New ferry line serving Symi

New ferry line serving Symi

Yesterday a SAOS Ferries ship called Stavros called at Symi on her way to Kos. This is a new route, opened at Government request and with heavy subsidy. The contract is for two sailings each way per week, routed Rhodes – Symi – Halki – Tilos – Nissyros – Kos and return. The Stavros is renamed from the SAOS II, and is a smallish, slowish, conventional vehicle and passenger ferry. The belief within the shipping community is that the subsidy is so large that the route will make money even if nobody uses it. Current plans are to operate Rhodes – Kos on Monday and Thursdays, returning on Tuesdays and Fridays. On other days there will be a Rhodes- Kastellorrizo round trip, operating twice a week, leaving one rest day. The subsidy level is such that Kastellorizo permanent residents (not visitors) have been offered free travel for the rest of the year between there and Rhodes and back. Unfortunately no such offer is available for residents of other islands.

SAOS Ferries have a certain reputation in the North Aegean, and it isn’t a good one. This is one reason for the ship being renamed, management would say it represents a new beginning, cynics that it is to try and bury the allegations of cancellations and delays in previous years.

Photos exist of Stavros mooring at Symi Clock Tower yesterday, but I understand that all future calls will be to the new quay area that Blue Star also use, and where the direct road link to the Chorio road is well under construction.

The blog will resume more frequent postings now that Greece is slowly emerging from lockdown – there was no point in reporting when only permanent residents of Symi were allowed to travel there, but this starts being relaxed during May. Before anyone asks, tourist accommodation will not be allowed to open before 1 July, and there is no information yet as to when international flights to Rhodes and Kos will be permitted, and under what conditions. It does seem likely that when they are permitted, not all countries will start on the same date, depending on the degree of progress in each country of combatting COVID-19.

Blue Star Summer

Blue Star Summer

The full summer service is now on offer from Blue Star, right up to the end of October. The old customer-friendly timetable has disappeared from their website and now you need to use the online booking tool to see when the ships sail. You do not have to actually book anything to use it!.
So the usual pattern of calls at Symi on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will continue this year – southbound to Rhodes in the morning, northbound to Kos and Piraeus in the evening. The actual times on those days vary according to the time of year, so you will need to use their website to check the date(s) you want. In terms of ships, the Monday sailings will be done by Blue Star 1 until late October, and the others will be Blue Star Chios until late April, then Diagoras (once the regular ship for Symi services) appears for a month, and finally in late May Blue Star Patmos reeturns for the rest of summer.
The swapping about of ships is to cover annual overhauls. The Blue Star Patmos is currently in the dockyard in Malta having exhaust gas scrubbers installed to reduce pollution, a fairly major job – the actual overhaul was carried out in Greece as usual.

Gerry Allen has kindly supplied a review of an overnight crossing from Piraeus to Symi on Blue Star Chios, which I’ve never done on this particular ship. “Patmos definitely better ship; Chios older cabin same size but en-suite much smaller; there is a vast amount of Airline style seats; public toilets not as good as Patmos; usual cafes and restaurant but no a-la-carte; ship was clean and tidy just older plenty of staff”
So everyone will be happy to see the Blue Star Patmos back in late May!

In other shipping news, Ostria (the old Symi I) has completed her annual overhaul and returned to Agios Nikolaos, Crete, which is her base for summer day excursions, and the Sebeco II (yes there are two of them) has secured a licence to operate between Kamiros Skala on Rhodes and Halki for the summer. So don’t think the original Sebeco has deserted the Symi-Rhodes route if you hear talk of a similar ship in Halki. What we don’t know of course is what timetable either Sebeco will operate yet. Once we have that for the Symi route, I’ll produce a combined timetable as usual.

Dodekanisos Seaways April to September, perhaps.

Dodekanisos Seaways April to September, perhaps.

Dodekanisos Seaways website has just been loaded with timetables for April and May 2020April to the beginning of October 2020. These are generally similar to 2019, allowing for the changing date of Easter, though the positioning sailings from Rhodes to Samos and return seem to have lost their calls at Symi. The sailings aren’t bookable yet, which may just be that they haven’t had enough time to load them yet, or may be due to the view circulating in Rhodes that the Panagia Skiadeni has been sold, and might be going elsewhere. If that happens, obviously the timetables will need to be changed.

Now Dodekanisos Seaways have had Panagia Skiadeni available for sale through shipbrokers for several years, but either there were no offers, or these were too low. The death of George Spanos, the chairman of Dodekanisos Seaways, during the winter may have caused a change of direction, but we don’t know who has bought the ship (if indeed she has actually been sold and this isn’t a false rumour) or what she might be used for.

Still waiting for Blue Star timetables, ANES timetables, and any possible fourth operator.

Ferries – Blue Star updates

Ferries – Blue Star updates

There are some changes in the Blue Star Ferries fleet: The Nissos Mykonos and Nissos Chios have been repainted into Blue Star fleet livery and renamed Blue Star Mykonos and Blue Star Chios. The Chios has been a Symi regular for part of each year recently, in Hellenic Seaways livery with a large “operated by Blue Star Ferries” sticker. Blue Star and Hellenic Seaways are sister companies and this represents a change to using the much stronger Blue Star brandname for conventional vehicle/passenger ferries. I don’t yet know if any internal changes are being made – she’s in annual overhaul at the moment but will take over from Blue Star Patmos on the Symi routes from Tuesday evening’s departure from Piraeus, which appears at Symi on Wednesday morning. Hopefully we’ll know then, and photos will soon surface.

While I’m on the subject of ferries, I seem to be seeing even more people asking about summer timetables than usual. I can see why people would want to know if they need to overnight on Rhodes or Kos before or after a Symi holiday, if they’re booking rooms too, but most Symi and Rhodes accommodation owners/hoteliers are reasonably flexible, they know what the issues can be.

For Brits, I’ll just point out that it is impossible to find accurate train or bus timetables more than 12 weeks in advance, even to prime tourist areas, so expecting Greek public transport to be different is illogical.

Nissos Chios before renaming and repainting as Blue Star Chios. Photo from Hellenic Seaways

This year the timetables are likely to be later being issued than last year. But the 2019 summer timetables were issued exceptionally early, and this year is getting closer to the norm. The problem in 2020 is that a lot of the ferry routes in the Dodecanese islands are subsidised. The contracts have to go out for tenders, as you’d expect, and the Greek Government has been late in calling for tenders, and in addition is trying to change the established service pattern for some islands. The tenders aren’t due back until 5 March, then they have to be reviewed and contracts signed. Only then can the ferry companies issue timetables, since they simply don’t know if they’ll get the contract or not. Often the same ship will operate subsidised and non-subsidised services on successive days, or even the same day – this affects both Blue Star and Dodekanisos Seaways. ANES don’t get a subsidy for Rhodes-Symi, but they have been bidding for other routes, and in any case they are always later than the other two companies.

Blue Star have however announced their summer Monday Symi service, operated by Blue Star 1, as none of Blue Star 1’s sailings are subsidised, and this is bookable, in the event that anyone is so obsessed with nailing down every detail that they want to make interest free loans to shipping lines. However, Greeks just seem amazed by the idea that anyone would want to book a ferry six months in advance, before they know what alternatives are available. Unless you want the most de-luxe cabin on the ship for a journey to/from Piraeus, in August, it really isn’t necessary to book far in advance, and if you’re travelling only to/from Rhodes, this is a huge ship and is never full over that section of route.

There’s no reason to suppose that there won’t be daily service to and from Rhodes this summer, the issue is only which ferry and at what time. If you want to travel elsewhere in the Dodecanese a little patience is going to be essential, I’m afraid.

Getting to Symi 2020 – from France

Getting to Symi 2020 – from France

Next comes the flight details for France. For the first time in my memory, there will be non-stop scheduled flights from Paris to Kos. On the other hand, Smartwings are not offering any flights to Rhodes from France. Whether this is their final position for the year, I don;t know, it may reflect poor profitability in 2019, or a shortage of aircraft caused by the Boeing 737MAX debacle.

Flights from France to Rhodes and Kos

Flights from the UK and Ireland to Rhodes and Kos

Getting to Symi 2020 – from the UK and Ireland

Getting to Symi 2020 – from the UK and Ireland

Here’s the first of the 2020 summer flight summary tables – this one covers flights from the UK. A couple of warnings: TUI has not yet had approval for the flight time slots they are advertising for 2020, so some times will probably change, and as usual some of their flights will be outsourced to other airlines – so far I only know of one that affects Rhodes or Kos, but with there being very little chance of all their Boeing 737MAX planes being operational in time for summer, there are bound to be more.

UPDATE: Aer Lingus has now placed scheduled flights from Dublin to Rhodes on sale! Flight table updated.

Don’t forget, too, that connecting via Athens or Thessaloniki using Aegean Airlines and their subsidiary Olympic Air adds a lot more flexibility. Whatever airline you use for your outward trip, they all sell one-way tickets and you could return with a different airline (or even to/from a different airport) if this suits you.

So here we go:

Flight times for non-stop flights from the UK and Ireland to Rhodes and Kos, Summer 2020

December roundup

December roundup

For those eagerly awaiting 2020s flight details, I’ve been holding on to see what developments there would be in the Boeing 737MAX saga. Major players in the flights to Rhodes and Kos markets, such as TUI Group, Norwegian, and Ryanair all have substantial numbers of 737MAX planes on order (and some delivered for TUI in particular). These are still unusable, and it now seems unlikely that they will be available for the start of the summer timetable. Indeed Boeing has just announced that they will stop production entirely in the New Year, and even when a fix for the design/software fault that caused the two catastrophic faults is approved, it will then need to be applied to the planes already built, and potentially pilots and engineers will need retraining. So over the Christmas period I’ll issue the flight tables with what the airlines say now, though bear in mind further changes, and subcontracting of flights to other airlines who do have enough planes, is likely.

Ryanair have a further problem in that they had ordered a variant of the MAX8 with 198 seats (as against the 737-800s  they currently fly which have 189) and there seems to be a real problem in getting safety certification for this variant, possibly connected with the design and capacity of the emergency exits.

Then there are the ferries.

Please don’t ask for the times of ferries after March 31st, as the ferry companies haven’t released these yet so nobody knows what they will be. On past performance times will appear for Blue Star in the next couple of weeks, and for Dodekanisos Seaways in the next 6 weeks. ANES will take a lot longer. Watch this space.

There’s some speculation on Symi about a new route (Kos-Tilos-Nissyros-Halki-Symi-Rhodes) that was approved by the Coastal Shipping Council last week. All I’ll say is, don’t hold your breath. In winter 2018, the government actually put a Tilos-Symi-Rhodes route out to tender as a subsidised service. Guess what, they either didn’t get any tenders at all, or the prices offered were way outside the budget, and the service never happened in 2019. The same procedure was gone through for summer 2016, 2017, and 2018, and it didn’t happen then either.

Again, if the new route does actually start, you’ll read about it here.

In the meantime, I’d like to wish all readers a very Happy Christmas, and watch out for mass updates before the New Year,

Early finish for Sebeco

Early finish for Sebeco

The Sebeco was due to finish her summer on 31 October, and tickets were sold up to that date.

Now ANES have decided to cut things short,and the last day for this year will be Monday 28 October, Ochi Day.

Passengers with bookings for 29, 30,and 31 October should have been contacted by now. If you have a Sebeco ticket for those dates and ANES haven’t been in touch, you should contact them, or the agent you bought the ticket from.

Winter Ferries 2019/2020

Winter Ferries 2019/2020

Hellenic Seaways “Nissos Rodos” operating the Monday sailing for Blue Star Ferries during October

I’ve had lots of requests for details of ferries to/from Symi in the winter. The ferry companies are never in a hurry to release timetables as nearly all the passengers are local and don’t have the same desire to book months in advance that some tourists do.

However, Dodekanisos Seaways have released their sailings for the period 1 November to 31 March. You’ll find the timetable here:

It is basically the same as previous years, with Rhodes-Symi-Kos-Kalymnos-Leros-Lipsi-Patmos and return on Fridays and Sundays; Rhodes-Symi-Kos-Kalymnos and return on Saturdays; and Rhodes-Symi-Kos-Kalymnos-Leros-Lipsi-Agathonisi and return on Mondays. The usual frantic activity around Panormitis Festival time in early November soon drops back to this pattern by mid-November.

Blue Star Ferries have yet to publish the timetable, but the booking system shows that there will for the first time be three ferries each way a week all winter. The Blue Star Patmos will leave Piraeus on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, operating overnight and reaching Symi on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. As expected she then continues to Rhodes and onwards to either Kastellorizo or Karpathos (Wednesdays). Then she returns the same day, leaving Rhodes for Symi and islands beyond to Piraeus at 16:00 (Monday), 17:30 (Wednesday); or 19:00 (Friday). The exact pattern of islands served is different on each day of the week, but they all call at Kos.

More details when the actual timetable appears.

Thomas Cook – Day 12

Thomas Cook – Day 12

The final piece in the UK repatriation jigsaw is in place. Passengers who had bookings for Sunday 6 October on flight MT1887 from Kos to Birmingham should by now have been contacted directly by the Civil Aviation Authority to be told what alternative arrangements have been made for them. This obviously means that there won’t be a specific repatriation flight for them, and instead they will be given tickets on other existing flights from Kos to the UK (maybe involving a flight connection along the way, and maybe with a road transfer at the UK end to get to Birmingham), or maybe on a different day, such as Saturday.

So to round off the Kos story, there will be nobody left on Symi after Saturday with Thomas Cook Airlines flights to the UK who is entitled to a repatriation flight, except a tiny number of people with flight-only bookings issued with an ATOL certificate – there were very few of these, and probably none at all on Symi. Those that there are will be contacted directly by the CAA with details of alternative flights home.

Anyone who has a package holiday from another operator, or one tailor made for them by a specialist travel agent, which included Thomas Cook Airlines flights from Rhodes or Kos will have been contacted by now with alternative flight details.

That leaves people with flight only bookings. Sorry, you’re on your own now. You may be able to claim a refund through your credit card issuer (if you paid by credit card and the total was over £100).