular holiday spot for Scandinavians, West Germans as well as tourists from Czechoslovakia, Poland and East Germany. Czechoslovaks, Polish and East German Tourist. According to the newspaper “Adevarul” approx. 35 flights were landing and departing daily throughout 70-ties. Today, barely few.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous00:00

      Thanks a lot for the details. Do you know what happened and why this huge drop is witnessed? Don't Romanians promote their coast?
      Yes, the Black Sea is not Greece but all of its countries have famous resorts such as in Bulgaria, Georgia, Ukraine, etc.
      Mamaia beaches look good for instance.

      Delete
    3. I believe it is multifactorial. My thoughts below: Relatively short coastline of Romanian Black Sea in comparison to Bulgarian or Ukrainian.
      Almost no flight to/from Constanta.
      Almost no package holidays for Romanian Black Sea resorts.
      Low promotion activities of Romanian Black Sea in other countries.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous22:00

      Thanks, JSG. It is a pity how the Romanian coast has went down during the last decades. I remember TUI flights from Western Europe to CND but I guess the competition is also very high with many countries nearby which offer good and cheap alternatives. Are you thinking of repeating the trip to Romania?

      Delete
    5. Yes, I like Romania. Next trip to Romania is Bucharest :)

      Delete

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