Crete: But getting there can be a real odyssey

Is winter access to Crete from the UK failing to meet demand? By Ginetta Vedrickas
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The Independent Online

In summer, numerous direct charter flights operate between Crete and the UK, but these end in October forcing second-home-owners and house-hunters to change in Athens and take internal flights.

In May, British Airways' franchise-partner GB Airways started up a scheduled twice-weekly service to Heraklion, Crete, which has proved extremely popular, but users have been disappointed to find that, despite the high take-up of seats, the company have chosen to suspend the service throughout the winter months.

Rhona Kingston owns a second home on the island, near Chania, where she lives for six months of the year and was dismayed to find that GB's scheduled service would not operate this winter. "I know that the service was extremely well-used throughout the summer so I, along with many others, assumed that they would carry on through autumn and winter. There is a huge British community here on the island and many of us like to travel back and forth so it would definitely be well- used. Having to change in Athens can be a nightmare and sometimes adds hours to your journey."

Carol Palioudaki runs and is the author ofThe Cool Guide to Living in Crete. Palioudaki is so annoyed that flights won't operate this winter that she has started a campaign to put pressure on the airline to extend the service. She believes that direct winter flights make a big difference to the increasing numbers of British homeowners on Crete. "Many travel here three times a year and like to visit in the quiet off-season, while others who live here permanently often fly home once or twice a year."

Crete Property Consultants' Oonagh Karanja was also disappointed with GB Airways' decision and, as a matter of course, now urges all her clients to register their dissatisfaction with the airline. Karanja finds that scheduled flights make a big difference to ease of travel; "I always choose a scheduled flight over a charter, which can be awful. It's one thing if you're going on holiday but if you're expecting to work when you get there you can forget it."

A look at Palioudaki's website reveals numerous other Crete homeowners who are campaigning for improved flight-access, including Anne, who writes, "My mother is coming over from Northern Ireland this winter to celebrate her 80th birthday.

This means she must now take three flights in one day, so I'm going to have to meet her in Athens where we'll stay the night before flying down to Heraklion. I've now filled out my (complaint) forms and here's hoping we can get the service operating for next winter."

But Anne is likely to be disappointed. A GB spokesperson explains why the airline currently has no plans to expand the Heraklion flights: "We know from experience that there's just not enough traffic to support them. Part of the criteria we use to decide whether a route is viable is to look at things like the number of British second-home-owners in a destination. On Crete this isn't in itself enough, although our flights have been very successful."

On the back of this success, this week GB Airways announced a new scheduled service to Rhodes, which will run from May until October next year. The company adds that it is continuing talks with the Greek tourist board to discuss the viability of further expanding the Crete service, and next summer will double its number of flights there to four a week.

In the meantime, Karanja finds that the numbers of buyers are constantly on the increase in spite of the longer journey times from October through to May. "It doesn't put people off, as they are so different to the kinds of people who buy in Spain or Portugal. They want Crete, as it has a different atmosphere."

Crete Property Consultants have a range of homes for buyers seeking atmosphere, including a traditional Cretan house in Milatos, which has amazing sea-views for sale at £106,700, and a renovated stone house in Tourloti with four bedrooms, a courtyard and sea views for sale at £130,000. Karanja feels that Crete has much to offer compared with the smaller islands.

"Here, life goes on throughout the winter, while many of the smaller islands virtually close down." Karanja started selling on the island of Kythera but found that this sleepy island did not have the necessary infrastructure throughout the winter to support accompanied viewings.

She still lists Kythera property but warns buyers that they must go it alone. "We wouldn't damage our reputation by selling properties we hadn't seen ourselves. Many agencies are web-based but you can't see what's next to a property from a website."

Crete Property Consultants: 020-7328 8209,
GB Airways: 01293 664239,