Someone once asked me, what makes a flight special?
Many reasons really. For many, it could be their first time flying or the first flight overseas or first time flying in premium class or things like that. However it could be a different story for aviation geeks who always make an effort to “hunt” for a special flight. Inaugural flights, final flights, flights operated by rare aircraft types, flights flying to challenging airports, being the only pax in a flight, special tour flights are some of the personal “KPIs” or aviation targets that are quite common among aviation enthusiasts.
Despite not labeling myself as an aviation geek, I have attempted to have my own little aviation resolutions list every year. Something that I created to satisfy my passion towards aviation as well as creating more unique aviation stories here on AzuanZahdi.com. Alhamdulilah, on 17th Feb 2015, the moment I stepped my foot on the slippery surface of Longyearbyen Airport’s tarmac in Svalbard, I got my first and biggest tick off my 2015 aviation resolutions list.
To fly to the world’s northernmost airport with public scheduled flights – checked!
This is my #KeHujungDunia story of flight SK4414, Destination: Top of the world – Longyearbyen Svalbard.
“National Geographic in 2011 listed Longyearbyen Airport as one of the World’s 7 Most Extreme Airports.”
Not the kind of reading you want to go through the night before your flight to up north but it was one of websites that I stumbled upon while searching some information about flying to Svalbard. Probably that article on NatGeo’s website was one of the reasons that I could not really sleep and was wide awake at 5 am in the morning ready for an exciting day ahead.
After a long flight from KL to Europe (click here to read), a few days in London (click here to read) and a short 15-hours stopover in Oslo (click here to read), it was time to finally fly to our ultimate destination, Longyearbyen in Svalbard.
The three of us hopped into one of the early morning trains back to Oslo’s Gaerdamon Airport. A tip: ticket for the normal NSB train to and from airport is cheaper than the normal ticket for FlyToGet Airport Train.
Oslo’s Gaerdamon gets mixed reviews online but I honestly love the airport. Maybe not during peak hours or for transiting (weird transit process!) but the passenger flow from airport’s kerbside to aerobridge is rather quick and easy. Also extra points for the fresh Scandinavian ambience that can be felt throughout the airport.
Check in was straight forward. Self-service kiosks and automated bag drops are available but we could not try it due to my “first name and last name mixed up” (Yes Malaysian passport does not indicates first and last names). As we were already gotten our boarding pass in Heathrow a day before, we just had to queue to drop our bags.
My boarding pass.
Another “jakun moment” for me. I am so used to seeing two separate boarding passes when a passenger has connecting flights but it seems like it’s common in this part of the world to just have all the details in one boarding pass as it will just be scanned and no part of the boarding pass is being teared as per traditional boarding pass. Efficient and yes… a “jakun moment”.
I’ve been to Copenhagen and Stockholm airports and I can see similarities in the interior design with Oslo’s Gaerdamon airport. The large comfortable chairs, the wooden flooring, high ceilings are some of it that I could recall.
Knowing that we had to buy our food on-board SAS flight, we decided to eat at the airport instead. Mainly because there are more halal options at the airport vs on-board. Halal here refers to seafood and vegetarian options as there are no (as far as our research goes) restaurants that serve halal meat in the airport. We found this Seafood Bar which is one awesome place to eat. The seafood sandwich is amazingly fresh and worth the price.
And nothing like a view of the airport tarmac being showered with flurries of snow.
At one point I was wondering whether we were even going to leave on-time as the snowfall kept increasing covering not only the airport ground but also the planes. But I guess snowfall is so common here that everyone seems relaxed and certain that the flight will depart as planned.
Flight SK4414 is a direct flight to Longyearbyen. However it is not a non-stop flight. Want to know what’s the different? Click here. This daily flight from Oslo travels towards the Arctic Circle and lands at Tromso for a quick technical stop and immigration clearance for the passengers (more on this shortly) before making its way further north to Longyearbyen.
Flight load for the first leg was full. Boarding was done through front and back doors which mean that those assigned to seats at the back of the plane were asked to use the escalators at the aerobridge and walk towards the plane. Not the best thing to do when it’s snowing and temperature was at -2 degrees.
Scandinavian Airlines utilise a Boeing 737-800 for this route. LN-RRU, a 13 years old plane was tasked to fly to the top of the world on that day. As a fan of winglets, I was a bit disappointed to see that it was a non-winglet 738.
Legroom on SAS is quite generous and the seats are quite comfortable. Something expected from a legacy carrier.
Our flight left the bay on-time and went straight to the de-icing station where the aircraft was sprayed with litres of de-icing or anti-icing fluids. Quite cool to watch the whole de-icing process being carried out from the comfort of a dry and warm cabin 🙂
It does not take long after take-off before we break away from the cloud cover and finally see blue sky.
Service was quite straight forward. Like many airlines out there, SAS has moved a step closer to an LCC model by offering food and drinks for purchase. Good to note that at least the coffee/tea/water option is still free.
Fast forward 90 minutes later, the flight offered us a nice winter wonderland view as we approached into Tromso airport. Tromso looks beautiful and some of Malaysian bloggers through their posts on Tromso have convinced me to include it in my next Scandinavian trip.
In Tromso all passengers including those continuing to Longyearbyen had to deplane.
This is to allow all passengers heading to Longyearbyen to clear immigration. Norway is part of the Schengen Area – an area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders. However Svalbard has a special status under international law and does not considered to be part of Schengen Area hence we had our passports stamped with the Schengen “Exit” stamp in Tromso.
Off to the second leg of SK4414!
Two things I saw at Tromso airport that made me a bit nervous.
i. The amount of layers of cloth that people put on during the transit.
ii. This sign. Yes, Polar Bears are cute but they are real threat.
One for aviation geeks out there. Probably one of the plus points of using stairs. Photo opportunity despite the freezing temperature. 🙂
Till next time, Tromso.
The flight from Tromso to Longyearbyen was another routine flight.
However it got a bit more interesting at the last 35 minutes of the flight. The rapid loss of daylight was an indication that we are close to our destination.
Svalbard got their first light in 15 February each year after a couple of months of continuous darkness. Therefore despite arriving at around 2:30pm, the sun has set and it’s the twilight that provides some light which gives Svalbard a nice blueish colour.
As the plane descended from the cruise altitude, the Captain made an announcement that it would get a bit bumpy due to strong Arctic winds coming from the opposite direction of the plane as well as low clouds over Svalbard. He wasn’t kidding. For a good 15 minutes the airplane flew through the clouds with occasional bumps and ‘pockets’ that made me held strong to the armrest. At that exact point, that article from NatGeo did came to my mind but I simply brushed it away. *positive thinking*
Finally the bumpy ride stops and we could finally get a glimpse of Svalbard’s amazing terrain.
The aircraft came in nicely and landed firmly on runway 10. Video of the landing can be viewed here.
I was glued to the window admiring the view around the airport until I realised that the aircraft doors have been opened and passengers have started leaving the plane. We were the last few to leave as I struggled putting my gloves and jackets on before stepping out to the -5 degrees Celsius weather. We were lucky to arrive on a day that Longyearbyen had a “warm” temperature of a single digit below zero degrees hence making it possible to snap some photos before rushing into the terminal from the plane.
Hello Longyearbyen, Svalbard!
Rare occasion deserves a selfie. This could be my northernmost selfie with an aircraft and an airport 😛
The #KeHujungDunia trio has finally step foot at the top of the world. At 78° 14′ N 15° 30′ E and halfway between Norway and the North Pole, Svalbard is rightfully labelled by locals as “next to the North Pole” and as top of the world as we could get for a normal traveller like me.
What better way to welcome the visitors at the baggage conveyor belt with another reminder of Svalbard’s icon, the Polar Bear! A dangerous animal as an icon. Pretty much describes how unique Svalbard is in terms of being a tourist destination 🙂 More on this on my upcoming posts.
SK4414 definitely has a special place in my flight logbook. For many, it could be just an ordinary flight but the experience for this aviation blogger is unique and exciting 🙂
I will write a post on Longyearbyen Airport later as well as the various activities and fun we had at Longyearbyen Svalbard. Till then click here to return to my #KeHujungDunia directory and video.
Side note: AzuanZahdi.com has been nominated as one of the blogs running for “Best Travel Blog” award for the Malaysian Social Media Week. If you think that I deserves it, click here to vote for AzuanZahdi.com 🙂 Thank you.