As I put pen to paper tonight, on a typically British summer evening, it’s wet, it’s cold, the heating is on and a Simon Cowell reality TV show is droning on in the background. I have pondered how to write this review and keep it on topic.
I write my reviews in a regimented manner, to try and cover the entire journey experience from booking the flight, to checking in, the airport and finally what happens on the flight.
In this case, however, half of me—the #avgeek side—is still bouncing with elation. The traveler side is still thinking, what on earth have I done?
In this review, I will talk about my recent flight with the quirky Spanish low-cost airline Volotea on a short hop from Marseille to Prague, operated by a Boeing 717.
The aircraft probably had more miles on the clock than a second hand Vauxhall Corsa, so how can I put such an experience into words?
The solution was slow coming, but come it did. I have included an extra category in the roundup called quirky points, awarded at my discretion for things that are a little unusual while keeping the integrity of a balanced review.
The Boeing 717 can trace its design origins back to the McDonnell-Douglas DC-9. The 717 is a modern take on a classic airliner, featuring many of the DC-9 unique features, including the rear, mounted engines ‘T’ tail and low, acutely swept back wings.
Designed to operate regional flights, the DC-9 and later MD-80 series aircraft, have been a staple in many airline hangars for over 50 years. Less and less so today, the 717 still flies on a fitting tribute to the aircraft that have risen and fallen before her.
Volotea is primarily a low-cost airline, which operates some charter flights as well.
Commencing operations in 2012, Volotea has bases across Spain, France, and Greece.
Operating predominantly holiday routes, Volotea can be seen at many continental airports. The fleet is a fairly even split between the newer Airbus A319s and the older 717s.
As the 717s are due to be phased out over the coming years, I wanted to hear the bark of a Mad Dog for myself, before they disappeared from the European skies forever.
- Flight Number: V7 2536
- From: Marseille Provence Airport MRS/LFML
- To: Prague Vaclav Havel Airport PRG/LKPR
- Ticket Cost: €69.99
- Seat Reservation: €6.00
- Administration Fee: €2.13
- Total: €78.12
- Departure Time Planned: 18:35
- Departure Time Actual: 18:44
- Arrival Time Planned: 20:40
- Arrival Time Actual: 20:22
- Aircraft: EC-MGS B717-200
- Seat: 19A
Booking the Flight
The flight was booked through the Volotea website, which is optimized for mobile and computer usage. The website is easy to use and well designed.
It is easy to add additional services, such as a seat reservation, additional luggage or pre-order onboard snacks and drinks.
I added a seat reservation but would be flying hand luggage only, though prices are reasonable with seat reservations starting at €5 and luggage at €35 per sector.
Volotea requires all passengers to check in online and print or bring a digital boarding card. The check-in system is easy to use and requirement API for verification.
Many years ago, before the ravages of teenage angst, I remember a French teacher who had a rather low opinion of Marseille Airport. I gladly concur on this one.
The airport is grim—its own website seems unsure which terminal Volotea uses. As some sources state, Terminal 2 was the one. But other sources listed Terminal 1. I ended up following my nose to the slum, which is Terminal 2.
My boarding card was rejected at the gate, but it was not until the screening point where a helpful agent realized my mistake and sent me back where I had just come from—Terminal 1.
It seems that Terminal 2 handles purely Ryanair and easyJet flights. Even Terminal 1 is split into two sections, and you need to pick the correct side of the concourse to clear security. I finally found a post-it note sized sign pointing out where to go.
The security queue was quick, though my cameras did cause some additional screening I was still airside in less than ten minutes.
As France and the Czech Republic are part of the Schengen agreement, there is no requirement for passport controls though documents will be checked at the boarding gate.
One thing I do like about most airports in Europe is that they put the boarding gate allocations on the screens way in advance. It does make the airport experience much less stressful. I managed to find a nice quiet corner to sit back and relax in the vicinity of the gate.
Marseille Airport has a variety of shops and duty-free outlets, but very little in the way of food with the exception of convenience sandwiches and bottles of water or soft drinks.
Around 40 minutes before departure, the mob was called forward. There was no organization between priority boarding and general boarding; it was simply a free-for-all boarding chaos.
Boarding this flight was via an airbridge, I was rather disappointed hoping to admire the iconic lines of our 717 from the ground.
Once onboard, we were greeted by a friendly crew, who seemed pleased to be there. Dressed in their striking uniforms, including a hat for the ladies, seen by some as a rather old fashioned thing nowadays. I have to say I rather liked it.
The crew was very quick during boarding, to assist passengers with luggage and getting settled for the flight.
Our 717 was clearly showing its age, the upholstery was tired and worn, the headrests and fixtures dirty and the windows have more scratches than a Now That’s What I Call Music CD from 1994.
At this point, I was starting to question my own sanity, but was stuck either way.
The overhead lockers did seem a little larger than equivalent regional sized aircraft, swallowing my carry on rucksack without any issue.
The seats were deep and well padded, upholstered in what was once beige leather but had turned to a sort of grimy grey over the years.
The legroom was very tight. I stand 5’10” and my knees were crashed up against the seat in front. This aircraft has an unusual 2-3 layout, making it feel much more intimate on the left-hand side of the cabin.
We pushed back a few minutes behind schedule and the manual spoken safety demonstration in both French and English was performed by the crew. The speakers suffered from a lot of interference but it was easy enough to get the gist of things.
We taxied out quickly and had a powerful departure from runway 14L. Rocketing away into the hazy skies above Marseille, our flight time was in the region of 1 hour, 35 minutes and our route took us on the runway heading before north towards Genoa, over the Alps towards Innsbruck passing briefly into Germany airspace before descending over the Czech Republic into Prague.
Around ten minutes after takeoff, a buy on board service commenced, serving a range of sandwiches, hot and cold drinks, crisps, chocolate, and other snacks. The prices were about average for an airborne taxi and the quality was acceptable.
I had a tomato and mozzarella sandwich and a cup of coffee. Brought together it was a very reasonable €7.50. The coffee was barely three mouthfuls and the sandwich had the texture and feel of a sweaty packed lunch dug from the bottom of your rucksack at tea time.
After the service, the crew disappeared seemingly into thin air and only reappeared to secure the cabin for landing.
The crew performed the service perfectly well, it was efficiently done and executed professionally by our crew.
Volotea does not have IFE or an inflight magazine. So bring your own entertainment. After the service, I retired back into my seat to enjoy the wit and wisdom that is the musical maestro Paul Heaton.
Our descent into Prague was steep and fast, we touched down firmly and had a short taxi to the stand, arriving 18 minutes ahead of schedule.
We arrived on a remote stand, meaning a bus to the terminal. I got my wish to admire the sleek lines of our beautiful 717 after all.
The bus to the terminal arrived quickly and we were soon on our way. The arrivals facility at Prague was easy, as this was a Schengen flight, there would be no passport control.
The bus dropped us directly outside baggage reclaim.
My first impression of Prague airport was of a clean, modern and fresh feeling terminal building. It is a nice airport to arrive into and within seconds I was ready to enjoy a night in a new city and country.
This review has been interesting for me to write but the journey was even more interesting. I understand why the stalwarts of the McDonnell-Douglas hanger were called a Mad Dog. Even the 717 had enough bark and bite to earn a place in the Mad Dog hanger.
The aircraft sung like a Jack Russell confronted with the postman. The flight was rough and ready and the aircraft had seen better days (ones in another century).
The crew was friendly and efficient, nothing over the top or special. But they were polite and performed their duties with skill and precision.
The cabin was decked out in comfortable seats, which were deep and nicely contoured. However, the lack of legroom was something of a bugbear. What I can’t overlook, however, was the tired and shabby interior and a rather rough feeling aircraft.
The catering was basic but functional; the coffee drinkable and the sandwich edible. My soggy sandwich and lukewarm coffee filled a void and kept me going until Prague.
I enjoyed the flight but was relieved to be getting off in Prague. Any airline operating such an old aircraft deserved credit.
The branding reminds me a little bit of the Icelandic sorrow story that was Wow air. The funky slogans painted on the aircraft, the over the top crew uniforms and distinct branding leave you in doubt as to where you are, which is why I chose to award Volotea some special “Quirky Points” alongside my standard rating categories.
The question I always ask to conclude a review is whether or not I would fly Volotea again. The answer to this question is, perhaps I would after I’ve recovered from this flight!
|Key Area||Score Out of 10|