Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

10 Tips for flying with Olympic Airlines

Many choose Olympic because there are direct, non-stop flights from major cities to Athens, Greece, thus skirting the need to transfer and cutting flight time by a few hours…at least in theory. To get the most out of your experience, take heed of a few friendly tips:

1. Lower your expectations

I’ve heard people describe Olympic as the anti-Singapore Airlines, which aptly describes flights that don’t leave on time (if at all due to strikes, weather, under-staffing, etc.), frowny air hosts/hostesses who appear annoyed with you, and service that can only be described as brusque. Want an extra cup of water? Get outta here!

Once in awhile you encounter a gem of a person who is almost always a male steward, but it’s better to be surprised than dance the line of hope and denial.

2. Take a blanket or a fleece pullover

Friends who came to Greece a few weeks ago told me that blankets are no longer placed on passenger seats, much like other airlines trying to cut costs. However, unlike other airlines, Olympic did not have blankets even after requesting one unless sitting in first class.

3. Bring snacks or starve

Airline food has gotten a bad rap since the beginning of time, but some airlines are clearly better than others. Of the hundreds of flights I’ve taken, OA food has got to be some of the worst ever, and others have told me the same thing.

One of the funniest things I’ve seen on OA was at meal time. When a 70ish Greek gentleman sitting in front of me was asked if he wanted chicken, beef or fish, he replied with a dismissive “Ech,” threw up his hand and cocked his head back. He explained to me in Greek that it was pointless to offer a choice because it was all bad. LOL.

Listen to the man — save your stomach and bring your own food, or starve and lose some kilos.

4. Don’t bother using their phone number

How many times have I watched the ground crew at JFK or Athens put people on eternal hold or let the machine answer with a recording? When asked why they don’t answer the customer service line, the reply was, “We make a recording because the phone is ringing all day and bothering us.” (Yeesh) Well, excuse us!

You must go in person to the airport or in-town office, use web check-in and/or access information via another method.

5. Bring earphones

Understandably, there is no such thing as a free lunch nowadays. If you didn’t bring headphones, there is no guarantee that anyone will even give you the option to purchase them. Usually the ones from your MP3 player fit the jack in the armrest.

Your MP3 player can also do double duty in drowning out the incessant noise, if you plan to sleep on an OA flight and don’t have travel medication or a sleeping pill

6. Get ready to make some noise

In addition to the noise created by other people, you should be ready to make some noise yourself since being polite, mature and straightforward often garners no attention. If your flight was delayed and no compensation offered, firmly demand a voucher. If someone is sitting in your seat, don’t hesitate to have them removed. If they are pushing you around, get out the Kathimerini’s phone number and report the ill treatment — a tourist did this and got immediate results.

Being on an OA flight is simply an extension of being in Greece — a macrocosm in a microcosm — where one gets results by acting like a child and making threats. Not always, but the majority of the time.

7. “Overly enjoy the wine”/duty-free liquor

In-flight drinks are expensive these days, so some passengers break into their duty-free liquor to cope. Another solution is to consider travel medication or sleeping pills within reason; both are inexpensive purchases in Greece.

* “Overly enjoy the wine” is a quote from reader CS

8. Steady your sense of humor

Treat the flight like a comedy, not a tragedy. It’s entertainment at no extra charge, and you’ll have stories to tell when you get home. 🙂

* Jimmy “Super Greek” Tsantis of NYC has a funny parody song called, “Flying on Olympic” to the tune of “Taking care of business.” He’s hilarious, not to mention a wonderful soul.

9. Take out travel insurance, earn some extra cash

Many travel insurance policies pay out for a delayed/canceled flight and delay/loss of luggage. If you’re flying with Olympic, you’ll likely make money! Oh yes, and it’s also peace of mind should you be in an accident or need medical/dental treatment.

10. Don’t do it

After hearing hundreds of stories about Olympic Airlines, I finally experienced them for myself back in 2000. Well, let’s just say my friends are honest and that’s why they’re my friends. I vowed to never take another OA flight and for years chose to pay more money to avoid them, until I was faced with flying to NYC at the last minute. I knew something was wrong when my travel agent got really quiet, told me I wasn’t going to like the answer, and sounded artificially enthusiastic about the price and schedule before telling me the airline. Argh!!!

My only saving grace was a wonderful male steward who pronounced egg, “eh-guh-guh,” but otherwise that last flight pretty much closed the door on any future business. Now my travel agent doesn’t dare mention OA as an option.

Kalo taxidi! 🙂

* This post was inspired by the many victims souls who have tolerated OA, most recently RB and SM who were fortunate to board their flight at 11:30 during nationwide strikes, which plagued public transport, public sector offices, media, lawyers, banks, schools, post offices, hospitals, ferries, and of course 75 Olympic Airlines flights. Others were not so lucky and stranded another day in Athens.


Olympic Air near Paros approached wrong airport” – Aviation Herald – December 12, 2009
OA crew overlooked airplane problems” – Sept 2008
OA lacking planes and cash” – August 2008
Five OA flights grounded due to technical problems” – June 2008
Singer Kostas Makedonas injured after OA helicopter develops mechanical fault” – April 2008
OA flight safely grounded” – November 20, 2007
OA grounds four unsafe planes; blames others” – November 17, 2007

Related posts

Things I wish would go on strike
Olympic Airlines – As expected
Passenger reviews of Olympic Airlines
On strike: A quintessential part of Greek life

Photo from


  luc wrote @ October 21st, 2008 at 10:11

“… because the phone is ringing all day and bothering us.”

That remark alone made my day! Thank you 😀

  maria v wrote @ October 21st, 2008 at 10:48

i agree entirely with your remarks – the last time i flew with olympic (crete-athens) was over a decade ago. since 2000, i’ve been taking aegean. the flights are on time – always – and the staff polite – again, always.

  Cheryl wrote @ October 21st, 2008 at 13:50

The last time that I flew OA…let’s see…17 years ago? It was a nightmare just as you described. Our flight from Thessaloniki to Athens was on time but once we arrived in Athens…we were stuck there with an 8 hour delay. They did hand out sandwiches — wait, actually they threw them at us.

I knew that there were strikes today…is that why I had no water this morning? That’s ok…I had no electric last Tuesday. I guess they’re just warming us up for the winter festivities since all of the tourists are gone. I really feel like swearing but I won’t.

Great post Kat!

  Aris wrote @ October 21st, 2008 at 17:20

The very same advice could be said of using the services of a Greek Consuate or Embassy.

“Shut up and wait” – and when we do see you, we will be very unhelpful, and rude, and not answer the phones. We do have these things called “computers” which might make us more efficient, but we’d rather put them to a better use – like playing Greek MP3’s for us to listen to.

When we do finally get around to attending to you, we will smoke in front of you (because we can – the laws of the country do not apply in embassies), and take personal calls in while we are helping you. Yes, I am really interested to hear about your drunken antics and $ex life when I come to get my passport renewed.

  Perry wrote @ October 21st, 2008 at 18:16

I last flew with them in 2004. It was not that bad but there were some snags and I generally agree with what your write.

I do have to disagree with #6. Getting loud, demanding, and threatening should always be a last resort. Maybe later than last. The very best way to deal with the notorious Greek service industries, bureaucrats, etc is to be extremely polite and sympathetic with “their plight” while somehow sticking to your guns and negotiating as much for yourself as you can. Like most everything in Greek culture, it’s more an art than a science. Just watch a little old Greek lady and learn. They are master zen specialists in this arena.

Love the blog. Keep it up.

  Panos wrote @ October 21st, 2008 at 22:56

Perfect post, thanks a lot, indeed all of this is so true! 🙂

  Matt wrote @ October 21st, 2008 at 23:08

I remember I flew Olympic from Melbourne to Athens (when OA could afford to fly to Australia) and my chair wouldnt go ALL the way up, maybe by a few centimetres, nothing at all, until the flight attendant whacked the back of the seat:

FA: Put your seat up, we’re going to take off soon!
Me: It IS up! It won’t go up any further!
*FA starts shaking seat violently giving me whiplash*
FA: Great, you broke it.

For the rest of the flight she deliberately avoided me and another flight attendant would come especially to serve me. I changed my return flight to Singapore Airlines 🙂

And maria v you’re right, Aegean rocks! Nice staff, nice planes, no delays, decent food, and an awesome advertising campaign! *ekskiouz mi, xaou ntou ai gket tou Oksfornt strit?” 🙂

  Cωνσtantίnoς wrote @ October 22nd, 2008 at 01:02

Like I said on my reply, great post! I’m a Greek living abroad and haven’t used Olympic airlines (they don’t fly here 😛 ) at all recently, but last time i did (3 years ago from Brussels to Athens) i still remember the aircraft being a wreck and the noise. Oh that noise!!!! Yankee stadium packed wouldn’t compare to this!

  rositta wrote @ October 22nd, 2008 at 05:54

Great post Kat…we got out on the last flight before the strike today. I bought earphones but guess what? Today they were actually offered and bonus, there was one blanket for two of us to share. You are right about the food but at least this time around I wasn’t denied orange juice when i asked for it and finally, thanks for the meds, I spent most of the time sleeping. Why do we still fly Olympic? It’s really the only direct flight from here plus they have a bigger luggage allowance which is beneficial for us. Who knows what we’ll do next year though…ciao

  The Scorpion wrote @ October 22nd, 2008 at 08:46

My best Olympic story was in 1992 (Athens-Iraklio) when they had overbooked (common) and they had to turn away a few passengers who had tickets but no seat on the plane. These two male passengers were so IRATE that they wouldn’t listen to the gate agent, and pushed their way thru the doors and ran on the tarmac to the plane anyway.

Since this is Greece, nothing happened to them. They eventually came back inside with the security folks and then started complaining to everyone near them. They were not arrested or detained. Classic!!!

Try that in JFK and see what happens.

However, Kat, I have to say that all my Olympic experiences were in 1990s (many, many flights from Athens-Iraklio, Athens-Chania, Athens-Rome), and although the delays were bad, I have to admit, I was very lucky, because most of my flight attendants (Female) were very kind and friendly to me. However, I think this has something to do with what we’ve discussed on previous posts as when you are young, handsome, and interesting. Now, that I’m middle aged, overweight, balding, and un-interesting, I’m sure I would be the one getting little to no-attention!!!

Good article as always!!


  Dimitris wrote @ October 22nd, 2008 at 18:13

I prefer to fly Aegean whenever I can, BUT I keep using Olympic for my domestic flights in Greece because it now cheaper and generally provides more legspace.

  Kat wrote @ October 22nd, 2008 at 21:03

L – Glad I could provide a little comic relief. We all need a little to assuage our states of irritation 😉

M – I think the fact Aegean was privately owned, then became a publicly held company has something to do with standards and practices. Their work has paid off also — profits are up.

C – That reminds me of my friend Paul, who was given a food voucher but it could only be used at certain places, and they were all closed. Great, eh? Btw, I’ve had 3 days of no electricity in the past 14 days, and I don’t think our cuts have anything to do with strikes. It’s just Greece.

A – Funny you should mention this. I hear these types of comments from readers and friends all the time. My only exposure was to the one in NYC, and I decided to get what I needed done another way. The MP3 story you told reminds me of an ex-coworker. When we got a new Apple for the office, it wasn’t given to me (the most experienced and prolific user), it went to the girl who whined the loudest so I had to train her how to use it. And the only question she asked over and over was, “How do I load my Greek music to iTunes?”

P – In my defense, I do say, “Not always, but most of the time.” Further, not all yiayias exhibit Zenlike behavior, though I agree they are treated differently than say, a young immigrant woman such as myself. Being polite is always what I try first, but in my 11 years of doing bureaucracy and being the recipient of poor service, it has not worked once. In fact, many refuse to wait on me or are immediately rude to me without me saying a word.

If I empathize with their plight, I’m dismissed as not knowing anything because I’m not Greek. If I take a Greek male with me, they only speak with him — I’m invisible — but at least things get done. It really depends. Here’s the story about the tourist who tried being polite, but then had to resort to other methods, “Passenger waits as OA lounges.”

Pa – Thanks for dropping in today!

M – Yes, what a terrible passenger you are for breaking the seat! LOL. That’s a classic story — changing your return flight because you couldn’t take it anymore. Please keep sharing these stories with us, they’re great 🙂

C – Oh yes, and if the people who are together can’t sit together for whatever reason, never mind about changing seats. They just yell to each other from wherever they are so everyone can hear them.

R – I’m glad you got out, and I’m glad those drugs helped cushion the blow of the journey. I’ve heard you say never again, but then you booked again, so I think it just comes down to fewer options.

The S – You have some of the funniest stories. As I read about guys on the tarmac, I got this visual of them being tackled by police if they’d tried it at JFK. And regarding your overall experience, female FAs on OA are typically nicer to men; this is why I pray for a male steward because I’m otherwise ignored.

D – Hello and thanks for making a comment today! I can understand that. I’m sure it depends on destination, availability and timing.

  thundera wrote @ October 22nd, 2008 at 22:04

I think i might be the only person that till now had no problems flying with olympic. What i can tell is that you just opened a big door to a discussion that cannot be done from here! some months ago my friend sofia returned from paris with OA and her luggage was destroyed, OA gave her a new luggage right away in the airport. When we returned from spain with Vueling my luggage was also destroyed ad i can tell you that we went through a lot more with Vueling than OA …You know the story…Anyway!

One last thing. The risk of danger on airlines is being counted every ten years by the number of the accident the airline had. OA has Zero accidents,Has really great pillots and the best Engineers .I know by fact that engineers from around the globe come to observe/learn from the greek OA engineers.

  A wrote @ October 23rd, 2008 at 16:15

The only reason I could imagine someone coming to learn from OA is because OA’s planes are antiques compared to the rest of the fleets flying transcontinentally.

  The Scorpion wrote @ October 23rd, 2008 at 18:46

Thundera said :

“OA has Zero accidents,Has really great pillots and the best Engineers .I know by fact that engineers from around the globe come to observe/learn from the greek OA engineers.”

Ha-ha, very funny!!! I’m sure she was just kidding. Although the pilots might be top-rate if they trained in the USA, the mechanics I’m a bit skeptical since we know in Greece, in general, maintenance is shoddy in most things that are owned by the government. Look at any Dimarxeio and then imagine seeing duct tape on a wing as I saw in the late 1980s.

Souvlaki and tzadziki: Yes, Greeks are great!!

Aircraft maintenance: OXI NO WAY!!!

Plus, you can’t compare the limited number of flights OA does to a major carrier like Delta or others..

  FMS wrote @ October 23rd, 2008 at 19:44

My experiences of Olympic are mixed, and certainly I agree that some other airlines (Alitalia, especially) are worse. The principal difficulties I have experienced are:

(1) when tickets are pre-paid from abroad for me (usually Switzerland) they refuse to issue the ticket because “the exchange rate is not right”. On the penultimate occasion that occurred, I offered to pay the different and was told that 12 cents had been overpaid so they could not issue the ticket. The last time it occurred, I screamed abuse and threatened to go to the Managing Director of Olympic about this shit. These little incidents make something that should take 15 minutes actually take 2-4 hours.

(2) Whenever there is a small problem, they make it into a disaster. I cannot reveal the details, but one instance concerns a colleague of Greek ethnicity who did not have a certain visa: they showed no flexibility at all, and (for various reasons) this was just stupid.

(3) They cancel flights as often as possible, making it inadvisable to fly OA unless you really don’t want to make the trip…

(4) Their local routes to Turkey, Italy etc. are disgustingly overpriced because they are duopoly routes. Nobody seems to worry though.

On the other hand, usually the food has been quite good in recent years, while the quality has collapsed in Economy class for all other European airlines. (It is not haute cuisine, it is true.) Also, the flight times are usually better than other airlines — probably because Olympic bagged all the best slots to stop competition…

  Kev wrote @ October 25th, 2008 at 05:53

I think the trap with most Greeks and non-Greeks is that they falsely assume that Greece is “one of the boys”, a European family member on par with the likes of Belgium, Germany, France, etc.. when in reality it is more like “stan” type of country. e.g. Kazakhstan. (Or at least somewhere in between.) Indeed many Greeks themselves often make the joke of “Athinaistan”, “Elladistan” or “Ellada City”.

As a result of the first comparison, it is constantly being compared to the big boys and comes up short, last in every category.

But if you just assume that Greece IS a “stan”, or functions like a “stan”, and compare it to other “stans”, you will be pleasantly surprised. Then it’s actually quite a developed country. 🙂

  Kat wrote @ October 25th, 2008 at 14:58

T – I would encourage making a comparison after flying internationally with a known carrier. Vueling is a troubled low cost airline, and it’s a bit unfair to compare them with Olympic. With regards to luggage, my ex-boss lost his luggage and had another damaged, and it was only until two of us helped him complain for 30 days that he got modest compensation from OA for one bag and nothing for the other. As with everything in GR, results do vary.

Regarding OA’s safety record, what you say is true about the last decade; they had their last fatality in 1998. But OA only has 36 planes (down from 42) and a total of six fatal accidents, so I’m not sure that’s anything to brag about since larger or comparable airlines boast a better record. e.g., American Airlines has nearly 700 planes and 13 accidents that were fatal. State-owned Alitalia has 173 planes and hasn’t had an accident since 1991 or fatality since 1990, and Aer Lingus of Ireland has 41 planes and had a hijacking in 1981, but hasn’t had a fatality since 1968.

Plus, OA has had several groundings due to technical problems in the last year alone.

OA crew overlooked airplane problems” – Sept 2008
OA lacking planes and cash” – August 2008
Five OA flights grounded due to technical problems” – June 2008
Singer Kostas Makedonas injured after OA helicopter develops mechanical fault” – April 2008
OA flight safely grounded” – November 20, 2007
OA grounds four unsafe planes; blames others” – November 17, 2007

Most people who tout OA pilots and engineers as the best are Greek. My friend Adoni was hired to be an OA engineer because he was trained and schooled in the USA, and 80 percent all of my friends who are pilots were trained in the USA as well. *Their input follows below.

I know nothing about OA pilots/engineers or their training program, but am skeptical about the “best” claim. Why? OA pilots don’t fly as many routes or as often, and how could they with only 36 planes in the fleet? Plus, planes tend to bounce on the runway on landing and won’t land/depart in the slightest abnormal weather conditions (fog, rain, ice on wings/tarmac, wind, snow), while American pilots keep going in all kinds of weather (we landed in JFK in hurricane conditions) and ply longer routes, as do Swiss, French, German, British and Swedish pilots.

My pilot friends (MK, CB, KS and AW) say that generally there is no superior flight school/flight ops or superior airline, although many will stake that claim (i.e., France, UK, Germany are the most common). However, it really comes down to excellence of the individual instructor and talent of an individual pilot/engineer. All of them are different nationalities and work for different airlines, but all have trained in the USA, Australia and somewhere in the EU (none in Greece). Australia has the best safety record overall. Asian airlines have trouble with safety due to cultural issues (i.e., Not disclosing the flight is about to hit a mountain because of shame, etc.), while airlines in other countries may want to raise the standard but simply don’t have the budget.

A – My research shows that it’s possible, as OA leases discarded/outdated propeller planes from other airlines.

The S – Take it easy there. 🙂 I don’t need this turning into an inflammatory debate. My post was meant to be both practical and comical.

X – I agree with you about Alitalia, and food on OA has improved slightly over the years although maybe that’s because the standard was quite low and it could only go up from there (haha). OA was indeed fined by the EU for violating competition rules and ordered to pay millions, which only worsens their financial troubles.

K – LOL! Oh dear.

(Note from Kat: To anyone thinking of attacking Kev again for being American, he is Greek.)

  FMS wrote @ October 25th, 2008 at 15:54

Kev: (is this really a Greek name?!) you know that the Turks still call Greece by the old name of Yunanistan? I am personally appalled by that, but perhaps they see Greece in a longer historical perspective than most Europeans do…

  graffic wrote @ October 25th, 2008 at 19:18

I can say that I suffered a bit of those statements but with different airlines.

In fact, after flying with many different airlines, I’m always ready for the worst. I don’t care if it’s Alitalia, Iberia, Olympic, Aegean, …. I’ve learned that you can always have a problem.

The worst situation I suffered was with a low cost Spanish company. I cannot talk about it because in order to get “part” of my money I had to sign some kind of Non-Disclosure Agreement and throw all my rights to the trash bin.

So kalo taksidi to all of you. And I guess the next post should be: Things you need to know before you flight. 😀

  deedee wrote @ October 25th, 2008 at 21:58

Why ten? Reading Forbes I see Americans are in love with 10 things of anything. Do you know why you’re using 10 or is just genetics?

Kat Reply:

Hi again Lenos/Ioannis/Jeremy — None of your comments are on topic. There isn’t a pattern, as I’ve also used four, five, seven and 12. Do you know why you’re obsessed with hating me and the USA, or is it just genetics?

  FMS wrote @ October 26th, 2008 at 21:09

Off-topic reply: we often use 10 (also in the decimal system) because most of us have 10 fingers. How many do you have, deedee??

  Tauros wrote @ October 26th, 2008 at 22:13

I flew OA frequently in the early 90’s — domestic and within Europe — and never had any real issues with them. Around 1996 however, things seemed to detoriate in my personal experience. I soon swore them off, but like Kat, was lured back by a travel agent, who informed that due to my needing to fly on specific dates less than a week out, I could fly (JFK-ATH-JFK) in Business class on OA for only $100 more than coach with US/other EU airlines for my dates. Which I did. My baggage arrived the day after I did, which (as a very frequent flyer on numerous airlines) was nothing new for me.

But besides being extremely unimpressed with OA Business class, one incident has always stuck out in mind from that trip. We were 2-3 hours out of Athens, and the sun was shining through the window shades. I awoke and toke a stroll, deciding to visit the upper deck of the 747 which was Business class just as was the portion of the lower deck that I was in. At the top of the stairs was an attendant; we exchanged “good mornings” and I started to go back into the upper deck cabin. She stopped me and asked where I was going, to which I replied that I just wanted to see what the upper deck seating looked like. She told me I couldn’t, because the bright light (from the area she was in) might wake them up. So I turned and saw that the cockpit door was open and said “How about in there?” “Of course” she said. (Which I did, chatting with the pilots for a while before returning to my seat.) Although a few years before 9/11, this insight into OA’s priorities combined with what I heard (from people who had reason to know the truth) about their maintenance, as well as the experiences of numerous friends/acquaintances caused me to successfully avoid OA all but once since.

Overall, I think Kat’s points are right on, and #8 with Kev’s addition are useful for all matters pertaining to GR. However, Kat’s #10 is most relevant regarding OA. Adventure is one thing; paying to be aggravated and jeopardized at the same time is another.

  Barbayiannis wrote @ October 27th, 2008 at 19:34

Behind all the justified complaints lies a more serious problem: Olympic Airlines is one of the great fundamental failures of Greece.

Greece has everything in place to have one of the great national airlines of the world: a guaranteed domestic market of far flung islands and regions, a guaranteed huge domestic and international tourist market, a geographic position ideally suited to being a hub for southern Europe and for Europe/Mideast/Africa flight routes, a supply of well trained pilots and mechanics from veterans of relatively large Greek air force, and a traditional of commercial entrepreneurship. All this together means that Greece has the opportunity to establish one of the best airlines in the world: the Greek national airline should be the European Singapore Airlines. Instead, it’s a laughing stock.

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