I am always a bit hesitant to try a new budget airline, but when I was doing my research for an ideal Spring Break destination I found that an airline I had not heard of at the time, SmartWings, was offering some fantastic fares out of my home in Dubai. For around $1200, I would be able to fly my family of four to one of the cultural capitals of Europe.
SmartWings was established in 2004 and is co-owned by a Czech company, Travel Service, and an Icelandic company. With its hub in Prague, Czech Republic, SmartWings currently flies to the following cities: Brno, Bratislava, Ostrava, Paris, Nantes, Gerona, Barcelona, Valencia, Ibiza, Malaga, Las Palmas, Tenerife, Palma de Mallorca, Menorca, Olbia, Cagliari, Nice, Rome, Pescara, Naples, Corfu, Preveza, Zakyntos, Chania, Split, Heraklion, Rhodes, Kos, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Burgas, Antalya, Larnaca and Dubai.
The menu of choices is extremely good if you want to hop from one holiday destination to the next. The plane fleet seems to consist of mainly leased Boeing 737-500 and 800 aircraft, so definitely old technology in terms of fleet. However, the flight turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Having looked at early reviews of the airline on several websites, I was almost having buyer's remorse. There was an almost unending list of delays and general irritations posted by the reviewers. For the price I was paying, I waved these off, as most of them were a number of years old. I am glad I did give the airline a chance as it offered some pleasant surprises.
As anticipated, the planes were a bit older and didn’t offer the types of bells and whistles that most spoiled travelers have grown used to. There were no interactive entertainment centers, or even air phones for that matter. The seat space was typical Boeing (not quite enough), but it was better than some of my 747 experiences (yeah, I am talking about you, Lufthansa). The plane was only about two-thirds full, so I was able to fully stretch out in my own row and put in some quality nap time during the trip. The crew was helpful, and yes, friendly (a shock for a budget airline).
One of the most pleasing parts of the trip was the food and service. In terms of the amount and quality, SmartWings ranks highly, with such airlines as Emirates and Qatar. They offered several beverages and a full meal during the flight with no additional charge. The best part of the meal for this pork-deprived Western expat living in the Middle East (sorry, my halal and kosher friends) was the pig! I had read in all the guidebooks how pork-crazy the Czechs are. Apparently, this love of pork gets extended to airline meals.