A very warm welcome to this new series covering my first flights after lockdown, ladies and gentlemen! After 178 days of being on the ground, I finally had the pleasure of taking to the skies again, for a month-long trip to my usual destination of Sofia, Bulgaria. I had originally planned to fly to Sofia in mid-July, but just a few days before that Austrian government banned all flights to and from Bulgaria and a handful of other Eastern European countries, due to the poor handling of the pandemic in those countries. Thanks to Lufthansa's very generous rebooking policy, I was able to not only move my flights to be about a month later than originally planned, but I was also able to change my originating airport from Vienna to Innsbruck, though I'll get into that in the section below.
Originally, I was meant to fly a simple roundtrip from Vienna to Sofia and back. At the time of booking, the itinerary looked like this:
OS799 | Vienna - Sofia | Embraer 195
OS800 | Sofia - Vienna | Airbus A320
Though instead, flight OS799 was cancelled, and the return flight was operated by a Dash 8.
After a hassle-free process, I was able to change my flight to the current itinerary, which is as follows:
Note that when I rebooked the flights, OS797 was meant to be operated by an A319, and the return OS800 was meant to be operated by an Embraer 195, so the equipment on the return might still change.
The reason I flew this trip in Business Class was solely for the purpose of social distancing. As United's new CEO Scott Kirby says, there is no way to social distance your self on an airplane. That's true in Economy Class, but not in Business Class, and especially in Euro Business Classes, where the seat next to you is empty. I had no idea how full flights would be, and I didn't want to risk sitting next to a stranger who may or may not have had Covid. Spending miles on such a short flight in Business Class seemed like a sin, so I ended up booking a Business Saver ticket on LH.com. The VIE-SOF roundtrip cost around €480, and for no extra cost I was able to add the Innsbruck sectors of the trip. To change my flights, I simply called Lufthansa and within 45 minutes my new ticket was confirmed. I was very impressed with the way the whole situation was handled, and it reminded me why I'm loyal to the Lufthansa Group. With all that out of the way, on the the report!
I arrived at Innsbruck Airport around 4:55 AM to find a literal ghosttown.
With only one morning flight with very few passengers, the whole airport felt quite deserted. I checked-in on my phone, but there wasn't much of a line at check-in either.
Only 4 departures for the entire day. Note that Austrian's Innsbruck - Frankfurt has been suspended due to the pandemic, and I don't know when (and if) it will restart.
Security was super quick, and I was airside within 3 minutes of arriving at the airport.
The duty-free shop was closed, though that was due to the early hour, and not to the pandemic.
I headed upstairs to the Tyrol Lounge, but that was also closed. During the pandemic, the lounge is only open on weekdays, between 12:30 PM and 3:30 PM.
The seating section around the lounge was dark, but also provided a great view of the tarmac.
I decided to wait at the gate until boarding began.
Boarding commenced at 5:45 AM, and all passengers were reminded to put on the face masks and keep them on for the duration of the flight, although everyone was already wearing them in the terminal. I was the second passenger to head out onto the tarmac, and was beaming from ear to ear: it was finally time to fly again!
My aircraft to Vienna was OE-LGI, a December 2004-built Dash 8, delivered to Austrian Arrows in January 2005 and transferred to Austrian Mainline in July 2012. It's named Eisenstadt, which is the capital of Burgenland, Austria's least populous state.
The friendly purser greeted passengers at the door with a box of sanitizing wipes, and I quickly found my seat, 2A.
Wiping the tray table, which I guess is the new norm now.
Legroom was just fine, not bad, but not as good as what you'd find on Austrian's A319s.
Only two things were in the seatback pocket: the safety card, and an airsickness bag.
Great view while boarding!
Nice view of the prop from my seat, as well.
Once all 26 passengers were onboard, Captain Marco made his welcome announcement and thanked us for flying during the current situation. Beautiful flying conditions and a flight time of 55 minutes were announced. Shortly after that, our props fired up and we left our parking position.
Passing the Avanti Air Fokker 100 which is based in Innsbruck during the summer season.
Taxiing to Runway 08.
Backtracking on the runway.
Beginning our roll.
Rotating after a short roll of less than 15 seconds.
Finally in the air again!! ??
Great view of the Nordkette this morning.
Innsbruck down below.
Flying towards the sunrise.
Climbing out past the Karwendel Alps.
Leaving the Inn Valley behind near the city of Schwaz.
Alps near Gerlos, Austria.
Scratched up Dash 8 window.
Shortly after the seatbelt sign was switched off, the purser passed around breakfast. I had no idea what to expect from Austrian's catering during a pandemic, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received this:
The meal consisted of two cold finger sandwiches (one with cheese, the other with ham)…
…and a very tasty strawberry cream for dessert.
A wet towel was also on the tray.
Real silverware was offered, of course.
Chose water as my drink. Cheers!
Even before Covid, this would have been a great meal for a 55-minute flight, so the fact that Austrian still offers such great meals is a huge point in their favor. And to think that United doesn't even offer a meal on a 2-hour flight from San Fran to Seattle in First Class pre-Covid. ?♂️
Cruising at 25,000 feet.
View of the cabin looking forward…
…and back. Sad to see all those empty seats on a flight that's usually thriving ?
Empty Business Class cabin from another angle.
Window view from seat 3F.
Fog down below over what I believe is the Tamsweg Region of Salzburg state.
Left turn over the municipality of Kalwang.
As we commenced our descent passed Leoben, the co-pilot (who was also a Captain) announced that the weather in Vienna was sunny and 17°C and that we'd be on the ground right on schedule.
Mountains starting to subside.
Wiener Neustadt West Airport (LOXN), a military airfield in Wiener Neustadt.
Over the Vienna Basin.
Left turn over Eisenstadt…in the Eisenstadt ?
Lots of wind turbines below.
Turning final over Bruck an der Leitha.
Established on final approach.
Landing gear coming down.
Over the airport.
Firm landing on Runway 29 at 7:00 AM, right on time, after a flight time of 53 minutes.
Vacating the runway.
Still quite a few aircraft parked due to the pandemic, including 3 Austrian Airbuses, a Wizz Air A321, a Level A321…
…two Austrian 777s (including OE-LPC, which I flew during better times in 2019)…
…and an Embraer and two 767s.
Austrian 767-300 'India' to Chicago as OS65.
Pulling in next to a fellow Austrian Q400 'Burgenland' which had arrived from Graz.
One last look at my seat.
The purser bid everyone farewell at the door, and all passengers boarded a bus to the terminal.
Parting shots of the Eisenstadt.
Thanks for the ride!
Burgenland preparing for its next flight to Milan-Malpensa as OS507.
Our routing had us flying straight out of Innsbruck towards Leoben, around where we made a left turn and commenced our descent into Vienna, where we followed the BALAD 1U transition before landing on Runway 29. We cruised at 25,000 feet.
Due to the light load, all passengers managed to fit in one bus and still maintain distance between one another. The bus ride was quick and dropped us off at the terminal, which is where I'll continue the series in a few days. Thanks for reading this report about my return to flying, I hope that you enjoyed it, and please feel free to leave a comment below!
Austrian managed to make an ordinary domestic flight in Austria a memorable experience, though quite possibly because it was my first flight back after lockdown.
+ Efficient Innsbruck Airport
+ Friendly crew
+ Beautiful views
+ Delicious catering
- Not the best Business Class cabin
- No entertainment other than the views
Austrian's hard product is basically the same as all other European airlines (though the Q400 is arguably the most uncomfortable aircraft in the European skies), but their soft product is where they really shine. If I have to fly Business Class in Europe, I'd definitely choose Austrian.