This is part 14 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta. You can read an overview of the trip here.
Lots of European airlines that fly from Continental Europe to Malta — with flights on 7 airlines alone from the U.K. From Amsterdam on a Sunday, the only flights are on Air Malta – which meant I’d get to fly my 64th airline down to Malta! (Transavia, a LCC subsidiary of Air France-KLM, also files the route 4 days a week.) Air Malta is a weird airline, and is actually going through some financial difficulties. It has a small fleet of 7 A320s and 1 A319 that fly around Europe and Northern Aftica, and the aircraft are highly utilized given how many destinations are served – there are 8 weekly flights to Amsterdam alone. It also codeshares on certain random routes, mostly Alitalia and Lufthansa, but also Etihad – the former savior of random European airlines. I didn’t know anyone who had flown Air Malta (or had been to Malta, for that measure), but the airline turned out totally fine and not sketchy at all.
In order to avoid a repeat of drama with the ticket machine, I bought a ticket online and printed it out at the Doubletree. It’s a 13-minute ride on either the IC or IC Direct from Central Station, so I just took the first train – they run every 15 minutes – and it was 4,80 EUR.
I arrived at check-in at around 9:10am for my 11:50am flight, which was plenty of time given it was a within-Schengen flight. There was already a long line at the Air Malta counter. The check-in counters opened at 9:15am, and they moved pretty efficiently. Everyone had bags, not surprisingly since Air Malta includes a checked bag even in coach. I had booked my $172 ticket for 13,000 Thank You points before Citi devalued those, so not bad. (It doesn’t seem Air Malta is a redemption partner of any airline program I could find.) Air Malta isn’t an earning partner of many airlines, though I was able to credit the flight to Lufthansa’s Miles and More—those miles will likely go nowhere.
After dropping my bag, I was told to go straight to the gate, because it was “very busy.” It was indeed a long walk to the Departures 1 area, but it wasn’t that busy. I was through security and at the lounge by 9:40am.
There are only two lounges in the Schengen area at Schiphol – the KLM lounge, used by Skyteam members, and the Aspire lounge, used by everyone else, including Priority Pass members. As you’d thus expect, the Aspire lounge was very crowded, without a lot of free seats. It wasn’t helped by the fact that lots of people were laying down on the seats as couches, taking up 4 or 5 seats each. Most of the lounge is to the right of the entrance, with seating and a buffet. There was a self-serve coffee station and bar, and a small food station with pancakes, pastries, cheese and meat, and yogurt. There was a smaller seating area off to the left of the entrance, which had its own beverage station and was a bit quieter, so I was able to grab a seat for a little bit. I just had a coffee after my big breakfast at the Doubletree.
Twenty minutes before scheduled boarding time I headed towards the gate, picking up a sandwich on the way. The Air Malta flight was out of a downstairs bus gate area, which reminded me of a slightly better version of DCA’s dreaded gate 35x. The gate area filled up with a pretty clear 100% leisure crowd.
Fifteen minutes after scheduled boarding, there was an announcement that the crew was doing their “final checks,” which was weird, since the inbound flight had only been 8 minutes late. Boarding began about 5 minutes later, and I was on the plane around 11:50 (our scheduled departure time), after a very long bus ride. For some reason, the plane was parked by all the non-Schengen long haul big planes.
The A320 seats were fairly tight in terms of pitch, but not slimline, so at least had decent padding. I hadn’t been able to access my reservation on the Air Malta website until check-in, where I saw I had been assigned a seat in the very last row of the aircraft. I was able to switch to row 4, though, which was a plus. The flight was very crowded, but the middle seat next to me stayed empty the whole flight, as did the entire row across until some girls moved to take it at the urging of the flight attendant. For some reason, there were a ton of girls between the ages of 16 and 22, I’d guess, on the flight. It seemed a fair number of them were going to Malta for a language school of some type. Not sure what language, but I can’t imagine Maltese.
Although I was in coach, I had a decent view of business class as there was no curtain separating the cabins. The seating was the same as coach, with the middle seat blocked, so I basically was flying business class at a coach price J Business class had a total of 5 passengers on 2 rows, 4 of them were a family.
There were drop-down screens with the safety video and some in-flight entertainment. One thing that was interesting was that they had framed photos of Malta on the bulkheads, which was a nice touch on a leisure route.
Boarding took forever and the door didn’t close until 12:40pm, at which point the captain announced we had missed our take-off slot. We didn’t take off until 1:03, over an hour late, which had the effect of ruining my plan to explore Valetta that afternoon. Oh well.
There was an older male purser working the flight, who seemed very much not into it. He was very vigilant in enforcing that coach passengers not use the forward bathroom, which seemed silly given there was no curtain and so few business passengers.
Air Malta has a complimentary snack and water in coach, with the option to buy soft drinks and snacks. You have a choice of vegetarian or meat- which are the only words the purser spoke as he approached me 25 minutes into the flight, followed by the least enthusiastic “Enjoy it” I’ve heard in my life. The sandwich was decent bread with a miniscule amount of tuna and olives. By the time I picked the olives out, I basically had bread. I was surprised that I was given a full-size water bottle, though.
I ended up sleeping almost the whole flight, waking over Sicily, just before we began our descent. Upon arrival at the bus stand, the plane deboarded from the front and rear, and I was on the bus to the terminal at 3:45pm. Bags started coming quickly, but there was a long wait between batches, so I didn’t get out until around 4:15pm. I did note, though, there was a Priority Pass-accessible arrivals lounge after baggage claim, La Valette.
I had booked a super cheap shuttle transfer online via Shuttledirect with a company “Supreme Travel,” for 4,50 EUR roundtrip, which seemed almost too good to be true. But the guy was waiting for me, holding a sign with my name – though he complained I was late (Isn’t that why you provide flight info?). Once in the van, where I was the only passenger, he handed me a packet which said I was supposed to meet the “representative” in my hotel lobby the next day at 12:10 for a twenty-minute “orientation” and to set up my return travel. Uh, no. I ended up having a long back and forth WhatsApp where I had to fill out a form and send them a photo, even though it was just my flight info, which I had already provided online. From the airport in Luqa, it was a fifteen-minute drive to the Intercontinental in Paceville.