Trip Report – blu-express – Cheap & Very Scary

by Adam

Well, sometimes you get what you pay for! Though in the future I’ll be considering my safety just a bit more. This was by far my scariest flight yet! This is the third part of an eight part trip report from my travels to Rome and Siracusa, Sicily:

I was working in Rome in early November and when I saw that the forecast for Siracusa, Sicily was going to be close to 80 for the weekend (it was in the upper 50s in Rome), I decided to book a last minute flight. Alitalia wanted over $500 for the flights, easyJet was a bit better at $426, but flying with blu-express I could snag a roundtrip flight for $132…sometimes price is more important than miles…especially on a short trip like this and even more so when those miles would be Delta SkyMiles.

The outbound flight was extremely quirky but the return was downright scary!

Outbound – Since the prices are so cheap, the airline tries to make their money back on baggage fees. I had only a carry-on duffle which could be folded up to fit the width requirements, though the weight was definitely over the limit (I had two of my colleagues belongings as well). I removed a few items placing them on the check-in counter and then weighed my bag. With an approving nod l I was given a sticker to place on the bag. Now, this was only the first of three bag checks. The gate area was completely roped off (the only airline doing so) and in order to enter I had to present my ticket as well as my bag for inspection (a scale was even present). Luckily, a rowdy crowd approached and the agent became distracted and only checked my ticket. I was in…yet there was a further bag check upon boarding the bus. For this one I just slipped through the crowd.

The plane itself was a very old 737-300, not only did it have that antique smell but the seats were literally coming apart. The light and reading lights reminded me of trips back in the 80s. trip report09 trip trip report11

Boarding music was the best of the 80s with Whitney Houston’s Greatest Love of All blasting for the entire boarding process and as we taxied down the runway, three times in total! We were reminded twice that there was no smoking until we reached the gate in Sicily.

The 1 hour and 15 minute flight included snacks and drinks for purchase… trip trip report13 trip report12 trip report02 trip report03 trip report04 trip report05 trip trip report07

All told we got there safely, on-time, and the flight was quite unique. However, the return was a different story. There were major storms in Rome and while waiting at Catania airport (CTA) I watched two Alitalia flights back to Rome get canceled (both the one before and after our scheduled flight) as well as the easyJet flight scheduled to depart 15 minutes prior to our flight. However, our flight had only a one hour delay. I saw one of the flight attendants in the gate area and asked her if the flight would realistically be taking off as the other carriers had canceled their flights on the same route. She told me that the plane had to be in Rome in the morning and that she heard from the captain that we would be taking off two hours late to get it there regardless. Hmm…pretty strange, I figured it was just disgruntled employee gossip.

Sure enough though, at the 1 hour and 30 minute delay mark we began boarding the plane. Checking my phone I could see that there was still heavy rain and major thunderstorms in the Rome area, but perhaps the flight crew saw a few breaks on the radar.

The first twenty minutes of the 1 hour and 20 minute flight were fine, but the last hour was a nightmare. We were getting slammed and the plane was being thrown up, down, left, and right. Of all the flights I’ve ever taken, I had never experienced turbulence of this caliber, it was just so strong. I have never felt a plane be smacked so hard before and certainly not for this long. The last 30 minutes however were by far the worst, the turbulence was constant and the majority of passengers were screaming and holding hands. The man across from me was holding his cross necklace. There were several occurrences when we dropped hard and fast (not sure if those were intentional or not) and during the landing we were blown from side to side. We came in real fast and hard but landed safely – thanks to the pilots and a little help from up above…

At no time during the almost one hour of constant and extremely strong and scary turbulence (I’m not using the moderate and severe terms as I’m not qualified) did the pilots or flight crew make any announcements…zero…radio silence. I thought this was horrible, though of course if they were busy up-front I’d rather them be 100% focused. However, without a reassuring message, things seemed even more severe . That coupled with the knowledge that the other carriers had canceled their flights on the exact same routes at similar times and the flight attendant comment that the plane had to be back in Rome regardless definitely made this my scariest ever (not to mention the shabby state of the plane). I was extremely grateful to be back on the ground and I won’t be flying blu-express again anytime soon. I still would love to understand how we were cleared to fly while all the other flights that night back to Rome were canceled.

Have you flown blu-express?

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Points with a Crew March 4, 2014 - 8:38 am

Wow that sounds terrifying. I kind of take it for granted (flying mostly the “larger” airlines domestically). Glad you made it!

Eric Pan March 4, 2014 - 11:53 pm

This proves good engineering on the 737’s 🙂

Ari K March 5, 2014 - 1:42 pm

Just remember…pilots tend to have just as much of an interest in surviving a flight as you do.

Craig March 31, 2014 - 3:26 pm

Hi Adam,

I must have missed this post when it came out, but a few weeks ago I booked the exact same Blue Panorama flights for the end of May. Hopefully we will have not thunderstorms!

I also prepaid for extra check-in luggage. Sounds like I might have to stick my laptop in the back of my pants! Any other tips for getting through the carry-on weight checks?

When I was in Vietnam last month I actually stuck my foot in the check-in scale, something I learned from Ben. Low and behold, my luggage weighed ten pounds less!


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