I was heading there for a short holiday from London, courtesy of Jet2.com. After traveling many times with budget European airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet, I was excited to try a new one. What I originally considered to be an inconvenience – Jet2.com flies out of eight UK airports, but not London – turned out to be a bonus; since I had to get to the Leeds airport anyway, I decided to tack on a couple of days in nearby York. I had never thought about visiting that city, but it was one of the nicest I’ve seen in England, and made for a lovely little holiday before my holiday began.
When I arrived at Leeds Bradford Airport – an easy bus ride away from Leeds city – I was treated to a check-in area dedicated exclusively to Jet2.com passengers. Their signature red banners and posters of sunny destinations adorned the walls of the lounge, which was bigger than some small airports I’ve flown from. It’s no surprise that they should have a privileged location in that airport; Jet2.com has been around for over thirty years, but launched its first leisure flights from Leeds back in 2003. It was a real treat: while all the other airline passengers lined up together, I felt like a VIP.
The quick check-in was great, but the staff was really special. The young woman who checked me in helped to re-organize my bags to make my carry-on more comfortable. She gave me their in-flight magazine – which had genuinely interesting articles – to browse while I waited, showed genuine enthusiasm for my holiday, and made sure I knew exactly how to get to my departure gate.
Boarding was easy, we left on time and arrived early, my hot breakfast was tasty, the seats were tiny but comfortable. And from departure to arrival, the flight attendants were smiling. “All in all,” I thought as I got off the plane in Paphos, “that was a perfect trip.”
But then: the flight home.
“It’s always like this,” said John from Manchester. “We always have to wait for hours in line. Did you know that Jet2 has four flights departing from here tonight? One to Leeds, one to Manchester, one to East Midlands and one to Newcastle. And that’s not to mention all of the other airlines flying tonight! So we’re all stuck here waiting together!”
I was behind John and his wife, Alice, in a queue that shocked me when I first walked into the airport. I had sauntered in two hours before departure, expecting the same, easy-breezy experience that I’d had on the outbound flight. A quick check-in, with plenty of time left over to browse the duty-free and enjoy a final Cypriot beer. What I faced instead was something straight out of Cancun, circa Spring Break.
Where was the private Jet2.com area? Where were all their nice posters? Where was my magazine? Who was going to help arrange my luggage? “This is Jet2 for you,” John said resignedly. But then Alice stepped forward. “No, no, that’s not correct, John” she said. She gestured to the crowds lining up at the desk of every other airline, “This is just Paphos for you.”
Jet2 was not to blame for the crowds; in fact, their staff was as friendly as ever despite it all. Turns out, crowded flights are the norm when flying out of Cyprus, especially those returning to Britain.
In five days in the country, I’d met more Brits than I had in the entire two years I lived in London. There were retirees who had moved to peaceful villages, young partiers drinking buckets of cocktails in Agia Napa, families having picnics on Coral Beach, and backpackers drinking frappes in Nicosia. According to some reports, there are as many as 100,000 British expats living in Cyprus. The weather is warm, the economy is better than Spain or Greece, and it’s relatively easy for them to buy property there.
As a result, parts of Cyprus feel like a London suburb. NEXT clothing boutiques, Costa coffee shops, Debenhams department stores. Just as you can experience both Greek and Turkish culture in Cyprus, you can get in a bit of the British high street while you’re at it.
“We lived here for ten years, in a little village just outside Paphos,” explained John as we inched closer to the bag-drop counter, “Cyrprus is a wonderful country, and very safe.” They have since moved back to Manchester but still return twice a year, to visit old friends and their old village. But Cyprus today is different from the Cyprus where they had chosen to spend their retirement years.
“This airport, in particular, looks totally different than it used to,” said his wife. “There used to be only one gate here, and now look at them all!” Indeed, the Paphos Airport underwent a complete overhaul in 2008 due to overcrowding in the previous terminal.
A woman behind us, from Newcastle, laughed. “I remember those days,” she said. “This airport used to be a tin shack!”
And just like that, the queue that had made me want to run from the airport and find the nearest ferry, turned into a half hour of storytelling. Tales about Cyprus in the old days, about Manchester and Newcastle, about how times change.
“If a bicycle was stolen, it would make the nightly news,” John remarked, and everyone laughed. “The radio announcer would say ‘Right, if you’ve stolen this bicycle from such-and-such street, would you kindly return it to that location by tomorrow morning? Thank you very much,’”
The queues didn’t end there. There was a queue to get through baggage screening, a queue to buy a sandwich, a queue to use the toilet.
But somehow, there was no pushing, no cutting in line, no complaining. It was past 10pm, everyone was tired, sunburnt, facing a five hour flight home and wanting to just be there already. Yet they were laughing about it all.
“I’ll tell you the thing I love most about Jet2, and why I’ll always fly with them over any other airline,” Alice said. She and John were sitting in the beer garden just next to the departure gate – an addition specifically designed to please the Brits, I’m sure – having a drink with their new friends from Newcastle. “They let us pre-select our seats for free. It means there isn’t a mad dash to board the plane to get a good spot. So after we’ve waited in all of these lines, we can just relax and wait our turn, knowing we’ve got seats together. It’s just a small thing, but it makes a big difference.”
When it comes to airlines, none of them are perfect, but it’s those little things that count; smiling staff, comfortable seats together, something interesting to read along the way.
In the end, was Jet2.com able to conquer the Paphos crowds? Not exactly. But it did the next best thing: it brought together English people from around the country. If you have to wait in line, there’s no one better to do it with than the Brits who, if the stereotype is true, love and respect a good queue.
And if they can’t beat it, they find a beer garden to pass the time.
Written by Andrea MacDonald for EuropeUpClose.com