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.
At meal time, we were offered a beverage, a traditional Czech baguette, and the crowning glory: an airline-sized tray of glorious smoked pork along with traditional Czech potato dumplings. So yes, this also wasn’t the best flight for vegetarians. The food was exceptional given that this was a budget airline. It tasted almost homemade (no small achievement at 40,000 feet).
Prague Ruzyne Airport is small, but up to the task. There are the requisite food outlets and duty free shop. Better yet, passport control was fast and efficient. It took us barely 30 minutes to clear the entire terminal and whisk away to the hotel.
What can you say about Prague? The city SmartWings chose for its hub is one of the most splendid and tourist-friendly in Europe. Unlike Paris, or London, it is easy to move about the historic and culturally important parts of the city as most of it is clustered about the Vltava river and can easily be reached on foot. Hotels are the typical European mix of upscale and tourist-class. Food and drink are good, but can’t compete with the larger European capitals. Ppeople come to Prague for the history and culture that surround you at all times. It is easy to immerse yourself in the culture and atmosphere of the past. Arriving during the Easter festival, Prague’s old town square was decked in brilliant tents, replete with traditional Czech Easter items and fare. There is nothing quite like hot, spiced wine and fresh ginger bread on a cold day. There is also plenty to do for the Pub and Club set. You can easily crawl or dance the night away in multiple venues around the city.
The flight home was on time and just as good. SmartWings deserves some major credit for putting together a good, efficient budget airline I would not hesitate to fly again.