Symi Travel News

Latest Travel News for Visitors to Symi by Andy Ward

Symi Visitor Travel blog

The new flight season has started

Scheduled international flights have resumed at Rhodes Airport after the usual winter break. The first was a Ryanair flight on Sunday 26 March from East Midlands.

However there are yet more changes to the planned summer flight programme for Rhodes and Kos.
Aegean has slightly increased the domestic flights between Rhodes and Athens, and these are all operated on Aegean A320 or A321 aircraft, despite being marketed as Olympic Air under the new policy of using the Olympic brand for flights within Greece and the Aegean brand for international flights. However the Aegean St Petersburg flights for summer 2017 have all been cancelled.
Olympic will still be operating the “Dodecanese local” flights between Rhodes and Kastellorizo and between Rhodes, Kos, Kalymnos, Leros, and Astypalea this summer, despite the government waiting until the day after the old contract expired to issue a new one for the latter route.

Today Brussels Airlines has announced it is taking over the flight operations of Thomas Cook Belgium. Two A320 aircraft and all the pilots and cabin crews will transfer, the other three aircraft will move to other Thomas Cook Group airlines.
The implementation date has yet to be made public, so the flight tables linked to below still show Thomas Cook as the operator. The package holiday business in Belgium continues, just with a different flight provider going forward.

2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Israel and Russia – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Athens and Thessaloniki – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes from France – version 1
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Italy – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Czech Republic, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Scandanavia and Finland – version 1
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Austria – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Switzerland – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Germany – version 3
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from the Netherlands – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from Belgium and Luxembourg – version 2
2017 Flights to Rhodes and Kos from the UK – version 8

Rhodes Airport takeover

The interminable saga of Rhodes Airport being franchised out to Fraport is finally approaching completion.
Yesterday Fraport announced their plans for Rhodes airport for the period between now and 2021.
First essential repairs and sanitary improvements will happen, along with better lighting airside. This should take care of the continuing leaky roof, stalled escalator, and broken toilet saga. That’s probably as much as they’ll manage for 2017 summer as it is hard to work on the airport when it is full of people.
The plan for 2018-2021 is:
• Remodeling the current terminal
• Reorganizing the airport apron area
• New fire station
• 13 percent increase in the number of check-in counters (from 40 to 45)
• 13 percent increase in the number of departure gates (from 16 to 18)
• 71 percent in the number of security-check lanes (from 7 to 12)
• 25 percent increase in the number of baggage reclaim belts (from 4 to 5)
(source – this also contains details of what is planned for Kos.)
How they plan to do this isn’t clear yet – one possibility is the development of a central hold baggage scanning area, instead of having scanning points dotted about the check-in halls. This would allow extra check-in/bag drop desks to use the scanning point floorspace and connections to the baggage conveyors.

Online Travel Agents – why are they bad for you?

I sometimes get queries from people asking why I don’t recommend booking through online travel agents which may advertise really cheap flights. Firstly, almost all agents are too cheapskate to include a live connection to the airline booking systems in their websites, so the price you can see (including the prices they supply to search engines like Skyscanner or Kayak) are often weeks out of date.

Then, with online travel agents, the “confirmation” email you receive first is a confirmation of your request to them to make a booking. It doesn’t mean they have made the booking. As their websites are not live to the airline booking systems, it is extremely possible, even likely, that the flight you have requested is full, or not available at the price.
When you request an online agent to book for you, your request goes into a queue. Eventually, could be minutes, could be hours, could be a day or so, it shows up on the screen of one of their reservation agents.
The agent then attempts to make the booking for you. Sometimes they succeed and everything is fine.
Sometimes there are no seats available at the price you saw, or no seats at all, or the flight times have changed. Then they contact you, and offer you an alternative, which you either accept or not.
See the multiple possible failure points? Your request gets lost in the queuing system and is never processed at all. An agent goes off duty leaving a request part-processed. An agent tries to contact you because they can’t supply what you requested – but the message never reaches you.
None of these can happen if you book directly with the airline or book face to face with a real live travel agent.

Next, airlines quite often find they need to alter flight times in between you booking and the actual date of travel, especially if these are months apart. If you book directly with the airline, they send you a notification of this, proposing an alternative.
You don’t have to accept the alternative right off – you might ask to be put on a different one of their flights because you’d miss the ferry to Symi, for example, and you are able to negotiate directly with the airline’s reservation staff.
If you book through a real live agent, they’ll receive the airline notification, contact you, and you can sit with them while they negotiate with the airline on your behalf.
If you book through an online agent, the airline notifies them of changes, but poor customer service standards and low staffing levels mean the agent may never tell you at all. If they do, you then need to try and contact them to in turn contact the airline, it can take anything up to an hour to fight your way through phone systems to speak to a call centre worker. Then you’re in a sort of ping-pong game – agent talks to airline, then has to come back to you with the airline’s answer, go back to the airline with what you say, and so on. See those unhappy people at airports who find their plane left 2 hours ago – most of them were never informed by their online agent!
Does your flight price include hold baggage or not? Book with the airline and it is crystal clear. Book with a competent high street agency and that’s something they’ll sort out for you. Book with an online agency and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes due to their staff errors you end up having no baggage allowance, and have to pay at the airport – probably twice as much as you would if you’d paid in advance.

This is only the beginning – there are fees for changing anything and everything.
Book tickets with Ryanair themselves and put a letter in the wrong place in someone’s name, contact them free of charge by on-line chat, and they’ll fix it free of charge. Book through an online agency and you’ll pay as much as £120- all of which goes to the agency. And of course because their staff rekey all your information, they introduce their own errors – but try and prove it is their error!

3 Blue Stars

No, sorry, this doesn’t mean that there will be a third ferry service each week.
Instead, we now know the arrangements for swapping ferries around this summer.
From now until 3 May, the Blue Star Patmos will run the services, with the sailing times going back to those of last summer.
From 4 May to 12 May, the Blue Star Naxos will deputise while Patmos has her annual drydocking.
From 13 May Blue Star Patmos returns and stays on the route until 23 June
From 25 June until 4 September, Blue Star Paros puts in an appearance instead, while Patmos goes onto another route.
Finally, from 5 September, Blue Star Patmos reappears and continues to the end of the summer timetable on 31 October.

So a little more interest this year. Of the Blue Star fleet that will physically fit in Symi harbour, only the Delos has yet to appear. Maybe some of the really big ferries will show up when the new quay is completed.

Ferry advice and combined timetables

Well, at least for the moment, we have a full set of ferry timetables up to the end of the tourist season at the end of October. Readers will note that there is no afternoon/evening service from Rhodes to Symi except the Blue Star sailings on Wednesdays and Fridays, and in the same way there’s no morning service from Symi to Rhodes except on Blue Star on Wednesdays and Fridays. At this stage I think it is unlikely that any extra sailings will appear, unless some sponsor comes forward. Last year and for several years previously Dodekanisos Seaways did Rhodes-Symi evening journeys and Symi-Rhodes morning journeys on four days of the week. These weren’t subsidised and seem to have been loss-making, certainly they were never anywhere near full (which would be 700 passengers), and some (like the Thursday morning sailing which was the Wednesday evening boat coming back) were virtually empty.
So here are the summary timetables for 2017:
High season (1 June to 24 September)
Late season (25 September to 31 October)

and some tips:
Should you book in advance? If you’re travelling TO Symi it is worth booking just a few days in advance (except for Blue Star sailings from Rhodes, where the ship is at the start of her journey and holds 1400 people, so never overcrowded). You can pick up your actual ticket in exchange for the booking confirmation at port ticket offices near the actual ferries before departure.
Travelling from Symi, drop into the local agent’s office and buy your ticket a couple of days before departure.
Are the ferries punctual? Yes, they are, unless affected by bad weather. Note that Blue Star and some Dodekanisos Seaways sailings are long distance, so the bad weather may be nowhere near Symi!
Can I use Sea Dreams ship “Symi” on a one-way ticket? Yes, this is once again a licensed ferry.
However it is only worth doing this from Rhodes to Symi, not in the other direction, as except at the very end of the season there is always at least one other ship both leaving Symi later and arriving in Rhodes sooner.
My guidebook says the ferries leave from Mandraki Harbour in Rhodes, but you don’t mention it? That’s because no ferries to Symi have used Mandraki since 2011. Get a new guidebook, or ask for your money back. The day excursion boat Nikolaos X does use Mandraki, but it is not a ferry, you can only buy day return tickets, and it won’t carry luggage.

More ferry tips to come!