I used Krakow Airport for the first time three weeks ago on my trip to UK and was surprised how far it is from the centre of Kraków. There is a bus that takes you from just outside the bus station to the airport and it takes about 40 minutes stopping at quite a few stops on the way. The driver on this day was a terrible driver so it was a bumpy ride, people and luggage were sliding around and I was gripping the rail very tightly. If you don't want to take the bus a train will take you to a stop that is approximately 200 metres from Terminal 1 or if you want you can travel by taxi but always make sure the cab is licensed and agree a price before setting off. Most taxi drivers will speak a little English.
The bus parked up close to Terminal 1 which is the International Terminal and there are stops near Terminal 2 (domestic flights). It was a very hot day so a lot of people were sat on the wall opposite the entrance to Terminal 1 holding glasses of beer but not for long as the officers in blue came along and asked these people to sit at the outside bar or go inside. Drinking in a public area is not allowed in Poland. The majority of people rushing around and sat outside were football supporters who were returning to their countries after watching some of the matches based in Kraków during the Euros 2012.
I could see there were a couple of seats vacant at the outside bar which looked inviting as it was shady and didn't look as crowded as inside. Before buying a pint I decided to have a quick look at the information board and I wanted to see if I could pick up a couple of those transparent bags to put creams and make up in. I asked a young girl at the Information Desk and she said that I would have to wait until boarding as this is where the bags were situated.
It seemed very busy on this level and I was so pleased that I had checked in online as the queue for check-in was horrendous and I could see people were getting irritated due to the heat and hanging around. There are a couple of coffee shops on this level, Coffee Express and Coffee Minute but I had my heart set on a cold glass of Polish beer. Also, on this floor there are a couple of duty free shops, one selling perfume and the other selling vodka and other alcoholic drinks. For the kids there is a sweet shop displaying lots of sugary colourful delights that are very bad for your teeth.
It was great to sit down with a beer and do a bit of people watching. I couldn't take my eyes off one guy who wasn't exactly a tramp as such but he seemed down on his luck. He had a huge shopping bag under the table filled with crushed empty cans and as soon as someone left their table he rushed over to see if they had left any empties. His eyes were like radar and he homed in on left over beer. Waste not want not is the saying I believe. This chap was in his element and in the time we were sat outside he must have downed at least two pints from left over beer.
On the top floor there is a selection of shops, a couple of bistros selling readymade meals, sandwiches, good selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, souvenir shops called Discover Kraków selling everything to do with the city and Poland, an Amber jewellery shop and other duty free shops. I wasn't so interested in looking at these shops mainly because this floor is very pokey and cluttered. I felt too claustrophobic and couldn't wait to pass through security control and go to the boarding gate.
I was a little cross with myself because I hadn't kept the clear bags from my previous trip and knew it would hold things up faffing around with all my little pots and tubes. Sometimes I don't bother to take any at all because of this reason but seeing that I was on my way to see Bruce Springsteen I thought I had better make an effort and not turn up at the concert looking like a bag lady hence the beauty creams. Talking of bags I did remember to place my handbag in the top of my rucksack so it looked like I only had one bag. This is another airport rule that drives me mad. Security here is quite strict and you are expected to take everything off that might beep including ear-rings, belts, jewellery etc. Also, don't forget your shoes - they have to come off too. The embarrassing thing was I knew I had holes in my socks and tried to pull both socks over my heels so people wouldn't see the holes. It's not that I don't own a pair of socks without holes, of course I do. I just liked the stripy socks I was wearing. I think I got away with it, nobody noticed. Nothing beeped and the security guards weren't too grumpy.
At last we could go through to the departure lounge and to Gates 6-8. The flight we were going for was to Edinburgh and it was delayed according to the information board. There seemed a lot of families sat in the lounge with small children who were fractious. It was 10pm so I could understand this, they just wanted to sleep. We couldn't actually see a plane outside the window whether it had arrived at another gate and was being cleaned, I don't know. The young girl at the boarding desk made one announcement about the delay but she didn't say how long the delay would be. I think we were hanging around for about 40 minutes when the plane rolled into sight. There was a hectic rush to board and there didn't seem any order to the boarding procedure. Usually priority boarders go first like parents with small children, elderly, wheelchair users, business people etc. Here, it was every man for themselves and was more like a rugby scrum. I was relieved to get on the bus which took us to the plane so we could fly off to Scotland's capital city.
I have to say I wasn't so keen on Kraków Airport. It is too small for the amount of people passing through and is very disorganised and claustrophobic. We were lucky for most of the time that we could sit outside but I should think this bar facility will be closed in the winter which means more people will be milling around inside causing havoc.
Ryan Air, Easy Jet and Finnair operate from here as well as LOT and Lufthansa. If you want to see a full list of airlines operating from Kraków here's a link:
I chose this airport because I managed to buy a cheap ticket with Ryan Air but I think in future I will fly from Warsaw because by the time we've purchased a train ticket to Kraków and bus ticket to the airport the cost works out the same plus it only takes twenty minutes to Frederic Chopin airport from my home whereas the travel time to Kraków took just under 4 hours including the trip on the bus.
This probably won't be the world's longest review as there's not too much you can say about one if the world's smaller airports.
KRK is located around 8 miles to the north east of Krakow and is served by a train that runs to and from the city centre every half an hour. The train costs 7 zlotes each which works out at less than £2. The other option is taking a taxi into the centre, but the train is that easy that there's really no need for the taxi.
The airport itself is pretty small containing only one terminal with only a handful of gates. You drop your bags off, head through security where the guards are dressed in army combat gear (don't mess with them) and then off to the gate. There's a couple of token duty free shops but no shopping mall like you'll find in English airports.
Next to the gate was a small snack bar selling beer, sift drinks, crisps and sandwiches. 2 bottles of Coke and a Bounty cost around £5 which isn't toooo bad for an airport.
We found Krakow airport (KRK if you're into your airport codes) to be very small, but very well-run. Everything went to plan and we weren't made to wait anywhere... getting through security was a breeze - none of the 15-20 minute wait we're used to seeing in English airports.
Would I recommend Krakow airport? Well, it depends if you want to go to Krakow really! It's regularly served from the UK with relatively cheap flights and is a nice place to visit for a fun weekend break.
This was the first time I used any Polish airport other than Warsaw or Gdansk in the last few years (in fact since I flew from Katowice 26 years ago at the age of 9, which doesn't somehow bring any reliable memories).
I have to say that however much I like the almost eerie emptiness and the plush mother and baby room at Gdansk airport, Krakow-Balice, although nothing special, seemed to be one of the nicer small airports I had a chance to use.
I was surprised by the number of airlines, flights and destinations that operate from there. Germany, Italy and the UK are covered very well, and there are also flights to main towns in other European countries as well as intercontinental ones to New York and Chicago (large centre for a Polish community in the US) as well as TelAviv (presumably because of strong Jewish connections of Krakow as well as proximity of Auschwitz).
In the British Isles, apart from London, you can fly to Krakow from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol and Dublin.
The number of passengers serviced by Balice has doubled between 2004 and 2005, with half of them being now carried by low-cost airlines (Ryanair, easyJet and SkyEurope are the ones that serve the British Isles) and London having the largest number of connections aof all destinations! It takes 2.5 hours to reach London, about 3 to Edinburgh and Dublin.
You can fly to Krakow for pretty much the cost of the taxes/charges with Ryanair (plus, of course, the price of getting to the airport in the UK and/or parking there).
As we have been driven to the airport by a kind family member from Bielsko-Biala, I didn't have a chance to test the public transport connections to the city of Krakow, but the airport website informed me that there is two buses that serve Balice, taking about 40 minutes to get there and costing an equivalent of 50 pence per passenger (plus any large bags); alternative is a taxi for about a tenner.
The airport is located pretty much on the A4 motorway (Katowice-Krakow, toll about 2 GBP) and can be reached in about an hour from Katowice or less than 2 hours from Bielsko-Biala. Parking seems spacious enough, and there are drop-off spaces (15 minutes allowed) just opposite the terminal building. Luggage trolleys do not require a coin.
Its location makes it handy for (apart from Karkow itself and its environs), the Polish ranges of Carpathian mountains (including Tatras an Pieniny).
**Check in, Security and the like **
There is several check in desks, which seemed to cope well enough at the time of our departure (evening on Wednesday), but then after experiencing Stansted's pack-them-tight-move-them-cheap low cost airlines, one would need a long queue indeed to be surprised.
The security check was a standard one nowadays (hand luggage being scanned and the passenger itself walking through a metal-detector gate). Considering the fact that both me and my husband were wearing steel-capped boots and decided (and were advised) to take them off for the easiest passage we must have looked a funny couple there standing in our socks and waiting for everything else to go through. But I liked the fact that instead of frisking people, the security staff waited patiently for passengers to remove suspect pieces of clothing or gear and walk back through the metal detector gate.
I don't have a very firm memory of the boarding gate, to be honest, I know we squeezed through the scrum using our little one and waving about a boarding card marked 'child' as mark of our entitlement to go first. They use buses to get passengers to the planes and these are just like any other airport buses - plenty of standing space, not much to hold on.
As in many if not all small airports, the majority of facilities is located before the passport and security control, while the airside has a minimum of them. I don't particularly like it, as I prefer to go through all the official stuff before I sit down to coffees, books or staring at walls; but it obviously only makes sense to duplicate facilities (or even have the airside ones larger) in grand airports with a lot of non-EU flights that are still eligible for duty free, and plenty of transit passengers.
Thus, majority of facilities in Balice are located before passport control and from what we experienced this one evening the seemed adequate if not particularly grand.
There is pretty much everything you would expect of an airport: car hire, banks, cash point, travel agents and a post office (though with limited opening hours); plus the usual set of catering and shopping establishments. Most of the latter are located at mezzanine level, where a newsagent and a couple of gift shops can be found, as well as a café and a restaurant.
Our flight was delayed (apparently due to the Horrible French again) so instead of a quick rush-in which we expected, we actually had about an hour to kill. We spend it sitting by a fish tank (Katie's choice) in the upstairs café, drinking very reasonably priced tea and mineral water and browsing around the few small shops there. As I said, the drinks seemed priced very reasonably for an airport (or maybe it was just my feeling after prices in both Gdansk and Warsaw) and when I had a peek at the restaurant menu, the selection and prices seemed OK (if not exactly cheap).
The newsagent had a very good choice of Polish reading matter as well as quite a few papers in English, German and few other languages. The first of small shops that were opened stocked an usual array of tatty souvenirs (with quite a lot of space devoted to Polish national and Krakow clubs' football replica shirts and scarves); while the second had an acceptable array of art and craft goodies, including pretty painted wooden Easter Eggs and copies of old prints of Krakow.
There is a duty free Baltona shop on the airside, we have not bought anything there but it contained the usual selection of fags, booze, sweets and sausage that can be expected in any Polish duty-free.
Shopping is not a strong point of Krakow airport, but there is minimum there.
Apart from the above, the mezzanine level houses a viewing terrace (sadly closed when we were there as only opened during daylight hours, there is a 50p charge), a chapel in which a mass is celebrated every Sunday (fittingly for an airport named after the pope John Paul 2nd and located in one of the most religiously traditional parts of Poland) as well as a spacious if somewhat plastickly furnished mother and baby room (I have a thing about facilities for mothers with babies even though I am not in possession of a baby now). There is also a small play area for toddlers/small children, containing an rocking crocodile and a Wendy house.
I cannot comment on the baggage handling times as we only took the return flight from Krakow; the turnaround of our plane seemed very efficient, I think it took less then half an hour between it landed and we were boarded and ready to fly (but obviously they would try hard with that one as it was delayed on arrival).
All in all, nothing special but a perfectly adequate airport with reasonably priced shops and catering and staff more friendly than at least few other airports I used.