Review: Aegean Airlines’ A321 Service To Athens During COVID-19

Last week I flew on one of numerous Olympic Air flights connecting the Greek islands to the country’s capital, Athens. It was a Friday evening flight from Rhodes (RHO) to Athens (ATH) operated by an Aegean Airlines Airbus A321 for a price of 20 euros ($24) under the code OA213.

Aegean Airlines
Boarding started just minutes before sunset. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

Rhodes Airport

Rhodes Airport (RHO) is a well-run airport with COVID rules very well applied. This is not the case in all Greek airports: Heraklion (HER), for example, is chaotic.

The airport is managed by Fraport Greece, along with 13 other regional airports in the country. In 2017, Fraport undertook major improvements to the facilities in its airport portfolio in Greece, and this really shows.

My flight was technically an Olympic Air flight, and this was also the airline that issued my ticket. However, the plane and crew were both provided by Aegean Airlines.

Olympic Air is Aegean’s subsidiary that operates a fleet of smaller planes: ten Dash 8 aircraft and two ATR 42-600s. Thus, all Olympic Air flights that require higher capacity than these propeller planes can provide are operated by Aegean Airlines’ Airbus aircraft. That was also the case for my flight, which was operated by an Airbus A321-200.

Aegean Airlines flies to Rhodes Airport year-round to Athens and Thessaloniki. Seasonally, it operates scheduled flights from Rhodes to one domestic (Heraklion) and nine international destinations, and it also runs regular charter flights to 20 airports in Europe and Asia.

Rhodes Airport boarding
We boarded from the Schengen section of Rhodes Airport. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

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The boarding

The aircraft was some 30 minutes late in arrival to Rhodes from Athens, presumably because it waited for connecting passengers to transfer from another flight. Our plane was an Airbus A321-200, registered SX-DGP, and just under 14 years old.

Rhodes Airport
We took a bus to the aircraft despite it being parked right in front of us. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

Our boarding started fairly early, some 45 minutes before the flight took off. This is not unusual for an Airbus A321. The Airbus A321 was far from full, but boarding still took a while. This is because all passengers were bussed to the aircraft despite it being directly in front of the gate. It is unclear why this was done because passengers boarding the Ryanair aircraft right next to us walked straight into the plane from the gate. Our bus ride was exactly seven seconds long.

Aegean Airlines boarding
I prefer boarding by the stairs because the aircraft is more exposed. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

The flight

There was plenty of space for luggage in the overhead compartments on this flight because the load factor in the part of the plane where I was sitting was only about 50%.

Only the first two rows were Business Class. The other 34 rows were all Economy Class. However, the rows from the very front of the plane down to the first set of emergency exits are all potential Business Class rows, so the legroom we got in the first few rows of Economy was superb.

Aegean Airlines A321
The flight was only about 60% full. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

The aircraft was spotlessly clean, and the cabin crew were very friendly but also very quick to pick up on passengers who were not wearing their masks properly at any point during the flight. In contrast, on my Ryanair flight into Rhodes from Heraklion, mask compliance was very poor.

There was no WiFi available on the flight and no charging points either. Despite the flight being just 40 minutes long, we were served a snack and water.

Legroom Aegean
Aegean Airlines offers excellent legroom on its upfront seats. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

Landing in Athens

Flying with Aegean Airlines during COVID felt very safe, even if no one had to present a negative COVID test or a vaccination certificate because this was a domestic flight.

Still, after landing, all of us were crammed into busses by Athens Airport despite the aircraft parking directly by a gate. In fact, we deplaned by walking through the air bridge and then out of it into a bus that then took us to domestic arrivals. It was tedious and definitely not COVID safe.

Athens Airport
We took the air bridge but then still took the bus. Photo: Jakov Fabinger, Simple Flying

It took less than three minutes to walk out of Athens Airport. Domestic flights and international flights within the European Union’s Schengen Area are seamlessly easy because there is no immigration to clear.