When I decided to move to the second-smallest Canary Island of La Gomera, I had two goals for my time on the archipelago; to finally get a solid base tan and to log a tonne of Binter Canarias flights. While the first proved quite an ambitious target, the latter was very achievable thanks to the Island Resident travel discount and the fact that La Gomera's minuscule airstrip was perched on a cliff above my house. This report covers my bittersweet final flight on Binter, leaving my island home to return to life on mainland Europe.
The official Binter Canarias website is the only place to book tickets using the Residents' discount. The GMZ-TFN route is often available at the lowest possible Superpromoprice (around €22 for residents, €44 for non-residents), especially when avoiding the only "peak" times on Friday and Sunday evenings. There are also small discounts for under-29s, over-60s, and university students. All Binter tickets include a piece of checked luggage with a weight of 20kg. Boarding passes can be printed, accessed via the app or collected at the airport at no extra charge.
Sample booking through the Binter website
La Gomera boasts the Canary Island's newest airport. Opened in 1999, despite the airfield's runway being completed in 1994, it is quite a sight to behold. The island's steep and uneven topography provided few locations suitable for an airport; the expansive Garajonay National Park meant that building any closer to the capital, San Sebastian, was impossible, and the temperamental climate of the island's north also ruled it out. Thus the cliff-top location next to the fishing village of Playa de Santiago was chosen, over 700 ft above the sea below. The runway provides little margin for error at only 4,921 ft long, with sheer drops at either end.
The previous afternoon's flight arrives
There are minibus services to coincide with the two daily flights from TFN, serving both San Sebastian and Valle Gran Rey to the west. Fortunately, the San Sebastian service would pass right at the end of my street, meaning I could leave the house just an hour before the flight's departure. A quick ride through town and up the surrounding cliffs and five minutes later I'm at the terminal door.
GMZ was clearly built on far greater ambitions than today's modest air service. Adjacent to the long car park - providing possibly the only free airport parking in the world - sits the grand archways and tinted glass of the main terminal building. The departures entrance is found to the right and arrivals to the left, however considering the airport's underwhelming passenger numbers it's safe to say that anything goes.
Entering the terminal was always a pleasant surprise. An airy, marble-clad interior greets me as I step in from the morning heat. The airport's high ceilings are finished with dark wooden beams, making it feel less like a terminal and more like a traditional Canarian building. Immediately to the right are located no fewer than four check-in desks, along with the Binter customer service desk. Throughout my time on the island, I never saw more than one desk in use, or indeed in need of being used. Just one of many features that remind people that this place was designed for more than two ATRs a day.
The morning rush hour picks up
I drop off my bag and check it through to my onward Air Europa flight, with whom Binter codeshare on the GMZ route. This was possible despite having made the two bookings separately, which was a bonus. There's still about 15 minutes until the inbound flight is even scheduled to arrive at 10:00, so I make my way to the one and only airport cafe.
Looking along the terminal building
Obviously lacking the shopping malls present in most airports, La Gomera still offers a small gift shop for travelers. How it stays in business is anyone's guess. There is also a selection of rental agency booths which open just in time for arriving passengers to collect their cars before closing again. The cafe, however, remains open throughout the day to serve good, reasonably-priced coffee to locals and staff of the airport and adjacent meteorological station. The terminal opens up into a pleasant waiting area flanked by palm trees with a pleasant little water feature running through the middle. It's well-lit by a huge window looking onto the apron.
The small airport's architecture, filled with natural light, makes it an all-around nice place to spend time. Slowly a few more passengers emerge, as do some passers-by taking a few minutes out of their morning to watch the arrival.
The day's action
As was often the case, most passengers on the flight were bound for destinations beyond Tenerife. La Gomera's proximity to the popular holiday destination is its downfall in terms of air travel popularity with local people. The 50-minute ferry crossing from San Sebastian provides a more economical and practical solution for many, therefore the flights tend only to serve those traveling to other islands or specifically needing to get to Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The GMZ flights connect quite well to other Spanish domestic flights, however the morning one annoyingly just misses a bank of low-cost flights from Norwegian, Ryanair and Vueling, and Air Europa's morning widebody service to Madrid.
A somewhat-to-scale airport model in the terminal
As if to mark the occasion of my final departure from La Gomera, an aviation miracle occurred. Upon hearing the sound of an approaching turboprop, I went to the window to see not a Binter ATR, but rather a Spanish Air Force C-295M, registration T.21-09, quickly touch down from the west and pull into a stand alongside the terminal. I'd seen these planes and others perform practice exercises over La Gomera many times, but never actually seen one at the airport.
The cargo seemed to be some important uniformed people
Barely three minutes later, the inbound flight from TFN arrived the same way, completing the unique sight of two whole planes at GMZ at once!
EC-LFA joins its Air Force counterpart on the apron
The Binter ATR 72, today named Rapadura, pulled into its regular parking spot right opposite the terminal windows. This particular frame was built in 2010, flying in Binter colours all its life. No sooner had the props wound down than the small ground crew swarmed the aircraft, quickly connecting an APU, pulling the baggage car alongside and opening the rear cabin door.
Binter operates both the -500 and -600 variants of the ATR 72, although the GMZ route almost exclusively receives the -500s due to their operation by NAYSA (Binter is in fact a franchise under which a variety of individual regional airlines operate). The newer -600's cabins feel fresher, complete with mood lighting, but beyond that there is very little noticeable difference. The Binter fleet is completed by a pair of CRJ-900s leased from Air Nostrum, which can be found flying their longer segments to Africa, Europe, and occasionally between the Canaries.
Incoming passengers make their way towards arrivals, at the airport's eastern end
The airport security team, consisting of two privately contracted agents, wait for the arriving passengers to finish collecting their luggage from the sole baggage reclaim belt before turning their attention to the departing flight. Once all the arrivals are clear, they open a large sliding door opposite the cafe and change the FIDS status to 'go to gate'. La Gomera's security consists of two walk-through metal detectors and an x-ray machine for hand luggage. The limited facilities are no issue for today's load of six passengers (including myself) - painfully low even by this flight's standards. Fantastic from the passenger's point of view, however, as we're through to the gate area in seconds. It's a low-ceilinged space with plenty of seating, optimistically separated into two gates.
No gate-crowding issues here
Boarding soon commences through gate one, as ever. My boarding pass is scanned by the same agent who checked my bag, the doors open and it's out onto the tarmac for my last walk in the Gomeran sun towards Rapadura. There's a knot in my stomach as I make this trip for the final time - a trip that had become routine during my time here.
The La Gomera jet-bridge (taken in December 2015)
The ATR's cargo hold is located between the passenger cabin and cockpit at the front of the aircraft, so boarding has to be done through the rear cabin door. Walking under the wing and up the steps gives great views of the plane and surrounding traffic if at a busier airport.
Pre-boarding views, including some of Bentayga earlier in the year
Two smiling flight attendants greet me at the top of the built-in stairs, probably delighted with their low workload for the next half-hour. In a stark contrast to the airline's green and white livery, the aircraft cabin is decked out in an interesting burgundy and beige combo across the leather seats. The ceiling is low and overhead bins small, but the 2-2 seating layout keeps it from ever feeling too cramped.
Last one to board
Binter operates an unassigned seating policy on inter-island flights, so I practically have the choice of the cabin when deciding where to sit today. The ATR offers the quirky opportunity to experience flying backwards in seats 1E and 1F, the downside being having to stare at those in row 2 for the duration of the flight. I settle for my favourite prop-view seat: 6F. Seat comfort is good but the legroom is tight, even for such a short hop. The seat pocket contains a safety card and Binter's own in-flight magazine, written entirely in Spanish.
View from 6F
I always choose this side of the plane when travelling from La Gomera for the stunning in-flight views of El Teide's peak on Tenerife. The doors are almost immediately closed after taking my seat and a manual safety demonstration begins, performed by both members of the cabin crew. A choice of Spanish-language newspapers is then offered to passengers. One prop comes into life, then the other, and the aircraft slowly pulls round and out of its stand. No need for the ATR's reverse feature today as the near-empty apron provides plenty of space, however this feature is well-utilised at TFN and other, busier island airports.
We taxi out to the runway, making a right turn to backtrack along its 1.5km surface. In all my flights from GMZ, I only experienced a left turn and westward takeoff from runway 27 once.
Hasta luego, old friend
The aircraft loops around at the end of the runway, just a few feet away from the cliff's drop at the end. We line up on runway 09 and the pilot cranks up the engines, keeping the brakes on for maximum takeoff power. Whilst not the usual protocol on GMZ, it certainly adds dramatic effect!
Don't overshoot this one…
The brakes are released and we lurch forwards. The ATR rapidly builds up speed and gets airborne just over halfway along the runway, quickly leaving the tiny terminal building behind. The glaring morning sunshine and reflection off the sea doesn't make for good photos, not to mention Binter's consistently scratched windows, but I do manage to snap one final farewell glimpse of the harbour in Santiago before banking north over the island.
A minute later the island's capital, San Sebastián, comes into view below, as does the looming peak of El Teide. The Fred Olsen ferry service can be seen pulling out from the harbour on it's way to the port of Los Cristianos on the south of Tenerife.
After a steep climb, we soon level out at an altitude of about 10,000 ft. It's a wonderfully clear day for flying without a trace of the haze or Saharan dust which sometimes clouds the air here. Although my camera fails to pick up the sight, at one point it is possible to see five of the seven Canary Islands at once; La Gomera, Tenerife and the distant Gran Canaria on the right, with La Palma and El Hierro visible from the opposite windows.
El Teide soars higher than most island-hopper flights
As soon as the seatbelt light goes off, the cabin crew spring into action to commence the in-flight service. This is where Binter puts many legacy airlines to shame, as for this barely-20-minute flight all passengers are served a small boiled sweet, wet towels, a choice of sparkling or spring water, and a (delicious) Binter-branded chocolate wafer bar. Considering many passengers on these flights connect onward to Iberia and Air Europa, who are essentially low-cost carriers in disguise on their intra-European routes, this level of service is outstanding! The wafer is substituted for a donut during July and August, possibly to stop the chocolate melting in the peak summer heat. The quality of the snack service is attested to by my lack of photos (too busy eating).
After barely five minutes at cruising altitude, the engines audibly spool down and the ATR's nose pitches downwards. At this point, we're only just crossing over the Los Gigantes cliff formation on Tenerife's northwestern corner. We fly parallel to the island's sloping north coast as we line up for a rare approach to TFN from the west.
I'm treated to excellent views of Tenerife as we continue our approach. The island's north was enjoying an unusually sunny morning - somewhat of a rarity when landing at an airport renown for its challenging conditions, both in terms of visibility and crosswinds. The most infamous example of which is, of course, the 1977 disaster involving two 747s. The issues leading to that crash may have been long resolved, but the airport still regularly suffers from fog and the approach is always a lively one.
It doesn't offer the beaches of the south, but Tenerife's north is a whole different beautiful
The seatbelt signs are re-illuminated and the cabin crew quickly finish their duties and take their seats. Even on flights with higher loads, the Binter crews always managed to serve everyone. Turning onto finals, the green terraces of the countryside below replace the glistening sea as the short flight nears its end.
It's a less bumpy approach than from the east, providing a vastly different view than that of Santa Cruz de Tenerife's impressive urban sprawl over the mountainside.
The ground comes up to meet the ATR just as quickly as it descends. We touch down on runway 12 at 10:50, clocking a flight time of exactly 20 minutes. As short as this may seem, my fastest experience on this route came in at just 17 minutes when flying the reverse route.
The prop's reverse thrust roars into action, thrusting everyone forward in their seats. We make a quick exit from the runway and head straight to the area of the apron used exclusively by island-hoppers, directly in front of TFN's main terminal building.
It's a moderately busy time of day at the airport. A bank of mid-morning flights to mainland Spain are about to depart and a wave of flights to other islands coincide with the GMZ flight's arrival. We're guided into stand and come to an abrupt stop as the props wind down on either side. The doors are opened and I'm disembarking before the baggage trolley has even reached the plane.
A Nordic neighbour interestingly not using TFS
UX's late morning service to Barcelona
A short walk along the terminal's exterior and past other waiting ATRs takes passengers directly into either the departures area or baggage reclaim. Tenerife North is a lot more open and airy than Tenerife South - a cramped and dingy airport built specifically for the holidaymaker crowd.
I choose to go landside as I have over three hours to wait for my connecting flight. There's little to do in and around TFN, even by venturing into nearby neighbourhoods, so I take a seat at a cafe overlooking the check-in area and indulge in some fine dining at Burger King.
And with that, my stay on the Canary Islands was complete. Thank you for reading my report on an unusual airline and, I believe, the first report from my island home of La Gomera. I hope it inspires you to consider spending your next holiday on this little gem of unspoiled paradise. I'll leave you with my parting view of Tenerife as I continued onwards to Barcelona, full of Burger King and full of affection for this stunning archipelago.
Until we meet again, Canarias!
La Gomera - GMZ
Tenerife Island - TFN
Binter Canarias provide a slick onboard service whilst providing a detrimental service to the Canary Islands. Whilst their fares aren't as great value for visitors as residents, it's still refreshing to see even small things like onboard snacks, newspapers and checked baggage included on all tickets. Legroom could be better but for flights that usually don't exceed 30 minutes, it's not much of an issue. The scratched windows across almost the entire fleet, however, is annoying.
La Gomera airport is impossible to fault. It's a white elephant project, but it's one that offers one of the most relaxed passenger experiences going as a by-product of its underuse. The airport is worth a visit even if you're not flying to/from La Gomera. There's always talk of the fabled jet service to mainland Europe, however with the current runway length there's no chance of that without being forced into a fuel stop on another island, rendering it completely uneconomical. Besides, much of the attraction of La Gomera is its lack of mass tourism, therefore there's little incentive to accommodate extended air service. A daily Binter service to LPA would be nice but highly unlikely.
Tenerife Norte is a perfectly acceptable mini-hub on the islands. It's prone to getting very crowded in the summer months and if a few delays pile up, but otherwise is quite a painless experience. Points for the Burger King having a regular price list rather than the usual airport inflation!
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