Olympic offer lots of connections throughout the Middle East and Greek islands. They also tend to be the cheapest option, so it is usual to see lots of British travellers flying OA. Alas the airline has a notorious reputation for cancelled lightly loaded flights at short notice, and having technical problems that delay flights. In fact these problems tend to be the rarity rather than the norm, but at the same time it pays to be prepared.
Although the logo resembles that of the Olympic Games, the airline is not named after the biggest international sporting event but rather after the Twelve Olympians, the principal grouping of gods and goddesses in Greek mythology, residing in Mount Olympus.
In Business there are five rows of business class, in a 2+2+2 formation. Although the seats are not flat bed, they are quite similar to the old BA Cradle Seat, and very comfortable. They have small TVs in the armrests, and there are two TV's at the front of the cabin, plus a projection TV which is used for the moving map.
Economy Class is in a 2+4+2 formation, which many couples seem to like as it gives good pairs of seats, rather than the three seats next to the window format in some planes. All seats have seatback TVs, although they are a little small. Economy starts with in row 7, directly behind the second set of doors. This is an emergency exit, as is row 25, but it is disliked by many regular passengers due to the lack of a window, the cabin crew sitting opposite you, and the traytable in the armrest, which reduces the seat width. However, you do get a flip out video screen and acres of legroom. The seats are fairly standard Airbus economy seats: they recline a bit, and that's about it.
The variable business class seats extending back as far as row 20, although in normal configuration they are only used with the first 3 rows as business class. Row 9 and row 10 are overwing emergency exits - if you ask to sit here, you will get 2 inches more legroom.
Business class is in an unusual 2-2 pattern, thanks to a slot in table that goes between the two seat pairs. There is a moveable curtain to select which section of the plane is business class, depending on the loads. The seats are not particularly comfortable, and the entertainment (with old style CRT TV monitors every 7 seat rows, is decidedly out of the arc.
Economy seats are in the standard 3-3 configuration, with a pitch of 31", and few frills or refinements, although there are sockets for the headphones, and a selector for the audio channels. On a 737-400 row 14 is the overwing ejectable window, with 38" of legroom.
The ATRs are overwing prop planes fleet, which fly lower than the jets, and give a great view of the ground, but its very noisy, bumpy on landing and thanks to weight problems has a "lightweight" seat which bend as you sit down. Note that the overhead lockers on this plane are only 4 inches high, so your "carry on" case won't, and you have to check it at a trolley as you board: it is then loaded into the hold for you.
As you board the plane, music plays over the PA, with Eurovision hits of years gone by.
In Business (Olympian Executive Class) Newspapers and magazines are available to all passengers, as pre-flight drinks are served (Sparkling Wine, orange juice or water). The safety video then follows on the main screen in Greek and English. You get hot towels, followed by the aperitif service. There is a drinks service while the meals are taken out individually. Coffee and liqueurs were offered afterwards. If you go for Sparkling Wine you are given your own half bottle, complete with an ice bucket, on long haul flights.
In Economy there is one hurried drinks service, and then you have to wait a long time for the meals to come around - the two trolleys run from the back of the cabin, but will at least offer three choices. Finally, a long time after the meal service, you will get a coffee trolley coming past which also has beer & wine.
Note that Olympic - and Greek airports - have some oddities you may not get elsewhere. In particular all Greek airports are very hot on banning photography, and you will be pounced upon by uptight securitiy officials if you whip out your camera to take photos of the plane (or even meals on board). Curiously, there are no signs annoucing this (except at Santorini where there is one small handwritten sign in the arrivals hall) however if you are nabbed and subsequently questioned, you will be told that "everyone knows all photography is banned as a matter of upmost national security". As the Greek Planespotter case shows, the Greeks are very uptight about planes. Curiously, their airport security can sometimes seem very lax.
The video program includes two fairly standard Hollywood movies, a Greek channel, a documentary channel, a dual-language movie for children, and a moving map. The audio channels include a greek language learning program.
Around Europe, there is also entertainment on the 737s and the A320s. Here there is just 1 video channel on the overhead screens, and 6 music channels. Don't get too excited - the video program includes some short, Greek, films and a few documentary films along with music video clips.
Essentially, it's a series of articles from the Greek tourist board telling passengers how wonderful things are, with little in the way of facts (and when there are any, they tend to be wrong), and poor pictures crudely cut and pasted into the pages.
The magazine is English on one side: flip it over, and you get the Greek version, with the same bad pictures. It contains little in the way of information about Olympic Airlines.
You can find out about the entertainment program in the "Orama" booklet, which is on all A340 aircraft.
Olympic's main hub is at the new Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport, from where it flies to 35 domestic destinations and to 39 destinations world-wide. It also has a hub at Thessaloniki, and Rhodes Airport.
The flagship intercontinental route from Athens is to New York JFK, with two flights a day at 0855 (arrives 1225) and 1125 (arrives 1455), using an A340. There are also intercontinental flights to Dubai on a 737 at 1810, Johannesburg three times a week at 0105 (on an A340), Montreal at 0905 on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a flight which then carries on to Toronto, and returns from there overnight.
Around Europe, from Athens Olympic fly to London three times a day, at 0915, 1330, and 1915, returning from LHR at 1215, 1635, and 2215 (which rolls in at 0350 - not to be recommended). All three flights using a long-haul configuration A340. Business class in these flights certainly beats the competition from BA. There are also direct flights to Manchester once a day at 1915 on a 737. There are also flights to Berlin, Brussels, Cairo, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Paris, Prague, Rome, Stuttgart, Tel Aviv, and Vienna.
Domestically, there are frequent shuttles to Thessaloniki up to 8 times a day. There are also frequent Olympic flights to the islands, although the number and frequency declines rapidly in the winter. Rhodes is the main route, with 5 flights a day. Santorini (Thira) has three flights a day, although the 0545 flight is not recommended. The 1825 is the only flight at the decent time, while the late night 2120 is equally uncomfortable. Mykonos also has three flights a day.
Joining is a real pain: you cannot join online, instead you have to pick up an application form at an Olympic ticket desk. You get a 500 miles bonus when you join, but that's about it.
Your membership year starts the date you first join, and carries on year to year from that date.
Olympic's policy is that miles expire within 3 years of posting to the account, with the only means of extending the expiration date being the booking of a ticket in that 3 year period for travel within the next year. Quite simply, if you earn points on Olympic, keep them active by flying on an Olympic flight once every three years.
The main perk of this level is that you get Check-in at the Business Class Olympian Executive class counter irrespective of your class of travel. You can also reserve the seat of your choice in the aircraft, and get priority in loading and baggage collection. For this, you get a special Icarus luggage tag.
You get an additional 5 Kgs baggage allowances for domestic flights, and 10 Kgs for international flights plus one more piece of baggage for Transatlantic flights. You also get free 48 hours parking at Athens Airport
The main perk of this level, over and above the Silver card, is that you get access to the two Olympic CIP lounges, reguardless of the class you travel in. And other than that, you get Free parking at the Long Term car park, for up to 7 days, but to get this you need to ask for special vouchers at the check-in desks.
There are two lounges at Athens: one is on the Schengen side (the Melina Merkouri, for domestic and short haul flights) and one on the non-Schengen side (the Aristotle Onassis, for US, Canadian, African, and UK flights). Both are identical, although the Melina Merkouri is open 24 hours a day. They are after boarding card checks, but before security checks, so don't wander through the X-ray in the hunt for the lounge.
This is the flagship Olympic Airways lounge, and is a very pleasant place to wait for your flight, with views over one of the runways at the new Athens airport.
There are deep leather Armchairs & strange waist high dividers, a smoking area, a TV in one corner, and a magazine rack with lots of Greek and American papers.
The lounge is names after Onassis, who was the founder of Olympic, and in the lounge there is what only can be described as a shrine to him, with pictures of the man posing by his planes in the 1960s and 70s, beside pictures of doves swooping over a blue background. It's all rather tacky.
There is a pretty decent bar with a couple of bar stools, and there is a Food area with half a dozen trays with sandwiches, and one hot cabinet.
The lounge is next door to the BA lounge: if you have a BA Gold Card, it is usually much better to pop in here using open doors access, and only pop into the Onassis lounge in the last 20 minutes or so.
The is the much more workaday lounge for the Olympic Airways shorthaul flights around Europe, and domestic. It is however identical is size to the Aristotle Onassis lounge, despite seeing more traffic. Usefully, it is open 24 hours a day to allow for some of the silly flight times that Olympic has, although between 2am and 5am it is more usually used as a crew rest area. At this time you may almost feel as if you are disturbing the staff and getting in the way of their canteen. There are likely to be a lot of between-shift Olympic employees passed out on the sofas and enjoying the bar at this time, which really says a lot about Olympic, and the state it's in.
As you enter, instead of the shrine to Onassis, you get the rather odd tribute to Oozo, screwed to to the wall. There are very poor views of the runway: if you want to see what's happening outside, you may be better to wander out and squint through the other side of the corridor.
There are leather armchairs & sofas, with strange waist high dividers, a smoking area, a TV in one corner, and a magazine rack with lots of Greek newspapers & magazines. There are now English papers, but some American ones. There are two TVs, normally on very loud to one of the myriad of Greek channels. At the far end, around the false wall to the left, are four beds. Alas, the light here is very bright, so sleeping isn't really an option.
The bar looks like a rather 80s version from a dodgy business hotel, however there are a couple of bar stools if you feel like perching there: much more comfortable tables are next to it. The bar itself is really nothing to write home about. There are cans of Mythos, and mini bottles of white and red. It's the same muck as you get on the plane, but don't think about taking it out of the lounge - the lounge dragon and security are very hot on this.
There is a Food area, but it is much poorer than the international side. All you'll get here are some pastries and cakes. Sandwiches (again, idential to those on the flights) make an appearance later in the day.
At the far end there is a Business Center with four of the oldest computers you are ever likely to see. There is even a dot matrix printer, along with a fax and photocopier. Internet Access is very slow. At the far end, unusually for a short-haul lounge, there are a couple of shower rooms which are actually OK.
It is split into two sides - from the days when there was a first and business class section. Now there is nothing to stop you from choosing the side you prefer best, although as you enter the left hand side has more comfortable armchairs, while on the right there are stiff dining chairs. There is a flat screen TV with freeview on the right, and a small TV with a DVD player on the left. Both sides have the same bar.
And this lounge is all about the bar. It really puts other lounges to shame. In the fridge you have a rack of 6 different white wines, of most of the common grape denominations - and good ones too. Even a decent Rose. There is a Cava too, but you should ask for the Sparkling Wine. They are more than happy to serve you a glass - it's Piper Heidsieck Brut. Further down you have the beer selection with cans of Fosters, Stella, and J Smiths, then bottles of Becks, 1664, and Castle lager. There are also lots of mini cans of mixers. On the worktop are 10 spirits (with slightly more in the right hand side) and four bottles of red.
Food is however very poor. There are only some crisps, nuts, and small slices of fruit cake.
Newspapers are equally basic - there are just two racks by the door, and all are marked "for lounge use only". There are 2 internet Computers however they are paid for, with a coin in the slot - and a basic 50p initial charge.
By 1960 it had bought the De Havilland Comet 4B, and linked in codeshares with British airline BEA. In 1965, Olympic placed its first orders for the Boeing 707 jet aircraft, and were used to fly nonstop to New York (JFK), along with Africa in 1968, in 1969 Canada, and the long flight to Australia by 1972: with a lot of Greek ex-pats living in Melbourne, this quickly became a popular route. The airline had a disaster in 1969 when Douglas DC-6 crashed near Athens. All 85 passengers and all 5 crew members perished.
In January 1973 the death of Aristotle Onassis' son, Alexander, in a plane crash came as a shock to the Greek people: a few months later, Onassis sold all of the OA shares to the Greek state and died in 1975. In 1977 in the mid of the oil price shocks, Olympic axed the Australia and Canadian routes. Things had improved by 1984 and the Canada and Australia routes were reopened, using three Boeing 747-200s, which were purchased from Singapore Airlines.
In 1986 there were a series of strikes at Olympic and losses mounted, partly becuase Greek politicians and their families travelled free on the airline, and other favoured groups like the press got a 97% discount. A nonstop route to Tokyo was launched but soon shut down. In 1989 a Shorts 330 crashed near Samos Airport, killing all 31 passengers.
By 1999, Olympic purchased four Airbus A340 aircraft, to replace the ageing B747-200s, which were scrapped, but this was a risky purchase considering how bad finances were looking. In December 2004, the Greek government tried to privatize Olympic Airlines, calling it Pantheon Airways, but there was no interest due to the huge debts.
In 2006 Olympic was thrown a life line, when the courts ordered Greece to repay them almost 564 million euro owed to the airline from subsidized routes to Greek islands. The cash was used to pay back State aid declared illegal by the European Commission. This covered most of the debts, and since then the airline has stablised it's position.
Main Website: www.olympicairlines.com
UK version: olympicairlines.co.uk
Frequent Flier programme
Olympic A340 seat map.
Note that all reviews and opinions on Olympic (OA) food, service, seats, planes, upgrades, lounges, the Aristotle Onassis Business Class Lounge, and the Frequent Flyer scheme is soley at my judgement. No legal liability is accepted if you take my advice.
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