After a fairly quick and hassle-free 3 hour journey with Ryanair, I arrived at Orio al Serio airport, also known as the Milan-Bergamo airport. I had learned that it was fairly easy to travel from Milan-Bergamo airport to Brescia, my destination, and therefore I chose this airport over it's cousin Malpensa counterpart, which is the other airport close to Milan.
I arrived fairly late at 10pm (Ryanair's erratic times are always a bit of a down-side) and I have to say I was expecting a lot. Expectation also built because of the wonderful birds-eye view scenes you see before touching down and all the exotic excitedness of being in a brand new country. Yet, as the ryanair connection bus drove all the ex-passengers from the plane to the airport I realised I had been a little bit disillusioned.
The airport is, especially if you arrive fairly late as I did, a bit dull and dingy at a first glance and fairly small, unaided by the actual design of the airport which I found to be quite constrictive. Now the main issue I had right at the start was finding somewhere reasonable to sleep as when I arrived all the ticket booths were closed and therefore I thought it best to wait until the following morning, especially since it was so late. Ok, I understood it was an airport- there would be no ready-made bunk-beds springing up from the floors, but the space for newly arrived-slightly red-eyed foreigners was very limited: in the main area there were two back to back rows of very hard and very uncomfortable metal chairs and then, as I would discover the following morning, other single chairs dotted around further down.
Thankfully, I managed to find a couple of free seats which I then tried to lie down on as a make-shift bed, but shortly after me another flight arrived and a lot of passengers were forced to find corners of the floor to lie down on which was a bit hard-going.
There were also a few announcements all in Italian with no English translations. Even though I understand Italian they were too fast for me to understand and at one point an Italian security-offical looking man who didn't speak English came up to the 'den' of make-shift beds and seemed to say something quite important and be signalling then walked off. A few people then got up and moved. Since I didn't understand a word I just did a bit of staring, a bit of blinking then carried on trying to get to sleep. Thankfully, I later learned that most of the staff in the airport are fairly competent in speaking both English and Italian so don't worry too much if you only speak English!
The next morning I woke up extra early and had to ask a different security man where to find the WC as it was not well-marked. There is just one WC located at the entrance near arrivals which was a very big minus as places such as the information desk or places to eat were located at the other end of the airport meaning a few treks backwards and forwards.
Another note to women or perhaps young female students such as myself are the flirty chat-ups slightly bored security guards might try to engage in. As on the way out of the WC, the same guard started speaking to me and asked me if I wanted a lift to my destination in his car. Alarm bells!! As tempting as it may have been to not have to lug luggage anywhere I also knew in Italy, nothing is free!
So after politely excusing myself I went to find something to nibble on. There are a small handful of places to eat small snacks if you feel a bit peckish- mainly brioches and coffee and such like- you are in Italy after all! But beware of fiendishly high prices.
A big plus of the airport, ironically not part of the airport itself, is the transport system outside of the airport. The airport isn't too far from Milan and also cities such as Brescia or Bergamo and there were fairly cheap and frequent buses running every 10-15 mins. Passes and charges do vary depending on the service and destination and it is best to buy tickets from the ticket man inside the airport (ask at the information desk) as they will tend to try and help you find the best deal. I paid roughly 15 euros for a ticket from the airport direct to Brescia but I think it was cheaper, maybe 10 euros for a ticket to Milan.
I would disagree with the person who described this as the gateway to hell. I have traveled many times to Bergamo and yes it is no flash airport with the trimmings and expense of some of the bigger airports but it is a small friendly airport that is easy to get around and at the end of the day much better than some of the other budget airline airports I have been to in the past. If you want flash then I am afraid you will have to pay the more expensive flights as it is the airports that set the taxes. If however like me you want a cheap flight to a beautiful holiday region with a perfectly acceptable airport that has very good transport links with the cities of Bergamo and Milan then I would choose this anytime. My husband and I have been there many times at different times of the year and have NEVER had any problems whatsoever either with the airport or the flights. We have actually only ever had one short delay of 1 hour , which incidentally the pilot made up in time and we actually landed on time. Perfect service. Perfect location and a perfect budget airport for budget airlines. Looking forward to going back in three weeks.
Orio al Serio Bergamo - or more often called Milan-Bergamo is an airport in Northern Italy, located just about 6km from Bergamo and 45km from Milan which takes about 1 hour usually. This is not as extreme as the likes of Paris-Beauvais but it's not exactly central is it! It is however Milan's cheap flight hub and it's also located on the A4 which is the main highway crossing the north of Italy from Milan to Venice and connecting France and Slovenia.
The ticket between airport and Milan is about 8 euros as I recall but this was a few years ago and it may have sneaked up past 10 eur now. The airport itself is pretty small and tacky with very little in the way of things to keep yourself occupied, the seating made from those bad metal grids like the ones at posh bus stops or train stations are incredibly uncomfortable.
We arrived at the airport far too early for our flight, having hitchhiked from France faster than we expected and arrived in Milan some 10 hours before our flight, we decided to go to the airport and sleep over night, this was a bit of a hassle - mainly due to the uncomfortable seating arrangement but then at 1am we and the few other remaining passengers were ushered out of the terminal, marched across a car park in the rain and taken to another building where we could roll out sleeping bags and sleep - they checked our passports and flight details and generally had a strong whiff of authority about them that made them look like little fascists!
2 or 3 hours later, they moved us again back from this building to the now clean main terminal. The early morning flights soon started up and the Italians began drinking coffee and chunnering away - making it possibly the noisiest, smallest and most uncomfortable airport I've ever had the pleasure to sleep in. To add to that - the inconvenient location and lack of decent ammenities makes it a bit of a crap airport all round.
Cheap Flights connect Uk, Germany, Poland, Romania, France and Spain amongst others but if I were you, I'd choose to fly to Bologna instead.
I recently took a trip to Milan - and by using the extremely cheap and not so cheerful Ryanair - I became another passenger at the busy Bergamo Airport.
Located just outside the bustling provincial city of Bergamo, opposite an out-of-town shopping centre, and only an hour East of Milan, this airport is both convenient and modern, having recently benefitted from becoming a Ryanair hub.
Whilst certainly in need of a new terminal due to the explosion in passenger numbers, the current setup is efficient and friendly enough, although the lack of catering and shopping beyond Passport Control certainly had the British passengers in a tizz - how can they possibly cope for an hour without a cup of tea or the chance to patrol 3000 sq ft of Perfume Duty Paid shopping...
Facilities before Departures are good: with several types of cafe, restaurant and shops, all arrayed along the single corridor.
My flight arrived quite late in the evening, early and parked right next to Arrivals - so within 14 minutes of landing I was on a bus on my way to Milan...very good!
The return was much busier - with crammed departure lounges serving the evening flights back to the UK - but I've had far worse experiences in most of the UK airports I've used (Liverpool excepted).
With a simple design, plenty of signs, and new check in desks being built, Bergamo Airport is certainly on to a winning ticket as a growing hub - but some investment (probably EU central fund paid of course!) to build a new terminal or expand the current one would definitely help.
Having said that - it's still a better choice than the new Milan Airport - Malpensa, which is just as far from the City as Bergamo, and is too busy and expensive for its own good.
Overall - (aside from being one of my briefer reviews)! - I liked this airport - showing that the small regional centres are often easier to use and run than the monster mega-airports some Airlines would have us use.
~ ~ Bergamo Airport, or to give it its full title Orio al Serio International Airport, is located in northern Italy almost midway between Milan and the Lake Garda district, and just off the main A4 motorway from Milan to Venice.
~ ~ We decided to use Bergamo Airport for two main reasons. Number one is that it is the main airport used by the budget airline Ryanair for the district, and number two is that it is very conveniently located for the Lake Garda district where we spent our recent holiday. (June 2006) This is one of the very few favourable comments I will have to make about this airport, as it was only a little over a 100 kilometres from Pischiera on the southern shores of Lake Garda, and hence just a leisurely drive of about an hour or so in our hire car. (If ANY drive on an Italian motorway can ever be described as leisurely!)
~ ~ As you have already probably deduced from my title of this review, to say that I was somewhat unimpressed with this Italian airport would rank as the understatement of the year. If Satan were to design an airport with the sole intention of tormenting and torturing innocent travellers, then I doubt he could do a better job than the Italians have managed at Bergamo! In all my years of travelling, I have *NEVER* used such a poor airport, and have never been so glad to (finally) get on a plane and return to the relative sanity of Dublin Airport in Ireland. (That isnt without its critics.)
~ ~ The outward journey from Dublin to Bergamo was OK, apart from the fact that the flight was over a hour late in arriving, but this is down to Ryanair rather than the airport. I honestly cant recall the last time I got a Ryanair flight that was on time, so how they compile their statistics for being one of the most reliable airlines is totally beyond me. But there again, most things that the CEO of Ryanair, Mr. Michael OLeary does is beyond my understanding, and also that of most mere mortals. But I digress. Back to Bergamo.
~ ~ So what is it about Bergamo that has so risen my ire that I feel compiled to warn my fellow travellers to avoid it like a virulent strain of the bubonic plague?
Put simply the airport is simply too small to cope with the level of passengers that are currently using it. Too many passengers and too small an airport is *NOT* a good mix as the equation simply doesnt compute, and the people who suffer the most as a consequence are the unfortunate travellers who are unlucky enough to find themselves at the mercy of the airlines, car hire companies, and airport authorities at this most dreadful of locations.
~ ~ The trouble started at the car hire desk (Avis) on our arrival. Id booked a compact car which I then decided was going to be too small for our purposes, as we had belatedly invited a friend of my teenage daughter to join us on the holiday. After waiting in a queue for about an hour for the one clerk to deal with about three incoming flights I attempted to upgrade to an estate car, only too be told that none were available and that I would have to take a Nissan X Trail (large 4 x 4) instead. This was two grades above what Id originally ordered, and cost me a staggering 300 plus in extra charges. You COULD say that this was my own fault for booking the wrong car in the first place, and youd be partly correct. But only if you happened to BELIEVE the clerk who told me there were no estate cars available, only for me to see about a dozen or so of them in the Avis car park bays when I went to pick up my vehicle! They also refused to give me the 15% discount I was entitled to as a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists. (Ill be following this up)
Even when I'd fixed the car hire problem, we still werent sorted. The car hire bays are about two or three kilometres from the main terminal (only terminal) and thus this entails queuing yet again to use the courtesy bus to take you to your vehicle. Not a big deal you might think, but it is when the aforementioned bus is nothing more than a large van which is totally inadequate to cope with the volume of travellers wishing to use it. After waiting in line for about 45 minutes and a number of round trips I eventually managed to get on this bus, but only by standing just inside the door holding my golf clubs as they wouldnt fit into the small baggage area. So a totally unacceptable service as far as Im concerned, not least from a safety viewpoint. Is it LEGAL for a bus passenger in Italy to have to stand with their head banging off the roof while precariously holding a set of golf clubs while a lunatic of an Italian driver throws the bus around as if he was on a Formula One racetrack? It wouldnt be here in Ireland, I can tell you that much!
~ ~ On our return from Lake Garda we delayed our arrival at Bergamo for as long as humanly possible, given the fact that we had to check out of our holiday apartment at 10 AM, and our return flight to Dublin wasnt scheduled until 9.10 PM that evening. We eventually gave in and arrived at the airport around 6.00 PM. Check in wasnt until 7 PM, so we had a bit of a wait. This would have been tolerable only for the fact that the seating in the airport in both departures and arrivals is totally inadequate for the volume of passengers using the airport. At a rough guess I would estimate that the number of passengers looking to rest their weary legs outnumbered the available seating in the ratio of about five to one! It was difficult to even find an empty space on the floor on which to sit, never mind an empty seat!
~ ~ Temperatures in the Lake Garda district during our visit were way above the seasonal norm, with the thermometer hovering between the 35 to 40 degrees Centigrade mark most of the time. For visitors more used to the lower temperatures of the British Isles and Ireland this is uncomfortably hot (to say the least) so we were looking forward to the relative comfort of the terminal building at Bergamo which is supposedly air-conditioned. I say supposedly because like nearly everything else at this airport the air-con was completely unable to cope with the task of cooling off its customers. It was difficult to even spot the difference in temperature when you walked through the terminal doors! Maybe they do it deliberately to boost the sales of their vastly overpriced drinks! We dont drink alcohol, but a Fanta orange (lukewarm) at 3 for a small bottle is a bit much when we had been buying them all over the region at a mere 1 for the previous week. The only good value we got was at a Smoothie bar, where I purchased a totally delicious ice-cold berry drink for only 3. (The equivalent would have cost me 4.50 at Dublin airport)
~ ~ Things didnt improve any when it came time to check-in for our flight. Only two flights checking in at a check-in area with about 20 or so desks, and yet the Bergamo authorities STILL managed to make a complete cock-up of the whole procedure! Instead of keeping the two queues separate, they (in their wisdom) decided to have them directly opposite each other at opposing sides of the check-in area. Total and complete chaos and mayhem. The two queues ended up competing for the same floor space, with the end result that nobody knew where the respective queues started or ended. The result was a melee that you could have been forgiven for mistaking as a rugby scrum, with bodies everywhere, and good manners forsaken in the forlorn attempt to actually get your luggage checked onto the plane. Ryanair, of course, didnt help any by only having one check-in desk open for the flight to check in God alone knows how many passengers. I complained when we eventually reached the check-in desk (after about an hour and a half!), but (of course) the poor, harassed girl didnt give a damn. All she probably wanted to do was to get her shift over and done with, and get home to a cold shower to cool off.
~ ~ With check-in eventually achieved, I decided it might be a good idea to get ourselves a cuppa and a wee bite to eat. There are various small snack bars and one wet (alcohol) bar in the airport, but all available seating was already occupied, no doubt by other travellers who were unable to find any alternative seating. So we took the lift one floor up to what is supposed to be the up- market restaurant. This again was packed to the gills, but we eventually managed to find two spare seats by hanging around until we spotted someone getting ready to leave. But make no mistake, there is nothing up-market about this eatery. A simple self-service snack bar, with ready prepared and over-priced food and I couldnt even get a cup of tea for my parched wife! (They didnt do tea) Contrast this with the equivalent restaurant at Dublin Airport, where you get freshly cooked and wholesome grub, linen tablecloths, proper cutlery, and waiter service!
~ ~ Back down to the main concourse, where my teenage daughter and her friend went for a browse around the vastly overpriced designer retail outlets (about half a dozen) again selling mostly either tourist tat, or else designer handbags and sunglasses that you could buy at a fraction of the price outside of the airport. I did manage to get myself a couple of cartons of my favourite hand-rolling tobacco at about half the price that I would pay at home in Ireland at the admittedly well-stocked book and magazine store, where English books and newspapers were also available. A minus point here is that I was unable to pay by credit card!
~ ~ Things didnt improve any when we got through the check-in area and up to the departure gates. The scene here was like something from Dantes Inferno, with people milling around and sprawled everywhere, again because the seating was totally inadequate to cope with the sheer volume of passengers. What made matters worse was that there was extra seating available through a (locked) door, but when I approached one of the security people to ask if it was possible to open this area up he simply looked at me as if I had two heads.
~ ~ Anyways, we eventually managed to escape this hellhole of an airport and get back to the relative sanity of the airport in Dublin. My only surprise was that our luggage and my beloved golf clubs managed to arrive back at the same time we did, and all in one piece! Our experience of Bergamo was the one black spot on what was otherwise an extremely pleasant holiday in Lake Garda, where we will undoubtedly return. But on our next visit we will fly to Verona Airport, even if the cost of the flights is double what it would cost to fly to Bergamo.
My advice to any prospective travellers is to avoid this airport at all costs.
© KenJ July 2006