Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ease and Wizz

Marosvasarhely (otherwise known as Targu Mures, otherwise known as Tirgu Mures, otherwise known -by almost no-one- as Neumarkt) has an airport. This fact is very convenient for us, since it happens to be Erika's home town and we have a place outside her parents' place to park the car if we wanted to fly anywhere. However, less convenient until very recently was the fact the only places you could fly to from there were Bucharest and Timisoara. True, you could then fly on to somewhere else, but it took a long while and was not that useful, particularly when it only took half an hour more or so to drive to Otopeni where the main Bucharest airport is.

Now however, things have started to change. First Malev started offering a service from Budapest, and they have been followed by WizzAir. For those unfamiliar with WizzAir, it is a low cost Hungaro-Polish airline (I think), and it's actually fairly good, in my experience. This is a stroke of genius on their part. Not because it makes my life easier, but because there are loads and loads of people from the Marosvasarhely area who are living in Hungary, having fled there in 1990 (Something like 95% of Erika's high school class live in Hungary, for example). And their prices are so low that they undercut both the train and the minibuses that ply the same route. They've also cunningly looped themselves into the potential tourist market for the area by naming the airport "Transylvania Targu Mures" - and since it is the most convenient airport for Sighisoara, it will pick up a fair amount of tourism one day, I reckon.

Anyway, we flew to England via this route (one flight to Budapest, a night at some friends' and then a flight on to Luton). The airport is very small and a little bit rubbish looking from the outside - grass on the runway, 30 year old petrol trucks, generally a little bit run down - but inside it is very clean and sparkling new. So new, in fact that little touches like the cafe/bar are not actually open yet. This proved a slight problem as our plane turned out to be 2 hours late. A little digging revealed that this was because the Vasarhely plane had started its day in London and at that time every plane leaving England was doing so with a minimum of two hours delay thanks to the need to stop anyone bringing anything whatsoever on the plane with them in case they started to beat the stewardesses with a rolled up newspaper or some such dastardly act. (I do appreciate the need for security, but to give an example of just how ruthlessly this was all enforced, a friend was travelling with his 6-year-old son, and they made him (the son) take the batteries out of his hearing aid, hand them to an armed guard, who then carried them on to the plane, and ensured that they were locked in a safe on board only to be released after the journey).

[Happily, the extra wait without any form of entertainment passed easily because to Paula any place is much like any other, and to Bogi, who was about to embark on her first flight, the whole thing was insanely exciting anyway.]

Coming back this week, of course we had to brave the security measures ourselves, since leaving the UK you have to jump through all the requisite hoops (unlike leaving Romania or Hungary two weeks earlier). By this time things had been eased slightly, and I was allowed to bring a newspaper, and we were able to have a bag with nappies and stuff in it. We did, however, have to demonstrate that all liquid-ish forms of babyfood were non-explosive, which meant I had to taste the water and the apple juice which we had prepared for P, and Bogi kindly volunteered to taste the two jars of baby food (one of which was some blended facsimile of "Vegetable Lasagne", so it said), which as you might imagine was not terribly apealing at 5am, which is when we checked in. The "lasagne" got a very definite thumbs down, while the apple and yoghurt dessert was pronounced quite nice.

We then (well a few hours later) had to do a quite farcical sprint through Ferihegy airport - because WizzAir is a low cost airline it only sells individual tickets, so we had one set of tickets for the Luton to Budapest leg and one set of tickets for the Budapest to Marosvasarhely leg. There were no systems in place to allow us to be checked all the way through. And of course, our experiences on the outward journey had let us know that we would be using the exact same plane. So, what we had to do when we arrived at Budapest airport was get off the plane, go through immigration, collect our suitcases, go out, check in to the new flight, go through security and then get back on the same plane (while our bags would go through the systems and be replaced back on that same plane too). All in less that 45 minutes. This seemed to me frought with hazard and so we worked out our strategy in advance. We got seats right at the front so as to be the first off the plane (this is easy to do when you have young kids as they let you on first and there are no assigned seats). Then after immigration I took Paula and all the passports and left Erika and Bogi waiting for the suitcases while I went round the airport and back into check-in. I explained my predicament to the bloke at the desk and he said, "Well check in closes in 12 minutes". To which I responded that I knew that, but since I was here, and we were all here, and I knew the plane was here, couldn't he hold it for a while in case we didn't all get through in time. Thankfully he saw the sense of this and issued our boarding passes there and then and held on for a while after he should have to close the flight. This only worked because we could work in a team though, individuals hoping to pull off the same stunt would have been stuck.

And so finally, we made it to be greeted by the same crew who were happy to see us back (mostly because Paula is just about the most charming baby in the history of the universe, a fact I state without a hint of bias). Half an hour or so later we were back on the grassy runway of Transylvania Targu Mures. (It's one of those small airports where you have to walk to and from the plane - none of these fancy tunnels or even buses). The baggage reclaim room may have to be upgraded soon, since it consists of one end of a conveyor belt manned by two blokes who grab every suitcase as it emerges and put it on the floor around themselves. A full plane load of passengers and a full plane load of bags most assuredly do not fit in this room.

WizzAir have obviously decided that the Romanian market is the next one to hit up as they are advertising loads of new routes coming soon - Vasarhely to Barcelona and Roma (direct) and Bucharest to all sorts of places, including a direct Luton flight, which will be even more appealing. We're already thinking of a winter break to Rome.

I'd like to add here that I have absolutely no connection to WizzAir, and I will not make any profit out of extolling or publicising their services, but if anyone from Wizzair does chance upon this post and wishes to comp me a few tickets, I'd be happy to accept their kind offer.


J.K.Kelley said...

very useful information. just this afternoon we were chatting about trying out this airport for a Christmas trip to csik. thanks!

nojer said...

Great title