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Well-organised, small and convenient - how Swiss!
Geneva Cointrin International Airport (GVA)
Member Name: sgreenland
Geneva Cointrin International Airport (GVA)
Date: 22/03/05, updated on 26/03/05 (752 review reads)
Advantages: Compact, Not too busy, Good transport links
Disadvantages: Expensive food and drink
Geneva is not the Swiss business centre, so Geneva airport is not even the main Swiss one. So don't come expecting a Heathrow-style level of service! But the airport does what it needs to do very well - you should transit through here very quickly, unless your airline does something wrong!
Let's run through the basics...
The airport is out of town to the north, near the French border. In fact, if you fly in from a French airport and are heading straight into France, you have an option of never having to clear Swiss customs at all - they'll keep you hermetically sealed in your own little space and dump you over the border directly. But "out of town" is a relative concept in a place the size of Geneva - it takes all of 15 minutes to drive into the centre! The airport is also right on the motorway which goes northeast to Lausanne and south to Chamonix.
To get into town, the easiest and cheapest way is to take a bus. The number 18 goes right round the outside of the city, and is only really useful if you're trying to get to one of the residential suburbs - it's basically for locals. Instead, get on the number 10 bus, which leaves about every 12 minutes. It goes down through the centre of town, and should either pass very near your hotel or will drop you at the main transport interchange in the city centre. From there, you can hop on another bus or the tram - and there will certainly be a bus route within 2 minutes' walk from your hotel, wherever it is!
Geneva's public transport system is mind-bogglingly simple to use - you buy a 3Sfr ticket (currently about £1.30) which gives you 60 minutes of free rides wherever you want to go. It's hard to find anywhere that's 60 minutes away! You can even double back on yourself within that time, in case you get lost...and yes, they regularly inspect tickets.
If you don't like buses, you can take a taxi - that will cost about 10 times as much for a jaunt into town (probably 25-50 Sfr depending on which side of town you're staying on). Not really worth it unless you have masses of bags or a large family, since the buses are pretty empty most of the time and you're starting from the terminus.
There's also a train station at the airport which is on the main line to Geneva and through into the rest of Switzerland. If you're heading into the Swiss Alps, this could be your best bet - the trains run on time, are clean and efficient. But be aware that there are no trains into the French Alps from here.
Finally, if you're renting a car that too is simple - the desks are all just as you come out of customs, ahead of you and slightly to the left. All major companies are represented. The car parks are a couple of minutes' walk with a baggage trolley, and then you're away. For returning the car, it's just as close (anyone who has tried this game at Luton Airport will appreciate this immensely). And, once in the car, you're right beside the motorway (literally) - you can be in Lausanne within 40 minutes or in Chamonix within 75 minutes, even if traffic is heavy. Or you can drive into town within 15 minutes. Traffic jams are a rarity.
Swiss, who have grown out of the defunct Swissair, fly all of their major routes from Zurich. This means that you may end up transiting through there if you're using Swiss to fly anywhere except a few European destinations (although thankfully most British airports are serviced direct, at least occasionally). Most other major airlines hardly fly here at all. But this low load of traffic has made Geneva into something of a hub for low-cost airlines - especially Easyjet, who have their second major base (after Luton) here.
Check-in queues can get pretty long about 60-90 minutes before a flight, so be aware of that when planning your travelling time. If you're with a charter, it's much worse - they cut costs by only having one or two check-in desks open, and people are inevitably trying to take skis, hundreds of bags etc etc etc just in front of you. It can get very infuriating. On the other hand, the check-in staff tend to be very competent and pretty obliging, and there are also lots of other airline staff to deal with flight changes, etc.
Easyjet have about 6-8 flights per day from here to the UK (Luton and Gatwick) and vice versa. There are also quite a few other low-cost airlines flying in - they change all the time, though! - and in the winter there are loads of charter flights coming in with skiers. Everyone uses the same terminal building, though.
If you're flying out of Geneva with Easyjet, be aware that they have just abolished their serviced check-in - it's now all automated, so make sure you have your booking details to hand! It's actually speeded things up tremendously, and I can't wait for them to do this in England as well...it's all done on touch-screen terminals, which end up giving you your boarding pass and any baggage labels that you need. If you have baggage to check in, you simply put the labels on yourself and then take the bags to a central counter where they take them off you. A word of warning, though: if your bags then get lost in the system, they may end up blaming you for not putting the labels on properly. So take care when doing so!
It's pretty small. It takes at most 15 minutes, after passport control, to get to your gate. On the ground side, there are plenty of shops selling last-minute gifts in the departure area upstairs (check-in is on the ground floor, passport control upstairs). There are also a couple of cafes, but better ones are down in the basement arrivals area. They're not cheap, but a darn sight cheaper than those on the air side!
Once you go through passport control, there's another bunch of shops selling duty-free. The range of goods here is wider, but the prices for basic items go up - chocolate, for example, is much cheaper in the supermarkets and you really don't need to spend money on the posh version - even the supermarkets' own brand in Switzerland is as good as anything you'll get elsewhere.
There are also a couple of expensive places to get food and drink. I would advise people to stay ground-side to eat and drink as it's cheaper. The closer you get to the gate, the more the prices go up - you can be charged as much as £1 for a bar of chocolate! And sandwiches are tiny and can cost £3. Bring your own food if you're going to be there for a while - seriously. There's also very little choice, which can be a problem if you're travelling with kids who don't like (or are sick of) cheese and salami sandwiches.
In the arrivals hall are a few cafes, newsagents etc but not much else - this isn't somewhere to spend the day, it's somewhere to get in and out quickly. There are, however, some very good information desks (including covering hotels) where everyone speaks decent English. Ditto car rental, etc - you shouldn't need French to get by here (down in town is perhaps a different story).
The terminal is officially non-smoking, but there are smoking areas in most places which aren't actually sealed off from the rest. Which actually means that some places can get a bit smoky, especially near departure gates if flights are delayed and lots of people are cooped up together. They claim to discourage smokers, but don't.
I would have to say that Geneva is basically a very easy airport to use - everything is well sign-posted, the place is compact and getting there and away is extremely simple. In short, it does what it's supposed to do and does it pretty well. If you're visiting Geneva itself, or the mountains nearby, I'd say it's a good option. But bring your own refreshments!
If I've missed anything, please comment and I'll add it on!