I went on a two week holiday in June to: - visit Moldova, one of the few countries in Europe where I'd never been before, - visit Transnistria, a self-proclaimed independent country, - visit Odessa, a city where I'd been planning to go for a very long time, - visit a friend in Tel-Aviv, - fly to Geneva to meet my family taking the direct Icelandair flight from Keflavík, and then spend a week in France.
I took an Uber from the hotel in downtown Odessa at 19.45. The price was only about 3 € and I was at the airport at 20.00. While a new, much larger and better looking terminal was being built and seemed not far from being completed, the old terminal allowed to travel not only in distance but also in time. It was definitely built in the Soviet times and looked almost like a railway station.
There was a line at check-in but I had already checked in through UIA’s mobile application. I saw no business class check-in. The check-in area looked very dated:
The security line was right in the check-in area with only two channels and no priority security (except for crew). I was however through in 15 minutes. Passport control which was right after security took no more than two minutes.
The terminal airside is probably the smallest in Europe among the international airports with extremely limited facilities. There was a small bar with at least three times the city prices (and the sandwich was very bad).
The duty free shop was also very small
There was a CIP lounge which seemed to be empty.
This model ship was to advertise working opportunities in the shipping industry.
My boarding pass said boarding would be between 20.50 and 21.20 but there was no sign of boarding at 21.00. There were occasional loudspeaker announcements in Ukrainian only and there was no working screen at the gate. There was eventually a boarding call in English at 21.20. Boarding was by bus. Our aircraft for today’s flight:
We had a very friendly welcome from the cabin crew when boarding.
I had considered booking business class as the price difference was not very big but I didn’t for three reasons: the lounge at the airport had a poor reputation; I could book an emergency exit row seat with more legroom than the business class seats; and I could pre-order a hot meal (for a small fee) even in economy. Otherwise Ukraine International Airlines's business class seats are the standard intra-European business seats with the central seat blocked.
Economy was in the normal 3+3 configuration and the cabin was in a very good condition. I pre-booked the emergency exit row seat on the airline’s website (which is remarkably easy to use) so I had huge legroom at seat 14C.
I had the entire row for myself initially but another passenger sneaked to the window seat on the other side without asking the cabin crew, and another man followed him some time later. The cabin crew didn’t notice (or didn’t say) anything.
Boarding was completed at 21.45. The captain announced a flight time of two hours and twenty minutes (scheduled flight time is two hours and 45 minutes). Taxi started at 21.55, 25 minutes behind schedule but as the announced flight time was shorter we expected to arrive on-time. Take off was at 21.57 – no long lines at Odessa Airport. The runway seemed to be as rough as many of the roads around the Ukraine.
Ukraine International offers a buy-on-board (or book-in-advance) service and the menu is more extensive than the one you can find onboard Easyjet, Ryanair or Wizzair. There were three types of Paninis (starting at 4€), two types of hot meals (lasagne or sweet & sour chicken) for 8 €, three types of tea and four types of coffee etc. But the best deal is the full lunch that can be pre-ordered for 8 € only.
The buy-on-board service started 15 minutes after take-off and was really fast. I believe I was the only one to pre-order a meal. I wasn’t served first but only when the normal service got to my row – no problem.
My meal was called “Ukrainian Travel Lunch” and included a tomato and cheese salad, Ukrainian banosh with bacon and brinsen cheese and a poppy seed cake. Water, tea and coffee was included. The meal was served in proper porcelain and came with metal cutlery. The salad was fresh. The main course was good. The cake was very good. This meal was not far from what you would get on a short-haul intra-European business class (with the exception of the drinks) – and the price was only 8 €. Extremely good value!
I was working on my flight reports in the remaining time. Start of descent was at midnight and we landed at 00.15, exactly according to schedule. Ukraine International uses Terminal 3 at TLV. I was through passport control in only five minutes and I went to pick up my rental car.
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Odessa is a large city with a long history in Southern Ukraine on the shores of the Black Sea. While large parts of the outer areas of Odessa have roads and housing that are certainly not in good condition there is no doubt that this a great place to visit. The most positive surprise for me was the huge café and restaurant culture with a high number of stylish places to eat or to have a drink, always at very affordable prices.
Are we in Paris or in Odessa?
Odessa has many buildings with remarkable architecture.
Odessa is also a beach city, although the beaches can get crowded.
And finally one of the oddest things I’ve ever seen: a pony painted in giraffe pattern with a Ferrari branded saddle in the main shopping street of Odessa – kids can get a ride for a small fee.
Odessa - ODS
Tel Aviv - TLV
The current Odessa Airport is like travelling back in time. It is very small and has extremely limited facilities and services. This should change with the opening of the new airport. The flight itself was perfectly pleasant with the new looking interior, friendly crew, huge legroom in the emergency exit row and pre-ordered hot meal – Ukraine International Airlines delivered a very good standard of service, better than you would get on some of the better known airlines.
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